When we first got wind of the inaugural Downtown Literary Festival, our immediate was response was, “How did such an awesome festival not already exist?” Hosted by McNally Jackson and Housing Works Bookstore Café, the event will be a daylong celebration of New York’s literary culture. But it’s not just readings. On the bill are a puppet show, a virtual literary walking tour, and a history of NYC street food, including live tales from the vendors themselves. The festival will be held at both bookstores, with events occurring simultaneously throughout the day. Guests include Luc Sante, Katie Roiphe, Thurston Moore, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Colm Tóibín, Rachel Dratch, Hari Kunzru, and Jennifer Gilmore. Everything wraps with a happy hour at Housing Works Bookstore followed by an after-party at Pravda featuring Russian-literature–themed cocktails.

Sun., April 14, 10:30 a.m., 2013


The End of the Affair: An Anthology of Lost Girls and Wounding Rifts

A trinity of girls sneaks into my sleeping brain on a regular basis, reminding me of the betrayals and cruelties of adolescence. Traci, who trailed after me like a pudgy shadow; Allison, who metamorphosed from best friend to bully; and Sarah, whose presence made me swoon and whose withdrawal felt like death. The first-person tales in The Friend Who Got Away dwell on these kinds of severed friendships—a theme rarely considered perky enough to take center stage in boy-crazy chick-lit novels. But as Francine Prose points out in the introduction to this uneven but immensely enjoyable collection, female relationships are often as tempestuous and life altering as romantic entanglements, leaving indelible marks on our nascent identities.

Many of these stories suggest a guilty reckoning with youthful selves: Katie Roiphe’s essay is as much an attempt to conjure up her own teenage persona as a depiction of her falling out with her glamorous college friend Stella, and Nicole Keeter writes of her caginess toward Gina, the only other black girl at their elementary school. Dorothy Allison is one of the only contributors to honestly address the physical chemistry of friendship, remembering a time in her life when the line between sexual and platonic affairs was thrillingly blurry. But some of the most painful pieces here are those rooted in adulthood, such as Kate Bernheimer’s account of growing alienated from her friends after her miscarriages, or the rift between Vivian Gornick and a pal over mundane things like “my lack of interest in her children, hers in my loneliness.”


The Accused

There are, essentially, two kinds of tyranny. The tyranny of the strong, and the tyranny of the weak. Fascism, which appeals to the bully in all of us, has always been of the former sort; identity politics, which appeals to the groupie in all of us, has degenerated into the latter. Why? Because though it’s billed as a fight for the underdog—and who can quarrel with that?—the proverbial fine print says something else. Namely, that the cause of the underdog justifies depriving the overdog of his constitutional rights. So, though they don’t violate people’s rights by beating them with nightsticks, identity politicians tend to accomplish a similar tyranny by committee, behind closed doors.

Vestigial second-wave feminists and their zealous toadies on college campuses have been, at times, especially guilty of this. Their campaigns to “raise awareness” of rape and sexual harassment, and to make them swiftly punishable, were once a welcome slap in the face to the old-boy network. But they’ve since turned into purges and behavioral codes that make a mockery of the justice they once purported to uphold. For this, they’ve incurred the wrath of third-wave feminists like Katie Roiphe, whose polemic The Morning After pilloried self-aggrandizing confession rituals like campus Take Back the Night rallies.

The pesky question of litigating the second sex on campus has arisen again this fall with Columbia’s adoption of its new Sexual Misconduct Policy. This new policy enables a student who feels she has been sexually assaulted to file a complaint with the Sexual Misconduct Office, which then assembles a panel of two deans and a student to hold hearings in which they separately interview the accuser, accused, and witnesses. This panel then makes a recommendation about whether or not to discipline the accused.

The stormy backlash has already begun. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that fights violations of academic freedom and civil liberty on campus, argues that by depriving the accused of the right to question their accusers, cross-examine witnesses, have a lawyer present during questioning, and be present when the accuser and witnesses testify, Columbia’s SMP makes a mockery of due process.

In a statement it released earlier this month, however, the university countered that the “imposition of every criminal law due process requirement is not necessary to ensure a fair and effective process for handling the violations of University policies.” Furthermore, it claimed that “the accused student has the basic due process standards required by the University: notice of the charges; right to be heard; an opportunity to rebut and a right of appeal.”

Notice of the charges, the right to be heard, and the opportunity to rebut? Well, that’s big of them. Gee, they can’t just ship you off to the gulag without telling you why, or giving you the chance to defend yourself?

