Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How To Tokenize with Proportions

13% of American Muslims voted for Donald Trump.

That's a minuscule proportion. It is around half the proportion that Hillary Clinton got in Idaho. It is fair to say that Muslims overwhelmingly voted against Trump, just like it is fair to say that Idahoans voted overwhelmingly against Clinton.

13% also translates, roughly, into "1 in 8". And when you think of that way, it's shouldn't be that hard to find a Muslim Trump supporter. Statistically, all you'd need to do is know eight American Muslims, and one of them is probably a Trump voter. And across a population of roughly 3.3 million Muslims, that means there are roughly 412,500 American Muslims who support Trump -- a lot of people! Yet it would be clearly, obviously wrong to use those "lot of people" to try and argue against the above conclusion that "Muslims overwhelmingly voted against Trump."

In short, it is simultaneously true that "Muslims overwhelmingly dislike Trump" and "it is not hard to find Muslims who do like Trump." Likewise, we can simultaneously know that Idaho is exceptionally conservative and know that finding liberals Idahoans doesn't take any herculean effort.

When one doesn't keep those two thoughts in mind, it is very easy to mislead oneself. I've noted that 13% is also the percentage of UK Jews who planned to vote Labour last election, but that still means it should not be remotely hard to find Jews -- quite a few Jews -- who are loud-and-proud for Jeremy Corbyn. If one is a Corbyn fan, one can (accurately!) think "look at all the Jews I know who support Corbyn" and then (inaccurately) conclude that the stories of widespread Jewish consternation over Corbyn are ginned-up nonsense. Same with Black Republicans -- they're simultaneously rare and not that difficult to find, and so it is easy for conservatives to dupe themselves into thinking they have no race problem by pointing out all the Black Republicans out there.

Ditto when one sees big crowds of angry constituents in a deeply conservative or liberal representative's town hall meeting. One can see those and think "wow -- even here people are turning against [Insert Party]!" But even in the most electorally lopsided districts, there are still going to be quite a few members of the other side -- certainly enough to pack an auditorium, if they're feeling motivated.

Or take this article, "To Understand White Liberal Racism, Read These Emails." It is about angry emails sent to school administrators regarding the decision by Seattle school teachers to wear "Black Lives Matter" t-shirts. The article observes that these emails came from one of the whitest, most affluent" and "staunchly liberal neighborhoods" in the city, places "dotted with rainbow yard signs that say 'All are welcome.'"

Applying the "staunchly liberal" label to these neighborhoods is entirely justified. The (Democratic) state senator in part of Seattle was last re-elected with 80% of the vote. That's a crushing margin! But it still means that 1 in 5 voters in the district cast their ballot for Republicans. On the one hand, that's not a lot of people. On the other, that's a lot of people! Certainly, if 1-in-5 school parents have retrogressively conservative views on  race, that'd be enough to make their voices known in a letter-writing campaign.

Now, to be clear, it is entirely possible -- plausible even -- that these emails didn't come from the 1-in-5 Republicans but from the 4-in-5 Democrats. "Democrats" are a wide tent, and there are, indeed, plenty of putative progressives who are on a hair-trigger about race issues and would be prime candidates to send out letters like these. I'm not saying that because these emails were racist, they couldn't have come from liberals. They very much could have.

What I am saying is that we can't say "because this neighborhood is staunchly liberal, these emails must have come from liberals." That's because that conclusion entails a shift from the accurate observation that this part of Seattle is overwhelmingly liberal, to the inaccurate observation that any political or social activity substantial enough to make it onto the social radar screen must be emerging from liberals. It's quite possible for conservatives in a place like Northeast Seattle to be simultaneously a marginal presence and a visible one, under the right circumstances. Ditto liberals in a place like Idaho.

More broadly, this is just a particular example of an obvious point: words with the same meaning can nonetheless communicate very different messages. When we want to erase the minority presence, we talk in percentages (20% is teensy-tiny!). When we want to elevate it, we talk in ratios (1:5 is really common!). Both are right, and in fact both connotations are right: a minority of 20% is a very small minority (as against an 80% majority), but 1:5 people is very common. Keeping both connotations in mind is good deliberative practice. Jumping from one to the other as argumentatively-necessary is very bad practice.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

No Lessons Tonight

I have no lessons to offer from the results of tonight's Georgia special election. Mostly, this is because any "lessons" you'll hear tonight will almost invariably be "Democrats should do the thing I already thought Democrats should do", and I doubt I'm so dispassionate as to be able to resist that inflection in my analysis.

To the extent I have a takeaway, well, I get -- and basically agree with -- the argument that these results still show a huge swing in the Democratic direction compared to previous House results. Taking a district where Republicans were winning over 60% of the vote and making it nip-and-tuck is a big deal.

At the same time, Jon Ossoff got roughly the same percentage of the vote in the GA-06 as Hillary Clinton did. By and large, the people who vote for Trump are and continue to be fundamentally fine with Trump. All that's happened, all he represents -- they're okay with it. They like it even. I suspect they revel in it.

So mostly right now I'm just sad. I'm sad because I get the sense that if the median Georgia Trump voter knew that I -- Berkeley-residing, academically-employed, advanced-degree-holding, Jewish David -- was sad, they'd be happy. They like that I'm sad. They like that I'm scared. It's high-time people "like me" (whatever that means) were a bit antsy. It's long past due that I recognized that this isn't my country, it's their country. If I'm unhappy, that isn't a regrettable byproduct of important policy reforms they deeply believe in, and it's not a challenge to try to reach out and make me believe that these reforms can speak to me too. It's not the means, it's the end. It's not part of the job, it's why they took the job.

Maybe I'm wrong. But I certainly don't get the sense that they care. One never sees the "middle-income conservative white Christians need to reach out and heal a divided country" take out of the right-wing press.

So I'm sad. And to be clear: Being sad doesn't mean you stop working. And it doesn't mean you stop believing in other people, or assume there's no hope for change. But you're allowed to be sad. You're allowed your sensibilities.

Epistemic Antisemitism

On Twitter, I flagged this great article on antisemitism in left spaces by Spencer Sunshine and promised to write more about it. Then I got distracted. But it really does deserve at least a little additional comment, because there was a particular passage I wanted to highlight:
It’s almost always deeply frustrating to convince Leftists to sever these ties [to antisemitic actors] — but often it’s achievable. Leftists know these people taint their movement, even though they are often hesitant to be drawn into what seem like endless controversies about anti-Semitism. There is almost always disbelief when you broach the topic, and a tendency to dismiss any documentation that comes from the normal watchdog organizations. And it can also make you the center of unwanted attention; Barrett is running a smear campaign against me in retaliation for exposing him. But Leftists usually change their mind once they understand that these unsavory alliances generate critical media attention. 
Leftist Jews often come to me privately and complain about anti-Semitism they’ve experienced, but feel cowed into being silent about it. But the more people speak out against this from within the Left, the less likely the antisemitic conspiracy theorists are to find a welcoming platform.
The emphasized portion (emphasis my own) is what I wanted to highlight. It goes to what I want to call "epistemic antisemitism". Epistemic antisemitism is the process and practices which discredit Jews as knowers, particularly as knowers of their own experience (e.g., their experiences as victims of antisemitism). The default "disbelief" that comes when Jews say "that's antisemitic" -- and Sunshine soft-pedals here, since it is not usually just "disbelief" but a far more aggressive assumption that the antisemitism claim is (as usual) being made it bad faith -- is a particularly dangerous case. Prejudice yields the injustice, and then insulates said prejudice from critical review. In this way, antisemitism claims can be routinely dismissed across the board.

To be clear: "epistemic antisemitism" is not solely or, I'd suggest, even primarily a "left" phenomenon. The right is no more willing to credit antisemitism charges when it implicates them and theirs. To the extent "left" antisemitsm gets more attention, it is because most Jews are part of the (broadly defined) left and so exclusion there hits closer to home. It's also because of a sense that the left has the methodological tools that render it theoretically capable of addressing this wrong in a way the right does not (the right doesn't even purport to believe in things like "be appropriately deferential to marginalized groups when they articulate their own experiences).

In any event, if we are to root out antisemitism in our movements, I firmly believe that tackling epistemic antisemitism has to a top priority -- it stands as the guardian shielding all the other forms from challenge. And so it needs to be made crystal-clear that one cannot hold oneself out as an ally of the Jews if one is not willing to listen attentively, respectfully, and open-mindedly when they proffer critiques -- even when those critiques sting, even when they challenge deeply-felt commitments.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Joys of Social Tragedy

There's perhaps no type of person I'm more contemptuous of than those whose first response to a major social tragedy -- a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, a violent attack on a politician or political activist, and so on -- is gleeful musing on who they're now allowed to hate (or, typically, hate more than usual).

