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Archive for December, 2010

Trickle, trickle, dribble, drip. One day in October, I was talking with a student after class when we heard the unmistakeable sounds of water. A few steps down the hall, we heard the gush that could only be a broken pipe. Our admin argued successfully with the facilities folks who wanted to put in a work order (!!) but even with their prompt response, the torrent took out a bunch of ceiling tiles while my student and I watched in horrified fascination. It took a month for those tiles to be replaced. The whole ceiling still looks stained and provisional.

Meanwhile, administrators prioritize student retention and recruitment over all other goals. The result? Money is found for lavish student activity centers and gyms while faculty are laid off and classroom facilities turn into scenes from Brazil (the movie, not the country).

The corporatization of the university is so far advanced that it’s probably unstoppable, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up about it. Two little examples from beyond my campus:

Exhibit 1: I just went to check the links in my winter syllabus. I always include a couple of links to guides on nonsexist language usage. When I clicked on the one from the University of Minnesota, the old link redirected me – to a page on how to present a unified brand image for the university! It looks like this:

Lovely, but where are the women? Previously, there were university-wide guidelines for avoiding sexist expressions. Now, the university merely refers us to the Chicago Manual for guidance in all matters of style unrelated to its brand. Nowhere could I find the old guidelines (though a few individual departments offer brief tips on nonsexist usage in student papers). It’s all about the brand. None of this has any bearing on the university’s Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, which is outstanding; I’m betting no one consulted them.

At least Keene State College still maintains an excellent guide to nonsexist language.

Exhibit 2: Clarissa’s Blog reports that upper-level administrators at Clarissa’s public university in Illinois are drafting a dress code for its employees. Here’s the proposed language:

32.7 DRESS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE. All University employees are expected to portray a professional image to students, parents, and the community at large. An employee’s dress and appearance shall be neat and clean. At a minimum, the standard office dress code shall be defined as business casual. Apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements. In addition, apparel shall not be of an indecent, suggestive, provocative, obscene, or defamatory nature. If applicable, employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts. The University may direct an employee to leave work and/or change clothes if he/she is are found in violation of this provision.

Clarissa dishes out the snark that this proposal so richly deserves:

Will I be required to bring dry-cleaning receipts to prove that I clean my clothes on a regular basis? Do I need witnesses to testify that I do my laundry often enough to satisfy these losers? And who will teach my classes if I’m ordered to leave for “violating the provision”? The administrators? That, surely, be fun to observe. Maybe now, whenever I’m too lazy to prepare a class, I should just show up dressed “obscenely” and be sent home to rest.

Oh, and she says it reminds her of the bad old days back in the USSR.

The very idea of a dress code is to turn professors from idiosyncratic, original – if slightly frumpy – people into corporate drones. Clothes may not make the man (or the woman), but I sure think more clearly in comfortable shoes. It’s an interesting contradiction too, to say “apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements” but also “employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts.” University branding, anyone? If my uni comes up with a dunderheaded policy like this, I think I’ll need to buy some of those sweatpants with the university’s initials appliqued onto each butt cheek, just to test whether “indecency” or “suggestiveness” trumps the tomcat-like urge to mark everything with the university’s branding.

I have to wonder if the broader intent of such silly proposals is to be a diversionary tactic: Keep the professoriate busy with idiotic dress-code proposals and perhaps they won’t notice that their compensation is being slashed while their workloads balloon. Certainly my institution’s top honchos are very adept at forming unwieldly committees that either 1) lack meaningful faculty representation (if its task is important), or 2) keep scores of instructors tied up in busy work, often for a year or two, only to discard or disregard the committee’s product or recommendations.

These diversionary tactics are one way to suppress dissent against the advancing corporatization of higher ed, in which students are seen as customers and instructors are inconvenient expenses, useful only in generating “weighted student credit hours,” which is a measure of tuition income. It’s also a means of distracting professors from the way in which the casualization of academic labor – its delegation to people like me with no possibility of tenure, significantly lower wages, and a high chance of being unemployed next year – is undermining the ability of the entire professoriate to do its best work. Instructors who are busy fighting silly battles over basic dignity in working conditions have less time to refine their teaching and pursue their research. And those who are squeezed for time are more likely to seek individual, dog-eat-dog solutions to their own precarious situation, rather than investing in solidarity with other instructors and staff.

