Thursday, April 26, 2007

You be the judge

Now that the noise has died down a little about Alec Baldwin's ill-advised phone message for his daughter, the newspapers and TV have had their fun, Kim Basinger's gone out an hired a bodyguard to protect Ireland from her 3,000 mile-away father, and Alec's been deprived of yet more "visitation" with his daughter, here's a question for you: if you were the judge, what would you do?

Despite considerable evidence to the contrary - at least enough to convict and condemn - I am still convinced that there are some good judges out there. Such people face a difficult problem with feuding parents and children stuck in the middle. What do they do? The law, conventional practice and general prejudice pushes them towards giving sole custody to the mother. Further practice, malicious prejudice and bad science push them to penalize the non-custodial parent proportionately for any conflict that they see, regardless of who generates it (please, no sanctimonious preaching about it taking two to tango), and especially if the custodial parent alleges abuse, regardless of any evidence.

If the custodial parent is clever about it, manages to demonize the non-custodial parent, confuses everyone's idea of cause and effect and plays to the gallery well enough she (usually) can write her own ticket, to the expense of the non-custodial parent. But once in a while, a judge must have an inkling that something whiffs unpleasant in the state of Denmark. That said, prejudice being what it is, it is at best described as "courageous", a euphemism for "I wouldn't if I were her", for them to go against the general flow and protect the non-custodial parent's rights rather than genuflect to the demands of the custodial.

In the case in question, it is more than evident that the custodial parent is up to no good. 14 counts of contempt of court denying the ordered visitation makes it pretty clear Kim's not exactly up to snuff as divorced moms go. And yet dad appears to be prepared to take out some of his frustrations on his daughter. That said, look at the provocation - several years of this and undoubtedly faced with a daughter who's being insidiously pressured to reject him. One would have thought that this would make it all the more important that he doesn't take it out on Ireland. But then again, how many of us would take this much pressure and not crack once in a while?

What's a judge to do? Well, the knee-jerk reaction took place and Alec got cut off from Ireland, again. After everyone's had a chance to calm down, Kim's had a chance to rub it in, Alec's been forced to eat crow in public and that public has gotten bored and gone to look for another low-brow scandal, what then?

So, dear reader, I offer you a virtual robe, and here, take the wig too, if you like. Very fetching. It suits you and lends an air of irreproachable authority. I am positively awestruck, yer honor. Please, after you to the bench, m'lud, and do be careful with the gavel, we wouldn't want any crushed fingers, would we?

Now, what would you do? Switch custody to Alec? Hmmm. Unlikely, and headlines are never all that good for a judge? Pretend nothing happened, lift the restriction on Alec and keep watching the circus as Kim looks for other ways to get in his face? More than likely, I'm sure, not in any way controversial and I'm sure you'll avoid any risk of being called courageous. Cut Alec off entirely? Probably not a good move, you'll just hand too much ammunition to those nasty fathers' rights scum. We can't have the peasants revolting any more than necessary, can we? Ireland? What about her? She'll just grow up to be yet another screwed up Hollywood kid and probably die choking on her own vomit. Shrug.

But seriously, what would you do?

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Alec, Ireland, Kim and the bodyguard

As with doubtless many fathers last week, I listened to Alec Baldwin's tirade to his daughter Ireland with a sinking heart, knowing that he's bought himself a world of (more) hurt while simultaneously understanding what he's going through. The game is to provoke the father mercilessly from a position of strength until he cracks, one way or another, and then point and condemn. In any normal walk of life, this is called bullying.

Every little crack in the father's armor must be exploited. Amplify and exaggerate the slightest flaw to the maximum possible. To the saddened cognoscenti, there will be no surprise to learn that Ms. Basinger has hired a bodyguard to "protect" Ireland from her own father. Anyone who's been on the butt end of a smear campaign will recognize this as yet another appeal to the gallery of unwashed masses, and surely it will work. Of course, if Kim's hired a bodyguard, Ireland must be in imminent danger from her father. It's obvious, isn't it?

Isn't it?

I'll tell you what's increasingly obvious: that Ms. Basinger is a manipulative, conniving piece of work with no consideration for her daughter besides her use as a vehicle for her venom against Alec.

