Friday, May 22, 2015

Obama the Zionist, Part II

Back in 2008, I wrote a post noting how then-Senator Barack Obama was one of the few non-Jewish politicians who seemed to really "get it" with respect to Israel -- articulating the interest Jews have in an independent and sovereign homeland in language that resonates with how Jews understand our own situation. This is what convinced me that Obama was obviously a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish community, and nothing that has happened in the ensuing seven years has shaken that feeling.

Now, Jeffrey Goldberg recaps an interview with the President that reaffirms my instincts in stark terms. There is essentially nothing the President says here that I wouldn't endorse. Iran is indeed a radical anti-Semitic regime -- but that doesn't mean that they can't be engaged with and contained using the normal tools of statecraft. Netanyahu's warnings about the "horde" of Arabs voting in the elections was despicable and an abdication of the principles underlying Israel's founding charter -- and the President here does no more than echo Israel's own President. And he's right about this:
“Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire?” he said, in defining the questions that he believes should be asked. “And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland, you acknowledge the active presence of anti-Semitism—that it’s not just something in the past, but it is current—if you acknowledge that there are people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology. If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”
These are the words of a man I'm proud to call an ally. A much better friend and ally, I'd say, then many others whose loud words about "supporting" Israel aren't grounded in concern about preserving its democratic character, much less in any general commitment to self-determination and political equality. As I observed quite some time ago, "Part of being an ally means sometimes taking your friends aside and telling them when they need to chill." That is a role that matters more, not less, because Israel is in a "bad neighborhood" and faces genuine dangers (and a not-insignificant number of people who think that there shouldn't be an Israel at all). Obama gets that and has done, in my view, a very good job in a very tough situation (including dealing with a Prime Minister who he clearly dislikes and who clearly dislikes him back).

So thank you, President Obama, for being a friend under a tough circumstances. Which, after all, is exactly when friends are needed the most.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Interviews with Friends: Audrey Jean-Jacques

I always enjoy in-depth celebrity interviews -- the one's where you just get to dive into their life and thoughts on all sorts of random subjects. But that got me thinking how I'd love to see one of those done with one of my friends. I have interesting friends! And I'd love to get the full backgrounder on their life stories and their opinions on the issues that move them. Thus was born what I hope will be a regular feature: "Interviews with Friends." It's just what it sounds like: I interview a friend of mine, then post the results on the blog.

Audrey Jean-Jacques and I met at Carleton, where she and I shared a major of Political Science and the status of east coast transplant. Audrey often self-describes herself as a gangly nerd in braces which is bizarre to anyone who knew her at Carleton, where she stood out as exceptionally poised and glamorous. She is also a devout Christian—an identity she grew into while attending Carleton—and a proud Philly native. Audrey returned to the City of Brotherly Love after college, briefly attending law school before switching over into social work, and continues to live and work in the city.

 Me: First, let's get the brief biography. I know you're a Philly girl -- were you born there, or when did you move?

Audrey:  I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. Moved to Minnesota for undergrad, and then returned to Philly for the rest of my life (to date, anyway).

Me:  Tell me a bit about your family and your childhood in Philadelphia.

 Audrey:  My dad emigrated from Haiti in his twenties, and my mom emigrated from Peru when she was about 14. They met at work (ooooh, scandalous), got married, and along came a daughter. My dad insisted that I be named after Audrey Hepburn; my mom was a fan as well. I was the only biracial kid in my school. I didn't quite blend in with any particular group, but had a few close friends of the Puerto Rican persuasion. Which is now actually really interesting to me, since Latinos don't have a "race," per se.

Me:  Any siblings?

Audrey:  I have five older siblings on my dad's side. Although I am close with one of my sisters, I think that the age gap prevented me from becoming closer with the others. For all intents and purposes, I was pretty much raised as the baby of the family/only child.

Me:  What did your parents do? You said that they met at work?

Audrey:  My mom was (and still is) a social worker. My dad did something with computers and consulting (which I never quite understood). Something about before C++ and up-and-coming tech in the '80s. He tried to explain it to me, rest his soul. But I am still fairly clueless.

Me:  When did your father pass away?

Audrey: He passed away on 1/27/2010, subsequent to a courageous battle with colon cancer. He actually lived for a few years past his initial 6-month prognosis. No complaints there! He loved music, was a polyglot, and played several instruments. I think that I get my artsy/creative sense from him.

