Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hazing Is Perverse

You are out camping with your family and you hear a growl. It is a bear. What do you do? Run away? Grab something to use as a weapon? Play dead? Fight back?

Don’t run. When you run, the bear thinks you’re prey and will continue chasing you, so stand your ground. And don’t think you can out run a bear. Bears are fast. They can reach speeds of 30 mph. Unless you’re an Olympic sprinter, don’t bother running.

Play dead. Bears will stop attacking when they feel there’s no longer a threat. If they think you’re dead, they won’t think you’re threatening. Once the bear is done tossing you around and leaves, continue to play dead. Bears are known for waiting around to see if their victim will get back up.

Fight back. If a bear thinks you are food and continues biting after you have taken a defensive posture fight back as best you can. If the black bear actually attacks, fight back. Use anything and everything as a weapon - rocks, sticks, fists, and your teeth. Aim your blows on the bear’s face - particularly the eyes and snout. When a bear sees that their victim is willing to fight to the death, they’ll usually just give up.

I am suggesting the same attitude in regards to how to deal with Hazing.

Fraternities cannot run away from the resurgence of hazing. To pretend that hazing is an isolated event which occurs only in extreme and unusual circumstances is dangerous. The recent death of a FAMU band member spotlights that hazing is still prevalent. Hazing is a violent tradition enforced by older members who want to “test” an incoming member’s dedication, desire, or “heart” to join the group. Since the act of hazing is no longer sanctioned by fraternities it has now gone “underground” and occurs out of view of college administrators or fraternal officers. “The reason hazing is so pervasive and so hard to stop is that it’s clandestine,” according to Dave Westol, an Indiana-based consultant for national fraternities and sororities. “It’s done at night. It’s done on campus. It’s done off-campus. There’s a code of secrecy that goes along with it.”[1] Many students agree to be hazed because they believe they must live up to a challenge.

Fraternity members can’t play dead. Hazing is illegal and as such creates a surge of lawsuits whenever it is uncovered. Earlier this year, a family of a hazing victim at Cornell University sued for $25 million after their son died in an incident. Insurance may cover the Fraternity’s legal exposure, however insurance premiums cost money, divert money away from the Fraternity’s programs, and hampers the Fraternity’s mission. There is always a victim when there is hazing and protecting the individual from physical or psychological harm is a responsibility the fraternity members cannot delegate to insurance companies or morally evade.

Fraternities must face the issue and fight back. Hazing is bullying. It is a rogue member who believes that hazing will prevent members from joining who are not worthy of membership. The argument that hazing is the best test to determine if a potential member will uphold Fraternity standards is outdated. Hazing can not determine who will remain active over their entire lifetime. Hazing can not identify leadership. Hazing can only test how much pain or punishment a person can inflict on another human being. Members who haze are sadists.

Members who haze recklessly endanger the Fraternity’s reputation and treasury. Members who haze are outside of the mainstream of the membership - they are usually non-financial and are not active members in good standing. Members who haze are morally and intellectually corrupt.

Organizations must and should immediately expel members who haze. Fraternal societies should promulgate the view that the act of hazing is the most dangerous, anti-social, anti-fraternal act a member can perform. Hazing does not improve the intake process. A potential member’s worth is best measured by his commitment to community service, his excellent study habits, and his academic record of achievement.

Members should support expulsion as the best method to change the culture of the “wink-nod” regarding hazing and acknowledge how perverse the act of hazing is now and in the future.

[1]

Read more on Legislative news and anti-hazing law:

Statement on Hazing:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gays and Greeks: Fraternity or Sorority Life should aim to integrate LGBT members

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, The Towerlight

When Steve Crudele graduated high school, he almost immediately formed a niche for himself in the Towson community. He held a Student Government Association position, worked as a Community Center worker, and participated in several student organizations, all the while harboring what he said was his secret: he is gay. “I was over-involved,” he said. “I used it as a way to try and meet people, but not get close to them. I did it as a way to distance myself from reality.”

But Crudele avoided one aspect of campus life — he chose to distance himself from Greek organizations. He said he thought no one would give him a bid because of his sexual orientation. In his sophomore year, Crudele was made aware of Pi Kappa Alpha, a new fraternity on Towson’s campus that recruited brothers based on the principles that everyone is important and everyone has experiences to contribute. Crudele was impressed and secured a bid.

