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Let’s face it, I know nothing about spies.

I saw this news article:

Multiple federal agencies investigated claims that former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight groped and verbally sexually harassed several female employees when he gave a speech at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in July 2015, according to newly-released documents. . . . he had slapped a “senior woman … on [her] butt” and “fondled a woman’s breast.”

And my first thought is, hey, this guy is what, 75 years old, and he’s groping spies?? Isn’t he afraid one of them will give him a karate chop to the head?

I guess I’ve watched too many episodes of The Americans. Real spies, it seems, just let old guys grope them. In real life, it seems that politeness is part of the spy code of conduct. Who knew? I’d’ve thought one of these ladies would’ve decked him.


  1. Keith O'Rourke says:

    > would’ve decked him.
    If so, one would think it would be done covertly and then we would just not know about it ;-)

  2. oncodoc says:

    Knight is a tall physically imposing person. Most of us are inhibited from “decking” people in part by social restraints and in part by intimidation. Have you ever decked anyone, Dr. Gelman?

    • Andrew says:


      No, I’ve never decked anyone. But I’m not a spy! If some 75-year old guy fondled my butt, I don’t know what I’d do. It would be pretty weird, that’s for sure. I remember reading recently about George H. W. Bush fondling people. Nobody decked Bush for this, but then again maybe he has Secret Service protection: you deck him, they shoot you. And of course Bush himself had been a spy, of sorts.

      • oncodoc says:

        My point is that the reason that the women didn’t deck Knight is the same reason that you have not decked anyone. Our social upbringing inhibits the use of intrapersonal violence in settling disputes (and Knight is a big guy!) Women and mathematics professors rarely have hand-to-hand combat training, and we should not make light of them for being victimized just because they did not act like Diana Rigg or 007.

        • Andrew says:


          I’m sure you’re right. Hence the title of my post. I had the impression of spies as being tough characters, and I was surprised that a 75-year-old guy would even think of getting physical with a real life spy. What this revealed was that, face it, I know nothing about spies.

  3. Anonymous says:

    NGIA people aren’t James Bond, they’re imagery and geospacial analysts under DOD. There were likely military and or former military people around though, so surely someone there had the cajones to confront him.

    Besides that, why the hell is NGIA wasting money on speeches by a basketball coach? Sounds like a high up government time-server/basketball-fan bought himself a birthday present at taxpayer’s expense, and some ladies got assaulted as a result.

  4. melboiko says:

    Spies in films are superhumans, but if you think about it, real-life spies are probably the most boring, unremarkable, averagest possible people.

    (More seriously, victims of groping and similar forms of abuse are often caught in a deer-in-a-headlights effect and unable to react. I’ve been mugged by young boys half my size and obviously bluffing about having guns, and was unable to react anyway.)

  5. zbicyclist says:

    You probably know more about spies than Bobby Knight knows about Geospatial-Intelligence.

    I’m thinking back on motivational speakers I’ve heard at various conferences.
    Tommy Lasorda (former Dodger manager)
    Steve Wynn (casino mogul; also in the news recently!)
    James Carville and Mary Matalin (political strategists)
    Gene Kranz (NASA mission control on Apollo 13)
    A couple of other sports figures whose names I can’t even remember.

    All gave you a nice uplift at the time, but it’s hard to say I learned anything useful, except from Kranz. I also bought his book, “Failure is not an Option”, which is a nice case study of problem solving under stress.

    The irony is that the phrase “Failure is not an Option” is what Kranz is famous for, but this is a line from the Apollo 13 movie that he didn’t say in real life. But sometimes a good screenwriter can boil things down to a pithier version of reality than what reality actually was, and it’s good to see a guy with a distinguished, if low-profile, career get a place in the sun.

    • Andrew says:


      The closest to a motivational speaker I’ve ever heard was Atul Gawande, the medical writer. We were staying in a hotel that happened to be hosting some sort of medical conference, we saw a sign advertising a half-hour-long speech by Gawande’s, and we snuck in to hear it. It was a good talk, with the only problem being that in the last fifteen minutes he pretty much repeated what was in the first half. I guess that when you give talks to general audiences you have to slow things down a bit. Personally, I prefer a talk that goes too fast to one that goes too slow, but I guess others’ tastes differ. Gawande’s content was good, and that’s what’s most important.

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