Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Silent Night

War on Christmas? Somalia, show us how it's done!
A directive released on Tuesday by the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs stated that no Christian festivities could be held in Somalia….

“We alert fellow Muslims in Somalia that some festivities to mark Christian Days will take place around the world in this week,” said [the Director of the Religious Matters] during [a] press conference [to announce the ban], adding: “It is prohibited to celebrate those days in this country.”

[The Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs], on his part, stated that all security and law enforcement agencies had been instructed to counter any such celebrations….

The officials did not say anything on whether non-Muslim foreign workers or residents could celebrate or not.

It is the first time that a Somali government bans the celebrations since the last central government collapsed in 1991.

All I Want for Christmas

What I want for Christmas is better "best of Buffy [character]" videos on YouTube. Important note: If it's set to any sort of music -- any sort of music -- it doesn't count.

Have a happy holiday, everyone!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Free Speech and the Private Sphere

I've been thinking about the concept of "free speech" as applied to private criticism. This has come up most recently in the flap over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's statements regarding gays and Blacks, and the resulting calls to boycott the show. Some people have responded by saying the critics are violating Robertson's free speech rights. Others have replied that no such thing is occurring, since we are not talking about government censorship but rather private counter-criticism -- free speech in its own right. Take Popehat, for example:
The phrase "the spirit of the First Amendment" often signals approaching nonsense. So, regrettably, does the phrase "free speech" when uncoupled from constitutional free speech principles. These terms often smuggle unprincipled and internally inconsistent concepts — like the doctrine of the Preferred+ First Speaker. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker holds that when Person A speaks, listeners B, C, and D should refrain from their full range of constitutionally protected expression to preserve the ability of Person A to speak without fear of non-governmental consequences that Person A doesn't like. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker applies different levels of scrutiny and judgment to the first person who speaks and the second person who reacts to them; it asks "why was it necessary for you to say that" or "what was your motive in saying that" or "did you consider how that would impact someone" to the second person and not the first. It's ultimately incoherent as a theory of freedom of expression.
These are good points, particularly the idea of the Preferred First Speaker. So the following isn't meant to be critical.

But what does it mean that so many people really seem to believe that private retaliation -- whether in tangible forms such as economic boycotts or firing someone from a job, or even intangible form such as overly vitriolic responses -- poses a threat to free speech on par with government censorship? Does that mean we have to maybe reevaluate the concept a bit?

After all, if the issue really is just a problem of "chilling", private actors can do that nearly as well as the government. Maybe not quite as efficiently -- the government's power to imprison you is difficult to top -- but most people would view the loss of their job or even the loss of fraternity as a sufficiently grave deterrent to avoid voicing certain opinions. And as everything from the continued worries over "cyberbullying" to my own "Criticism as Punishment" post indicate, people seem to perceive these sorts of private sanctions as punitive in nature.

Again, none of this is to say that we should actually treat hostile private reactions to speech as on par with government censorship of speech. A functioning public sphere requires that we be able to criticize, sometimes harshly, and requires that we be able to react negatively towards the speech of others, even stridently. But again, the fact that there is such a large popular consensus that is a real and genuine problem does counsel that this is a problem that requires deeper thoughts than just drawing a line between public and private and leaving it at that.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Off My Game

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) square off over surveillance programs. That's no surprise.
Paul, a Kentucky Republican with strong tea party-backing, and King are both considered likely GOP presidential candidates in 2016.
Paul I knew about. But King? I hadn't heard anything suggesting King was a presidential candidate. Now, I'm not as plugged into this world as I used to be, but I would have thought I'd hear some rumblings. But no, it turns out I just missed the memo.

In any event, I think King is too "iconoclastic" (if you will) to be a likely 2016 standard-bearer. But I have to think that the 2016 GOP primary will be one of the more bizarre in recent memory anyway, so who knows?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Publish It Already" Roundup

I have an article coming out very soon in the Florida International University Law Review that is, I think, quite pertinent to some ... high-profile issues ... that have recently come up. But "very soon" isn't soon enough. Argh.

Some things taking up browser space:

* * *

A white former(?) prosecutor gets himself arrested, both to see what the criminal justice system is like from the other side and, inadvertently, to discover just how hard it is to get arrested if you're a white guy in a suit.

David Hirsh writes an open letter to Claire Potter, who famously opposed-then-supported the ASA BDS resolution. Potter responds here. I'd greatly appreciate if Hirsh continued this conversation; his energy to do such things vastly exceeds my own, and Potter's response was not just unconvincing, but worrisome in how seemingly little thought she's given to the application of her radical politics to the Jewish context. Anti-Semitism, for her, seems to be a slur that impedes open discussion, rather than a central point of analysis anytime largely non-Jewish institutions act upon their Jewish counterparts.

Walter Russell Mead has a stellar essay on the ASA boycott. I would quibble slightly at where he draws the line regarding anti-Semitism, but it's mostly semantic -- I don't think anti-Semitism necessarily requires conscious or even unconscious malign intent. Though I might set that threshold for saying a person is anti-Semitic, it is not a necessary condition for an action to be. If an action is taken without due regard and consideration for Jewish rights and equality, that's anti-Semitic regardless of the intention of the actor (the corollary being, one can say or do something anti-Semitic without being anti-Semitic). There is no right to opine on marginalized minorities without knowing about them.

In just a few days, two universities (Brandeis and Penn State - Harrisburg) have pulled out of the ASA.

Finally, on a happier note, my congratulatiosn to Mais Ali-Saleh, valedictorian at Israel's Technion University (Israel's premier tech university). Ali-Saleh is a Muslim Arab woman, and I have no doubt that she's faced considerable discrimination. But that makes her perseverance and accomplishments more laudable. Incidentally, if Ms. Ali-Saleh did ask to speak at an ASA invent (and, we'll say, in her "official capacity" as Technion's valedictorian), would she be boycotted? If the answer is yes, it seems to run counter to the movement's supposed goals of solidarity. If it is no, then the boycott is overtly discriminating against Jews. A tough call, and a question I've long wondered how BDSers would answer.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Facing Race

This is a truly fascinating study:
Harvard business professor Michael Norton describes a study testing people’s willingness to talk about race. He made volunteers play a simple game. One picked a face from a field of 12 and the other asked yes/no questions in order to guess who they had in mind. Among the field of faces, six were white and six were black.

Even though asking if a person was black or white would eliminate half of the contenders, 43% of people did not mention race. If the other volunteer was African American, they were even less likely to mention it. In that scenario, 79% didn’t ask if the face they had in mind was white or black.

They reproduced the experiment with children and found that, while little kids would ask about race, by nine or ten, they’d stopped. The little kids often beat the older kids at the game, given that race was a pretty good way to eliminate faces.

Interestingly, the people who didn’t mention race were probably trying to appear not racist, but their decision had the opposite effect. The partners of people who didn’t mention race rated them as more racist than the partners of people who did. Bringing up race was, in fact, a way to signal comfort with racial difference.
Very, very interesting.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Thus Proving His Point

Sayeth Rich Santorum:
Free health care is just that, free health care, until you get sick. Then, if you get sick and you don’t get health care, you die and you don’t vote. It’s actually a pretty clever system. Take care of the people who can vote and people who can’t vote, get rid of them as quickly as possible by not giving them care so they can’t vote against you. That’s how it works.
Kevin Drum is confused:
WTF? I recognize that sometimes extemporaneous witticisms go astray, and God knows that Santorum is probably more vulnerable to that than most. But even for him this is inscrutable. I wonder if he knows that every American over the age of 65 has been receiving government health care for the past half century?
Yes, every American over 65 has received government health care for the past half-century, and most of them are dead! Coincidence? I think not!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

If Babies Had Guns....

Taking a stupid idea way too seriously.

So I haven't remarked on the Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) bumper sticker "If babies had guns they wouldn't be aborted", primarily because I refused to believe it wasn't a parody. But for some reason, I felt like actually taking the idea seriously. If babies had guns, would they be less likely to be aborted? I doubt it -- in fact, I think the abortion rate would increase.

We'll analyze the hypothetical under two conditions. Under the first, "more realistic", scenario, the baby lacks the cognitive capacity to understand what a gun is or how to fire it. Under the second scenario, the baby is fully aware of the nature of a gun and how to use it, and of the prospect that the mother could potentially abort it.

Under the first scenario, abortion would become far more attractive. You have floating in your uterus an entity constantly and unknowingly interacting with an active firearm. This is not a comforting thought. I'd be inclined to abort that sucker before it gives a kick and accidentally blows my small intestines out my belly button.

The second scenario is far more interesting. The baby has a gun, the mother has the ability to abort the fetus. Both know of the other's capacity to use lethal force, but neither can know (until it's too late) if such force is actually going to be deployed. And we'll stipulate that each party will survive the use of lethal force against the other (the woman survives the abortion, the fetus can blast its way to freedom).

This scenario is probably one of those modified prisoner's dilemmas (stag hunt, chicken ... I'm too lazy to check which). But think of it this way: you and a partner are locked in separate rooms, without the ability to monitor the other. Each room contains a button which, if pressed, immediately (a) detonates the other room and (b) releases you. If neither of you presses the button for nine months, you'll both be released without harm.