He returned home for winter break, still wrestling with the idea of revealing his true identity. But some news put his life in perspective: Sandi Vanderpool, his high school mentor, had cancer and would likely die within the year. “I found out she’d known that I was gay the entire time, but her yearbook message to me was to ‘live to free up my anxieties and live life and enjoy it,” he said. “I took that message with me, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.”

More than a year later, Crudele took Vanderpool’s advice. The senior functions as an out gay man in his fraternity and formed the Greek Alliance Program, an organization designed to educate Greek community members about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. “We want this to be a nationally recognized benchmarking program,” Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Matthew Lenno said. “It is needed in the Greek community and the community at large. In general, I have seen many atrocities done toward or against students/people that are LGBT. I believe it is horrible to not be accepted for who you are and for people to pass judgment on others for what they believe on or what they feel about themselves.” Crudele said that PIKE has the most out gay members in fraternity life because the brothers uphold the idea that members should not be chosen based on their identity, but rather what they could contribute to the fraternity. “We were formed from a different angle,” he said. “PIKEs were brought from different parts of campus, and since we all came from these different areas, we bred a more accepting environment.” Those values are what originally attracted Crudele, he said, as well as PIKE Vice President and Jon Lagnese, who said two of his closest friends and brothers identify as gay. “Education is limitless,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, proper terms, things that annoy them about the heterosexual community, judgments and how that hurts them.” Lagnese said that sorority members have responded well to the Alliance’s attempts to educate those in Fraternity and Sorority Life about LGBT issues, but most fraternity members have yet to participate on a large scale. “We’re open to everyone,” he said. “It’s like other chapters are recognizing the alliance … but they’re not taking part. The Greek community could grow more if people took part in it.” Dan Hirsch, president of Phi Sigma Kappa and executive board member of the Greek Alliance, said he tries to influence his brothers to attend Alliance events and that other chapters have not been as respectful of the organization. “Because I’m the president, they respect everything I do,” he said. “When the Alliance had aworkshop, 10 of our members showed up to it – the other chapters not so much.”

Hirsch said that PIKE isn’t necessarily the only “diverse” fraternity on campus. “To be honest, it’s not [PIKE] making great strides,” he said. “I would say it’s because two years ago, anybody who wanted to join that fraternity could. I wouldn’t say it’s not so much recruiting a diverse community as having diverse people sign up two years ago. You can pinpoint that on recruitment. I think my fraternity is pretty diverse, too. Every fraternity is diverse in some shape or form.”

Not everyone is accepting in PIKE, though, according Justin Schwendeman, a gay sophomore who rushed PIKE his freshman year, but said he refused the bid because of the underlying hostility he felt from his pledge class. “Beforehand, I heard PIKE was all about not drinking and all that stuff,” Schwendmenan said. “But then going through rush, it seemed like a lot of different groups I can describe as like an all-boy’s school, where it was very divided,” he said. “The pledge class didn’t seem open to it because they didn’t know me. But all the PIKE guys were all very open.” Towson’s Fraternity and Sorority Life needs to make major improvements in terms of accepting LGBT members, Schwendeman said. “I know for a fact that there are other guys in fraternities who are afraid to come out because they’re afraid of their brothers judging them,” he said. One of the missions of the Greek Alliance Program is to promote acceptance and assist other Greek members in the coming out process, according to Crudele. “It’s a cultural change that’s going to happen over time,” Crudele said. “If 10 percent of the population is gay, then 10 percent of Greek life is gay, and with 1,300 students in Greek life, that’s 130 gay members.” Crudele said he hopes to help others avoid the trauma that was his coming out. “We don’t expect people to just come out all over campus,” he said. “But hopefully we can change the attitude and make people feel more accepted, make them feel like the eyes of the world aren’t on them.”

The take away from this article should help you understand that we gain nothing by discriminating against the LGBT community. We should articulate a policy of non-discrimination and never denied the prospect of membership into our Fraternity/Sorority to an individual or expelled an individual based on their sexual orientation.

Not only is this a violation of our own national non-discrimination membership policy, but it also goes against the standards set forth by the majority of state and federal laws against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. All BGLO members should believe that all persons regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect.