I’m off to a meeting now, myself, but this one is for union rabble-rousing. Professors do not have collective bargaining at my school. Now that incoming Governor Kasich is threatening to run over us with his “bus,” we’re going to need it.

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Just for the record: I would not care to samba with Julian Assange. Anything more intimate that square dancing, and I’d wonder what tricky step he might try … bareback, of course. Hmm, maybe “dosido your partner” means something different to Australian men of mystery?

Anyway, Gayle Force posted this irresistible clip. (Don’t see it? Go here.)

My favorite lyric?

Don’t corner Merkel, she’ll become tenacious

She’s risk-averse and rarely creative.

When I still lived in Germany, we regarded her as the Spawn of Helmut Kohl for her tenacity, risk aversion, and political acumen. Rather immaturely but accurately, we called her the Pillsbury Dough Girl. Back in the mid-1990s she honestly looked like she would end her career as a puff pastry; since then, she’s discovered tanning beds. I generally disapprove of tanning beds, but Merkel truthfully looks a whole lot less dowdy – unlike her mentor Kohl, who grew ever more dumpling-esque over time.

Here’s Merkel and mentor Kohl circa 1992:

(via the Editrix’ Roncesvalles)

And today? Why, it’s Merkel Barbie! (Or do the other dolls just call her Angie?)

(Image from Mattel. Don’t miss the flag on the left, or Angie’s pink accessories. Yeah, I know – I’m just spiteful because I want a Sungold Barbie!)

Had I been in the State Department, Wikicables would be a lot more embarrassing. Just imagine if diplomats and snarky bloggers magically traded places for a day! Oh, the places we’d go! The scandals we’d sow! Mmmmm, I feel some Seuss coming on: The Cat in the Hat Comes to the U.N.! The North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax meet on that disputed Korean island! The Star-Bellied Sneetches Rock Paris! The Butter Battle and the Big Boy Boomeroo – coming soon to a dictatorial Middle Eastern nation near you!

On second thought, maybe we bloggers ought to stay home and start poring through those cables ourselves. We might yet uncover a Big Boy Boomeroo. I hear Iran is building one.

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I kvetch a lot about snow days on this blog, because the North Dakotan girl in me is annoyed and appalled at how my little town in southeast Ohio shuts down as soon as a dozen snowflakes stick to the ground.

But this North Dakotan girl also knows the difference between a snow flurry and a blizzard. When the weather forecasters tell you that a foot and a half of snow is about to whomp your town, you locate your flashlights, make sure you’ve got food in the house, and then you hunker down.

“Hunkering down” ≠ getting in your car and driving.

And so I am amazed and appalled at how New Yorkers compounded their quandary by putting their cars on the streets where snowbanks could form all around them and block the plows. People! When Minneapolis got an equal dump of snow earlier this month, did you see the Minnesotans turning their city streets into impromptu parking lots?

I feel for the folks who are camping out at the airports and train stations. Their predicament was a stroke of rotten luck. But the motorists? Except for those few who were responding to an emergency, they were captured by hubris and willful stupidity, which they then inflicted on the whole city. It makes me think of this very cool puzzle/one-person game my kids got for Christmas, where you try to unsnarl gridlocked traffic …

… except that in real life, there’s negative fun and everyone loses.

Oh, and staying home in a blizzard isn’t a sign of the “wussification of America,” no matter what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s thinks. Real men are smart enough to hunker down during the storm (again: not in their cars!!). They’ll have plenty of chances to prove their mettle when the digging out begins.

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I haven’t blogged about Julian Assange and Wikileaks because I’ve been trying to understand before I judge. I’m still not willing to offer any final judgment on the rape allegations against Assange. That’s for a Swedish court of law to do, assuming that he’s extradited and the prosecution continues to press its case.

I feel confident about three things, though. If the Guardian’s article presents a good approximation of the facts, some sort of sexual assault occurred. (I’m well aware that Assange disputes his accusers’ accounts, and he deserves a chance to rebut them in court if formal charges are brought.) Secondly, anyone who dismisses the women’s accusations out of hand is out of line – and that goes doubly for feminists, who have every reason to know better. Lastly, even if the accusations never lead to a conviction, Assange is still an insufferable egotist who treats women like crap. That’s not a crime but it does raise questions about whether the left should continue to lionize him as a hero.

