Louis CK: just stop and go away, OK?

You’ve probably already heard about Louis CK’s mea culpa. I’m unimpressed.

I want to address the stories told to the New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not.

These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.

I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And run from them. Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position.

I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think that I was doing any of that because my position allowed me not to think about it.

There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them with.

I wish I had reacted to their admiration of me by being a good example to them as a man and given them some guidance as a comedian, including because I admired their work.

The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else. And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them. I’d be remiss to exclude the hurt that I’ve brought on people who I work with and have worked with who’s professional and personal lives have been impacted by all of this, including projects currently in production: the cast and crew of Better Things, Baskets, The Cops, One Mississippi, and I Love You Daddy. I deeply regret that this has brought negative attention to my manager Dave Becky who only tried to mediate a situation that I caused. I’ve brought anguish and hardship to the people at FX who have given me so much The Orchard who took a chance on my movie. and every other entity that has bet on me through the years.

I’ve brought pain to my family, my friends, my children and their mother.

I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.

Thank you for reading.

My reactions:

  • He confessed that the accusations were true. That’s good. This might have been a great statement if he’d said, “These stories are true. I am sorry.” FULL STOP.

  • At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. See? He should have stopped before this. That was just stupid. Sure, he asked. They said NO. I’m gonna go ask this guy in front of me at the airport for his wallet, and if he says no, I’m just going to take it anyway. Asking first makes it OK.

  • I don’t care if you have power over a person or not, asking them to look at your dick is just plain weird. I have no power over this guy with the wallet in front of me, I’m not going to put on a penis puppet show for him, against his will. Because that would be wrong.

  • How often is he going to tell us how admired he is? I’ll remove that source of guilt from him, at least: he’s not admired anymore.

  • He only learned yesterday how much he hurt people? He should have been able to figure this out before he inflicted his kinks on others. To claim now that he was unaware of the wrongness of his actions is bullshit.

  • He wishes that he’d reacted by being a good example to them as a man. OK. Please understand, then, that he’s been a poor example of a man, and should shut up about how he was admired. That admiration was undeserved.

  • The only people who deserve any sympathy here are his family, friends, children, and wife. And his victims. He can self-flagellate all he wants, it’s not going to win him any pity.

  • He’s going to listen. Great. Listen to this: go away. Louis CK has disgraced himself and his work, and I for one don’t need to hear any more about him.

I don’t accept the Christian principle that an admission of contrition is sufficient to absolve someone of bad behavior. It requires real change. I don’t see what Louis CK is going to do to be a better person, and I doubt that he’s going to adopt a quiet life of faithfulness to his family and respect for others — he’s tasted the heady waters of power over others and used it for self-indulgence. I’ll believe he’s a changed man when he shows it, but not when he practices a written form of exhibitionism.

Busy busy busy — #MnCOSE17 and #Skepticon

This day is just done. I’m at the MnSTA conference on science education today, speaking about the state of evolution education this afternoon (there is bad news, and there is good news, but the bad news is surprisingly manageable). Once I’m done babbling, I’m rushing off through rush hour traffic to catch a plane to Skepticon, sorta. In my quest for a cheap flight that was compatible with my awkwardly full schedule, I’m catching a flight to Baltimore (?), with a connection to Atlanta, and from there to Springfield, Missouri. This is too complicated. I’m already scheduled to not get in until tomorrow morning, and I have a feeling that something is going to break and who knows when I’ll arrive. Everyone will be all partied out by the time I drag myself in.

Anyway, you know the drill. Behave yourselves while I’m out of touch, spit venom at the trolls, and I’ll clean up the mess tomorrow morning.

Another battle of the Blue Check Mark

Twitter has once again put their foot in it over their annoying “verification” system — you know, the deal where certain users get a ‘prestigious’ blue check mark next to their name. To what purpose, I don’t know. Anyway, they handed out a precious Blue Check Mark to a known Nazi, the guy who organized the Charlottesville debacle, and suddenly everyone was questioning the invisible criteria they use to give these things out, and Twitter suspended the whole process while they review what the heck they’re doing.

