Saturday, February 03, 2007

Palestine's Civil War

The brutal civil war between Hamas and Fatah continues to rage throughout Palestine, as several attempts at creating a cease-fire have collapsed.

From a humanitarian standpoint, obviously I want the violence to end. There has been too much bloodshed in this region even without this latest conflagration, the last thing we need is more gunfire. But I'm not sure who has the leverage to stop it.

Israel potentially could intervene in some form (I'm not sure what), but is it clear they even want to? From a purely self-interested perspective, it could go either way. On the one hand, a destablizied Palestine is a Palestine that will not be able to make any progress towards a lasting peace with Israel. As long as this internal conflict festers, the peace process is on an indefinite hiatus, which is not good for the Jewish state. On the other hand, Israelis cannot help but notice that as long as Palestinians are shooting at each other, they're not shooting at Israelis. Indeed, one of the key lines media reports have brought out from the Palestinian street is people calling for an end to the civil war so they can concentrate on attacking the Zionists. It is unsurprising that Israel may not be too keen on assisting them in the process.

I don't know how much influence surrounding Arab states have on the Palestinian miltia groups. Maybe they can put a stop to the violence. Of course, even aside from Israel's interests in the matter, Seth Weinburger forwards that the conflict may be a textbook scenario of "Give war a chance". Maybe we just have to wait for the dispute to burn itself out (always a great strategy in Middle East conflicts).

Branching Out

I'm doing a radio show in a half hour. A music radio show (a friend of mine is tired, and wants me to stand in for him).

I'll try not to make it suck too much.

UPDATE: Here was my playlist, if you're interested.

1) Le Disko -- Shiny Toy Guns
2) Cosmopolitan -- Nine Black Alps
3) Stupify -- Disturbed
4) Animal I Have Become -- Three Days Grace
5) Blow Me Away -- Breaking Benjamin
6) Innervision -- System of a Down
7) Infected -- Bad Religion
8) We Still Kill the Old Way -- Lostprophets
9) The New Transmission -- Lostprophets
10) Bruises -- Unloco
11) Downfall -- Trust Company
12) Girl in a Box -- 76
13) Objects in Space -- 76

Friday, February 02, 2007

I Can Give Props

Virgil Goode announces he'd attend a Muslim gathering (if invited).

Good for him. If nothing else comes out of this controversy, hopefully it will be one Congressman broadening his horizons a little bit.

Reb of the Rings

In my Jewish Theology class today, we were talking about how Orthodox Jews "cheated" with regards to not turning on lights on Shabbat by having automatic timers. It was actually part of an interesting and substantive class discussion. Still, the only thing running through my sleep-deprived mind for the entire proceedings was a Gollum-voice going "tricksy Hobbitses...."

Fortuntately, I still had enough sense in me not to say that aloud (though I was sorely tempted). Even still, I imagine that this had something to do with my Professor's decision to "let us out early" (read: let us out only five minutes late) so we could go take naps (or, in my case, go to my next class).

It's mid-term break this weekend!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Turnabout (Part II)

Following up on yesterday's post, two things worthy of note. First, Dina Porat writes in Ha'aretz on "What makes an anti-Semite"?
"Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective.

Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for "why things go wrong." It is expressed in speech, writing, in visual forms. and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Porat gives some concrete examples of anti-Semitism as related to Israel:
* Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor

* Applying double standards by requiring Israel to behave in a manner not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation

* Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis

* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

I actually think Porat's definition is too narrow, and don't really encompass all of the examples that she gives (examples which I think should be included under any real definition of anti-Semitism).

Meanwhile, David Bernstein offers some historical perspective on Jews "turning against themselves," noting that being particularly aggressive towards Jewish symbols and institutions can be a way for Jews wishing to incorporate themselves into organizations hostile to Judaism to prove their bona fides and disclaim any lingering loyalty to their community. The examples he gives are Jewish conversos in the Inquisition and ethnically Jewish party officials in the USSR. Today, leftist Jews may feel that attacking Israel is a "rite of passage," showing that they are truly part of the left-wing community (and--implicitly by extension--no longer wedded to the Jewish community).

