Rush to judgement

Wow, this Kathleen Parker column is awfully disturbing.  Honestly disappointed to see such sensationalistic and shoddy journalism in the Times:

A  New York Times story on Friday that essentially indicted and convicted a 22-year-old star football player on an alleged sexual assault charge by an anonymous accuser should have begun as follows:

“We know absolutely nothing about this rumor except what six people told us anonymously about this guy who they say sexually assaulted this girl. We don’t know who she is or what she said, or really anything, but here’s HIS name and what ‘they’ say about him.”…

Instead, with throat-clearing authority, the story begins with the young man’s name — Patrick J. Witt, Yale University’s former quarterback — and his announcement last fall that he was withdrawing his Rhodes scholarship application so that he could play against Harvard. The game was scheduled the same day as the scholarship interview.

Next we are told that he actually had withdrawn his application for the scholarship after the Rhodes Trust had learned “through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault.” And there goes the gavel. Case closed.

But in fact, no one seems to know much of anything, and no one in an official capacity is talking. The only people advancing this devastating and sordid tale are “a half-dozen [anonymous] people with knowledge of all or part of the story.” All or part? Which part? As in, “Heard any good gossip lately?” …

Moreover, when Witt requested a formal inquiry into the allegations, he says, the university declined. “No formal complaint was filed, no written statement was taken from anyone involved, and his request . . . for a formal inquiry was denied because, he was told, there was nothing to defend against,” according to the statement.

The Times apparently didn’t know these facts, but shouldn’t it have known them before publishing the story? It’s not until the 11th paragraph that readers even learn about the half-dozen anonymous sources. Not until the 14th paragraph does the Times tell us that “many aspects of the situation remain unknown, including some details of the allegation against Witt; how he responded; how it was resolved; and whether Yale officials who handle Rhodes applications — including Richard C. Levin, the university’s president, who signed Witt’s endorsement letter — knew of the complaint.”

Translation: We don’t know anything, but we’re smearing this guy anyway.

Naturally, Parker draws parallels to the Duke Lacrosse case.  There was certainly a rush to judgement there, but in the media’s defense, its really different when you are publishing things based on a Distinct Attorney (whom, until that point you had no reason to know was dishonest and unscrupulous) than the allegations of half a dozen anonymous sources with “part of the story.”  Yikes!

Don’t rescue me

Loved this Emily Yoffe story about just how crazy so many pet rescue organizations can be.  In the case of our most recent adoptee, Sasha (pictured below, with Sarah on top), they actually did a background check on us as pet owners with our vet.   It was also pretty clear that they were worried about Alex’s autism being a problem.

But that’s nothing.  You should read the stories in this article.  Here’s a brief litany:

Katie wrote that she wanted to adopt a retired racing greyhound but was told she was not eligible unless she already had an adopted greyhound. Julie got a no from a cat rescue because she was over 60 years old, even though her daughter promised to take in the cat if something happened to Julie. Jen Doe said her boyfriend’s family lives on fenced farm property with sheep, but they weren’t allowed to adopt a border collie—whose raison d’être is herding sheep—because the group insisted it never be allowed off-leash. Philip was rejected because he said he allowed the dog he had to sleep wherever it liked; the right answer was to have a designated sleeping area. Molly, who has rescued Great Danes for more than 30 years, was refused by a Great Dane group because of “concern about my kitchen floor.”

And there’s more egregious examples that Yoffe goes into more detail on.  After a guinea pig tale you’ll have trouble believing, Jack Shafer concludes:  “They are trying to do something good,” he says, “and they end up doing something bad.”

“Education” Lottery

Among the recent controversies with our now not-running-for-reelection governor, Bev Perdue, was  is her advocacy for a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to help plug state education budgets.  I’d prefer a less regressive tax, but North Carolina has slashed education spending under the Republican legislature in a fairly appalling way.  Simply spending more money on education is not necessarily the answer, but I’d argue that hiring more teachers and giving them the salaries and raises they deserve, is definitely a good thing.