Me:  Well then he's passed on a pretty solid legacy!

Audrey:  Agreed!

Me:  So, you mentioned that you were the only biracial kid at your school. What was the general demographic of your neighborhood? Was it wealthy, or poor, or middle-class, or a mix? Likewise, predominantly white, black, Latino, or diverse?

Audrey:  My neighborhood, at the time, was working class but on the lower side of the income spectrum. My school was pretty diverse racially; a few first-generation-ers, like me. A few Caucasian, Asian, Black, Latino. No biracial kids for some odd reason. I moved to a more suburban neighborhood during my freshman year of high school, which was very White. But my high school, which was a magnet school, was very, very mixed. I made a few biracial friends there!

Me:  Obviously, you're super-smart so it makes sense that you'd go to a magnet school. At the same time, not every smart kid decides they want to go to a school like that. What made you decide that was the right program for you?
Audrey:  Great question, and thanks! I went to Catholic school for 8 years, and knew that I wanted a more, um...open-minded learning setting for high school. Before we moved, I would not have survived at my neighborhood high school. I was a certified nerd, with the glasses AND braces to prove it, and I'm sure that I would have been shoved into a locker at my neighborhood high school. I also had the highest GPA in my class in grade school (can you be valedictorian in 8th grade? Because I was. I wasn't ever again in life...but I digress). So I thought that a magnet school, while public, would help me avoid being marginalized for my nerdiness.

Central High School is one of the best high schools in Philly. I hate to admit it, but Central is #2. Masterman is #1, and I didn't get in, so I chose CHS.

Me:  You can't feed me a line about "open-minded learning" without follow-up. What were your thoughts on Catholic school education, and how did you come to realize you wanted something more "open-minded."?

Audrey:  Um... I think that I just felt, as a 12-year-old, that the belief system was so...rigid. And I was really starting to question the whole praying to statues thing. Seemed like idolatry to me, I don't know. I have Catholic friends (I sound like the racist person at a dinner party now, right?), and I respect their beliefs, but I just couldn't envision myself growing mentally and intellectually at a Catholic high school.

Me:  That's really interesting, and definitely something I want to return to. But when you talk about being "shoved into a locker" -- you mentioned that you had just moved to a predominantly white neighborhood but that the magnet school was more diverse .Was there a racial element to your concern about going to the local public high school, or was that not really on your mind at the time?

Audrey:  Oh wait, backtrack. So before I moved to the predominantly White neighborhood, I was in the more racially diverse but also lower income neighborhood. So I think that the concern was that the kids at my neighborhood high school would have attacked me for being a nerd. I don't think that I had much concern in the way of racial differences. I think that my primary concern was bullying, and "fitting in." Not being popular, but just...not being teased incessantly. I was bullied waaaaayyyy too much (not that any amount is tolerable or reasonable). But it just happened like, every day.

Me:  Oh okay -- I was confused on timeline.

Audrey:  Yeah, I didn't move until 9th grade

Me:  That's terrible. Now you've pretty emphatically put the emphasis here on being bullied because you were a nerd, had glasses, etc., and not a more "racialized" story one sometimes hears on Fox News (though President Obama has sometimes said this too) about "acting White" by being studious. I've generally thought that "acting White" was just a localized version of "nerdy kids get bullied" -- which is still terrible, absolutely, but it isn't a specifically racialized problem. What are your thoughts on that?

Audrey:  These are great points that you raise. I do recall being told that I "talk White" or "sound like a White girl" or "act White." I probably didn't help my case by attempting to debate those fools on how asinine they made themselves seem, by implying that only White folks have proper decorum or command of the English language. So I suppose, in retrospect, part of my underlying concern was in fact racialized.  It was slightly more difficult for me, I think, because I didn't really have a racial niche.

Me:  Obviously your identity as a biracial woman is really important to you. And while we have a very famous biracial American now, in the form of Barack Obama of course, from my outsider’s vantage point it seems his rise to prominence has been a decidedly mixed bag in terms of how people think about bi- and mixed-race persons in America? How have you seen the treatment of that identity shift over your life?