As I’ve already stated, I support what Wikileaks is trying to do. But as many other feminists have already argued, we can support its mission without preemptively assuming that Julian Assange is innocent of sexual assault. We don’t have to assume he’s guilty, either. We can instead support due process for Assange (including his right to bail) while also insisting that his accusers be treated respectfully, their allegations investigated, and their privacy protected. Or as Jill at Feministe said: “Seriously, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.” Seriously!

It’s still not clear what charges will be filed against Assange. Indeed, it’s still possible that Swedish prosecutors will decide the case is too difficult to win in court and decline to press charges. In that case, Assange just might be better off in Sweden than in Britain; should the U.S. cook up a brand-new crime and try to extradite Assange, I suspect Sweden would be less likely to cooperate than would Britain, with its “special relationship” to the U.S.

* * * * *

For the sake of conjecture, let us say that events transpired as described by the Guardian. Let us, for the sake of fairness, assume that the defendant is a fictional character we’ll call Albino Aussie. This lets us run a thought experiment without prejudging the actual real-world case. We will assume for this experiment that the women’s accounts are factual. In the real world, of course, the male protagonist disputes their statements, and we don’t have his side of the story. That would matter crucially in a court of law. The intent of my little thought experiment is more modest: to ask whether the alleged actions constitute sexual assault.

[The account of Miss A.] to police, which [Albino Aussie] disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

(Source: The Guardian)

Ripping off clothing is standard fare in romance novels. It could be good fun in an established relationship where one partner knows for sure that their partner would like to be ravished in this way. But with no discussion about desires and predilections? Albino Aussie made some major assumptions. Once Miss A. started to put her clothes back on, he had a stop signal – a flashing red light – and he chose to ignore it. (Also, Albino Aussie was a complete asshole to wreck her necklace. Not a crime, but that would have been a deal-breaker for me.)

His attempt to keep her from grabbing a condom is not sexy by any standard. It’s coercive. By itself, it doesn’t constitute sexual assault, but it could be significant if it signaled his intent and he then did “something” deliberately to break the condom, as Miss A. alleges. Criminal intent (mens rea) is a key element in sexual assault law in the United States (except for statutory rape), and it would be surprising if it were irrelevant in Sweden.

Similarly, Albino Aussie ran roughshod over the insistence of the second complainant, Miss W., that he wear a condom:

Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. [Albino Aussie] had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Note that Miss W. never consented to sex without a condom. In fact, she was adamant that she would refuse consent to unprotected penetrative sex. Nothing changed between the evening and the morning, except that Albino Aussie chose to ignore the critical conditions on which her consent was premised.

Whether any of Albino Aussie’s actions constitute “rape” will depend on the specifics of Swedish law. But there’s every reason to understand them as sexual assault of some form, even if they don’t rise to the standard of rape. He violated the conditions of consent that Miss W. had explicitly and repeatedly stated as a categorical prerequisite to sex. He initiated sex while she was sleeping and could not possibly say no. While the Guardian doesn’t specify the exact type of sex, it’s reasonable to assume PIV since she responded that he’d better not have HIV.

In the case of Miss A., Albino Aussie violated her conditions of consent by ejaculating inside her without protection. (If he was unaware that the condom broke – which is unlike if, as Miss A. claims, he ripped it himself – Swedish law might still allow prosecution on the basis of recklessness, though again I’m speculating since there’s precious little info on Swedish law.) He also ignored her clear signal to slow down and check in with her when she began to dress herself again in the midst of their encounter – an action that obviously signals NO.

To my mind, the clearest-cut example of sexual assault here is the allegation that he had sex with a sleeping woman. She could not possibly consent. What’s more, his decision to have unprotected sex clearly violated the terms of consent that she’d insisted on all night long. No way could he reasonably assume he was giving her something she wanted. (Jill at Feministe has a great analysis of the limits and nuances of consent; she wrote it before the Guardian piece appeared, but her basic points are still relevant. Plus, she’s a real lawyer … and I’m not even a fake one.)

