Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Round-Up (Too Tired Edition)

I'm not really in a blogging mood right now. It's unfortunate, because there I have a bunch of thoughts on anti-Semitism that I'd like to spin out, but I can't bring myself to put them down. It's such an important topic, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only leftist who really wants to focus on it. That's a lot of pressure, and sometimes (like now) I feel crushed under the weight of it. Eventually I gather up my strength and hurl myself at the gates once more. But not today.

So, in lieu of a normal post, I'll round-up some of the interesting stuff that's floating out in the blogosphere currently.

An explanation to concerned Whites on how to be an ally of persons of color. If you wander through the comments, you'll note that I tried to point out some perceived anti-Semitism in the post opener (which tries to link White power to American support of Israel). I'll forthrightly admit that this post and its comments are what precipitated my current feeling of exhaustion. (H/T: Slant Truth)

Noam Scheiber explains the true nature of Hezbollah's threat toward Israel. It's not that they're a threat now. It's that they could easily become one that's uncontainable, seeing as they are a non-state client actor of a nation (Iran) which a) is committed to Israel's destruction and b) is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power. Destroying Hezbollah now may well be an example of try-or-die.

Two posts by Scott Lemieux on the subject of Jack Balkin (and company's) book What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said. I feel guilty saying I haven't read it, seeing as I specifically requested that the Carleton Library purchase it, but there just wasn't time to do more than skim it. Alas. (H/T: Feministe)

Eugene Volokh explains how Virginia courts are ignoring very, very clear statutory law in refusing to enforce a Vermont child custody ruling that stemmed out of a failed Civil Union between a lesbian couple.

Noting that both David Broder and Tom Friedman have begun to sound supportive of withdrawing from Iraq, Kevin Drum wonders if the tide of mainstream political punditry is finally starting to turn. I've long been a member of the Friedman-esque/TNR "liberal hawk" category, and I'll admit that I too am wavering on the value of our continued presence there--especially given the Bush administration's seeming constant ability to do no right.

Brilliant political theorist Iris Marion Young has died of cancer. Well before her time, she will be missed.

Latest Senate rankings are up. Top five most competitive seats are Republican-held.

It's a bit old, but this gem about the dismissal of an Arabic interpreter for being gay shows how deathly serious we are about the GWOT (Disenchanted Idealist).

Hill on Jackson on Cosby on Black men.

Iraq rallies for Hezbollah. I'm glad things are turning out so well over there. Incidentally, I've read that prior to the rise of Saddam, Iraq was actually a relatively friendly climate for Jews. In the space of a generation, Hussein's rabid anti-Semitic rhetoric has made it indistinguishable from the rest of the Arab League's pathological Jew-hatred. Head-bangingly frustrating (Eric Muller).

Restless Mania discusses shirts with communist themes on them. My friend Matt and I have discussed how we might each wear a Che Guevera shirt, only to mock him (what better way to subtly diss an anti-capitalist icon than turning him into a symbol of American materialism?).

Speaking of Slant Truth, the folks there lay the smackdown on the "blackfacing" of Joe Lieberman scandal. I can't tell which is more infuriating, when liberals engage in this crap, or when they try and defend it. Good for Kevin Andre Eliott for some highly justified ripping.

Tim Burke discusses the glories of LibraryThing. Like crack cocaine, it is.

Apparently, I inspired this post at Jurisdynamics. I'll give readers a hint: it's not because I have a natural affinity for the link between math and law.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Look Like He Made His Choice

GQ has a big-time story on the rise and fall of Ralph Reed. My favorite quote so far:
His own mother--his mother!--once told USA Today, "I used to tell people he was going to be either President of the United States or Al Capone."

The story comes to me by way of Feddie at Southern Appeal. Back when Mr. Reed was running for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Feddie caused Publius to have a Say It Ain't So, Joe moment, when he found out that the big-time Christian blogger was endorsing Reed. Well, the man has now grimly come around to recognize that Reed is one of the lowest pieces of scum to walk on American political earth (and that says something).

Unspeakable Anti-Semitism

Phoebe Maltz has a superb post up about the continuing reality of anti-Semitism, and the strange reluctance of people to speak about it or even acknowledge its existence. "Superb", of course, is somewhat redundant when talking about a WWPD post, but this one particularly caught my eye.

