She Will A Peel

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Here’s the story. It’s real, unfortunately.

Her lawyer erred badly with his closing argument:

She was just happy to see me.

Btw, that wonderful line was first uttered as an improvisation. Mae West said it on Broadway, not (as is sometimes thought) in a scripted film.

According to Quote Investigator:

In 1944 the play “Catherine Was Great” which was produced by [Michael] Todd and starred Mae West opened on Broadway. The author [Art] Cohn stated that West improvised the humorous line of dialog when she was interacting with her fellow star Gene Barry:

Barry, playing Lieutenant Bunin, was unaccustomed to carrying a sword, and in the second act, during an embrace, his scabbard came between him and his Empress.

A covert smile stole over Mae’s face. “Lieutenant,” she ad-libbed with a Westian leer, “is that your sword or are you just glad to see me?” –Mae West, in Quote Investigator

Professor Wants to Drop “Rigor” in Engineering Education. Why? Because It “Reinforces White Male Heterosexual Privilege”

Purdue professor, Donna Riley, has a great way to make the engineering profession more inclusive.

No, my friend, it is not to recruit more widely and offer supplementary courses to bring everyone up-to-speed.

No, it is not to offer mentoring to underrepresented groups.

No, siree. (Ooops, sorry for that patriarchal phrase.)

The leader of Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education recently declared that academic “rigor” reinforces “white male heterosexual privilege.”

Defining rigor as “the aspirational quality academics apply to disciplinary standards of quality,” Riley asserts that “rigor is used to maintain disciplinary boundaries, with exclusionary implications for marginalized groups and marginalized ways of knowing.”

“One of rigor’s purposes is, to put it bluntly, a thinly veiled assertion of white male (hetero)sexuality,” she writes, explaining that rigor “has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations—and links to masculinity in particular—are undeniable.”

Hence, Riley remarks that “My visceral reaction in many conversations where I have seen rigor asserted has been to tell parties involved (regardless of gender) to whip them out and measure them already.”  –Donna Riley, Purdue Prof. of Engineering Education, quoted in Campus Reform (link here)


If this kind of academic malpractice were rare, it wouldn’t be worth mocking.

If this response to academic failure were rare, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.

In fact, these specious arguments, seemingly in favor of marginalized groups, are commonplace on campus. They need to be rebutted. They have also gained favor on among progressive politicians. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice made police and fire departments lower their standards–and pass students who had failed their competency tests–not because the tests were biased (they were not), not because the tests were irrelevant to performance (they were directly relevant), but simply because, in Holder’s opinion, too many of his preferred groups did not pass.

Turning to the Purdue Engineering professor . . .

  1. Prof. Riley is not just any professor. She’s the head of the entire school of engineering education at a major research university, known for its science, math, and engineering.
  2. Notice the patronizing argument. The clear implication of Riley’s position is that “marginalized groups” cannot actually do difficult, mathematical work. Even if that were true, the right response wouldn’t be to lower standards but to remedy the underlying problem.
  3. Notice the ad hoc inclusion of different groups, mainly because they are part of Prof. Riley’s putative coalition. Is there any evidence that gays cannot perform engineering courses at the same level as non-gay students? I haven’t heard of any. Same for women. If they are underrepresented, then try and recruit them. If any other group is having problems–as a group–then figure out why and solve the problem. Don’t say, “Rigor is just too demanding for, say, brain surgeons.”
    • Btw, I just clicked on Purdue’s School of Engineering Education and the first picture is of a female student being named a prestigious Marshall School, a major national competition across all fields.
  4. “Whip them out and measure them already.” Is this Blazing Saddles or an academic journal? Moreover, ask yourself whether this phrase is itself a form of invidious sexism and even harassment. Ask yourself what would happen if any male professor made the same statement in print about women’s breasts? The over/under on that professor’s severe punishment and possible firing is 3 seconds.
  5. However laudable your aims, you marginalize your own position when your argue in favor of dangerously lowering standards. Moreover, you patronize the “marginalized” and offer ideological nostrums instead of real solutions.
  6. Finally, let’s assume that Purdue’s Engineering School does exactly what you say. How would potential employers cope? They would hire from other schools or demand real proof of competence beyond your degree. If every engineering school followed your silly advice, then employers would institute their own tests for competence and other schools would see a huge opportunity to enter the field and offer rigorous training.

Another Massachusetts Lawmaker Charged. Ran his State Senate Office as a “Criminal Enterprise,” according to the 113-Count Indictment

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Former Senator Brian Joyce, who had served as the Democrats’ assistant majority leader, is charged with receiving over $1 million in bribes and kickbacks.

The charges in the 102-page indictment include

racketeering, extortion, honest services fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and other charges. Newsweek (link here)

Among other things, he is charged with extorting over 700 pounds of coffee from a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.

