Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tag, I'm It

Kevin Andre Elliot tags me for a book meme. I've never been tagged before. Gosh, this is exciting. So, without further delay...

1. One book that changed your life?

Easy money. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. I've read better books on the subject. Hell, I've read better books period. But (fittingly enough), this book was my introduction to the field, and caused a major turnabout in my political and moral philosophy. And I was glad. I read it the summer I graduated from High School. Prior to that, I had described myself as in a "slow spiral towards libertarianism." I had read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty and loved it (still am a fan, in fact), but the problem was I could only poorly rationalize my redistributive economic beliefs within Mill's paradigm. This constituted a problem. Unfortunately, it seemed like the argument behind the Harm Principle was unassailable, and I felt like I had no choice but to accept it lock, stock, and barrel.

Finding this book was pure luck (or destiny, depending on your view). In a debate round my senior year, an opponent ran an "essentialism critique" against me. Despite thinking he said "centralism", and despite only having a vague idea of what post-modernism was up until that point (beyond the popular misconceptions: "Those wacky post-modernists. They don't believe the chair exists!"), I was intrigued. Somehow, research on post-modernism led me to Critical Race Theory. And Delgado and Stefancic's book seemed like a promising primer.

Ironically, my turn towards CRT came at about the same time as I shifted my political affiliation from a self-identified Democratic Socialist to a moderate liberal. I'm probably the only person for whom CRT assisted in a shift to the middle of the political spectrum.

2. One book you have read more than once?
Like Kevin, I tend to read all my books more than once (assuming I like them). So the question is meaningless to me. My dad and I used to constantly fight over this: he was always forcing me to read new books, I always wanted to re-read my favorites.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
Ooof. I'm going to go with Malaria Dreams. If I'm on a Desert Island, I'll probably need some comic relief (you know, to distract from the fact that I'm boned). And Stuart Stevens is a funny, funny man.

4. One book that made you laugh?
See #3. But I also love comic books--Doonesbury, Calvin & Hobbes, Foxtrot, The Boondocks, Non Sequitur, and Dilbert being my favorites.

5. One book that made you cry?
The Promise, by Chaim Potok. It's the lesser-known sequel to The Chosen--a great book in its own right. But The Promise I found absolutely terrifying. I don't read sad books, so being scared out of my mind (because of the inhumanity of the characters, not because of gore-fest horror narrative) is as close as I get.

6. One book you wish had been written?
Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State by Stephen M. Feldman. It was probably the only major work in the area of Critical Jewish Law. I even thought of the idea for it prior to reading the book. I was this close to founding an entire intellectual movement. *Blushes* I thought this was "one book you wish you had written." Whoops. And I have no idea how to answer this question. If I knew, I'd write the book myself, no?

7. One book you wish had never been written?
Would it be too cliche to say Mein Kampf? I'm just going to go out on a limb and say anything by Ann Coulter.

8. One book you are currently reading?
Technically, I'm still in the middle of these three books. Of the three, I'm furthest along in Peter Beinart's The Good Fight (a very solid, if not spectacular, book).

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Just one? I guess Collapse has been sitting on my desk for a long time. And We Are Not Saved is also a strong candidate, since its sitting right next to me and my roommate was kind enough to get it autographed for me when Professor Bell was at Carleton (I, alas, was in Nebraska that weekend).

10. Now tag five people
Oy gevolt. I guess I'll tag Belle Lettre, The Disenchanted Idealist, PG, Feddie at Southern Appeal (got to add some ideological diversity), and Phoebe Maltz. I can't guarantee any of them will respond, though.

Well, thanks for playing. Incidentally, it seems just wrong to have a post that talks about me, books, and recent history without mentioning Kenji Yoshino's Covering. It was the only book I could think of in competition with CRT: An Introduction for the "change your life" category, and it is spectacular. If you haven't read it, you need to. No joke.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Same Old Same Old

University of Missouri International Law scholar Peggy McGuinness has the latest episode in the farce that has become the UN Human Rights Council. Over the past 40 years, a full 30% of the HRC's resolutions were directed at Israel. Though this new body is supposedly "reformed," it remains depressingly similar to its precursor. Currently, it is holding an emergency session to debate this resolution, which condemns Israeli human rights violations while saying nary a word about Hezbollah aggression and its blatant, gleeful, and deliberate flouting of human rights norms. "Nary a word" is literal--read the resolution: it's entirely absent over 5 pages. Ironically, the resolution itself is violation of the commissions mandate, which forbids resolutions singling out a particular country.