Again, it's important to make a distinction here (and Bernstein does at the top) between "love it so change it" Jews, and Jews who seem appalled at the very existence of Israel, the latter being the topic of discussion.

Down with the Sickness

...and I'm Disturbed.

And with Mid-Winter Ball coming Saturday, a bit frustrated.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


A piece by Indiana Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld, entitled "'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" has been causing a bit of a stir in some circles, apparently. The argument is that certain Jews, through unjustifiably virulent and vicious criticism of Israel, are feeding into a larger climate of anti-Semitism and thus deserve to be condemned. These Jews are "proud to be ashamed to be Jewish." Unsurprisingly, some of its targets have cried foul, claiming that the piece is designed to stifle harsh criticism of Israel. Rosenfeld, for his part, carefully draws his line between legitimate and illegitimate criticism at the claim that Israel should not exist as a state (coupled with equally vitriolic assertions that Israel is committing "genocide" or other such hyperbole).

Tony Judt responded that "I don't know anyone in a respectable range of opinion who thinks Israel shouldn't exist," so perhaps the theoretical gap between the camps is not as far as it is made out to be. Nonetheless, Rosenfeld does identify several Jewish writers have had made just such a claim, so perhaps we could all unify in condemning them at least, no? As usual, the poles should be clear: There is criticism of Israel (from liberal or conservative positions) that is not anti-Semitic, and there is criticism of Israel that is anti-Semitic. Determining what is legitimate and what isn't may be a controversial endeavor, but it cannot happen unless those two end-points are conceded.

For my part, I first want to draw attention to the quotation marks around "progressive" in the title, of which I wholeheartedly approve of. The people who would ask for the suicide of my people, condone violence against us as Jews, who wish to recreate our exile and insure our perpetual state of marginalization, are not progressives. They have no right to appropriate the term, and I refuse to yield it to them. Their claim of the label is an insult to those of us truly committed to the goal of freedom and liberation, and makes a mockery of the ideals humankind should aspire to. This, again, does not include every critic of Israel. It does include those whose response to violence against Jews on behalf of "anti-Zionism" is a resounding "Who cares?"

On the same story, Matthew Yglesias attempts to argue making "extreme or over-the-top criticisms of Israel" is completely unrelated to anti-Semitism, because it conflates Jews-as-a-people with the state. This exhibits almost willful blindness about the manner in which anti-Israel politics and anti-Semitic politics interrelate. Sometimes, the link is direct, as when critics utilize anti-Semitic slurs or stereotypes in their diatribes. This would include both more explicit references (the despicable "what if Hitler had won" poster at the UN anti-racism conference), as well as subtler moves (talking about the Zionist-controlled media, or Jewish wealth and resources being the only reason it gets support). But moreover, I think there disproportionate attacks create an indirect (but still salient) link to anti-Semitism as well. As a commenter notes, since Israel is the only Jewish-run state, disproportionate attacks on Israel vis-a-vis much worse human violators around the world (Zimbabwe, Sudan, China, etc..) can be seen as powerful prima facia evidence of anti-Semitism. To borrow from race theory, saying that the world's only Jewish state is the most brutal, vicious regime on the planet as (among other things) the Darfuri death toll ticks towards a million is "unexplainable but by anti-Semitism." There is no other possible motivating factor for such prejudicial blindness.

Again, this not only strikes me as intuitive, but is an argument that should be familiar to liberals from the race relations context, which is why it is so aggravating to watch Yglesias and his friends be always the first to assure their leftist buddies that there's no anti-Semitism to see here, continue on as normal. If saying that Jews who support Zionism are exhibiting "collective insanity" is not anti-Semitic, what qualifies? What would cross Yglesias' line? This is why I made my Yglesias/Clarence Thomas comparison in the last post. Yglesias doesn't usually indulge directly in the type of over-the-top Israel condemnation I'd condemn, but what he's doing is enabling, pure and simple. I have no doubt that he wants to see nothing but the best things for Jews, and his actually policies on Israel are not, in themselves, objectionable. But his primary contribution to the debate recently has been to serve as cover for non-Jews who don't want to grapple with how anti-Semitism may be informing their opinions on the Jewish state. And thus, his capper sentence attacking Rosenfeld is bitter irony indeed, "The idea, basically, is to scare the goyim who figure that while liberal Jews can take the heat, they probably can't, and had best just avoid talking about the whole thing." Fortunately, Mr. Yglesias is there, so that the next generation of Christians who want to call Israel the 4th Reich can have a ready-made shield against anti-Semitism: "I read Jewish bloggers--I can't be anti-Semitic!" "I have Black friends, I can't be racist!"