It is possible, to be sure, that both parties will exercise tremendous willpower and not press the button. But the temptation would be very strong. Applied to the abortion context, it probably will just lead to more deaths on one side or the other -- whoever's nerves break first.

So there you ago. If babies had guns, the abortion rate would probably stay the same or go up. Thank you for your patience as I take a stupid idea and take it way too seriously.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume X: Pearl Harbor

It is a date that will live in infamy (which I missed by a week. I was busy, okay?). The day that the Jews finally succeeded in getting the Japanese to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor, which in turn brought the United States into World War II to fight against Hitler. []
ONE OF THE big questions of history is whether or not Roosevelt knew the Japs were going to bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. You know, “The Day of Infamy” and all that jazz. Well, I’m here to tell you that not only did FDR know the Japs were coming, he purposefully worked at goading them to do just that for over a year!

Finding a way to get Americans in a fighting mood for his fat cat International Jew buds became FDR’s secret lust after getting re-elected for his second term. He really wanted America to get at Der Fuehrer man, the Jew’s worst enemy at the time (and still going strong to this day). The deal was to make the Japs attack us first and get Americans riled-up enough to deflect into killing the enemies of the Globalist Jews — the Nazi Germans (White people). The Japs stabbing us in the back would be just the ticket. Pretty much the same thing happened with 9/11 and Iraq, when you think it all out.
Did we give up when the Jews bombed Pearl Harbor!?!?!

Ahem. Anyway, have the Japanese attack America to ensure that we go into Europe and save the Jews almost a decade after Hitler came to power. The misdirect bankshot is indeed a favored tactic of my people. As the author well knows:
DR even admitted a “Europe first” effort from day-one (because of logistics he couldn’t hide it). Most of America didn’t want to go fight in another European war overseas (88% were against it in a poll at the time). However, the fools sucked-down FDR’s bold-faced lie about keeping them out of war and re-elected the squirrelly bastard to another term (or the election was stolen). That sealed the deal for 2,500 dead at Pearl Harbor and another 418,000 dead American Goyim (virtually all White Gentile men) over the next four years, to say nothing of tens of millions of other people in the world.

“So, what’s all this got to do with me, in this day and age?” You might be asking.

Let’s just say you live in a pissant little town somewhere in middle America, minding your own business, trying to make a buck. Now, imagine some hook-nosed, greedy Khazar bastard someplace (maybe even Tel Aviv), who wants to stir-up war hysteria against Iran by faking a terror attack on America. At this very moment Mr. Chubby Neocohen has just spun himself around in a little circle with a blindfold on and jabbed his fat, freckled finger on a map — right where your White ass lives. Guess what? Sayonara, sucker!
And the best part is that it totally fits with the aggressive steps FDR was taking to save Jewish refugees at the time!

Two Sides to the Coin

In response to the controversy regarding Swarthmore Hillel's flouting of Hillel guidelines by permitting anti-Zionist speakers and organizations, Hillel has stood firm but insisted that its guidelines will be "applied across the political spectrum."
Will the guidelines, which insist that partners and speakers accept “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state,” be used to bar far-right speakers who promote the deportation of Palestinians or argue that it is more important that Israel be Jewish than that it be democratic? Fingerhut answered that the guidelines will be “applied across the political spectrum and has been applied,” but he declined to discuss specifics.
This would be good news if I believed it, although I'm not sure that I do. If they threaten to expel a group for hosting the Zionist Organization of America, then we'll talk.

Hillel's (potential) hypocrisy aside, I'm not sure the Swarthmore kids come out looking much better. Their rhetoric about "open Hillel" and "free discussion" sounds good until you think about it for more than seven seconds and remember that it's complete nonsense (and rightfully so). Presumably the Swarthmore Hillel still will not be inviting David Duke or Gilad Atzmon; they still do have some boundaries on what speakers are or are not acceptable. So all Swarthmore Hillel is doing is adjusting the boundaries. Now, it may well be that Hillel's guidelines are too restrictive, but the point is the validity of Swarthmore's decision depends on how we assess their particular decision regarding borders -- not some abstract and fictive view that they are eliminating them altogether.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Apology Acc--Wait, What?

A Norwegian Christian delegation to Israel has apologized for Norway's history of anti-Semitism. Sounds great, right? Norway is seeing increased levels of anti-Semitic activity; perhaps this is a step in the right direction?
Doug Aoibind Juliussen, chair of the International Christian Embassy in Norway, said, “We Christian leaders in Norway, want to apologize and ask for forgiveness from the Jewish people for Norway’s attitude toward you from the Holocaust through Oslo Accords and until this day.”
That's, um, quite a range there. The Holocaust on one hand, and a historic peace agreement between Israel and Palestine on the other. Even if there was a consensus in the Jewish community in opposition to Oslo (as opposed to that position being a small but vocal minority), one still might see it as offensive to see it grouped in with the Holocaust. I mean, seriously.

So, yeah. C- for effort. Circle back and try again.

Monday, December 09, 2013


James Taranto accuses the Obama administration of waging a "war on men" through its efforts to ensure colleges take a harder line on sexual assault on campus. His evidence is an anecdote of an Auburn student who he contends was falsely accused of sexual assault but was nonetheless expelled from campus. I've talked before about my fear of being falsely accused of something, so I should be a sympathetic audience. I am not, because even assuming that the student in question did not commit any wrongdoing at all (and of course, Taranto is a polemicist with an interest in recounting the facts in his favor), he still fails to actually make an argument about what is supposedly systematically wrong with how colleges -- post-Obama administration pressure -- handle rape allegations such that it represents a "war on men".

To begin, it is important to remember (since Tarento apparently does not) that we are not dealing with a criminal proceeding, or even a civil proceeding (though it is closer to the latter). There is no risk of prison time here. There isn't even the risk of monetary damages. The student here wasn't sent to jail, he was sent to the University of South Carolina Upstate.

All Auburn, a private actor, can do is decline to continue its private relationship with one of its students. One can put varying value on just how important it is that persons be "protected" in that circumstance (more on that below), and indeed I may well think it is deserving of considerable protection. But at the outset, the default rules should be those in a private, quasi-judicial proceeding that does not carry with it criminal penalties or even significant civil penalties. The question is whether or not Auburn's processes match up with the degree of "process" required in those circumstances.

With that prelude, let's address Tarento. He basically has three objections:

First, he is upset that the tribunal credited the victim over the accused. Taranto doesn't think that the victim was persuasive, and he particularly doesn't think that the testimony of the sexual assault experts was probative in making her more credible. But in any adjudicative proceeding credibility assessments are going to be somewhat arbitrary -- based on gut feelings and assessments of he-said-she-said claims. That's unavoidable, and Taranto provides no way of avoiding nor any reason why it is more distressing in this context than in other "civil" (or private) tort claims.

Second, Taranto doesn't think the proceedings were sufficiently professional or legalistic. Again, it is doubtful that Taranto thinks every private institution needs to have a full-blown judicial hearing in front of a federal judge every time it wants to discipline someone. Indeed, compared to the due process I'd get if, say, my employer fired me tomorrow based on whatever rationale (which is to say, none at all), Auburn still comes out far ahead (perhaps I am not giving Taranto enough credit, and he is actually a major union booster and critic of the at-will employment doctrine). Even in the university context, I doubt he believes such process is necessary in the majority of discipline cases(if someone was being expelled for vandalism, say, or cheating).

Finally, Taranto complains about the burden of proof requirement -- a "preponderance of the evidence" standard. It is interesting that, given his frame of an Obama administration "war on men", he quietly admits that this is the only element of Auburn's process that is actually attributable to the Obama administration. In any event, a preponderance of the evidence standard -- which basically means "more likely than not", is apparently outrageous, but once again Taranto doesn't give any reason why. The preponderance of the evidence standard, after all, is the default legal standard in non-criminal cases. If private party A tries to enlist the levers of the judiciary to deprive private party B of a property interest in a non-criminal matter, generally the case will be adjudicated under the preponderance of the evidence standard.

Should there be a different standard of proof for private adjudications of sexual assault claims, making it harder for victims to win their cases in the university context? Maybe! But Taranto doesn't provide one. He basically yells that colleges provide the same basic adjudicatory standards in sexual assault cases as they do in other analogous contexts (which is to say, far more than private employers provide), as if that is self-evidently outrageous, and that in a particular case in Auburn it might have led to a person losing a property interest that he shouldn't have. Even if he is right about this case (and again, he is no more reliable a narrator than anyone else), it doesn't show any defect in the procedures -- even very good systems make mistakes, and the anecdote is not a substitute for data. And while an argument for more stringent standards could certainly be made, such an argument would need to be both more vigorously argued and (more importantly) generalized to a broader commitment to the rights of persons who have a functional liberty and property interest that derives from a contractual arrangement with a private entity. If Taranto wants to go down that road, he's welcome to it, but he can't demand a privileged position only for accused rapists.

Israel, Palestine, and Jordan Sign Historic Agreement

Over how to replenish the Dead Sea using water from the Red Sea.

