There’s always a country or state or institution pretty nearby that looms as the embodiment of your fear that your proud local culture is just this far away from sinking into the depravity of that other place.
[M]any in Paris [anxiously note the] “Italianization” of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of [Silvio] Berlusconian squalor…
As in – France got this close to electing President Dominique Strauss-Kahn. (Dom and Don would have been great friends.)
Leave aside the details of the [rape and pimping] allegations against Dominique Strauss Kahn, the head of the IMF (his lawyer indicates he will plead not guilty). Just note that the New York Times states that he was staying in a $3,000 a night suite and was taking a first class flight to Paris. This is the IMF, the body that imposes austerity on indebted countries and is funded by global taxpayers. And this was the likely leading socialist candidate for the French presidency.
Money and sex sleaze is all over, of course (hence widespread Italianization fears), but let’s consider this warning to the University of Kansas (a public university) in the specific context of global elites and public money/general sleaze.
First: The problem besetting Francois Fillon today is exactly DSK’s problem, minus the raping: Greed + Hypocrisy. Fillon is just as stern about austerity (for the common French; not for him and his family) as was DSK’s IMF. Now his decade-long extraction of roughly a million euros from the public purse – like DSK’s use of global taxpayer money for his hotel room and flight – has the French joking about le million de Fillon and referring to François Million.
Maybe the world should establish special austerity guidelines for elites: Spain’s Princess Cristina may soon be sent to prison for a few years – she’s accused of being her husband’s accomplice in taking six million public euros (he faces twenty years confinement)… Which really when you think about it makes Fillon’s takings seem very small indeed (one v. six million), and maybe they weren’t even illegal! DSK’s takings were even less (he wasn’t head of IMF long enough to raid it), and almost certainly they followed the letter of the law.
One reason to let most of the elites get away with it is that elite corruption that gets discovered begets much more corruption. Cristina’s father – the King of Spain when her story broke – apparently offered a two million euro bribe to some people to make her trial go away.
Having to deal with corruption is bad enough. Having to deal with corruption involving very rich and powerful people is a serious nuisance.
Which brings me to the kings of America: our football coaches. It is they who assemble and – er – stabilize a roster of university or professional players, they who – at universities – command the highest public employee salary in twenty-seven of our states. (In other states, it’s basketball coaches.) They’re making scads more than the terrified president of their university, and, like Art Briles, they really get free rein. Everyone moves out of their way or enables them – campus police, town police, alumni, trustees, administrators, professors, presidents, chancellors, legislators… hell, governors — not a peep out of them. As for female students who may get beaten or raped by some of the players the coach has expensively recruited … Baylor’s football coach, Briles, allegedly “questioned why a woman was with ‘bad dudes’ from his football team after [he was told about] a gang rape accusation.” What kind of a dummy comes to a school that represents itself in this way and doesn’t know to expect gang rapes from bad dudes? Don’t women applicants read our admissions information? Baylor University seeks out bad dudes and deifies them.
Okay, so that’s the way of life. Like most corruption, it tends to feature elements of sex, money, and cover-up. I’ve always found it pretty remarkable that it thrives at universities, of all places – that bad dudes and even worse coaches dominate life on many campuses. But as with the Spanish monarchy, it takes far more than one disgusting eruption to bury the crown. You dump your current regent (he gets another job right away, maybe again at a noisily self-righteous Christian campus), take down his statue, and install a new royal house.
So okay this article. This article is about what its author daintily refers to as “the situation in Lawrence.” He’s not very specific about it, but all of the links in this sentence begin to scratch the surface. He’s worried about Baylor-corruption contagion; he uses the fate of Baylor as a cautionary tale for Kansas.
Many universities have an alarming tendency of allowing sports-related problems to fester because they won’t deal with them head-on. Coaches become too powerful and too autonomous to challenge. Image protection overwhelms honesty and transparency. A toxic tolerance level for bad behavior and bad students builds up.