These are the people who get excited about what a suicide bombing "tells us about the Palestinians". They're amped about what a case of "price tag" settle violence "reveals about Zionists." They're positively giddy about what the shooting of Steve Scalise "illustrates about progressives". They can't wait to regale us about what the Manchester bombing "proves about Muslims."

Sometimes there are important social messages that are excavated by a major tragedy. They have real consequences after all, and they can be genuinely illustrative about certain threats various groups face or certain ideologies which have purchase.

My objection isn't to genuine and careful attempts to work through those meanings. Again -- it's to the giddiness that often accompanies it. They're more excited that their prejudices have been (in their minds) verified than they are that something terrible has happened. Their response is virtually never a "genuine and careful attempt" to craft a warranted conclusion from the full body of evidence. It is rather an expression of ideological ecstasy that dances upon graves even as it cloaks itself in the barest veil of solidarity.

It's a sick instinct. It's also an alarmingly commonplace one. I wish people would knock it off.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Blog Bar Mitzvah

The Debate Link turned 13 years old yesterday. It is now, officially, a Jewish adult (in blogosphere years, by contrast, it is a hobbling old man).

As always, thanks to all my loyal readers. Whether you've been around since the beginning or are a new arrival, I appreciate you spending some time in my little corner of the internet.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Haredi, Mizrahi, Feminist ... Labor Prime Minister?

An interesting profile of Dina Dayan, who is running an outsider campaign to be Labor's new leader (more realistically, she's aiming for a seat in the next Knesset).
“I am your fears,” says Dayan, thrusting a finger into the camera as she rips into the Labor Party for “talking about the periphery, instead of letting the periphery talk.” Describing herself as a “Haredi, Mizrahi, un-photogenic woman,” Dayan is explicitly staking her claim as an outsider who represents the disadvantaged groups who Labor elites fear will steal “their” country. To restore the left to power, Dayan says it is time to put the needs of the country’s social periphery into focus, instead of “more of the same for 40 years.”
It's part of an ongoing revitalization of Mizrahi identity in Israel (as well as outside).

Dayan also presents challenges for Ashkenazi Jews such as myself regarding how to relate to particular sort of subaltern challenge. There are, unfortunately, some aspects of her candidacy that should make lefty Jews like myself twitchy:
Dayan says she wants to win the votes of traditional, Mizrahi Israelis who vote Likud—and to do this, has stepped outside of party consensus. She has hired as her campaign team the political strategists behind the infamous text messages sent by the Likud in the 2015 election, warning that “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls.” And her campaign video sympathetically features a picture of the parents of Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier convicted of shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last year. She later explained: “[Azaria] is the result of a system that abandoned the periphery. His action was a result of distress, ignorance, and neglect, which causes political radicalization. And the left, instead of understanding the problem in depth, prefers to lock itself in its ivory tower.”
The use of the "Arab voters" strategists is, in my view, rather straight-forwardly gross. But with respect to the Azaria bit, I think there are choices in how you read it. Is it an apologia for a man who breached the laws of war (and IDF rules) in gunning down a disarmed combatant? One can say so, and then call it day -- we should have nothing to do with her. But the comment at the bottom suggests something more complicated -- a call to look at disparities in Israeli society that produce figures like Azaria, and a "left" that prefers simple morality plays to actually tackling these problems in depth.

It is not infrequent, when reading the words or views of communities-not-ours, that we encounter such ambiguities -- passages or positions which can be read in a  narrow and self-validating way or which serve as an invitation to imagine a more nuanced or complex orientation. If we don't like the group, our temptation is to choose the former -- a reading which enables us to preserve our pre-existing biases and confirm our instinct that they need not be engaged with further. By contrast, when we like or are sympathetic to the group in question, go the latter route -- demanding context and issuing a plea for understanding.

It seems to me that the latter instinct is a better one -- and one, I hasten to add, that does not close off avenues for critique. I can think that Dayan is too soft towards the violence enacted by persons like Azaria (and the use of the "Arab voters" strategists is suggestive here as well), without going that next step and constructed her as an unmediated apologist for it. It is a symptom of our deliberative degradation that declining to make a complicated question simple along one dimension is frequently presumed to mean that we're committed to simplifying it along another.

Exploiting Queer Trust

There's been a lot of commentary -- much good, some not -- about the decision by Jewish Voice for Peace to "target" (their organizer's words) the LGBTQ group Jewish Queer Youth for infiltration and disruption at the Celebrate Israel march last week (I highly recommend JQY's statement on the event). JQY is oriented towards the at-risk Jewish queer community, especially Orthodox Jewish youth who may not have other safe or comfortable venues where they can come out. Accordingly, JVP's decision to target JQY -- and with it, a particularly vulnerable Jewish and queer population -- has been met with withering criticism by much of the rest of the Jewish community.

But I particularly want to highlight this column in Bustle by Hannah Simpson, a transgender activist with JQY who was present at the parade. JVP has defended its actions by noting that the infiltrators were themselves queer Jews. But Simpson explains, in succinct and cogent terms, just how awful JVP's actions were in the context of an organization like JQY and its efforts to provide a safe and welcoming space for at-risk queer youth.
This attack was nothing short of hurtful and terrifying. JVP violated a key tenet of the work Jewish Queer Youth and so many pro-LGBTQ groups do across this country. We welcome new members seeking hope and community through our programming, often before they are “out” anywhere else. We emphasize being open and accepting all who come through our doors. However, thanks to JVP’s violation of this trust, Jewish Queer Youth and other groups nationwide may need to scrutinize new members. Our priority is making our members feel safe, but this attack shows our openness may be abused to put our members in jeopardy.
This is really important. Part of what JQY provides for at-risk queer Jews is a space of trust. A space where they won't be viewed with suspicion, where they'll be welcomed unconditionally. Indeed, one of the more powerful portions of the JQY statement was where it went out of its way to affirm that
We also respect that there are JQY teens with strong feelings against Israel.  Some even choose to peacefully protest the parade. JQY stands with them too. Support is never contingent on point of view. Our JQY guiding Jewish principle is Eilu v' Eilu divrei elokim chaim - both these and those ideas, even when in conflict, are simultaneously the living word of G-d.
Contrast that statement with JVP's fundamental disrespect for queer Jews who don't adopt their views. It is striking.

To clear: JVP's action worked because JQY was built around the principle of not questioning who decided to walk with them. This is, sadly, a very common tactic of reactionary and illiberal militancy: exploiting open society in order to undermine it. The effect -- very often the hope -- is to undermine those open features and replace them instead with a cloistered environment of fear and mistrust. In the context of the LGBT community, it takes features that are desperately needed and leverages them against the queer population for the sake of political theater.

For vulnerable Jews who often lack for spaces where they can simply be queer, Orthodox, political, apolitical, happy, celebratory, among friends, JVP's action was more than just "anti-Israel protest". It took away something very rare, and very precious.

In electing to proceed anyway, either JVP didn't think about that consequence. Or it did.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Red Crescent Chief Complains of Hamas Firing From Their Hospitals

The Secretary General of the Red Crescent revealed that Hamas had deliberately fired rockets from Red Crescent medical facilities during the 2014 conflict, prompting retaliation from Israeli forces. Worse, he said that Hamas forces viewed the Red Crescent as spies or undercover agents, and fired upon staff as they were fleeing the area.

The news isn't exactly earth-shattering -- it's long been reported that Hamas used civilian and humanitarian shields during military operations -- but it is interesting both that this charge is now coming from top officials in the Red Crescent and being reported in Arab newspapers (the source about is the The National in the United Arab Emirates).


UPDATE: Elder of Ziyon gives some reasons to doubt the veracity of these reports. What a world we live in, where the UAE accuses Hamas of war crimes against Palestinians and a Zionist blogger throws cold water on the claims!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Everything is "Criticism of Israel"

The "Livingstone Formulation" (coined by David Hirsh) is the claim -- made in response to allegations of antisemitism -- that such allegations are made in bad faith as a means to silence or squelch all criticism of Israel.

