Boy, you gotta carry that weight

12 06 2019

When are you responsible, for what, and for how long?

Linda Fairstein, who worked hard to put Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise (aka the Central Park 5) into prison for a horrendous crime they did not commit, is unhappy that that hard work has come in for some criticism.

She prosecuted the Central Park jogger rape case, was heavily supported by elites and the media in that prosecution, did the job that was expected of her. And even though she was but one of a litany of cops and those in the DAs who fucked up horrendously—not only were 5 kids jailed for a crime they didn’t commit, the man, Matias Reyes, who did rape Trisha Meili remained free to rape other women, and to kill at least one of them—fucked up horrendously she did.

So what should she do with that?

I’ve mentioned before that I am leery of clean slates for adults, that I think we should carry our deeds with us; how far does that go? How heavy must these deeds remain?

If we must keep trouble in mind, how much trouble?

I think you only get to lighten yourself after you’ve accepted that you’ve done wrong, and try, in some way, to atone. And if you can’t make it up to those you’ve wronged, then you accept that you can’t make it up, and say nothing more.

The late senator Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne; she’s dead due to his recklessness and unwillingness to get help for her when that help might have saved her life. He evaded the social consequences—prison—for his deeds (his 2-month sentence was suspended), and went on to a long public life as senator. He was lauded and respected for his political work.

Should he have remained a senator? Should that respect have been withheld?

I don’t know the answer to these. Had this happened today, I’d say No, and Yes, but I only knew the Kennedy who didn’t pay the consequences back then, who was able to build the public record for which he received that respect. Had he gone to prison, had the full story come out then, he might have gone away, and stayed away.

Did Kopechne weigh on his conscience? After the initial testimony, I don’t know that Kennedy said much about Chappaquiddick one way or the other. He apparently spoke with her parents a couple of times, but not to their satisfaction; publicly, he said little.

And that may have been the least he could do. If he couldn’t make it right, he could at least not proclaim over the years that he did no wrong.

I don’t know how to calibrate Fairstein’s versus Kennedy’s wrongs; how do you measure 5 boys, wrongly imprisoned, versus one young woman killed? He committed a crime, whereas she did nothing illegal; what happened to all six was unjust.

But her response to her wrongs bother me more than his, and I’m not sure why or if that even makes sense.

Maybe her defense of herself irritates because it’s so recent. I was a toddler when Kennedy defended himself, so wasn’t aware enough to take umbrage at his evasions. But now I’m a grown-ass woman listening to another grown-ass woman trying to justify injustice, and. . . no.

Maybe it’s because, all of these long years after the case, and after the real rapist was found, and after the convictions were vacated, she’s still defending herself. Okay, she says, maybe the  boys didn’t actually commit the rape, but those kids were still guilty of . . . something, and oh, by the way, we didn’t do anything wrong.

Of course, she’s wrong about being not-wrong:

In what she called “the film’s most egregious falsehoods,” she noted that the series depicts the teenagers as being held without food and their parents as not always being present during questioning. “If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city,” Ms. Fairstein wrote. “They didn’t, because it never happened.”

In fact, according to a 2003 report on the investigation commissioned by the New York Police Department, the defendants did raise these issues in a pretrial hearing, though they did not prevail.

She might not like how she was portrayed in When They See Us, might take issue with being portrayed as, in her words, an “evil mastermind”. I can see how that might sting.

And that she felt that she had to resign from a number of boards and that her publisher dropped her? Yeah, that probably hurt.

But she did herself no favors by taking that private hurt public and belittling the public hurt visited upon these young men. Maybe there was a way for her to have meaningfully engaged Ava DuVernay’s film and its portrayal of her, but that would have required her to have recognized the injustice of her real-life actions, which she apparently is unwilling to do.

Given that, it would have been better for her simply to have said nothing.


Got my brother down ’cause it’s nothing to me

14 03 2017

I, along with every single other Hillary Clinton voter, am tired of hearing how we, who did not vote for the racist poo-flinging toddler for president, must sympathize, must empathize, with those who did.

Especially when that means they will be hurt by those they voted for.

Fuck that. They’re adults and citizens who bear responsibility for their votes. If they couldn’t be bothered to learn that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same damned thing, if they voted for Republicans who’ve promised for years and years and years to cut back on the social safety net and cut taxes the most for those who need it the least, if they decided that it was more important to make sure Those Others got less than everyone getting more, then they should goddamned own that.

They are my fellow citizens, my equals before the law and holding the exact same rights as me. I’m not going to treat them as lesser by condescending to them, ‘poor things’.

That long rant-claimer out of the way: they are my fellow citizens, and if I believe, as I do, that we should have universal coverage and more generous welfare for all, that means for all.

