Bret Stephens remembers Michael Kelly, the American journalist killed ten years ago south of Baghdad Airport, traveling embedded with the US Army’s Third Division. His jeep came under enemy fire, and the driver lost control while trying to evade and went into a canal. Kelly drowned along with his driver, becoming the first American journalist to lose his life during the war.
Wouldn’t you know that it would be a reporter like Kelly who got killed, not one of the usual verminous breed?
Kelly treated a column as a sword, the obvious and most worthy purpose of which was to stab, slice, decapitate and—once he really got going—utterly disembowel the objects of his contempt.
Which objects? The pompous, the dishonest, the phony, the self-satisfied, the morally safe and smug, the debauched, the downright evil. To speak more precisely: Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, Mr. Gore again, the news media in general, Ted Kennedy, Yasser Arafat. And, of course, Hollywood, which pretty much exemplified all the above-mentioned qualities.
Kelly didn’t just deride these people and institutions. Before he could skewer them, he had to capture them. Writing about Oscar night, he catches Jack Nicholson “leering and sprawling paunchily in his ringside chair like an especially dissolute pasha waiting for his next lap dance.” From an early profile of Bill Clinton: “When he spoke, perception was not only reality. It was a reality that changed, quicksilver quick, from eye to eye and ear to ear.” Of one of Mr. Gore’s debate performances against George W. Bush: “It was much like the most infuriating of all husbandly marital-argument tactics. You know the one—where you play the part of the patient but pained party in the obvious right, too much a gentleman to say that your wife is spewing pure rubbish, but communicating utter contempt through creative breathing.”
Reading Kelly, I used to wonder: Did his power of observation explain his moral judgments, or was it the other way around? Usually (though few of us columnists will admit it), we make our judgments and then find our evidence. I don’t think this was true of Kelly: He was like a man born with a preternatural sense of smell. He couldn’t help smelling it. And he could smell it from a mile away.
Take his view of Frank Sinatra. Everyone loved Old Blue Eyes and mourned him when he died in 1998. Everyone except Michael Kelly.
Kelly hated Frank because Frank had invented Cool, and Cool had replaced Smart. What was Smart? It was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “He possesses an outward cynicism, but at his core he is a square. . . . He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. . . . When there is a war, he goes to it. . . . He may be world weary, but he is not ironic.”
Cool was something else. “Cool said the old values were for suckers. . . . Cool didn’t go to war; Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs he was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing.”
It never, ever would have occurred to me to make the distinction until I read Kelly’s column. And then I understood Sinatra. And then I understood Kelly, too.
Kelly, who was killed 10 years ago as an embedded journalist just outside of Baghdad, was Smart. When the war came, he, too, went to it. Few columnists in America had argued as passionately, and none as cogently, for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
“To march against the war is not to give peace a chance,” he wrote six weeks before his death. “It is to give tyranny a chance.”
Earlier this month, it was revealed that the management of this year’s Sex Week at Yale circulated a questionaire inquiring about Yale students’ sexual histories, whether they’d ever had sex for money, and what sort of activities had they participated in. Campus Reform blog
I personally smiled sardonically and shrugged when the Daily Mail swallowed this silliness whole and when one editorialist at NR online also climbed on board, worrying aloud about what all this pre-matriculation-at-college debauchery must say about the state of our civilization.
The Daily Mail is a British newspaper and, let’s face it, some of the guys who write for NR do not have personally an Ivy League background, so a little confusion about the meaning and validity of that particular poll was understandable. But, as the French flavorfully put it: “Il ne faut pas de enculer des mouches” [One does not sodomize flies]. I decided not even to dignify this nonsense by remarking on it.
I was clearly wrong. Some flies will keep demanding attention until they get it.
First of all, a few days ago, on Facebook, a prominent conservative intellectual I know (who did not go to Yale), was linking another instance of the one-out-of-ten-Yale-undergraduates-have-been-hookers news meme. So, I intervened and pointed out that in evaluating all this, one needed to reflect on in just what way the typical Yale undergraduate is likely to respond to blithering, intrusive, and basically bizarre questions about his-or-her sex life written up in ridiculous form by a professional “sexologist” who operates a suburban store selling dildos. I was only surprised that number of affirmative answers to the weirder questions was so low.