 Audrey:   I don't really think I have experienced a shift in treatment. I find that people still want to categorize me, either as "exotic" or "mixed" or "Black." In the same way that Obama is biracial, yet referred to as the first "Black" president, I think that many followers of the "Coffee Drop" theory wish to label me as Black. Which, to this day, bothers me. Not because I have textbook self-hatred, but because there is an entire White half that, I feel, gets dismissed when I'm not referred to as biracial. I have seen, overall, a shift towards more people of color stating (incorrectly) that they are biracial, when I really think that they mean multiracial. I think that there continues to be a misunderstanding of what a biracial identity is, or isn't.
Me:  That's really interesting. It does seem like it's very either/or -- sometimes you see this sort of faux-play up of Obama's biracial background as a means of showing he's not really Black, which obviously he rejects and seems to me to be a statement made in bad faith. But at the same time, it's also clear that we're oversimplifying his identity in a way that doesn't really do his experience any favors.

Audrey:  Exactly. And I'm not sure what the ideal answer/solution is. But I do think that it's important that we continue to allow individuals to have their own identities, whether they be biracial, or trans*, or Asian, or whatever.

Me:  Agreed. Though I am deeply disappointed that we couldn't come to an ideal solution to the problem of American racial identity in the space of a gChat conversation.
:-)
Me:  So how did a Philly girl like yourself end up going to rural Minnesota for college? It seems there must be some sort of story there.

Audrey:  Correct. I was at a magnet, college preparatory high school. I was in class, and Todd Olson (former director of the Carleton Liberal Arts Experience) showed up with my guidance counselor, and asked for five minutes of my time. I was annoyed with missing part of my lesson, but agreed to meet.
Todd: What do you think about Minnesota?
Me: Minnesota? Um...never been there.
Todd: There's a GREAT school there. Carleton. Heard of it?
Me: No...
Todd: Well you SHOULD have. Come visit us. And we'll waive your application fee.
Me: Okay...
So I visited, sat in on a Poli Sci class, attended an Ebony performance, and loved it. I liked the smaller class sizes and reputation among liberal arts institutions.

Me: That's ... unnervingly similar to my experience (right down to the Todd Olson connection).

Me:  Now, I'm going to be straight with you: I think you would have stood out anywhere you went -- you've got this "Josephine Baker goes to Paris" thing going on that's just absolutely killer.

Audrey:  Well, thanks! I still feel like the scrawny, awkward nerd girl in glasses AND braces.

Me:  But I think it's fair to say that in super-Scandinavian rural Minnesota, you really stood out. Did you feel that way?

Audrey: Um...I don't really recall feeling like an "other" at first glance. I came from diversity, and while Carleton wasn't the MOST heterogeneous microcosm, it didn’t alarm me. I didn't start to feel like I stood out until second term, I think, because my White brethren kept commenting that I looked "exotic." I mean, I had gotten similar comments in Philadelphia from my browner-skinned folks as well... But it happened much more often in Minnesota.

Me: In general, did Carleton mostly lived up to your expectations?

Audrey:  Indeed, it did. I think maybe I felt like more of an "other" in terms of class/socioeconomic status. During my first week, I met someone whose family owned a small island. He had three televisions. In his dorm room. People were never rude or snobby, per se, but there were subtle reminders of my working-class, first-generation status.
;)
Me:  Now, the other part of your identity which perhaps isn't stereotypical-Carleton is that you're a very devout Christian. How did that play out in your college experience?

Audrey: You know, it's interesting that you ask this. And I'm finally not so super embarrassed to explain the connection. So yes, I was raised Catholic, and always leaned towards the Jesus camp. But I wasn't formally "saved" (Christian-speak for when you make it a personal decision to acknowledge, believe, and say that Jesus is God, etc.) until about halfway through college. I remember going through a pretty deep depression after my college boyfriend and I parted ways. I was searching for deeper meaning, etc., and whilst on a Habitat for Humanity trip with some Carls, I wandered into a Christian bookstore, picked up a Teen Study Bible (which I had never seen before; I had only read the sleep-inducing King James Version), and was HOOKED! I was actually teased by a few of said Carls for "believing in that nonsense" and not having more "common sense and logic." But a kind, Atheist classmate defended me, and retorted that I wasn't hurting anyone with my beliefs.

So right, read my Bible a lot, and then, during the summer of 2006, I visited a high school friend's church (he had been inviting me since high school, lol), and walked down the aisle and formally accepted Christ. I returned to Carleton that Fall very gung-ho about my faith, and was waaaayyyy too judgmental (but I was a newer Christian, and didn't quite know how to really walk in a non-judgmental, loving fashion as Jesus did yet). Oh yeah, and I fell off the bandwagon, partied too much, got inebriated, and made all-around poor decisions during my senior year at Carleton. But then I came home, got back on track, and certainly haven't been perfect since. The whole grace, mercy, and love aspect of God is still amazing to me. I'm totally imperfect, and there is nothing that I can do to be deserving of God's love, and yet...I accepted Him and He accepted me, and I am still His work in progress.