At Baylor, a basketball player murdered his teammate in 2003, and the coach at the time (Dave Bliss) maliciously smeared the dead man in order to cover up NCAA violations. Within the football program, the [last coach,] (Art Briles, may he never coach again) expended quite a bit of energy keeping accusations about his players from going public or reaching the school’s judicial affairs office, and in obtaining special treatment from the administration. Briles had allies above him in athletic director Ian McCaw and school president Kenneth Starr.
The writer urges Kansas – which, remarkably even by university athletics standards, boasts “six incidents involving Kansas basketball players, in some form or fashion, that have come to light within the past two weeks,” not to deepen its institutional corruption by acting like Baylor (he could have chosen Florida State etc. etc., but Baylor’s the most recent) and adding cover-up to corruption.
If the Kansas trustees are smart and conscientious and concerned about the university as a whole and not just as a basketball power, they’re pushing hard for all the facts – and, if warranted, for immediate and significant action. Public action.
Don’t spend more energy trying to hide problems than fix problems. Don’t, at any cost, follow the Baylor blueprint.
But of course it isn’t just the trustees, and anyway we have no reason to think that the same trustees who let KU turn into dreck will reverse course. (And look who’s running the place.)
And speaking of reversals – given the history, over the last decade or so, of the University of Kansas, I’m afraid the corruption-contagion arguably goes the other way: Kansas has stunk to high heaven for a long time.
[I]nvestigators [are] now also probing whether Mr Fillon awarded the highest French state honour – the Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur – to the wealthy owner of a literary review in return for giving his wife a well-paid sinecure.
The French are worried about the Italianization of French life, as Adam Gopnik notes in a New Yorker article about Dominique Strauss Kahn:
[M]any in Paris [anxiously note the] “Italianization” of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor…
We Americans aren’t worried, but there’s plenty of evidence that we’re Italianizing right along with the French:
[No one really cares about the University of North Carolina scandal because] any college sports scandal after Penn State [seems] like business as usual. Nothing ever can approach the horror and depravity of a sainted coach knowingly allowing a child rapist to use a storied football program to help him cultivate victims, exemplifying the awful depths to which a school would go to protect images, all in the name of a game. When the epitome of rectitude is revealed to be rotten to its core, there’s no going back to a pristine, previous time. No-show classes and fraudulent term papers can never resonate the same way again after the searing testimony from violently scarred children, who were failed by coaches, administrators, campus police and the cult of worshipful, willfully blind fans.
… So we can only get so angry, anymore, even for something seemingly so big and so important. We know too much. We have seen too much.
Another example of the emerging Italian attitude in America:
It is not so much that UNC has been giving away grades and sending its athletes to the “easy grade” courses, because that goes on at every campus that needs to keep its athletes academically eligible… If this is not an important issue in our society then let the band play on and the circus continue …
Americans have become so accustomed to depravity at their big-time sports universities that they no longer rise to any occasion that falls short of horror.
During the Dominique Strauss-Kahn business, a writer for the New Yorker noted the anxiety with which “many in Paris” are witnessing “the ‘Italianization’ of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor…” Their country after all had not long ago produced (just like Italy) an accused rapist as a leading candidate for political office. Strauss-Kahn came close to being president; Silvio Berlusconi, convicted of tax fraud and sex with an under-age prostitute, was Italy’s longest-serving post-war prime minister.
UD has always been intrigued by the ways in which states fall into depravity, and the way they care about that (the French care, according to the New Yorker writer) and don’t care about that (the Italians don’t care). Italy is so depraved, and so indifferent to its depravity, that Italianization has become a globally portable noun, toted around to designate a national culture’s relaxed descent into moral turpitude.
Richard Rorty, in his philosophical essays about postmodernism, expressed anxiety about the Italianization of the United States. He routinely described us as “rich, fat, tired North Americans,” cynical about all of our institutions, and sinking back, in the absence of belief in the possibility of social improvement, into our comforting consumer goods (Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise, is the best fictional evocation of this cultural mood).