More recently, even Glenn Reynolds (who went to Yale Law, and ought to know better) was repeating this important meme.
March 21, 2013
HIGHER EDUCATION UPDATE: Nine Percent of Yale Students Surveyed Say They’ve Accepted Money for Sex. “Nine percent of Yale University students who participated in a recent survey on sexual behavior reported having been paid for sex at least once. Three percent said they had participated in bestiality, and more than half said they had ‘engaged in consensual pain’ during sex.”
When I read this sort of thing, I think back fondly to Ken Kesey appearing at Yale, during the Revolution, to announce to the nation his candidacy for the presidency (opposing Richard Nixon in 1972). Kesey was visibly inflamed with self-righteous political passion, egomania, and some sort of mood altering substances. He proudly delivered his diatribe, and began taking his bows while condescendingly accepting questions from the audience.
The Yale undergrad questioners began cruelly playing with Kesey like some cats playing with a mouse. They gravely expressed agreement with his nonsensical propositions, and deliberately and skillfully drew him farther and farther out along fanciful limbs of patently ridiculous claims pertaining to his qualifications for high office and elicited from him some extremely potentially embarassing proposals for national policies involving sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll. Then, the audience began mocking him. People asked unkind questions, like whether he might not be too stoned to campaign effectively. Kesey became infuriated, and he began exchanging invitiations to come up and fight him for catcalls from the floor. And that was how the audience at Ken Kesey’s presidential campaign announcement at Yale sank that campaign on its opening night.
Someday, boys and girls, I should tell you what we did to Norman Mailer, but that is another story. In any event, it is necessary to bear in mind, that most people who get into Yale are very, very bright, and that Yalies have a tendency to mock fools.
John Ziegler described how misreporting and media sensationalism destroyed the reputation of Joe Paterno and the nation’s most admired football program.
Regardless of what the final facts eventually say about what Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it about Jerry Sandusky’s criminal behavior (contrary to what the media has told you, they aren’t in yet and I have confronted very anti-Paterno “reporters” who admit this privately), the media coverage of him has been as unfair as any I have ever seen. In some ways, the media coverage of Joe Paterno has combined some of the worst elements of both the reporting of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 presidential election. ...
After the grand jury presentment was made available at a Saturday press conference which announced the Sandusky indictments last November, the initial media coverage was, in retrospect remarkably, and tellingly, rather muted.
ESPN, who would later the next week drive most of the narrative of the overall story, limited most of their coverage over the weekend to a passing news mention and a perfunctory place on the ubiquitous scroll on the bottom of the screen. After all, they had actual college and pro football games to broadcast/cover and no need to interrupt those ratings winners for the story of some guy who hadn’t coached football in over a decade.
The first edition of Sports Illustrated (which went to press about 48 hours after the indictments) after the news broke does not make mention of the Sandusky story in even one news article. Sandusky didn’t even make the “For the Record” section under “Arrests.” The story is only cited in an opinion column on the back page which reads somewhat like the “last word” on a story which is horrible but which may not provide much opportunity to write about in the future.
By the next week, Joe Paterno was somehow on the cover of SI along with multiple banner headlines, including one indicating that this was the biggest scandal in college sports history.
What changed in the ensuing week? Well, Paterno was fired, but not because we learned anything significantly new about the scandal during that time. Instead, what happened was that ESPN, with the help of popular website Deadspin (which was the first outlet to jump all over the story and predict Paterno’s demise), decided that they could change the rules of this game and make what was an otherwise dead sports week into a dramatic, ratings winning, passion play.
The initial take of the mainstream media was that this was not really a Joe Paterno story because, while Sandusky had been his assistant coach and there was a major allegation which occurred on campus, it was after he had already left the program. Paterno had testified but had not been charged. The prosecutors said that Paterno had done what was legally required of him, though they did raise the issue (in the response to a leading question from the media) of whether Paterno had fulfilled his moral responsibility with regard to making sure the allegations were properly followed up.
