Friday round-up: the good and evil edition

Ding a ling a ling!

Ding a ling a ling!

Ask not for whom the dinner bell tolls!  I’m on a tight deadline to crank out an essay before the bell rings, so here are a few long reads to keep you busy while I’m out roping up some historiographical longhorns.  I don’t know why, but all of these links seem to be about good actors struggling to cope with their mixed feelings about the bad behavior of others.  Bookmark this post the next time someone tells you that “secular humanists” and “liberal relativists” refuse to deal with the problem of evil in the world, willya?

  • Clemson Communications Professor Chenjerai Kumanyika writes at the NPR Code Switch blog about “The Cost of White Comfort,” and nails a sneaking suspicion I’ve had about the (mostly white) chorus of hosannas about the forgiveness shown by the families of the black victims of last week’s terrible massacre in Charleston:  “I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.”  White Americans just love it when we’re let off the hook, don’t we?  We’re the kings and queens of the fantasy that history doesn’t matter.
  • Writer Andrew Chee dishes on his time in the early 1990s working as a cater-waiter for William F. and Pat Buckley:  “The tuxedo and the starched white shirt—and the fact that each assignment was at a different, often exclusive, place—all made me feel a little like James Bond. Sometimes my fellow waiters and I called it the Gay Peace Corps for how we could come into places, clean them up, make them fabulous, throw a party, and leave. And I liked that when I went home, I didn’t think about the work at all.”  But would his recent past as an ACT-UP activist get him kicked out of the famously anti-gay Bill’s household?  Or would it get him an invitation to skinny dip with Bill at the end of the evening?  (Because “that’s how they used to swim at Yale, after all.”)  Really!  For you younger people, this essay really captures a slice of gay, urban life in the 1990s, before and just after the invention of protease inhibitors while rendered HIV a condition people could live with instead of just die from.  I was an urban straight at the time, but Chee and I are the same age and his recollections really jibe with my memories of the time.

And there’s more!

  • Speaking of bad actors, Leah McLaren writes in Toronto Life about “The Cult of Jian:  His life as an outcast, who’s standing by him, and why he’s sure he’ll walk.”  As you may remember, last winter former CBC radio host and former minor rock star Jian Ghomeshi was accused of assaulting multiple women, and he is set to stand trial in early 2016 on four charges of sexual assault and one of choking; furthermore, he’ll stand trial on a separate sexual assault in June 2016.  McLaren writes from the perspective of a former friend who made the journey from utter disbelief to horrible belief in the probability of his guilt:  “Jian used liberalism and feminism the way Roy Cohn used McCarthyism—as a grand screen of moral superiority that hid his deeper, more urgent desires. Did it turn him on to correct his Q staffers for using sexist language like “manning the phone” and then punch women for pleasure in private?”
  • Finally, ICYMI, Jesse Singal writes about “How a Graduate Student Reluctantly Uncovered a Huge Scientific Fraud” by another graduate student in “The Case of the Amazing Gay Marriage Data” that claimed to show that people who were against gay marriage could be permanently persuaded to support it when canvassed by a gay person who testified about its importance to him or her.  David Broockman’s experiences should hearten any graduate student who finds something that just doesn’t feel or smell right in someone else’s research.  Follow it up!  The cowardice Broockman describes in this article should horrify you, but I can’t say it surprised me entirely:  “Most important, in Broockman’s opinion, his experience highlights a failure on the part of political science to nurture and assist young researchers who have suspicions about other scientists’ data, but who can’t, or can’t yet, prove any sort of malfeasance. In fact, throughout the entire process, until the very last moment when multiple “smoking guns” finally appeared, Broockman was consistently told by friends and advisers to keep quiet about his concerns lest he earn a reputation as a troublemaker, or —  perhaps worse — someone who merely replicates and investigates others’ research rather than plant a flag of his own.”

Come and get it, and eat ’em up, kids!  Time’s a’wasting.  It’s back to work time for me, but I’ll check in on your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below as the day goes on.



3 thoughts on “Friday round-up: the good and evil edition

  1. On the last of the four sordid tales: graduate students in the humanities don’t tend to collaborate on studies with senior faculty at other universities–especially senior scholars who they haven’t met yet and who don’t think to ask to see the data underlying the big, reportable “findings.” (Indeed, in the latter case, the big name could hardly seriously be considered an “author:). But I’m trying to imagine in any context that I’ve been to date, if a cohort-mate was “working with” some bigfoot at a prestigious university on the other coast, that many students harboring inklings of doubt would need to be cautioned against sticking their noses into the situation. The big journals don’t come across very well in this episode either, from the mainstream press accounts of it that I’ve read. Better to get out there first and if burned, publish a pained retraction and imply that the structural problems all lie upstream (downstream?) from the journal itself. Historians famously don’t do replication studies, of course, and reconstructing complex research protocols from afar in any short order is difficult or impossible for social science. But we can at least get a sense about whether the footnotes and bibliographies point in any plausible directions congruent with the claims. And still it would be hard to take the lead, especially if the advisor was not on board.


    • Hey–happy birthday! (It’s a downside of not being on FB.) Yes, the Supremes did the sensible thing again–although I”m disinclined to celebrate overmuch their recognition of the effing obvs., though.

      Kennedy’s comments about marriage are particularly pukey, but they’re pukey for everyone now!


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