October 22, 2010
The Pubic Hair Test Revisited

Consider this:

Nearly two decades after Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his fractious Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it remains unclear who was lying…

Really? Consider this, then:

Lillian McEwen, a retired administrative law judge who said she dated Clarence Thomas from 1979 through the mid-1980s, told The Washington Post: “The Clarence I know was certainly capable of not only doing the things that Anita Hill said he did, but it would be totally consistent with the way he lived his personal life then…”

And most of all, consider that at the time of his confirmation hearing in 1991 nobody but those with a political reason to do so believed Clarence Thomas for a New York minute. This is because his denials so obviously flunked the Pubic Hair Test, first described in the literature by me in January of 2001, which I now repost as a public service:

Fans of political theater will recall that Professor Anita Hill had charged her former boss with a pattern of sexual harassment which included showing her a Coke can with a pubic hair sticking to it. Judge Thomas swore, no doubt truthfully as the truth is vouchsafed unto him, that he had never in his life done such an ungentlemanly thing.

How could we, the millions of spectators at this morality play, know what to think? Was it the stern federal judge who was telling the truth, or was it the demure law professor? Along with thousands of others, no doubt, I applied the principles that comprise the Pubic Hair Test:

Could Professor Hill could have made up a story so peculiar? In other words, was there anything in the accuser’s much-investigated background to suggest that she was a pathological liar? Did she suffer from hallucinations? Was she “creative?” Perhaps even an aspiring novelist?

And if she were such a pathetic fantast, as the Republicans pretended to think, would the Coke can invention be more destructive to her presumed enemy than any other lie she could just as easily have dreamed up?

No to the first question. Professor Hill seemed depressingly literal and humorless. It was impossible to imagine her engaged in a flight of fancy. The only suggestion to the contrary came from a young black man who seemed principally interested in reciting his resume on national TV. He thought Professor Hill had imagined that he was attracted to her, whereas she was really attracted to him, poor thing. This textbook case of projection could hardly have seemed plausible even to Orrin Hatch.

And no to the second. The tale of the pubic hair and the Coke can was so meaningless and bizarre that the most simple-minded listeners (and there were several among the senators) would have rejected it as a lie casting doubt on the rest of her story. To do maximum damage, any competent slanderer would have stuck to such old standbys as indecent exposure, groping, and dirty pictures.

The Pubic Hair Test therefore indicated with zero probability of error that this particular woman could not and would not have invented this particular senseless and incomprehensible story.

God knows whose pubic hair that was, or what the future Supreme Court justice thought its presence on a Coke can signified, or what made him imagine that his weird performance might be seductive, but the incident plainly happened pretty much the way Professor Hill said it did.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at October 22, 2010 11:53 AM
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