But that was only our high culture, Rorty was quick to caution; our elites – financial, intellectual – are Italianizing, as in figures like Lawrence Summers, who despite his remarkable moral grubbiness, seems set to become our next federal reserve chair. (Hm. Not so fast, UD.)
One way to understand the Oklahoma State University story is to suggest that Italianization has now invaded our great plains states, the country’s symbolic center of rectitude.
Look at Iowa’s long-serving senatorial scold, Charles Grassley, and tell me whether, when you look at him, you can think of anything but rigidly upright stands of wheat. Then look at this dude. The expression on President Obama’s face says it all.
So traditionally America – especially America’s heartland – was the exception, the clean place, the corny, cock-eyed optimist of nations, with the corniest locale the plains of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. “Blondie and his frau out of the plain states came!” says cruel sophisticated George, mocking the newly arrived wholesome faculty couple in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Now that the plains states are epicenters of football scandal (yes, given structural corruption, there are plenty of other football scandal locations), you see the beginnings of Paris-style anxiety about Italianization even on the plains.
From Penn State to the Miami scandal to Johnny Manziel’s autograph saga to alleged violations at top college football programs across the country, the NCAA has never faced more “culture” issues than it does today.
“Culture” here designates not merely the corruption itself (everyone knows college football is rancid), but indifference to it, everyone’s fine Italian hand waving away any embarrassment or shock over the fact that Nick Saban, recipient of $5.3 million a year from one of the poorest states in the union, routinely tells journalists to shut up when they ask about his dirty program. (“Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, stamped out of one news conference last week like a petulant child, all because reporters dared to do their jobs. He would talk about the football game, not the system of big-time college football, the system that made him rich and famous. Never that.”) Just like Joe Paterno, this guy’s got a fucking statue! These guys are our heroes!
UD’s pretty confident that Saban’s statue will meet the same fate as Paterno’s… But maybe not. Maybe by the time the massive Alabama scandal hits, the process of Italianization will have advanced to the point where no one gives a shit.
Anyway, my point is that the plains were our last bastion. Now it’s pomo meh. Meh. Rape at Montana, rape at Colorado, pimping at Oklahoma, drugs at Iowa, meh. The plain-spoken plains have spoken. They’re on board. Benvenuto!
It’s all Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union here on planet earth, and University Diaries, in a year-end, retrospective mood, recalls with you not merely the prolific literary frauds of our day (chronicled on this blog, to the extent that I can keep up with them), but cultural frauds more generally. Obviously, we’re most interested here in frauds perpetrated in university settings – the hilarious venerable ‘student/athlete’ thing; plagiarism; made-up research; corporate-whore research; stashing federal funds away for personal use; or simply, Jimbo Ramsey-style, stealing your university’s endowment…
Or go way back to the much spiffier Andrei Shleifer, eminent Harvard economics professor, turning his federal-government-funded advisory position into a get-rich-quick scheme… Persistently, this blog, and planet earth, have been located in The World According to Trump University, and with the election of that university’s CEO, people have made it pretty clear that this is where they want to be. It’s not – as the Vanity Fair quotation in my headline has it – that we want to watch the rise and fall – few fraudsters fall… I mean, you’ve got to be Bernie Madoff to really FALL. His comrade in crime, Ezra Merkin, will remain out of jail – although, to be sure, in courtrooms – for the rest of his life. James Ramsey, larcenous president of the University of Louisville, will die with his McMansion lifestyle intact and the case against him grinding slowly on. The literary fraudsters described in the VF article are getting immortalized in fancy schmancy movies. Shleifer continues to ride high.
But it is true that watching ourselves being frauds and perpetrating frauds has become a keener and keener spectator sport – it’s part of the Italianization of culture about which Adam Gopnik writes. Our self-alienation, wrote Walter Benjamin long ago, has “reached such a degree that [we] can experience [our] own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”
Yet the blogeuse you hold in your hands hopes you can, like her models (Orwell, Camus, Arendt, Murdoch, Hitchens), resist la dolce vita spectatorship in favor of sour indignation.
[If you didn’t expect this outcome, you’re like people who are still] stunned to learn that a game as inherently violent as football would lead to life-altering issues among players from repeated concussions and blows to the head.