But in this climate, any agreement is worth celebrating. And in the Middle East water is no joke. I'm sure this took some doing to hammer out, so my congratulations to all involved parties.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Status of German Anti-Semitism

The Central Council of German Jews gets a lot of anti-Semitic mail, as one might expect. Recently, some researchers dived into the cesspool and tried to discern some patterns. Their findings were fascinating:
Many would view the stream of vitriol, sent to German Jewry’s central communal organization between 2002 and 2012, as little more than raw sewage. But Monika Schwarz-Friesel, a professor of linguistics at the Technical University of Berlin, saw it as raw data. Together with Jehuda Reinharz, the American historian and former president of Brandeis University, Schwarz-Friesel has recently published a study of these letters. And their findings reaffirm one of the enduring, if still surprising truths about anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere.

More than 60% of the hate mail came from well-educated Germans, including university professors, according to their study, “The Language of Hostility Towards Jews in the 21st Century,” released earlier this year. Only 3% came from right-wing extremists.

The researchers know this partly from analyzing the language of the letter writers — but also because many of the authors of the emails in their sample gave their names, addresses and professions. “We checked some of them, [and] the information [was] valid,” said Schwarz-Friesel in an email to the Forward. She and her research partner were amazed that the writers were so brazen. “I don’t think they would have identified themselves 20 or 30 years ago,” said Reinharz.

“We found that there is hardly any difference in the semantics of highly educated anti-Semites and vulgar extremists and neo-Nazis,” said Schwarz-Friezel. “The difference lies only in style and formal rhetoric, but the concepts are the same.”

One of the research pair’s other main findings was that hatred for Israel has become the main vehicle for German anti-Semitism. More than 80% of the 14,000 emails focused on Israel as their central theme.

Schwarz-Friesel and Reinharz say they strove hard to distinguish emails that were critical of Israel — even those that expressed anger toward it — from those that were anti-Semitic.

“Only those letters were classified as anti-Semitic that clearly [saw] German Jews as non-Germans and collectively abused German Jews to be responsible for crimes in Israel!” she explained.
First, I would love to see this research replicated in the United States. I'd be curious to know if the distribution here was similar or not.

More substantively, that anti-Semitic abuse (a) comes from the highly-educated and (b) is overwhelmingly tied to "criticism of Israel" reminds me of a thesis I started to develop in two posts regarding anti-Semitism as status-production.

We don't often think about the "causes" of anti-Semitism or other "isms", in part because such an inquiry often can be mistaken for justifying it. But people wouldn't be anti-Semitic unless they derived some utility from it. The most common "rationale" for popular anti-Semitism may be that anti-Semitism offers an explanation for unfairness or injustice that otherwise would feel entirely unexplainable. The factors that explain why any given person is poor or unemployed or in inadequate housing or what have you are complex and impersonal, they can't be lashed out against. "It's the Jews fault" creates a concrete target and holds out the possibility, if not realistic than at least conceptually-conceivable, of change -- were it not for those people I wouldn't be in this situation.

This explanation undoubtedly carries weight. But it is incomplete. For starters, it focuses primarily on anti-Semitism amongst the downtrodden, but as this study confirms anti-Jewish attitudes are well-represented amongst society's elite. Second, it doesn't explain why anti-Israel rhetoric is the vehicle of choice: if I wanted to blame the Jews for my unemployment, I have access to plenty stereotypes and slurs which more directly play on the theme ("Take that Shylock!").

The status-production rationale fills this gap. All persons crave status. We want to feel valued and important in society; like we are making a contribution. One way of doing this is to join a movement, feeling like one is part of something larger than oneself, and is making a positive difference in the world. White supremacy, for instance was beneficial even to those who it did not seem to materially benefit (e.g., poorer Whites) in part because it located them within a broader narrative of social relations where they were told they were valuable and important. Even if it doesn't pay the rent or give a raise, White supremacy conferred status upon poor Whites -- and for folks who had very little status otherwise, that was enough.

But of course, the desire for status is not unique to the currently-marginalized -- everyone, elites included, desires to be valued and important by our peers. Hence, to the extent that participating in White Supremacy was status-raising activity, it was in the interest of Whites of all classes to partake in it -- and, more importantly, partake in it through the means that conferred status. Not every racist action was status-conferring. By the 1930s, for example, elite Southern Whites had become highly embarrassed by lynchings, which they thought made them look backwards and lawless. The decline in lynchings through this time (there were 130 lynchings in 1901 against only 3 in 1939) does not reflect substantial liberalization in the views of Southern Whites (lynchings were mostly replaced with show trials, after all), but it did reflect an alteration in the sort of behavior which was viewed as status-producing.

The status-production theory suggests that anti-Semitic attitudes will be both created and channeled to arenas in which there exists a status-conferring narrative (that is, a network of high-status individuals who view a particular sort of anti-Semitic activity -- or anti-Semitic activity taken in the course of other objectives -- as worthy of conferring status). Anti-Semitism can be created by status-production because it gives an independent incentive to be anti-Semitic in ways that confer status (status-raising is its own reward); anti-Semitism is channeled by status-production because it lowers the cost of expressing pre-existing anti-Semitic attitudes (instead of being roundly condemned, one finds oneself praised and lauded in some circles).

Anti-Israel anti-Semitism is status-producing. Anti-Israel statements -- whether anti-Semitic or not -- come wrapped in the language of human rights, universal justice, anti-imperialism, and like terms; rhetoric which people like associating themselves with and are status-raising compared to people who are allegedly opposed or indifferent to such things. Unlike anti-Semitism that is expressed solely in economic terms ("Jews are moneygrubbers"), which is viewed as at least jejune if not utterly condemnable, to be "anti-Israel" makes one a bold truthsayer, a crusader for justice, a brave rebel against the forces of darkness. Of course it doesn't have this effect in all circles, but it doesn't have to -- so long as some circle of privileged persons create a system where such views are considered salutary and laudable, some people (especially those whose personal networks are closely entwined with the particular actors conferring status on this ground) will be attracted to attaining that status. Hence, we should expect anti-Semitism to come primarily in the form of anti-Israel rhetoric -- why wouldn't it? To do so is the best way of minimizing the backlash and maximizing the status that the statement elicits. In short, anti-Semitism is expressed in the idiom of the dominant narratives of its time. If it the narrative is Christianity, Jews will be attacked for being non-Christian, if it is nationalist, Jews will be attacked for being foreign, and if it is human rights, than Jews will be attacked as oppressors.

Where does this leave the Israel critic, and, in particular, does it mean that "all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic [status production]"? First, we must state clearly that "Israel critic" is an incredibly broad term that probably encompasses every single person who has ever had an opinion on the subject -- including Israel's defenders. I am a defender of Israel, I am also a critic of Israel. Caring about something means having opinions about it, it would be a remarkable coincidence if my opinions about Israel (or any other country, or institution, or person) perfectly tracked Israel's actions. ZOA is a critic of Israel, as it has every right to be. The point being, first and foremost, that those who adopt the mantle "critic of Israel" are in reality a narrow and provincial subset of the class, who should not be allowed to insist that the vast majority of Jews are mindless zombies "incapable of criticism of Israel." Viewed in this way, it is clear that the vast majority of criticisms of Israel pose no serious threat of engendering anti-Semitism. We are talking about particular forms of criticism whose position seems considerably more fraught.

But speaking to that subset in particular, and stipulating arguendo that they do not want their views to enhance the status of anti-Semites, there are two things that must be said. First, one has to engage in the conversation -- if one isn't willing to consider as even potentially legitimate Jewish criticisms that one's statements are or engender anti-Semitism, one can't act surprised if they don't give your own criticisms much weight or attribute them to hostility. After all, it seems quite likely that a person whose immediate response to Jewish objections is "as usual, Jews are lying/suppressing free inquiry/insane" is someone who in fact does harbor inegalitarian views towards Jews. Privilege -- gentile or otherwise -- means that one can always choose to maintain the primacy of one's own perspective on matters affecting the marginalized group. A very large part of anti-oppression analysis is about convincing the privileged to at least suspend that outlook and recognize that it is possible -- maybe even likely -- that the marginalized person is epistemically more credible on the subject, and that our own view -- even if honestly arrived at, even if fervently held -- may be suspect after all. Persons consistently unwilling to engage in that "quietude" towards Jewish voices cannot claim any presumption of egalitarian views vis-a-vis Jews.

Second, even if one's own heart is beyond reproach, speaking and acting in a political and social system permeated by prejudice means that it isn't all about you. Persons can be held accountable not just for their intent, but also for their predictable effects -- concern for justice means becoming attuned to how one's behavior plays out systematically and working to mitigate its malign consequences. Where particular modes of speaking or activism carries a high risk of reinforcing systems of violence and oppression, heightened obligations are triggered. As I wrote earlier.
[I]ntention is not a necessary component to creating this effect, nor does lack of intention necessarily absolve moral culpability. I believe criticism of a state can be detached from criticism of that state’s citizens; I am less optimistic that criticism of a state can be detached from that state’s supporters. Placed, willingly or nor, in a morally salient relationship with supporters (particularly Jewish supporters) of Israel, the critics have an obligation to be mindful of the known and predictable effects. When they are reckless with the lives affected by their speech, they bear some measure of responsibility for the consequences.