I get the impulse behind such monumentally shitty ideas as blue-state secession, but, as Hamilton Nolan points out,

The impulse to bandy about the threat of secession is not rooted in concern for the vulnerable. It is a tantrum by rich people who are angry that their political power temporarily does not match their economic power. Think about how shallow a self-proclaimed liberal’s commitment to social justice has to be for them to say that the proper response to the ascent of a quasi-fascist amoral strongman is to cede him the majority of the nation’s territory and stop helping to support social programs for everyone not lucky enough to live in a coastal state.

More to the point,

It is fine to point out that Donald Trump is a charlatan and the ignorant are his prey. It is not fine to conclude that they should all then be sentenced to die due to the Republican health care “reform” plan.

Nolan goes a bit more noblesse oblige than I’m comfortable with—“The responsibility of the coastal elites is to help those people, not cast them into the wilderness”—but I do think I have a responsibility to the fellow members of my polity.

Thus, if I think a policy—say, universal health care—is a good one, then I’m not going to say “but not for you”, that is, I’m not going to abandon a better policy for a worse one just to punish people who didn’t vote the way I did. Spite’s a helluva drug, but rather too corrosive to indulge with any regularity.

That said, as someone who prefers parliamentary systems to the Madisonian one we’ve got precisely because I think it leads to more “responsible” government—because a party has few structural barriers to enacting its policies, it fully owns those policies—there is a part of me that says, Well, if this is what you want, this is what you get. In other words, if Republican government and policies is what the unemployed coal miners who rely upon the ACA voted for, then it makes sense that they should bear the consequences of their votes.

Except: our system isn’t parliamentary and I’m not a Republican. I think their policies are bad and given that our system does allow for obstruction, then Democrats should obstruct all proposals that would make life worse for Americans and fight for those which make life better.

I think Trump is terrible and his administration a disgrace and the Republicans in Congress mean sons-of-bitches, and entirely too many of their supporters applaud the terrible meanness. Still, I’ll be damned if I let my disdain for them lead me away from what I think is good.

h/t Scott Lemieux

Voices carry

9 08 2015

Katha Pollitt ain’t wrong:

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary.

The problem, however, is that a large chunk of the American population, male and female, is not comfortable with the notion that women have sex, and that sometimes as a result of having sex, have abortions that they do not regret.

Even some of those who don’t want abortion outlawed do want women to feel bad—both for having sex “irresponsibly” and for ducking their responsibility by having an abortion.

When we gloss over these truths [about voluntary motherhood] we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Pollitt wants women who’ve had abortions—and the men who’ve supported them—to speak up, and yes, sister, I’m right there with you.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves — that one in three — look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

I’d love for such a speak-out movement to work to blunt bill after proposed bill after proposed bill designed to deter women from accessing the clinic those bills’ sponsors are trying to harass out of existence, I really would, but I am dubious.

After all, this is a country in which most adults use contraceptives and yet the notion of contraceptive coverage is “controversial”.

Okay, it’s not, really, not as a general matter, but as a policy issue, even programs which provably help lower the incidence of unwanted pregnancy are in jeopardy.

(There are any number of reasons for the success of what could perhaps be called anti-sex bills, including the everlasting desire to control women’s sex lives, but apart from any ideological reasons is the plain fact that there are no obvious consequences for passing such bills—not to the legislators, at least.

Unwanted pregnancies carry all sorts of social costs, of course, but these tend to be spread (however thinly) across the general population; the acute burdens are, of course, carried by those who legislators deem should be so burdened.

And any woman who complains? Well, that’s what she gets for having sex.)

In any case, I propose that, in addition to Pollitt’s speak-out movement, those of us who favor abortion rights start talking, loudly, about just what kinds of consequences antiabortion legislators have in store for women who seek illegal abortions.

So you want to outlaw abortion?

This makes me sound like a maniac, I know: this could never happen! But it could, and it does.

So let’s ask all of those who want outlaw abortion exactly how they mean to enforce these laws, and what will the consequences be for women who run afoul of them.

Such an approach may not make any difference, but thus far it’s been too easy for antiabortion legislators to duck out of the consequences of their actions.

Let’s make it hard for them.

You want to outlaw abortion? Over a million women a year get abortions. How do you stop the abortions without stopping the women?

To the top of gravity

15 04 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates wants to teach his students to write honestly.

I said, Well, yes, but. . . .

To which he replied, Sure, and. . . .

It’s marvelous to tell writers to write the naked truth, to get the courage to strip oneself naked by remembering that everyone else is naked, too.

Human condition: a talisman for bravery.