I think xkcd explains it best.

Ouch. That’s a mark that’s gotta sting.

The Christian Brothers…now there is a name that will live on in infamy

The things one learns long after the fact…when I was a boy, my father had a favorite fishing spot, an oxbow in the Green River north of Kent, Washington, where we lived. It was a lovely place, a little bit of a walk from the road, but you were surrounded by river and trees and grass. I remember well this one trip where we’d been spectacularly successful and had caught a pair of 10-12 pound steelhead, and we were walking back to the car; I was carrying one of the fish, my fingers hooked in the gills, Dad was carrying the other, and my brother Jim was carrying the tackle box, and he saw this thick trickle of dark red blood dripping over my fingers and down the flank of the steelhead, and he puked all over the tackle box. He always had a delicate stomach. I also used to tease him about how he’d get seasick on ferry rides.

Of course, then when he grew up he got a job as a commercial fisherman and spent all his time on a heaving boat in the North Pacific hauling in massive quantities of aquatic beasties, so he’ll probably deny that event.

Anyway, those were good times. The site also had a crumbling wreck in the middle of it, an old school that was decaying walls and broken windows surrounding a gutted interior. My father wouldn’t let us go anywhere near it. He didn’t like the place at all; he’d name it with a little snarl, because it apparently had an ugly history with people who grew up in Kent in the 40s and 50s. I vaguely recall being taunted by other kids about being shipped off to Briscoe if I was bad, but that was about it. All I knew was that it was a step above a ruin, and there was a statue of Jesus in the courtyard, which I was surprised to see erected in the Catholic churchyard in town some years later.

The place was called the Briscoe School for Boys. It was a Catholic reform school where the delinquent kids were sent. That was all I knew about it. A bit out of the way, good fishing, decaying building, occasional whispers of dislike from my parents’ generation.

That’s an impressively oppressive sorta Gothic building to have been plunked down in a small farming town in the Pacific Northwest. I guess the long reach of the Catholic Church meant all kinds of nightmares were assembled in out-ot-the-way places. Even now, the small town I live in in Minnesota has a Catholic history, with the Sisters of Mercy building an Indian boarding school right here in the middle of the prairie. It’s as if some malignant cosmic entity has sprinkled Stephen King bait all across the country.

It was just last tonight that I stumbled across the story of the place. It was founded by the Christian Brothers of Ireland — and you already know what horrors dwelt there, just from that name. Hogwarts it wasn’t; it was a torture factory.

Decades ago, society was much more accepting of corporal punishment, the men alleging abuse acknowledge.

But what happened to them at Briscoe “weren’t beatings, they were torture,” said John Green, a 59-year-old technology consultant who lives near Everett and boarded at Briscoe in the 1950s. “It continued into self-gratification and rage. It had nothing to do with punishment.”

The brothers carried leather straps — about a foot long and an inch or two wide — with which they hit students, the men say.

Jerry Blinn, 65, a retired business manager in Placitas, N.M., said students were punished for anything from getting wrong answers in class to talking in meal lines.

He said one brother would strap students so hard his feet would leave the ground. Blinn, who was sent to Briscoe in 1946 after his widowed, ill and impoverished mother was unable to take care of him, said some brothers also grabbed students by their ears or cheeks and shook them “like a bass on a hook.”

Davison, of Seattle, who ended up at Briscoe about 40 years ago after he ran away from home, remembers being beaten with straps and fists — sometimes so hard he was knocked unconscious. “They beat me half to death there,” he said.

He and some of the other men say they saw brothers beating naked boys with wooden paddles in the showers, and that some brothers had students fight each other.

“It was a truly brutal place,” said Earl Dye, 60, a mental-health counselor in Seattle whose mother sent him to Briscoe around 1955 at the urging of nuns. “In the morning, you would think: ‘I hope I don’t get beaten today.’ And every night you would hope you wouldn’t be one of those boys that the brothers would pull out of bed.”