Seemingly lulled into a false sense of security by the relative rationality of the initial coverage (which was neither as intense nor as insane as it soon would be), Penn State made a couple of critical errors. The first was that they failed to make it clear that when Paterno had made sure the Mike McQueary allegations were reported to Gary Schultz, that he was doing so to the person in charge of the campus police. The media, either out of incompetence, deceitfulness, or both, never made that clear and in fact often reported that Paterno “never went to the police.” This omission created a huge hole in Paterno’s ship, which should have been easily plugged. Instead, it was an unnecessary leak in his story which still exists in public perception today. ...
Now the media had what they wanted. They suddenly processed all the excuses they needed to turn a story about a likely child molester who hadn’t coached at Penn State for twelve years, into a tale of whether a legend had failed in his moral responsibility to protect children he may or may not have even known were ever in danger.
The public wouldn’t care much about Sandusky, but everyone knew Joe Paterno. The tearing down of a pious legend makes for incredible copy and it transformed that week from a remarkably slow sports period (the NBA was still on strike, baseball was over, and football was in a midseason lull) into a ratings bonanza.
Now it should be noted that one of the primary weapons which drove the deep passion and anger on this story at the outset was the misuse of one key phrase in the grand jury presentment. The prosecutors brilliantly (though deceitfully) claimed that Mike McQueary had witnessed Sandusky having “anal intercourse” with a ten year old boy in the Penn State showers.
Quite simply, there is very little in the human condition which makes our brains turn off their logic mechanisms faster than the concept of a child being anally raped by an old man. Like the color red to a raging bull, this phrase turned what would have been reasonable outrage into a communal blind fury. It also made it nearly impossible to discuss the actual facts of the matter because people understandably don’t like talking about the subject.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that had the grand jury presentment not used the words “anal intercourse,” that Joe Paterno would not have been fired the way that he was and likely would have coached out the season. I also have little uncertainty that the phrase was purposely misused in the grand jury presentment because prosecutors knew exactly what kind of public reaction it would provoke.
I also believe that part of the reason that the phrase “anal intercourse” was placed in the grand jury presentment was because, at that time, contrary to public perception, the legal case against Jerry Sandusky was actually remarkably weak.
Incredibly, despite a huge civil settlement being there for the taking, somehow there was/is no known victim in the McQueary episode (Don’t tell the media that! They still don’t realize it!), and, though somehow no one knew it at the time, McQueary had inexplicably testified incorrectly about which day, month and year the incident he supposedly witnessed took place.
Few people, and fewer media members, realize that at the time of the indictments there was only one allegation of actual “sex” from a known witness, and that person’s story had been disbelieved by officials at his own school (interestingly that boy’s mom doesn’t blame Paterno or Penn State). The prosecution needed a big explosion in order to blow the case wide open and bring in other accusers they had to be sure were still out there. Their tactic worked perfectly, but it also had the side effect (one with which it seems they weren’t unpleased) of making it impossible for Paterno to get a remotely fair public examination.
As it ultimately turned out, the “hanging” jury in the Jerry Sandusky case actually rightly acquitted him of “anal intercourse” in the McQueary allegation (for the record, I believe the evidence indicates that McQueary did not witness an assault, but rather a botched “grooming”). But by that time it no longer mattered and this inconvenient fact was almost universally ignored by the media.
K.C. Johnson, at Minding the Campus, devastatingly criticized the New York Times story.
When Times readers learned from Richard Perez-Pena that “a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault,” how many of them realized that Yale was actually using an “expansive definition” of this otherwise commonly-understood term? How many readers further realized that Yale had designed the procedure about which Perez-Pena wrote so as to give Witt’s accuser “control over the process,” including limited or no investigation? And how many readers could have dreamed that the procedures guiding the allegation against Witt have produced the extraordinary claim that sexual assault is far, far more common on this Ivy League campus than in the fourth most dangerous city in the country? And since the Times went to print without ever speaking to Witt or (it seems) anyone sympathetic to him in the Athletic Department, didn’t the paper at the very least have an obligation to provide the context that would explain the highly unusual procedures and definitions that Yale features?
Patrick Witt’s response to the Times’ story.
Kathleen Parker, in the Washington Post, put the New York Times’s reporting standards on trial.
A New York Times story on Friday… essentially indicted and convicted a 22-year-old star football player on an alleged sexual assault charge by an anonymous accuser. ...
[W]ith throat-clearing authority, the story begins with the young man’s name — Patrick J. Witt, Yale University’s former quarterback — and his announcement last fall that he was withdrawing his Rhodes scholarship application so that he could play against Harvard. The game was scheduled the same day as the scholarship interview.
