For the latest medical poop, call Gwyneth Paltrow about her Goop

This Lifehacker story on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Summit is a brilliant read on alternative-medicine b.s. that brings to mind a classic Saturday Night Live sketch: Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber.

Theodoric of York: Hello, Joan, Wife of Simkin the Miller. Well, how’s my little patient doing?

Joan: Not so well, I fear. We followed all your instructions – I mixed powder of staghorn, gum of arabic with sheep’s urine, and applied it in a poultice to her face.

Theodoric of York: And did you bury her up to her neck in the marsh and leave her overnight?

Joan: Oh, yes. But she still feels as listless as ever, if not more.

Theodoric of York: Well, let’s give her another bloodletting. Broom Gilda.

(Yes, the headline here is a shoutout to The Simpsons and the Be Sharps.)


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Patton Oswalt on wokeness

As usual, he says it better than I ever could, so here he is, in all his NSFW glory from one of his specials on Netflix (I think it was “Talking for Clapping”):

I could not be a more committed progressive, pro-gay, pro-transgender person, but I cannot keep up with the fucking glossary of correct terms, goddammit. I’m trying! I want to help, but holy fuck! It’s like a secret club pass where they change it every week. And then you’re in trouble!

“That’s not the word we use.”

“It was LAST week!” …

I know I’m an old cis-white motherfucker, but don’t give me shit because I didn’t know the right term! RuPaul got into shit for saying ‘tranny.’ RU FUCKING PAUL! RuPaul, who laid down on the barbed wire of discrimination throughout the 70s and 80s so this generation could run across her back and yell at her for saying ‘tranny’! What the fuck?! I will always change. I will always try to learn the new terms. But you’ve gotta give me some wiggle room.

He goes on to point out that the world is full of slick, evil people who know the right words, while some of the uncouth folks who aren’t up with the latest academic trends are actually the tolerant ones.

It’s brilliant. Check it out.


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Duke Divinity, the NYT and bad words

When I was at Duke, we had a Divinity School professor named Stanley Hauerwas who was legendary for his iconoclastic theology and his profanity. (He only recently retired.)

One day, The Chronicle wrote something about his most recent controversy. I had nothing to do with it — didn’t write it, didn’t edit it — but I had the misfortune of answering the phone.

“Hello, Chronicle.”

“This is Stanley Hauerwas. Please tell (writer name) that he’s an irresponsible asshole.”

I responded with some pearl-clutching comment about speaking in a civil manner. The older, more worldly wise me would say, “right … asshole. How do you spell that?”

So Duke Divinity has always been a fairly lively place.

This is, of course, news to The New York Times, which has always viewed Duke as some sort of odd anthropology experiment intended to show what happens when you plant an academically ambitious school in the South and give it an athletics department that occasionally wins national championships in basketball, lacrosse and golf. A sample headline: “A New Battleground Over Political Correctness: Duke Divinity School.”

That’s not from 1990. That’s from this week. (And yes, it’s quite amusing that the NYT had to correct not just the name of Duke’s spokesman but also its photo caption, which identified a small Divinity School building as the towering Duke Chapel.)

You’d think we would’ve dropped “political correctness” from the lexicon by now. Certainly it should no longer be seen as the exclusive domain of the ill-defined “left” in this country. Over the past couple of decades, the right wing has attempted to bully anti-war speech (see Coulter, Ann, best-selling books written by), and its elected officials are actively trying to silence all manner of academia, from slashing the humanities to scrubbing the Web of climate-change research. Anyone who has voted GOP in the past 20 years has no business lecturing others about the free exchange of ideas.

And in this case, the aggrieved professor (Paul Griffiths) would meet most definitions of “left.” Gay rights? Check. Police reform and racial justice? Check.

No, this is simply a case in which “being woke” has overridden “being logical.”

Literally. “Ad hominem” is a concept we learn in logic class, and the Divinity School dean doesn’t seem to understand it — unless she’s referring to emails other than the one to which she responded.

Here’s the exchange: A Divinity faculty member sent an email urging colleagues to attend a two-day conference on racism. Griffiths was unimpressed:

I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, cliches and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show.

(You know, that’s not bad writing. Aside from the colon, which the far-right Duke Review of my day would’ve noted with a (sic) because they wanted their harrumphing to come across on the printed page. Well, to be fair, the Duke Review surely would’ve agreed with the good professor here, so they would spare the sic. I’ve intentionally added some bad grammar in this paragraph in case the Duke Review still exists and wants to quote me. Hi guys! Hope you open your minds a little before you graduate!)

So the dean, Elaine Heath, responded as such:

It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements – including arguments ad hominem – in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.

Wait a minute. Ad hominem? Racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry? Where? Not in the excerpt the NYT printed.

How about the whole exchange? The American Conservative, which is several levels more reasonable than the old Duke Review ever was, has what appears to be all the relevant emails.