Joyce is accused, for example, of accepting “hundreds of pounds” of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in exchange for helping a franchise owner navigate the permitting process by pressuring town administrators in his district for favors. He also is accused of using his office to help an insurance company who paid him with a free Jeep, and writing legislation to help a Philadelphia based solar energy company in exchange for $50,000 in payoffs.

Prosecutors say Joyce used his law practice, which he ran while working as a full-time legislator, to launder the proceeds of his schemes by “falsely characterizing the bribe and kickback payments as legal referral fees,” and that he lied to the state Ethics Commission about the payments. …

The nine-term senator did not seek re-election after the FBI and IRS raided his Canton law office last year.--Newsweek

Not just any coffee would do, according to one report:

“No decaf,” Joyce wrote in a December 2014 email to the [Dunkin’ Donuts] franchise owner. “… We like k cups (sic) at my office if possible.” –Boston Herald

The story would have received a lot of local coverage anyway, but the Dunkin’ Donut angle was too good for the media to ignore.

This is the second big scandal for the Massachusetts legislature recently.

Last week, the President of the State Senate, Stan Rosenberg (D), temporarily resigned his leadership post while his husband, Bryon Hefner, is being investigated for at least four cases of inappropriate sexual contact, including sending unsolicited nude photos.

A Wonderful Way to Begin Reading Proust . . . or To Return

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For many, Marcel Proust’s masterpiece of memories, In Search of Lost Time, is the greatest work of 20th century literature, ranking with the greatest of 19th century writers such as Tolstoy and Austen.

True, Proust’s exquisite memories and interior monologues are not to everyone’s taste, but they carry you into a world of his own, amid the salons of fin de siècle Paris and the family’s country retreat at Combray.

The main obstacle for most of us is the sheer length of the project, originally some seven volumes. I, for one, have only read the first volume, Swann’s Way.

Recently, a friend told me that the first volume has now been produced as a graphic novel. Normally, that wouldn’t interest me–but, then, he explained that the translator is Arthur Goldhammer (who is always superb) and that the drawings by French illustrator Stéphane Heuet evoke the streets of Paris and Combray and the interiors and people Proust remembers.

I was intrigued–and confident in my friend’s judgment–bought it and plunged ahead.

Goldhammer likens the graphic novel to “a piano reduction of an orchestral score.” That’s too modest for such an achievement.

I have just finished the book and hated to see it end. That’s always the best evidence the book was engaging.

If you’ve always wanted to try reading Proust but hesitated because of the length and complexity, you might consider the graphic version of Swann’s Way (link to Amazon here).

The NPR review by Glen Weldon captures my view:

To be clear: this is a dense read. Yes, it’s a comic, but given that so much of it has to do with petty judgments and perceived slights among various levels of Parisian society, pages and pages are devoted to static conversations in well-appointed drawing rooms. But those drawing rooms are richly realized, which is another way the graphic novel brings an immediacy to the infrastructure of Proust’s story, which he set in real neighborhoods boasting recognizable landmarks, all reproduced here in exacting detail.

Is it any real substitute for reading Proust’s prose, in French or in English? Of course not, and I don’t see anyone seriously suggesting it is.

But it makes for an intriguing introduction to the novels, if you’ve never made the leap — a kind of literary gateway drug — and a tantalizing refresher course, if you have. –Glen Weldon for NPR

How to Know When You’ve Left the South and Arrived in Manhattan: Two Tales

Tale #1: My own story begins with the tallest building of my youth, the McWilliams Building in Clarksdale, Mississippi, about thirty miles from my hometown of Marks. It was 6 or 7 stories and proudly bore the name of its owner. It was, I’m sure, the tallest building for several counties around.

When I visited New York for the first time (something I did in high school with my family), I was like most kids from small towns, amazed by the forest of skyscrapers, many with famous names.

But what struck me most was walking down a side-street in Midtown, looking up at a 60 or 70 story building, and noticing that its name was only its address. That told me: “Buildings this tall are so common here that they don’t always get a special name.” They might, of course, but the fact that many did not told me how commonplace they were.

Tale #2: I thought of that today, reading the obituary for a New York Times’ reporter, Roy Reed. He was from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and one of the paper’s lead reporters during the Civil Rights Era. The paper turned to him frequently when they needed a reporter who knew the South. (Obituary here)

Over the years, he wrote several books, but I was particularly intrigued by the title of his memoir, Beware of Limbo Dancers.

His story about that title is much like mine about the McWilliams Building, a variant of “you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The title, he wrote, came from a message neatly written on the inside of a door in a bathroom stall in the old New York Times building on West 43rd Street.