Far worse, you’re like Louisville’s superscummy basketball coach, who says he’s “completely shocked” by the shocking corruption in university basketball. As completely shocked as he was by the whorehouse being run in a dorm lived in by basketball players and visited by recruits and their families.
So here’s UD‘s take. American university students are being trained to be Italians. Italians are living the good life and they don’t give a rat’s ass that their entire world is howlingly corrupt. In a New Yorker article about the sordid Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, Adam Gopnik noted French anxiety about
what many in Paris see as the “Italianization” of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor …
The University of Louisville is the avant-garde: Can you grow a university whose students heartily endorse, and fork all their tuition money over to, Rick Berlusconi Strauss-Kahn Pitino? His sextortion, his whores for sixteen year old recruits and their fathers, his stuffed envelopes for sports agents in Las Vegas hotel rooms? Can you guarantee a university whose students will rush to the bookstore and buy out Pitino’s many books about how to be ethical?
The entire financial foundation of the University of Louisville rests on a bet that there’s no bottom – that students and alumni will be able — FOREVER — to look at a guy who could give Jerry Sandusky a run for his money and say WE LOVE YOU RICK. TELL US HOW MUCH MORE YOU WANT US TO COUGH UP FOR YOUR SALARY.
It’s a solid bet. This is Kentucky, after all.
Longtime readers know that University Diaries likes to follow the Italianization (background on this term here) of the American university, its step-by-step degradation to the point of no return… The big-time sports schools are the leading edge here, of course; and within that category alcohol-sodden big-time sports schools are the real winners. U President Vows Push for Stadium Liquor Sales is, when you think about it, a really remarkable headline… the university president as booze pusher… spending his time pushing booze for his students through the legislature… the university president as alcohol salesman… on the august occasion of his retirement, we scroll through the president’s achievements… got the state to allow our students to drink in the stands…
So here’s a recent Dignity Watch item: The chancellor of one university boasts that his university, unlike a neighboring university, doesn’t – yet – generate revenue by fucking up its students.
Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp hasn’t held back lately taking shots at the Longhorns, which for years ruled the state of Texas in college sports.
Sharp had a cutting response to the news two days ago that the Longhorns will begin selling alcohol at football games.
Through a tweet from Gabe Bock of TexAgs radio, Sharp said, “Our athletic program has not reached the point where we require the numbing effects of alcohol.”
And that’s A&M saying that! Texas A&M!
The Italianization of the American campus is an established fact, and things are getting more squalid by the day.
The Chronicle of Higher Ed gazes with undisguised disgust at the shit-strewn mess that some American universities and environs have become and asks…
Oh, I dunno.
I mean, lots of people ask…
Lots of people wonder – the alcohol-epidemiology program director up there in this post’s headline wonders – why the rights of sodden frats and cynical bar owners trump the rights of people who actually come to college to … well, to come to college.
But eventually things get so disgusting…
When applications at the most twisted, predatory schools start to tank (Dartmouth’s are down by fourteen percent) because so many people are disgusted, their leaders suddenly talk tough and confess that all this time they’ve been really grossed out by what Bucknell’s president labels the “self-degrading” behavior of their students… Suddenly they feel compelled to share that they’ve all been living a nonstop nightmarish performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and they want it to stop now…
UD used to think that one potently symbolic alcohol death, one wrenching hypothermic babe in the woods demise after a night of underage drinking, might rivet some attention to the Italianization… I mean, stories like Sandra Lommen’s at freezing Bemidji State University certainly haunt me… You would think that Lommen’s pitiable end (staggering into a frozen creek while trying to walk home at night after a party) would rile people up a bit…
Colleges in Wisconsin and Minnesota get quite a few of these particular student deaths – disoriented by drink they wander into the night, fall into creeks, drown or freeze… Things got so bad at Lacrosse Wisconsin area schools that a group of fraternity guys started a river-watch program…
The editorial board of the New York Times reminds us of a prevailing reality at increasing numbers of American universities — what a writer for the New Yorker, in a long piece about Duke University, calls “the coarsening of undergraduate life.”
