Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Miss All My Apps

I had to swap hard drives on the computer. That means reinstalling everything, getting Firefox to relearn my preferences, etc. etc. It also means my N scores are gone, which is unbelievably devastating to me. You have no idea.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Become Jewish

Nike's been running a fairly entertaining series of ads for its Air Jordan line of sneakers, under the tagline "become legendary". Basically, they show college hoops fans showing an irrational dislike of a name, place, or event due to its association with a heartbreaking defeat by their beloved fan. So a Texan at his daughter's sixth birthday party talks about how "it was a day he'd never forget" in a miserable monotone -- then cutting to clips from that day when Syracuse drubbed Texas to win the NCAA championship. Or a manager from Syracuse who says that none of the 600 employees at his manufacturing plant are named Ray ("no Raymonds either"), with a cut away to Ray Allen lighting up the Syracuse University Orangemen.

And I'm thinking, these are good ads. But the one I really want to see is the Kentucky town which converted en masse to Judaism in response to Christian Laettner's famous last-second fade away OT winner. That would be edgy advertising.

Israel to Investigate IDF Abuses

The Forward has the report. This comes on the heels of dogged media coverage by the Israeli paper Ha'aretz (see, e.g., here, here, and here). However, it is an open question as to whether the IDF has the institutional capacity to carry out a truly open and exhaustive investigation. Nonetheless, it is important to get the ball rolling, and it is a tribute to Israel's free press that this inquiry is even occurring in the first place.


In 2004, four years into the second intifada, two pessimistic predictions were published regarding the uprising's long-term implications. "I am certainly worried," said the first speaker. "Clearly, we are paying a price for this war. The officer's job is to protect the soldiers from their instincts, and explain to them the proper rules of behavior. Our problem is that the soldiers do not consider the problems while they are in uniform."

The second speaker shared his worry. "My greatest worry," he said, "is the loss of humanity due to the prolonged warfare."

The speakers? These are not two enemy-of-the-state journalists. The first speaker was then Chief of Staff (and current candidate for defense minister) Moshe Ya'alon. The other was his then-deputy, current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

See also: Jeffrey Goldberg.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sanford and Daughters

The only thing worse than being Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina who rejected unemployment stimulus aid, is being a Mark Sanford imitator. I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin.

Even after the delightful Zimbabwe comment,I still have some residual goodwill towards Mr. Sanford stemming from this campaign-season editorial. Ms. Palin, needless to say, has no such chits to cash in with me.

A Falk Statement

"Great cases, like hard cases, make bad law."
-- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk (yes, the one who questions whether the American government was complicit in 9/11) believes Israel's Gaza operation constituted war crimes of the "greatest magnitude".
"If it is not possible to [distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilian entities], then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law,"

I not only strongly suspect that this statement is wrong, but if it is descriptively true then it represents a very dangerous development in the laws of war, one which creates a massive incentive for armies to embed themselves inside civilian infrastructure. If the art of war, like the art of boxing, is to hit and not be hit, then why wouldn't a group like Hamas choose to embed itself inside a civilian location where it apparently would constitute the highest grade of war crime to fire back? Ultimately, Prof. Falk's rule represents the legalization of human shields.

Back when Prof. Falk was appointed as special rapporteur, international law professor Julien Ku slammed the pick, saying he is "basically unqualified to be a human rights investigator." The reason, Prof. Ku maintained, was that while Prof. Falk is undoubtedly a luminous figure in the theory of international law, his entire career has been that of an advocate -- someone who created and forwarded normative positions.
So Falk may be a well-known and influential scholar in his day, but none of this means he would be a very good investigator tasked with gathering complex and sometimes hotly contested facts in a highly dangerous and politicized environment and then applying legal norms to those facts in a credible and persuasive way.

And indeed, Israel's objection to Falk in the first place was that Falk had apparently prejudged it -- he already has happily chirped Nazi comparisons and casually throws out terms like "war crimes of the greatest magnitude" without any serious substantive investigation.

But here we're seeing something different. It is an advocate's trick: smuggling in what I take to be a significant positive change in the structure of the laws of war -- that when a defender utilizes civilian areas to shield military targets, the attacker is criminally responsible for the ensuing civilian casualties -- as the current state of the law. This would seem to be symptomatic of what Prof. Ku was talking about -- Prof. Falk continues to envision himself as a trailblazer rather than a fact-finder.

