Saturday, August 01, 2009

White People and Their Conspiracy Theories

There are, in America, a certain number of African-Americans who believe conspiracy theories about the AIDS virus. It's not a majority by any stretch, but it is a not insignificant amount and something that has real and serious damaging effects on matters of public health and keeping our most vulnerable populations safe from disease.

Polling data which seems to show a measurable amount of Black support for such conspiracies are often trotted out as proof of their inferior status as politically rational creatures. But White people have their conspiracies too, and I highly suspect we'll be seeing the same standard applied. Dave Weigel number crunched a recent poll indicating that possibly over 70% of Southern Whites harbor doubts about Barack Obama's citizenship. That's an unbelievably huge number for something that by all rights should be in "we didn't land on the moon" territory.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Senator Dodd Diagnosed with Cancer

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), already embroiled in a tough fight for reelection, is now gearing up for an even more difficult battle: Prostate cancer. Dodd says he has no intention of resigning and intends to continue his campaign to hold his seat in 2010.

I like Dodd a lot -- I think he's a very gifted progressive voice in the Senate (albeit sometimes a flawed one). But of course, the most important thing is his health, and I wish him well whatever he decides for his future.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince Review

No major spoilers, but I didn't really work to hide what's going on

I went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince last night, in 3-D. Let's start with the 3-D part -- it's a bit of a rip-off. It's cool for as long as it lasts, but only the first 20 minutes of the movie or so are shown in the extra dimension. Lame.

The movie itself I liked -- not surprising, since I thought Book Six was one of the highlights of the series. But even one of my friends who said he thought the book was one of his least favorites (he said the least, until I reminded him of the 5th installment: "Harry Potter and the Post-Pubescent Angst") thought the movie was one of the better ones out there.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince begins with HP getting royally cock-blocked by Albus Dumbledore. This theme (teenage romance and cock-blocking) will reappear as a side-plot throughout the film, and it is a solid if not spectacular presentation. Hermione enslaving a flock of birds and sending them on kamikaze runs against Ron was a highlight. On the other hand, when Ginny finally decided to hook up with Harry in the Room of Requirement, I really wanted it to transform into a 70s-style love nest. Kids need to mack, god dammit!

The main portion of the movie was done quite well. Alan Rickman as Snape was brilliant, as always, and I continue to be a fan of Helena Bonham Carter's portrayal of Bellatrix Lestrange. The three main characters can't compete at that level, but they have all blossomed into at least passable actors, and that's a good thing (and, for those of us who remember Sorcerer's Stone-era Daniel Radcliffe, a surprising one as well). The movie's vibe really felt like the Lord of the Rings at times, and I mean that in a good way (Jim Broadbent's uncanny resemblance, in my view, to Bilbo Baggins may have contributed to this). Compared to the Order of the Phoenix, I think the director did an excellent job making the minor tweaks to really make things shine. Luna Lovegood's character was a joy to watch (I didn't feel like she was overdone like last time), and the magical scenes no longer had the feel of Final Fantasy boss battle. The fact that the plot didn't require the main characters to be annoying and angsty was a great benefit, and the movie had an overall lighter tone that was greatly appreciated. And there finally was an indication that maybe adults are better at magic than Harry Potter is -- watching Harry's spells get impetuously swatted aside by superior wizards was a great highlight.

The climatic scene (you know the one I mean) was a bit of a letdown, though it was operating under some heavy constraints given the nature of a book-to-movie adaptation. It just didn't have the punch I'd have expected out of it. Malfoy was pretty flat throughout the movie (though he seemed to have gotten the number of Voldemort's extremely snappy tailor). Indeed, I'd say the movie fizzled a little bit at the end, though not enough to take away from an overall enjoyable experience.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes Sir

I find this story about Black families teaching their children (generally sons) how to relate to the police unbelievably depressing.

It's not that I have license to be rude to cops whereas Black people do not. I don't recall ever being told how to talk to a cop; I assume I'd try to relate to them the same as I do to any other authority figure (quite deferentially -- I'm actually extremely conflict-averse). But it wasn't an "issue" for me. There was never any sentiment that this might be a problem. By contrast, these families are talking as if they see the police as a double-edged sword. Of course they recognize that cops are necessary for safety and protecting their well-being. But they also see them as a potential source of threat, and that's a scary situation to be in. And the further down the totem pole you go, the worse it gets: it the toughest neighborhoods in America, residents have been known to describe the police as "just another gang" they have to deal with.

Practical Solutions

Check out this event being held at the National Conference for the Australian Labor Party this year:
Labor Party and union members in Australia, looking for progressive solutions to support peace, justice and reconciliation for Palestine and Israel , will hold a break through Fringe Event at the 2009 National Conference of the Australian Labor Party in Sydney later this month.

