Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

I have thirty minutes to blog. Sorry, all, for my absence. It’s been busy. I had a writing deadline on Monday, doctors appointments (routine), a Halloween party for quirky boys and their moms, and some drama with Jonah.

Jonah’s adjunct writing teacher was fired in the middle of the semester, calculus is kicking his ass, and the advisement office is incompetent. He’s been working until 4am every night, so we’re talking him through this nonsense. Sigh. I’ll write more about the adjunct situation later.

20 minutes left. Okay, let’s talk about Weinstein, Trump’s Putin connections, and Donna Brazille’s revelations about Hillary. Most people aren’t wading into the details of Trump and Clinton. They are getting enough to know these people feel that they above the law and are getting rich. When they have to pay $10,000 in monthly payments and a deductible for their health insurance,  Manafort walks away with millions from the Ukraine.

And the abuse of power by the Hollywood power players is coming at the same time. These people who are honored on red carpets, that are celebrated and airbrushed on the celebrity news sources that never once mentioned this kind of crap, that are America’s royalty. People are realizing that their heroes are, in fact, disgusting perverts.

This is going to have an impact on our society and politics. When people become cynical, they lock themselves up in the homes and communities. They fear outsiders. They stop participating in government and then corruption increases.

This can’t keep going on.

(Later this afternoon… one more blog post. A fun one.)

47 thoughts on “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

  1. First, I don’t actually think I have a right to demand your blog posts, so no need for apologies (I use feedly to read, which is nice for me, ’cause it means that I can tell when you put up a new post, so I don’t have to check looking for one).

    Second, I so don’t want to talk about any of that stuff. I’m pretty much talked out on perils of sexual harassment when the men control the avenues to power. Actually, I do have one conversation, which was inspired by the Michelle Cottle article on Leon Wieseltier in the Atlantic. She describes the generalized harassment that I’ve now come to realize is pervasive and common in every workplace that I know of and so usual that all of us have figured out our own ways to cope without considering how systemic it is. But two things stuck in my mind. First was Wieseltier “auditioning” new women at the New Republic and, in Cottle’s mind, assigning them to the “humorless prig v good game” categories. I’ve always been a pretty proud humorless prig, which can be protective of more extreme harassment, but also leaves you out. Second, she mentions that Wieseltier, who engaged in inappropriate behavior, did, also, help women in their careers, as opposed to the owner of the New Republic (who she describes as a rampant sexist who had no use for women in the workplace). That stuck in my mind because it’s a phenomenon I also noticed — as a woman, trying to gain mentorship in hierarchical, informally evaluated careers (media, journalism, film, theater, science, . . . ) a man who liked women, being around them, talking to them, . . . . was better than one who would ignore you and shut you out. I remember warning my 13 year old daughter, when she came back from a summer camp, and was happy about conversations that sometimes boys talk to you not for the brilliance of your mind, and you have to be aware. Connecting those points reminded me of how internalized these realities are, even for a humorless prig like me.


    1. bj said,

      “She describes the generalized harassment that I’ve now come to realize is pervasive and common in every workplace that I know of and so usual that all of us have figured out our own ways to cope without considering how systemic it is.”

      Is it really everywhere in the same exact way?

      What I’ve been noticing in recent stories is how often you see the following recurring motifs:

      –failure to observe proprieties (interviewing women in bathrobe)
      –a persistent blurring of the line between work and not-work
      –being Mr. Fun
      –being “creative”
      –being a star that normal rules don’t apply to
      –figuring out ways to use work to surround oneself with the object of one’s lust (be it adult women, teen girls, or teen boys)

      There’s been a lot of, “Whee, look how fun and unconventional I am!”

      I don’t think that those features are going to be found equally in all workplaces–and in fact, recent scandals have been focused on the art and media world.


      1. In banking I’ve seen harassment mostly on trading floors. When I was a telecom technician on a trading floor my manager used to ask me inappropriate questions about sex all the time. On the tech side of banking I’ve personally not seen sexual harassment but I do see male managers who consistently discount the input of women or don’t want to work with them.


      2. Also, I feel for Jonah. My first semester calculus was rough, as was physics. The best thing I ever did was pay for a tutor (senior student) who helped me way more than my instructors. I have no idea what options he has but if he’s in engineering he should know he’s not alone.