Again, we don’t know what happened. But the substance of the allegations amounts to much more than “sex by surprise” (whatever that might be!). The allegations definitely fall on the spectrum of sexual assault. Everything else that allegedly happened – the fact that Miss A. let her guest continue to sleep in her apartment, partied with him, didn’t contact the police for days – is immaterial, if indeed events went down as she and Miss W. described them.

The allegations are not atypical for date rape cases. As a professor and as a feminist, I hear too many stories from students that echo elements of this case: the desire to normalize things the next morning, pressure to keep the social fabric intact by keeping accusations private, fear of character assassination if one does report, reluctance to label one’s experience as rape instead of – as Miss A. called it – “the worst sex ever.” (That last point is borne out by research done by Arnie Kahn, who found that many college-aged are reluctant to call nonconsensual sex “assault” if the perpetrator is a friend or lover. See Arnie S. Kahn, “What College Women Do and Do Not Experience as Rape,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28 (2004), 9-15.)

* * * * *

Feminists who’ve worked with college students and rape survivors should be aware of all this. And yet … Naomi Wolf is not. Or more likely, she chooses to repress what she knows, because she so fiercely wants Assange to be able to continue his work with Wikileaks. Here’s Wolf (in the HuffPo):

I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke.

Um, no. Compare with the accusations above. In the second instance, the allegation is that the sex was not consensual, because Miss W. had not consented to barebacking, and she had no opportunity to say yes or no while she was sleeping.

More Wolf:

I understand, from the alleged victims’ complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women’s apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, ‘reading stories about himself online’ in the cab.

Um, no. Self-centered texting is not among the allegations. I’m no expert in Swedish law, but I don’t think they’ve outlawed egotism yet. Just file this nugget away for the last part of this post (on why Assange is a douche).

Wolf expanded on her flippant HuffPo piece in an interview with Amy Goodman, which also included Jaclyn Friedman. Wolf said one thing I agree with: We do need to expect women to behave as “moral adults.” Sure. We cannot expect men to simply intuit a woman’s every wish. But Wolf didn’t stop there:

If you read these allegations, he took off Miss A’s clothes too quickly for her comfort. She tried to tell him to slow down, but then, quote, “she allowed him to undress her.” This is what the report says. The second woman says she woke to find him having sex with her. When she asked whether he was wearing a condom, he said no. Quote, “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV.’” He answered, “Of course not.” Quote, “She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

So, if you’re going to treat women as moral adults and if you’re going to take the issue of rape seriously, the person who’s engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, “I don’t want this.” And again and again and again, these women did not say, “This is not consensual.” Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints, because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation. Miss A kept Assange in her home for the next four days and threw a party for him.

Thing is, the women did say and signal: “I don’t want this.” At some point, both of them gave up on him getting the memo. But dang it, Assange – or “Albino Aussie,” if you will – had every opportunity to see the yellow and red cards the women were pulling. And instead of saying, “OK, being ravished is not your thing – so what would really turn you on?” he just keeps going on autopilot, ripping bodices until Miss A. gives up resistance. Instead of asking, “Should we do something else, since I only want to fuck bareback?” he waits until Miss W. is sleeping and slips it to her against her express wishes.

These women did act as moral adults. They delineated their boundaries. They tried to negotiate a satisfying, sexy experience for both partners. They said and signaled no to activities they found disturbing or unacceptable. According to their allegations, he drove a bulldozer over their moral agency.

How many times should a woman have to say no for it to count?

A final beef with Wolf: In the Democracy Now interview, she insinuates that only violent stranger rape is real rape:

In 23 years, I’ve never seen any man in any situation this ambiguous, involving this much consent, have any kind of legal process whatsoever. And all over the world, women who have been gang-raped, brutally raped, raped in alleyways, pimped, prostituted, trafficked, you know, their rapists go free.

Yeah, well, most rapists will never be convicted. But does the existence of violent stranger rape make date rape irrelevant, trivial, or harmless? Wolf and I are almost exactly the same age. It was our generation of college students that first started talking about date rape in the mid-1980s. Wolf knows that date rape is real rape. Just a few years ago Wolf accused Professor Harold Bloom groped her inner thigh back when she was an undergrad. That might not have been a case of sexual assault, but it was at least sexual harassment. No trafficking or gang-rape occurred, yet Wolf saw fit to publish the incident in New York Magazine. I’m not saying she was wrong to do so, only that she seems to have lost her compass since then. How else to explain her assertion that Assange and Miss W. were “making love”? (She said it in her Amy Goodman interview, at 5:27 – sorry, no transcript.)