Next we are told that he actually had withdrawn his application for the scholarship after the Rhodes Trust had learned “through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault.” And there goes the gavel. Case closed.
But in fact, no one seems to know much of anything, and no one in an official capacity is talking. The only people advancing this devastating and sordid tale are “a half-dozen [anonymous] people with knowledge of all or part of the story.” All or part? Which part? As in, “Heard any good gossip lately?”
A statement Friday afternoon on Witt’s behalf denied any connection between his withdrawal from the Rhodes application process and the alleged assault. Moreover, when Witt requested a formal inquiry into the allegations, he says, the university declined. “No formal complaint was filed, no written statement was taken from anyone involved, and his request . . . for a formal inquiry was denied because, he was told, there was nothing to defend against,” according to the statement.
The Times apparently didn’t know these facts, but shouldn’t it have known them before publishing the story? It’s not until the 11th paragraph that readers even learn about the half-dozen anonymous sources. Not until the 14th paragraph does the Times tell us that “many aspects of the situation remain unknown, including some details of the allegation against Witt; how he responded; how it was resolved; and whether Yale officials who handle Rhodes applications — including Richard C. Levin, the university’s president, who signed Witt’s endorsement letter — knew of the complaint.”
Translation: We don’t know anything, but we’re smearing this guy anyway. ...
By anyone’s understanding of fairness, Witt has been unjustly condemned by nameless accusers and a complicit press.
Reuters pointed out that the Times’ own commenters overwhelmingly condemned the newspaper’s decision to print that story.
The Times has already published a follow-up story that noted “diverging stories,” but only after comments and writers began questioning the Times’ editors and the paper’s editorial process.
The simplest summation of that criticism came from a commenter named ‘mystery shopper’ who posted that running the story was “a horrible editorial decision. Ethics classes in schools of journalism around the country will use this story as an example of an ill-advised story.”
Reader John Lucas writes: “A red light violator facing a $50 fine gets more due process than a student at Yale (or most other universities) now.”
Reader Dave Ivers writes: “I’ve wondered what would happen if every male athlete at Yale looked around a classroom and noticed a young woman looking at them and than filed an ‘informal’ complaint. Under the Yale rules that ‘looking’ at well-built athletes could be a sexual crime. Since the athletes don’t know for sure, shouldn’t they file to protect themselves and then get victim status?”
The bottom of an antique souvenir saucer presents the image of similarly named topographic feature in Virginia.
The Washington Post set some new sort of record for opportunistic associative campaign smear reporting, by proceeding to headline a story informing its readers at length that Rick Perry hunted deer and entertained guests at hunting camps belonging to family and friends located in rural spot, known locally decades ago as “N-word-head.”
Wikipedia identifies the origin of such toponyms and mentions their date of extinction on official US maps.
In several English-speaking countries, Niggerhead or nigger head is a former name for several things thought to resemble a black person (“nigger”)’s head.
The term was once widely used for all sorts of things, including products such as soap and chewing tobacco, but most often for geographic features such as hills and rocks. In the U.S., more than hundred “Niggerheads” and other place names now considered racially offensive were changed in 1962 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
Nor did “N-word-head” survive as the name of the area in which the Perry and Reed families’ hunting camps were sited. At some unknown point in the past, again decades ago, someone unknown removed and painted over the sign once identifying a rural Texas location by that name.
The Post obviously had no reason to believe that either Rick Perry, or any member of his family, had named the area “N-word-head.” The Post had no reason to believe that Rick Perry, or any member of his family, had erected a sign consisting of a rock with the “N-word-head” name painted on it. The Post had no reason to attribute any kind of meaningful responsibility for the existence or use in the distant past of that toponymic expression to Rick Perry at all. But associating a conservative Republican presidential candidate with the N-word, even so tangentially, is a way of flinging a big handful of mud at him, and who knows? Some of it might get into some voters’ heads and actually stick.
As an example of political opposition politics, or of journalism, this kind of thing is about as unethical, low, underhanded, cowardly, and despicable as you can try to get away with. I notice that the reptiles and invertebrates that wrote this contemptible story did not even sign their names to it, and I’m not surprised.