Sorry for the Jesus-freak moment.

Me:  It's no problem. One thing I liked about Carleton was that it really seemed to welcome all sorts of people.
That's a cliché, but I think at a lot of places "welcoming" means a sort of performative leftism that isn't actually all that welcoming to, say, first-gen college students, or people of faith, or racial minorities, or anyone who isn't in on the performance. But Carls are chill -- not necessarily the most socially graceful, but genuinely non-judgmental about these sorts of things (with, of course, exceptions) That was my experience anyway.

Audrey:  Yeah...I think maybe some folks were also "Minnesota nice" about it? As in, there was a generally friendly aura, even if they disagreed with a certain lifestyle choice, or had presuppositions about race, etc.

Me:  I think that's true. I've heard mixed reviews about "Minnesota nice" -- some think it's just a cover for exclusion -- but I've always found it charming myself.

Me:  Anyway. After college you briefly attended law school [at Drexel University], then switched to social work. Why law school, and why the switch?

Audrey: Ah, my law school stint. Yes, I was fortunate enough to have a summer associate gig during 1L summer. I didn't feel that I was making a difference. I went to law school thinking that I would save the world, and somehow ended up in a posh office reviewing a multimillion dollar contract involving corporate buyout
and I was like, "Oh no! I sold out!"

My dad became increasingly ill with colon cancer, so I took a leave of absence during 2L Fall. Then dad entered hospice, and passed away. Which caused me to re-think things. So I decided to become a counselor. Or at least, get my Master's in it. Which I did, and I ended up in case management, which is a good fit for me. It allows me to use my administrative and critical thinking skills, as well as my inclination to counsel and nurture people.

Drexel told me that I can return to finish my J.D.. And now that I've been roped into working with the First Judicial District's Mental Health Court, I have considered it

Me:  As a cheerleader for the legal profession, we'd be happy to have you back, but the important thing is to do what makes you happy.

Audrey:  Agreed. And thanks! At this juncture, I want to see how far I can go in my career without additional schooling. I don't want to be a "forever student."

Me:  ... she says, to the man about to return for his doctorate, Last  line of questioning before we wrap up: You've been very involved in the recent protests against police violence that have occurred across the US. How did you get involved in that?

Audrey:  Two words: social media ;). I would see random event info. on my Facebook Feed, or hear about preparation on the news and then re-post online. Also, working for the courts has its perks, in that we get inside information to ready ourselves for any potential traffic, challenges, etc.
 Me:  It seems like this round of protests has finally put the issue of police violence on the public radar in a serious way. Why do you think that is?

Audrey: I think that social media plays a vital role here as well (coming from someone who recently deactivated Facebook). It has become easier to organize, assemble, and protest, and to know details about these events, because of sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. In addition, it's difficult for folks to ignore, as legitimate news articles are posted, shared, and re-posted.

Me:  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about how things will progress on this issue in the near-term?

Audrey:  I would love to end on an optimistic note, so with that intention in mind...I am hopeful that, although in the short-term these challenges will continue to arise within our society, we will collectively develop better means to address issues of police militarization, and problems with institutionalized racism and socioeconomic/educational disparities.

Me:  Last question: What does the future hold for Audrey?

Audrey:  Having faith, helping folks in need, and happiness. And alliteration.

Me:  An excellent life motto if I've ever heard one.


This interview was conducted on gChat over several days. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The FIFA Field

The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) is pushing ahead with an effort to expel Israel from FIFA, citing restrictions on the movement of Palestinian soccer players and the fact that various Israeli settlements field soccer teams. Israel offered a compromise addressing the former complaint (ignoring the latter), but the PFA rejected the overture.

I highly doubt that this gambit will pass, requiring as it does 3/4 of FIFA's membership to vote in its favor. But I suppose one never knows in the context of resolutions on Israel and international bodies. What I am certain of is that if the resolution passes, the reaction from American and Western Europe will be swift and furious, and probably will entail them withdrawing from FIFA altogether. Which, come to think of it, would be one of the best things that could happen for international soccer, as FIFA is an utter disgrace. So, you know, there really is no losing here.