It’s not just Wolf who’s twisting herself into pretzels to defend Assange. AnnaAnastasia at Shakesville directs us to Laurie Essig’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “Assange, Morality, and Desire,” it’s remarkably devoid of morality. Instead, Essig – a a sociology professor at Middlebury – is channeling some combo of Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and Harlequin romances:

One can imagine the summer air in Stockholm, ripe with possibilities, seducing Mr. Assange into  thinking it was a good idea to hop into bed with his host, known as Ms. A in the court papers, and then hopping into the bed of one of his fans, Ms. W, just a few days later.

Essig doesn’t even try to make Assange into a moral actor. He’s giddy with optimism, opportunity, and the seductive air of Stockholm. Potential entrepreneurs, take note: there’s an untapped market for bottling Swedish air and selling it to frustrated men (the Seduction Community might buy in bulk). Poor Assange was defenseless; he was seduced, perhaps even entrapped, by Swedish women who, Essig suggests, subscribe to a moral code that is wholly foreign to an Australian man.

While Essig initially concedes that Assange is charged with”having sex without a condom (without full consent of the women),” she backpedals a moment later:

And while Sweden might consider having sex without a condom against the law, most countries do not.  Perhaps more confusing is the issue of consent. Although this young woman clearly found being taken while asleep upsetting, some women would be turned on by being the object of that much desire.

This is pure disingenuity. Essig has just noted that the problem is a lack of full consent, not laws against barebacking. She damn well knows better! What’s so “confusing” about consent here? Consent to one sex act doesn’t imply consent to another. Just as consent to vaginal sex doesn’t imply consent to anal sex, consent to safer sex doesn’t imply consent to condomless sex.

As for being “taken while asleep” – in a longer-term relationship, partners might let each other know they’d welcome sleep sex. To just presume it? When it’s your first time hooking up? When your only real communication revealed your incompatible expectations vis-a-vis condoms? That’s more than just stupid and presumptuous. That’s rape.

Then again, Essig seems to consider “date rape” to be something quite distinct from “rape.” Channeling Whoopie Goldberg, Essig digs herself in even deeper in a follow-up post:

Based on what we do know, I do not think Assange is guilty of rape.  I am not sure whether he is guilty of date rape, but if he is, then the date rape is incredibly murky since no one seems to have been drugged or beaten or even particularly coerced.

So if Miss W. had taken drugs before sleeping, then Essig might entertain the possibility of “date rape”? I can only imagine how she might respond when her students report having been raped. “No roofies? No worry! Just be more careful next time … and remember, some women get off on lack of consent.”

Essig wants us to understand that sex is messy and complicated. She strikes the pose of a sophisticated libertine, a connoisseur of heterosexual behavior. Essig teaches classes on heterosexuality – but in her essay, she offers up a vision of female heterosexuality that’s cartoonish, not complex:

According to press reports, Assange held one of the women down in a sexual manner.  Yes, and many women like that.  Assange started having sex while one woman was sleeping.  Yes, that too some women like.  Because people like all sorts of things—clothes being ripped off, dirty threats whispered in their ears, even somewhat violent sexual encounters.  Not everyone likes these things, but many, many people do.  Clearly someone in Assange’s past sexual encounters thought it was a turn on or at least didn’t think it was rape.  That’s why he was doing it.  Is that gross?  Sure.  Is all sex gross when you’re not the one doing it?  Pretty much.  Is it rape if the woman doesn’t wake up and say “Stop” and “No, I don’t want that”?

Many (most?) heterosexual women will cop to some un-PC desires. Fantasies about non-consent are quite common – among hetero men as well as women. But when we go beyond fantasy, the desire to submit and be ravished is virtually always predicated on consent. Partners can ethically incorporate violent activities, even “nonconsensual” scenes, into their sex lives – if they negotiate. If they agree on a safe word. If they consent in advance, with an option to bail if the scene goes wrong. Two people who disagree on whether a condom must be used are in a whole ‘nother universe than partners who communicate their edgier desires. Essig surely ought to know all this too.

