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Saturday, June 12, 2004

Reversal of stereotypes

My heartwarming tale of “Dinesh and me” has generated lots of interest over the past two days, and I continue to be amazed that blogs are read by approximately 1000 times more people than the number who read my discussions of D’Souza in Public Access and Transition magazine in the 1990s.  But one friend has written to me privately to say hold the phone-- how can you discuss The End of Racism on your blog without mentioning D’Souza’s theory of “rational discrimination,” which underlies the whole thing? Fair question.  Here’s how the theory works, in D’Souza’s own words:

Only because group traits have an empirical basis in shared experience can we invoke them without fear of contradiction.  Think of how people would react if someone said that “Koreans
are lazy” or that “Hispanics are constantly trying to find ways to make money.” Despite the prevalence of anti-Semitism, Jews are rarely accused of stupidity.  Blacks are never accused of being tight with a dollar, or of conspiring to take over the world.  By reversing stereotypes we can see how their persistence relies, not simply on the assumptions of the viewer, but also on the characteristics of the group being described.

Here’s what I said about this in Transition:  “This, perhaps, is right-wing sociology’s finest moment:  reversal of stereotypes! why didn’t we think of that?  OK, now let’s get this straight.  Koreans are not lazy, Hispanics do not try to make money, Blacks are spendthrifts, and . . . hey!  wait a minute!  those tightfisted clever Jews really are trying to take over the world!”

A creative misreading, yes, but you get the point.  All right, that’s enough of that.  I have to shower too, you know.

Posted by Michael on 06/12 at 05:09 AM
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Friday, June 11, 2004

A couple other things to think about today

First, that the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning also happen to be the first (and still the only) NHL team to sign a female player-- goaltender Manon Rh»aume, who played in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues in 1992, and who later played for the first Canadian women’s Olympic team in 1998, winning a silver medal.  In my office at school I have one of Ms. Rh»aume’s Tampa Bay trading cards (alongside my photo of the New York Rangers’ 1994 victory parade), and I’m not selling.  Here’s to Manon, and her brother Pascal, who won the Cup last year with the New Jersey Devils.

Second, that the NASA probe Cassini makes its first encounter with the Saturn system today, flying by the outer moon Phoebe (which, with its retrograde orbit, is probably a “captured” object like an asteroid or the nucleus of a comet).  Cassini was launched in 1997, and will spend the next four years orbiting Saturn, exploring its 31 moons.  Cassini also carries still another probe, Huygens, which will parachute down onto the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, on December 24 of this year.  It’s a shame that dazzling engineering feats like these don’t get the buzz they deserve, but that’s the way it goes.

Yep, it’s Nonpartisan Blogging Day here at this humble blog.  May Ray Charles rest in peace.  I’ll be back on the weekend with more of the usual.

Posted by Michael on 06/11 at 03:09 AM
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Thursday, June 10, 2004

The best Reagan tribute to date

Really, it’s not only brilliant as a piece of prose, but quite kind to the man, as well.  Charles Pierce shows once again why he’s one of the finest writers in the good old U. S. of A.

(Via Atrios.)

Posted by Michael on 06/10 at 10:20 AM
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Dinesh and me

On Tuesday, Media Matters for America reported that Dinesh D’Souza has been hired by CNN.  They duly noted a 1995 Washington Post article which mentioned some of D’Souza’s Krazy Kollege Hijinx with the Dartmouth Review, but they didn’t note that one of the gay undergraduates who was “outed” by D’Souza at Dartmouth actually became depressed and suicidal as a result. 

How do I know this?  Well, I didn’t go to Dartmouth, but I did have an extended textual run-in with D’Souza in 1991, just after he’d published Illiberal Education, the book that catapulted him from wingnut obscurity (his first book was a hagiography of Jerry Falwell, which concluded, “listening to Falwell speak, one gets a sense that something is right about America, after all").  I told some of the story in my second book, Public Access (1994), which I’m happy to reprise here for the benefit of CNN-watchers and D’Souza fans everywhere.

___________

On May 13, 1991, David Corn reported in the Nation that D’Souza had maliciously “outed” some gay students at Dartmouth, and that he had later gloated over having done so at the New York Athletic Club.  Corn was right about item one, and wrong on item two; D’Souza wrote to the Nation asking for a full retraction, and got a partial retraction instead.  This prompted a second letter from D’Souza, who by now had grown nasty:  “My friends tell me not to waste my time because I should expect lies from the ‘loony left,’” he wrote.  “I hope I am not naive in holding you to a higher standard."[1] He sent Corn faxes of documents he believed would clear his name, and also wrote to the Village Voice, in more measured tones:

Michael B√©rub√©, in a June 18 article, alleged that while I was the editor of the Dartmouth Review, I “proudly published the stolen private correspondence of Dartmouth’s gay and lesbian students.” This claim, which was first printed by the Nation, is false.  Indeed, when presented with the facts, The Nation retracted the claim.