Perhaps the law of war should be changed to adopt Prof. Falk's stance. But one gets the feeling that, if the rule is adopted, it will not be because it has been interrogated and found to represent the most sensible rule of war, but rather it will be adopted because it vindicates the "correct" side. This is why I put the Holmes quote at the top of this post. A significant body of international law relevant to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict remains unsettled (Right of return, the interpretation of UN Res. 242, just war theory, and the right to gain territory through war, to name a few examples). For some time now, I have gotten the distinct feeling that these disputes are being "settled" with an eye towards vindicating as many Palestinian and/or Arab claims as possible. Sometimes, the resulting rules may make sense (I think the rule against gaining territory through warfare is reasonably sound), sometimes I may disagree with them (as I would with the above shift in burdens in urban warfare scenarios). But the point is that these decisions are not being made through dispassionate, legal processes. They are being settled in the context of a paradigmatic "great case" -- with all the social, legal, diplomatic, and moral pressures that entails. The ensuing structure of legal precedent forged under this weight will likely not find itself amenable to just or expedient resolution of conflicts.

Because of this, it is possible -- even likely -- that these rules will simply be ignored the next time the international community decides to wade into the war crimes arena. Israel/Palestine will hence become the Bush v. Gore of international law. But unlike the American judicial system, the international legal arena does not have the reservoir of trust and goodwill that would allow it to absorb the shock of such a case and still maintain a culture of independence and impartiality. Unless international law is going to continue to be a basically ad hoc imposition of global power politics clothed in legal jargon, this is not a positive development.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Metro Tales

On the way to Columbia Heights tonight, three young people (maybe a few years younger than me -- at least one said she was a college student) were carrying a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama. Well, that's not quite right: one was carrying it, and the other two were having trouble keeping their composure, as they thought it was hilarious. I thought it was nice. It got a lot of smiles from the other passengers, a lot of pointing and gawking and laughing and grinning. I liked that.

On the way back home, I transferred Green Line to Red Line at Gallery Place. Walking up the escalator, I noticed that the escalator let us out way at the end of the platform. "Not again," I thought. I then immediately realized that, obviously it happened "again" because the escalator doesn't move. It's going to let me out at that same spot on the platform, every single time I travel to Gallery Place.

Finally, on the car ride home, the radio was playing an advertisement for UMD's MBA program. "The top ranked" (wow!) "part-time" (alright) "MBA program in the region" (what counts as a "region"?). The vaguely British sounding announcer promised it would prepare students to meet the challenges facing "our nation, our world, and our planet". Which is amusing, since I'm pretty sure "world" and "planet" are the same thing, albeit evoking different angles (the former being more social and political, the latter more natural and environmental).

Canada's Siberia

Not to be cruel, but it seems quite meaningful that George W. Bush's first post-presidential appearance comes a) 8 weeks after left office, b) out of the country, and c) in Calgary, of all places. Was Yellowknife booked?

Still Seeing Red?

Apropos yesterday's post on the modifications to the Durban II text, the AP and AJC's Durban Dispatch list some of the "red lines" still remaining. There are apparently two major issues outstanding: first, the deletion of a Dutch proposal to have a clause banning discrimination on basis of sexual orientation, and second, the blanket reaffirmation of the Durban I declaration, which contains the demonization of Israel that sparked controversy in the first place.

On the former, I am of course very upset that anti-gay discrimination likely will not be addressed at this conference. It is testimony to the degree of homophobia present in the world that this is still an issue -- unfortunately, the areas of discrimination which are most pressing are also least likely to be addressed because they are supported by empowered nations. As to what our response should be, I think that is something that should be done with reference to the gay and lesbian community. Particularly if the conference engages in outright condemnation of gay rights (or legitimizes anti-gay bigotry), I think that would be just as deserving of a walkout as anti-Semitic bigotry warranted the last time around.

On the latter issue, I'm more ambivalent. The blanket reaffirmation strikes me as more boilerplate than anything, and doesn't seem like a hill worth dying on. That being said, I admit I don't know much about the mechanics of international declarations and diplomacy, and I can very much imagine folks saying things like "as was put in the Durban I declaration, overwhelmingly reaffirmed at Durban II, yadayadayada...." So I don't know enough to say.

Wholly aside from these issues, there still is the fact of the conference itself to worry about, and Charles Ettinson points out that there is little in the way of safeguards to prevent the organizers -- Libya, Cuba, and Iran among others -- from running amok once the event begins. So, again, even if all the pre-conference issues are resolved, it would be wise to remain wary.

Specter to Pull a Lieberman?

MyDD has the scoop on an intriguing possibilities. Now Republicans get to have the fun of mediating between a rabid and infuriated base and preserving a much-needed Senate seat!