Again, there may be no intention to “green light” anti-Semitic violence. But because the perpetrators have already received the message that they are engaged in a morally righteous struggle, the muted reaction against their behavior — and the unabated continuance of the messages which led them to believe that their acts were heroic to begin with — is easily interpreted as consent or support. Focusing nearly exclusively on defending their words, policies, and procedures from the possibility that they are anti-Semitic, or might produce, ratify, legitimate, or sustain it, the purveyors of criticism as moral hatred unintentionally but dramatically weaken the ability for committed anti-racists to break the connection between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic activity. Focusing on intent, they are blind to effects. And by refusing to allow even the barest interrogation into the connections between what they are saying and doing, and the historical and current manifestations of anti-Semitism worldwide, it is impossible to create a competitive counternarrative based on principles of justice, fairness, or progressivism; as these terms are all monopolized by the very actors who are unwittingly undermining them. In this world, the only space for a counterstory is on the right, and that is a world I refuse to accede to.

This is one of the many reasons why I am so fervent in speaking up on behalf of those who in good faith speak out against anti-Semitism on the left. Until it is affirmed that interrogating the potential anti-Semitism (in intent and in effect) of progressive speakers (on Israel and on other topics) is a fundamentally legitimate activity for progressives to engage in, it will be impossible to battle against the wave of anti-Semitic violence which seeks status through a perverted pursuit of justice.
I characterized this as a duty to mitigate, not refrain, and that is an important qualification: particular ideas cannot be off-limits only because uncontrolled third parties with terrible views claim status from them. But it is fair to impose an obligation to be mindful of these effects and work to mitigate them, in part because doing so sharpens and clarifies the actual content of the critique, but in part becuase it is generally good that people operating in fraught moral terrain be obligated to think constantly and critically about how their views relate to and are impacted by important moral questions. After all, if we can't figure out how (or can't motivate ourselves) to draw clear conceptual distinctions between our own views and those we purportedly condemn, then maybe the views themselves need reassessing.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Zionist Space Conspiracy Continues, Part III

Here is the logo for the National Reconnaissance Office's latest surveillance satellite (via):

Jesus, really? A giant octopus whose tentacles encircle the Earth, with the motto "nothing is beyond our reach"? It looks like the back cover of Der Sturmer.

(Prior semi-related posts here and here).

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Things People (Don't) Blame the Jews for, Volume IX: "Knockout"

I've already posted once about how "knockout" -- a supposed game where teenagers randomly attack innocent pedestrians in the hope of scoring a knockout in a single blow -- is almost assuredly not a real thing, at least in terms of it being some sort of "trend". Accordingly, this week's "Things People Blame the Jews for" is slightly different -- here, it is someone who I think is being unfairly characterized as "blaming the Jews" for something when, read fairly, she is doing nothing of the sort.

The alleged perpetrator is incoming NYC councilwoman Laura Cumbo. She released a statement on her Facebook page about the knockout game which tied the attacks to reportedly rising Jewish/Black tensions in Crown Heights (where she represents). I initially heard about her statement from an article in the Jewish Press titled "NYC Councilwoman-Elect: ‘Knockout’ Triggered by Jewish Success." This article, incidentally, is not the best example of the unfair attack on Councilwoman Cumbo I'm about to detail -- it's title is misleading and the start of the story isn't great, but it gets into the nuance later on -- this article from the Examiner is more on (which is to say, off) the mark.

In her discussion, Cumbo talks at length about supposedly worsening tensions between Jews and Blacks in Crown Heights. She mentions that, in meeting with Black (particularly Afro-Caribbean) members of the community she encountered concerns that they would be "pushed out" by Jewish families and Jewish landlords. She also spoke of the "resentment" in portions of that community regarding "Jewish success", which they do not view as also "their success."

I was all prepared to make this a straightforward entrant in my next "Things People Blame the Jews for" post. But upon reading her entire post, I decided that wasn't fair. I don't think, fairly read, Cumbo was placing any of the blame for attacks on Jews, on Jews. She is quite clear these attacks are unjustified. More importantly, she at no point says or implies that Jews have actually done anything to provoke these attacks -- she is reporting on sentiments that exist in the community, not endorsing them, and I think that is abundantly clear from the text and context of the message. If we are to talk about anti-Semitism obviously that includes talking about who holds anti-Semitic beliefs and by what means and narratives they are expressed. Else the entire project of combating anti-Semitism because impossible on its terms. Cumbo is crystal clear that the wrongdoers need to be punished, and equally clear that we need to make a concerted effort to understand where these attitudes stem from and how to counteract them.

Let me be clear -- if I thought Councilwoman Cumbo was playing the "well sure these attacks are unjustified, but maybe Jews should stop rubbing their success in everyone's face" gambit, then I would not be defending her. That sort of move is bullshit and would be right in the wheelhouse of a non-ironic post in this series. But I don't see her post as saying that, and I think it is unfair to imply that she is.

In any event, I replicate her entire post below for your perusal. Draw your own conclusion:
The recent epidemic of the “Knock Out Game” in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and throughout the Nation has forced me to make some early decisions as to what type of elected official I want to be as I prepare to take office in January. It is a most challenging time to assume office, as the elderly and our children have become targets of violence, undermining the very foundation of community. I was very pleased on November 19th, 2013 that Rabbi Chanina Sperlin organized a community forum of religious leaders, school principals, elected officials, community leaders, and law enforcement to address this issue in order to prevent it from spiraling out of control both in our neighborhood and beyond.

Many thoughts emerged from that meeting, including a recognition that the African American/Caribbean/Jewish community had come a long way since the Crown Heights Riots over twenty years ago. Others expressed sentiments that while there has been much progress, it was unfortunate that it took a tragedy in the community to bring the leadership together once again. Some demanded justice and swift legal action, while others stressed the importance of educational programs that would teach our youth about one another’s cultures. Today, most young people are not even aware that the Crown Heights Riots even happened.

At the forum, there was a great deal of confusion about why this epidemic had begun in the first place, and whether or not it should be viewed as a series of hate crimes. My comments regarding my thoughts on the origin of the “Knock Out Game” came from a place of wanting to get to the heart of the matter, as uncomfortable as that might be for many. As I campaigned throughout the primary season, I knocked on the doors of thousands of Jewish and African American/Caribbean residents in Crown Heights. Through those interactions, it was brought to my attention by many of the African American/Caribbean residents that perhaps the relationship between the two communities is not as great as it is currently perceived to be by the leadership. At the meeting, I shared that many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes. I relayed these sentiments at the forum not as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a “hate crime” against a community that they know very little about.

I admire the Jewish community immensely. I am particularly inspired by the fact that the Jewish community has not assimilated to the dominant American culture, and has preserved their religious and cultural values while remaining true to themselves. I respect and appreciate the Jewish community’s family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains. While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.

I believe that it is critical for our communities, and especially for our young people, to gain a greater understanding of one another so that we can learn more about each other’s challenges and triumphs despite religious and cultural differences. I believe it is possible for us to create real friendships across cultural boundaries that transcend mere tolerance, but rather strive for mutual respect and admiration. I know that there is so very much that can be gained by learning from one another. When I assume office in January, I will be working with local leaders to plan a series of events that will bring our young people together. It is crucial that we do the hard work to truly create one community, and I am looking for your full support and participation.

I fully recognize the severity of these recent crimes and I, along with City, State and Federal elected officials are calling for a detailed investigation, which I am confident will lead to arrests and legal action. It is imperative that we send a zero-tolerance message to the individuals who are responsible for these attacks. Let me make it abundantly clear, notwithstanding my eagerness to build bridges between diverse peoples and communities, any crime committed by one individual against another is a crime and must be viewed and treated as such. If one person attacks another, regardless of the motivation, there is no justification for such an action. We should never blame a victim, or try to explain away any wrongdoing. The issue of race or religion is but a red-herring one when it comes to crime. As a civilized people we must hold every felon accountable for his or her felony. Yet, since the issue of race has been unfortunately been introduced into the conversation about the current epidemic, I pray that I can assist in bringing my Jewish and African-American/Caribbean constituents to a far better relationship and understanding than the ones that exists today.

As an African American woman, this is challenging, because I recognize that it is Black children and not Jewish children that are playing the “Knock Out Game.” Why is this? In many ways governmental neglect, outside uncontrolled influences and failed leadership have led to the breakdown that so many young people of color are currently facing. I feel torn because I feel apart of the very system that has caused the destructive path that so many young people have decided to take while I am simultaneously demanding that they be arrested by that same system.