I know what that's like, whatever you do will be wrong. The only hope is that others will catch on, but it's a forlorn hope. I shall be watching carefully.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lies, damned lies and divorce statistics

Here is a quote from a 1988 article in the New York Times, the USA's "newspaper of record":
"... after divorce, the ex-wife's disposable income falls, on the average, by 70 percent, while the ex-husband's rises by 40 percent. For women, divorce can be the gateway to destitution; for men, it's more likely to be a golden parachute to freedom."
It sounds good, doesn't it, to be a divorced dad in the 80's? Profitable, even? Here, it would seem, is a good reason to believe that altogether too many men were jumping ship on their families, abandoning their kids and lighting up the town with their newly discovered freedom.

Of course, many were scandalized.and these numbers heavily influenced American divorce policy for several years, and, inevitably, that of other western countries too. They have been cited in hundreds of newspaper, social science, and law review articles. They have featured in court cases all the way up to the Supreme Court.

That 73% became part of the bedrock of the woman-as-victim culture, trotted out at every possible opportunity to reinforce the impression that it was dad who was bad and getting away with it. It was used to establish many of the policies now designed to plunder divorced fathers for their property, savings and salaries, all in the name of fairness in divorce.

The only problem is that the number, 73%, is a lie. Even at the time, other researchers could not duplicate it, it should have been more like 27%, tops. One would think that in any respectable scientific tradition, one result which was wildly off from everyone else's and apparently irreproducible, would attract more skepticism than attention, but no-one cared about the party poopers, it was too much fun parading the big, scary 73% up and down the street.

Lenore Weitzman, a professor then of Harvard University, gave us that 73%. Oh, she probably didn't know it wasn't true, not at first, but she surely did when she spent years keeping her original data away from other researchers who were forced to appeal to the National Science Foundation, her source of funds. When they eventually got the data, it was in no shape to be properly reviewed and it was more years later before someone finally disentangled it to find the correct result should have been a drop of 27% for women, and a much smaller 10% rise for men, and that was back in the 80's.

Weitzman, not exactly contrite, fobbed it off on some nameless research assistant (yeah, sure, how likely is that?). 11 years later. 11 years of writing it into the mythology of divorce, of making sure lots of fair-minded people were well-primed to believe divorced dads didn't care about their children, weren't paying enough, to revile the deadbeat dad and eventually, today, to approve of plastering his face on our pizza boxes. 11 years too late for who knows how many men pushed onto the street, beggared, kept from their children, or driven to suicide.

Why did it take her 11 years to 'fess up? Could it have been something to do with all the feting by an audience of admiring feminists whose prejudices were so gloriously confirmed? Could it have something to do with her circulation among the most prestigious universities of the land (at least Princeton after Harvard)? Was there just too much face to be lost by telling the truth?

Where is she now? Here, named professor in the Women's Studies department (where else?) at George Mason University in Virgina. OK, so it's not Harvard or Princeton, but it's job security and at least some recognition and not too much of a fall from grace for the source of "the most widely known and influential social science results" of the last couple of decades of the 20th century, proven to be false. There can't be that many "scientists" out there who've done so well out of such enormously public success only to have their results proven wrong. Curious that the fall from grace was not so public, and not so very much of a fall at all, is it not?

(Much of the information in this blog post, and the quote in the last paragraph, come from Sanford L. Braver's book "Divorced Dads, Shattering the Myths" which is full of nuggets like this.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't say anything about the Dukies! I did once, but I think I got away with it! (*)

Now this is interesting. I have pretty much refrained from comment on the Duke case. (Duke case? What Duke case? I don't know nothing about no Duke case.) But ABC journalist Terry Moran has written a short piece arguing that the victims (the falsely accused, that is) don't deserve to have their exoneration celebrated after this transparent travesty of injustice fell apart because they are, er, white and privileged. It's really just a straightforward example of inverted snobbery, a particularly juvenile trait, all the more freakish for it being from another privileged, white male.

What is interesting is the positive roasting he gets in the comments. There are hundreds of them! And the vast majority call him out for being an ass. If I were ABC, I'd take careful note of the outpouring of righteous indignation that their public obviously feel in the face of a prosecutor going for a home run on a transparently false accusation. If I were someone falsely accused, of anything, I'd take at least a little heart.

Also interesting is what this whole case says about a justice system with a guilty conscience. Once you have started down the road of destroying an innocent man for political ends, you have to continue along it or die. Once your integrity has been lost, your credibility will eventually and inevitably follow. The longer it goes on, the worse it will get. One wonders how long before the same happens to family law, and how bad it will get.

(*) If you don't get the reference, Manuel will explain.