The only reasonable email of the bunch is from Thomas Pfau, an English professor with an apparent connection to the Divinity faculty. He concedes that Griffiths expressed himself in “harsh terms,” but he properly parses the language therein:

As I read Paul Griffiths’ note, I took him to demur not at the goal that the proposed training is meant to advance, viz., to ensure practices free of bias and mindful of equity. Rather, he challenges the assumption that, merely for the asking, faculty ought be to give up significant chunks of time for the purposes of undergoing “training” in these areas.

Unfortunately, Griffiths concedes the high ground with a follow-up email that rants about his colleagues by name. Now that is ad hominem.

But he also raises an objection that calls the dean’s behavior into serious question. He alleges that they had agreed to meet about the email exchange with two other people present — Pfau and a “Dean of Faculty.” Seems reasonable. Then Heath canceled the meeting and revised the terms to exclude Pfau, which does not seem reasonable. Why exclude the only grown-up from the room?

And “grown-up” is the operative word here. You can say this is about “political correctness” or “left” or whatever. But it’s really about people refusing to take real responsibility for their actions.

Put more simply: It’s stubbornness. It’s the same stubbornness that makes people double down on climate-change ignorance or being the full-time Woke Police. (The opposite of Cheap Trick’s Dream Police?)

It wouldn’t have killed Griffiths to go to that training, as a Facebook friend points out. Nor would it have affected him if he had simply skipped it and then had civil but honest discussions with people after the fact. He didn’t cover himself with glory here, and it’s a pity that he has wound up the victim, retiring/resigning after the next academic year.

And Heath has no business saying Griffiths has “refused” to meet with her without a grown-up in the room. Handing down Commandments is Old Testament. Good Divinity faculty may be aware that there’s this New Testament with someone named Jesus who called all sinners to draw near. I can’t recall Jesus going to heal the sick but first demanding that someone who wasn’t sufficiently woke must leave the room.

Is Duke Divinity riddled with racists? I doubt it. A Duke Divinity grad’s piece at Patheos says hostility toward diversity training “does not seem to be the prevailing opinion within Duke Divinity School.”

Indeed, the prevailing opinion seems to be that each faculty member thinks so highly of himself or herself that he/she has the exclusive right to lecture the others on his/her own terms.

And that is indeed illiberal, un-Christian and whatever else you want to call it.

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On being woke

I need to come up with a new name or new tag for this series. Maybe “grad-school bullshit”?

In any case, I coincidentally followed up some reading on the philosophy / transracial / transgender / dogpile-on-someone-not-perceived-as-woke story that has gone viral now that it has reached New York magazine with a piece that offers up this gem:

Reflecting on what he called “the woke identity,” Freddie DeBoer observed a tendency among some leftists to forcefully reject the work of persuasion with excuses like, “It’s not my job to educate you.” The not-yet-woke are to be chided, not engaged.

“The problem with making your political program the assembly of a moral aristocracy is that hierarchy always requires exclusivity,” DeBoer argues. “A fundamental, structural impediment to liberal political victory is that their preferred kind of moral engagement necessarily limits the number of adherents they can win. It’s just math: you can’t grow a mass party when the daily operation of your movement involves finding more and more heretics to ostracize from the community.”

Source: Seven Reasons the Left Is Losing – The Atlantic

This is exactly what I’ve experienced several times in the past six months, all from people who generally share the same concerns I do but are so busy looking for a wrong-doer (pardon the pun on my last name — and yes, that’s how you pronounce it) to flog that they’ve piled on me for raising the simplest questions or trying to look at the big picture.

I don’t have much to add … yet. I’m thinking of pitching a piece about how the academic left is suffocating the political left.

But I’d like some input. I’m planning to seek it out, but you’re welcome to leave some here, too. Or email me. Or reach me on social media. Or just yell at me. Whichever. I’m listening. (To most of you, anyway.)

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Fyre Festival questions I’d like to see answered

Some may think this is a diversion from the daily Trump / North Korea / crisis du jour coverage. I think we can handle more than one story at a time, and this is a fascinating story that straddles the line between disorganization and outright fraud. The lessons we can learn from this might be just as valuable as figuring out why Obama voters who voted for Trump think the Democrats are the party of the 1%.

(OK, so maybe we just need something else to think about before our brains explode.)

In no particular order:

1. Did any of the models and “influencers” who were planning to go actually turn up in the Bahamas? I saw that some of them may have been warned not to go, but did they somehow manage to contact all the VIPs and tell them to stay home, even as they were trying to accommodate the rich-but-not-famous people who did make the trip?

2. The “pitch deck” claims the Festival’s “talent network” includes Jamie Foxx, Iggy Azalea, Queen Latifah, Antonio Pierce, etc. Were they aware of this?