Midweek Roundup: 5/20/15

Blog's been quiet, but a roundup will fix that!

* * *

Even in the South, where entrenched utilities rule, Florida stands-out for its anti-competitive electricity policies. But a rare Enviro-Tea alliance may change that to enable California homeowners to access the state's abundent solar resources.

Speaking of conservatives doing unusual things, Nebraska looks set to abolish the death penalty. Says one GOP state senator: "If government can't be trusted to manage our health care ... then why should it be trusted to carry out the irrevocable sentence of death?" Not quite the argument I'd make, but that's what happens when you work bipartisan.

Seeds of Peace is just one of many fantastic groups that approach conflict-resolution by bringing people together, rather than driving them apart. It's a great organization worthy of your support.

Reading about this conference, which focused on remedying growing gulfs in the Jewish community over various Israeli policies, is quite depressing. There's this weird disconnect wherein conference participants take views that really aren't that far from J Street, but are appalled that anybody would listen to a terrible group like J Street. It's a weird sort of denialism and it doesn't exactly inspire confidence at the ability to right ship.

Hey, remember that oft-heard complaint about how Palestinian leaders say one thing to Western audiences and another to the people at home? That's what springs to mind when I hear Bibi insist to an EU envoy that he supports a two-state solution.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Post-Grading Roundup: 5/13/15

Exams are graded and turned in. I've yet to have an angry mob of students assail office door (or email inbox). And my browser is starting to be overrun. So let's clear some debris, shall we?

* * *

* The always-provocative Northwestern Law Profesor Eugene Kontorovich explores how the international community and international press has reacted to other blockades in situations analogous to the Israel/Gaza conflict (e.g., Georgia/Abkhazia, Sri Lanka/Tamil, and Saudi Arabia/Yemen). In all cases there seem to be few claims that the blockades are illegal (indeed, there seem to be few instances where people pay attention at all).

* Eugene Volokh has the rundown on a really bizarre story out of Canada, where some reports have high government officials threatening prosecution of anti-Israel BDS activists (on "hate crimes" charges), while other officials dismiss those reports as "conspiracy theories." It's unclear what is going on, but if I had to guess the government is not planning to prosecute anyone for mere advocacy of a boycott, but might be indicating its belief that actually carrying out such a boycott would constitute illegal national origin discrimination. But that's really a wild guess on my part.

* Speaking of national origin discrimination and boycotts, a proposed BDS resolution at an Ithaca co-op was rejected after co-op attorney's determined it would put them at risk of liability under New York human rights laws (which prohibit boycotts based on national origin). This interests me, since I've always though the BDS movement was vulnerable to this point of attack, but I hadn't seen it get much traction up until this point. And to be clear: the attorneys are not saying adopting a BDS resolution is illegal, only that it raises a sufficiently colorable risk such that it might (for example) affect their insurance rates. That seems pretty incontestably true.

* A South Africa columnist sharply condemns those rallying around a student leader who expressed admiration for Hitler (the defenders, needless to say, are accusing the student's administrative critics of being "puppets" for the shadowy Jewish conspiracy supposedly funding the university). I'm of two minds on this: On the one hand, the column really is well done and unapologetic in its condemnation of this form of anti-Semitism, even when it (as always) tries to cloak itself as mere "anti-Zionism" (and the author makes abundantly clear that he agrees with the basics of the anti-Zionist position). On the other hand, I feel like if I'm getting excited that a columnist is able to unapologetically condemn praising Hitler, I might be setting the bar too low.

* My latest draft paper is up on SSRN. It's titled The Siren song of Strict Scrutiny, and explains why the failure of sexual orientation to be elevated to the ranks of a "suspect classification" is actually a very good thing for the gay rights' movement.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Extra-Diverse Democrats, Part III