So, why would the HRC break its own rules to single out Israel? I mean, if you're going to pick one issue that cries out for being called by name, I think the genocide in Sudan (remember that?) would come on top first (incidentally, Sudan is a co-sponsor of the HRC resolution). And if you're going to pick out this particular conflict, why wouldn't you mention Hezbollah human rights violations too? Some statements by the panel members might shed some light here:
Brazilian expert Jos Augusto Lindgren Alves accused Israel of "blatant racism," which, he added, was "at the root of its disproportionality" in Lebanon. He asked if Israel "would react the same way to exterminate an entire population if Hizbullah launched the same attacks from a non-Arab country." Jos Francisco Cali Tzay of Guatemala suggested that Israel's actions were close to "mass genocide." The South African, Patricia January-Bardhill, said that Israel's response reflected "institutionalized racism." Pakistani member Agha Shahi justified Hizbullah's attacks on Israel as an exercise of "the right of resistance against occupation." Aboul-Nasr similarly asserted that Hizbullah is not a terrorist group but "a resistance movement," like the French resistance in World War II.

So. They selected Israel because it is effectively committing genocide. And they don't condemn Hezbollah because it's a justified movement akin to resisting WWII Nazi occupation.

Ah, continuity.

Not to continue to harp on my Carleton Progressive editor, but he once challenged me when I said I didn't really give much credibility to UN pronouncements when it came to Israel. "Why, because they disagree with you?" Not quite.

Oh, and the resolution itself? It passed by a vote of 27-11-8. Countries voting nay were Canada, France, Germany, Britain, Holland, Poland, Japan, The Czech republic, Finland, Romania and Ukraine. Aye votes include Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and Mexico, as well as the Council's Arab and Muslim bloc.

I'll tell ya, nothing makes me want to give a mea culpa on a human rights more than when China lectures me on the error of my ways. 'Cause there's a country with street cred on the subject.

Silenced Soldiers

Via Andrew Sullivan, we hear of a West Point cadet who wrote an essay arguing for the abandonment of the military's exclusionary anti-gay policies. He received an award from the acadamy. Some Christian groups are livid:
Apparently, [Elaine] Donnelly says, when [2nd Lt. Alexander] Raggio wrote his thesis, he was saying the ban on homosexuals serving in the military should be lifted. "That is a very unusual view," she asserts, "and he is certainly entitled to his opinion." However, the military readiness expert observes, studies have clearly shown that homosexuality and military service are not a good mix.

Raggio is entitled to his First Amendment rights of free speech and expression, Donnelly says. "However," she adds, "I question the judgment of the leadership at West Point, who would recognize such an essay and give it an award that can be used for a purpose contrary to military policy."

Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Ms. Donnelly, the view is no longer "unusual", being held by 60 to 80% of the country. But I'm more concerned about the objection Ms. Donnely has to dissenting opinions in the military. Yes, Mr. Raggio's view is one that is currently "contrary to military policy." But any view that seeks to change a policy is going to be "contrary" to that policy until the change occurs. Trying to stifle or discourage views that challenge prevailing orthodoxy is indistinguishable from saying change should never happen.

This anecdote from a gay former servicemen well demonstrates Barry Goldwater's (!) excellent maxim on who is qualified for military service: "You don't have to be straight, you just have to shoot straight."

More from Pam Spaulding.

Morality Test

Here, I think, is an excellent way of demonstrating the moral difference between the two sides of the current Israel/Lebanon conflict. Every civilian death is a tragedy. But in terms of assigning moral culpability to the perpetrators, I ask you to evaluate the following two scenarios:

Scenario I
A commando squad kills two police officers, then breaks into an apartment complex. Finding a father and his 4-year old daughter, they take both out to a courtyard, kill the father before the girl's eyes, then dash her brains out with a rifle butt.