The Winner and Champion

Congratulations to Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who just broke Patrick Roy's old NHL record for most career wins by a goalie:
Instead of hoisting the trophy, Brodeur took out a pair of scissors and cut the net.

"It's definitely harder than I thought," Brodeur quipped. "These basketball players, it's only a little net. This was a big net. I had help from a couple of my teammates."

Brodeur is almost indisputably the greatest goaltender in the history of professional hockey. He has the most wins (552), most wins in a single season (48), most total shutouts (118), second most regular season shutouts (100, three behind Terry Sawchuk), and second most playoff shutouts (22, one behind Patrick Roy). His career goals against average is 2.20, 10th all time. And he's still got some kick left in his career -- he'll probably top Sawchuk's record and almost definitely will top Roy for most playoff shutouts. Add three Stanley Cups, four Jennings Trophies, and four Vezina Trophies, and you've got a resume fit for a legend of the sport.

Congratulations to a true all time great.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Break Out Session

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (not to be confused with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) is announcing a full court press for Jewish-Muslim dialogue. Noting the efforts at rapprochement with the Catholic Church after Pope Benedict XVI's recent missteps, they say that while that relationship is important, the most opportunity avenue for dialogue is no longer Judeo-Christian but Judeo-Muslim.

So far, so good. But then we get to the concluding graf:

"The battle will be uphill, the struggle difficult, the discomfort inevitable, but Muslim leaders have the opportunity to echo the historic declaration of the Vatican's Nostra Aetate," [Rabbi Marc] Schneier said, referring to the Catholic Church's official repudiation of the age-old accusation of deicide against the Jews.

Two problems. First, this implies that the only purpose of Judeo-Muslim dialogue is for Muslim leaders to see the light and issue a declaration recanting past anti-Semitism. There is no indication that Jews, too, will have to make any concessions or indeed, have anything to learn at all.

Second, if the point of this article was to break beyond the strictures of Jewish-Catholic discourse, this is a really foolish statement. Unlike Catholics, there is no centralized Islamic religious hierarchy which could issue a statement like the Nostra Aetate -- or for that matter, one which is promulgating the sort of anti-Semitic ideology that required that proclamation in the first place. The dialogue between Jews and Muslims is going to be more akin to Jewish-Protestant dialogue, which recognizes the factionalism and decentralization of the parties and doesn't expect some broad statement of consensus at the end. Jews and Protestants continue to talk even though some Protestants continue to harbor extreme anti-Semitic views. Jews and Muslims will have to proceed in dialogue the same way. The decision on which particular persons and groups we talk to and which we ignore is, of course, up for discussion -- but it's not going to be that similar to how Jews and Catholics worked this endeavor.


The AP reports that the latest draft document of Durban II no longer singles Israel out for condemnation (no other country was mentioned specifically), and also has eliminated provisions which would make criticism of religion a human rights violation. The AJC has the new draft text, and it looks like this report is correct. The changes came after the EU threatened a mass boycott of the event. This now looks to have been averted -- the French Foreign Minister claimed that the changes mean the document no longer breaches EU "red lines".

This is excellent news, and I applaud the courage and conviction of the international actors who have hopefully made it possible for Durban II to focus on all the pressing issues of racism and intolerance that plague the global community. It was unfortunate that ultimately only a boycott threat could do what subtler diplomacy couldn't, but this was perhaps the most dramatic way for the EU and the rest of the west to indicate the seriousness of its position here. And I do hope that this shift means that the entire world -- Israel and America included -- can participate in this conference. Both Israel and America have much to learn and much to teach about questions of racism and intolerance. I'm not idealistic enough to believe that these conferences are anything remotely akin to a truly fair and deliberative environment -- but the symbolism matters.

There are, however, at least two potential avenues for concern remaining. The first is that the offending articles will be introduced during the conference as an ambush. Presumably if this happens, the groups that would have boycotted will simply walk out. The second is the behavior of NGOs at the conference. Much of the most offensive behavior at Durban I was done at the parallel NGO meeting. I'm not sure what role NGOs will play at Durban II, but given that the last time around they basically drove Jewish attendees off the grounds, it is worth keeping an eye on.

Still, fabulous job.

I Can't Believe This Change

AIGFP is now being headed by this guy:

Dead serious. Although I have to say, Che was never this effective at destroying capitalism.

Big Kid Win

Today, I completed all my errands (grocery shopping, buying an external hard drive, lunch, and taking my suits to the cleaners) in one trip. Not only that, but my parking space was roughly equidistant from each store, which made it a breeze to bring back each purchase to the car before going to the next destination.