Good for you. Good for you.

Who Cares About Federalism?

A little while back, there was a bit of a multi-blog debate on the issue of federalism and rights. The starting point was that many liberals today are skittish of federalism, mainly associating it with Jim Crow resistence to Civil Rights reforms. However, federalism defenders say that this is nothing inherent to federalism, but rather a historical happenstance, and it is quite easy to imagine a scenario where a state might try to experiment with increased protection of minority rights, only to be shut down by the federal government. I missed this discussion the first time it went around the blogosphere, but Ilya Somin gives me a chance to weigh on the topic, remarking on Paul Horwitz's post on the Mormon cases:
Americans tend to think of federalism as antithetical to minority rights because of the history of local minorities (such as African-Americans in the Jim Crow South) being oppressed by local majorities. Utah, however, represents an important case where a minority at the national level achieved majority status within one would-be state (Utah was still a territory when the Mormons first settled there) and tried to protect its values by controlling that state government. Their experiment was, of course, cut short by federal intervention that undercut the state's autonomy.

The problem here is that all this seems to prove to me is that I shouldn't really care about the federalism issue at all (or more accurately, should completely subsume it to the issue of rights protection). If minorities sometimes are treated more justly by a federalist system, and other times by a centralist system, then the moral I take is that there is no advantage to prioritizing either one. Instead, I'll be a federalist when that creates a more just system, and a centralist when that creates a more just system.

In other words, there is no way for me to circumvent the basic obligation, which is to support systems which treat people fairly, by running to the meta-structural debate, about where political power should rest. At the end of the day, if neither federal nor centralized systems can be said to be causally related to that goal, they lose their status as primary goals and instead become purely instrumental. Instrumental debates matter, of course, but the framework changes--since I'm affirmatively putting rights over power distribution, the entire federalism/centralism debate is contingent on the degree to which either will assist in the ultimate goal in a given situation. They are not free-existing standards anymore.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Guilt" and "Innocence"

Regarding the Duke Lacrosse Rape case, Kathleen Bergin reminds us some pertinent facts that have dropped out of the media narrative as the legal case for rape begins to fall apart:
(1) that team members called the two women "niggers" and "bitches"; (2) one threatened to rape them with a broomstick; (3) another spoke of hiring strippers in an e-mail sent the same night that threatened to kill "the bitches" and cut off their skin while he ejaculated in his "Duke-issued spandex;" and (4) one shouted to the victim as she left the team's big house, "Hey bitch, thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt." These facts are undisputed and highlight the sick and wretched depravity of this racialized episode.

The prevailing wisdom at the moment is that, at the very least, there is not enough evidence to garner a conviction in the case. And it is quite possible that a rape did not occur here. If that is true, then the defendants should be found not guilty.

But, as Bergin points out, that determination does not make them "innocent." Innocent of a particular crime, sure. But not "innocent." I can be spared all the talk about how folks lives have been ruined here.

Res Life Can Die

The following is an email I am seriously considering sending to ResLife.


Dear Room Draw (suitably abstracted),

The following email is somewhat overwrought, but be assured that my anger is quite genuine and is very much directed at the people whose policy decisions I blame for the current state of affairs.

A great "Family Guy" episode once showed two Jewish slaves in Egypt conversing. One tried to cheer the other up: "Think of it this way: Every group of people has to go through some tough times. But us Jews are getting ours out of the way early. From here on out, it's going to be smooth sailing!"

Being Jewish, I had much the same thoughts my Freshman year, when my draw number was a catastrophic third from the bottom. I consoled myself by realizing that, surely, my misfortune would be counterbalanced in the years to come. Unfortunately, three straight years of having draw numbers above 350 have disillusioned me of any hope in justice and instead made me an embittered shell of a man. Tragically, the fact that these numbers are randomly generated offers no solace to those of us who are the victim of statistical clustering. And so we curse to the heavens, destitute in the knowledge that our pleas for justice will go unheeded, and that the fates laugh cruelly from impenetrable towers.