After all, Essig teaches in Women’s and Gender Studies as well as sociology.

* * * * *

Even though I think the allegations are serious and credible, I’m still not committing myself to the “Assange must be guilty camp.” I do think that if the two women set out to smear him, they would have constructed a much smoother story. Someone setting a premeditated trap would have avoided the details that Essig and Wolf find damning, such as Miss A. continuing to host Assange in her home, or Miss. W. giving him a ride the next morning. They would have continued to say no throughout the encounters. They would have called the police immediately and filed sexual assault charges, instead of just demanding Assange take an STD test. In short, they would have sought to fit the ideal of how a sexual assault victim ought to act, rather than behaving in the way that actual survivors often act – confused, trying to not to make waves socially, and unsure what to call their experience.

Does that make Assange guilty? No. I would want to hear Assange’s side before drawing any conclusions.

What we do hear from and about Assange doesn’t exactly cover him in glory, though. He comes across as a user and a sponger. Given that he now draws an income from Wikileaks, why did he keep squatting in Miss A.’s  apartment even when she moved into a friend’s place to avoid him? Why did he apparently have Miss W. pay for his train tickets to and from her home? (He told her he had no cash and feared being tracked by his credit card – a thin excuse for a guy who was easily trackable via his public speaking schedule in Sweden.) How narcissistic do you have to be to immerse yourself in online stories about yourself even as you’re trying to get laid? Why did he order Miss W. to bring him orange juice (as Essig reports)? Couldn’t he pour his own damn juice?

And why didn’t he just get the STD tests? He claimed that Miss W.’s demand for testing was “blackmail,” but it’s a pretty reasonable request, given how open he was about his predilection for barebacking. If he’d agreed, the whole matter would probably never have come to the prosecutor’s attention.

The interview Assange granted the BBC last week hints at the answers to these questions. Here are a couple of especially prime slices:

Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.

JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more. …

Q: But you haven’t denied having sex with those women?

JA: No, I haven’t denied that.

Q: So you did have sex with those women?

JA: I have always tried in this case and in my other dealings to be a private person and to not speak about matters that are private.

Q: This is now public. So I’m asking you the question. Did you have sex with those women?

JA: It’s a matter of public record as far as the courts are concerned but I am not going to be exposing other people’s private lives or my own more than is absolutely necessary. That is not what a gentleman does, that why I have also never criticised these women. We don’t know precisely what pressures they have been under, exactly. There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears. That doesn’t mean that they got in there in the very beginning and fabricated them. …

Q: The allegation against you, the very broad allegation that’s been made over and over again in the media over recent days is that you’re some sort of sexual predator who has sex with a large number of young women, ideally without a condom, and that you do it because you can, effectively, because in some cases they’re groupies or they’re enthralled to your fame or whatever it is. Are you a sexual predator?

JA: That’s ridiculous. Of course not.

Q: How many women have you slept with?

JA: That’s a private business. Not only does a gentleman not tell, not only does a gentleman like to talk about his private life, a gentleman certainly doesn’t count.

Q: Many, without being specific?

JA: I’ve never had a problem before with women. Women have been extremely helpful and generous.

Q: Not quite the question I asked you.

JA: No, women have been extremely helpful and generous and put up with me. But…

Q: Does put up with you mean having you in their beds?

JA: Of course on occasion, I mean I’m an adult man, but women have been generous to me over many years.

(Read the full BBC interview here. Ellipses are mine except for the one in Assange’s second-to-last statement.)

Of course, a gentleman wouldn’t argue when his partner insisted on a condom. That’s what a foolhardy narcissist does.

A gentleman might not keep count of his lovers, but then again, a gentleman would keep some mad money in his pocket, so as not to mooch train fares off his lovers. A gentleman gives as well as takes. Relying on women to be “generous”? That’s what a sponger does.

Also, a gentleman doesn’t relish martyrdom. That’s a role better suited for a someone with a messiah complex.

