Saturday, April 18, 2009

...And We're Back to 1990

Bibi Netanyahu says no negotiations without recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinian leaders of all stripes say absolutely not. Well, in so many words -- words like: "This demand illustrates the racist nature of Israel". And
"No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state," [Palestinian adviser] Omar al-Ghul stressed. "The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians owners of the land and the Jews living there."

Subtle rhetoric on that one. And:
"Netanyahu wants to replace the Palestinian kaffiyeh with a Jewish kippa," [Hafez] Barghouti said. "This is an irrational and absurd request. No country in the world has ever demanded that it be recognized on the basis of its religion and not political entity."

And finally, Hamas jumps in by saying that accepting the demand was tantamount to legitimizing the "radical terrorist Zionist entity."

So, basically, we're back where we started. The Israeli government won't recognize a Palestinian state. The Palestinian government won't recognize a Jewish state.

Fantabulous. Well, time for more fruitless killing each other.

Watch On

From a review of Why We Watched, Theodore S. Hamerow's new book on why American Jews were relatively silent during the Holocaust:
After America declared war on Germany, the Jews' caution became even stronger. They had to convince their neighbors that this was not "a Jewish war." Jews felt vulnerable, exposed to the Big Lie that they wanted the war as part of a secret plot for world domination.

Endangering the lives of Allied soldiers would spread anti-Semitism still further. The war was to be won quickly, and the war effort was everyone's concern. It was only within this framework that America's Jews could offer their European brothers any assistance. This was done, but with very limited success. Many efforts failed. One attempt to send food to the Warsaw Ghetto succeeded only after the ghetto had been destroyed.

As the truth about the genocide became known, a resolution was introduced in Congress in November 1943 urging the creation of a commission "to formulate and execute a plan of immediate action designed to save the surviving people of Europe from execution at the hands of Nazi Germany." This failed after Karl Mundt of South Dakota expressed doubts as to whether a precedent could be established for "a single people."

The first paragraph really stuck with me. Anti-Semitism constrains Jewish political action in so many ways. The Holocaust is unique because it prevented Jews from stopping their own mass murder. But even on more mundane topics of foreign policy, I feel the pressure to step lightly, knowing that taking the "wrong" position becomes a data point for Jewish domination and hyperpower.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More Fun With Statutory Intent

Maryland may become the first state to make targeting homeless persons for violence into a hate crime under a bill headed to Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) desk. The fun part? The clause was added by Republican who was seeking to demonstrate that the whole idea of hate crimes laws is absurd.

Said's Encounter

Back in 2000, Edward Said wrote a piece in the LRB entitled My Encounter with Sartre. It's supposed to reveal Sartre's views on Zionism, but as Said indicates, the meeting he attended was not particularly illuminating regarding Sartre's thoughts. Nonetheless, it isn't really disputed that Sartre was a member of the pro-Zionist camp, and in any event the article is interesting for other reasons. It was interesting to read Said's descriptions of the event -- his reputation as a writer is not undeserved. And it was interesting to read how he described the women ("Beauvoir had been a serious disappointment, flouncing out of the room in a cloud of opinionated babble about Islam and the veiling of women. At the time I did not regret her absence; later I was convinced she would have livened things up.").

But most interesting, to me, came at the end, when Said tries to parse why Sartre identified as a Zionist:
For reasons that we still cannot know for certain, Sartre did indeed remain constant in his fundamental pro-Zionism. Whether that was because he was afraid of seeming anti-semitic, or because he felt guilt about the Holocaust, or because he allowed himself no deep appreciation of the Palestinians as victims of and fighters against Israel’s injustice, or for some other reason, I shall never know.

What is missing from this list? Answer: Sartre was pro-Zionist because he genuinely believed that Zionism was integral to the liberation of the Jew, and thus was entirely consonant with a broader progressive agenda.

I don't expect Prof. Said to agree with this evaluation, of course. But it does strike me as noteworthy that the concept didn't even occur to him.It is one thing to say "Zionism is unjust", it is quite another to say "it is inconceivable that someone might think that it is just -- and if they claim they do, they are masking their true motivations."

