The fallibility of feelings

by Emrys Westacott

A recent article by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, “The Case of Al Franken,”[1]should disturb anyone who places a high value on fairness and rationality. Franken, who first became famous as a comedian, was elected to the US senate from Minnesota in 2008 and soon became a leading and effective advocate of liberal causes. But he resigned from the senate in January, 2018 after being accused of sexual misconduct during his time as a comic actor and writer.

Franken was effectively forced to resign by his fellow Democrats in the senate. At the time, the Me Too movement had recently surged, and feminists everywhere had vociferously criticized Donald Trump’s blatant sexism as well as the revealed sexual misconduct of well-known men like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Louis C.K.. Franken’s colleagues, several of whom expressed profound regret over his resignation afterwards, appear to have believed that if they even acceded to his immediate request for a hearing before a Senate Ethics Committee, they would be open to charges of inconsistency and hypocrisy.

As Mayer’s article makes clear, Franken was largely stitched up by some of his enemies in the right-wing media. A proper hearing would have revealed, for instance, that:

  • His main accuser, Leeann Tweeden, was a close friend of the extreme right-wing talk show host Sean Hannity.
  • Many of her claims were demonstrably false (e.g. that he wrote a kissing scene especially so that he could kiss her; and that after he had kissed her once in that skit, she never let him near her again)
  • The release of Tweeden’s accusation was carefully plotted, with no attempt to fact check any of her claims or discuss them with Franken.
  • Alleged accusations by other women were either not corroborated or were extraordinarily thin (e.g. one woman said she once thought that Franken was planning to kiss her, and that made her feel “uneasy.”

The rush to judgement, the denial of any sort of due process, and the willingness to place perceived short-term political concerns ahead of principles of justice are all deeply disappointing in this case. But to my mind, the most disturbing item in Mayer’s article is a statement made by New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a friend of Franken who, nevertheless, called for his resignation. Referring to Franken’s accusers, Gillibrand said, “the women who came forward felt it was sexual harassment. So it was.” Read more »

In Defence of Valentine’s Day

by Tara* Kaushal

In-Defence-of-Valentines-Day-Sahil-Mane-PhotographyDespite the criticisms in the Indian context, I explain why I'm a huge fan of the day of love. Conceptual image by Sahil Mane Photography.

Call me a romantic fool, but I love Valentine's Day. In college in New Delhi, I'd laugh and say, “Why not? It's just another excuse to celebrate and get presents!” Now, 10 years, awareness and much consumer fatigue since, it isn't about the gift economy at all. For days before, love is literally in the air (and on the airwaves, TV and everywhere). Consciously ignoring advertising suggestions of what we should be giving-receiving, where we should be going, what we should be doing, Sahil and I celebrate without spending. Last year, we just cooked for each other over music and laughter; this year, we're planning a party. I also wish my mother, family and friends.

When I speak of my love for Valentine's, it tends to spark debate with a whole range of people. I've had the religious and cultural traditionalists play the ‘Against Hinduism/Islam' (India's two major religions) and/or ‘Against Indian Culture' Card, say it is a cultural contamination from the West. Friends who are nonconformists and anti consumerism are, well, anti its consumerism, the nauseating marketing blitz and the pigeonholing.

And the many arguments of those coming from a postcolonial perspective are best summed up on Wiki: “The holiday is regarded as a front for ‘Western imperialism', ‘neocolonialism' and ‘the exploitation of working classes through commercialism by multinational corporations' (Satya Sharma in ‘The Cultural Costs of a Globalized Economy for India', Dialectical Anthropology). Studies have shown that Valentine's Day promotes and exacerbates income inequality in India, and aids in the creation of a pseudo-Westernized middle class. As a result, the working classes and rural poor become more disconnected socially, politically and geographically from the hegemonic capitalist power structure. They also criticize mainstream media attacks on Indians opposed to Valentine's Day as a form of demonization that is designed and derived to further the Valentine's Day agenda.”

And, surprisingly, I agree with most of these criticisms.

Read more »