It is an interesting fact about the Livingstone Formulation that the event which inspired it actually had nothing to do with Israel. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was accused of antisemitism after he compared a Jewish reporter to a "Nazi war criminal" and a "concentration camp guard". One would think the antisemitic nature of such statements could easily be disassociated from any particular beliefs about Israel, as the controversy had nothing to do with Israel at all. But Livingstone defended himself by declaring that "For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been".

In short, Livingstone took a non-Israel related instance of antisemitism and transformed it into a case of "criticism of Israel", then used it to complain about Jews who just couldn't tolerate criticism of Israel. From the get-go, the applicability of the "Livingstone Formulation" did not depend on the antisemitism in question actually being Israel-related.

There are many instances of this. Some are public: The courts which held that firebombing a synagogue was not antisemitic but criticism of Israel, and the guy on my twitter feed who fretted that a contrary decision "Sounds too much like: you can't criticise Israel because it's anti-Semitic." Some are private: The time I sent an anti-discrimination paper out for comments and one reader suggested removing the "Israeli foreign policy examples" (there were none, but there were antisemitism examples -- how was it that they got confused?).

Now consider this flyer, about prominent Labour activist and top Jeremy Corbyn ally Jackie Walker.




"To oppose Israel is not to be anti-semitic" (presumably that's Walker). Chomsky offers his own blurb of endorsement: "I wholeheartedly support the right of anyone to criticise Israel without being branded anti-semitic."

All of this might make one wonder what it was that Jackie Walker did that brought these terrible, horrible, no-good, clearly unfair accusations of antisemitism?

Well, she claimed that Jews were "the chief financiers of the slave trade." Then she criticized Holocaust Memorial Day for being exclusionary to other victims of mass atrocity (#AllGenocidesMatter). Finally, she questioned the need for security at Jewish schools and institutions, suggesting Jewish concerns about being targeted were exaggerated or embellished.

None of these are Israel-related. Yet Walker recasts the debate as one about the freedom to criticize Israel, and her backers enthusiastically endorse the transformation. Clearly, they have a point: if one can't contend that Jews were chief financiers of the slave trade hundreds of years before Israel was established, what possible space is there to criticize Israel?

There is an element of farce to this. It does not squelch pro-Palestinian advocacy to call efforts to tie Jews to the slave trade antisemitic. Such superficially ludicrous arguments only work because, for all the claims about people who conflate "criticism of Israel" with "antisemitism", there seem to be far more who conflate "criticism of antisemitism" with "intolerance of criticism of Israel". Were it not for that belief -- the cleansing power of anti-Zionism -- we would not see people try to take things that are transparently not about Israel and convert them into it. If everything is "criticism of Israel", then nothing can be antisemitic -- because what is "antisemitism" but the bad faith effort to silence critics of Israel?

Friday, June 09, 2017

Jewish Thoughts on the UK Election

If ever I had sympathy for the plight of "Never Trump" Republicans, it was watching the UK election returns.

Being a progressive, my politics generally align far more with Labour than they would with the Tories. And that would be even without the Conservatives' disastrous embrace of Brexit. Yet like most Jews, I deeply, deeply mistrust Jeremy Corbyn. The last polls of the Jewish vote suggest that only thirteen percent were planning to vote Labour this cycle -- the same proportion, incidentally, as that of Muslims voting for Trump. And even if one thinks that stopping a hard Brexit is the single most important item on the UK agenda -- and I think that's plausible -- the fact that Corbyn himself is at best soft on the issue means that I couldn't even get enthusiastic on that issue.

That said. UK voters don't vote directly for their Prime Minister -- just their local MP. And my sense is that Jewish voters tend to like their MPs (Labour or Conservative) just fine. While several articles in the Jewish press are noting how Labour underperformed in several "bagel belt" districts where anti-Corbyn antipathy might have have saved a few marginal Tory seats, I think it's easy to overstate that story. For starters, for every seat where Corbyn was hurt by the perception that he was tolerant of antisemitism, there may have been another where he was bolstered by the perception that he was standing up to the overbearing Zionists.

But more broadly, I think it's almost certainly true that most people just didn't care about the antisemitism issue. And while that's sobering, it also means that Jewish MPs and their allies actually tended to do fine. Labour critics of Corbynista antisemitism -- like Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, and Ruth Smeeth -- rode the Labour wave as much as anyone else did. Non-Jewish MPs known for their good relations with the Jewish community likewise saw their margins shoot up as well -- these include Tulip Siddiq, Wes Streeting, and Naz Shah.

Nonetheless, we shouldn't deflect. One of the critical lessons of Donald Trump's success is that all of his supposedly "beyond the pale" characteristics -- the racism, the authoritarianism, the anti-intellectualism -- none of that actually matters. Those of us who had hoped that Election 2016 would be a slap in the face to an increasingly radicalized Republican Party instead watched them learn that they could do all of these things and it was fine. And so, likewise, one of the lessons the left will learn from Corbyn's relative success is that one in fact can completely dismiss and ignore the concerns of terrorized Jews and nobody will care. That's not good. And that's going to have consequences down the line.

It really was an impossible dilemma. Punishing Labour for normalizing antisemitism on the left would mean emboldening isolationist and xenophobic currents rapidly occupying the right -- currents which themselves will invariably lead to antisemitism. Anshel Pfeffer was not wrong in observing that the choice for UK Jews is "Anti-Semitism Today, or Tomorrow?"

All in all, a hung parliament is about the best result I could hope for. While this was certainly an exceeds-expectations performance for Jeremy Corbyn, I admit to being a bit confused at how "getting 55 fewer seats and 800,000 fewer votes than the Tories" counts as "winning". As Matt Yglesias observed, "the left thesis in the US is 'Bernie would've won' not 'Bernie would have lost narrowly to Trump.' That's what Hillary did!" Kept in perspective, I can keep a relatively optimistic view of what happened last night. The main thing Labour successfully accomplished was throwing a serious wrench in Theresa May's efforts to negotiate a hard Brexit. And that is an unambiguously good thing.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Yet More College Student Entitlement

A student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is suing her poetry professor and demanding that a court award her an "A" in the class (as well as suspend or fire the teacher).

Man, I am so sick of entitled millennial brats demanding special-snowfl -- what's that?

The student is 59 years old? And her complaint centers around the class being too focused on LGBT poetry?

Ahem. As I was saying: it's about time that someone stood up to PC-culture run amok at our public universities, which are after all funded by taxpayer dollars. Maybe if universities started to treat their students more like customers, we'd see less of these outrageously offensive and triggering classes, and more attention to "improv[ing] a student's welfare".

What is Going on at Fresno State?

There's a brewing controversy at Fresno State, where the university has restarted a search for the Edward Said Professorship of Middle East Studies after determining that the current search -- which had already selected a series of finalists -- had various procedural defects in violation of university guidelines (all the finalists were invited to reapply in the new search). An emeritus professor of Linguistics at the university, Vida Samiian, has publicly alleged, however, that this is all a pretext and that the search was canceled due "a documented campaign of harassment and intimidation ... by Israel advocacy groups" seeking to "derail" the search.

That sounds pretty bad. The problem is that, as my friend Steven Lubet has observed, there is virtually no evidence backing up these allegations. The university administration flatly denies having even been contacted by, much less subjected to pressure from, any outside groups. And Ben Sales at JTA interviewed members of the (relatively small) Fresno-area Jewish community had found that nobody there had even heard of the search, much less agitated against it.

The closest thing to actual evidence that Samiian has in her letter is a few instances of relatively anodyne expressions of concern by Jewish faculty members about how the search was progressing. She histrionically labels these "harassment", but they deserve that label only if it expands to encompass "Jews saying words." And again, none of them speak to any sort of campaign or concerted effort by anyone to have the search canceled (there is one stray reference to "outside" concerns about the search, but again, nobody has presented any proof of any such outside pressure manifesting).

Of course, a complete lack of evidence didn't stop JVP from rapidly circulating a letter taking as fact that the search was canceled "in response to pressures from Israel advocacy groups" who "launched a campaign to cancel the search altogether". Abba Eban once famously quipped that "If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions." So too, it seems, that if JVP circulates a letter saying Fresno State was devoured by a hellmouth and Israel had summoned it, it would amass 500 signatures within the week.