I tend to run in leftist circles, and one thing I've really tried to impress upon people is the pervasive nature of anti-Semitism and why it needs to be addressed. I devour article upon article about structural racism, the patriarchy, heterosexism, you know an oppressed class, I've done at least some reading on it. And what's more, I buy the argument. I do believe that America, for example, is institutionally biased against Blacks, and that Whiteness is held as the norm to which everything else must measure up. It isn't fair, it isn't just, and it serves as a serious barrier to the creation and maintenance of a just society.

The same could be said about Judaism in the world. Judaism is perpetually marginalized in the world--it is always aberrant, always other. But the literature on Jewish marginalization is much scantier. People are simply far less willing to believe that Jews are oppressed. Partially, this is due to the particular manner in which anti-Semitic tropes have developed over the years. One of the stereotypes about Judaism is that we are the power behind the curtain; we pull all the strings. Think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Or the neo-conservative/Jewish cabal that is purportedly running White House foreign policy. Just a Mexicans are assumed to be lazy, or Blacks are assumed to be beastly, Jews are assumed to be possessors of unjust power (both unjustly acquired, and likely to be used for selfish and unjust ends). Since that is the prevailing mindset, people are less likely to entertain notions that Jews do face discrimination and double-standards in the world, except in the most extreme cases. And since such discourse is suppressed, the dominant view of Jews as being in perfectly good health, and thus presumptively part of the ruling caste, continues. It's a vicious cycle.

This analysis isn't particularly novel--indeed, it draws heavily from similar explorations of hurdles and obstacles faced by members of subordinated races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. What's bothersome is less the continuation of anti-Semitism than the fact that so few big-name theorists seem interested in critically grappling with it. That's supremely frustrating. And, I'd add, an indicator of anti-Semitism in its own right.

It's All The Feminists Fault

Feministe documents and dismantles another episode of everything in the world is the fault of feminists. Complete with pining for a return to 1950s race relations and the by-gone era where women didn't speak out, this one truly has it all.

The part that raised my eyebrow particularly, however, was this discussion of autonomy:
I believe that Planned Parenthood, NARAL, et al. are in a sense responsible for instances like the Kitty Genovese case.

NARAL sorts are, in a nutshell, saying to the larger community:

"Don't impose your morals on me. Get your rosaries out of my ovaries. It's my choice. I'm autonomous. No man's gonna' tell me what to do..."

The weary response of the community is to say (specifically, here, to the young women in society):
"OK. OK. Alright, already. I won't butt into your life. Do whatever the heck you want. Go get your &*%#$ abortion. Go, sleep with a dozen men per week."

Genovese was left to die by a society that had gotten the message, so to speak, that truly modern sorts don't meddle in one another's affairs.

To put a finer tip on my point, the upshot is that men and women are told, more and more, to disassociate from one another. In a world where no one harasses one another, also no one counsels or helps the other.

Aside from her assailant, Kitty was autonomous in the ally.

It's ironic, because feminist theorists have been at the fore-front of critiquing the formalist notion where "autonomy" is equated with hands-off laissez-fairism. Think C-Mac's (can we call her C-Mac?) critique of the "right to privacy." I'm also reminded of Mary Ann Glendon's discussion of the right to be "let alone" in the context of abortion cases:
won the right that had been understood from its earliest appearance in the American legal system as "the right to be let alone." And let alone she was. No one . . . had been willing to help her either to have the abortion she desired, or to keep and raise the child who was eventually born. [from her book, Rights Talk

Martha Minow has discussed the formalist belief that within a classical liberal paradigm, one has no obligation to save a drowning man (but one can be sued if one attempts and does it incompetently). The notation that true autonomy cannot come without some sort of societal intervention, be it in the economic sphere (living wage, decent working conditions), or the sexual sphere (access to contraception, protection from harassment) is one that is being explored, hashed out, contested, and debated vigorously inside the feminist community. By contrast, the belief that freedom and laissez-faire are identical is the war-cry not of the left but of the right. Whatever one might have to say about the feminist community, this seems like one sin that cannot be laid on their heads.

Worst Sports Team Town

Okay, here's a good debate topic for all you sports fans out there.

My family and I have been discussing which is the worst town in sports. By "worst", we don't mean atmosphere or fan loyalty. We mean in terms of the overall performance of its major, professional teams in recent memory (say, the mid-80s and up).

The criteria:
1) The town must have at least two professional teams in the any of the four major sports (Baseball, Basketball, Hockey, Football).