But this is a line of analysis I at least hear quite often. When a progressive person (particularly a Jew) is pro-Zionist, it is nearly always diagnosed as a pathology -- "John Doe is great on issues X, Y, Z ... kind of crazy on Israel though ....", where "crazy" is defined as "identifies as a Zionist." The cry goes up: "All my Jewish friends are so progressive on every other issue -- why are they so reactionary on Israel?" I know as a typical cloistered and provincial Jew that I'm grateful I can be guided back to the true path by bias-free Gentiles who truly understand what justice means. How ridiculous would it be to trust a Jew (or their mouthpieces) to talk about it?

There is no serious contemplation that anyone views Zionism as growing out of the same progressive commitments that caused them to adopt their positions on all other issues -- even though that is precisely how most Jews themselves conceptualize their position. Fundamentally, this is about waving away Jewish experience from the start, and seeking to replace it with externally imposed explanations that put us in our proper place. Perhaps this is why so much of the anti-Zionist rhetoric directed at Jews treats us a victims of some sort of mass communal psychosis. One would have thought the neurotic Jew would be cliche by now, but the alternative is that we actually have an argument here -- that Prof. Said and his ilk don't have a monopoly on the forces of light. For those invested in Manicheanism, this might be the most horrifying thought of all.

Said often indicated that he, more so than many of his fellow travelers, understood what motivated Jews who supported Israel and the experiences that made them Zionist (spend enough time at Columbia and you're going to run across a Jewish perspective or two). Everything I've read by him on the topic, though, betrays that Said fundamentally had no clue what makes Jews (or their supporters) tick on this issue. Sartre might have been Zionist out of fear, out of guilt, out of empathic failure. But because he actually thought Zionism was just? Impossible.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Weight Around My Neck

The Concurring Opinions blog is hosting a symposium on Danielle Cintron's ground-breaking paper Cyber Civil Rights, 89 B.U. L. Rev. 61 (2009). Prof. Cintron argues that certain kinds of online intimidation, defamation, threats and harassment -- often targeting marginalized groups such as women and people of color -- rises to the level of and ought to be treated as a civil rights violation. I highly encourage you to browse the CO site and read what a bevy of America's brightest law professors have to say on the topic.

I wanted to specifically flag this contribution by Kaimipono Wenger, however, which I think is particularly illuminating in explaining why these sorts of activities are a problem. One of the many things I learned from my basic statistics class was the concept of an "anchor". An anchor is a point of reference given to us when we are asked a quantitative question. So, for example, if I am asked "what's the average March temperature in San Francisco?" and then "do you think it is more or less than 70 degrees?" my answer is likely to be closer to 70 than if I been given no anchor at all. This is true even though the statement doesn't actually give me any true, relevant information.

Wenger first points out that the anchor effect still holds in seemingly absurd situations. In one study, the anchor was given via a wheel of numbers that was literally spun before the participant's eyes. In another, the anchor was something facially absurd: 558 degrees as SF's average temperature.

He then applies this logic to online intimidation even in situations where we might "rationally" tell the recipient that it is extremely unlikely they will actually be assaulted:
These and other similar tests show that the human mind is generally not capable of completely separating out and walling off information. Even if a person absolutely knows some piece of information to be false or to be irrelevant, it still enters into the total mix of information (to borrow a term from securities law) of her thought process.

This is why the rape and death threats are so insidious. They insert an extreme anchor value, intended to poison the total mix of information. Even if it is true that Kathy Sierra knows that these threats are bluster and hot air, they still enter the calculus for a host of very important questions (like “am I safe?”). And really, what could skew the calculus on those questions more than threats of rape and death? That is the reason why these attackers don’t simply say “I don’t like your argument.” That would be disagreement, but it would be in the normal expected range, and thus would not have the intense skewing effect of death threats. Death threats, on the other hand, are calculated to uniquely affect a person’s reaction, and behavioral studies tell us that they are likely to have some of that effect even if the target rationally knows that the threats are probably not serious. (The same may apply to other extreme anchoring speech; cf. Richard Delgado on racist speech.)