The event is being sponsored by the Australian Workers’ Union with the support of the Maritime Union of Australia.

Ambassador Izzat Abdulhadi, the head of the Palestinian general delegation in Canberra, will be a key speaker at the ALP Fringe Event.

The ALP Fringe Event is being held at the Australian National Maritime Museum theatre on Thursday July 30, 2009, at 5.30pm.

It is open to all National Conference delegates, ALP members and supporters.

The National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, Paul Howes will chair the panel discussion at the Fringe Event, which brings together, for the first time, key agenda setters in this debate in Australia.

Paul Howes, as a founding Executive member of Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), is looking for constructive alternatives to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which has undermined trust building between unions on both sides of the Green Line.

This event – which is expected to attract a huge and diverse crowd – will be opened by Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.

The MUA leader will show a short video, produced by the International Transport Workers Federation, about a joint Palestine-Israel trade union project bringing together Palestinian and Israeli transport union leaders.

This is a pace setting example of co-operation between the two national union centres – other projects involving Israeli and Palestinian construction unions are now under active discussion.
Panel participants

The panel discussion will involve:

* Ambassador Izzat Abdul Hadi, head of the Palestinian general delegation in Canberra

* Robert Goot, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry

* Michael Danby, Federal Labor MP and an active member of Parliamentary Friends of Israel

* Janelle Saffin, Federal Labor MP and an active member of Parliamentary Friends of Palestine
After questions from the floor Mike Salah, current president of the Australian Palestinian Professionals Association (APPA ), will make some comments about the way forward for activists in the Australian labour movement, from an Australian-Palestinian perspective.

Isn't this great? Joint Jewish/Palestinian participation. A genuine commitment to dialogue. A focus on practical efforts to secure peace and reconciliation.

What a fabulous event. Great kudos to both the ALP and TULIP, and all other supporting bodies, for helping put it together.

Slay the Adorable Woodland Creatures

This list of The 17 Least Appropriate Playmobil Sets for Children may be one of the greatest things ever created.

Quote of the Morning

"We are all Expressionists part of the time. Sometimes we just want to scream loudly at injustice, or to stand up and be counted. These are noble motives, but any serious revolutionist must often deprive himself of the pleasures of self-expression. He must judge his actions by their ultimate effects on institutions."

--Herbert A. Simon, Models of My Life (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 281.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unintentional Irony Department

In the course of a sustained attack on J Street and Barack Obama, Jonathan Mark has this to say about the latter's continued Jewish support: "On the left, and on the right, having plenty of Jewish supporters doesn’t always equate to being on the right side of history." This presumably is the first time the New York Jewish Week has warned against listening to Jewish opinions.

The rest of the piece compares Obama to Shabbtai Tzvi, Lenin, and the Golden Calf (really). As for J Street, they come under fire for not being huge fans of the Christian Zionist movement, who we all know just have the Jews' best interests at heart (see also Mr. Kirchick). One doesn't have to believe that John Hagee is really thinking eschatologically when supporting Israel to think that his brand of support is an awful, awful idea. If you think (as I do) that the settlements are both a) an impingement on Palestinian rights and b) an existential threat to Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state, then someone encouraging them to continue shooting up cocaine building as they see fit would be accurately described as "unhelpful".

I have to say, I'm heartened by the generally poor quality of the anti-J Street opposition. With enemies like this, who needs friends?

The Day in Review

I found out yesterday that I will spend next year locked in a box, never seeing my roommates or my girlfriend again. Yes, I made law review! Exciting news, for the next several days at least. Then I actually have to do it.

* * *

Colin Powell speaks on Sarah Palin, Henry Louis Gates, and racial profiling.

Jeffrey Goldberg and Michael Oren continue their dialogue on (among other things) the settlements.

The Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade is not thrilled at its portrayal in "Bruno".

This Ta-Nehisi Coates post on Vernon Forrest's death really struck a chord with me. I think we're all different people if we think our kids are threatened.

Venezuela is awfully thin-skinned for a country whose leader once called the US President "the devil".

Beatty Chadwick is free!

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is retiring -- bad news for Dems who saw him as a juicy target.

That's all I got for you. Quiet day today.

Monday, July 27, 2009


So a San Francisco Jewish Film Festival wanted to screen a copy of the documentary Rachel, about the life and death of International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie. Which was fine. But they also wanted to Corrie's mother, who runs the Rachel Corrie Foundation in continuation of her daughter's politics regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to speak at the event. And some members of the local Jewish community were upset at this. Which was in turn condemned as muzzling and "Jews censoring Jews". The latter charge seems to be false, as the documentary (directed by a French-Israeli Jew) was never contested, and the Corries are not Jewish. So it really was "Jews censoring non-Jews", or perhaps, a teensy-bit less inflaming, "Jews determining the contours of the discussion in their own communities." As Matt puts it:
Although Jewish Voice for Peace, which runs Muzzlewatch, claims to take antisemitism seriously, the truth is, they only sometimes do. (They did, however, stop allowing comments when they were attracting a great deal of antisemitism they couldn't ignore. They do not seem to have considered how they contributed to that.) They don't consider, for instance, that concerns about antisemitism genuinely ought to limit the scope of debate in a great many ways in order to ensure that discussion is less hurtful and more productive. Or, rather, they claim the sole right to determine when the discussion is hurtful or productive. For them, other Jews do not have a right to say "I find that antisemitic." To do so would be "muzzling."