—————————————— Herman Cain dramatically diminished my liking and respect for his candidacy yesterday by jumping right in and trying to make hay by using this bilge. Screw him.
The big brains at Slate discuss “The End of Men,” the topic of an impending debate to be held at NYU on September 20th, featuring Hanna Rosin. Slate never even tells us who (or what) will be debating the negative on September 20th.
Hanna Rosin’s 2010 Atlantic cover story, “The End of Men,” was one of the most talked-about magazine articles in recent years. “Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind,” wrote Rosin, an award-winning journalist for Slate and the Atlantic. “But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed.” ...
Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they’ve failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionally—and stereotypically—feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they’re rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They’re portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars. ...
Rosin: The question I always have to respond to is, ‘[if women are taking over] why are there so many more men in power?’ If you look at Hollywood, or you look at the Fortune 500 list, or you look at politics, there’s a disproportionate number of men in the higher positions of power.
Slate: Why is that, then?
Rosin: Men have been at this for 40,000 years. Women have been rising for something like 30 or 40 years. So of course women haven’t occupied every single [high-powered] position. How would that be possible? The rise of women is barely a generation old. But if you look at everything else, like the median, the big bulge in the middle, it’s just unbelievable what has happened: Women are more than 50 percent of the workforce, and they’re more than 50 percent of managers. It’s just extraordinary that that’s happened in basically one generation. It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.
This is the kind of analysis that is actually taken seriously by the scientific, intellectual American elite that is so much better qualified to make all the decisions for the rest of America.
Yesterday afternoon, when the earthquake hit, I was two steps up a rickety flight of stairs in an old warehouse in Remington, Virginia where we’re storing some of the many books we cannot fit into the charming, antique Virginia farmhouse we are currently inhabiting.
I thought someone must be opening an exceptionally violent garage door on the other side of the wall, then began guessing someone was running some piece of heavy machinery nearby in the building. The vibration stopped, and I proceeded upstairs.
I only learned that it was an earthquake when I got back to the car and turned on the radio.
WMAL, 63 AM, the station I listen to El Rushbo on, switched over to full-time broadcasting about this major news event. Sean Hannity never even came on. Instead, Conservative talk radio host Chris Plante was dragged out a pizzeria, where he had been lunching, back to the studio to cover what was essentially a non-event.
Chris and his associates interviewed all sorts of ordinary people, who testified to all of their personal earthquake experiences (typically just as interesting as mine).
My blood ran cold when Chris Plante, the conservative, proceeded in Pavlovian journalistic manner to interview a state legislator from Prince George County about “government’s response.” I would have said, in his position: “Response? What response? There was no actual damage. No injuries. There wasn’t anything anyone needed to do.” But, no. The politico happily bloviated on and on about how each and every level of government bureaucracy, all the “first responders” in particular, turned on every flashing light and siren, and spun their wheels vigorously. Our rulers, guardians, supervisors, and protectors had to justify their existence by seeming to take control, and keeping the rest of us alerted and informed, even if there was nothing in particular to alert us about, beyond potential heavy traffic resulting from government offices releasing their personnel to commute home early.
Even a conservative commentator, like Chris Plante, can be found to behave as a true product of the culture of journalism and officialdom, when push comes shove (even in the case of a minor 5.9 push), the journalist Plante goes running to Big Brother to participate in, and to cover with canine respect, the charade of official expertise gravely protecting us, the helpless public, from all perils and vissiscitudes, even in an instance where there is nothing but the empty semblance of a real event.
Being engaged in something, kind of, sort of, resembling journalism myself, as you can see, I, too, felt obliged to cover the terrible earthquake of 2011, and here from BuzzFeed are 20 photographs of some of the worst damage.
Abe Sauer, blogging at The Awl, contends that Rolling Stone’s recent hit-piece on Michele Bachmann by Matt Taibbi represents a classic example of leftie journalism taking deliberate aim at an opponent and then shooting itself in the foot.
The backlash against the lashing out against presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has already begun. Following the Palin blueprint, Bachmann plans on fully leveraging the negative publicity with her base: they see leftist attacks as a point of pride and an indication of strength. ...