Scenario II
A fighter plan drops a bomb on an apartment complex where terrorists have been firing off rockets into residential neighborhood. In addition to the terrorists, the complex is occupied by a dozen civilians who, for one reason or another, have not evacuated (in spite of warnings).

The first scenario is rather straight forward. The second, however, is fuzzier. The moral calculus shifts depending on, say, whether or not the civilians in the building are serving as voluntary shields, or are being held as virtual hostages to become human shields. The importance of the military target is relevant as well. It also varies depending on whether the Air Force knew the civilians were there, knew how many they were, etc..

Depending on how one constructs the second scenario, one can imagine several different levels of moral culpability. If the air force didn't know there were civilians being held against their will as shields, then there might be little to no moral culpability, we would call it a tragic accident (indeed, we would likely blame the terrorists as the culpable parties in this case). By contrast, if the air force knew the civilians were there, and that they were unable to leave for other reasons (they couldn't afford it, or were too sick, for example), then the perception changes. Now the morality likely hinges on whether the civilian deaths were justifiable in proportion to the expected military benefit. So, in the worse case, if the air force bombed some insignificant piece of terror infrastructure, knowing the civilians were there involuntarily and were likely face heavy casualties, then we'd justly say that such an action is immoral.

However, horrible as that is, I do not think this reading of scenario II has the air force coming out worse, morally speaking, than the terrorists in scenario I who engaged in a pre-meditated, deliberate, cold-blooded killing of four innocent civilians in a particularly brutal fashion.

Much of the civilian casualties caused by Israel's assault are permutations of Scenario II. It is unknown how many sorties fall into each particular category--exactly how much Israel knows about the remaining civilian population and exactly how important each target is information I don't have. I do not know of any case in which the Israeli air force has been simply indifferent to civilian casualties--hitting an insignificant piece of infrastructure without regard to what's around it--but perhaps it has happened. If so, and in that circumstance, it should be condemned. But not condemned as the moral equal of Scenario I. But by and large, Israel has been remarkably forthcoming in telling us "here's what we're hitting, here's why we're hitting it."

The event in Scenario I, by contrast, was an accurate description of an operation launched by a Lebanese terrorist in Northern Israel. The leader of the operation was captured by Israeli forces and is currently in jail for quadruple homicide. He remains unrepentant. This man, Mr. Samir Kuntar is the top-priority prisoner that Hezbollah wants released--their stated reason for beginning this war.

There is a difference between accidentally killing civilians in the pursuit of a legitimate military objective, negligently killing civilians in the pursuit of a military objective, and deliberately setting out to kill civilians. In ethics, intent matters. And we have to remember the intentions of the participants in this conflict as a crucial aspect of who deserves our support.

I wrote up this test due to some remarks by my editor at the Carleton Progressive. He reprinted an article from Electronic Intifada that, among other things, asserted that the Hezbollah operation would be justified if it secured the release of Mr. Kuntar (that seeking to release this brutal terrorist would make the attack more just, not less). I said that as a liberal publication, we needed to disavow the notion that killing four year old girls is somehow noble. He responded that he'd be happy to write an editorial condemning the killing of children, but that currently it's Israel that's doing most of the child killing. I immediately averred--deliberately killing children. "Bombing an apartment complex is deliberate," he responded.

My editor is a very smart guy. I am fully confident he can understand the distinction I just outlined. Having the faith the defend that line, the fortitude to not lose perspective and equate unequal horrors, is a battle for the very soul of liberalism. And it's a fight we need to win.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"We Are All Hezbollah Now"

So read a banner at a "Pro-peace" march in London several days ago. Charming. British columnist Harold Evans dissects what these supposed liberals are really signing themselves up for.
If we are all Hizbullah now, who are we?

Are we the violent hijackers of the state of Lebanon who started this war without provocation and without reference to the elected government? Are we the "democrats" who hold hostages for years and murder political opponents?

Are we the suicide bombers, Hizbullah's contribution to civilization, randomly murdering innocents in the thousands - Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, for this cause or that, it makes no difference?

Are we Hassan Nasrullah, the latest pin up boy of terrorism, who competes with Iran's mad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the most dedicated to kill Jews? He makes no secret of Hizbullah's genocidal ambitions. "If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel," he says, "it will save us the trouble of going after them on a world wide basis." Big joke.
Are we the puppets of our paymasters in Iran?