Knowing full well that room draw is a stressful time for Carleton students of all years, there should be some effort to attempt balance so that students who get screwed in year A don't continue to be at the bottom in years B and C. Obviously, someone needs to be at the top and others at the bottom, but a little bit of distributional justice is not too much to ask from this otherwise stern bastion of liberalism. We have many extraordinarily bright CS majors who I'm sure would be quite eager to create such an algorithim. It's absence can only be explained by bureaucratic apathy or outright sadism towards its charges, which currently lies at the root of my hatred for life and by extension those directly responsible for my impending exile to Musser.

Seriously--why me?

David Schraub, '08
494, 370something, 465


The numbers refer to order in class, so "465" means I'll be the 465th (out of 495) person in the class of '08 to draw for a room. So, I've been easily in the bottom 25th percentile (and often significantly worse) each and every year.

Seriously--I'm not sure I've ever been as upset at Carleton as I am right now.

Monday, January 29, 2007


A good article by Shmuley Boteach on "Shvartze", a Yiddish term referring to African-Americans. Literally, "Shvartze" is just the Yiddish word for "Black," but over the years it has acquired a negative and condescending connotation that makes it inappropriate for a people who should always be at the fore of the fight against racism. Boteach says that it is time to stamp out its usage in the Jewish community. Needless to say, I concur entirely.

My exposure to Yiddish is actually surprisingly limited (my very secular Jewish friend--you may have heard of her--has a far deeper Yiddish vocabulary than I do), so with the exception of a passing reference in Maus, I had never heard the term Shvartze. But to the extent that it is prevelant in some Jewish circles, it needs to be jettisoned. There is no reason to keep it, and plenty of reasons to abandon it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Captain Ed is outraged by the "sexism" of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her discussion of being the only women on the Supreme Court. Quoth Ginsburg:
Of herself and O'Connor, the court's first female justice, Ginsburg said: "We have very different backgrounds. We divide on a lot of important questions, but we have had the experience of growing up women and we have certain sensitivities that our male colleagues lack."

What's distressing about Ed's post is not just that he's misreading Ginsburg, it's that it seems to be willful. This is how Ed describes her comments
She then told the students that men lack the sensitivity than women bring to the bench....While decrying the supposed sexism that has left her isolated on the bench, Ginsburg wants law students to understand that one has to have two X chromosomes to understand the sensitivies [sic] of the law.

But that's not what Ginsburg said at all. She didn't say men were less "sensitive." Nor did she say that men could not "understand the sensitivities of the law." She said women possess certain sensitivities, by virtue of growing up as women, that men do not. For example, they would be more attuned to the impact of misogyny, because it is something that exists in their actual experience, rather than something studied as an abstract academic enterprise. That's a) an entirely different point than the one Ed tries to pin on Ginsburg, and b) one that's almost undeniably true.

But how does it relate to law? Ed doesn't think it does:
However, a jurist's job isn't to formulate or enforce policy; it's to render judgments based on the law. Especially at the level of the Supreme Court, "sensivitivities" shouldn't enter into decisions about the Constitutionality of a law or whether proper procedure was followed by a trial court. "Sensitivities" interfere with the dispassionate evaluation of whether the law was applied properly and whether it passes Constitutional muster.

Tragically, Ed is wrong. If a jurist is trying to determine, for example, whether sexual harassment was "pervasive" enough to violate anti-discrimination laws, or whether an abortion restriction constitutes an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose, these sensitivities become instrumental in being a well-informed jurist. Indeed, it is impossible to make a decision utilizing these standards without some degree of sensitivity to how policy/procedure X impacts litigant Y. That is the essence of the dispute before the Court, attempting to exile it from the sphere of law is exiling law from law. It makes legal decisionmaking completely incoherent, and utterly demolishes the principle that cases should be decided as cases.