I am concerned that the media attention around the “Knock Out Game” is divisive and will erode the real progress that has been made over decades. The recent November 26th article published in The Jewish Week, paints African American teens in a dangerous light, and could cause the vast majority of innocent young people of color to be seen as criminals in the Crown Heights community as a result of the actions of a dangerous small minority. At the same time, there are some people in the African-American/Caribbean community who foster stereotypical views of Jewish people, which is why it is important that we create a more open dialogue. –

As the Rebbe once said “There aren’t two communities living in Crown Heights. It is one community.” As the media has recently focused our attention on the “Knock Out Game,” I am challenged with the reality that a 66 year old grandfather was shot and killed earlier this week while dropping off money in Fort Greene’s Walt Whitman Houses to help a family pay for Thanksgiving dinner. There was no public outcry or calls for swift legal action for this loss of life or for the dozens of others that were killed in the public housing developments this year in the District. I want us to move forward as a community and recognize that we must all come together across religious and racial lines anytime someone in our community is attacked. I want to realize the Rebbe’s life long pursuit to "make the world a better place, and to eliminate suffering”. It is only when we all come together and see one another as human beings instead of through the lens of racial, cultural or ethnic categories that we will be able to make our communities ONE.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Friendly Reminders

I'm not sure how I feel about this:
Sounds like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a lovely meeting with Pope Francis.

They talked for about a half-hour, focused on peace talks and touched on Iran. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, encouraged Francis to visit Israel. And Netanyahu gave the pope a book with the inscription, “To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage.”

The one slightly uncomfortable part may have been that the book was about one of the worst things the Catholic Church has ever done to the Jews.


The book was “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain,” the scholarly magnum opus written by the prime minister’s late father, Benzion. The in-depth tome on the Spanish Inquisition describes how the church persecuted, and often executed, masses of Jewish converts to Catholicism who were accused of secretly practicing Judaism.
Pope Francis strikes me as the sort who would not take offense. But it's not like Bibi is exactly Mr. Deft Touch when it comes to diplomacy.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Beyond Good and Evil

Ta-Nehisi Coates says some very wise things regarding whether Stephen Alec Baldwin is a "bigot":
Alwan believes that we shouldn't, "make global judgments about people’s characters based on their worst moments, when they are least in control of themselves." I reject the notion that "bigot" is a "global judgement." Aside from Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, no single white person may be more responsible for the destruction of slavery than William Sherman. But Uncle Billy was—even in his own time—a reconstructed bigot and white supremacist. This is neither shocking nor particularly complicated. There is no reason why one could not, on the one hand believe, that slavery should have ended, and also believed that black people were inferior and worthy of a lesser place in society. "Bigot" is not a polite way of saying "child-molester" or "serial killer" or "genocidal maniac" or even asshole. And it does not automatically blot out one's other qualities such as "caring father," "good husband," "charitable giver," or "supporter of marriage equality."

Black people—who have spent much of the history living around, working for, or working with actual bigots but have not had the luxury of dismissing them "globally"—understand this. I suspect that women—who have, for some time, had to live around, work with, and work for sexists and misogynists, but have not had the luxury of "globally" dismissing them—understand this too. And I suspect the LGBT community, where people must function in families with other people who believe their lifestyle to be a sin, understand this as well. If you are gay your father or mother could be a "homophobic bigot," but you might well love him all the same. For a significant period of American history it was common for black people to have fathers who were white supremacists. Some of us hated our fathers. But for many of us, the feeling was somehow more complicated.

The ability to "globally" label anyone is a privilege that people who live with a boot on their neck don't really enjoy. We see people as complicated, because we must, because your tormentor one moment might be your liberator the next. This is not theoretical. In 1863, General James Longstreet led an Army that kidnapped free black people and sold them into slavery. Ten years later, Longstreet was leading black soldiers in a courageous, if doomed, campaign against white terrorists in Louisiana.
This is a very important insight. In contemporary parlance, "bigot" or "racist" or "anti-Semite" all refer -- and can only refer -- to someone on par with Hitler or the Klan (that is to say, "genocidal maniacs"). This seems like it should be a great victory for the anti-racist, anti-anti-Semitic, and anti-bigotry crowd. It isn't. As Coates observes, it flattens the enormous pluralism that comprises a racist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise bigoted social sphere, which includes a wide range of attitudes and behaviors that often lie quite far from (and may be held in opposition to) these blood-thirsty extremes. But perhaps more importantly, it stunts our ability to think about bigotry in all but the most superficial and unproductive ways.

As the defense of Baldwin demonstrates, structuring our thoughts about bigotry so it is synonymous with "unmitigated evildoer" only acts to shield the majority of bigoted attitudes and activity from scrutiny. The analysis becomes simple: (1) Alec is accused of being a bigot; (2) to be a bigot is to be a monster; (3) Alec is not a monster; therefore (4) Alec is not a bigot. This applies when we are appraising other people, and it clearly applies when thinking about ourselves: it is a rare person who -- taking the "bigot-as-moral-monster" approach -- will proceed to think "why yes, I am a disgraceful human being with no redeeming characteristics." More likely, we'll reject the appraisal, and aggressively denounce the person who made such a transparently ludicrous and offensive characterization of us.

The net effect of this outlook is that racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry are so serious that they don't exist. It is pretty clear who benefits from that state of affairs, and it is not those still under the heel of these oppressions. It is to the advantage of those who hold onto or benefit from bigotry and oppression to have such things defined as the sole province of history's greatest monsters, for few would be so bold (and fewer would be convinced) that any sizable chunk of the population is such a creature.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Good Fences Make Good Communities

Alex Sinclair has a column up in Ha'aretz where he pleads with his right-wing pro-Israel friends not to attack his pro-Israel bona fides just because he approaches questions of Israeli policy from a more liberal perspective. In particular, he observes a dynamic whereby right-wing "pro-Israel" Jews, no matter how strenuously one disagrees with them, will never have their credentials as "pro-Israel" questioned; whereas for left-wing Jews this happens as a matter of course.
Very rarely do you hear left-wing Jews delegitimize the right-wing’s place in the Jewish community. Right-wing Jews who find themselves in situations where they are the minority amongst left-wingers may be subjected to harshly-worded questions, prejudiced assumptions, and even name-calling that goes too far (most right-wingers are not really “fascists”!) But rarely will you hear a left-wing Jew say that a right-wing Jew’s opinions make him suspect as a Jew. Or that her opinions make her unsuitable to lead a Jewish organization or community. Or that their positions should not be taught to the younger generation.

The same is not true the other way round. Discourse from the right towards the left often spreads beyond name-calling into delegitimization. Left-wing Zionists are accused of consorting with those who wish to destroy Israel, of not really being Zionists, of self-hate, of naivete.
Sinclair appeals for symmetry -- we should assume the good faith of left-wing participants on the same basis as we do our right-ward friends. Neither should be "delegitimized."

I certainly agree with symmetry. But it's interesting to me that I primarily think of this in the other direction: Just as a left-wing Jews' "pro-Israel" credentials are routinely questioned if they reach beyond certain lines, right-wing "pro-Israel" Jews should also find their status up for debate if they step beyond the pale. The point is that, if we want to say the terrain of "pro-Israel" is bounded -- that certain positions cannot be reconciled with being "pro-Israel" regardless of the assertion of the proponents (or even their subjective intentions) -- there must be rightward as well as leftward borders. Yet, as I observed previously, only one direction is policed:
The claim that one can purport to be pro-Israel, and yet act or advocate in ways that do it harm, is fair enough. But it has to be an even-handed principle, and there is little evidence that it is applied to right-wing Zionists, as opposed to only their left-wing peers. This is unjustifiable -- right-wing Zionists are guilty of many of the flaws Rabbi Kaufman identifies, and deserve the same level of chastisement for their breaches.
A bare assertion of good intentions is not sufficient to render a policy program "pro-Israel", and we need to have the space to call out people who stray from certain broad but recognizable boundary lines. But it has to be a two-way street. It can't be the case that right-wingers are free to be Zionist however they choose -- even when they criticize Israeli security determinations, even when they advocate a one-state solution -- while their leftist peers are constantly put under the microscope. There are borders on both sides, and we can't place one under stringent surveillance while leaving the other entirely unpoliced. One can claim to be a Zionist -- even a right-wing Zionist -- and still be a bad Zionist.
It is possible that this is a "second-best" compromise -- it would be better if, as Sinclair requests, that we all respect the good faith of all persons holding themselves out as pro-Israel. But I'm genuinely unsure. That "pro-Israel" is not infinitely malleable and that the Jewish community has the right to define certain borders strikes me as indisputably correct. While those borders should be broad, they should exist. For "pro-Israel" to be an intelligible category, after all, some things need to be excluded from its auspices. The point is that these fences cannot apply only to one side. I think it is a good and valuable thing that one-staters are not viewed as "pro-Israel," but that applies to those on the right as much as the left. If one only has a border on one end of the territory, one doesn't have a defined territory at all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Several assorted thoughts on CNN's article regarding a series of teenage assaults, titled "Terrifying teen 'knockout' game assaults spreading". First, some excerpts from the article:
- A sick so-called game known as "knockout" -- where teens randomly sucker-punch strangers with the goal of knocking them unconscious with a single blow -- is catching the attention of law enforcement throughout the nation.
Authorities have reported similar incidents [to one occurring in New Jersey] in New York, Illinois, Missouri and Washington.

