Friday, 5 October 2018

You'll Never Get a Better Chance

Like the rest of the country, and a chunk of the rest of the world it seems, I've been following the goings-on in Washington with the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

I have my own feelings about the nomination, the allegations of sexual assault against him, whose telling the truth, how the vote should go down.

This is not about that.

Recently, President Trump made a speech in which he said
It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.
He's referring specifically to the as yet unsubstantiated charges against Judge Kavanaugh, but also more broadly of the accusations flying in the "#MeToo" movement of women (and some men as well) coming out with disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault.

Again, I do not know if the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are true, partly true, or made up of whole cloth. The FBI are looking into the situation, and though not tasked with deciding truth and falseness, will issue a report on what they find.

I was asked recently what I thought of President Trump's comments. Is it really a "scary time for young men in America?"

I am no longer a young man, but I am the parent of one, and my time being one is not so distant so as to be forgotten.

Now, while I did not vote for Donald Trump, I was not upset that he was elected over Hillary Clinton. I think that Trump is a terrible choice for president; he's crude, impetuous, seems ignorant of many basic elements of governing. He makes statements that are damaging to his own cause.

But had I been forced to choose between the Trump and Clinton, I would have opted for his (at the time presumed, but now to a degree demonstrated) incompetence vs. her demonstrated competence at making the wrong decisions.

I think Trump has been about what I would have expected, bumbling from mistake to mistake, and saying some pretty laughably dumb things along the way. But still, I'm glad that Hillary Clinton (and worse, the actual powers behind the throne) have been again kept from the levers power.

In addition, Brett Kavanaugh is, with a few exceptions, the sort of judge I would want on the court. The (in my opinion, ridiculous) decisions like using the commerce clause to justify federal government intrusion into decidedly non commercial activities, upholding the ACA as a ‘tax’ when the authors themselves explicitly argued that it wasn’t, the justification of affirmative action with a wink at the 14th amendment because “it is likely only to be necessary for a little longer.”

Finally, the timing of the release of the accusations by Senator Feinstein, and the partisan way that the Democrats have used it not as a means to get to the truth, but as a cudgel that I suspect is more to try to prevent the court from tilting too far from how they want it and less about the truth or justice for Professor Ford. I think that (Professor Ford aside) what we are seeing is pretty much unadulterated political theatre.

So, the all of the elements of the situation make me inclined to to lean towards support of Kavanaugh. Under other circumstances, I would be a strong supporter of his nomination, in fact.


What I think of President Trump's claim - that it is a 'scary time' for young men is this:

It’s rubbish. I think that it should be pointed out in the most direct words for the wrong-headed and hyperbolic cant that it is.

It’s true that, as of now, there is no solid, irrefutable proof that Professor Ford is telling the truth. It’s true that false accusations can - and do - happen. While I personally have not been accused of something falsely (in each case where someone has said I was guilty, I was as guilty as hell), I know people who have. I understand that it can happen. It has happened. It surely will happen again.

But I am roughly the same age as Judge Kavanaugh. When I was in high school, I was not in the “cool” crowd, so the sorts of parties alleged, and the sorts of behaviours described were outside of my social orbit. I never - not one single time - was invited to a house party. I never - not once- attended one.

The only "house parties" I attended were playing cards in friends' basements.

But the events that have been described, I can say with absolutely no fear of mis-remembering or exaggeration, strike me as 100 per cent believable.

If you were in high school or college as I was in the 1980s, I suspect that you know that this is true.

These parties were well known in my school - which was about as close to a middle-of-the-road American public high school as you could imagine. They were well-known even to people way down the social pecking order like me. The events were described in lurid detail. Think about the sorts of people along the “Breakfast Club” spectrum who were your classmates - the cool kids, the sport-os, the geeks, the guys who wore jeans jackets and smoked out behind the library. Can you think of one or two guys who, if it were suggested, had gotten a girl drunk and had sex with her, you would say, “Yes. I believe it?” You know damned well that you can.

So can I.

Over the weeks, I’ve seen a lot written about how, in the mid 80s. What was considered “sexual assault” is way different from what it is today. The Atlantic magazine recently published an article that drove the point home to me as clearly as it could possibly be done. It was a piece about movies of the period - focusing on "Sixteen Candles" as its device - and how getting a girl drunk and taking advantage of her was not only not sexual assault, it was funny.

There is a scene towards the end where "The Geek" gets put into a Rolls Royce with the prom queen, who is too drunk to even know who he (and likely, she) is. They end up having sex, though neither really knows for sure. It's a plot device in a classic "coming of age" movie.

A month or so ago, I got into a debate with a friend on Facebook, and stated that the movie Animal House (1978) was one that I thought (and mostly still think) is hilarious. But there are parts that have just not aged well at all. One shows a fraternity brother in his room with a girl (who turns out, in the end, to be 13) who get drunk, and then listening to a debate between an angel and a devil on his shoulder about whether to have sex with the girl. The devil actually at one point says “You’ll never get a better chance.”

The audiences laughed at the scene. I laughed at it as a 16 year old.

Just today in a discussion, someone pointed out that "Pinto" ended up listening to his angel rather than his devil, and waits until later - and in fact, when his date tells him that he "won't need" beer to "get lucky."

Great; but in the very end of the film, Bluto kidnaps Mandy Pepperidge, tosses her into a car, and drives off victorious. He is identified as "Senator Blutarsky."

The claim that it’s a scary time for young men in America just does not square with this reality.

Not at all.

“You’ll never get a better chance.”

That is really all I need to think about when considering this statement, sorry.

Are there cases where young men get falsely accused? Of course there are. People get falsely accused of crimes, which is regrettable. Is it difficult to respond to an accusation of sexual assault where it is quite literally just your word and hers. That is undeniable. The recent debacle at the University of Virginia, where a coed made up, out of whole cloth, a phony story about getting raped in a fraternity, as it turns out as part of a “catfishing” scheme is disgusting, and people who make false accusations must be held to account.

I have a 13 year old son, who is close to entering the stage of his life where dating and perhaps sexual politics become part of the ambient noise. I am not sure what I would do if he were accused falsely.

It does happen. But it is not the norm. Let’s look at the reality. Accusations of sex crimes are false in about 5% of cases according to a recent study published in the Journal of Forensic Psychology. 5 per cent is not zero, but it's not high. And it certainly is not enough to make for "scary times."

Put another way, in 1978, the mayor of San Francisco (George Moscone) and a supervisor (Harvey Milk) were killed by a disgruntled former supervisor (Dan White). It made national headlines. Was that a “scary time” to be a mayor? No. It was an outlier where one angry man with a grudge killed two other politicians. It was not “the norm.”

Should my 13 year old be "scared?" I don't think so.

Look - it is, in my opinion, incumbent on him as a “young man” to behave with decency and respect towards men and women. Part of the responsibility falls on his mother and me to show him through our own role-playing what a healthy relationship looks like, that pressuring a girl into sex or getting her drunk so that he will “never have a better chance” is just out of the question.

He should not do these things - not because he is afraid of being accused of them, but because they are wrong.

I am now 48 years old. I’ve done things in my life that I really wish I hadn’t. But I do not fear that there will be someone who will, for financial or political or personal or indeed, no reason at all, accuse me. I suspect that the only young men who do fear this are those who should be afraid.

“You’ll never get a better chance.”

No. It’s not a scary time for young men. It really isn’t.