Last month, I noted how Republicans would inevitably describe Hillary Clinton following Barack Obama as Democrats engaging in "affirmative action." Wayne LaPierre grouping both Obama and Clinton as naught but "Demographically Symbolic" Presidents gave me an n of 1 , but I claimed vindication. And now look: the Weekly Standard has devoted a cover story to the theory authored by Joseph Epstein (via)!
If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 she will not only be the nation’s first woman president but our second affirmative-action president. By affirmative-action president I mean that she, like Barack Obama, will have got into office partly for reasons extraneous to her political philosophy or to her merits, which, though fully tested while holding some of the highest offices in the land, have not been notably distinguished.
If by "second", Epstein means "forty-fifth", he might be on to something (though admittedly, it is hard to argue that George W. Bush's rise to the presidency benefitted from any factors "extraneous to [his] political philosophy or to [his] merits"). But of course, any time women or non-White people rise to any level of political or social prominence, their accomplishments are dismissed as simply undeserved gifts bestowed by guilty White men. They never earn it on their own the old fashioned way: say, by being born into a political dynasty or by benefitting from only members of one's social class having the right to vote or by appealing to crude public sentiments of xenophobia and victimhood or by knowing that the only candidates adjudged to be "viable" would be ones who shared their race and sex. That's choosing a president on the merits.

Let's be clear: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were and are every bit as qualified and meritorious as your typical President before them. That's true regardless of whether or not one subscribes to their policy preferences. The only work "merit" is doing in the above critique is stand as a proxy for their non-White male character. Just like the Sotomayor confirmation, where " Princeton, Yale, and nearly two decades of federal court experience makes one a big ol' dummy [unless your name is Samuel Alito]", the veneer here is so thin it is incredible even the Weekly Standard was able to get it out with a straight face.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Inexplicable Sentiments

The "U visa" program allows undocumented immigrants who are the victims of certain crimes the opportunity to normalize their status in the U.S.. It is designed to encourage the reporting of crimes; obviously, persons fearing deportation are much less likely to call the police if they have to worry that instead of pursuing their attackers, the cops will seek to expel them from the country.

One North Carolina prosecutor, though, is reading in a Latino exception to the law:
[Gaston County District Attorney Locke] Bell said that if a crime victim is Latino and the accused is also Latino, he will not certify visa applications that come through his office. Evelin came to North Carolina from Honduras, and her ex-boyfriend is from Mexico.

Without confirmation from Bell, Evelin and other victims of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking and about two dozen other serious crimes cannot obtain U visas.
This policy came to light in a very explicit manner: after a Honduran immigrant was assaulted by her Mexican ex-boyfriend, she filed a police report and sought a U visa. The request was rejected in quite straight-forward language: "“Assault on a Latino by a Latino is not the rationale for the statute" (needless to say, the statute says absolutely nothing about determining the race of the perpetrator or the victim). Who doesn't care about minority-on-minority crime now?

Now, I know what you're thinking: This sounds a little bit racist! But don't worry! It's not!
Told that some people may view his U visa policy as discriminatory, Bell defended his position. He said he did not understand how anyone could conclude it was racist.

“In my position, I have to make decisions that people don’t like,” Bell said. “This is one of them.”
Well, I'm glad we got that squared away. Honestly, I'm not sure what came over me, thinking that a policy that explicitly discriminates against Latino victims of crimes based on the race of the perpetrator might be racist. It's inexplicable how that thought even entered the mind.

Other people not myself can inquire as to whether Mr. Bell's act constitutes a criminal violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Canelo Alvarez vs. James Kirkland: Preview

Ah, to have a big fight on the horizon where the most serious conviction of one of the participants is "just" armed robbery where we can reasonably expect electrifying action. Tomorrow, junior middleweights Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (44-1, 31 KOs) and James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) square off in a bout that could definitively establish the #1 154 pounder not named Floyd Mayweather.

Alvarez is a fighter I respect in spite of myself. For one, I tend not to like fighters who are declared stars before they earn stardom, and Alvarez -- with his boyish charm, matinee good looks, and distinctive red hair -- got the big star push very early in his career. I also tend not to like fighters who get decisions I disagree with, and while Canelo is 3-1 in his last four fights, on my scorecard he'd be 1-3.

So why do I respect him? Simple: He goes after the big fights. He does not duck challenges. And a corollary to my desire for top fighters to face other top fighters is that I don't discount them even if I think they lose, so long as they're competitive. And Alvarez has been competitive in all of his top challenges (save one). His last four fights -- against Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, Alfredo Angulo, and Erislandy Lara -- are illustrative.

The Trout fight came about because Canelo actually had his eye on a lucrative match-up with Miguel Cotto. That was derailed when Cotto was upset by the relatively unknown Trout, and rather than seeking out easier money Canelo insisted on fighting Cotto's vanquisher instead. I had Trout narrowly winning that fight, and didn't recall being super-impressed with Canelo's performance. But I admit it was razor thin, and Alvarez still deserves credit for going tooth-and-nail with with a very slick fighter who was widely considered the #1 (non-Mayweather) man in the division.