3. Who thought it would be a good idea, upon having a bunch of people arriving to an island with insufficient food and shelter on hand, to just have them all spend the afternoon drinking? At that point, who was making decisions?

4. Why is so much of the social media furor being reported all coming from one guy’s Twitter feed?

5. Did they have an operational concert venue? We’ve seen some pictures of a stage with lights.

The reporting on this has been, quite frankly, lazy. This is a great story, combining celebrity gossip with the real issue of how the hell this disaster happened. We can laugh about the poor suckers who went to this thing, but they got ripped off.

This is a worthwhile investigation. Who’s up for it?

Update: A lawsuit filed against the Fyre folks adds little except more allegations that performers and others were warned not to show up. If true, that’s quite shocking — you know you’re not going to be able to pull this off, but you let people fly from Miami to the Bahamas anyway??!!

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About my name

“Beau” has passed “Bo” in popularity as a male name, according to Social Security records:


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On gender, bubbles, sociology and prejudice

There’s a fine line between prejudice and sociology.

I can’t remember when I first said that, and I can’t remember if someone else said it first. Google can’t help me with that because the thought somehow got in my head so many years ago. I found an interesting piece on the fine line between profiling and stereotyping, but that was obviously written much later.

That’s not to say I don’t respect sociology. It’s not just an easy major for Duke athletes. In grad school, I learned a lot about identity and explored the intersection of sociology and economics.

Sociology and other academic fields are very good at pointing out who lives in a bubble. We learn about white privilege, male privilege, etc.

Here’s the issue:

We are ALL flawed in our perceptions. We ALL have valid but partial experiences to share.

I emerged from grad school with some skepticism about postmodernism. The theme in some of my classes was that academia and the media had, over the generations or even centuries, typically overlooked the voices of people who were not in places of power. And that’s true. But many academics take this noble idea to an extreme, dismissing expertise in favor of experience, even if that experience only covers a small part of the complexities of a given issue.

The right wing, of course, has hijacked this notion. “Don’t listen to those pointy-headed East Coast elitists talking about global warming and citing stats on economics and crime that refute your perceptions. You live in “real America,” so your viewpoint is more important than theirs.” And in the media, we fall for it — fanning out to understand and empathize with Trump voters even when they’re blaming immigrants and supposedly unneeded government regulation for their economic woes.

We all bring unique flaws to the table. Men can’t fully comprehend what it’s like to be a woman, which we realize when we share pictures of ridiculous all-male panels discussing women’s health. We may be too old to understand youth culture. We may be too young to have experience. We may have insecurities that force us to reach for convenient labels to dismiss views that make us uncomfortable.

In short — we all have bubbles.

At the last meeting of one of my grad-school classes, our professor (a sociologist) said she enjoyed teaching our liberal-studies classes more than she enjoyed teaching undergraduate classes because we were more diverse. We weren’t. We were nearly all white NPR listeners. Yes, we had a wider range of ages — some fresh out of undergrad life, some in their 60s — but that’s just one of many metrics.

The perception this professor had was that Duke undergrad students were all ridiculously wealthy, moreso than the people who had spent their own hard-earned money to take these grad-school classes on top of their regular jobs. But I also went to Duke as an undergrad, and that wasn’t my experience.

Duke, being a well-known and often infamous university, spills out into the mainstream at times. New York magazine recently ran something about Duke’s role in the birth of the alt-right. Richard Spencer spent time in grad school there. Stephen Miller had a column at The Chronicle and the good timing to be there when the rape accusations against the lacrosse team turned out to be Exhibit A for identity politics run amok.

That piece included a few comments from Shadee Malaklou, who was also a Chronicle columnist overlapping with Miller’s time. It does not cite Malaklou’s recent piece taking her classmates to task for their letter criticizing Miller as abhorrent to Duke values. Duke shares the blame for Miller, Malaklou argues, because his columns ran in the school newspaper and people didn’t adequately protest against him or controversial statements in the lacrosse case. Those who regularly castigated Miller in the Chronicle’s letters section, or those who remember that Duke punished the lacrosse team so severely that it wound up spending the better part of the last decade in court, may beg to differ.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Malaklou’s perceptions not aligning with mine. I remember her Chronicle columns well. She wrote extensively on Duke’s hookup culture, participating in it but finding it unsatisfying.

As a retired sex kitten, I understand the appeal: The echo of a pounding beat in a dimly lit room, the triumph of a dry hump, the print of rosy lipstick on a frat guy’s cigarette and the sound and fury of college life, a la Old School and Animal House. It’s almost irresistible. until about midway through college.

When it comes to sex, Duke women don’t have much of a choice. It’s either hookup or bust. Duke is not a sexually predatory campus, but in the words of Donna Lisker, director of the Women’s Center, men set Duke’s social rules.

Malaklou’s Duke exists, though I don’t think that many students smoke. But it’s not my Duke. And my Duke also exists, and it shouldn’t be dismissed.