What really happened was this:  the Review’s article concerned the Gay Students Association [sic] as a college-recognized and college-funded group.  The article named the five officers of the group who were listed with the college’s Committee on Student Organizations.  Such listing is a requirement for funding and the names are open to public scrutiny.  No other names or identities were revealed and all the information in the article came from the public file.

Later, one of the officers named claimed he was not affiliated with the group and had been erroneously named.  Apparently, the young man was not openly gay, but made the error of accepting an officers’ position with the group, thus putting his name on the public record.  The Review was in no position to know this and regretted in print having named the young man.[2]

By the time the Voice apprised me of D’Souza’s letter, I had gotten in touch with both David Corn and Victor Navasky of the Nation, wanting to know the status of their initial report and what they called its subsequent “clarification and amplication.” Corn sent me copies of the documents D’Souza sent him, and I dug up an old story I recalled having been published in the New York Times about the time I graduated from college.  And here’s where the story gets weird.

D’Souza’s third paragraph to the Voice was gratuitous, since I had written nothing about any subsequent exchange between the Dartmouth Review and the Gay Student Alliance.  But stranger still, his entire letter was contradicted by the very documents he had sent to Corn, which clearly showed that the Review, in an article under D’Souza’s name, had in fact published excerpts from students’ correspondence—as well as facsimiles of official and unofficial GSA documents, whose legal-pad scrawls revealed the name and official position of the student who had requested that the Review not associate him with the GSA.  I then made a few phone calls to Dartmouth, and soon I had the text of my reply to D’Souza, which ran as follows:

What really happened was this:  D’Souza’s May 18, 1981 Review article also included anonymous excerpts from what he called “personal letters from students confessing their gay sentiments.” The New York Times revealed D’Souza’s source in 1982, when it reported that some “membership and correspondence files of the Gay Student Alliance disappeared from the College Center, and . . . were printed in The Review.” Dolores Johnson, former director of Dartmouth’s Council on Student Organizations, confirmed to me that none of D’Souza’s information could have come from a “public file,” because “no administrative office keeps lists of the membership of, or letters to, any student organization.” (The July 8 Nation has retracted its previous retraction.) As for D’Souza’s last paragraph:  what can he possibly mean by saying that the Review “regretted in print having named the young man”?  D’Souza offered no apology; on the contrary, he intensified his previous allegation? by publishing facsimiles of the stolen GSA documents.  His only sentence of “regret” was “we are sorry that it has come to this.” I cannot guess why D’Souza has now chosen to heap one substantial distortion atop another.  But I fail to see how any responsible person can continue to take D’Souza seriously; conservatives should begin shopping around for a more credible representative.

Because of the Voice’s strict space limitations (dang those space limitations!), I could not go on to say that the 1982 Times article had also reported that “one student named, according to his friends, became severely depressed and talked repeatedly of suicide.  The grandfather of another who had not found the courage to tell his family of his homosexuality learned about his grandson when he got his copy of The Review in the mail.” [3] Nor could I explain that, for whatever reason, D’Souza himself had provided David Corn with precisely the material I needed to contradict the extraneous claim in his third paragraph.

So first, let it be noted that D’Souza, however unwittingly, drove a fellow student to contemplate suicide because of his article on the Gay Student Alliance.  (To put this in terms that craven cable news organizations will understand, Michael Savage merely told a gay caller to die; D’Souza in his youth was somewhat more, shall we say, proactive.) Second, let us acknowledge that in the ten years between that event and his exchanges with the Voice and the Nation, D’Souza learned that his behavior in 1981 was a political liability, and would have to be met with nothing less than complete denial.  Third, let us marvel at the cockiness with which D’Souza demanded a retraction from the Nation, proclaiming his knowledge that he would meet with “lies from the loony left.” Fourth, let us wonder what the Sam Hill is going on with a character who sends his critics the evidence that convicts him, presumably in the belief that it exonerates him.

[1] Dinesh D’Souza, letter to The Nation, July 8, 1991, p. 38.
[2] Dinesh D’Souza, letter to the Village Voice, July 9, 1991, p. 5.
[3] Dudley Clendinen, “Conservative Paper Stirs Dartmouth.” New York Times, May 30, 1982, p. 23.