Several of the men say they would sometimes see brothers take one or two boys out of their dorm-room beds for a while at night.

Pat Gogerty, retired executive director of Childhaven, a local agency serving abused and neglected children, said that happened to his brother, William Gogerty. William lived at Briscoe from about 1937 to 1945. Once, when Pat stayed overnight during a visit, he saw a brother take William out of the room.

“He was gone for a while,” Pat Gogerty said. “He didn’t talk about what happened (then). In those days, you never talked about anything like that.” Years later, his brother told him he had been sexually abused at Briscoe, starting from his first day there at age 8.

Jesus. I had no idea. I’ve known of the Christian Brothers, an evil cabal of self-righteous perverts and sadists, but I always associated them with other places, other countries. But they’d set up shop in my hometown and had creeped out my father years ago? Eerie. Survivors of sexual abuse are still talking about went on there. And what is it with the Catholic Church building prisons for young boys all around the world, and staffing them with psychopaths?

The problem is that we don’t doubt enough

Take a famous and popular artist, one who is creative and imaginative and breaks through all kinds of walls.

Take a rather sleazy person who enjoys degrading himself and others, who abuses women and takes gross sexual advantage in a way that is so extreme that people refuse to believe it.

Can those two descriptions fit the same singular individual? Of course they can. I’d even argue that the more talented you are, the more likely you are to avoid censure for misbehavior; being talented doesn’t cause abusive personalities, but they are given far more leeway than Joe Schmoe wearing an overcoat and nothing else, with no reputation to reward looking the other way.

Read this story from just a few days ago, about Louis CK. The author praises Louis CK’s comedic ability, and acknowledges that they bias him. But he still doubts the accusations.

I cannot say with any certainty that C.K is guilty of what he’s being accused of.

Yet the current cultural climate has made it difficult to continue to give C.K. the benefit of the doubt. You can’t say “believe women” and then make exceptions for comedians and auteurs you personally admire and respect. I don’t know if C.K is guilty of the transgressions he’s accused of, but I also can’t really imagine how you would develop a reputation for masturbating in front of female comedians without, you know, masturbating in front of female comedians.

Read the comments. Here’s an example.

It’s a chewed over, tired, need-them-monday-clicks kind of discussion, but for my 2 cents until there is any kind of substance to the allegations, let alone ‘proof’, I don’t see what the point in speculating is. ‘Someone who may or may not be Louis CK may or may not have jerked off in front of Garfunkel and Oates – he says no, they say nothing’ is all we have had for years

“Benefit of the doubt” and “innocent until proven” are weirdly complicated terms that are simplified by assumptions. We will give the benefit of the doubt to Louis CK, but we will not give any benefit of the doubt to the women accusing him at all. Louis CK is innocent until every wisp of an argument against him is conclusively proven; the women are assumed to be liars until every jot and tittle is nailed down with absolute certainty in a court of law. The purpose of the “innocent until proven guilty” standard is to prevent harm to someone until their guilt is established, but somehow we don’t care so much about the harm done to the victims of abuse by a privileged, sheltered artist. We’ve been hearing these stories about Louis CK for years, but — and this is the problem — nothing has been done. No investigation, no credibility has been bestowed on the many women who bring nearly identical stories to the table, everything recedes away from the Great Man and his unimpeachable denials.

Money, power, and influence give them a shield against having to address these accusations that the poor, the weak, and the unknown don’t have. In a just world, Louis CK would not be able to stonewall and deflect these stories, and the credible, distressed women would have instantly rallied a call for closer examination rather than the excuses of “Oh, but I really like Louis CK’s work”. Or Woody Allen’s. Or Roman Polanski’s. Or Geoff Marcy’s. Or Colin McGinn’s. Or Kevin Spacey’s. Do you realize how long a list I could make just off the top of my head?

In a just world, no one would be able to dismiss a whole series of accusers with the magic words, “witch hunt”. It’s an interesting twist, that the more women come forward with testimony of a problem, the more likely the claim of a “witch hunt” will be invoked. The volume of the complaints is suddenly used as a reason to dismiss them altogether, rather than to provide evidence that there’s a potential problem that ought to be addressed.