Lubet uses this to coin the term "Occam's BDS razor": the simplest explanation, anytime anything on campus doesn't go precisely the way pro-Palestinian advocates would like, is the interference of nefarious pro-Israel lobbying. We can see how that mentality shook out at Fresno both "vertically" and "horizontally". "Vertically", a few offhand remarks that were critical of the search proceedings got elevated to cases of "harassment". And "horizontally", these few remarks were roped together to form the locus of an imagined conspiracy of intimidation against the entire search. The ease at which these jumps are made is itself illustrative of antisemitism in its structural dimension -- even the tiniest shreds of Jewish public or private  discourse immediately metastasize into dark threats of domineering power. Such moves, I have to think, wouldn't fly (or wouldn't fly as easily) were they not so easily slotted into the grooves of antisemitic discourse.

So underneath all of this sound and fury, is there any there, there? It seems supremely unlikely that there was any "pressure" or "campaign" from Israel advocacy groups with respect to this search. But if there is a bare kernel here, I suspect it's something like the following: the administration admits it was too slow to catch onto the procedural shortcomings of the search (lack of approval by a specific department, failure to form the search committee via departmental election, and unauthorized contact and participation by an external member -- likely Samiian). And I doubt that there are many faculty members at Fresno State or anywhere else who care about such things for their own sake. So, it is entirely plausible that the person who alerted the Fresno State administration to these irregularities did so not because of a deep, dispassionate commitment to the faculty handbook, but because of more, shall we say, substantive concerns about how the search was progressing.

One could say, then, that the irregularities were a "pretext", in that nobody would have cared about such procedural failings had the search not been independently controversial. However, it is also fair to observe that the whole reason we have requirements of procedure is precisely to create confidence in faculty searches in circumstances where controversy is expected. Procedures like these matter most in circumstances where one might worry about efforts to "stack" a search committee or otherwise buttonhole it into a particular ideological or political box -- efforts almost certainly made easier when one circumvents normal requirements of faculty election and oversight. More to the point: It is wholly unsurprising that nobody cares about procedural defaults in cases that nobody cares about. We have procedural rules precisely for the cases that people do care about.

My comments in no way should be taken to impugn those persons who were selected as finalists and have gotten caught up in the middle of this controversy. I know nothing about them, and they may well be superb candidates whose virtues would be recognized by a search committee which was operating entirely above board. But surely we can be concerned with the celerity with which a very inside-baseball procedural dispute was elevated -- on the basis of virtually no evidence -- into a grand conspiracy of Jewish intimidation, and the ease with which many bought into it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Be AsInsured: Gaza 2014 was a "War"

Last year, I noted a lawsuit filed in California that sought to determine whether the events in Gaza in 2014 -- specifically, rocket fire into Israel -- were part of a "war" or "terrorism". The lawsuit wasn't filed by a human rights NGO, or survivors of the violence, but rather came about in the most mundane possible fashion: an insurance dispute, where a policy excluded coverage for damage due to war, but covered damage due to terrorism.

Anyway, the district court has issued a ruling, and determined that the events in question were indeed a "war". Thanks, insurance industry, for providing helpful clarity on this issue!

Sunday, June 04, 2017

More Evidence of the Travel Ban's Discriminatory Intent

Following the horrific car ramming and stabbing attacks in London, President Trump tweeted the following:
I haven't been able to find any information on who the suspects were and, more importantly, where they come from. But assuming they were not immigrants from the countries targeted by the travel ban, this tweet is yet more evidence that Trump's intention behind the travel ban is to target Muslims. After all, if there's no link via nationality, then the only thing that connects Trump's travel ban to the London attacks is Islam. That would further confirm what President Trump has publicly insisted -- that his executive order was his effort at targeted Muslims for exclusion from America, dressed up in a way that he thought would pass legal muster.

As I've blogged several times, when it comes to the travel ban we keep seeing rather bizarre arguments which posit that it's somehow unfair to use straightforward evidence of discriminatory intent to establish discriminatory intent. But it isn't. And the fact that President Trump is congenitally incapable of not saying the quiet parts out loud doesn't give him special exemption from the laws of the land.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

One Eyed Blogger Roundup

Somehow, I scratched my left cornea pretty badly yesterday. Ever managed to get dehydrated simply by your eye tearing up? Now I have!

Anyway, good excuse to clear some stuff off the ol' browser tab:

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Two great columns, one by Adam Serwer and the other by Josh Barro, on the growing conservative embrace of cowardly violence masquerading as toughness.

While we're on the subject, Michelle Goldberg explores the propensity to take angry White voters seriously precisely because they seriously threaten violence if they don't get their way. It might be interesting to tie in this claim to the concerns that at least some segments of the radical campus population do engage politically in this angry, threatening fashion.

Interesting Ha'aretz interview with Jamaica Kincaid -- just your standard-issue Jewish Afro-Caribbean writer residing in Vermont -- after she won Israel's prestigious Dan David Prize.

Buzzfeed profiles atheists living in highly religious societies. It's sobering just how many are in fear of their life.

Donna Minkowitz reflects on how it came to be that "proud self-hating Jew" Gilad Atzmon asked her to blurb his book.

Lauren Post has a piece at the Forward giving the history of antisemitism in the feminist movement. Some of the texts she links to are classics -- including a few I had been intending to read for awhile but hadn't gotten my hands upon.

My old Illinois colleague Suja Thomas in Jotwell reviews some new research on implicit bias and judging. And speaking of new research on implicit bias, remind me to get this book by Jonathan Kahn on the subject when it comes out next fall.

Finally, Heidi Kitrosser has an article in the Minnesota Law Review entitled "Free Speech, Higher Education, and the PC Narrative" which seems well worth reading. If ever there was a term being asked to carry far more weight than it is capable of bearing, it is "PC".

Friday, June 02, 2017

More Someones Who Take Free Speech Seriously

Earlier this week I wrote on how the Academic Engagement Network -- a prominent scholarly anti-BDS group -- applauded CUNY for not giving into threats and refusing to cancel Linda Sarsour's scheduled commencement speech. While they obviously disagree with Sarsour sharply on the matter of BDS, they rightly observed that free speech can't be defended only in the cases one agrees with the speech.

Now Emily Shire in the Washington Post has added her name to the list of Zionist, anti-BDS writers who have publicly defended Sarsour's free speech rights. Shire's post is particularly good because it lays out, honestly and fairly, the legitimate reasons one might have for concerns over Sarsour. There are legitimate critiques to be made about Linda Sarsour's politics (there are also bullshit ones, and they're easy to spot as they're almost always the ones shrieking about Sharia law), and they should not be sugarcoated. They're also wholly irrelevant to the free speech question, which is not something reserved for persons free from "legitimate critiques".

Shire's column is principled and fair-minded. I highly encourage you to read it.

Hi, I'm David, and I Don't Drink Almond Milk

Michael Tomasky gives us the latest installment of an everflowering series: crudely caricaturing "coastal elites" while purporting to educate them on middle Americans:
[E]lite liberals need to recognize a fundamental truth: All of these people in middle America, even the actual liberals, have very different sensibilities than elite liberals who live on the coasts.
First of all, middle Americans go to church. Not temple. Church. God and Jesus Christ play important roles in their lives....
Second, politics simply doesn’t consume middle Americans the way it does elites on the coasts.... They talk kids, and local gossip, and pop culture, and sports....
Third, their daily lives are pretty different from the lives of elite liberals. Few of them buy fair trade coffee or organic almond milk. Some of them served in the armed forces. Some of them own guns, and like to shoot them and teach their kids how to shoot them. Some of them hold jobs in the service of global capital and feel proud of their work.
Fourth, they’re patriotic in the way that most Americans are patriotic. They don’t feel self-conscious saluting the flag. They don’t like it when people bad-mouth our country. They believe that America is mostly good, and that the rest of the world should look more like America.
I find these very frustrating, not because of what they say about middle Americans, but because of what they say about me -- born inside the beltway on the east coast, currently living in the ultimate liberal bubble of Berkeley on the west coast.

I don't drink almond milk (I've tried it, once, and think it's disgusting). I don't buy fair trade coffee or sip lattes of any variety. I've fired a gun, and while I don't have any real interest in doing it again, I don't begrudge others who do. I have friends from both high school and college who served in the armed forces. I can chat pop culture with the best of them (ask me about my breakdown of  Gordon Ramsay shows). There is plenty that I find great about America, and am quite happy to kvell about.

Admittedly, I talk politics a lot (I am a political blogger), and I go to synagogue, not church. But I just got back from a funeral (my fiance's grandmother) which was held at a church in a town of less than 2,000 in rural Minnesota (Goodhue County went for Trump by 18, FYI). I survive such locales just fine. And while I always knew of how important her Christian faith was to her life, when I found out that she had specifically included me in her deathbed prayers, I was deeply moved.