Until we are willing to have a healthy and honest dialogue on this issue, we fail to uphold our Founders’ vision for a organization that services our entire community.

this article appears in its entirety, The Bulletin, November 2011 issue

The Cost of Education vs. Prison

To underscore an issue long raised by criminal justice advocates, the study, entitled Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate, uses data from leading researchers to illustrate how neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration also have a prevalence of woefully-funded, low-performing schools.

Misplaced Priorities, which was released in April 2011 and took one year to produce, maps out the funding disparities in six cities: Jackson, Miss; Houston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and New York. Among the figures: Pennsylvania reportedly spends about $33,000 per prisoner annually compared with $4,000 per college student per year. And nearly 70% of Philadelphia’s low-performing schools, based on math proficiency, are located in or adjacent to areas with the highest incarceration rates.

Nationwide, about two million people are incarcerated in correctional facilities, the largest prison population in the world. Last year, the Pew Center on the States, a research group in Washington, DC, found that the number of prisoners statewide decreased slightly for the first time in nearly 40 years. But with some 200,000 people under federal custody, most of the incarcerated are housed in state facilities at a cost of more than $50 billion annually.

Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group in Washington, DC states, “If we don’t invest enough in education, that may lead to more incarceration down the road.”

Reprinted from The Crisis, Fall 2011, p.56

“Hitting Budapest” wins Caine Prize for African Writing

Review by Ariana Austin

NoViolet Bulawayo won the Caine Prize, Africa's highest literary honor, this past July for her short story, "Hitting Budapest". It was announced at a dinner in Oxford, England, where she received a monetary award in addition to a future residency at Georgetown University. Authors often gamer considerable attention after winning what's known as the African "Booker" Prize. Hisham Matar, a Libyan author and chair of this year's committee, praised the rich language of Hitting Budapest and Bulawayo's ability "to refrain from moral commentary."

Bulawayo grew up in Zimbabwe and came to the United States shortly after high school. She describes herself as being of the "born free generation," those children born just after Zimbabwe's independence from the United Kingdom when unprecedented opportunities were supposed to exist. Instead Zimbabwe's economy collapsed under the weight of rogue leadership. Today there are more than 3 million Zimbabweans living abroad and seeking "promise" elsewhere. After relocating to the U.S. Bulawayo began to realize she was a writer, formally studied creative writing and recently completed an MFA at Cornell University. In addition to writing, she is exploring making films and plans to teach as well. She believes artists have to be engaged with their worlds, especially where social justice and human rights issues are concerned.

"Hitting Budapest" was first published in The Boston Review and follows a group of children who live in a shantytown called Paradise and travel to a wealthy neighborhood, Budapest, to “steal" guavas. Darling, the narrator tells us, "right now I'd die for guavas, or anything for that matter. My stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out." As the story approaches its climax, the children make a violating and desperate choice. The setting of their ordeal is intentionally ambiguous. "The story," Bulawayo told The Crisis, is "uniquely Zimbabwean but a universal story. it could be in Europe or the U.S. It's about marginalized communities and how they articulate their desperation."

In many ways, Bulawayo's story combines two classic archetypes - the coming-of-age and journey stories - forming a meditation on poverty, boundaries and the state of the have-nots in a postcolonial world. Understanding one's place, it seems, figures prominently in the main characters' contextualization of their own poverty. The questions Bulawayo poses relate directly to the present condition of many developing countries. Her admirable restraint allows readers to make the connections themselves and draw their own conclusions. When a group of children are hungry enough to make hardened choices like those presented in Hitting Budapest, who or what is to blame? Is it the woman whose "Save Darfur" t-shirt in no way informs her own humanity when it comes to a group of small children; is it the president of this unnamed nation, an international body, or is it irresponsible individual choices?

NoViolet Bulawayo provides no easy answers, but she does make a point about names. As she explains, "they are ‘parents' prayers' for their children" - so readers get main characters with names like Darling and Godknows. She has recently completed a novel manuscript tentatively titled We Need New Names. Perhaps, new names and new prayers can shed light on the essential questions posed in her work.