So we wait and do nothing, we practice our denials, until something more substantial than the words and pain of mere women and victims of the powerful rises up. Like, for example, an investigation by the New York Times that reveals that maybe the ‘bitchez’ weren’t lyin’ all this time.

Ms. Corry, a comedian, writer and actress, has long felt haunted by her run-in with Louis C.K. In 2005, she was working as a performer and producer on a television pilot — a big step in her career — when Louis C.K., a guest star, approached her as she was walking to the set. “He leaned close to my face and said, ‘Can I ask you something?’ I said, ‘Yes,’” Ms. Corry said in a written statement to The New York Times. “He asked if we could go to my dressing room so he could masturbate in front of me.” Stunned and angry, Ms. Corry said she declined, and pointed out that he had a daughter and a pregnant wife. “His face got red,” she recalled, “and he told me he had issues.”

Yeah, he’s got issues. I’ve got issues. Everyone has issues. Most of us don’t resolve them by beckoning to the nearest woman and trying to disgust and degrade her.

And yet right now there are going to be people who rise up indignantly and self-righteously declare their rational skepticism — they will doubt the accusers. They will doubt the many accusers who have everything to lose by pointing a finger at the powerful patron who could do so much for their careers. They will not doubt the wealthy and successful man who had the opportunity to abuse his power.

Immediate and long-term benefits of basic research into rare diseases

I presume you’ve all read about this marvelous work on correcting a rare and terrible genetic disease, epidermolysis bullosa. It’s a mutation that causes the skin to blister up and tear, basically; it’s a horrible disease that makes life miserable and a constant source of pain and infection.

Patients with epidermolysis bullosa live in excruciating pain, their skin so fragile to the touch that those born with the disorder have been nicknamed “butterfly children.” The disorder produces chronic and untreatable wounds that get infected easily and can eventually become cancerous. About 500,000 people worldwide have epidermolysis bullosa.

Now it has been successfully treated by combining a technique for generating skin grafts from stem cells that was first developed for burn patients, with gene therapy, going in and repairing the defective gene, and then growing the new graft from the patient’s own gene-corrected cells. It seems to be a total success.

In August, De Luca and Pelligrini got the green light to try their technique. In September, they collected a square inch of skin from Hassan’s groin—one of the few parts of his body with intact skin. They isolated stem cells, genetically modified them, and created their gene-corrected skin grafts. In October and November, they transplanted these onto Hassan, replacing around 80 percent of his old skin.

It worked. In February 2016, Hassan was discharged from the hospital. In March, he was back in school. He needs no ointments. His skin is strong. It doesn’t even itch. “He hasn’t developed a single blister,” says de Luca, who shared the details of Hassan’s story with me. “He’s gaining weight. He’s playing sports. He’s got a normal social life.”

Solely from a humanitarian aspect, this is a triumph. But there’s another side to it as well, that addresses the kind of complaint we might get from bean-counters. This is a relatively rare disease. It would be far cheaper to just let its victims simply suffer and die out. The articles don’t talk about it, but I’m sure the cost of culturing and growing and applying gene therapy to new skin for this one victim was extravagant to an extreme. But that isn’t the point — in addition to being a clinical treatment for one person, this represents basic scientific research on a core problem, how to generate reliable quantities of genetically modified tissue.

It is the same rational we use for all basic research into rare diseases — not only is it the right and humane thing to do, but figuring out how to deal with it adds a new tool to our toolbox and gives us deeper understanding of fundamental cellular processes.

What happened to Scienceblogs?

Greg Laden has some answers — there are a few things he mentions that I did not know about.

Also, he’s got a list of where some of the old scienceblogs sites have moved to. I’ve pulled those urls out and put them on the blogroll on the sidebar to the left, under the category “Scienceblogs Diaspora”. Don’t forget them, the network may have vanished into the æther, but the authors are still tap-tap-tapping away!