Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Signs of Incipient Curmudgeonly Tendency

We like to think that we don't fall into the trap of thinking and saying how good things used to be and how so much that occurs today is terrible.  Here's a quick rundown of some stuff in our 24/7-oriented media that aroused my ire recently:

1. LeBron James criticized for touching Kate Middleton. Since when do royalty have any right to expect that this country accepts the ridiculous protocols prevailing in their home nation which derive from the days when the royals asserted divine rights? We fought a Revolutionary War against the Brits following our issuance of the Declaration of Independence specifying the many offenses committed by the then-king, George III. It's bad enough that our media and the UK media assume that Americans are enamoured of the British royals and share the regard that some Brits have for them. These people are spongers who deserve very little respect much less deference. They have done nothing to deserve any special treatment.

2. Columbia Law School students demand and receive exam postponement because of the effect on their concentration of the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury results.  This egregious catering to law students ostensibly upset by the failure of grand juries to indict -- it should be noted that the facts of the two cases are very different -- is yet another instance of our academic institutions promulgating policies that accept the idea that students have a right not to be made to feel "uncomfortable"--whatever that means, in the phrase of my recently-retired criminal law professor.  Too often, this ersatz "principle" is used to justify restricting freedom of speech on college campuses. We need more recognition of the precept advanced by both Voltaire ("I may disagree with everything you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.") and Thomas Paine ("He that would make his own liberty secure must guarantee rights even to his enemy, for if he fails to do so, he establishes a precedent that will reach unto himself.").

3. Universities need to get out of the adjudication business. College panels of amateurs--when it comes to determining matters by any legal standard--have no place today in acting on charges of serious offenses such as rape. The criminal justice system surely is far from perfect, but we have devised a series of procedures that seek to guarantee the rights of both complainant and defendant.

4. Journalism needs to re-emphasize a focus on facts before and separate from opinion.  Rolling Stone discredited itself by only looking for one side of a story at the University of Virginia. Yet our media today are filled with simplistic opinions and refusals to pursue the underlying facts. We should not assume it was better in previous times--the vicious tone of journalism in the 1790s, for example, has not yet been equaled, fortunately. 

5. The recognition of the dangers in football presented by the long-term effects of concussions will have more impact over time in changing the sport and perhaps ending it than the issue of the Redskins' name.  The concussion reports and analysis remind me of the barring of the dangerous "flying wedge" play after President Theodore Roosevelt summoned the major football powers to the White House in 1905 and told them that change was required.  It's almost humorous to recall that Harvard and Yale were those major football powerhouses in those days. Eventually, it may well turn out that the frequency with which players' careers and lives are shortened by head hits will cause the demise of the sport. As for the local gridiron eleven, the appropriate new name might be the Deadskins, based on their now-standard haplessness on the field and off.

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