Maybe this feels like protesting too much. But it's not just about me. It's also about the folks here at UC-Berkeley -- yes, hyper-lefty Berkeley -- that falsify that coastal bubble hypothesis.

When I started at Berkeley Law, my most liberal student was an alum of the University of South Carolina, and my most conservative was literally the scion of a wine dynasty. In between I taught decorated combat veterans and the daughter of an inland empire county sheriff. This is typical. UC-Berkeley is one of the world's great public universities, and our students accordingly come to us from all over the state and all over the world. They come from suburban Orange County, yes, but also inland ranch towns and impoverished LA neighborhoods. It is no surprise at all that Berkeley ranks ninth in the New York Times college access index measuring economic diversity amongst enrolled students, nor that UC schools comprise the entirety of the top 5.

So maybe we're asking the wrong questions. We know that students come from a wide range of backgrounds and geographic locations and pedigrees to attend to Berkeley. Indeed, I suspect that more Berkeley students and alumni know a sizeable chunk of folks who grew up in small towns than persons who grew up in small towns know a sizeable chunk of folks who attended schools like Berkeley. And we know that the resulting campus culture here at Berkeley is very liberal. And yes, self-selection plays a part in that, as does the relative ideological uniformity of the faculty. But maybe, just maybe, it's also evidence that when you expose people to a rich tapestry of human diversity encompassing people of a wide range of backgrounds, hometowns, and pedigrees -- the result is a tendency towards liberalism.

The fact is, our students aren't born on the Berkeley campus. Some of them come from those rural towns (in California or elsewhere). Or they don't, but their parents did. Or their best friend. Or their roommate. Or their future spouse. To act like Berkeley students have never met anyone who doesn't eat gluten-free is a grotesque parody of who actually comprises our "bubble".

So of course we should respect each and every part of America -- urban, suburban, and rural, north and south, coastal and middle. But the "coastal elites" who supposedly sniff down upon middle Americans from atop their soy lattes? They weren't born in a Starbucks. They might have been born in that small town in rural Minnesota that they supposedly cannot possibly understand.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Thirteen Percenters

Yair Rosenberg has a good article up on the deep, deep Jewish antipathy for the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership -- such that just 13% of British Jews plan to vote Labour in the upcoming parliamentary election.

It's a good piece, but I have one minor quibble. To put that 13% figure in perspective, Rosenberg offers the following comparison: "For comparison, 2016 exit polls showed that Donald Trump received 8 percent of the African American vote."

It's not that this is wrong. It's just that there's a much more striking analogy.

Donald Trump received 13% of the Muslim vote this past election.

That seems to drive home the point much more cleanly, no? British Jews view Corbyn the same way that Muslim Americans view Trump. Sobering -- for those who care about those sorts of things, anyway.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Some Of Us Do Take Free Speech Seriously

The Academic Engagement Network is a national organization dedicated to academic freedom and, specifically, opposed to the BDS movement. A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at their national conference in Chicago on the subject of challenges the AEN would face in the coming year.

My remarks were straightforward: the main challenge we would face would be to tackle right-wing threats to academic freedom and academic exchange with the same vigor that we address left-wing variants. A principled campaign in favor of academic freedom and academic exchange cannot be a fair-weather friend of free speech. And my keynote example of an issue that we had to speak out on was the Israeli law barring entry to persons who have endorsed -- in whole or in part -- the BDS campaign. Such a law purports to fight BDS, but by foreclosing academics and others from entering Israel on basis of their political ideology it in reality is BDS.

Unfortunately, from laws like this to metastasizing partnership guidelines at Hillel to right-wing calls for divestment from Hebrew University to canceling the concerts of liberal Israeli singers, these forms of "self-BDS" are becoming more common. And they're every bit as offensive to liberal norms as their left-wing counterparts.

That's why I'm pleased to report two bits of news with respect to the AEN:

First, the AEN released a statement commending the City University of New York for not bowing to right-wing pressure to cancel the scheduled commencement speech by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. While the AEN made it quite clear that they sharply opposed Sarsour's stance on BDS specifically, they correctly noted that such disagreement could not form the basis for cancelling her speech -- a principled stand that defended academic freedom in the hard case, not just the easy one.

Second, while it has not to my knowledge been posted online, the AEN also just sent a letter to Israeli colleagues decrying the Israeli law prohibiting entry to BDS supporters as a threat to academic freedom and academic exchange, as well as counterproductive to the anti-BDS cause. Indeed, it is quite explicit in drawing the same link I did whereby this law is for all intents and purposes a form of BDS: "[H]ow can we oppose BDS’ divisive and corrosive tactics if Israel is, in effect, openly adopting a similar strategy?"

Both of these positions are correct, and I'm pleased to see the AEN take them. But more than pleased, I'm also proud. Free speech and academic freedom have a great many fair-weather friends -- it's the sort of thing that is often good for me, but not for thee. I associated with the AEN because I believed it had the capacity to resist that temptation and demand that liberal values be protected via liberal means. I'm happy to see my confidence was justified. Kudos.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Discriminatory Motives Have Consequences

The 4th Circuit has upheld the injunction against President Trump's anti-Muslim travel ban. Its opinion rests heavily on various statements by the President which evince a discriminatory motive -- over and over again he said that his goal was to target Muslims, and when he became convinced that an explicit Muslim ban was off the table, he conceded that the executive order he issued was a way to effectuate those discriminatory desires via alternative means.

I've already explained why it is normal -- indeed, legally required -- for courts to take President Trump's motives into account when assessing whether his order is discriminatory. You can't take "intent" out of "discriminatory intent." So the 4th Circuit's decision is entirely appropriate and in line with standard legal precedent and reasoning.

But there's another reason why this decision -- and the clear focus it puts upon Trump's discriminatory statements -- matters. Very early on, I suggested that the appeal of Donald Trump is directly tied not just to his various bigoted statements, but to the imperviousness he's demonstrated to any backlash against him for said bigotry.
When Donald Trump implies Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, when he suggests that Latinos are all violent criminals, when he legitimizes mass expulsion (or worse) of American Muslims -- maybe he's saying out loud what many people secretly believe but felt constrained in saying. Isn't this the root of the "anti-PC" backlash? "I used to be able to openly degrade women for having a menstrual cycle, but thanks to liberal elites and Feminazis I can't say that anymore! What happened to freedom in America?" The complaint of the anti-PC crowd is precisely that they have to keep quiet that which they'd rather broadcast (and once could broadcast, before we had to actually start listening to the desires of pesky minorities).

Most people can't say such things anymore, or at least they're constrained in their ability to do so. There are members of traditional outgroups in their workforce (maybe even their boss), or as powerful constituents, or major donors, or simply well-connected citizens. Saying such things comes with real costs, sometimes prohibitive costs. It can lose you your job, or your friends, or your reputation, or your candidacy. And some people resent that deeply even as they quietly stew and keep their true beliefs private.

But Donald Trump is different. He can say these things. He can't destroy his reputation -- he's his own brand. He can't be driven out of the race by outraged donors -- he doesn't need them. He can't lose his job -- he runs his own company. He doesn't have to defer to outraged outgroups -- what can they do to him? For someone with implicit biases, this may not matter -- he's so obviously over-the-top that his positions can't be reconciled with any sort of egalitarian commitment. But for the covertly-biased, he offers up a tantalizing vision where one can say all of those open, overt, explicitly biased things they genuinely believe and it's okay. They don't have to cover it up anymore.
Deeply rooted in Donald Trump's appeal is that one should be able to say or do racist, misogynistic, antisemitic, Islamophobic, xenophobic (take your pick) things -- and face no consequences whatsoever. There are many people who long for the days when they could exhibit those prejudices and it was simply fine. It didn't matter. And Donald Trump -- for so long entirely impervious to social or political consequence for his own explicit bigotry -- instantiates that dream.

And that, in turn, is why the 4th Circuit's decision matters. It tells the President and his followers -- using completely normal and unremarkable tools of legal analysis -- that these things do have consequences. In our society, governmental actions taken with a discriminatory motive are constitutionally infirm. When you go out and brag about your discriminatory motive, you put the resulting policy programs at risk. That's a known consequence of that decision; one built into our constitutional fabric promising freedom of religion and equal protection under the law.

So it's no wonder he and his supporters are so outraged. What Donald Trump promised -- the ideal he represented, and for a long time was able to live out -- was a world where bigotry ceased to have consequences. And the orders enjoining his Muslim ban represents the thing they hate the most -- accountability.