The legal formulas outlined above directly ask for the material impacts a given laws or actions have on a woman's ability to interact freely and equally in American society. It's not that men cannot fathom that impact, it's that their experience is--at best--second hand rather than immediate. Never having experienced pervasive misogyny, a male jurist may simply miscalculate the degree to which it is debilitating and prevents equal standing (and that miscalculation means that the jurist will likely just get the decision wrong). This risk is greatly magnified when there is nobody on the Court who can speak to the actual rather than the abstract. Having a female voice on the court substantiates previously abstract concerns and thus leads to more information and better decisions by all the justices. Justice Ginsburg's argument isn't that women judge better than men. It's that gender-diversified judiciaries judge better than single-sex (in this case, patriarachal) judiciaries.

It's worth noting that when this experience-based theorizing gets brought into legal spheres, people start gasping about how it isn't real law.
Is it possible that such "sensitivities" would inhibit women, making them less objective in the practice of judging cases?....Women may bring distinct gifts into the public sphere, but there is a time to cherish the differences and a time to stick to the rules so that we don't corrupt them. Ruth may be a marvelous mother and grandmother, but her ovaries have to be kept in check on the Bench so that the law remains the law. If she wanted to live by her "senses," then perhaps a different vocation should have been pursued.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What is being missed here is that the mascaline "professional" voice isn't more "objective," it's just different. And as noted above, the lack of direct experience by men, without countervailing checks, leads to bad decisions as a matter of law in cases where the jurist needs to gauge how the law impacts women qua women to determine if a constitutional or statutory bar has breached. I've noted in other contexts that taking a "sympathetic approach" to law can sometimes lead to better decisions under almost any barometer, while still being completely "legal" in every meaningful sense. Ironically, while purporting to argue against female supremacism, what this piece actually forwards is that masculine views of law are superior by virtue of their masculinity. This should be troublesome.

Incidentally, the reverse is also true--if a legal question specifically and disproportionately impacts men qua men, it is important to have a male perspective to make the most accurate decision possible (I'm think castration cases, maybe?). But a) these cases are rarer, and b) in any event, we don't suffer from a shortage of male judges.

D'Souza Plays Defense

Dinesh D'Souza, author of the appalling "Enemy at Home," is forced to play some defense in the Washington Post. For those of you who don't know, D'Souza's book blames the American Left for 9/11, saying that our liberal policies on abortion and homosexuality are what offends the Muslim world, and that we should thus make common cause with traditional Muslims on these issues to drive a wedge between them and the radicals. In other words, if the problem is that we have too much freedom, the answer is capitulation.

It's worth noting that he seems intent on pinning the whole controversy on the usual liberal suspects, when my impression is that even some conservatives have piped up to say D'Souza crossed the line. Even still, what's noteworthy is that he really can't escape the upshot of his argument: that we're being attacked because we actually respect freedom and the civil liberties of our citizens:
Contrary to the common liberal view, I don't believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) [And liberals don't say their are--what drugs is he on here? --ed] He isn't upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn't all about Israel. (Why hasn't al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality -- and that the United States is leading that attack.

Contrary to President Bush's view, they don't hate us for our freedom, either. Rather, they hate us for how we use our freedom. When Planned Parenthood International opens clinics in non-Western countries and dispenses contraceptives to unmarried girls, many see it as an assault on prevailing religious and traditional values. When human rights groups use their interpretation of international law to pressure non-Western countries to overturn laws against abortion or to liberalize laws regarding homosexuality, the traditional sensibilities of many of the world's people are violated.

So....yes. Problem: When the US tries to act like the beacon of liberty we were founded to be, there is a backlash. Solution: Stop supporting liberty. D'Souza can twist and turn all he wants, but that is the nut of his thesis.
Even as the cultural left accuses Bush of imperialism in invading Iraq, it deflects attention from its own cultural imperialism aimed at secularizing Muslim society and undermining its patriarchal and traditional values.

Undermining patriarchy? Say it ain't so! Again, the argument from D'Souza is clear: America's conception of liberty (including, we now know, opposition to patriarchy) is exported around the world. Traditional Muslims don't like this. Hence, the US needs to reassert patriarchal values here. I.e., capitulate.

When D'Souza says that Muslims don't hate us for our freedoms, he may be right. But one thing is clear: D'Souza does hate us for our freedoms. And his book is a not-so-subtle call for eliminating them.