    2. When I started thinking through the industries in which we are hearing about the issue right now — media (Ailes, etc.), film (Weinstein, etc.), startup funding (Cantor,McClure, etc.), academic science (Ott, Lieb, etc.), journalism (Wieseltier, Oreskes, etc.), tech companies (Singhal, Chavez, etc.), politics (. . . . .), . . .

      Harassment clearly comes in many forms, but it seems to me that the industries that are especially prone to this particular kind of harassment — “good game” in exchange for potential opportunity and mentorship are ones in which individuals wield significant power (as opposed to bureaucracies) and sponsorship/mentorship plays a significant role in who succeeds (casting an actress, funding a startup, giving lab opportunities, writing opportunities, . . . .).

      Dave’s reference to his experience in government, to the extent that it reflects the experiences of women there, could be considered as an example of a different structure (that is, the workplace that defines bureaucracy). I wonder what the incidence is in K-12 schools, which are both bureaucratic and unionized.

      (Marianne’s example, of a trading floor might be yet another kind of harassment that occurs in environments where there are few women — construction, trades, police, military, first responders, . . . .).


      1. There also might be a qualitative difference between industries where women are a tiny minority (construction, securities trading, a similar dynamic exists on certain city streets), and experience public harassment from the group, and industries where individuals (Harvey Weinstein, Leon Wieseltier) wield large power–which are often industries where there are a fair number of women, such as publishing or academia–and women experience individualized pressure for sexual favors. Categorizing both such situations as “harassment” might obscure more than it reveals.


    3. “I’ve always been a pretty proud humorless prig”: here’s something that I can say a fervent “me too” to. Proud Humorless Prigs 4ever!

      And really I can’t say the other “me too,” except in very minor ways. It does vary from workplace to workplace; I remember at an old job at a nonprofit where the men and women interacted in quite healthy ways suddenly having to deal with an outside contractor who treated the women as if they were stupid and thinking, wow, this is what people are talking about. (Not so much about sexual harrassment, but where women are default viewed as idiots I imagine it’s easier to justify this sort of thing.)


  2. And, on your “fear” theory, this is circulating now about fear and politics: “https://www.sciencealert.com/study-turned-conservatives-liberal-politics-yale-psychology”

    There’s older stuff that argues that making liberals scared can make them express more conservative viewpoints (though I do not vouch for this research — I think I need to see a lot more than the press before I can believe this social science research).


    1. The experiment actually says that conservatives who told to imagine that they are superheroes who can’t be hurt are more likely to express liberal viewpoints.


  3. I’m wary of conflating celebrity culture with political culture. I think the two work a bit differently. I’ll have to think that through a little more, though, because yes, I know a celebrity was elected to a top political office. But there are some different expectations.

    The people being mentioned in terms of the Hollywood stuff are well-known serial harassers/abusers. Clooney and Damon are being jerks because there’s dirt on them; Clooney has had rumors circulating about his sexual orientation and Damon about his extramarital affairs. Neither involves sexual abuse of the Weinstein/Ratner/Spacey level, but they would probably see their images (as heartthrob/nice guy) take a hit. I can’t wait for Dan Schneider to go down, btw.

    The Donna Brazile stuff is kind of small potatoes compared to the sh*tshow that is our current administration. I also have a feeling that even for small potatoes, it’s not a big deal. I am aware I have a pro-HRC bias, so I will be try to be open to the other side, but what I’ve seen so far hasn’t been convincing.

    And I ain’t got time for any of this because I have to make a flash trip to the land of Apt11D this weekend for a bar mitzvah. Drop off the kid in LI to visit his cousins, dash to Jersey, return and maybe see a sister or two, then head back home to keep on grading. Ugh. At least i get to brag to my college friends that my kid is at our college.


  4. I await the adjunct post–as much as the other topics are interesting. I visited a school with HS senior where the president says “We have no T.A.s here.” OK, true. But how many adjuncts do you have, and how well treated are they? I’ll post more if this school becomes a front-runner.