More Shocking News from the Fair-Weather Free Speech Brigade

Some people didn't want Linda Sarsour giving a commencement address at CUNY. Those people included notorious Islamophobe Pam Geller and alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos. Their protest ended up turning violent, with one counterprotester reportedly surrounded and beaten.

You might remember Milo as the guy whose speech at Berkeley was squelched by violent protests. That set off a lot of talk about free speech -- consider my own remarks condemning said protests. But I was never under illusions that the conservative defense of Milo was really about free speech, let alone that Milo himself was a principled defender of it. One defends Milo speaking at Berkeley for the same reason one defends the Nazis marching through Skokie. The prospect that the speakers themselves don't care about free speech doesn't really factor in.

Meanwhile, a Republican who bodyslammed a reporter just got elected to Congress in Montana. So perhaps we can dispense with the fiction that there exists in the modern conservative movement some deeply rooted commitment to free speech right now that runs beyond partisan politics. As much as commitment to free speech may be decaying on the modern left, it faces just as much threat on the right.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Today I Got Assaulted

Today, walking to lunch in Berkeley, I was shoved into a wall.

I'm fine, mostly. Some minor scrapes on my wrist and soreness in my shoulder (which took the brunt of the impact). And the lawyer in me needs to say that technically, it was a "battery" and not an "assault".

The man who attacked me was a member of the local homeless population, and I suspect has some form of mental illness (when I called my mom to tell her, her first thought was that it was a protester angry at something I had written on my blog. Leave it to a Jewish mother to instinctively assume that her son must be important enough to be targeted for violence. A nice career aspiration, I suppose.).

Anyway, we were walking past each other on the sidewalk -- me on the building-side, him street-side -- and as we passed he yelled something unintelligible at me and then kind of pushed/body checked me into the wall.

I was in a bit of shock, and didn't really know what to do, so I just kept walking. But looking over my shoulder, I saw him strike another pedestrian behind me, who was much more visibly upset than I was. And unlike me, he had a bunch of witnesses who urged him to contact the police (conveniently enough, all of this happened literally across the street from the UC-Berkeley Police). Once I saw him walk across the street to talk to the officers, I figured I might as well join him. Unfortunately, my co-victim said he had a final exam to take and quickly bolted, so I ended up being the only person to give a statement.

After quickly getting my information, the first thing they asked was whether I wanted to file a formal police report. Since no officer had witnessed the crime, they couldn't arrest the man (who claimed he was "tying his shoelaces" -- no, he wasn't) without a report. I asked what that would entail. One of the officers said that this was misdemeanor assault, and that in all likelihood he'd be cited, spend a few days in jail, and then be released. I asked if he was known to be violent -- if he was a known problem then that'd be one thing, but if this was a one-off I wasn't sure I wanted to make a big deal about it. One officer said he didn't know of any violent behavior the guy had done, but another said that he was on probation and that he was kind of day-to-day -- sometimes in a good mood and smiling, and other days ... more like this.

Ultimately, I decided to file the report (the decisive factor in my reasoning was that he had hit me and another guy). So I got to have my statement taken (along with pictures of my various scrapes and bruises), and chat with several officers in the process.

One of them was very invested in telling me that media coverage of police violence was completely overblown and that it overlooks all the circumstances or reasons why police use of force might be justified. That was academically a very interesting perspective to listen to, mostly because it was coming from a rank-and-file officer who giving his pretty unvarnished vantage (rather than something airbrushed through a PR office tailor-made to persuade liberal college students).

For example, one rationale one often hears from the "stop snitching" movement is that one shouldn't call the police on people because, when you do so, you're calling upon the tools of state violence which will impose that violence in quite predictable ways on vulnerable communities. And this (non-White, I should add) officer basically offered the same analysis -- except from the other side: he was upset that people call the police and then get angry that the police they call sometimes have to use force. "What did you think would happen," he said (my paraphrase), "if you call us, you're saying that the enforcement arm of the government needs to come in and act as enforcers! So don't act shocked and indignant when we do that!" He believed that the act of calling the police was an implicit license for whatever force was needed to protect the innocent, and thought that the public was two-faced in their desire for protection while disavowing the sorts of acts he felt were frequently necessary to facilitate that protection. Or at one point I thought I was being conciliatory and said something to the effect of "I know no officer thinks it's a good day when they have to use force ....", but he interrupted me and said that you don't become a police officer unless you like all aspects of the job, and there are days where he hopes some punk will give him a reason to take him down.

So again -- that was interesting.

Anyway, I asked what the next steps were, and the answer was "likely nothing" -- the case will almost certainly not go to trial, there will be a citation, a few days in prison, and then he'll be released. Which seems about right. This was not some violent superpredator who needs to be locked away for decades sort of deal.

I'll make one other comment, which may "cut against interest" so to speak. In the immediate aftermath, I was thinking that this was the first time I'd really been the victim of a semi-serious crime. But that made me think back further, and remember one time at Carleton where a bunch of bros (almost certainly drunk) were walking past me in a hall and did something very similar -- a sort of unprovoked push/body check as I was walking past. And my thought then wasn't "I've just been the victim of a crime", it was "wow, those guys are assholes!"

Which they were. Physically attacking other people is an assholish (or, potentially, congressional) thing to do. But the distinction does raise the question of why that event was coded as "assholishness" while this one was coded as "crime". And there are perfectly neutral reasons I could give: For one, the Carleton event didn't cause any cuts, scrapes or bruises. For two, I didn't see the Carleton guys do this to anyone else, whereas I did immediately see this guy attack another pedestrian. And for three, here several witnesses specifically urged the (other) victim to contact the police (who were literally within eyeshot) and he did so -- I just followed along to corroborate.

Still, it seems very likely that part of what explains the difference was the social construction or narrative of what constitutes "crime" or "criminal". When relatively privileged college students push someone around, that makes them dicks, bullies, or jerks. When a homeless person who speaks little English does it, that makes them a criminal. The fact is that two people at various points in my life did effectively identical things to me that violated the same formal criminal proscription, and only one of them now has an arrest record for it. And the reason for the divergence is, at least in some part, due to social positionality.

I don't have cutting commentary to add to this. Just an event that happened that I figured I should reflect upon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mitch Landrieu on Confederation Commemoration

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently decided to take down several city monuments honoring various Confederate leaders. Unsurprisingly, he faced significant pushback for this decision. This is a link to the speech he gave explaining why he did what he did.

It is one of the most powerful and unflinching speeches by a White southerner on the matter of race, the "lost cause", and southern identity that I've ever read. It's not long, and I'm not going to excerpt. Just read it in full.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Parodying While Minority: The Burden of "Black and Jewish"

A few weeks ago, I read another article (in the UK's Independent) about the latest set of antisemitism controversies in the UK's National Union of Students. There is a lot -- a lot -- that could be written about antisemitism in the NUS, and most of the article struck me as entirely fair play. But one of their examples was the following:

Meanwhile, another current NUS officer, LGBT+ Officer Noorulann Shahid, who uses the pronouns they/them, posted a link on Twitter to a comedy video that includes a number of anti-Semitic tropes and said they had “laughed out loud” at the clip.
ns.jpg
The video, titled “Black and Jewish”, is a parody of rapper Wiz Khalifa’s song “Black and Yellow” and makes jokes about Jews having big noses and being stingy. It features two black women dressing up in traditional Jewish attire and singing lyrics including “my ass and nose, they’re both big” and “don’t spend no money but you know I’m rich”. The tweet dates from 2012.
I remember seeing this video when it came out. I thought it was funny (though not uproariously so), and not particularly offensive. Clearly others disagree. But there's one aspect of this video that was completely overlooked in The Independent's coverage (and virtually all the other stories I've seen):

Both of the black women in the video -- Kali Hawk and Kat Graham -- are Jewish.

It is initially notable that, despite the title of the video being "Black and Jewish", it did not seem to occur to the authors that the artists were, indeed, Black and Jewish. They just assumed that the women were dressing up in foreign cultural attire and mocking Jews. So, as a commentary on the erasure of non-White Jews, this story seems to capture that in a very literal sense. And lest we think this is only a function of an ignorant non-Jewish media source, Algemeiner (which ought to know better) also alluded to Shahid "shar[ing] a video that includes tropes of Jews being stingy and having big noses."