It’s forgivable that Rolling Stone’s take-down is at best re-reported and at worst poorly sourced. It’s less forgivable that it’s self-detonating. It’s a screed that warns America that Michele Bachmann is to be taken seriously—right before doing exactly the opposite.
The profile is the kind of battle-axing of Bachmann that is going to do great pageviews for the magazine but ultimately play right into her hand. It gives Bachmann legitimate evidence that the fabled leftist mainstream media is attacking her. Consequently, it will make her more popular with a base that looks for which conservative leader is being most reviled in the media, and then assumes that person is their best bet. (It’s not a coincidence that Tim Pawlenty has completely avoided harsh criticism from the MSM while at the same time being unable to gain traction with Tea Party-influenced primary voters.)
Not only is the profile unnecessarily mean, it’s sloppy. ...
On the same day Taibbi’s story hit the web, The Blaze called it a “seemingly slanderous” piece that “attacks Bachmann’s faith.” Elsewhere it was called an “anti-Christian hit piece.” By tomorrow, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bachmann’s own campaign distributing photocopies of it in Iowa.
But Bremer’s greatest complaint is Rolling Stone “smearing the town of Stillwater as some whites-only, wealthy gated community that propelled Bachmann to the national scene.” And Avidor said that “the smear of Stillwater is what sticks out for me.”
“I can’t believe he ever came here,” Bremer said. Actually, he didn’t: Taibbi confirmed to me that he never set foot in Minnesota for the piece.
Typical Yale secret society initiation (clothed phase) (click on image for larger version.)
This year’s February 19th Pundits’ initiation party apparently featured slightly heavier drinking than usual. A student informant (who knows if he was telling the truth?) told the Yale Daily News that five attendees wound up at Yale-New Haven Hospital and six others at Yale’s Department of University Health.
11 out 50 attendees rendered so hors de combat by drinking that they had to seek medical attention? Not just impressive, Homeric really. Vital positions have been taken in military engagements whose memories echo through history with lower percentage casualties.
The same person (who could possibly be just a little prone to exaggeration) also told the YDN that he saw “a member of the Pundits forcing attendees to kiss each other and that a Pundit forced a male friend’s face onto another’s penis.”
Three Dog Night clearly composed this little number after one of the Pundits’ parties.
This year’s Pundits initiation party rapidly achieved national news coverage.
A pundit is an expert, a vendor of influential, nay, determinative opinions. According to Wikipedia, it even seems most probable that the common vernacular use of the term pundit has “its origins in a Yale University society known as “The Pundits” which, founded in 1884, developed a reputation for including among its members the school’s most incisive and humorous critics of contemporary society. ... Several members of the society have also gone on to become leading political pundits, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy expert Daniel Yergin. Other notable Yale Pundits include A. Whitney Griswold, Lewis H. Lapham and Joe Lieberman.”
The founder of the Pundits, as an undergraduate at Yale, was the illustrious William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), who went on to become essentially the leading Humanities scholar in the United States in his day, and a long-time, enormously admired professor at Yale. Billy Phelps was, in fact, the original prototype of the star professor, whose lectures were so witty, so brilliant, and entertaining, that attendance at his course became known as a not-to-be-missed feature of the Yale undergraduate experience. Phelps was in the first half of the last century what Vincent Scully was when I was an undergraduate.
The Pundits (founded in 1884) doubtless did not originally hold naked parties, but contented themselves with assembling the wittiest and most brilliant members of the Senior Class for a weekly dinner at Mory’s, and participating in a series of elaborate pranks and lampoons intended to deflate pomposity and pretension.
When I was an undergraduate, late 1960s-early 1970s, the Pundits had become moribund and inactive. They seem to have been revived in the late 1970s, during a period in which a reaction to all the leftwing piety and politically correct cant of the Vietnam era set in and Yale undergraduates began once again reveling in undergraduate life, throwing parties, and reviving fraternities and other social organizations.
My Yale informants tell me that it was Yale’s oldest a capella singing group, the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, founded in 1938 and usually referred to as “The SOBs,” which began throwing regular naked parties during the late 1980s. The Pundits, known earlier for lobster-and-champagne lunches on the steps of Sterling Memorial Library, had some kind of ties to the SOBs and, from them, acquired the custom of the naked party.