This of course raises the question of how to respond. There is a whole school of soft paternalism – Sunstein, Thaler, et al – who argue for a set of rules that subtly nudges people towards making better decisions. I would suggest that, in addition, hard paternalism may be required here. The damage done by the targeted extreme anchoring evident in Kathy Sierra death threats cannot simply be negated by saying "get over it" or "it's just bluster."

Fascinating article, fascinating research, fascinating analogy.

Treason Never Doth Prosper

But sometimes, it's happily ignored.

See, here's what I don't understand. It's been pointed out over and over again that the section of the country most likely to yell about "patriotism" also is the only one to have committed treason against the United States en masse. And now, the political party (not coincidentally based in that same region) which also was loudest about labeling activities, politicians, or speeches "anti-American" or "treasonous" is going around and putting secession on the table and implying "patriots" should shed the blood of the Obama administration. It's really hard for me to wrap my head around.

I want to say, incidentally, that I don't think any of these statements are "treason", since I don't believe that mere political advocacy alone is treasonous. In other words, there should be no prosecutions. It is true, though, that the advocacy if put into effect would be treasonous -- something, that incidentally, was not true of the instances where Democrats were accused of treason. It is not treason to successfully get the US to withdraw from Iraq (even "before the mission is done"); it is treason to attack a federal building to try and bring down the government.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

There's That Judeo-Christian Morality Again

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California has appointed its first woman and first lesbian as the head of its organization. And she's a prominent gay marriage supporter as well!

Holla! Or should I say, Challah!

Busy Day Roundup

Some had busier days than I did, but mine was busy enough.

A violent protest by left-wing students literally forced ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) to flee the stage during a speech he was scheduled to give at UNC. The Vice President of UNC's Hispanic society, who supported Tancredo's right to speak at the university, said afterward that "Ironically, the people that are trying to get our voices heard silenced us." (via).

Ah yes, Avigdor Lieberman sure knows how to talk to Arabs.

The progress on the Durban II draft resolution had made it a close call whether the US would participate or not. "Fortunately", it seems like the decision is going to get easier soon, as the latest drafts appear to be regressing.

Hamas is cracking down on Gaza's beggars, whom it accuses of being spies for Israel.

I really wonder if the NY GOP's challenge of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)'s ballot in the NY-26 special election will signal the turning point in the public perception of the GOP's voter suppression tactics. This was a high profile move, and Sen. Gillibrand is wildly popular in her old district. She is also not happy.

Matt Yglesias throws in the towel -- if Texas wants to secede, let 'em go.

Dana Goldstein reflects on her Jewish education (have I got a link for her!)

Can somebody Catholic explain to me why I'm supposed to find these nuns distressing? As best I can tell, it's because they don't wear habits and do get educations (the part where one reveals she just got a Ph.D. is in bold).

Southern Appeal also lists its top 10 worst Supreme Court decisions of all time. Dred Scott clocks in at 4th; needless to say, they consider Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey to be worse. At 10th is Plessy v. Ferguson "One of only two decisions from the 19th Century, when the Supreme Court generally had a clue as to what it was doing." Clearly so, given that virtually all their race-related jurisprudence this side of Strauder v. West Virginia was legal-flavored White supremacy. Oh, and Korematsu doesn't make the list.

Just Switch a Letter

I swear to God, if I ever become wealthy, I'm going to start a foundation that will take all the cancer research dollars and redirect it to figuring out a cure for cankers.

Three at once? WTF, mouth?

And.... It's Not Cute Anymore

Via dKos

Everybody Loses

NASA decided not to name its new space station module "Colbert", even though it was the top vote getter. But it also rejected "Serenity", despite a furious campaign by Firefly supporters which launched it into second place. "Serenity", unlike "Colbert", actually fits with NASA's theme.

The organization decided to choose "Tranquility" in the end, which they said placed in the "top 10" in its poll. That's true, in the sense that Tranquility placed eighth with 4,500 votes, whereas Serenity clocked in at 190,000 and Colbert received 230,500. Lame.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zionist Pawn

Headline in a South African paper: "Israel charges alleged Hezbollah 'spies'".