But beyond the failure to recognize the existence of Black Jews, I think there's also a more subtle form of marginalization in play here. It's not that Jews cannot make antisemitic remarks. But jokes like "my ass and nose, they're both big" are hardly far removed from Woody Allen-esque self-deprecation that has long characterized Jewish humor. And such self-deprecation, in turn, has long been a coping mechanism for Jews and other outgroups -- we dissipate the power of hurtful stereotypes by mocking them or applying them tongue-in-cheek.

Yet my strong suspicion is that if you're a minority-within-a-minority, that release valve can be closed off. There's much greater pressure to be, not just hyperauthentic, but hyper-earnest about it all in a way that I can only imagine must be maddening. Again, their participation in a rather ordinary form of self-parody is taken to be not an act of Jewishness but an act of antagonism towards their Jewishness -- in a way I don't think would happen if they had a background and an appearance more like, say, mine.

If, as one might say, certain jokes or mockeries are "ours" (as in I can mock Jewish noses, but you, the goyish reader, most certainly cannot), that raises the question of whether Hawk and Graham are really included in the "our". To the extent their Blackness renders their Jewishness permanently provisional, that functions as an exclusion from the full expression of their Jewish identity. Ironically, the demand that they constantly prove themselves authentic Jews (in a way that, say, I rarely am asked to do) operates to make that request impossible to meet.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Keep Using That Term, "BDS"....

The Israel Group sent out a message to their listserv warning of BDS starting to emerge at two Israeli universities -- Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.

At first when I read the article, I was confused. Neither of the two stories -- BGU reportedly hosting an event by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, nor HUJ declining to play "Hatikvah (Israel's national anthem) at its graduation -- constitute a boycott, a divestment, or a sanction. Whatever one thinks of either happening, they're not cases of "BDS".

But then I reread the top of the article, where The Israel Group wrote the following (bold print original):
We strongly suggest that donors to Hebrew University immediately redirect their support to other Israeli institutions, and inform Hebrew U. as to why you are doing it.
And then I got it -- it was a call for divestment! The BDS link was to the right-wing response to the events. Calls to censor Israeli academic events or to divest funding from Israeli universities based on narrow political litmus tests represents the core of the BDS ideology. And it is indeed alarming to see BDS tactics emerge on the Israeli and "pro-Israel" right -- the Israel Group is sadly not alone in aligning itself with the right-wing BDS campaign. So hopefully principled opponents of BDS will call them out on it and protect academic freedom and independence in Israel -- no matter who happens to be threatening it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Heighten the Contradictions, Iranian Style!

Remember those annoying Jill Stein voters who "honestly preferred" that Donald Trump win the election because it would inevitably hasten the revolution that brings about the glorious workers' paradise? And remember how we all agreed those people were, in a word, morons?

Elliott Abrams just wrote that column about Iran. And it's just as nauseating.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Blues of Self-Regulation

One of the odder tropes of current conservative discourse related to the possibility of constraining the excesses of the Trump administration is blaming (who else?) Democrats for eliminating institutional checks available to the minority party, like the filibuster. What's weird about this is that if conservatives actually believe that such constraints are important parts of our system of checks and balances, they're absolutely free to restore them. Nobody's stopping them. But the idea that Republicans will self-regulate is seen as transparently absurd by all parties -- Republicans included.

Yet there's an even more fundamental absurdity: the implication that were it not for Democrats changing the rule-in-question sometime in the past eight years, the rule would be there to constrain Republicans. The problem being that, even when Democrats didn't change a rule protecting the minority party, Republicans haven't even blinked before casting them aside the minute they interfered with their partisan agenda. We already saw this with filibusters on Supreme Court nominees (Democrats abolished the filibuster for lower-court nominees, but not SCOTUS). And now GOP Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is proposing that the Senate eliminate the "blue slip" rule, which allows Senators to block judicial nominations in their home states. Democrats had kept that rule despite its use by GOP Senators to obstruct Democratic judicial nominations in the Obama administration. But -- surprise, surprise -- it turns out that whether Democrats keep or change a minority-protective rule has absolutely no bearing on whether Republicans want to keep it.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Republicans Don't Care about Black People

FiveThirtyEight has an interesting graphic about which groups Democrats and Republicans think face "a lot of discrimination."


Democrats, as one might expect, tend to think that groups who face a lot of discrimination face a lot of discrimination, and groups who don't, don't. Republicans, by contrast, are oddly "egalitarian" in their beliefs. Yes, Christians are on top, because, you know, Republicans, but there isn't a huge gap between them and the rest of the pack. Eyeballing it, virtually all groups clock in between 40-50%.

With one glaring exception. Republicans seem willing to believe that a trans person has it as hard as a Christian or a Muslim is about as likely to face discrimination as the ever-oppressed White. But if there's one thing they're damn sure of, it's that Black people are made in the shade here in the US.

A Very Engaging Weekend

On the first weekend of May, my true love gave to me ....

Five restaurants to eat at;
Four Schraubs/Roddes with us;
Three days in Vegas;
Two stand-up comics;
And her hand to be married!

I'm so happy to announce that Jill and I are officially engaged!

(Many of you are no doubt surprised to hear this. Specifically, those of you who assumed we were already married).

Wedding date is TBD (we've already been together for 10 years -- what's the rush?), but great thanks to her family and my family for all meeting us out in Las Vegas so we could celebrate together.

Thank Goodness for the Jerusalem Post's Tough Questions

Jacob Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, on why his newspaper invited neo-Nazi-linked White House advisor Sebastian Gorka to speak at their conference (April 27):
We decided that ,,, he would be interviewed by me on stage while knowing that I will confront him with tough questions, including about the various allegations that have been reported in the press.
Jacob Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, at the conference (May 7):
Sitting on stage in an interview setting, Gorka was not pressed by Jerusalem Post editor Jacob Katz to provide any substantive explanation of his involvement with Vitezi Rend order in Hungary. Although he has denied being a formal member of the group, Gorka has repeatedly expressed support for the far right wing organization that the U.S. government says was under the control of the Nazis during World War II.
Katz allowed him to change the subject to his preferred topic of the threat of radical Islam.
Reports were that Gorka was showered with a "lengthy applause" by the "adoring crowd."

What a fantastic display of courageous journalism.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Israeli Singer's Detroit-Area Concert Canceled After Threats

A popular Israeli singer's scheduled concert in the Detroit area was canceled after organizers received threats and could no longer guarantee her safety.

A case of anti-speech extremists blocking cultural exchange between Israeli artists and the American public?

Well, the singer was Noa, a well-known member of the Israeli peace camp who has been outspoken in support of two-states and Israeli-Arab coexistence. The concert venue was going to be a synagogue. And the threats came from the Jewish far-right.

Which is to say, it is a case of anti-speech extremists blocking cultural exchange between Israeli artists and the American public. Anyone who is appalled by threats forcing cancellation of events on college campuses should be equally appalled by these threats; anyone who opposes BDS should oppose it with equal fervor in this case.

(Noa has been victimized by similar efforts before -- a Canadian concert was left in limbo after JNF-Canada falsely accused her of being a BDS supporter. Ultimately, the Israeli embassy stepped in to sponsor the concert).

Friday, May 05, 2017

Remembering the I Before I Changed My Mind

Sometimes, I change my mind about things.

That's normal, indeed, healthy. We should change our minds, sometimes. When we get new information, or circumstances change, or we ponder an issue more deeply, we will sometimes conclude that our prior thoughts on a given matter were wrong, and new, different thoughts are better. That's how it should be.

For example, when I was a Junior in high school, I was truly, deeply opposed to affirmative action. I wrote an entire "persuasive essay" on the matter for an assignment. As a debater, I was good at persuasion, and I poured a lot into that essay.

By the time I was a first-year in college, I had changed my mind. I had read more and thought more, and concluded that my prior views were wrong. I've remained a strong supporter of affirmative action ever since.

But whenever I change my mind, I always try to remember the person I was before I changed my mind. That person, I remind myself, was not avaricious or cruel. He was not mean-spirited or willfully obtuse. Of course, one thing he was was wrong -- if  I thought he was right, I wouldn't have changed my mind. But he was (obviously) persuadable, since something did in fact end up persuading him. And so I try to remember what was motivating him -- what were his fears, his concerns, his worries, his ambitions, his interlocking beliefs? Even when I am now quite convinced that past-me was just plain wrong -- I'm confident that my new positon is right and my old position is incorrect -- I keep in mind that I didn't generally arrive at my wrong-prior-position through either pure malice or abject stupidity.