“This was a style of wit that I had never before encountered,” he wrote. “I suddenly knew that I was a stranger in town — not unwelcome, just a stranger.’’ –New York Times



NFL Attendance: Real Data, Not Spin

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Overall attendance is down slightly (a little over 3%, year-to-year), through Week 14:

2017:  13,983,341

2016:  14,444,931

My calculations from data in Pro Football Reference (for 2017 and 2016)

TV viewership is down somewhat more. It was down 8% in 2016 and is down a little less than 6% this year.

Those pictures of “empty stadiums” do not accurately reflect a mass abandonment by fans. It is more accurate to say that the league’s attendance and TV viewership are facing slow but significant erosion.

At this point, we cannot attribute that loss to a specific cause.  Some people may be turned off by the (now fading) player protests, others by the growing evidence of widespread brain injuries, and still others by rising interest in soccer or other entertainment. Weighting those causes is a job for more detailed studies.

Major Errors by Major Networks

For anyone who cares about accurate reporting, the past week was truly disastrous.

Since democracy depends on transparency and some measure of justified trust in our basic institutions, these journalistic failures are damaging to the country.

The misreporting comes on top of well-documented sexual harassment and abuse allegations that led to Matt Lauer’s firing and raise questions about how much his bosses knew and covered up over the years. One, Andrew Lack, is still at NBC. The other, Jeff Zucker, runs CNN.

We also heard Cokie Roberts, long-time reporter for ABC News, say on the air that female reporters knew not to get into elevators alone with some Congressmen and Senators. She didn’t seem to notice that neither she nor anyone else considered that worthy of investigating or reporting.

As for last week’s errors, Glenn Greenwald cites chapter and verse here:

The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened (The Intercept)

CNN also illustrates how these organizations offered only lame apologies for BIG errors:

Misreporting the date, which both CNN and ABC did, was not a minor matter. It went to the heart of charges that candidate Trump worked with Russia and Russian-backed organizations to win the election. In fact, the accurate dates were after Trump was elected.

Some people have attributed the errors to sloppy reporting, others to deliberate efforts (presumably by the leakers) to harm either Trump or the networks that reported.

There is no doubt the reporting was sloppy, the retractions mealy-mouthed.

But I have an additional observation, albeit purely speculative. First, note that the leaks came from classified settings, such as the House Intel Committee. Second, we know that the Department of Justice has established a high-priority task force to identify the sources of classified leaks. So, I speculate, could DOJ (working with US intel agencies) given specific people some documents seeded with misinformation to see if that identifiable info was leaked? If it was, then the source would be obvious to DOJ or the CIA.

That technique is a familiar one. Intelligence agencies sometimes alter each document slightly for each individual recipient. That way, if some portion ends up in the newspaper, it might be possible to identify which recipient leaked it. I wonder if that’s what happened here? The fact that two sources confirmed CNN’s erroneous story makes me wonder if a Congressman or two received a deliberately altered document.

Some catchy, modern blues from Charles Ponder: “She’s Got the Best in Town”

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How modern? He’s not singing about good soul food. He’s singing about tacos!

The Caribbean sound reminds me of some work by the great Ry Cooder.

High praise, indeed.

Besides his solo work, Ponder is a member of the Memphis band, The Lizzard Kings.

He handles the vocals on this song, which is genuinely funny and is more country than blues.

In the early days of rock-and-roll, at places like Sun Studios in Memphis, there was really no boundary between rock, blues/rock, and country. Just think of the members of the Million Dollar Quartet.


Leading Progressive tweets of her good cheer at burning of Rupert Murdoch’s house in the LA fires

Here’s the appalling tweet.


After some people said they thought it might be gauche, or worse, to cheer the destruction of other people’s homes, she actually defended it as “just karma.”

Oddly, not everyone agreed, although quite a few folks retweeted her generous sentiments.

More backlash and then Tanden caved and removed it. (Link to story here.)

The moral depravity here is equalled only by the peacock posture of moral superiority at the Center for American Progress.

This, mind you, is the Podestas’ political home; the Podesta lobbying firm, you will recall, melted down amid corruption investigations.

And what could be morally superior to that fine record?