Ariana Austin is a freelance writer based in Washington D.C. and currently a graduate student in the fiction program at Johns Hopkins University. She is the founding director of Art All Night DC; the first overnight arts-and-culture festival held last September in the nation's capital.

Reprinted from The Crisis, Fall 2011, p43

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

John le Carré and the rise of George Smily

Review by Anthony Lane

The opening sentence of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," a 1974 novel by John le Carré, runs as follows: "The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn't dropped dead at Taunton races, Jim would never have come to Thursgood's at all." The tone is instant and unmistakable, with our narrator buttonholing us like a man who, having overheard our conversation in a pub, is leaning across to join in, or to contest our version of events. We are plunged in medias res, but what are the res? Taunton is a town in Somerset, in southwest England, but who, pray, is this defunct major? And what might Thursgood's be? It turns out to be a prep school-a private establishment, for boys up to the age of thirteen, and a likely seedbed for some of the future spies, at once clubbable and closely guarded, who bestrew le Carre's work. Hence the dash of genius in those first three words, enough to show that we are already in the hands of a supreme ironist: "The truth is." It never just is. Truths are misty and multiple, like ghosts. Believe in them all you like, but you won't pin them down.

Then, there is Jim, poor Jim Prideaux, lately a stalwart of the Secret Intelligence Service, or S.I.S.-known to the public as M.I.6, or, within the pages of le Carre, as the Circus. The nameless old ringmaster of the place, referred to only as Control, was privately convinced that one of his senior figures was a Soviet-run double agent-or, in Circus patois, a mole. Jim was dispatched to Eastern Europe on a solo mission, to discover, from a contact, the identity of the traitor, and report back to Control. Whoever the mole was, though, he knew all about Jim's venture and set a trap. Jim was snared, shot twice in the back, tortured until there was nothing left to confess, and then sent back to England, broken and bitter, where he took Major Dover's old job, teaching foreign languages to the pale boys of Somerset. Jim feels half at home there, for what does a boarding school resemble, with its cryptic slang, its awkward alliances, and its arcane regulations, if not the Circus?

That, at any rate, is le Carre's vision of the spying game, and it is one that has enveloped readers ever since "Call for the Dead," in 1961. At the age of eighty, he is still writing, with a disappointed fury that seems to have heated up, rather than cooled, over time; last year saw the publication of his twenty-second novel, "Our Kind of Traitor." Le Carre's characters have roamed across the map, from Panama to Israel and the Caucasus, while leaving certain territories, notably North America, uncharted. There is no doubt, however, that his favored stalking ground is Europe, East and West, and that the era that most consistently arouses his imagination, and to which, with a twinge of pardonable nostalgia, he occasionally harks back, is the Cold War. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" creaks and glistens' in the bleak midwinter of that epoch, throughout which, to borrow a beautiful phrase from Coleridge that sums up le Carre's achievement, "the Frost performs its secret ministry."

And so to the snowman-in-chief. Think of a superhero, cross to the polar opposite, and you bump into something like this: Small, podgy and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting and extremely wet.

That is how readers of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" first encounter George Smiley, the puzzled problem-solver of the novel’s maze, as he hastens along a rainy London street. It is by no means his first appearance in the pages of le Carre. He was in "Call for the Dead," and then in "A Murder of Quality" (1962), in which he is somehow transfigured into a detective, and asked by a friend to investigate a murder at a public school. (In English parlance, that means private. Le Carre based it on the school that he had attended and despised. I went there myself) The following year, Smiley slipped into "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold," which remains le Carre's most celebrated work, partly because it scraped every lingering speck of James Bond from our understanding of what spying might entail. Smiley is compared to a "surgeon who has grown tired of blood," thus yielding the odd, Prufrockian sense of a man whose great days, as a hopeful human, are already behind him, even though his finest hour, as a spy, may be yet to come. He is said to be "a kindly, worried little man," and the diminutive marks him as a bit player: an impression confirmed by "The Looking-Glass War" (1965), where he is granted a wretched and thankless minor part, pulling agents out of a job near the East German border, and leaving another man at the mercy of the foe. All of which is grist for the mill of contrition and regret that grinds within Smiley's conscience, and which accounts for the weary but determined air with which he shuffles, "with a lumpy skip," onto center stage, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and finally assumes his rightful role.