Are we the cowards condemned as such by the UN humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, for hiding our fighters and rocket launchers among women and children?

Are we not the cleverest of tacticians? If the human shield works, we are free to attack, and if it fails, Israel will bear the odium. What does it matter that our cruel deceit violates Article 58 of the Geneva Convention?

Are we the renegades who have for six years shown what we think of the Geneva Convention, international law (and UN resolution 1559) by regularly launching rockets across the border into Israel loaded with ball-bearings to shred human flesh. Yes, people died, six in a school bus, but they were only Jews and did you see the world take any notice? Nobody marched in London.

Are we the fiends who over two decades of Islamic terrorism have kidnapped, tortured and killed numerous peacekeepers?

Apparently, we are.

Via Buzzmachine.

Rumor has it another cease-fire proposal is coming. I'm not entirely sure what a cease-fire would accomplish in this situation. Cease-fires make sense when a political resolution is plausible--to give the parties time to negotiate. But this isn't a political conflict. Ultimately, none of the parties have or are willing to give Israel anything it really wants. Hezbollah, as Mr. Nasrallah has made clear, wants to slaughter every Jew in the world. What is there to negotiate? Maybe he'll compromise on half? Or just the Jews in Israel?

Hezbollah's short-term goal is for Israel to release Samir Kuntar. This, too, should be regarded as a redline: Men who kill a father in front of his daughter's eyes, then dash the 4-year old's brains out with a rifle butt (and remain proud of it), should not and cannot be released from prison. Not now, not ever. When the short-term goal is releasing terrorist brutes, and the long-term is genocide, there is very little a cease-fire will accompolish aside from letting the terrorists re-equip and start the conflict all over again.

Paper Hats

As liberal Democrats are accused of showing horrifying incivility in the wake of the Lamont/Lieberman campaign, we see that Ann Coulter can always make our worst shots look like a Sesame Street sketch:
Congresswoman Maxine Waters had parachuted into Connecticut earlier in the week to campaign against [Sen. Joseph I.] Lieberman because he once expressed reservations about affirmative action, without which she would not have a job that didn't involve wearing a paper hat.

Now, I'm no fan of Congressional all-corruption team Representative Waters. But seriously--a paper hat? In a world where Ann Coulter remains paper hat free, I think it's fair to say that Maxine Waters could easily find a better job than that, affirmative action or no.

So, if it wasn't for affirmative action for bomb-throwing White girls, how did Coulter get her job?

Nasrallah's Targets

The Plank reports that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has issued a call for all Israeli Arabs to leave Haifa. Hezbollah's rockets are unguided and aimed only to sow terror and destruction in civilian population without regard to who or what they destroy. But now we see that Nasrallah has become more discriminating in who he wants to kill. It would be a shame--a terrible shame--if someone besides the Jews died in this conflict.

Oh, and Haifa's Arabs have rejected the call. Good for them.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why Catholic Legal Theory?

Dave over at The Disenchanted Idealist remains unconvinced as to the usefulness or importance of Catholic Legal Theory. Since I do believe said theory has an important role to play in contemporary discourse, I thought I'd pen a defense.

Complicating matters slightly is that the post that precipitated Dave's was my own attack on a CLT analysis of the Israeli/Arab conflict. So I'm not going to respond to those specific complaints, because I agree with them. But I will defend the enterprise as a general matter.

Dave's complaints can be grouped into two rough categories. First, that CLT does not offer novel normative analysis, second, that a theory being "Catholic" gives it no presumptive authority for non-believers. I'll address these in turn.

I. Novelty
A. CLT offers several novel insights of value to the larger community
For many years, law has been expressed as a monolith, one majestic legal edifice that could adequately encompass the normative commitments of all its residents. The rise of "Critical X" theories of law, whether Critical Race Theory, LatCrit, Black Feminism, or what have you, has seriously challenged this doctrine. Disciples of this school believe that rather than a single unified whole, law is an expression of a certain historical particularities which have "risen to the top" and suppress conflicting interpretations. Critical X seeks to provide a voice to the suppressed X.

