Lost in translation?

News items from The Onion now and then get reported as fact in newspapers in other countries — for example, the story about US lawmakers demanding a new Capitol building. But it seems the US media is not immune from that sort of thing either.

The NYT ends its report on accusations of sexual harrassment against a French official on this rather odd note:

The accusations against Mr. Strauss-Kahn have prompted some hand-wringing in the French news media over their unwillingness to publish information about what they consider the private lives of public figures.

But Le Canard Enchaîné, a respected weekly, defended the traditional approach in an editorial last week. “For ‘Le Canard,’ ” it wrote, “news always stops at the bedroom door.”

The “editorial” they are talking about is here, in the right column, headlined “On vous l’avait bien (pas) dit” (“We certainly did (not) tell you”).

It is possible that the NYT’s Scott Sayare had his suspicions, but was reassured by the weekly’s subheading, a little above and to the left: “Journal satirique paraissant le mercredi” (translation: “A very serious and respected journal appearing on Wednesday”.)

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Workshop on academic ethics

Some of us are shortly organising a workshop on academic ethics: click for details. While there is a clear need to discuss the issue in the Indian academic community, we were taken aback by the level of enthusiasm expressed by almost all the individuals whom we approached to participate.

Anyone who would like to join in is welcome to write to us, at the address listed on that webpage. We would prefer advance notice, even from Chennai residents, for logistical reasons.

BHL and the wheels of justice

I’ve been slow with blogging, even in the face of newsworthy happenings like the bin Laden killing, the massacre of the DMK in the state elections here, the arrest of the IMF chief for attempted rape. It has taken the self-styled “philosopher”, Bernard-Henri Lévy (previously a defender of the convicted paedophile Roman Polanski) to stir me to write again.

I generally have little admiration even for philosophers who actually philosophise — but if BHL is a philosopher, so am I. (I’m a doctor of philosophy, so there!) That apart, his defence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn turns out more to be an indirect slime — a series of insinuations — against his accuser, as well as a direct slime against a previous victim, Tristane Banon, who, he says, “pretends” and has “shut up for eight years”. (In fact she spoke about it before, on TV, but DSK’s name was bleeped out.)

Laila Lalami has an excellent riposte, as does Matt Welch, and no doubt many others. But let me address one particular point made by BHL here.

BHL says:

“I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.”

I would look on that differently. The US system of justice is apparently such that a recent immigrant from a developing country, a lowly member of the cleaning staff in a hotel, who is molested and nearly raped by a rich man (she didn’t know who he was, but she knew he stayed in a $3000/night suite), feels empowered to complain immediately to her employers, instead of dying quietly of shame. (She is in fact reportedly very upset — but she did not choose to keep quiet, in the name of a fallacious “honour” so commonly invoked in the developing world.) The hotel, who knew who DSK was, didn’t dissuade her from complaining, but called the police. Within hours, the police pulled him out of the first class cabin of a plane that was about to depart for France. And he is now being treated just as any other suspect would be, and has been remanded to the same prison where ordinary criminals in New York are sent.

If such a system of justice “troubles” Bernard-Henri Lévy, perhaps he should explain why. I am sure harassed women, all over the world, wish for such a system. Would action on such a complaint, against such a figure, have been so swift in Paris? Or anywhere else? What does BHL have to fear from such a system?