From the start, Smiley has a habit of being dragged out of retirement, like a badger from hibernation, to inspect the Circus, and, if required, erase disorder or rot. Even in "Call for the Dead," we learn, he has already done his undercover duty in the Second World War, and withdrawn into scholarly quietude at Oxford; then comes the summons. So it is with "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Control has died, taking his fears of betrayal to the grave, and unmourned except by Smiley, who lost his job not long afterward. Now the murmured possibility of a mole has emerged once more, and the list of suspects has been narrowed to four wise men, each with a code name culled from a nursery rhyme: Percy Alleline, Tinker; Bill Haydon, Tailor; Roy Bland, Soldier; and Toby Esterhase, Poorman. Smiley himself was once the fifth man-labelled Beggarman, which is no surprise. As an ex-spy, he is in the clear, and ideally placed to come in from the cold, at the invitation of the Cabinet Office, and find the culprit. Jim Prideaux tried, and took two bullets for his pains; now it is Smiley's turn.

Still, this hunt is a ponderous and twilit matter, much of it conducted amid files and archives, and Smiley's most energetic act is to polish his spectacles on the thick end of his tie, so what is the appeal? One answer came in 1979, when the BBC screened a seven-part adaptation of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," directed by John Irvin; and now the same tale, with the same title, has landed on cinema screens. The director is Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish master of slow-release dread, whose vampire film "Let the Right One In" seeped into our consciousness in 2008; that alone seems ample preparation for the bloodsuckers of British intelligence. As for the leading role, battle is summarily joined. In the new corner, we have Gary Oldman-tight and trim, a Smiley who keeps in shape with regular dips in the river. And, in the ancient corner, Alec Guinness, in a performance no less Buddha-like, in its opaque yet disarming sagacity, than it seemed thirty-two years ago. Time doesn't fly. It freezes.

I was not the only one chained to the couch by the TV series, when it originally aired. Millions watched and waited, over six weeks, for the mole to be unearthed. The production was one of those lavish, patient affairs which flourished in the heyday of British television drama; its span reached from "The Forsyte Saga," in 1967, to "The Singing Detective," nearly two decades later, upheld at its midpoint by "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and, in 1981, by "Brideshead Revisited." The fact that most of these narratives grew from good books mattered less than the honor and the esteem in which they held their viewers, presuming that we were literate and curious enough to dig in for the long haul, and to stay with the talkative tangles of the plot. That level of fixation was well suited to "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," whose shabby domestic stillness was not so different from the lives of the people watching-as if our TV screen were a net curtain or a half-drawn blind, and we ourselves were spying on the spies. In "Brideshead Revisited," with its roster of sumptuous locations and the wattage of its supporting stars, beginning with Laurence Olivier, you could see how the budget had been expended. Look at the scroll of actors' names, however, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy": Terence Rigby, Michael Jayston, Bernard Hepton, George Sewell. I admired Jayston, in particular, who had been a dour but dashing Mr. Rochester in a 1973 version of “Jane Eyre"; he thus made a perfect Peter Guillam, Smiley’s sidekick, a fellow of comparable timbre. None of these solid souls, though, were hired to set the screen ablaze. They were there to simmer.

It was left to Guinness, of course, to insure that the excitement never quite boiled over. Even the glasses he wore became an item of armor instead of a visual aid. As Smiley donned them, the thickness of the lenses made him downright scary, whereas when he took them off he was left blinking and exposed-could he, we wondered in a burst of heresy, be the mole, after all? In the new movie, the glasses become time frames: Oldman has one pair, horn rimmed, to show that we are in flashback, with Smiley still working for Control, and another, larger pair to make it dear that we have skipped ahead. That is typical of Alfredson's film, which is obliged, by its two hour duration, to keep things crisp.