2) These teams have to have been in the town for at least four years, so we can get a sense of how they're doing (so New Orleans wouldn't qualify, because it has only the Saints and the Hornets, and the Hornets have only been in N.O. for a few years [they've actually been there since 2002, but considering that they're also part time in Oklahoma City, I don't think they meet the standard]).

So, for example, has the aggregate performance of the Washington teams (Capitals, Wizards, and Redskins--the Nationals don't count because they just moved here) been worse than that of the Houston teams (Astros, Rockets, Texans)?

For what it's worth, my money's on Cleveland (Indians, Browns, Cavaliers). But Seattle (Mariners, Seahawks), Cincinatti (Reds, Bengals), Houston and Washington all are competitive.

Duke it out in comments.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Beyond Marriage

An interesting petition and statement lends a new dimension to the "marriage equality" fight. Signed by an all-star cast of left-wing affiliated notables (such as Gloria Steinem and Kenji Yoshino), the statement deftly and impressively sidesteps the issue of marriage entirely. Rather, it says that we should focus on providing benefits to all family types regardless of status.

For the most part, I think that's a worthy goal. While I think marriage equality has tremendous symbolic importance and should be pursued for that reason alone, in general I think the manner in which law nurtures relationships should be primarily designed to a) provide basic protection to all members of the relational unit (especially particularly vulnerable ones, such as children) and b) give people the tools to support and protect the people important to them, regardless of status. When I get married, I definitely want my wife and children to receive the full panoply of rights and benefits I receive. But if, God forbid, my parents need to turn to me for support in their old age, I'd like that same assurance that I could provide whatever resources I could to them as well. As such, I think the role of law is not to mandate certain types of relationships (beyond the aforementioned stipulations about protecting the vulnerable), but to provide an "enabling environment" for relationships that already exist. For gay couples then, the wrong question to ask, I think, is whether or not the state should be encouraging or discouraging their formation (and/or them raising children). Gay couples already exist, and they already are raising kids. The question for the state is how we ought treat these relationships, what obligations we have to its members, and how we can create the best possible environment for flourishing and human freedom within such a context of choice.

I do wonder if the group has run ahead of itself when it makes statements like this:
For example, who among us seriously will argue that the following kinds of households are less socially, economically, and spiritually worthy?
Committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.

If that is (as it sounds to me) a reference to polyamorous relationships, then they've probably gotten a bit ahead of the rest of the population. But by-and-large, I think this is an interesting document, and one well-worth considering.

The H/T goes to Rob Vischer, who asks (fairly, in my view) for greater elucidation of the theoretical underpinnings that are behind the statement.
One or more of the following premises seems to be operative: 1) individuals' structuring of their household relationships is unaffected by the law's content; 2) all categories of household relationships are of equal value to the long-term health of communities; or 3) regardless of the comparative social value of relationships, the government overreaches if it tries to reflect that comparative value in public policy. Whichever premise is doing the work here, the statement would benefit considerably from bringing it to the surface where it can be unpacked and engaged.

I'm not sure this is (or is intended to be) an exhaustive list, but I would probably come down on a modified version of number 3. I've seen some evidence that two-parent homes are better than one-parent homes for raising children, no evidence that heterosexual homes are better than homosexual homes for the same. But regardless of what the evidence is on either of those counts (or any other family structure, not to mention the numerous cases where there are no children to speak of), I think that whatever marginal benefit might be accrued from forcing people into the "ideal" relationship is wildly outweighed by the harms that come from not giving benefits to already existent non-ideal relationships. That is, even if one could find an ideal relationship "type", I believe the benefits of encouraging that type to the exclusion of all or most others are negligible compared to the harm suffered by those persons who are not and will not become part of said relationship type. For example, even if it could be shown that heterosexual families are better for children than homosexual ones, depriving benefits to homosexual families would do far more damage to the children of such unions than could be justified by whatever benefits might come out such a deprivation.

Castro Watch

With regards to Fidel's recent surgery, I thought it would be proper to bring up this oldie from the State Department:
QUESTION: Did you hear that Castro fell?

MR. BOUCHER: We heard that Castro fell. There are, I think, various reports that he broke a leg, an arm, a foot, and other things, and I'd guess you'd have to check with the Cubans to find out what's broken about Mr. Castro. We, obviously, have expressed our views about what's broken in Cuba.

QUESTION: Do you wish him a speedy recovery?


I doubt the sentiment has changed much in the intervening months.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Apology Accepted (Captain Needa)

If you don't get the reference, watch The Empire Strikes Back, and come back. I'll wait.