One of the latest attacks happened on Friday, when someone was allegedly punched on a street in Brooklyn. Police brought four men in for questioning and arrested 28-year-old Amrit Marajh.
Youth violence expert Chuck Williams blamed the media and parents for what called extreme aggression by America's youth. Negative attention, he said, is often rewarded.

"That's America. America loves violence and so do our kids," Williams said. "We market violence to our children and we wonder why they're violent. It's because we are."

Williams, a professor of psychology and education at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said some young people are desperate for attention. He called it the "Miley Cyrus effect," where teens will do anything to get noticed, no matter how heinous or unconscionable.

"These kids know the consequences," he said. "They want to get arrested. They want to get caught, because they want that notoriety. They know they won't go away forever because they're kids. It's a win-win all around for them."
Republican New York State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco on Wednesday proposed new legislation he's calling the "Knockout Assault Deterrent Act," calling for juveniles charged with the random assaults to be tried as adults.
Now, my reactions:

First, I am 100% confident that this is not a national trend. There are several reasons for this, starting with the fact that these "terrifying teen crime-as-game wave" stories always turn out to be overblown (at best). Remember "wilding"? I'd ask how the media gets duped by this over and over again, except "duped" is the wrong word for "actively enflaming social anxieties in an effort to sell copy". Beyond that, there being reports of teenagers attacking people in five states does not a meaningful trend make. This would be true even if the one of "teenagers" cited as being part of the trend wasn't 28.

Second, I am 100% confident that "the media" and "culture" are not to blame for attacks by teenagers. Aside from the causality problem evident from the fact that everyone is exposed to this same culture yet most young people are not turning violent, juvenille crime rates have been consistently falling for the past 15 years. At the moment, our rates of juvenile murder and rape are lower than they were in 1960. Perhaps we should start contemplating what horrors were wrought by the horribly violent culture of the Leave it Beaver era. Or perhaps we can talk about our ongoing media culture of sensationalizing fictive "crime wave" stories which serve to justify over-policing and further damage trust relations between the police and communities they serve.

Third, I am 100% confident that the vast majority of young people contemplating engaging in random acts of violence do not have any sense of the legal framework and sentencing guidelines which govern their contemplated offenses. I base this on the fact that I'm pretty sure I was in the 99.9th percentile of legally-aware teenagers, and I had no idea about what criminal penalties existed for various offenses. To the extent that teenagers do have beliefs that their sentences will be relatively lenient, I am sure it comes not from poring over the latest statutes to emerge from the legislature but rather from a vague sense that "juveniles don't do hard time," which won't be sensitive to changes in penalties. Moreover, the youths most at risk for this sort of behavior are also those most likely to know from personal experience that teenagers can and are sent to prison for long periods of time.

Honestly, stories like this make me really angry. They're the same "mistake" over and over, and unlike the majority of American teenagers they actually do pose a systematic threat to the safety of our nation, by misdirecting legal and police resources and by reinforcing narratives that lead to the police and young Americans seeing each other as enemies. It's disgraceful.

UPDATE: As if to mock me, CNN posts the video entitled "Is The Knockout Game Even Real?" They spend 95% of the time rehashing the knockout game sensationalism, followed by quickly noting that there may be nothing distinguishing these attacks from other random acts of violence (let alone warranting a "trend story"). Even this caveat is immediately brushed aside on the grounds that we all should be terrified of this wave of violence.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Things People Blame the Jews for, Volume VIII: Colonialism

It's Thanksgiving, and of course that brings to mind colonialism. And that ideology and action is the subject of this week's edition of Things People Blame the Jews For.

But I was thinking -- it is a seemingly inevitable facet of this feature that it portrays only one side of the story. I might write about people who blame the Jews for Energy Speculation, for example, but in doing so I invariably ignore those who blame the Jews for not allowing enough energy speculation. How unfair is that? It certainly does not give due respect to the fantastic creativity of the blame-the-Jews crowd.

So this week, I decided to make things harder. Obviously, it is not difficult to find people who blame Jews for colonialism (generally in the Middle East, though again the range really knows no bounds). But can we find someone who blames the Jews for making us care about colonialism? Yes we can! []
Aztec culture was the pinnacle of the civilizations speaking the Nahuatl language when history says Mesoamerican civilization was discovered by Christian Europeans. This “civilization” lends an element of belief to the Cthulhu Mythos of HP Lovecraft. Savagery so unprecedented in the annals of known human cultural practices that the original assessment of the conquistadors, that it was orchestrated by Demons from hell, is still the most valid.
Much revisionist history has been written about the conquest of the Aztecs in the hundreds of years after the facts, especially by those within the scientific community indoctrinated into the Caucasian self-loathing and cultic denial of the soul which has become the standard Smithsonian and National Geographic fare welded like a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of Jewish professors.
Stupid Jews, making good White people feel bad about slaughtering savage brown people. Truly, the idea that it is bad to invade others' territory and mercilessly slaughter its inhabitants for the gain of outsiders was one of the more insidious weapons in my arsenal back when I was a Jewish professor.

The New Old Line State

The secession movement (which, as per history, is comprised of conservative furious that liberals win elections) rolls into Western Maryland. Fun fact: If "Western Maryland" was admitted, it would become the first state featuring more counties than people.

(Fun actual fact: The combined population of the targeted counties -- Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett and Washington -- is roughly 653,000, which would place it as the 48th most populous state in the union: ahead of Vermont but behind North Dakota)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Normal Identities

Via Amp at Alas, a Blog, I see a column up by Jonathan Rauch that opposes efforts to pass expansions of employment discrimination protections to gays and lesbians. He argues that such laws are emblematic of "victim" politics -- gays needing protection -- rather than "responsibility" politics, whereby gays actively seek to take on public responsibilities. Gay marriage and service in the military are examples of the latter.
I would never deny the continuing and often harsh reality of anti-gay discrimination, especially for kids. And I would agree with anyone who points out that allowing gays to sue discriminators in federal court is fair and reasonable. (Federal antidiscrimination law, after all, already protects other groups, like Christians, that endure far less social hostility.) But at this point, the right to file federal lawsuits is unlikely to make a big difference in gay people’s lives, and the 1970s civil rights model has become a warhorse in need of retirement.

The next Congress should be the second since 1994 when ENDA is not introduced — this time because gays ourselves have decided to move on. A country of gay spouses and parents and service members and veterans is a country of gay citizens, not gay victims. Ten years after Goodridge is a good time to recognize and celebrate that change.
As Amp points out, this puts the cart way, way before the horse. It reeks of someone who lives in a climate where gays really have made huge strides towards acceptance, without regard for people living in locations where anti-gay prejudice still looms large and really does affect employment (and housing) opportunities. That being said, I think I understand the theoretical impulse here, and perhaps can explain it in a way that explains why it can't apply to gays and lesbians at this stage in the political game.

Take two of my identities: I am Jewish, and I am (former) high school athlete. One of these two identities enjoys protections through anti-discrimination law, and one does not. One of these two identities also is one where I feel concerned about my status as a full and equal member of the polity, while the other elicits no such anxiety.

It may seem odd that the identity that enjoys greater legal protection is also the one whose position feels more fraught. Indeed, the vast majority of our identities garner no specific formal legal protection whatsoever. And it's not because they are not the subject of regulation, even controversial regulation, either. Athletes can face significant regulations (such as mandatory drug tests, or heightened academic requirements), and they may have strong views about the propriety of these ordinances. Lawyers (to take another example) face a massive array of regulations governing their conduct and certainly have no qualms about arguing over them. These arguments, however, occur without the backstop of any formal legal regime recognizing specific protections against unfair treatment for the identity. We fight these battles with nothing more than the normal tools of politics.

Yet this thought does not fill most of us with dread. To the contrary, it strikes us as utterly unremarkable. It is normal that most of our identities will be regulated and protected through nothing more than the normal channels of political and social dialogue. The need for something like anti-discrimination laws suggests a particular aberration from this norm -- recognition of a particularly dangerous or fraught area of controversy where the normal rules cannot be trusted.

For this reason, it is wrong to view the end-game of anti-discrimination work as the enactment of a robust array of legal protections. As one jurist put it, anti-discrimination laws "acknowledge—rather than mark the end of—a history of purposeful discrimination." Hernandez v. Robles, 7 N.Y.3d 338, 388-89 (N.Y. 2006) (Kaye, C.J., dissenting). Or to quote myself:
If one only has protections because one devotes every spare vote, dollar, resource and minute to secure them, one can hardly be said to be an equal. Equality comes when equality is normal — so normal, that you don’ t have to be perpetually on your guard to defend it. So normal that it wouldn't occur to anyone to try and take it away.
What Rauch is trying to get at is the securing for homosexuality the status of a "normal identity" -- one in which their equality is so natural that it need not be remarked upon, and where the natural flow of social and political channels will regulate matters of sexual orientation in a manner which, if not agreed upon by all, at least is not viewed as something extraordinary.

Needless to say, we are not there yet. And Rauch makes a huge mistake by jumping the gun. Indeed, part of being a normal identity is that one can insert yourself into the political process and secure benefits (same as other groups do as a matter of course), so it is antithetical to the notion to throw up barriers to a group's particular political ambitions. That is to say, it is not necessarily the case that a "normal identity" never receives protective measures, it is simply that if they do so it isn't seen as any more remarkable than, say, dairy farmers gaining legislative protections -- we might debate about it or oppose particular proposals, but it is not viewed as a high stakes deviation from politics-as-normal.