It felt good. But it also worries me: is this what a "good day" is for adults? Because I do feel a little lame for being so happy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Loss Leaders

I think liberals and conservatives react differently to losing. When liberals lose, they tend to assume it's because they're too gosh-darned enlightened for the masses. Often, they get quite fatalistic: they'll never win because their opinions simply aren't that popular -- too progressive, too complicated, too fair-minded, too nuanced. As you press further to the left, this sentiment is amplified: the far left seems to revel in the moral superiority that only being part of a tiny fringe can provide. They barely even pretend to represent the masses, except by proxy (the vanguard of the revolution and all that).

By contrast, conservatives can't seem to even grasp the idea that they ever might be unpopular in a democratic system. The far right always viewed itself as being the silent (and silenced) majority warring against communism negro agitators political correctness. The more, er, mainstream right is no different. Take an example from this roundup of right-wing loons:
Edward Cline took a more someday-you'll-be-sorry approach, claiming that "Americans have come knocking on the doors of elitists or leaning over the café railings or invading their legislated smoke-free bars and restaurants to ask: What in hell do you think you are doing?"

That's funny, because I observed that Americans just put a man whom I'm told is basically a Marxist into office by astoundingly large margins. After spending the last year screaming that Barack Obama was liberal intellectual urban cosmopolitan elitism personified, you'd think his sweeping victory might give the right some pause. No dice -- they're still 100% positive the people are absolutely behind them. It's rather amazing to behold.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Modesty Patrol" Member Sentenced

An Israeli member of a "modesty patrol" was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of aggravated assault. He broke into the apartment of a formerly ultra-orthodox woman who the Haredi community felt was not living in accordance with their religious standards, and beat her until she required medical attention.

As I said, these men are Judaism's version of the Taliban. They are insolent thugs who deserve to be met with the full force of the law. This conviction is an excellent first step.

Bika Calls Out B-Hop -- But The Other Possibilities Sound Better

I'm a big Sakio Bika (27-3-2, 18 KOs) fan, but let's be real -- he'd got ripped to pieces if he gets his wish of a fight with Bernard Hopkins (49-5-1, 32 KOs). Bika might be tailor-made for Hopkins: He's a no-frills, tough as nails brawler (although his boxing skills have improved marginally recently) with a bit of a reputation for dirty fighting. Hopkins, by contrast, is equally tough, but a far wilier boxer and strategist who I don't think would have any trouble deciphering Bika.

Fortunately, this fight won't happen: Hopkins has bigger fish to fry with a possible matchup against Tomasz Adamek (37-1, 25 KOs) at Cruiserweight. But some of the other names Bika's folks mentioned in lieu of Hopkins pique my interest far more. Bika's promoters say that he's already been ducked by Anthony Mundine (35-3, 23 KOs) and Librado Andrade (27-2, 21 KOs). The Mundine fight could be massive in Australia (where both are based), and Bika/Andrade is a match-up I've wanted to see for a long time, since as far I can tell both are completely impervious to pain. I doubt that Bika/Hopkins would be a fight of the year candidate, as Bika's people claim. Bika/Andrade, on the other hand, I can very much imagine being in the mix.

Other names on the list include Carl Froch, Jermain Taylor, Mikkel Kessler, and Jeff Lacy. The winner (or, honestly, the loser) of Froch/Taylor would be an excellent and intriguing match-up between top 10 guys in the 168 pound division. Carl Froch (24-0, 19 KOs) has proven himself to be a solid and tremendously capable fighter. Jermain Taylor (28-2-1, 17 KOs) possesses unbelievable athletic gifts, but I would be very interested to see how he'd respond to Bika's strength and pressure.

Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KOs) would be a big challenge for Bika -- but Kessler has been awfully gun-shy about taking on a real live dog recently, and Bika certainly would qualify as one. As for Jeff Lacy (24-2, 17 KOs), while the former champ escaped with a 10 round decision against Peter Manfredo, Bika blasted him out in three. Lacy's clearly not the fighter he once was, but a win by Bika over "left hook" would still be the biggest name on his resume to date.

Bring any of 'em on, I say. I want to see Sakio Bika in the ring again, and soon.

Hop, Skip, and Jump

I'm going home tomorrow for spring break. The usual disclaimer about lack of posting is in effect.

This trip is a little different though. I'm going to be working in Chicago this summer, which means this will be my last time going "home" for more than a quick visit for, well, for at least some time. It's a bit difficult, to be honest. I'm very attached to the house I grew up in. But so it goes. And it's not like I'll never go back. Just less often. And for less time.