Finished? Good. Okay, so the latest guest-poster at Blackprof, Marc Lamont Hill, has a really interesting post up on the dynamics of apology. Using Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic tirade as a launching pad, he notes the danger of being too quick to accept apologies from parties who have consistently wronged. This is especially true when the underlying factors that caused the offense can and will continue to perpetuate the harm even if the most egregious violations are reined in.
For Black people, the politics of apologies is particularly dangerous, as mea culpas are often used to end public discussion about complex and consistent problems. For example, what good is the Senate's 2005 resolution to apologize for lynching if the modern day prison industrial complex is replicating the conditions of the very slave industry that enabled Black people to hang from trees? After such apologies are offered and accepted without concrete concessions (such as reparations), further public conversation is considered excessive, and persistent activists are conveniently tagged as race card players and pain pimps .

This is probably true on a systematic level. But I will confess my anxieties when reading this call as a White male. It should be clear why: If I inadvertently cause offense, I want to be able to rejoin the progressive racial community, not be shunned and excommunicated.

I want to be clear that I don't read Mr. Hill as calling for such "one-strike you're out" standards. But it is a complex situation (as race issues so often are). For example, White people do consistently cause racial offense--as a community, we have not done nearly enough to get beyond this. But it is quite difficult to determine whether any individual White person is making a genuine effort, i.e., whether the mistake is truly that and an aberration. This is a double bind, because it's just as problematic to say "judge each White person individually," when we're dealing with systematic injustice. But I think that discussions of this issue at least have to acknowledge the sentiments amongst some sympathetic and/or progressive Whites that delving into race is akin to stepping into a minefield.

Ultimately, I feel like we should hold public figures (and especially government officials) to higher standards than Joe-average-citizen on this respect. And, perhaps more on point to the issues of past racial injustice, when we're dealing with corrections of policy rather than of mindset, it is perfectly justifiable (and wise) to demand remedy for the ailment, and not merely an apology. As Critical Race Theorist Taunya Lovell Banks wrote in response to the Trent Lott/Strom Thurmond affair, "focus on...remarks, rather than on...opposition to civil rights for black Americans, probably cause[s] many white Americans to be reluctant to discuss race, for fear of similar misstatements" [Exploring White Resistance to Racial Reconciliation in the United States, 55 RUTGERS L. REV. 903, 948 (2003)]. A two-tiered approach which differentiates between person-on-person racism and policy- or structurally-supported racism would help mediate this conflict (though I doubt it would eliminate it entirely).

Monday, July 31, 2006

No En Banc Review in Poway

Via the VC, the 9th Circuit has denied an en banc review of Harper v. Poway Unified School District. Poway dealt with a school preventing one of its students from wearing a t-shirt bearing various anti-gay slogans, due to a school history of tension between homosexual and anti-gay students. I gave my reasons for supporting the ruling here, although I admitted it was a close call.

Message to the People

I want to take Europe seriously on Foreign Policy, I really do, but sometimes they just don't appear to be living in the same world as me:
The foreign minister of France, Philippe Douste-Blazy, is in Beirut today. This is the wisdom he imparted to his listeners: "In the region there is of course a country such as Iran--a great country, a great people, and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region."

And the reality-based community gets a little smaller.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Starve the Beast

Miami Law Professor Michael Froomkin points to a new Las Vegas ordinance that would ban feeding poor people in public parks. As Froomkin notes, giving a sandwich to a rich man still is presumptively legal, but heaven help you if you decide to show compassion for the starving. I'm not even going to bother hoping that anyone in the Vegas city government is familiar of the maxim "feed the hungry," much less its source. In the meantime, we find a major American city treating human beings as the equivalent of an animal pest to be regulated and contained.


Unheeded Innocence

I'll lay it straight for you. One of my absolute, deepest fears, is of being charged and/or convicted of a crime I did not commit. I fear that despite knowing my innocence, I won't be able to convince a prosecutor or a jury of that fact. I fear that I'll be villified by everyone I ever loved. I fear I'll spend my entire life behind bars based off a mistake. It terrifies me.

It's articles like this that explain why. If for no other reason than to prevent horrors like this from happening, we must be ever-vigilent in making sure that our criminal justice system does everything possible to prevent an innocent man from being convicted. That commitment may not be politically popular, but it represents the baseline of how a just society conducts itself.

H/T: Ann Bartow