In this paradigm, the unique contribution of CLT should be obvious: It provides a voice to Catholics in American and international law. Law and Catholic interests intersect over many areas, some obvious, some not. Unfortunately, America has a long tradition of anti-Catholic prejudice that needs to be grappled with. For example, the Blaine amendments the Court recently dealt with and upheld in Locke v. Davey were a byproduct of vicious anti-Catholic sentiment in the late 19th century. In fact, much of modern Church/State jurisprudence grows out of anti-Catholic prejudices manifesting themselves in the 1950s, as CLT scholar Thomas Berg has written. Berg's forceful advocacy of an "accommodationist" Church/State standard has swayed me away from my prior strict separationist stance.

But regardless of whether you agree with the particular policy prescriptions of CLT theorists, it remains clear that they offer a voice to a particular sub-group in American life that needs to be heard. I'm not sure why that doesn't qualify as a unique benefit, just like CRT gives voice to Blacks, and LatCrit gives voice to Latinos. We should exercise extreme caution when banishing a particular viewpoint from the city, and should take note when we determine that a given perspective is not worth our time to listen to.

B. Novelty isn't a prerequisite to usefulness
In other areas, Catholic Legal Theory may not be novel at all, in the sense that one could find similar non-Catholic justifications for the same policy decisions. But this is not the same as proving Catholic legal theory is useless or dangerous. First of all, noting that a given minority group concurs with a particular theory of justice or social order is useful information, even if they didn't think of it first. But beyond that, even if nobody else gets anything from it, CLT is important and useful for Catholics. It's a good thing when people who have a strong set of social commitments grapple with the implications of those commitments critically, rather than blithely asserting "well, I'm Catholic so of course I believe that..."

Call this the "it's not all about you" response. If Catholics can find a deeper and more vigorous expression of their ideals through CLT, I'm not sure why that isn't an independent benefit even if it doesn't do a whit for the rest of us. And even if they could find these new perspectives from other sources, there are definite advantages from seeing the arguments develop inside the faith. As Tommie Shelby notes "The transformation of...the political consciousness of any more likely to come about if the new vision can be comprehended as an extension of, rather than a radical rupture with, traditional beliefs of the group." The vigorous debate and heterodoxy that CLT encourages is a boon. And by extension, it is good for outsiders to pay attention to these debates, so we can see the thought processes, values, and procedures that are leading to particular normative outcomes. In addition to allowing us to communicate better, it shows respect for the dignity of an alternative community and way of viewing the world--a must for anyone who seriously advocates post-modernism and pluralism.

II. Normative Strength
Dave also argues that there is no reason for a non-believer to give any additional weight to a "Catholic" perspective--either to accept it on those grounds, or reject on those grounds. That's all well and good (with the significant caveat that I think Catholic voices should get enhanced weight when talking about policies that impact them as Catholics, in a similar sense that we should give enhanced weight to racial minorities when discussing issues of racial hierarchy). However, the fact that the Catholic endorsement gives no additional metaphysical strength in no way impacts the usefulness of the theory, especially for post-modernists like Dave and I, because no theory can self-justify itself under an ahistorical and acontextual set of principles. The benefit of CLT isn't that it presents a worldview that is presumptively better than Liberalism or Communism or what have you, its that it presents another worldview which may be better than these things in a given context. It may shed light where other theories have blind-spots.

Of course, Catholicism likely does believe itself to be a capital-T truth--but that doesn't distinguish it from most secular philosophical schools. In an ideal world, perhaps people would abandon the fruitless search for foundations ("The Quest for Certainty", to use Dewey's words) and admit to contingency. But in the real world, the next best thing is a diverse array of capital-T truth candidates, all asserting their primacy. As long as they agree to live in harmonic pluralism, though, it doesn't really matter how they conceptualize themselves. The presence of several, even many, philosophical schools, each with their own contingent foundations, poses no threat to a post-modern view of philosophy, indeed, it is its very essence.