I found, via the Yale Daily News, a Hustler article published in 2007, by a-then-sophomore describing the Pundits taking advantage of Ivy League naked parties hitting the national media to spoof the New York Times.
[W]hen the New York Times called, the Pundits weren’t about to cooperate. One of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers wanted to do a story about them, but the tricksters just did what they do best—they fucked with someone’s mind. Assigned to get a firsthand account of a naked party at Yale, Times reporter Rachel Aviv contacted the Pundits. They would later bring her to a real one, but not before throwing a special shindig on her behalf. Mr. E’s eyes light up recounting the story: “Instead of a lot of people drinking and mingling in a dark, well-decorated room, we brought her to a brightly lit library in which just a couple dozen of us were sitting around and playing board games.
After the Taboo, Uno, Scrabble, etc. were concluded, we did some naked charades and then, to top it off, some naked trust falls off a table.” Likewise, Ms. Aviv’s story on the seedy underbelly of an Ivy League school was collapsing faster than Judy Miller could say, “WMDs.” The Times reporter had to be freaking out, but maybe she was just confounded by the intensity of naked charades. The evening’s coup de grâce came when the revelers gathered into groups of three to eight, distributed condoms and left. The bewildered journalist could do nothing but struggle to jot down a few notes and then slide her pants back on. The Pundits, explains one tall and impeccably dressed member, “make sure there’s never a moment when everything’s okay.”
If the Pundits were fucking with the media’s mind back in 2007 on the naked-parties-at-Ivy-League-schools meme, why, I wonder, do not reporters this year worry that those mischievous Pundits may be playing mind games with them again?
Undergraduate binge-drinking, hazing rituals, and naked parties are all ingredients perfectly calculated to make journalists sit up and beg the same way ham affects my basset hound.
It may very well be that this year’s Pundits’ initiation party scandal is just one more of the nation’s leading prankster organizations elaborate satirical spoofs.
William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), founder of the Pundits.
In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin discusses why the left’s attempt to exploit the Tucson tragedy failed: both new alternative media and, for once, professional journalists actually did their job, and even the White House declined to follow the loony left’s lead.
In the end, they only discredited themselves.
Why were the last four days a mini-disaster for the swampland of the left? It boils down to: facts, response and time.
Members of the left pounced first and didn’t much care about the facts. Before it was clear just how crazy Jared Loughner is, the left blogosphere and their more high-minded print compatriots were ready to affix blame on their opponents. As the facts emerged, more quickly and thoroughly than every before in the 24/7, twitter-driven media environment, the narrative fell apart. A chorus on the left claimed causation between Sarah Palin and the killings (and then the amorphous “climate” and the deaths) and didn’t much care for a careful analysis until it became clear their preferred narrative was false. As for the president, he doesn’t buy it at all. He said: “And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.” (Emphasis added.) Or, as I put it, rhetorical civility and mental illness are discrete problems. And it doesn’t help the liberal line when it turns out this particular lunatic was a-political and didn’t watch news.
So, for my friends on the left: facts count. You can’t spin a narrative and not be expected to be called on the underlying, flawed premise.
The response was unlike anything I have seen since the emergence of the new media. It wasn’t just conservatives that rebutted the left’s narrative, but diligent reporters. We think of “rapid response” as a campaign skill, but in reality that is how pundits, activists, reporters and politicians now react. Because the left’s narrative was so noxious—Sarah Palin or a floating cloud of conservative meanness caused a mass murder—the right was filled with indignation and responded passionately, quickly and effectively. And, meanwhile, in the race to report on the biggest story of the year, the working press furiously disclosed the facts, which, as I noted above, undercut the left’s storyline.
And then there is time. The reason I believe that Obama entirely avoided politics, indeed rebuked the Krugman-Daily Kos narrative, is because he saw the pushing and shoving, read the polls, figured which way the wind was blowing, and steered clear of associating himself with the tone-deaf left. Conversely, because the left couldn’t restrain themselves, they pounced immediately and left a trail of inanity on twitter and websites.
Newspaper reports are sketchy. They never mention the specifics of the testing or identify the alleged results, and they do not offer a mention of the names of the scientists doing the testing or refer to any papers. They just tell the story.
Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a “lost legion” of Roman soldiers.
Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin. Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.