Here's the strangest thing: the television series, lasting more than five and a quarter hours, was bovine of pace, often ugly to behold, and content to meander along byways that petered out into open country or led inexorably to dead ends, yet I was tensed and transfixed by every minute, like a worshipper at a familiar Mass whose mystery will never abate. The new version, by comparison, feels purposeful, unbaffled, artfully composed, and lit, amazingly, with hints of jocularity. (There is even a Christmas party at the Circus; imagine what Guinness would have made of that.) But something in the drama has been dulled, and I was almost bored. Irvin's end credits rolled to the sound of the Nunc Dimittis and a shot of Oxford's golden stone, mischievously hinting that the whole palaver had been nothing more than a donnish diversion. Alfredson, on the other hand, doses with "La Mer," which I last heard sung at the end of "Finding Nemo." As for the denouement, we have had too little room, in so cramped a space, to spend time with Tinker, Tailor, and the others, and to scrutinize each man in turn, and therefore, at the end, our overwhelming reaction is: Big deal. We got the mole, but do we get the point?

To an extent, this is not Alfredson's fault. Some of his choices are perverse, like the decision to rehouse Smiley not in the tragic cubbyhole of a hotel, near Paddington Station, to which le Carre rightly consigned him but in a loft like affair with sizable windows, through which far too many outsiders could peer. Other shifts are more ingenious; where the small screen was ashen and gray, in tribute to the atmosphere of exhaustion that pervades le Carre's novel, cinemagoers must brace themselves for an explosion of brown. Welcome to the fashionable nineteen-seventies, where your walls matched your sideburns. The sealed, podlike chamber in which the high priests of intelligence convene is a nightmare of muddy orange, and Guillam, the resident cavalier of the Circus, drives not a sporty MG, as he did on TV, but a Citroen DS the color of light manure. One change wrought by Alfredson strikes me as inspired: where Guillam, on the page, was a practiced ladykiller, running a string of girlfriends as if they were foreign agents, we see him now, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, breaking up with a male lover-a secret demanding to be tucked away, in the mid-seventies, far more than it would these days. The question of sexuality barely touches the hem of the Smiley books. "It saddened him to witness in himself the gradual death of natural pleasure," we read in "Call for the Dead," and he himself is presented as the simplest of fools-married to the lustrous Lady Ann, who dispenses her favors to almost anyone who asks, including Tailor (Colin Firth, in the new film). Cuckoldry has been a comic standby since Aristophanes; in the person of Smiley, I would suggest, the joke, at last, ran out.

When Guillam is left by his companion, he cries: one of a handful of weepers in the new film, which feels more emotionally stricken than its predecessor. The struggle, back then, was a moral one against a nagging dread that the West had nothing more to offer, apart from the satisfaction of greed, than its sterner rival in the East, and that what might remain, between spies, was a pure exchange of tactics, ungilded with sentiment or faith. On TV, the mole, once revealed, declared, "The secret services are the only real expression of a nation's character," which is not a bad motto for the whole story. As for his own nation, his main grievance was aimed at its dreamy pretensions of power. "Britain-oh, dear," he said, with a sniff, adding, "No viability whatever in world affairs." When you scanned the backdrop of the drama, it was ominously hard to disagree. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” began with a band of colorless colleagues, either smoking or carrying cups of foul coffee, entering a dingy room, scarcely bothering to greet one another, and expert only in a life of professional pretense. It didn't seem much to fight for. Yet I have often thought, If only the mole had burrowed down and clung on, he would have seen the land he had loathed and betrayed taken over by a woman who shared every inch of his frustration at its lassitude and pitiful want of pride. Could the double agent not have turned triple, and become a rampant Thatcherite?

In all its forms, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" strikes the eye, and other senses, as demonstrably real. You can taste the "half-eaten food, over which white flakes off at had formed like seasonable frost." That is Smiley, dining on the rations of the Cold War; Graham Greene would have smacked his lips. But is any of this true? Is the Circus, as spun into being by le Carre, the sheerest fiction, completely unconnected to the authentic labors of spying, in Britain or elsewhere? "Oh, not completely." Such was the careful answer proffered by an acquaintance of mine, who knows the Secret Intelligence Service as well as anyone alive. He made three pertinent points. One, that le Carre himself whose actual name is David Cornwell served in the S.L.S. for no longer than five years, from 1959 to 1964, and that all his subsequent fables are founded on the template of that distant time. Two, that the sly, sour infighting that leaks through the novels does an injustice to the congenial conduct of most officers in the Service, who are, as my acquaintance said, "notably good company"-as they have to be, given the demands of their trade, which would unsettle lesser or more divisive folk. Three, that le Carre has reversed the polarities. Where there is trust (and espionage, like the military, cannot hope to function without trust), he finds only treachery. Hearts and minds are not to be won, in his world; they are for sale.