Meanwhile, anti-foundationalists like me can draw at will from this thousand-flower garden. The recognition that foundations are contingent does not mean that I reject any theory that has a foundation. This would be both fruitless and hypocritical. What it does mean is that I can take a given bundle of a priori normative commitments (say, the ones that undergird Catholicism, or Liberalism, or Marxism), and run with them awhile to see where they take me on a given topic. Sometimes they'll offer a useful solution, sometimes they won't. That's fine. But the people tilling the soil are what opens up these philosophical horizons. Hence, Catholic Legal Theory is not just dropping "Catholic" with a flourish over a secular structure. CLT allows us to examine the pragmatic upshot of following a particular set of values in a particular situation. And from a pragmatic perspective, if it works, why not go with it over any other equally contingent ideology?

So, to sum up. CLT has at least three independent benefits attached to it. First, it is useful when Catholics qua Catholics are implicated in the normative discussion (as in Church/State issues). Second, it is useful for Catholics, because it is qualitatively good for them to have frameworks for discussing a diverse array of issues within a value framework they already subscribe to (and by extension, the rest of us benefit from knowing the procedures this community uses to come to its own consensus'). Third, CLT elucidates the impacts of following a specific course in a specific context--important in a world where answers might not come from the usual sources and where we must look to a pluralistic community of many voices to find the best solution to vexing problems.

In the diverse garden of a post-modern world, surely there is room for the Catholic legal flower?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mirrors on Mirrors

Well, Senator Joe Lieberman has conceded the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont. He ran a closer race than expected down the stretch, but I guess the Democratic party really has no place for moderates any more.


Meanwhile Hank Johnson soundly defeated Representative Cynthia McKinney by a greater-than-expected margin. McKinney has yet to concede, but she's toast. I guess the Democratic party really has no room for its firebrand anti-war wing anymore.


Over in Michigan, conservative insurgent Tim Walberg has a 10 point lead with 67% of the votes counted over incumbent moderate representative Joe Schwarz [11:33 Eastern]. This race hasn't gotten as much attention as the other two, but I guess it's proof that the GOP is inhospitable to its moderate members nowadays.


Here's a piece to chew on for all the armchair pundits out there: Maybe, just maybe, these races were about the individual candidates--and not some Stalin-esque purge of the parties?

I don't know what goes in the mind of a GOP primary voter. But I think most Connecticut Democrats were voting against Joe not because he was pro-war, but because he started to become a shill for Bush foreign policy at a time when most Democrats and most independent observers believe that this policy is taking us to hell in a handbasket. As even Powerline noted, if you oppose the war, its nothing scandalous to vote against Lieberman (hell, I support the war and still would have been sorely tempted to cast a Lamont ballot).

As for McKinney, the votes against her are certainly not a repudiation of anti-war sentiments, or a desire to move closer to Bush. People vote against McKinney for the simple reason that she is nuts.

Food for thought.

Old News

Robert Araujo wonders if Catholic Legal Theory might have a novel solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Identifying "fear" (particularly "fear of difference"?) as the primary motivator of the conflict, he suggests that diplomats stress the intertwined destinies that Israelis and Arabs share, how strife for one means strife for all, and conversely how peace for one means peace for all.


Well, it might be a good approach, but I hardly think its novel. Not to be glib, but the idea that a foreign conflict might represent a prisoners dilemma--and that thus the route out lies in a restoration of trust--is not exactly a shocking revelation. As for the idea that focusing on the positives of mutual cooperation rather than mutual hate, didn't Golda Meir already comment several decades ago that "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us"?

I don't know who disputes that "fear" is a primary characteristic of the conflict. Palestinians and Arabs fear Jewish difference. Jews might also fear Arab difference, but far and away the deeper fear that Jews have is one of extermination. Even if you don't think that any Arab or Muslim state (i.e., Iran) poses a threat of destroying the Jewish state (a dismissal which I think would be fanciful and historically naive), the psychology of Israel is intricately centered around the centuries of hate, persecution, and murder that have haunted the Jewish people, culminating of course in the Holocaust. Israel reacts the way it does because, from their perspective, losing does not mean that it loses a sliver of territory or more land than they'd like. Losing means getting rounded up and shot, gassed, or otherwise slaughtered. This is the trauma you're dealing with.