Anyway, the issue that totally haunts and distorts the education funding debate in NC is the damnable “North Carolina Education Lottery.”  When this lottery was passed, it was quite controversial.  Conservatives opposed it because they are uptight moralists and many progressives opposed it because, heck, it’s just bad public policy (a tax on the statistically illiterate, who are least able to afford it).  As for me, given that all the surrounding states have a lottery, adding NC to the process seemed like not a horrible policy, but I’d rather none of us have a lottery.  Anyway, to help sell it, supporters decided that the revenues would be earmarked for education spending and we’d call it the “education lottery.”  Presumably, that was enough to get just enough support to pass it (then Lt. Governor Perdue cast the tie-breaking vote).

Anyway, the horrible unintended consequence of this is that many North Carolinians seem to think that the “Education Lottery” should have solved all of school funding problems.  So not true.  They wonder, why should we raise taxes even a tiny bit, when we’ve already got the lottery to pay for education.  What they don’t realize is that the scale of state spending on education absolutely dwarfs.  If I got the numbers right after a fair amount of googling last night, in the most recent fiscal year, the lottery contributed $400 million to education funding.  Sounds good, until you realize that NC spent $20 billion on education.  In short, for you non-math majors, that’s a whopping 2% of state spending on education.

Thus, it seems like the lottery supporters have done some real long-term harm to education in NC by actually convincing many voters that we don’t need to do anymore to fund education when, in fact, we desperately need to.  I swear, if only we had the “North Carolina Lottery” things on this score would actually be much better.

Photo of the day

Don’t usually see someone sticking their finger in the President’s face.  Here, Arizona Jan Brewer and President Obama “discuss” immigration.


SuperPAC name generator

I was talking with some friends yesterday about Making a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow, Winning our Future, Americans for America (yes, that’s real) and thought it would be really cool to come up with an internet SuperPAC name generator.  Just have randomly generated combinations of America, Future, Winning, Restore, etc.  If I had any computer programming skills, I’d actually make such a thing.  Alas, I don’t.  A quick google search reveals that NPR got this idea just a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not all that impressed with it though.  Somebody should make something better.  I was not impressed by “Cure The Purple Mountain Majesty” or “Enrich Astronauts.”  I’d like something more along the lines of Winning a Better Future for America.  Anyway, it’s a pretty cool idea.

Your NC Republican legislature

Big day in NC politics– most notably, our incumbent governor, Bev Perdue, deciding not to run for re-election (she’s been considered among the most vulnerable Democratic governors) and re-districted 13th district Democrat Brad Miller, deciding he was not going to challenge 4th district incumbent (my rep, and former Duke PS Poli Sci professor) David Price.  And, the Lieutant Governor’s chief lawyer died today (quite unexpectedly at the age of 37).  A couple of my journalist friends called it their craziest day ever.

Probably a good thing for NC Republican legislator, Larry Pittman.  Laura Leslie was working on a story about his absurd call for medieval use of the death penalty when the Perdue story broke.  Matthew Burns finished it off, so here it is:

A Cabarrus County lawmaker wants to bring back public hangings in North Carolina as a deterrent to crime, and he says doctors who perform abortions should be in the line to the gallows.

Republican Rep. Larry Pittman, who was appointed to the District 82 House seat in October, expressed his views in an email sent Wednesday to every member of the General Assembly…

“We need to make the death penalty a real deterrent again by actually carrying it out. Every appeal that can be made should have to be made at one time, not in a serial manner,” Pittman wrote in the email. “If murderers (and I would include abortionists, rapists, and kidnappers, as well) are actually executed, it will at least have the deterrent effect upon them. For my money, we should go back to public hangings, which would be more of a deterrent to others, as well.”

Um, wow.  It’s one thing for the nutty, uninformed guy yelling at the tv to think so facilely about politics.  Now, that nutty guy is the sort of state legislator Republicans think should be deciding important issues in this state.  Yikes!  As we know, of course, everybody ever put on death row is obviously guilty.  Why waste time on even a single appeal?!  It’s not like anybody on death row has ever been exonerated.

Photo of the day

Great set from Alan Taylor of Australian Open Photos.   This one was actually my favorite (and quite appropriate today, to honor his semifinal victory over Nadal early this morning):

Rafael Nadal of Spain sits under a shade during a break in between games during his men’s singles match agianst Feliciano Lopez of Spain at the Australian Open, on January 22, 2012. (Reuters/Vivek Prakash) 

Should also mention, that for a long time, my post on “soft core tennis porn?” was far and away my most popular.  It’s long since been replaced by my post on Great Tits (the bird– get your mind out of the gutter).

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