And so when I meet other people who believe things I used to believe, I try to presume -- absent evidence to the contrary -- they were like me. They have reasons for thinking what they do -- not necessarily good reasons, but reasons that need to be responded to. They have concerns motivating their rejection of alternatives -- not necessarily overriding concerns, but concerns that need to be addressed. A project of persuasion, if it is to be effective, should remember the "I" that had not yet been persuaded -- if only as a roadmap to get from A to B.

Of course, since I have not most likely changed my mind for the last time, I also remember that it's possible that current-me is wrong, and I should be open to the types of discourse and challenges which have historically helped move me from worse opinions to better ones. Things like being open to others' views, reading widely, and interpreting charitably all have served me well in my desire to think better thoughts than I used to, and so they are virtues I try to consistently live out.

But even from the vantage point of believing my current beliefs are correct (and of course that is what I think -- if I thought my current beliefs were wrong, I'd change them to something else), my mantra is to remember that others have the same capacity and deserve the same opportunity I did to change their minds and come to better conclusions than the ones they hold now. It's not exactly the most groundbreaking thought. But keeping it at the forefront of my mind has made me more empathic, more respectful, and more persuasive.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

My Healthcare Story

The House of Representatives, in a razor-thin 217-213 vote, has voted to repeal and replace Obamacare with the AHCA. The crucial amendment to get conservatives onboard was to allow states to eviscerate the protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

I've mentioned before on this blog that I've suffered from kidney stones. Right now I'm in the process of doing some tests to figure out my risk factors and what, if anything, I should change in my diet or lifestyle to make them less likely (since, as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) was so quick to remind us, any health problems I have are evidence of nothing more than my own degraded character). That's how it should be: when I'm sick, the focus should be on getting me better. My health care should be a conversation between me and my doctor. My investment advisor shouldn't need to play a role.

But the advent of the GOP vote has, of course, made me worry about whether kidney stones qualify as a "preexisting condition." After all, I'm not going to stay at Berkeley forever. So what would happen to me if I need to switch insurance or -- worse yet -- lose it altogether?

Kidney stones aren't the most expensive condition one can have, but they're not nothing either. Since they onset completely unexpectedly, they can send you to the emergency room at the drop of a hat. And they sometimes require surgery to remove (as mine did -- more on that below). My best guess is that it's unlikely that I'd be denied coverage altogether because of my past history, but it's possible that a new plan would exclude coverage for any future stone-related problems. Which sucks, because kidney stones are scary enough without having to worry about how to pay to treat them.

One argument one occasionally hears about foisting more costs onto sick patients is that it gives us additional "skin in the game" that inspires us to make better and more cost-effective choices. So I figured I'd offer a story on that front, because I don't think that makes any sense at all.

As I said, I recently had surgery to remove my kidney stone. But I almost didn't. Kidney stones are strange in that they can lie dormant for awhile -- lulling you into a false sense of security -- before roaring back to life and causing agonizing pain. This is particularly nettlesome because, especially with a smaller stone, it's possible to pass them without realizing it. So if you go through several months with no pain, is it because the stone has passed or is it just playing possum?

My stone was about 4 millimeters, which is on the small side. My urologist told me that a 4 mm stone will pass on its own about 70% of the time. I had been having attacks of pain about once every 1.5 - 2 months since the fall, and it did not seem to be passing on its own. So after the latest bout of pain in January, we scheduled me for surgery in March -- with the caveat that if it passed before then, we'd cancel the surgery.

The weeks pass, and I'm feeling fine. I didn't notice it pass. But again, I knew sometimes they pass without you noticing. Certain elements of how the stone had been progressing in prior bouts of pain made it plausible that the last bout really was the last bout. We did an X-Ray to see if we could pinpoint the stone inside me, but it was inconclusive. My urologist pointed to a vague spot and said maybe that's the stone ... but maybe it's nothing. X-Rays aren't actually all that good at picking up kidney stones. And unfortunately, there wasn't any safe way to know for sure if the stone was still inside me other than simply doing the surgery.

As we approached the day of the surgery, I asked my doctor if he thought we should go through with it. It was not implausible that the stone had already passed, after all. Moreover, I'd never had real surgery before, and was a bit nervous. The procedure entailed full anesthesia, followed by threading a scope up my urethra, into my ureter, and blasting apart the stone with lasers. They'd leave a stent inside me to handle residual bleeding, and that would be removed in about a week. Objectively, it's not so bad -- but you can imagine "having a tube stuck up my dick" isn't exactly on my bucket list, either. And how silly would I feel if I had the surgery and it turned out there was no stone at all!

The doctor listened to me. And he said that it was, indeed, possible that the stone had already passed. We could simply wait another couple of months and see what develops. The problem with that was (a) he still thought it was more likely than not that the stone had not, in fact, passed and (b) there's no guarantee that if I had another attack, they'd be able to schedule me for surgery promptly. Ultimately, his recommendation was to go through with the surgery as planned.

So I did. And when I woke up, I was told that yes, the stone was inside me, and they had successfully removed it. Moreover, he told me that the stone would have never passed on its own. My ureter was significantly enflamed and swollen around where the stone had nestled; it had gotten so narrow that it was physically impossible for the stone to go any further (I gather things were so tight in there that it had also made it no easy thing for the surgeon to even reach the stone with his laser. Good job, surgeon!).

All of this is run-up to the following: My kidney stone surgery cost me, with insurance, a little less than $1,000. That's not chump change. But without insurance, it would have cost closer to $10,000. That's more than a third of the annual salary of your average Berkeley grad student. Had I been paying that money out of pocket, I almost certainly would have ignored my doctor's advice and delayed the surgery. Which, as we now know, would have been the wrong decision. How wrong? I'm not sure -- I thankfully do not now need to know exactly how dangerous a badly enflamed, swollen, and rapidly narrowing ureter might have been.

In short, the only thing having (more) "skin in the game" would have done for me is caused me to have made the wrong medical decision. Because I'm not a doctor. I have no medical expertise. I'm not in a position to make smarter medical decisions just because I have to pay more for them. The most likely result of my having to pay a ton of money for medical expenses is me making bad medical choices. Thankfully, because I had insurance I made my choice for the right reasons -- the sound, professional advice of my specialist doctor who actually knows how kidneys work. And thank goodness for that.

In any event, now I've had kidney stones and kidney stone surgery, which means I may well be in "pre-existing condition" land (albeit far less so than, say, a cancer survivor). Which means that in the GOP world, it's quite plausible that if I leave Berkeley (which I no doubt will) and have to change insurers, I may no longer be covered for at least this particular medical problem. If my kidney stones come back, I won't be able to concentrate on, say, getting emergency pain relief or whether I need another surgery.

My friend Josh Blackman says there is a "contradiction" around the discourse re: pre-existing conditions: nobody wants to exclude them, until people learn that including them increases costs. Which, Blackman says, of course they do -- there's no such thing as a free lunch. I'd note that there's an ambiguity here: requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions doesn't necessarily increase costs so much as it redistributes them -- at least in a system where one can't opt-out of the medical system altogether (and here I'm talking less about a mandate and more about guaranteed access to emergency care. Unless we switch to a system whereby uninsured people are left to die in the streets, we're still "paying" for their healthcare). Persons who are relatively healthy pay a little more so that persons who are very sick pay a lot less, but the overall cost doesn't change (a simplification, of course, but it will do).

As it happens, even with this particular pre-existing condition I don't know whether I-as-an-individual am a net gainer or loser in the protect-preexisting-conditions world (other than kidney stones, I'm a relatively young and healthy man). But either way, I'm absolutely willing to pay my share so that I and others like me -- or not so like me -- can have the healthcare that they need. It strikes me as beyond petty for me to resent the possibility that others might "use" the benefits of health insurance more than I do. I should be so lucky! The best thing that could happen to me is for me to never again have reason to access the benefits of my health insurance other than routine checkups and peace of mind. But if I happen not to be so lucky, then I'll be grateful that I'll get the care that I need to survive and thrive.

There are many, many people for whom the AHCA will impact far more severely than me -- from cancer survivors to persons needing organ donations.to victims of sexual assault. These people will see their lives made much worse if the AHCA passes.

But there are a lot more Americans for whom the AHCA "only" will make our lives a little worse. A little scarier. A little more insecure. A little more unknown. A little less protected.

I had hoped we could beat the AHCA in the House. But House Republicans were determined to pass a bill they didn't fully understand, whose provisions  had not been scored by the CBO, and from whose dictates they exempted themselves. We have 18 months to make them pay for their hubris.