That belief, it goes without saying, is his privilege as a writer. We may carp at the veracity of what emerges from his near-paranoid dismay, but we are also the beneficiaries of its thrills. Just as we turn to Dickens's prisons not as documentary testaments to Victorian penal practice but as iron-tough metaphors for the dreadful tethering of free play in every sphere of human action, so the Circus speaks to our profound unease in the face of all secrets. We love to lurk in their midst, to learn their codes, and to be initiated into the circle of their charm; hence the delicious slang that salts the Smiley books, and that every reader quickly comes to relish-all the ' moles, lamplighters, scalphunters, babysitters, reptile funds, mothers, Cousins, inquisitors, and joes. At the same time, the secrets that lie beyond our field of vision are a wellspring of great disquiet; they tell at best of unknowable national security, at worst of unreachable loneliness, or of a kingdom that has been hollowed out, like a marriage, without our even noticing. Hence the inventory, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," of all the minutiae that have never ceased to encircle Smiley, and to menace his peace of mind: The creak of a stair that had not creaked before; the rustle of a shutter when no wind was blowing; the car with a different number plate but the same scratch on the offside wing; the face on the underground that you know you have seen somewhere before: for years at a time these were signs he had lived by; any one of them was reason enough to move, change towns, identities. For in that profession there is no such thing as coincidence.

The echo, here, is of Freud, who writes, in his great essay on the uncanny, about "the sense of helplessness" that is caused by such unsettling repetitions. What on earth would an entire life be like, composed of such rustles and creaks? And where do we wind up, once all the secrets are out? With "a fat, barefooted spy, as Ann would say, deceived in love and impotent in hate, clutching a gun in one hand, a bit of string in the other." That is le Carre's portrait of Smiley, in a Circus safe house, unable to find his way in the dark. Compare the finale of "Smiley's People," the dense and compulsive sequel published in 1979, and televised, again with Guinness, in 1982. This finds our hero pursuing Karla-his lifelong nemesis, the fanatical head of Moscow Centre ("Seemed to be head boy," in the words of Jim Prideaux), and the former controller of the mole. Tracking Karla, Smiley crisscrosses the flatlands of northern Europe in a quest that is momentous to both men but whose grail would mean nothing to others; we are almost in the realms of Beckett. With a dose of concentrated blackmail, Karla is finally lured across a Berlin bridge and into the West. But, again, what figure is cut by the evil mastermind when he appears? “He wore a grimy shirt and a black tie: he looked like a poor man going to the funeral of a friend." Le Carre has never written a better sentence, one so impatient of ideology and so attentive to what he, following W. H. Auden, describes plainly as “the human situation." The television series of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has lost none of its grip, and the new film will recruit new friends to the cause; but if we seek George Smiley and his people, with their full complement of terrors, illusions, and shames, we should follow the example of the ever-retiring Smiley, and go back to our books. That's the truth.

reprinted from The New Yorker, 12 December 2011, p.84

Monday, December 12, 2011

It Could Be Old Age, or It Could Be Low B12

As we age, our ability to absorb B12 from food declines, and often so does our consumption of foods rich in this vitamin. A B12 deficiency can creep up without warning and cause a host of confusing symptoms that are likely to be misdiagnosed or ascribed to aging. Interesting article by Dr. Jane Brody.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Is OWS still relevant?

by James Surowiecki

The protesters at Occupy Wall Street may not have put forth an explicit set of demands yet, but there is one thing that they all agree on: student debt is too damn high. Since the late nineteen-seventies, annual costs at four-year colleges have risen three times as fast as inflation, and, with savings rates dropping and state aid to colleges being cut, students have been forced to take on ever more debt in order to pay for school. The past decade has seen a student-loan binge, so that today Americans owe well over six hundred billion dollars in college debt. That's a burden that's hard to carry at a time when more than two million college graduates are unemployed and millions more are underemployed. Some of the boom in student debt can be chalked up to demographics: in the past decade, the number of college-age Americans rose by more than three million and the proportion of eighteen-to-twenty- four-year-olds enrolled in college went from thirty-five per cent to forty one per cent. Still, the piles of student loans are due largely to the fact that the cost of a college degree has been going up much faster than people's incomes. And that has raised the spectre that we might be living through a "higher-education bubble," in which Americans are irrationally borrowing money to spend more on college than it's actually worth.