In a profile of Assange as a dark-hatted hacker, Bruce Sterling calls him a sociopath. I don’t see proof of that. But a wannabe martyr? A cheapskate mooch? A narcissist? An exploiter of groupies? A misogynist with no understanding of women? An antifeminist who says “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism”? A jet-setting, globe-trotting, world-class douche? I think the evidence is in.

None of this makes Assange guilty of sexual assault. But it does indicate that Assange has some grave character issues. He’s too self-centered to earn my trust – too entitled and narcissistic. The Wikileaks organization would be better served with a leader driven more by public interest than by self-interest.

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Before I dive into the thorny mess of the rape allegations against Juian Assange, I want to say this: For the record, I generally support what Wikileaks has done. Too many secrets corrode democracy. We now live in a national-security state that is also a surveillance-and-secrecy state – what Glenn Greenwald memorably describes as “the government’s one-way mirror.” Increasingly, the state gathers data on every aspect of our lives, to the point of intercepting and reading individuals’ emails without probable cause, while it demands absolute secrecy even for ludicrously quotidian operations. As Greenwald puts it:

One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does.  Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that “knowledge is power,” this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.

Wikileaks poses such a profound threat because it undermines the asymmetry of knowledge/power, allowing us citizens to glimpse the inner workings of our government. I get nervous about the sheer scope of revelations, because it’s hard to be confident that Wikileaks has redacted everything that could put individuals at risk. A few days ago, there were reports that an Algerian journalist could come to harm as a result of leaked material. That’s one person too many. If this becomes a pattern, then we’ll know that Wikileaks has succumbed to the same ends-justify-the-means logic that has corrupted the U.S. government, and I couldn’t support that. So far, though, I’m convinced that its aims are essentially good: to make it harder for governments to act conspiratorially, and thus to foster a more just society. I’m also glad that human rights organizations are leaning on Wikileaks to make sure they get their redactions right.

Beyond its lofty long-term goals, Wikileaks had shed light on specific abuses. Though that’s not the group’s leading goal, it’s still a terribly important corrective to the secrecy state. Greenwald gives us a rundown of their most important revelations this year.

Too many of the revelations are reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers. Not because they reveal “top secret” info; they don’t. The Pentagon Papers, by contrast, bore a “top secret” classification. Nor do the Wikileaks revelations present a neat, self-contained analysis and narrative, as the Pentagon Papers did. These leaks are so messy and sprawling, they’ll still be spawning news stories a year from now.

No, the link between the Wikileaked materials and the Pentagon Papers is much simpler. Both show that our government is lying to us. That’s our democratically elected government, folks. As in the 1960s, it’s lying to us in the midst of war. It’s lying about the war. This parallel is striking enough that Daniel Ellsberg (he who leaked the Pentagon Papers) sees it, too. Behold him on Colbert:

(If you can’t see the clip, go here – or just pop over to Kittywampus, which has more kittehs than your blog reader does.)

I don’t want my government to lie to me. Far many more lives have been lost through its lies than were lost on 9/11. Far more have been killed in the name of “freedom.” I worry more about the structures and policies that enable this killing than I do about “terrorists” or Australians hackers.

Also: Don’t you just love Daniel Ellsberg? I don’t have many heroes. I don’t much believe in heroes. He’s one of my few.

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People go to such lengths to keep the Santa myth alive! Kenneth Rapoza, writing at Salon, details the lies he spins to preserve the magic for his children:

We send letters to the Santa Claus Main Post Office in the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland. A real place. We even got letters back from them two years ago.

That tradition began after my daughter, at 5, discovered in school that the North Pole had no land mass and didn’t support life, except for an occasional polar bear in the winter months. I pointed out that Lapland was a hot spot for actual Santa activity and told her that the North Pole was just one of many Santa stories: not real. It was a nice recovery, but year after year, it’s getting harder to trick her.

What she doesn’t get is the logistics. How can Santa deliver toys around the world in one night? It’s not one night. It’s two because of world time zones and dates, plus the story that Santa flies through the sky on reindeer is just a story. Years ago, he delivered toys in his hometown by sled, pulled by reindeer. But Santa has a big staff now. The Santas you see, including those in the fake beards who are trying to dress like Santa, represent Santa in other cities and towns and — upon receiving your letters to Santa — fill in your wish list with small presents that Santa makes. This is reality, dear. Santa may not be as magical as you think. But don’t ruin those stories for others, I say. She’s cool with it.