At the bottom of the university hierarchy, business-model party schools desperately seek to maintain tanking enrollments through the massive availability of booze, drugs, frats, and sports. Any location dominated by this mix will see assaults and riots; any location whose life virtually depends on these things will see an increase in assaults and riots. Places like these, as they become notorious, draw unaffiliated disorderly people from the towns and cities around them, so that we see the phenomenon of huge tailgates composed of drunks with no intention of attending the football game attached to the tailgate; we see riots at Keene State College attracting hundreds of random non-Keene State people who like violence and know they can get some there; we see growing numbers of sexual assaults carried out by non-student opportunists infiltrating frat parties.
At the top of the university hierarchy, schools attended by the “cubs of some of our most successful predators” (UD loves this phrase, but can’t find its source) feature the same booze, drugs, frats, and sports mix — not because they need to in order to attract applicants (everyone wants to go to Duke, UVa, Vanderbilt…), but because the schools are modeling the work hard/play hard thing that their graduates will need as they prepare to become competitive in hedge fund culture. Some of these students, like poor George Huguely, show up on campus already well-bred, well-soaked, alcoholics; others learn the life.
In a New Yorker article about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, Adam Gopnik writes:
[F]or lovers of France and French life, there is something deeply depressing [in] … what many in Paris see as the “Italianization” of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor...
You don’t have to gaze at the shit-strewn post-tailgate campus of the University of Georgia to know that the Italianization of the American university campus is an achieved fact in plenty of places, and that there’s too much money at stake (consider, among many examples, the disquieting fact of fewer and fewer students attending football games, and the growing need to ply them with drink to get them to attend) to do anything but ramp up the Italianization.
It is terribly important to get an accurate account of the now-notorious reported rape at the University of Virginia; but we are well past needing to establish the fact that our Italianizing campuses are dangerous.
An observer of events coming out of California University of Pennsylvania states the open secret behind a number of university football teams: Recruiters are looking for violent people.
Cal U’s team, which, under a coach who himself has a pending court date for letting his kid drive an unregistered car (You see the theme, right? Risk taking. The coach is so cool because he’s a risk taker.), is on its way toward becoming totally criminalized.
So what’s the deal?
No one on campus is talking.
[The coach] did not return calls for comment… Since the [recent] attack [by six of its players, an attack which left a man close to death], university officials have refused to comment about the football program’s mounting troubles; interim President Geraldine Jones has ordered a “top-to-bottom” review by an outside firm.
Members of the alumni association board and student government officers were told not to speak to the media about the situation.
The situation being a recruitment philosophy that involved admitting hugely notorious bullies to the school and the team… And let’s compound the scandal by ordering everyone to keep their trap shut… No comment, no comment… That’s so the way to go … A real winning strategy…
When carefully brewed football violence hits the fan at obscure schools like this one, it’s a perfect storm. Truly no one on campus knows what to do or say. By definition, you don’t accomplish this amazing outcome in your student body unless absolutely no one is in charge. All the usual suspects – trustees, presidents, faculty – knew some or all of what was going on, but (Italianization again – see post just below this one) they didn’t care. In fact, the last president is majorly pissed because when the six-on-one story broke the school forfeited one game.
When contacted at his Chester County home, [the former president,] who is suing the state system over his firing, declined to comment. In a Facebook posting, he criticized [the] decision to cancel the team’s Nov. 1 game against Gannon University.
The decision, his posting read, “helped bring this tragic story to the attention of the national news media.”
That’s such a yummy comment. Truly a tragic story, like, you know, King Lear or something… And if you’d only kept it quiet and gone on with business as usual, no one would have been the wiser!
Let us call it tragicomic, as Samuel Beckett subtitles Waiting for Godot. A campus landscape of Ubus…
Yes, this one’s got legs. This one we can sit back and watch as the plot staggers about and then explodes onto the national and international stage.