Body of article:
Cairo - Egypt's attorney general has added espionage to the charges against 49 alleged Hezbollah agents, in addition plotting to destabilize the country.

Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud told Egypt's state run news agency MENA late on Sunday that the alleged agents, including Lebanese, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese nationals, have been spying for a foreign group intending to carry out terrorist attacks in Egypt.

Presumably, the paper couldn't fathom that someone other than Israel might have a problem with the murderous terrorist sect.

Via It's Almost Supernatural.

Nullification Returns

Iowa Republicans simply want to ignore the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling striking down the gay marriage ban:

“If I have the opportunity to serve as your next governor,” Bob Vander Plaats told a crowd of about 350 people at a rally, “and if no leadership has been taken to that point, on my first day of office I will issue an executive order that puts a stay on same-sex marriages until the people of Iowa vote, and when we vote we can affirm and amend the Constitution.”
Co-founder of Everyday America, Bill Salier, told the crowd that state lawmakers need to thank the Supreme Court justices for their opinion but say it’s merely opinion and the law is still on the books.

Salier said: “(Lawmakers) can face down the court and say, ‘We passed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. You claim that it is stricken. And yet unless some magic eraser came down from the sky, it’s still in code.’”

Anyone who knows a pittance about legal doctrine knows this is flagrantly illegal. Whether that includes any Republicans is an open question.

Speaking of nullification, ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore -- who rose to prominence by attempting to defy the federal courts and keep his 10 Commandment monument on courthouse grounds -- may take another crack at Alabama's governor's mansion.

The Other Side of the Rubber

You know those pro-life arguments that always run "what if Einstein was aborted!" And of course, the flip side of it is, "what if Stalin was aborted?" It's a rather silly argument that doesn't go anywhere. Which makes this condom ad campaign showing sperm redesigned to look like Hitler, Mao, and other historical evil-doers, all the more bizarre. And let's be clear: it was pretty bizarre to begin with.

Hold Those Fireworks

The WaPo on the end to the Somali pirate standoff:
Three deft sniper shots ended a drama that appeared initially as another example of a muscle-bound U.S. military unable to adapt to today's unpredictable security threats. In the end, U.S. Special Operations Forces easily defeated lightly armed, untrained men in a battle that U.S. officials say will not end piracy.

I'm not sure I've ever seen more pessimism crammed into a paragraph nominally about a positive happenstance.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wow, Jews are Stingy!

I really had to flag a post (not a direct link -- not sending traffic their way), which comes from the feverishly anti-Semitic ... right? Left? I can't tell at this angle. It all blends together. Anyway.
... It doesn't take many grey cells to see that the US and Israel are up to some of their usual mischief in creating this pseudo-crisis about Somali pirates. When the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) held sway over Somalia, piracy had been virtually eradicated.
Add in the fact that Israel's ZIM Integrated Shipping Services is one of the world's largest maritime operators..... What's that? You don't know who ZIM is?

ZIM is one of the Israeli owned companies that hot footed it out of the WTC one week before the attacks, even agreeing to give up their $50,000 dollar deposit on their lease....

Can we say it more like Dr. Evil? $50,000. Now remember, we're talking about what is likely a billion dollar company. And we're expected to take the loss of $50,000 as a giant, billowing red flag. Hell, I bet these guys would have taken the failure of Jewish WTC employees to loot the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny tray as proof they were implicated in the attacks.

It'd be amusing if I didn't have to look over my shoulder in case these brownshirts ever rise to power.

Tactical Development

Back in January, I wrote a post advising that an area which desperately needs clarification is the development of moral guidelines pertaining the tactical and strategic prosecution of counter-insurgency operations. In light of that, I found this Ha'aretz article (via Yaacov Lozowick by way of Ignoblus) on Israel's Duvdevan unit very interesting. Duvdevan was formed specifically to engage in close-quarters operations to arrest or neutralize terrorist threats while minimizing the risk and harm to surrounding civilians. Several members of the unit received commendations in the wake of Operation Cast Lead for extraordinary efforts avoiding civilian casualties.