Maybe his kids are in for a gentle landing. Maybe it’ll be more like a brutal crash, with reindeer blood and tears despoiling the winter wonderlandscape. That’s sort of how it went for my ten-year-old nephew this year. Everyone had assumed he was in don’t ask, don’t tell mode for fear of losing the loot. But when his seven-year-old sister learned the truth and immediately spilled the beans to him, there were histrionics. I wasn’t there, but I hear it involved oceans of tears and at least a half-hour in the fetal position. He’s fine now, but to judge from Salon’s comment section, there are adults walking this earth who still suffer the aftershock of disillusionment.

My mom has long said she hated lying to us kids about anything, even Santa and the Easter Bunny. I shared her qualms (even though I hadn’t been terribly traumatized, myself) and so I vowed to keep the lies to an absolute minimum. Yes, Santa comes to our house, but their dad and I never told the kids a lie when their budding scientific minds began to deconstruct the Santa myth .

The Bear, age five: How does Santa get into houses without a chimney?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think?

Bear: I bet he uses the door.

Not long thereafter, the Bear determined that the Easter Bunny couldn’t be a real rabbit; he had to be a person. A few days later, he announced, “And I know who he is! It’s Santa Claus in a bunny suit!”

By the time the Bear solved the puzzle, he had a lot of pieces in place: the impossibility of making all those deliveries in one night, the absurdity of flying reindeer, the fact that all the elves’ handiwork was “made in China,” the presence of familiar handwriting and (oops) wrapping paper on Santa gifts, and the small can of blue paint in our garage that perfectly matched the base of the fish tank Santa brought him. The Bear was proud to have done the detective work and thrilled to guard the magic for his little brother. He was a perfect co-conspirator; not once did he let the secret slip.

Over the past year, the Tiger – now seven – would ask occasionally whether Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy was real. I’d always counter, “What do you think?” He would respond, “I think he’s real.”

Earlier this month, he raised the question again:

Tiger: Is Santa real?

Me: What do you think?

Tiger: I think he’s not real.

Me: Why? What made you decide that?

Tiger: Because magic is not real.

Me (with a slight pang – knowing that when magic dies, the whole world is disenchanted): What would you think if you knew it’s me and your dad who are Santa?

Tiger: That would be nice!

I couldn’t have wished for a softer landing. In general, my parenting is pretty imperfect, so I’m reluctant to claim any special wisdom here, either. But if you’ve got young sprogs on Santa’s delivery route, it might be worth trying our approach. Let them decide what they want to believe and how much of the myth to question. Follow their lead. (Hmm, that’s starting to sound like my philosophy on sex ed, too!)

I’m curious how other parents handle this, as well as what went right or wrong in your own falling away from a world enchanted.

Happy holidays to all, whatever you celebrate or believe!

Illustrations are a few of the cookies that my family and I made during the last run of snow days – photos by me, Sungold.

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My seven-year-old Tiger would put Kackel Dackel at the top of his Christmas list, if only it were available in the U.S.! (Amazon.de has it but the shipping times were too long.) This toy has got everything: animal cuteness, extruder action, and scat!

(Click here if you don’t see the clip. Via Andrew Sullivan, who got it from Warming Glow.)

See, this is why I spent all those years learning German! I knew it would come in handy someday. My rough translation:

Oh no! Poopy Dachsund is pooping again! Quick, into your doghouse! Naughty Poopy Dachshund!

Fix his food – feed him – roll the dice – and one, two – what’s that noise? [Cue excretory sounds.] Collect the most [poop] piles, and you’re the winner!

Poopy Dachsund! From Goliath Toys.

Whoever said the Germans were anal-retentive? This pooch is just the opposite. In fact, Berlin alone must have 50,000 live-action Kackel Dackel, all of whose piles are left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to tread in, forming a sort of obstacle-course game of their own.

In any case, given the popularity of the Captain Underpants books, I’m positive there’s a U.S. market for Kackel Dackel. Maybe next year?

Just for good measure, here’s Kackel Dackel in action, speaking a completely international language.

(I found this clip at Toytown, a site for expats in Germany. The comments there are worth a visit. “BDSM Bear,” anyone?)

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