    1. I’d like to second the recommendation for Aleks.com. It fit the learning style of one of my children very well and he used it for Algebra 1 and 2, Calculus and Trigonometry. I think it does depend on your child though, in what kind of teaching/teaching aids will work for them. (The Alek’s courses are online, repetitive, step-by-step explanations and then you are tested with examples to see if you have learned the concept. Also, no human interaction required—which seemed to be a plus for my son. And, they are not expensive, which was a plus for me.)


  5. 35 years in government and I saw/heard of very little harassment. Several cases, though, in which it was widely rumored that someone whose ascent was very fast and whose talents did not seem overwhelming had gotten her promotions on her back.


  6. As to Hollwwod, our family had a jaundiced view of show business and politics. The admiration is/was not universal.

    I hope the current paroxysm of disgust over the disclosures leads to a change in the laws governing confidentiality agreements. It should not be possible to pay someone to hide criminal behavior. Evidence seems to suggest many sexual predators are repeat offenders. Allowing lawyers to aid such people in making victims shut up seems counterproductive, as it leads to more victims.


    1. I agree — there seems to be increasing evidence that these secret settlements allowed individuals to continue to be perpetrators. In a number of these cases, the individuals could still chose to be silent in exchange for funds, but we shouldn’t help with the force of law. And, no one should be required to destroy evidence as a part of the settlement (as in the 32 million dollar settlement between O’Reilly & Liz Wiehl).


    2. “Hollwwod”

      🙂 I tend to refer to it as “Hollywoo” myself, but that’s because of Bojack Horseman.


      1. I was hoping no one would notice…

        Could I excuse it by saying I was trying to prove I am not a bot? A website recently decided I must be a bot, and turned off my access last week. That meant I had to clear cookies, as many other websites also denied me access. There was probably a “do not talk to this bot” cookie involved.

        We have entered the age of algorithms. How many people could really pass a Turing test? I’m obviously challenged in this regard.


  7. Work took over this afternoon. Asked to look into a new angle on taxes on college endowments, so I spent three hours on that. Dead-end. Sigh.


      1. That list looks kind of different if you look past the top ten. “http://www.chronicle.com/article/If-House-Republicans-Get-Their/241659?cid=db&elqTrackId=dfebc3089230490dbb4e5ab4f555ebe8&elq=906cab73cb54446290e12a47c59a1d38&elqaid=16432&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=7114”

        Berrea, Notre Dame, Wabash, Bryn Athyn, and a number of religious colleges. They could target Harvard and its ilk seeing the threshold at 1 million instead of 100K. But I guess that wouldn’t raise much.


      2. I like the characterization of Harvard as a large hedge fund with a relatively small eleemosynary educational enterprise attached. I am fonder of Berea.


      3. The Republican plan also imposes a 20 percent tax on any compensation in excess of $1 million paid to a university employee. I found it amusing, when Trump pulled out of the TPP, to see all the former Bernie Sanders supporters waxing righteous about the importance of free trade–because anything Trump does is bad–and it will be amusing here to watch liberals’ rabid defense of compensation of over $1 million paid by supposedly charitable institutions to their presidents and football coaches.


      4. I presume universities will deal with coaches & surgeons by foisting them off on another entity). For example, Howard Hughes Investigators are not listed as university employees on compensation records.

        But, I don’t think that the Dems are going to concentrate on all the various pinpricks the Republicans tried to apply to institutions and constituencies they don’t like. I think they’ll concentrate on the tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy. Do give me a heads up if you see a congressperson opposing the tax hike on university employees making 1+ million.

        And, BTW, you’re doing it again, the refusal to engage on the actual policy attempt by Republicans, and instead choosing to be offended by the imagined hypocrisy you propose that Democrats will engage in. It might at lest be worth it to wait until the hypocrisy is not merely a figment of your imagination.


      5. “and it will be amusing here to watch liberals’ rabid defense of compensation of over $1 million paid by supposedly charitable institutions to their presidents and football coaches”: Ha! No way. At least, every single faculty member I know would be thrilled to see highly-paid university administrators and football coaches make less or get taxed.


  8. Wow, looking at the directory and the fall schedule, that Rutgers math department is a train wreck for the average undergrad, even by R1 university standards. Unless you are a math major or a member of the honors college. Then it looks pretty good.

    Jonah should want to be part of the honors college. That looks like the best way to get a decent education at Rutgers.