On a larger scale, studies show a big gap in perception and reality when it comes to the hookup culture. Like misinformed voters who think the federal government spends most of its money on foreign aid and PBS, we think everyone else is doing it, but the numbers just don’t back that up.

My Duke, the one Malaklou and my grad-school professor may have missed, included a bunch of people on financial aid with work-study jobs. It included Muslims and Christians whose religious views weren’t compatible with getting drunk and getting laid. It included all the people in my artsy coed dorm (or The Chronicle) who dated each other, in some cases leading to happy marriages.

Today’s Chronicle neatly captures Duke’s diversity. One column is a fond but slightly cynical look at the “secret society” that pops up to do weird things at the end of the school year. Another is written “to the sorority girls I never talked to.”

None of this means Malaklou’s experience is invalid. (And thankfully, she’s a much better writer than most academics.) It’s merely incomplete.

And that brings me to a a long PDF file on “emotional labor,” shared by a wonderful senior at a California college who has the intellect and idealism to make a difference in this world, for which we should all be grateful.

The rough definition, according the first paragraph, is “the work of caring.” But not just caring — it’s also figuring out what to do to make caring work.

The assumption here is that women do this “work” and “figuring out,” while men do not. Ouch. And it depicts a lot of would-be male feminists as the femi-bros in the great SNL sketch with Cecily Strong at the bar.)

The experiences shared, mostly complaints and realizations that women are expected to carry more of the “emotional labor” burden in our society, are valid. But as with everyone else in this discussion (and in the real world), it’s prone to bubble-thought.

I can counter one post with my own experience. A woman says that her husband who always took their daughter to ballet got “pity or adulation from women for doing this stuff.” I can relate to a point — I do most of the pickups at school and other activities. But I didn’t get pity or adulation. For a while, I got a lot of standoff-ish body language, as if I shouldn’t be there. After a couple of years, people got used to me, and I’m generally more accepted. I’m still not pitied, and any adulation I get comes from the fact that I have a reputation as a “dog whisperer.” It’s still not easy for me to start or maintain conversations with women at school pickup — I’m often ignored and frequently interrupted by other women on the assumption that their conversation is going to be more important than whatever I was saying.

I’m the one in our family who keeps up a lot of social contact — and frankly, it’s sometimes awkward. I’ve sometimes felt uncomfortable setting up a playdate with a friend’s mom — not because I’m unwilling to do the emotional labor, but because I sometimes get the sense that the mom is creeped out by this conversation with a heterosexual married man.

And there are a lot of specific examples from which you simply can’t draw a general conclusion. One example: A woman frets that her husband was mad that she wasn’t sending birthday cards to all of his relatives. I’d argue that guy isn’t that way simply because he’s a guy. He’s just a jerk.

My fear in this case is that men — all men — are simply the scapegoat here. She married a bad guy, and she doesn’t want to ponder the possibility that she made a mistake. If she’s able to chalk up her man’s faults as an issue that all men share, then voila, she couldn’t have done better. Men are labeled as the faceless, dehumanized “other.”

Again — this discussion has plenty of valid points, and no, I’m not empathizing here with the whiny “men’s rights” movement. Women are under tremendous pressure to be the workers in the emotional labor force. And it’s a pressure I can never fully appreciate, just as I can’t fully appreciate what it’s like to pulled over for Driving While Black or to struggle with gender and sexual identity issues. Having an identity forced on you seems like a really terrible experience to me, but that’s about the extent of what I can say about it, because I haven’t lived it first-hand. And I have to accept that limitation and just try to empathize as best I can.

But we ALL have to do this. AND we have to recognize that the people with whom we’re empathizing are as error-prone as we are.

Should we listen to people who voted for Trump out of economic fear? Absolutely. Should we accept their scapegoating of immigrants and others? No. It’s not even the empathetic thing to do. They’re actually voting against their own self-interest because they think government programs benefit federal workers and lazy “others,” failing to realize how much those programs do for them and their neighbors.

Should we listen to the sorority girls and fraternity boys? Sure.

Should we listen to the academic left, which is so underrepresented in modern life that we actually consider Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “liberal”? Yes.

And should we listen to middle-aged white dudes who are laden with all sorts of guilt (I’m Anglican, which gives me some residual Roman Catholic guilt as well as the knowledge that we basically broke away so Henry VIII could marry someone else, and I’m descended from Confederate officers) and would like to contribute to any discussion that makes us more enlightened? I hope so.

Not that everyone deserves a platform. I wouldn’t invite Ann Coulter or Richard Spencer to speak at my campus. I also objected when some Duke students promoted a speech by an African-American man who was a little less than enlightened about Jews.

But when we tally up all the issues in modern society, we rarely find that we’re listening too much. We don’t have to accept everything outside our safe space, but we should at least take a peek.

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