Thoughts on US Embassy Move to Jerusalem

  • Since Jerusalem is actually Israel’s capital and since it will continue to be so in any putative peace settlement, I don’t see how this blocks such a settlement.
    • The US Consulate–and future Embassy–are in WEST Jerusalem. Everyone (except people who believe in Israel’s annihilation) understand that West Jerusalem will be part of Israel forever. No voluntary peace settlement will change that.
    • There was no American statement that the embassy move prevents some part of Jerusalem from being a Palestinian capital, too.
  • I don’t like hecklers’ vetoes on campus and I don’t like rioters’ vetoes elsewhere. That threat was used to try and block the move. It failed. Good.
  • The Palestinians have not exactly proven themselves partners for peace since Oslo.
    • Until now, the US had not made them pay any price for their truculence.
    • Now, it has.
  • The only way there will ever being peace, IMO, is if Israel thinks it is absolutely secure against Palestinian threats and has firm US backing against such threats.
    • Obama’s strategy made the opposite assumption. It made US support for Israel and other allies more problematic, more contingent on following US directions, and, of course, more hectoring. US friends in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and across the region understood and adjusted–against the US.
    • Trump has fundamentally reversed that policy, not only in Israel but in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere.
  • The only way many other Arab states will back off their rejectionist, maximalist demands to eliminate Israel is for them to be utterly convinced it is impossible and costly to continue.
    • Fundamentally, only Israeli military strength can convince them Israel will not be eliminated.
    • US support, including the moving of the embassy, shows that Israel cannot be completely isolated diplomatically. (Again, Obama’s moves against Israel raised question marks about diplomatic isolation.)
    • What will change the cost of Arab/Muslim/European opposition to Israel?  Two calculations:
      1. Fear of Iran, for states in the Middle East. They will edge toward alliance with other anti-Iranian states, of which Israel is the most powerful, the most technically sophisticated, and the most capable in its intelligence services.
      2. Desire for trade with a growing, sophisticated, and technologically-innovative economy.  It is called “start-up nation” for a reason. (The GDP per capita of once-poor Israel is now equal to Italy and about 20-30% below the wealthier European states. It is about 3.5x higher than Turkey, 7x higher than Iran, 10x higher than Jordan on a per capita basis.)
  • There are two fundamental obstacles to peace on the Palestinian side.
    1. They don’t have stable governance.
      • Even if they promised peace, the government might be upended and a new government reverse course.
      • Knowing that, even political moderates in the West Bank are fearful of suggesting deeper cooperation. They wouldn’t win and might well be killed.
    2. The Palestinian political class has never accepted the basic idea of a Jewish state in the region.
      • The Palestinians’ own rejection of Israel encourages that of Muslims across the region. Not that they need much encouragement.
      • That’s true of both people in the West Bank and Gaza and of their leaders.
      • The level of anti-Semitism in their schoolbooks, propaganda, and casual statements is breathtaking. . . and disgusting. One compelling piece of evidence: they actually pay monthly pensions to families of terrorists who kill Jews. The money comes from Western donors.
  • The rejectionist front against Israel now has two regional leaders: Iran, which has expanded across the region, and Turkey, which has become increasingly Islamist under Erdogan.
    • Again, Obama’s policies made these problems worse. In the case of Iran, so did Bush’s take down of Saddam Hussein without ensuring a replacement regime.
  • As with so many Trump policies, the movement of the US embassy represents a change based on a simple calculus: what we tried in the past did not work. Let’s try something different.
    • In this case, I think he’s correct.
    • There will be a short-term price to pay. But the long-run effect will be Muslim recognition that Israel cannot be exterminated (at least, by anything less than an Iranian nuclear attack). That may cause some of them to accept the reality and move on.
  • US domestic politics: Jews: most Jews follow the same path of college-educated, socially liberal Americans.
    • They are appalled by Trump personally and think his behavior in office is unbecoming. But there is a deeper shift beneath the surface.
    • The Democratic Party is increasingly anti-Israel, the Republicans pro-Israel.
      • That is leading to stronger Jewish backing for Republicans, especially among more observant Jews. There used to be almost no Jewish Republicans. Now, there are plenty.
      • Among other Jews, the Republicans association with social conservatism is a major obstacle to realignment. So is the widening distance between US Jews and Israel.
  • US domestic politics: Evangelicals. No group has supported Israel more steadfastly–or been a stronger support for Republicans. They will love this move.
  • Europe’s fecklessness on Israel is on full display, not that anyone doubted it. It fears its own unassimilated Muslim population and assumes its antagonism to Israel will win friends in the Arab/Muslim world.
    • When historians look back at the long arc at the century beginning in 1930, they will see that Europe has traded a well-integrated Jewish minority, which Hitler exterminated, for a poorly-integrated and growing Muslim minority. The Jews accepted the basic tenets of liberal democracy. Significant elements of the Muslim minority do not.
    • Anti-Semitism in Europe is a serious problem. It combines four groups: Muslims, left-wing intellectuals, traditional anti-Semites (both upper-class and religious conservatives), and right-wing nationalists. (The movement in the US contains the first two but the last two are different. Country-club anti-Semites are a much smaller group today, and the vast majority of nationalist/patriot Americans are actually pro-Israel. Except for the fringes, they don’t have the fascist, anti-Semitic slant of Europe’s right-wing movements.)
  • Effects beyond the region: North Korea. By keeping a prominent campaign promise, Pres. Trump has made his other promises and threats more credible. That will have some effect as Beijing thinks about Trump’s threats to deal with North Korea
  • For people who say “all this sets back the peace process,” the short answer is “what peace process?