____________

-- All right, now, does any of this matter 13 years (or 23 years) later?  Not necessarily, save for the fact that D’Souza has never apologized for, or even acknowledged, his conduct in this affair.  But for those of you who are more interested in the Mature D’Souza, here are some highlights from his magnum opus, the D’Souza Moby-Dick, more commonly known as The End of Racism:

-----> “[The Civil Rights Movement] sought to undermine white racism through a protest strategy that emphasized the recognition of basic rights for blacks, without considering that racism might be fortified if blacks were unable to exercise their rights effectively and responsibly.”

-----> “Most African American scholars simply refuse to acknowledge the pathology of violence in the black underclass, apparently convinced that black criminals as well as their targets are both victims:  the real culprit is societal racism.  Activists recommend federal jobs programs and recruitment into the private sector. Yet it seems unrealistic, bordering on the surreal, to imagine underclass blacks with their gold chains, limping walk, obscene language, and arsenal of weapons doing nine-to-five jobs at Procter and Gamble or the State Department.”

-----> “Increasingly it appears that it is liberal antiracism that is based on ignorance and fear:  ignorance of the true nature of racism, and fear that the racist point of view better explains the world than its liberal counterpart.”

-----> “The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

-----> “The popular conception seems to be that American slavery as an institution involved white slaveowners and black slaves.  Consequently, it is easy to view slavery as a racist institution.  But this image is complicated when we discover that most whites did not own slaves, even in the South; that not all blacks were slaves; that several thousand free blacks and American Indians owned black slaves.  An examination of these frequently obscured aspects of American slavery calls into question the facile equation of racism and slavery.”

-----> “If America as a nation owes blacks as a group reparations for slavery, what do blacks as a group owe America for the abolition of slavery?”

-----> “How did [Martin Luther] King succeed, almost single-handedly, in winning support for his agenda?  Why was his Southern opposition virtually silent in making counterarguments?”

Passages like these lead readers like me to believe that the easiest way to slander D’Souza is to quote him directly.  But I don’t want to suggest that this 700-page tome can be summed up in its pull quotes; let’s look at the main argument, too.  It was not long after the book was published that the Wall Street Journal devoted half a page of op-ed space to an excerpt from D’Souza’s concluding chapter-- the part where he finally gets around to delivering his payload, arguing for the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

D’Souza’s rationale for repeal is clear:  ever since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, he claims, the federal government has been “the primary threat to black prospects.” In a truly free market, by contrast, racial discrimination would not exist, since “discrimination is only catastrophic when virtually everyone colludes to enforce it.” D’Souza’s case in point is major league baseball, about which he poses a truly novel thought-experiment:  “Consider what would happen,” he writes, “if every baseball team in America refused to hire blacks.” Lest we are unable to imagine such a thing, D’Souza guides us step by step:

Blacks would suffer most, because they would be denied the opportunity to play professional baseball.  And fans would suffer, because the quality of games would be diminished.  But what if only a few teams—say the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers—refused to hire blacks?  African Americans as a group would suffer hardly at all, because the best black players would offer their services to other teams.  The Yankees and the Dodgers would suffer a great deal, because they would be deprived of the chance to hire talented black players.  Eventually competitive pressure would force the Yankees and Dodgers either to hire blacks, or to suffer losses in games and revenue.

There’s something disingenuous about D’Souza’s plans for integration, since D’Souza had argued earlier that Jim Crow laws were “designed to preserve and encourage” black self-esteem.  But let’s assume, for the nonce, that D’Souza is serious here, and let’s assume also that franchises like the Yankees of the 1950s or the Red Sox of the 1980s could not win games without a sizable contingent of black ballplayers.  How precisely is this argument supposed to work in American society at large?  Are we supposed to believe that bankers and realtors don’t discriminate against black clients for fear that their rivals down the street will snap up all those hard-hitting, base-stealing young Negroes?  Or is it that when black motorists are tired of being pulled over in New Jersey they will simply take their business to the more hospitable clime of Hawai’i?

It’s noteworthy that two African-American conservatives (Glenn Loury, Robert Woodson) resigned in protest from the American Enterprise Institute when The End of Racism was published (D’Souza was an AEI fellow at the time).  But it’s even more noteworthy that not a single one of their white colleagues joined them.