We've just endured two huge bubbles, which sent the value of stocks and then homes to ridiculous levels, so the theory isn't implausible. Of course, a college-education bubble wouldn't look exactly like a typical asset bubble, because you can't flip a college degree the way you can flip a stock, or even a home. But what bubble believers are really saying is that young people today are radically overestimating the economic value of going to college, and that many of them would be better off doing something else with their time and money. After all, wages for college graduates actually fell over the past decade, and the unemployment rate for recent grads is close to ten per cent. That's hardly a ringing endorsement of the economic value of education.

There's a big flaw in the bubble argument, though: things may look grim for college graduates, but they're much grimmer for people without a college degree. Though recent college grads are having a hard time finding a job, it's much harder for recent high-school graduates, who have an unemployment rate of nearly twenty-two per cent. And the over-all unemployment rate for college grads is still, at 4.4 per cent, very low. More striking, the college wage premium-how much more a college graduate makes than someone without a degree-is at an all-time high. In fact, the spira11ing cost of education has to some degree tracked the rising wage premium; as college has, in relative terms, become more valuable economically, people have become willing to pay more for it. It's telling, in this regard, that the one period in the past sixty years when college-tuition costs flatlined was during the seventies, which also happened to be the one period when the college wage premium fell.

This isn't to say that eighteen-year-olds are perfectly rational economic actors. Most obviously, many of them borrow a lot of money and then don't finish college, ending up debt-laden and without a degree. But there's little evidence that kids are systematically overestimating the value of college, the way homeowners systematically overestimated the value of homes during the bubble. Nor is there much reason to think that a degree will matter less in the future: the demand for college grads in the workforce has been increasing steadily for sixty years.

The bubble analogy does work in one respect: education costs, and student debt, are rising at what seem like unsustainable rates. But this isn't the result of collective delusion. Instead, it stems from the peculiar economics of education, which have a lot in common with the economics of health care, another industry with a huge cost problem. (Indeed, in recent decades the cost of both college education and health care has risen sharply in most developed countries, not just the U.S.) Both industries suffer from an ailment called Baumol’s cost disease, which was diagnosed by the economist William Baumol, back in the sixties. Baumol recognized that some sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, have rising productivity-they regularly produce more with less, which leads to higher wages and rising living standards. But other sectors, like education, have a harder time increasing productivity. Ford, after all, can make more cars with fewer workers and in less time than it did in 1980. But the average student-teacher ratio in college is sixteen to one, just about what it was thirty years ago. In other words, teachers today aren't any more productive than they were in 1980. The problem is that colleges can't pay 1980 salaries, and the only way they can pay 2011 salaries is by raising prices. And the Baumol problem is exacerbated by the arms-race problem: colleges compete to lure students by investing in expensive things, like high profile faculty members, fancy facilities, and a low student-to-teacher ratio.

The college-bubble argument makes the solution to rising costs seem simple: if people just wake up, the bubble will pop, and reasonable prices will return. It's much tougher to admit that there is no easy way out. Maybe we need to be willing to spend more and more of our incomes and taxpayer dollars on school, or maybe we need to be willing to pay educators and administrators significantly less, or maybe we need to find ways to make colleges more productive places, which would mean radically changing our idea of what going to college is all about. Until America figures out its priorities, college kids are going to have to keep running just to stand still.

- reprinted from the New Yorker, 21 November 2011, p50

Monday, December 05, 2011

Understanding FOX News

by David Frum

EXTREMISM and CONFLICT make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment-and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama-whatever his policy errors-is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he's a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) "the only place in the world where it doesn't matter who your parents were or where you came from."

We used to say "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it's tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. The bizarre fiasco of campaign-finance reform has perversely empowered them to give unlimited funds anonymously to special entities that can spend limitlessly. (Thanks, Senator McCain! Nicejob, Senator Feingold!) Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they're gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.

excerpt from "When Did The GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" New York magazine, 28 Nov 2011, p.50