A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed Cai Luoma, or “Cai the Roman”, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.
Chinese and Italian anthropologists this week established an Italian studies center at a leading university in northwest China to determine whether some Western-looking Chinese in the area are the descendants of a lost Roman army of ancient times.
Experts at the Italian Studies Center at Lanzhou University in Gansu Province will conduct excavations on a section of the Silk Road, a 7,000-km-long trade route that linked Asia and Europe more than 2,000 years ago, to see if it can be proved a legion of lost Roman soldiers settled in China, said Prof. Yuan Honggeng, head of the center.
“We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China’s early contact with the Roman Empire,” said Yuan.
Before Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th century, the only known contact between the two empires was a visit by Roman diplomats in 166 A.D.
Chinese archeologists were therefore surprised in the 1990s to find the remains of an ancient fortification in Liqian, a remote town in Yongchang County on the edge of the Gobi desert, which was strikingly similar to Roman defence structures.
They were even more astonished to find western-looking people with green, deep-set eyes, long and hooked noses and blonde hair in the area.
Though the villagers said they had never traveled outside the county, they worshipped bulls and their favorite game was similar to the ancient Romans’ bull-fighting dance.
DNA tests in 2005 confirmed some of the villagers were indeed of foreign origin, leading many experts to conclude they are the descendants of the ancient Roman army headed by general Marcus Crassus.
In 53 B.C., Crassus was defeated and beheaded by the Parthians, a tribe occupying what is now Iran, putting an end to Rome’s eastward expansion.
But a 6,000-strong army led by Crassus’s eldest son apparently escaped and were never found again.
And here we see why. The science actually debunked the legend, but the press published the legend and misreported the DNA test results.
An article in the Journal of Human Genetics 52 (7): 584–91, titled: Testing the hypothesis of an ancient Roman soldier origin of the Liqian people in northwest China: a Y-chromosome perspective. seems to explain that DNA testing proved the exact opposite of the accounts in the newspapers.
The Liqian people in north China are well known because of the controversial hypothesis of an ancient Roman mercenary origin. To test this hypothesis, 227 male individuals representing four Chinese populations were analyzed at 12 short tandem repeat (STR) loci and 12 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). At the haplogroup levels, 77% Liqian Y chromosomes were restricted to East Asia. Principal component (PC) and multidimensional scaling (MDS) analysis suggests that the Liqians are closely related to Chinese populations, especially Han Chinese populations, whereas they greatly deviate from Central Asian and Western Eurasian populations. Further phylogenetic and admixture analysis confirmed that the Han Chinese contributed greatly to the Liqian gene pool. The Liqian and the Yugur people, regarded as kindred populations with common origins, present an underlying genetic difference in a median-joining network. Overall, a Roman mercenary origin could not be accepted as true according to paternal genetic variation, and the current Liqian population is more likely to be a subgroup of the Chinese majority Han.
This example illustrates why it is inadvisable to base one’s views on Anthropogenic Global Warming or the existence of Bigfoot on newspaper accounts.
The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
Hitch writes wittily and one admires his courage, but I must say I do find myself a bit puzzled by the eagerness of professional literati like Hitchens not merely to share, but to avidly harvest, process, package, and market such close-to-the-bone experiences as a personal fatal illness.
My own natural inclination is to regard broad areas of personal life and experience, particularly this kind, as completely private. I would no more desire to tell an audience of strangers what I thought when I learned I had a fatal condition than I would care to disrobe in public.
It seems certain to me that my attitude must be a residual feature of my primitive, ordinary American, working class origins. Nothing could be more characteristic of membership in the Ivy League, elite world of high achievement, celebrity, and success than rushing, as quickly as possible following any notable experience, to the keyboard and hurrying one’s account of myself and whatever into print.
All experience was once considered useful for the forging of the human character. Today, all experience is simply more fodder for publication.
True members of the community of fashion are always marketing themselves. One can picture Hitchens arguing with Charon about not being permitted to retain his Blackberry and the lack of Wifi access from the River Styx. There would be such a huge opportunity for a major feature on exactly what a chap sees, and everything he experiences, as he is drawn irresistibly in the direction of that bright white light. How frustrating it would be!
Let’s hope Hitchens beats the odds and can go on writing and self-revelating for a long time yet.