Remember, no matter how powerful Israel gets, even it turns into the evil oppressor state that everyone likes to say it is already, it will never be an existential threat to Arab existence--likely not even Palestinian existence as long as Jordan is still around. As much as folks like to play with this myth of Jewish power, we have to keep in mind that we're dealing with a strip of land smaller than Vancouver, set inside a hostile region larger than Canada. Israeli weakness means the lives of a significant proportion of global population Jews are in jeopardy--and indirectly, we all are threatened because Israel is the one place we can run to if anti-Semitism spikes again elsewhere. This is why Israel's existence as a Jewish state is so critical. Given the sad propensity of other people to kill us at random and bloody intervals, we need the safeguard.

But I digress. If Professor Araujo wants to deal with the fear, he has to start there well before he gets into fear of "difference." Convince Jews that--rhetoric of Hezbollah, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority notwithstanding--them there folks aren't harboring ambitions to kill us off brutally and without mercy. If he could pull that off, then maybe I'd concede that we'd have a novel breakthrough.

Primary Colors

So, as the primary season heats up, all eyes are on what direction Democratic voters wish to take their party. In the middle of one of the most liberal districts in the country, the incumbent, viewed as a bold truth-sayer by some but as an out-of-touch embarrassment by many in the party, battles against a relatively unknown upstart who is capitalizing on his opponent's controversial stands to try and pull of the upset.

So, the news media and blogosphere descends down to determine the answer to one question: Will Hank Johnson defeat Cynthia McKinney in the Georgia 4th?

Oh, that wasn't the race you were thinking about? My apologies. You were obsessing over that other contest. The one in New England, where a moderate incumbent, well-known for his bipartisan leanings and willingness to break with his own party orthodoxy on a variety of hot-button issues. Unlike in Georgia, the challenger here represents the more radical edge of his party. And political observers have to ask: Is there room for moderates in a party increasingly defined by polarization, extremism, and blind hatred for the other side?

Yes, we all sit on the edge of our seats to see whether or not Steve Laffey can topple Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee.

Still wrong? Oh dear.

Well, fortunately, we all have the riveting, unreplicable, unheard-of, absolutely singular Lieberman/Lamont race to pay attention to.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Casual Speak

Larry Solum offers a partial dissent from the inimitable Belle Lettre, who argues that blogs show the degree to which being a serious scholar and a public intellectual can merge.

Solum argues that
there are real tensions between blogging for public consumption and scholarship. If I might be allowed a controversial assertion, I simply don't believe that it is always the case that a serious idea can be translated into a sound bite, an op/ed, or a 200 word blog post. This isn't to deny that it is sometimes possible to bridge the gap between the world of serious ideas and the world of public political debate. Not just sometimes, frequently, often, lots of the time. But reaching for the broad audience creates a set of temptations, distractions, extrinsic rewards. Blogging for wide public consumption can focus the mind on hit counts, mentions in the media, and all the rest.

Instead, he finds the real value of blogs in there ability to narrowcast--that is, be very specific and very intellectual within a very particular sub-field. The idea is that folks reading Sentencing Law and Policy are probably not random members of the public--they're serious people interested in that particular subject. Blogging greatly expands the resources for those of us who want to delve deeper into an esoteric subject. But there is no reason to assume that blogging will make the subject any less esoteric.

I'm not sure I agree entirely, however. Certainly, the idea that certain topics are too complex to be distilled down to soundbites is one I concur with (and have ranted on before). And I'd like to think that this blog deals with complex subjects in an appropriate and sophisticated manner. However, one of the key advantages of blogging is that the norms of the medium differ significantly from academic scholarship. I write in a much more relaxed and casual manner on a blog than I do when writing an official research paper. Being introduced to a subject through the lens of a jargon-laden 60 page article with 500 footnotes is very intimidating. But there is pressure, I believe, to write in a suitably dense form if one is writing for academia. One would not expect an article in a reputable scholarly journal to look like an elongated blog post. And, with some exceptions, most blog posts do not look like bite-sized law review articles. Presumably, this form might make some difficult topics more accessible to the general public than was previously possible.

Footnote 13

From Kenji Yoshino's The City and the Poet, 114 Yale L.J. 1835, 1837 n.13, a citation to the following:
Robert Weisberg, The Law-Literature Enterprise, 1 Yale J.L. & Human. 1, 1 (1988).

How often do you see a citation to the very first page of the very first volume of a legal periodical?

It tickled me.