  9. Unfogged commenters pointed out that there’s another stab at universities — disavowing the tax exemption for tuition waivers. It will be interesting to see how that one plays out.


    1. Witch-hunting was more an early modern activity–the Salem witch trials were in 1692-3.

      Am I a bad person for wondering what skeletons there are in Haneke’s closet?


      1. Well, Haneke is looking at European history – Salem is across the ocean for him. For us, Salem looms large. But take a look at Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt#Christianisation_in_the_Early_Middle_Ages and I think his history looks okay. Seems to me we have real sinners being punished through the MeToo movement, and also doofuses who made clumsy passes, and they are both on the ox cart going to the guillotine. If you wanted their apartment, it was awfully tempting to tell the authorities that your neighbors were insufficiently loyal to Stalin. Sometimes they were, and sometimes they weren’t.


      2. Is this a witch hunt?


        The company is also accused of violating gender discrimination laws, as the Weinsteins and their company are accused of having “repeatedly and persistently treated female employees less well than male-employees through gender-based hostile workplace harassment, quid pro quo harassment, and discrimination,” according to the lawsuit.

        New allegations

        The New York AG filing also contains several new and salacious details from the Weinstein case. …(follow the link if you’re curious)…

        The New York suit also seeks to force The Weinstein Co. to give up its non-disclosure (NDA) agreements with former employees in order to continue investigating the company.

        ”TWC’s culture of harassment and intimidation remained shrouded in secrecy because of HW’s and TWC’s practice of securing silence through Non-Disclosure Agreements (“NDAs”) that prohibited individuals from speaking about their experiences at TWC,” said the Attorney General’s office.

        What do you propose to do to adults who knowingly aided Weinstein? Nothing? If you do nothing, it continues. Everyone can pretend the problem rests with one person, rather than an entire media company. I suspect you would find more systemic exploitation of young women and men, if you cared to take “witch hunts” seriously.

        Are careers being ruined because the allegations are false, or because they’re true?


      3. The game is given away when somebody denounces #MeToo as a “witch hunt”. That’s not somebody worried about a movement that might go to far, that’s somebody who doesn’t want sexual assault or harassment punished, at least in certain contexts. Unless they are actually willing to go back through history and point out which of the people burned/crushed/hung for witchcraft really deserved it.


      4. Kind of a side issue, but the wikipedia article conforms to what I understand is the consensus of historians, that there was very little witch-hunting during the Middle Ages. There was a wave of activity from about 1400 to about 1700, after which it declined. There is a somewhat less consensus about the reasons for this phenomenon.

        (For rigid, utterly conventional thinkers like me, the Middle Ages ended in 1453–no exceptions or ambiguities–so substantially all witch-hunting occurred during the early modern period. Which, if you’re curious, ran from exactly May 29, 1453 to April 19, 1775.)


    2. “Witch hunt”

      What fun! I suppose no one noticed the irony in dubbing the mass unleashing of reports of aggressive sexual behavior on the part of powerful, connected men (mostly) equivalent to a practice that targeted powerless women on the fringes of society?

      That’s what I call an inappropriate dead metaphor.

      #metoo is spreading in South Korea: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/focus/2018/02/07/68/1700000000AEN20180207003600315F.html

      I think the more appropriate fears on the part of directors and producers would be:

      1) Oh God, do we really have to manage employees’ behavior? Will this mean spreadsheets? Higher insurance premiums? More time with HR? Awkward discussions with other men? Awkward discussions with lawyers? Shorter lunches?

      2) What about all the past behavior? Will this affect our bottom line? Our company’s reputation?

      3) How in the world do you create a romantic comedy these days? How do you work around #MeToo?


      1. Cranberry said,

        “3) How in the world do you create a romantic comedy these days? How do you work around #MeToo?”

        Well, it is a problem that romantic comedies famously glorify creepy behavior.


        “Marzano, who broke his leg last week falling off a ladder leaning against Hamilton’s second-story bedroom window, said he was “extremely surprised” that his plan to woo Hamilton had failed.

        “”She was supposed to hate me at first but gradually be won over by my incredible persistence, telling me that no one has ever gone to such wild lengths to win her love,” Marzano said. “But for some reason, her irritation never turned to affection.””


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