In sum, I see the appeal of Rauch's endpoint. He's just wrong to force the issue.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sounds Like a Job For...

As soon as a read this story about a woman who was "fined" $3,500 by a company for posting a poor review of their services (it allegedly violated a "non-disparagement clause" in the contract), I immediately thought "this sounds like something Popehat would tackle." So I hopped over to their site, and lo and behold...
By popular demand — which is a polite way of sayingyes, I heard about this, for the love of God stop sending me emails about it — it's time to talk about KlearGear, an online company that sells "desk toys" and gadgets and tchotchkes and such. Tim Cushing at Techdirt has the story.
Poor guys. At least I checked before sending them a link. But it's too their credit that they've carved this niche out for themselves.

(Their post on the subject is good reading, too).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Things People Blame the Jews for, Volume VII: Jews

It is unsurprising that the "blame the Jews" phenomenom would eventually come a full circle. The idea that the entire idea of a "Jew" is a myth is hardly new -- anyone who has seen a "Black Israelite" on a street corner is familiar with the trope, but it has gotten some new life recently with the publication of Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People. Sand, a professor of modern French history and film studies, contends that the entire idea of a "Jewish people" is a myth invented towards the end of the 19th century as part of the Zionist enterprise. He further argues that (Ashkenazi) Jews are not descended from people who left modern Israel in the Roman era, but rather are descendants of Khazars (a long-gone kingdom in modern Russia).

One thing that is often remarked upon about anti-Zionist discourse is how it takes attributes that apply to nation-states generally and ascribes a uniqueness (or at least a special virulence) to them when applied to the Jewish state in particular. With Sand's argument we see much the same thing, but applied to the concept of "nations" more broadly. The idea of a "nation" as an "imagined community", whose bonds are constituted intersubjectively rather than representative of some eternal and pure blood tie, is not exactly revolutionary in the field. And that the idea of Jewishness as a nation in the modern sense didn't begin to form until the 19th century too, wouldn't be surprising -- the concept of nations in their modern form didn't begin to emerge until the 19th century. Jewish "peoplehood" was in all probability no more or less developed than those of other peoples across history; but that doesn't make it fake (then or now).

The very, very elementary mistake some people draw from this is that, because the origin story is partially mythological, the community is a fiction. We decide what ties bind us. None of them, in all likelihood, translate into any sort of eternal, transhistorical truth -- an observation that has no bearing on their validity. It's how people screw up social constructivism more generally -- "socially constructed" is not a synonym for "fake." Most important elements of our lives are socially constructed, that doesn't make them any less real.

Nor does it particularly matter whether any individual Jewish person can individually trace their bloodlines to someone who lived in Jerusalem in 259 B.C.E. Let's say Sand is 100% right that modern Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazars, who were converted by Jewish missionaries from the Holy Land. To assert that this makes anybody any less Jewish or any more disconnected from a historical or Bible-era Jewish people requires us to say that only way to be "truly" part of a people is to descend via bloodline. But that's (a) not true and (b) not something Jews have ever believed. Descent can make one a member of the tribe, but it doesn't make one any more of a member than a convert. In this, one can say that Jewish identity reached a modern (or perhaps post-modern) form ahead of the curve -- our conception of peoplehood was less predicated on a literal chain of "who begats", and instead embraced the idea of created a community and nation out of shared intersubjective bonds and commonalities of creed. Not only is this not an illegitimate form of social organization, nominally it would seem to be superior to assertions that are quite literally based off ethnic essentialism.

The normative argument Sand wants to make -- undermining the "reality" of a Jewish people and its connection to Israel by way of genetics -- is something I've criticized before (and criticized when it is applied to Palestinians, who also are accosted with charges that they are johnny-come-latelys to the territories):
I hate this. I hate this in all of its forms. I hate it when folks try and tell me that Jews don't really belong in the Middle East because they actually descend from Khazars. I hate it when people argue that Palestinians aren't a "real" people because they didn't have national ambitions until relatively recently. I hate it when Israelis are accosted as inauthentic because they have the "wrong" eye color. I hate it when people seem to think this entire conflict is properly resolved via an impossible historical inquiry into who got to the Holy Land "the firstest with the mostest".

It all just strikes me as incredibly primitive -- based on old-school notions of ancestral ties and bloodrights and purity that have no place in modern discussions. I'm a Levi, so I assume I descend from relatively deep Israelite strands. But who knows -- maybe there are some European converts in my family tree. So what? And if some persons with African blood identify as Palestinian and are so recognized by the Palestinian community -- good for them! It is sordid business, this attempt to police each other's racial authenticity for our own transparently political ends.
And that's the problem here. There is an ongoing debate over the genealogy of Ashkenazi Jews (a debate with far more qualified participants than professors of modern French history, I might add), but to assert that it resolves any claims regarding the legitimacy of a Jewish state requires us to believe in some very retrograde notions of statedom -- that they really are and must be predicated on purity of blood and bloodline and a belief that this volk is eternally tied to this soil. The problem being that nobody believes that, and claims of that sort have long since ceased to be necessary for the maintenance of a national identity.

The bizarre summation of Sand's normative attack is that the only legitimate identities are those actually based on historically verifiable racial purity; Jews actually comprise a variety of ethnicities who may or may not share blood ties with ancestral Jews, therefore, Jewishness is a falsehood. To state that argument is to refute it: all identities are socially constructed, and that fact does not falsify the identity to anyone but someone more enamored of old-school racist ideologies than I think Sand would prefer to admit.

Sorry, SCOTUS: Pixie Needs Me

Something about this I find absolutely hilarious. Judge Richard Posner was asked about the possibility of serving on the Supreme Court. After noting he was probably too old, he also stated that he thought the Supreme Court wasn't "a real court" because of its selective docket and overly politicized nature. Moreover, with its limited case load it doesn't give the justices sufficient opportunity to write. But the most important barrier to seeing Justice Posner is ... his cat Pixie:
Posner also reveals in the interview that he works from home at least half the time, and one reason is his cat, Pixie. “I’m a very big cat person,” Posner says. Pixie is affectionate and "her little face falls" if Posner or his wife leaves the house. "The cat wants us at home," he says.
I don't know why that paragraph cracks me up, but it does.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Let's Get Ready to Humble!

I was thinking about Michael Buffer's famous line, said before boxing matches around the world -- "Let's get ready to RUMBLE!" It is an iconic phrase -- possibly one of the most iconic in the world. Everybody knows it, even if you've never seen a boxing match.

Buffer is getting on in years, and eventually (hopefully not too soon) he'll die. And when that happens, the phrase will die with him -- not just in the sense that nobody will say it, but it's massive cultural penetration will rapidly become almost unintelligible. In 100 years, not only will nobody remember that phrase, but if they stumble on a historical artifact which references it, they'll have no idea what it means (culturally -- literally speaking, they could probably parse it out). Even if a historian did happen to be familiar with it, how would he explain it in terms of its incredible global reach? For something so ubiquitous, it really has no substance behind it whatsoever -- it's just a neat phrase, said in a neat way, that people around the world associate with the start of the fight.

This sounds a bit maudlin, and I don't mean it to be -- I actually think it is kind of neat that as a species we have managed to unify behind something as shallow and ridiculous as this. But it was a strange thought to have, and what is the purpose of having a blog if you can't share strange thoughts?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I'm assuming the Post will be apologizing for Richard Cohen shortly?
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
A different sort of gag might be appropriate for Richard Cohen when he thinks he wants to talk about race.

Also, his assessment of current "convention"

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Was Needed Was More Gunfire

The tragic story of a shooting spree at a Texas party that left two teenagers dead is precisely why I don't understand the "more guns will keep us safer" argument. The short version of what happened at the party is that some idiot decided to fire off his gun into the air "in a celebratory fashion." Someone else took that as a threat, and fired into the crowd (presumably in the direction of the original shooter). In the ensuing chaos, two innocent people were killed.

That was bad enough. But imagine there were six armed people there, or twelve. And they don't necessarily know each other, and they see other people pulling out guns and firing, and they have no way of knowing who are the bad guys. And so the whole party massacres itself.

Real life, particularly in a civilian mass shooting situation, isn't like Call of Duty. There are no uniforms and nothing glows red when you target an enemy. What more guns means in this situation is more chaos and a situation where not even the cops can tell who is a threat and who is trying to "help".

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Things People Blame the Jews for, Volume VI: Energy Speculation

One of my new practice groups at the firm (see my shiny new bio!) is energy, an area which is quite new to me. I spoke to a partner who described how you can appraise how senior someone is in the energy law field by asking them "where does electricity come from" -- my answer, as of now, is: "the wall."

This is a shame, though, because as a Jew, energy markets (and energy speculation) are apparently my reason for existence in Washington. Here's Texe Marrs (there's a name!) with the lowdown []:
They’re doing it again! Three years ago, two Rothschild-owned Wall Street banks—Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—artificially drove the price of oil up to $142 a barrel, and the American economy collapsed. One year later, the price had fallen to $32 per barrel—and the oil companies were still making money, (They bring it out of the ground for a puny $4 per barrel!)