Alvarez then scored the twin blessing and curse that is a Floyd Mayweather fight. There's no two ways about it: Alvarez was thoroughly outclassed bell-to-bell. His caused was not aided by the unwise decision to try and box with Mayweather, but it hardly mattered. It also hardly matters to me that a 23-year old fighter was soundly defeated by the best fighter on the planet.

Alvarez returned against straight-ahead brawler Alfredo Angulo, and simply had his way with him. Angulo -- who himself had a brutal war with James Kirkland -- was never in the fight and got busted up en route to a 10th round stoppage. That set up yet another high-risk low-reward fight against Cuban slickster Erislandy Lara. Once again, I had Lara winning the fight; once again, it was generally agreed (by me as well) that the fight was exceptionally close. And so the fact is that Alvarez was close and competitive with top fighters that he insisted on facing. Whatever else you can say about him, he is not coasting on stardom. He genuinely wants to earn his place in boxing's elites.

Respect notwithstanding, I'll be rooting against Alvarez tomorrow night. One reason is pragmatic: If Alvarez wins, one boxing star leaves the ring, but if Kirkland wins, two do. Alvarez doesn't need a win to get (or preserve) mainstream popularity, but this is an opportunity for James Kirkland to really burst onto the scene like he seemed destined to do only a few years ago. The other reason is personal: James Kirkland is one of my favorite fighters. He is, and there is no better way to put it, in the hurt business.

To describe James Kirkland as a brawler isn't to do him justice. When I think of brawlers, I think of a crude hack-and-slash approach typified by wide looping shots. What makes Kirkland special is that he's actually relatively technically sound ... on offense. He puts his punches together nicely, and compactly, and has a devastating and varied attack to the head and body. What he shares in common with brawlers is that he is 100% offense. His defense isn't bad so much as it is irrelevant -- he has no objective in the ring but to deliver as much pain as possible in as short an amount of time. Often, this leads to him being knocked down -- indeed, it's rare to see a James Kirkland bout where he isn't at least rattled early in the fight. But he fights through it and eventually breaks nearly all of his opponents down.

The problem with James Kirkland is that he's inconsistent. His one loss is not to the greatest fighter on the planet, it's to entirely unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida, a light puncher who nonetheless dropped Kirkland three times in the very first round of their 2011 fight. Many blamed the loss on Kirkland lacking the presence of long-time trainer Ann Wolfe. After Ishida, he got back together with Wolfe and rattled off 5 straight victories. Two of those were phenomenal action bouts (against Alfredo Angulo and Glen Tapia). One of them has a serious question mark (Carlos Molina, who was beating Kirkland before getting controversially disqualified in what to my eyes was a clear misapplication of Texas rules). But all of them saw the Kirkland/Wolfe team clicking on all cylinders, which made it all the more eye-brow raising that Kirkland and Wolfe again parted ways. This story on ESPN is the first one I've seen where Kirkland actually gives an explanation for his decision to move on, and it's not superficially ludicrous (Wolfe specializes in a particular skill-set of strength and conditioning, but Kirkland felt like he needed to improve his game in other areas). But it remains to be seen whether Kirkland can win at a high level without Ann Wolfe in his camp.

And that is a large part of the drama of this fight. It is the rare fight where I can see any outcome. Canelo Alvarez is far better than Nobuhiro Ishida, and if Kirkland isn't in the right mindset its easy to imagine an early stoppage. I can also see Alvarez simply being better than Kirkland -- too strong, too tough, too versatile -- and either winning a decision or scoring the late KO. But when James Kirkland is on, he has the ability to tear through anyone. It is not inconceivable that he could lay a beating on Alvarez similar to what he did against Tapia or Angula. It's also perfectly plausible that Alvarez -- who has never been down in his career -- can survive the punishment better but simply be busted up over the course of the fight.

If I was a betting man, I still wouldn't put money on this fight because there is so much in the air. The safer money is with Canelo Alvarez, who is more consistent, has fought higher-quality opposition, and is the a-side fighter here. But when things are clicking for James Kirkland he has a spark inside him that I haven't seen in any fighter since Mike Tyson. It makes for brutal action and high drama. And this Saturday, I expect it to make for a very interesting night.