But what about the missing rights that FIRE is so concerned about? Why has Columbia been so willing to adopt procedures in which the accused cannot question the accuser or be present when the accuser and witnesses testify? The short answer has a lot to do with rape-victim psychology. It makes sense that once you’ve undergone the trauma of rape, and are swamped by the post-traumatic stress reaction that follows (a terrible feeling that someone who hasn’t been raped could never imagine), you shouldn’t then be expected to undergo the added trauma of sitting in the same room with your attacker, much less submitting to his cross-examination. The emotional unwillingness to do exactly this is what keeps many rape victims from reporting their attackers. This, as Maura Bairley of Columbia’s Rape Crisis Center agrees, may be one of the reasons the university implemented a system of blind testimony and rebuttal (unlike Columbia’s former disciplinary procedures, where everything took place face to face). A laudable reason, no doubt, but not one that justifies adopting a policy that sacrifices due process and fails to protect the innocent—a sacrifice that could boomerang.

Women aren’t always the accusers, after all. In the 1998 case of Oncale v. Sundowner, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that sexual harassment can occur between members of the same sex. Women have committed and been accused of sexual harassment and rape. So ladies, don’t think trashing due process won’t come back to bite you on the ass when you get a little too frisky with your roommate or, for that matter, her boyfriend.


Why Clinton Gets Away With It

In 1776, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was being read throughout the new small nation celebrating its glorious independence. “We have it in our power,” he wrote, “to begin the world over again.”

Eric Foner, in his The Story of American Freedom (Norton)—an indispensable recent book that should be read in every school in the land—quotes again from Paine on the Revolution:

“We see with other eyes, we hear with other ears, and think with other thoughts than we formerly used.”

Yet here we are, 223 years later, with two out of every three Americans fiercely protecting the president of the United States from removal from office. It’s the old world all over again.

The people are speaking and demonstrating on behalf of a multiple perjurer, a sexual predator, a man who subverted another citizen’s right to due process by deliberately perjuring himself in a deposition in Paula Jones’s trial.

Due process—fairness—is the basis of our system of justice. William O. Douglas once said, “The history of liberty is the history of due process.”

Obstruction of justice destroys due process. Yet, as I have described—with facts, not speculation—in the last two columns, Clinton, through his agents, has threatened and otherwise intimidated a series of his disposable women to prevent them from testifying against him.

Liberals, intellectuals, members of the clergy devoted to situational ethics, and stars of stage and screen are rallying around a president who has continually defiled the Constitution, that guarantee of our rights and liberties that was born of the Revolution.

They hold teach-ins for the president, who has tried to demonstrate his machismo by selling out habeas corpus and championing the death penalty. In the first radio commercial of his campaign for reelection as president, he boasted of increasing the number of federal death penalties.

He has deported aliens without their being able to see the evidence against them. The record of his contempt for the Bill of Rights could fill many columns—and, indeed, has occupied a lot of this space for the past six years.

So why is this flimflam man, this bunko artist, getting away with it?

It’s the economy, stupid, as hordes of jejune commentators keep telling us. Folks are doing fine. Except for the millions of two-and three-job families and except for the fact that the demand from indigent citizens is outstripping the supply of soup kitchens.

The president so cherished by the illuminati, among others, created welfare “reform,” which—as Frances Fox Piven, distinguished professor of political science and sociology at City University, points out—has created a “financial incentive for the states to slash the rolls….Early reports on what has happened to the families dropped from the rolls are ominous… whether they actually find work or not, the policy of pushing hundreds of thousands of desperate mothers

into the search for work is certain to drive down wages at the bottom of the labor market where wage recovery has just begun.”

But “leaders” of the feminist movement are among the most ardent protectors of the president—as are so many liberals whose concern for the underclass has somehow evaporated.

Insofar as those benefiting from the economy may account for some of Clinton’s support, the poor—and God loved them so, he made so many of them—are being shafted as usual.

There is another reason why Mr. Bill—as his admirer, Stanley Crouch, calls him—keeps climbing up the polls. There is an American tradition of the charming rogue, the trickster, who is so daring in his evasion of the law that he becomes a romantic figure.

Or, as Katie Roiphe, a Clinton acolyte, said on Nightline (January 8): “We are tired of having all sides of sexual aggressiveness in a man be criminalized. Here comes, you know, this very charismatic leader and he acts on his appetites and he acts on his impulses, and even if we wouldn’t want to marry him, and even if we don’t condone his behavior, there is something about Bill Clinton that captures our imagination, that remains and is appealing.”

Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The superb New Encyclopedia of the American West (Yale University Press) notes that Cassidy was a rustler and robbed trains and banks. His dashing colleague, the Sundance Kid, was also a gunslinging desperado, reportedly even more charismatic—as Ms. Roiphe might say—than Cassidy.

Their exploits made them American legends, all the more after George Roy Hill’s 1969 movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, still often seen on television. The real Sundance Kid and Cassidy were supposedly killed by Bolivian troops in San Vicente, Bolivia, in 1911.

But, as The New Encyclopedia of the American West points out, “no proof exists that the men killed there were Butch and Sundance. The families of both men claim that they slipped out of South America and quietly reentered the United States.”

It might be worth digging up William Jefferson Clinton’s birth certificate. The Sundance Kid was reported to be alive as late as 1957. Could Mr. Bill be the Sundance Kid’s true hidden child?

Next week: Can only Our Bill save us from the Christian Right?