Now, Rothschild's Wall Street manipulators are back in business. For weeks now, oil gasoline demand has actually decreased. Nevertheless, the Wall Street criminals are driving the price of oil up through the roof on the oil futures market—which they own! That’s right, they own the commodities future exchanges!

And here’s what else you need to know:

1. President Obama is colluding with these bums. His Fed Reserve (with Jewish chairman Bernanke) gave 73 billion dollars in “loans” to Libya and Gaddafi. But Gaddafi’s oil goes to France, not the U.S.A.!

2. Obama’s Treasury Secretary (the Jew Geithner) gave a two billion dollar “loan” to Petrobras, the Brazilian oil giant, to drill in the Atlantic, off the coast of Brazil. Surprise: Brazil’s oil goes primarily to Red China and India, not the U.S.A.!

3. Obama’s Marxist EPA and Energy Department hassles U.S. oil drillers with a blizzard of regulations—all to intentionally force Americans to buy foreign oil owned by Rothschild and other Israel and Jewish billionaires. This in spite of the fact that the U.S. oil reserves are greater than Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and all the rest of the world’s nations combined.

What the environmental crazies and Obama plan is for the price of gasoline to shoot up to $6.00, even to $10.00 per gallon. They think that Americans will be forced to drive less and thus their Global Warming scam will be enhanced.

4. Fidel’s Cuba and Red China are drilling new oil wells in international waters off of Florida, but Obama says “No!” to American drillers.

5. Iraq’s abundant oil is being shipped by oil pipeline through Israel to tankers sitting off the coasts of Gaza and Lebanon and is going directly to Red China. That’s right, Rothschild’s Israeli partners have been given—yes, given!—all of Iraq’s oil. They’re making a mint selling it to the Communists in Beijing. Remember when Dick Cheney promised us that the invasion and occupation of Iraq wouldn’t cost Americans a dime, because Iraq’s oil would pay for it? Well, now you and I see what rotten, filthy liars these politicians are!
If there's one thing a billionaire (Jewish or otherwise) loves, it's Marxism. And if there are two places Jews have infinite sway, they're Iraq and Saudi Arabia

UPDATE: Somebody must have forwarded this shocking hot take to Guatemalan activists protesting energy prices there.

Who Cares About Deficits?

I've been meaning to welcome my old debate teammate (and very, very technically, former co-blogger) Emily Mirengoff to the blogosphere. She's been writing an ongoing series on education that is well-worth your time.

Her blog is titled "A Moderate Mindset", and last month she put up a post entitled "A Moderate Solution to the Government Shutdown." I, too, have sometimes written on the moderate label, a characterization I'm sure Emily would find laughable (in my defense, see my "The Moderator's Voice" post, where I discuss how I reconcile my currente leftist beliefs with what I take to be the virtues of "moderation" -- I think she might view it with a surprising level of agreement).

In any event, here were the counters of her proposal:
On the Obamacare issue, the Republicans are dead wrong. The law passed; they were unable to overturn it; and they shouldn't be holding the budget hostage in retaliation.

On the debt ceiling issue, the Democrats have spiraled completely out of control. Below is a video of a Democrat who agrees with me. He may look familiar to you; he’s a political rising star named Senator Barack Obama.


So here’s the compromise: President Obama agrees to institute a real debt ceiling–and actually adheres to it by cutting down government spending–and in return, the Republicans abandon their doomed anti-Obamacare campaign. It would truly be an astounding day for the U.S. government: Both parties acting reasonably! Compromise! The government re-opening!
Okay, from one erstwhile moderate to another, let's rap.

On the one hand, we have Republicans unreasonably holding the country hostage while they engage in futile efforts to try to block the healthcare law. They should knock this off, and that would be their side of the compromise. Now, a substantial part of the "problem" here isn't that Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act. That's their prerogative! It's that they're engaging in extreme levels of hostage taking to substitute for the fact that they are not, currently, in a position to repeal the ACA. I take it that Emily is not proposing that Republicans not try to overturn the ACA if in the future they happened to regain control of Congress and the Executive Branch (such a promise would be unreasonable and entirely unenforceable in any event). So the Republican side of the compromise would be "stop trying to repeal Obamacare until you actually are able to repeal Obamacare." That's not nothing, given that the ongoing GOP temper tantrum on this issue is doing real damage to the country, but you can imagine why Democrats wouldn't exactly be leaping for joy over it.

On the other side, Democrats are supposed to accede to spending cuts in order to bring the deficit under control. The "Democrats have spiraled completely out of control" on the debt, and the way to fix it is spending cuts. We might begin by quibbling with the notion that Democrats have not concerned themselves with deficits -- tough to swing, given that deficits have been slashed dramatically during Obama's tenure in office. But since we're still running a deficit, debts continue to accumulate, and the debt ceiling remains a problem. To the extent we care about reducing our debt load, more steps need to be taken.

The real question is, why is this a "Democratic" sacrifice? The answer is that, somewhat strangely, Emily says we should reduce our deficit level solely by reference to spending cuts. But that is only one way to skin the cat -- another way of reducing deficits, of course, is by raising additional revenue.

Put another way, let's say we posit that Republicans care about deficits and Democrats don't. Republicans would demand steps for deficits to be reduced. Democrats wouldn't be particularly interested because (per stipulation) they don't care about deficits. And they'd be concretely adverse to cutting spending on social programs they value. But Democrats don't really have any objection to raising taxes on the wealthy, or removing the privileged and distorted position capital gains enjoy vis-a-vis other forms of income in our tax code. So presumably, if what Republicans cared about was "deficits", this would be an easy agreement to hammer out: high-income taxes are raised, deficits go down, everyone is happy.

This, of course, is not the terms of the debate. As Jon Chait has noted, the Republican position on deficits is that they would do anything to reduce the debt load, except contemplate any increase in taxes whatsoever. It is a very impressive thing that the GOP has managed to stake out this position -- rejecting even 10:1 spending cut/tax increase propositions -- while still convincing people that their primary concern is with deficits, rather than with cutting spending. And not just any government spending, either: As we learned from the Farm Bill debacle, the real object is slashing government spending that helps poorer Americans, demanding slashes to food stamps while fighting bitterly to maintain subsidies to wealthy agricultural producers (even the National Review found this to be beyond the pale). Certain spending -- for example, defense spending, or corporate subsidies -- doesn't seem to be problematic to the Republican Party at all. Hell, the Affordable Care Act reduces deficits -- yet for some reason this does not endear it to supposedly deficit-conscious Republican congressfolk. Deficit reduction is, at most, a tertiary issue -- perhaps a happy side-effect of depriving impoverished Americans of food, but nowhere near as important as insuring that income earned via capital are taxed at half the rate of earnings won through labor.

I should say that while I obviously oppose these Republican policy priorities substantively, I'm not really bothered by the fact that these are their priorities as opposed to deficit-cutting. Republicans have policy objections to government spending money on healthcare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and other programs that primarily benefit poorer Americans. If, as a consequence, deficits are also reduced, that's a nice benefit, but it is a bonus, not the primary motivator, and where there are available deficit-reduction opportunities that don't cohere to these priorities (such as raising taxes, or, for that matter, passing the Affordable Care Act), they'll oppose them. Democrats, for their part, support these sorts of programs and wish to expand them. While they'd probably be willing to mitigate their impact on the deficit by passing higher taxes on wealthy Americans, that isn't their priority either and if that avenue is unavailable they'd rather keep the programs and expand the deficit. All of that is perfectly fine, it just demonstrates that deficits and debt are not actually what's driving the current controversy between the parties, and so bootstrapping the debt ceiling to the argument doesn't make a lot of sense.

The real lesson we've learned, hopefully, from the past few months is that the debt ceiling isn't something to grandstand about (and I hope Barack Obama, looking back on his senatorial self, has been appropriately chastened). So my moderate proposal flowing out of the shutdown crisis is considerably simpler: abolish the debt ceiling outright.

Note I am not saying that Congress should rack up infinite deficits. But the amount of debt we incur in a given year is a product of the budget negotiated within Congress and approved by the President, and the presence of a debt ceiling doesn't change that. All the debt ceiling does is threaten a global economic meltdown whenever Congress, as is often, can't get its act together. In essence, what the debt ceiling does is say "we, Congress, cannot be trusted to pass budgets which reduce our debt load. As a consequence of that dysfunction, we will periodically put the entire world at the risk of an unnecessary massive economic calamity unless we decide to take an affirmative step to stop it." This is not sound policy, whether as a tool for reducing the debt or for anything else.

If Congress wants to incur less debt, it should achieve that through the budgetary process. We should incur as much debt (or not) as results from the negotiated balance of revenues to spending that Congress approves in its budget. If that results in too-high debt levels, then the budget should be rerenegotiated to either lower spending or increase revenues. Periodically arming, defusing, and then rearming a ticking time bomb is neither helpful nor sensible. And that lesson, hopefully, has become quite clear.