Except that, well, maybe not so much “Except that” as “In addition to” the call to honesty one must remind the student-writers to be brave, that honesty often requires bravery, because honesty is a hard good to handle.

To be honest requires bravery because you might get your teeth kicked in.

It is also the case that to be honest can be, as I put it, “giddifying”: you are loosed from yourself as helium bubbles pop through your skin and you can’t quite believe that the words you wrote and are about to send out are your words meant for everyone. You have broken the sound barrier and speed of light and are now stretching beyond time.

You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. I’m being honest, at least how I can feel after having written: discombobulated and disoriented and blinking and wondering just where the gravity went.

Not always, not most times. But sometimes, still.

Such a glorious sensation: I’d chase it forever if it weren’t so unreliable.

Or I, braver.

Bad to the bone

12 02 2014

Good christ, do I make bad decisions.

It’s kind of astonishing how many truly bad decisions I have made, and how completely fucking clueless I am at the time I’ve made them that almost any other decision would have been better than the one I do go with.

I’m not a stupid person, so you’d think I’d have a handle on this decision-making thing. And I can be pretty good at helping someone else make decisions that make sense for them; then again, I’m not the one actually making those sensible decisions, so maybe it works out in spite rather than because of me.

And it’s not like these bad decisions lead to crazyfuntimes. Oh, they did, sometimes, when I was younger, when bad decisions were confined to evening or weekend plans and usually involved some sort of intoxicant: hanging on the bumper of Y’s car and skiing down the street in my topsiders; getting stoned in a stranger’s basement then rifling thru the cupboards for hard rolls and peanut butter; bringing approximately 100 times more booze than food on a camping trip to Mauthe Lake; accidentally starting a paper tablecloth on fire at Country Kitchen, and wrapping toilet paper around our heads and dancing thru the restaurant singing “Hare Krisna”.

(This last bit was a group effort—I don’t know that I was actually the one who tipped over the candle; in any case, I’ve been making up how awful we were to those waitresses by overtipping wait staff ever since.)

No, it was only when the stakes got larger did the decisions get both worse and less fun.

I started at Madison with the intention of majoring in political science and becoming a journalist. I declared the major early, and starting working at The Daily Cardinal my first semester. So far, so good.

But then I got to thinking that maybe I wasn’t cut out for journalism (even though I was totally cut out for journalism), and started snuffling around for something else to do.

Hence grad school.

No need to rehash my each and every bad grad decision, but you can be sure they were there and I diminished my prospects with each and every one.

(You want an example? I had a couple of editors sniffing around my dissertation, and one who made serious overtures to me to turn it into a book. Do you need to guess what I did? Nothing, that’s what I did.)

Blew thru two post-docs—two very good post-docs, with great colleagues and great conditions and which could have served as great launching pads for my career—with almost nothing to show for them except a desire to quit academia.

Such fine decisions.

Then the move to the Boston area. Christ. Next.

Then the move to Brooklyn (which involved multiple financially stupid decisions at both ends of the move), more bad job decisions, and, well, here I am.

I’ve known before of the low-quality of my decisions, but always had reasons for their badness: I was depressed, I was really depressed, I was getting over being depressed, I was so used to making bad decisions while depressed that I didn’t know how to make not-bad ones, I could only make decisions based on what I knew at the time. . . . Blah blah.

No, a coupla’ weeks ago I finally owned these shitty decisions, gathered them all into my arms and said Goddamn.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the full recognition of this bundle of badness; it’s just possible that knowing how terrible I’ve been at making decisions that I’ll try harder to make better ones, that I’ll check myself with a reminder of how badly things have gone before.

Oh, and by checking with people who by simple fact of not being me will offer better counsel to me than I could to myself.

Two more things. One, that I am not stupid has probably helped to mitigate some of the bad effects of the bad decisions. And not every decision I’ve made has been terrible (which may have helped lull me into thinking I was better at this than I am), so while I’m not where I want to be, I’m not at the bottom of the well, either.

Two, I’m not at the bottom of the well. Those bad decisions may have tipped me this way or that, but tipping over isn’t always all bad. Sometimes it’s just not what I expected, and sometimes, the unexpected is all right.

It’s all right.

Grab my rack of bones

4 05 2013

Yeah, yeah, another bitchfest about Bones.

I got nicked up over at TNC’s joint last week for writing that I’d hoped this was the last season, but, dangnabbit, that’s my ‘pinion and I’m stickin’ to it!

Consider last week’s episode (spoiler alerts blah blah): Brennan stuck a man in the neck with a syringe he thought was full of a mutated RNA-virus/botulism mix in order to, ah, motivate him to reveal the whereabouts of an antidote which could save Arastoo, who had pricked himself. . . really, does it matter?