It may seem rather self-congratulatory to give awards for not killing civilians. But the instinct, I think, founders on an inaccurate view on the legal status of civilian deaths in wartime. It isn't illegal to kill civilians -- much the opposite, the law of war recognizes that civilian deaths happen without there being any legal liability. What is prohibited is the deliberate, reckless, or disproportionate killing of civilians. Consequently, there are presumably cases where it civilian casualties may have been justified, but additional risk, effort, or ingenuous maneuvers by the operatives managed to avoid them. This, needless, to say, is a good thing.

The efforts of the Duvdevan are important for another reason. As Mr. Lozowick notes, the question of how to avoid civilian casualties in these sorts of engagements while maintaining operational efficacy and efficiency is one that is not well developed -- Duvdevan have essentially been building their own models from scratch. But insofar as they are broadening our systems of knowledge in this area, they can actually change the norms of warfare itself. An military operation may be proportionate within one set of tactical constraints, but disproportionate in another where we've developed new ways of achieving the goal of the operation with reduced damaged or casualties. For those of us interesting in reducing overall stress and danger to non-combatants, developing these norms should be a top priority.

Balloon Truth

On that Somali pirate rescue, Balloon Juice speaks the truth here:
Maybe I am alone, but I hardly view this as a test of the President. Unless I am mistaken, all he had to do was sign off on rules of engagement and stay out of the way, and I don’t mean that to denigrate Obama, but because that really is all any President could do. We have a massive Navy with several hundred ships, highly trained professionals in the SEALS, highly trained professionals in the FBI and in the crews of the naval vessels tailing (and in one case towing) the raft, and you just need to let them do their job. This didn’t happen because heroic efforts by Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod in consultation with Obama produced a dashing plan a la the The West Wing. This happened because our very entrenched military and national security apparatus can handle little things like this without flinching.

And here:
Anyone who thinks that several most likely illiterate Somali thugs, armed with AK’s and probably geeked to high heaven on khat, decided to attack a flagged American container ship as a test because there is a perception that Obama is weak, is just a full-fledged idiot and should be institutionalized.

Evil Inc.

Suppose there is an organization: Let's call it Evil, Inc. Unsurprisingly, given the name, EI does evil things -- terrorist attacks, human trafficking, drug running -- the whole gamut. There is a mole inside Evil, "A". Wanting to throw his superiors off his trail, he implicates "C" -- another henchman -- as the mole, and C is taken away and brutally tortured and executed.

Question: Am I right to feel like this is unfair to C, or is my sense of fairness going hyperactive again? Does it matter what role C had to play in the organization (someone directly doing bad acts, a mid-level managerial bureaucrat, or a menial worker like a janitor)?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Syrian Envoy Prefers Lieberman

Syria's ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha, not only wants to press forward on regional peace talks, but says he prefers Avigdor Lieberman as a partner to Tzipi Livni:
"At least Lieberman is candid. He exactly says what he believes in. Tzipi Livni and her colleagues were talking all the time about their desire to make peace while committing the atrocity in Gaza or doing other similar things in the Palestinian territories."

I have three, contradictory, reactions to this. The first is to take it at face value: Lieberman can be a Nixon in China, and Israel's neighbors recognize this. The second is the cynical approach: Syria prefers Lieberman because Syria knows that it can play the good guy without actually taking the risks necessary for peace: no matter how intransigent they are in any negotiations, Lieberman makes for a better bad guy on the world stage.

And the third reaction is to simply not care about motives: anything that keeps parties talking is a good thing to hear.

Unlucky Eight

A Saudi judge has reaffirmed his previous ruling allowing the marriage of an eight-year old girl. The case had returned to him after an appellate court remanded the case. His reasoning was that the girl's mother, who brought the case on her daughter's behalf, had no standing to sue since she was not the girl's legal guardian (that would be the father, who arranged the marriage to settle a debt and is separated from his wife). The judge said that the girl herself could petition for divorce once she reached puberty, and in the mean time the man was forbidden to have sex with his "wife".