More generally, no one has noted that Dinesh D’Souza is himself the most visible contradiction of the Right’s major premise in the academic culture wars—namely, that campus conservatives are persecuted by liberal faculty and intimidated into silence.  For here, after all, is perhaps the most vocal Young Conservative of them all, a founder and editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth Review who’s since gone on to Princeton University, the Reagan Administration, and lucrative fellowships from the Olin Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, and now a gig at CNN.  He is, in short, a phenomenon.  No matter how diligently his critics pore through his work, demonstrating time and again that the stuff doesn’t meet a single known standard for intellectual probity, he is still taken seriously—and rewarded richly—by conservative foundations and the (hack, hack) liberal media.

Of course, you could argue that in the age of semi-literate screechers like Coulter, Hannity, and Savage, Dinesh D’Souza looks almost distinguished and donnish by comparison. But that’s their plan, folks! They’re trying to lull us into “well, at least he’s not as bad as the rest of the lineup,” when in fact any reasonably civilized society would have tuned out any one of these creeps long ago.

Please feel free to get in touch with CNN to see what they think about the work of their new “analyst.” And feel free to excerpt any of the choice D’Souza excerpts provided here.

UPDATE:  D’Souza is still at it, this time via the Washington Post.  Have we had enough yet?

Posted by Michael on 06/10 at 05:45 AM
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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Best paragraphs ever

The final three paragraphs of Evan Eisenberg’s “Bushido:  The Way of the Armchair Warrior” (in the June 7 New Yorker).  The whole thing is great, but the final three paragraphs are . . . are . . .  ah, there is no word for it, so I am forced to make one up, and I am going to do so right now . . . scrumtrulescent.

The Chinese word for “crisis” combines the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” For the armchair warrior, the significance of this is clear. Every crisis is an opportunity, and the lack of crisis poses a grave danger. In crisis, the people turn to the warrior for guidance. Hence, if a crisis has not occurred, the warrior creates one. If a crisis is subsiding, the warrior inflames it. The seventy-third hexagram of the I Ching is interpreted as follows: “Two towers fall. When smoke fills the people’s eyes, they can be led anywhere.”

Once, a group of travellers were on a perilous journey, in the course of which they had to cross a river. Unluckily, their guide forgot the location of the bridge, so the party had to ford the river, which, at the place they then found themselves, was shallow but very wide. After several minutes of wading through the icy water, the travellers began to grumble, “This guide is worthless! Let us abandon him and find another!” Sensing the discontent of his charges, the guide cleverly led them into a deeper part of the river, where the current was stronger and the footing more treacherous. “Help us!” the travellers cried. “Esteemed guide, do not abandon us!”

The unenlightened believe it to be the height of felicity to have no enemies. The armchair warrior knows, however, that only a steady supply of enemies can assure him the loyalty of his friends. When so-called wise men warn him that in rashly slaughtering his enemies he is merely manufacturing more of them, he smiles.

Or smirks!

Posted by Michael on 06/09 at 08:26 AM
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Ashcroft:  are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?

From today’s New York Times, Bush Didn’t Order Any Breach of Torture Laws, Ashcroft Says:

Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose subordinates have written confidential legal memorandums saying the administration is not bound by prohibitions against torture, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that President Bush had “made no order that would require or direct the violation” of either international treaties or domestic laws prohibiting torture.

Mr. Ashcroft refused to provide several of the memorandums, saying they amounted to confidential legal advice given to the president and did not have to be shared with Congress.

Asked by Congressional Democrats about the March 2003 memo in which the President is advised that U.S. and international law prohibiting torture does not apply to him, and in which a key footnote reads that “this view is consistent with that of the Department of Justice,” Ashcroft grew angry.

“That memo is none of your business.  You are tiny men.  The President is a great man,” Ashcroft replied.

Ashcroft insisted that there was no connection between recent legal memorandums authorizing torture, and actual evidence of the torture of U.S. detainees in Guant∑namo and Abu Ghraib.

“Let me completely reject the notion that anything this president has done or the Justice Department has done has directly resulted in the kinds of atrocities which were cited,” he said.

“It’s a complete coincidence,” Ashcroft insisted.  “A handful of bad apples brought a lot of Hefty bags with them to Baghdad, that’s all.  We had no idea what was going on.  And it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with anyone advising the President to authorize torture.  It’s just weird.”

“First of all,” Mr. Ashcroft said, “this administration opposes torture,” adding that the “kind of atrocities displayed in the photographs are being prosecuted by this administration.”

Speaking directly to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.- Mass.), Ashcroft concluded:  “You have to understand that the things in those pictures never happened.  Plus, when they did happen, we stopped them.  And finally, they’re all your fault.”

[Passages in italics are direct quotes from the Times and Knight Ridder.]

Posted by Michael on 06/09 at 02:21 AM
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