He then notes the long pedigree of the "muzzling" charge as a tool in the hands of anti-Semites to attack the Jewish community and insure our pliancy to external agendas.

In any event, Corrie showed up, the film was shown, and a crowd filled with IJAN activists booed and shouted down any pro-Israel opinions expressed. So I guess everything worked out for the best.

As for Corrie herself, Matt has this to say:
Upfront: every time I've come across the name Rachel Corrie, it's been about how evil I, personally, am. It's never been part of a real discussion of Israeli policy. Instead, I've been called to denounce Jews who support Israel's existence (for very good and real reasons I share) as evil and racist. Often enough, with the suggestion that I'm to blame for antisemitism because I won't. (And there's something, frankly, creepy about the way in which Palestinian supporters use Corrie's whiteness.) So, every time her name comes up, I have a Pavlovian reaction of ducking my head as if I were about to be hit. I find it threatening. And silencing, as well as simply not productive.

I wouldn't say my response is quite that visceral, but the associations I have aren't positive. The first time I went onto the foundation's website, it had a "resources" section on Jews (since, apparently, taken down -- or at least I can't find it anymore) divided into two portions.

The first, which I think was compiled by the foundation staffers, had Jews laying out anti-Zionist positions. Which is fine, as far as it goes -- Jews have the right to stake out minority positions. But I always get annoyed when such positions are represented as that of "Jews", because (as even the authors would likely recognize), their views are not representative. Dialoguing with the Jewish community means talking with all of us, not the pre-selected preferred slice of it. Whenever I see folks arguing in this vein -- hyper-promoting a tiny fringe of the Jewish community as being the authentic ones, I see folks uninterested in actual communication.

The second section, though, which I think was filled in automatically by Amazon, was comprised of viciously anti-Semitic hate propaganda -- "How Jews Control the World" type titles. I can't link, because as I said the entire page seems to have been taken off the website -- a decision for which I credit the foundation. But that was my first experience with them as a group. And even now, their materials indicate they have an alignment on the conflict that is not, in my view, particularly productive. No mention of One Voice; haughty dismissal of Israel's right to exist as a legitimate issue of concern ("a canard to avoid bilateral negotiations"). It isn't interested in facilitating understanding -- it assumes it already understands all there is to know, and all that is left is application. It is a mistake I've made -- everybody's made -- but it doesn't make it any less of a mistake.

There are, of course, members of the left-leaning Jewish community who are sympathetic to the Corrie's, such as this leader of "Rabbis for Human Rights". They also have their detractors, such as this leader of "Rabbis for Human Rights". Even the left is split -- the rest of the community, I know, finds them to be unrelentingly hostile. Which goes back to Matt's point. All communities have the right to police their conversations (I mean this socially, not governmentally) to determine what is productive and what is not. This is a right that must be exercised very judiciously applied internal to the community (which is why this Jewish filmmaker's movie rightfully was screened). There is considerably more leeway when talking about non-Jews like Ms. Corrie. I am extremely skeptical that her presence improves the quality of our internal dialogue or pushes the community towards peace.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jesus Christ

Mark Tapscott wants Joe Biden to apologize for "using Christ's name as a curse word." Here's Biden's line:
I can see Putin sitting in Moscow saying, 'Jesus Christ, Iran gets the nuclear weapon, who goes first?' Moscow, not Washington.”

Sounds pretty tame to me -- I feel like millions of Americans use this interjection on a pretty regular basis. But Tapscott has got the vapors pretty bad -- something about how we'd never be this insensitive if it were Muslims (of course, when it is Muslims, Tapscott and his buddies start wailing about how touchy they are and whether they've heard of free speech), Christians are ignored, Biden is a dunce (a gaffe-machine, sure, but a dunce?), etc.. Blech. There is nothing more annoying than a manufactured outrage machine.

UPDATE: Tapscott doubles down, now calling Biden's remarks "hate speech". I don't know what's more hilarious -- Tapscott's claim that if Biden used "Jesus Christ" like "hell" or "damn", he should apologize (because every time I use those words, I certainly do), or his obvious frustration that no major Christian denomination has chosen to make an issue out of this. Tapscott takes that as a sign of their emaciated nature; I take it as one that they aren't run by lunatics.