When UD says big-time sports destroy universities, this is what she has in mind. People want to think UNC Chapel Hill is a good school, a reputable school, but it’s not. It’s the sort of place that cynically designates entire departments as dumping grounds for athletes UNC would rather not educate because football and basketball are big money. The French worry about a cultural degeneration in their country that they refer to as Italianization. It’s too bad American universities don’t know enough to worry about Auburnization. UNC is definitely getting there.
… about whether we’re becoming decadent and late imperial and all.
What makes political decadence possible is the luxury of a secure international position, which makes it possible both to meddle in various global problems where our vital national interests are not really at stake (Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, etc.) and permits Americans to think that it’s perfectly ok to put climate change deniers, religious fanatics, former body-builders turned actors, and other unqualified individuals in high office.
That sort of thing.
[T]he Weiner episode mark[s] the culmination of several months during which other sideshows involving outrageous male behavior — John Ensign and John Edwards come to mind — dominated news coverage at a moment when our country’s future really is on the line.
That sort of thing.
UD would only ask y’all to calm down and think this through.
We not long ago elected an eminently serious, eminently qualified president, for instance.
We pay our taxes. Etc.
You want decadent, look at Italy, where they elect Berlusconi and don’t pay their taxes. In a recent New Yorker post about Strauss-Kahn, Adam Gopnik reported that
[F]or lovers of France and French life, there is something deeply depressing … [in] what many in Paris see as the “Italianization” of French life—the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor…
The very fact that we react strongly to trivialization and irresponsibility in our country’s politics suggests that we know what it means to be politically respectable. Did you see what President Obama did to Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?
Let France glance over at Italy and worry. It has plenty to worry about. We have much less.
A man with a past.
“Thunderbolt”? Not quite the word.
From The Economist:
Leave aside the details of the allegations against Dominique Strauss Kahn, the head of the IMF (his lawyer indicates he will plead not guilty) Just note that the New York Times states that he was staying in a $3,000 a night suite and was taking a first class flight to Paris. This is the IMF, the body that imposes austerity on indebted countries and is funded by global taxpayers. And this was the likely leading socialist candidate for the French presidency.
You remember Fulvia Morgana, the rich sybaritic Italian Marxist in David Lodge’s Small World? She explains herself:
Of course I recognize the contradictions in our way of life, but those are the very contradictions characteristic of the last phase of bourgeois capitalism, which will eventually cause it to collapse. By renouncing our own little bit of privilege we should not accelerate by one minute the consummation of that process, which has its own inexorable rhythm and momentum, and is determined by the pressure of mass movements, not the puny actions of individuals. Since in terms of dialectical materialism it makes no difference to the ‘istorical process whether Ernesto and I, as individuals, are rich or poor, we might as well be rich, because it is a role which we know ‘ow to perform with a certain dignity.
Wall Street Journal:
If true, this was the behavior of the pathologically entitled. Just imagine the effigies and rage from the Portuguese, Greeks and others who will receive IMF lectures about the “moral duty” of paying one’s debts. Lost authority, lost order.
A couple of somewhat similar observations – first, from Ann Althouse:
Let’s assume that the maid’s story is true. When things like this happen, I suspect that this is a man who has had sexual encounters like this before, many times. He’s gotten more cursory and abrupt over time, because he’s been successful in the past. Here is an illustrious man, staying in an extremely expensive hotel room — a room with many amenities. Seems you can get whatever you want. A woman appears. Is she beautiful? He imagines that the woman is another thing the hotel subtly offers to men who pay $3,000 a night for the hotel.
Second, Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker:
[F]or lovers of France and French life, there is something deeply depressing not only in the apparent elimination of one of the more plausible alternatives [to Sarkozy], but by what many in Paris see as the “Italianization” of French life—the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor…
Strauss-Kahn is proving a sagacious leader.
Joseph Stiglitz writes the worst-timed op/ed of the year.
The Socialist Party’s Strauss-Kahn
Is a rather bizarre sort of mahn
He takes fancy trips
At his hotels he strips
And tries to play cahtch as cahtch cahn.