Small thing first: It’s gotten to the point in Bones that if they bring a body into the lab full of terrifying microbes you know someone’s gonna get it. It didn’t used to be this way—utterly predictable—but there you go.

BIG THING: Brennan fucking stuck a man in the neck with a syringe of what he thought was full of killer germs! And nobody said anything!

Oh, wait, there were a few gasps in the room, and afterward Mr. CDC Man told Booth how lucky he was to have Brennan and Booth agreed and as they were walking out Brennan said You know I didn’t really inject him with a killer bug and Booth said I know and Brennan said But I would have and Booth said I know and he smiled and they decided to go out to and drink champagne!


She fucking assaulted a man and inflicted psychological torture on him and. . . that’s cool? Not arrested? Not fired? Not even the slightest bit chagrined because, hey, they saved Arastoo and got the bad guy so it was all good?


They used to give a shit about crossing lines on Bones. Yeah, I know, t.v. show, fiction, procedural, what did I expect, but Booth, at least, used to hold the line against shit like this because he knew that the lines mattered. (Brennan was always a more mixed case: on the one hand she cared about torture and genocide and on the other she did wanted to do what wanted to do and that was that.) But even if our plucky lil’ Jeffersonian gang was happy for the result—yay! Arastoo lives!—you’d think there’d be at least some blowback.


Maybe there will be in later episodes, although I doubt it; in the meantime: champagne!

But oh, well, I chose my way

10 06 2012

I try to regret nothing, I used to say. What’s the point of regrets, what’s done is done, you do what you can. . . .

Stop laughing.

I know, coming from me, the whole no-regrets things sounds laughable, but I really meant it. I might take hot pincers to my memories, but hey, that’s not the same as regret, is it? No, I was far more interested in tormenting myself over my bad choices than in wringing my hands over good choices foregone.

I’ve eased up on the self-torment somewhat (that habit is too longstanding to give up entirely: it’s my emergency pack of smokes, if you will), but—or perhaps, and as a result—I’ve noticed regret has crept into my repertoire.

This is not an entirely bad thing.

One of my go-to concepts of the past few years has been “consequences”, as in, there are consequences for every (in)action, consequences which can only be dealt with, not wished away. But I haven’t always dealt, truly, with these consequences, at least not in terms of tracing back the actions and coming to terms with the original decision.

No, that’s what the torment was for. And that was why the torment was so exquisitely irresistible.

Exquisite, because it so perfectly allowed me not to interrogate the decision, and irresistible because it allowed me to ‘take responsibility’—a.k.a. punishment—for my mis-deeds. A beautiful distraction.

I’m old enough now, I think, to take these regrets, to understand that to have done this instead of that—to have gone to Northwestern instead of UW-Madison, to have majored in theatre or journalism instead of political science, to have not backed away from D., to have told G. how I felt before it was too late, to have gone to New York instead of Albuquerque, . . . —-would not necessarily have led me to a better life, merely a different one, one with its own set of what-ifs and why-didn’t-Is.

I’m old enough, finally, to know there’s no escaping these questions, that the regret will come, regardless.

And now that I’m old enough to know to let the regret come, perhaps I can be wise enough to let it go. Perhaps one way to wisdom is through that reckoning with what was done and not done, and living with it all.

This was not helpful

21 05 2009

From the New York Times Lede Blog:

May 21, 2009, 7:38 am

Updated: 7:38 am

Catholic Archbishop Explains Remarks on ‘Courage’ of Abusers

The new head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols — who said on Wednesday that it “takes courage” for members of the clergy in Ireland who abused children “to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at” — tried to clarify his comments on Thursday.

Archbishop Nichols, who officially takes over the post of Archbishop of Westminster at a ceremony on Thursday, told British television on Wednesday, after the release of a 2,600-page report detailing the abuse of Irish children at Church-run state institutions:

It’s very distressing and very disturbing. And my heart goes out today, first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public…. Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage. And also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.

On Thursday, Archbishop Nichols told BBC Radio that his remarks were “perfectly sensible” and stressed that he also said that anyone guilty of abuse should be prosecuted. The BBC reported that Archbishop Nichols said, of members of the clergy who had committed abuse:

It is a tough road to take, to face up to our own weaknesses. That is certainly true of anyone who’s deceived themselves that all they’ve been doing is taking a bit of comfort from children.

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Nichols was also asked if members of the clergy should be subject to prosection and that he replied: “Yes, absolutely. If the offenses are such that demand that.”


Oh, at least he wants them prosecuted. So what is doing to make sure that happens?