Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After Christmas

Instead of blogging today, I wrote emails! I was supposed to have a snowball fight, but Mother Nature conspired to melt all the snow. The sad.

The two, rather lengthy emails, were in response to this Andrew Sullivan post, and a query of Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, leader of the Gaza Freedom March, regarding the possible participation of COSATU and Bongani Masuku.

Tonight, I'm heading off to a hockey game. My beloved New Jersey Devils face the Caps. It should be great -- Brodeur versus Ovechkin is a great matchup under any circumstances, and this year the Caps and Devils are two of the best teams in the league.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chinese Food Roundup

It's that time of year. Whatever you're doing today or tomorrow, I hope it is restful and enjoyable.

* * *

The BDS movement continues to trudge along like the zombie it is -- the latest scandal was promoting a pro-BDS letter featuring signatories who claim to have never seen the petition (and aren't happy to see their name attached).

The Pope ends the year like he begun it -- apologizing to the Jews. Unsurprisingly, the apology is not paired with a modification in the decision which triggered Jewish ire in the first place. I'd say he's tone-deaf, but that assumes he cares all that much in the first place.

Iowa's resident nut, Rep. Steve King (R), isn't letting the complete absence of any proof of wrongdoing stop him from saying ACORN is a bigger scandal than Watergate ("a little break-in by a couple of guys," as King described it).

Blocking popular policies makes one unpopular, Hill journalists are stunned to learn.

An interesting article on the "Sex with the Rabbi" sex ed class taught at a New York Jewish school.

Meet the Rabbinical student leading the charge to get gay marriage passed in New Jersey.

Hannah Rosenthal, the top US official charged with combating anti-Semitism, is defending J Street against attacks from Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

An Israeli man was killed in a West Bank terror attack, near the site of a recently removed roadblock.

A couple is suing two hospitals for deliberately ignoring them and declining emergency treatment. The result was the premature birth of a baby, who was then pronounced dead.

Is George Allen thinking about a rematch against the man who knocked him off in 2006, incumbent Senator Jim Webb (D)?

Right Down to the Racism

The Israeli government is locked in a battle with ultra-orthodox families at a religious academy who are defying orders to desegregate the program. The renegade parents are Ashkenazi Jews who object to having their daughters (it's an all-girls school) attend class with Mizrachi peers:

"No court ruling or Education Ministry decision can bring the two groups together," an Immanuel resident said Wednesday. "It's like putting Americans and Africans together. They can't study together with such huge mental differences," he said.
[...]
"It's a disgrace to this place, the ministry must intervene to stop the segregation once and for all," the father of one Mizrahi student said. "The Ashkenazis think they're more intelligent than we are, but what really bugs them is our skin color."

Yeah, that about spells it out. Kudos to the Israeli government for standing firm on this (they're threatening to prosecute the parents for violating mandatory school attendance laws if they don't send their daughters back to the now-integrated academy).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Billy Mays, RIP

House passes bill to curb the volume of TV ads. I guess he really is gone.

For the Rest of Us!

CNN explores how non-Christians handle the "holiday" season. Very interesting. Worth noting: "Compared with other non-Christians, many Jews have drawn a sharper line in the sand when it comes to observing Christmas, a stance informed by historic, theological and self-preservation reasons."

UPDATE: You thought the line was harsh now! Yeesh.

Strenger on Carter's Apology

Brilliant stuff:

I have no intention of psychoanalyzing Carter. His apology is of interest because it reflects a problem of many of Israel's critics. There are good reasons to criticize Israel, first and foremost for its settlement policy. There is absolutely no justification for the settlements in terms of security. The battlefield of the present, and even more of the future, is defined by rocket technologies, and nobody can conceivably argue that building settlements and appropriating Palestinian land provides any protections against rockets - whether from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

The problem is the tone of the criticism. Israel's defenders often point out that Israel's human right abuses pale in significance compared to those of China, Iran or Sudan. The problem with many of Israel's critics is the sheer hatred they express. When Iran crushed the protests against election fraud this year with vicious cruelty, the world felt sympathy for the protesters. Few in the West felt hatred for Iran; at most they felt disdain for Iran's repressive regime. Britain's academics tried to impose a boycott on Israeli universities and researchers; they never initiated a boycott against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or towards China after the Tiananmen massacre. This disproportion has been pointed out many times, and warrants an explanation.

Israel and the Christian world have been locked in a very complex relationship that has deep historical and theological roots. The theologically based hatred of Christianity towards Jews was transformed in the 19th century, and received its racial formulation from 1873 onwards, when the Austrian journalist Wilhelm Marr coined the term anti-Semitism. This form of hatred of Jews led to the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Western world has yet to come to terms with its refusal to do anything to stop the genocide.

Jews have been the bad conscience of the West for a long time - and even more so since the Holocaust. French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has pointed out that many in the West have never come to terms with the fact that Jews, the perpetual victims, now have a powerful army, and are no longer in the position of having to beg for protection and recognition. But most of all, for many there was relief: now that Jews had become the victimizers rather than the victims, the guilt of the history of persecution ending in the Holocaust could finally left behind. Many in the West used a ubiquitous defense mechanism: humans tend to hate those who induce guilt in them - and finally guilt against Jews could be transformed into hatred against Israel.

It looks like Jimmy Carter has realized that he had crossed the line between criticizing Israel and hating it; that there is a big difference between being critical and even exasperated with Israel's inability to end an occupation that should have ended in 1968, as David Ben-Gurion knew very well, and the self-righteous rage and hatred that many of Israel's Western critics express in their criticisms. Carter's apology is to be lauded: his stigmatization of Israel did not befit a man who has devoted life after the presidency to peace initiatives, and it tainted his critique of Israel's policy with a tone that was illegitimate.

My first blush reaction to Carter's apology was here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Address By Moishe Postone

"Another German Autumn", at a Demonstration against Antisemitism, December 13, 2009.

Carter's Contrition

I really don't know what to make of this:
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has apologized to the American Jewish community for 'stigmatizing Israel' and asked for forgiveness for his actions, the JTA reported on Monday.

"We must recognize Israel's achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel," Carter wrote in a letter to the JTA.

"As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so," Carter wrote, referring to the prayer said on Yom Kippur in which Jews ask God for forgiveness for any sins.

Canvassing the blogospheric, the reactions seem to be polarized between "not good enough, asshole" and "ZOMG THE ZIONISTS GOT TO HIM!"

I think I was appropriately circumspect in my discussions of President Carter on this issue, and I see no reason to abandon that position now.

Griffith Bolts to the GOP

Alabama Democratic Representative Parker Griffith is switching parties, citing differences with party leaders (particularly over health care) as the cause.

Obviously, Rep. Griffith has every right to do this (as did Senator James Jeffords, or Arlen Specter, or any other historical party switcher). Republican leaders, furthermore, are surely correct to trumpet the implications of a House member deciding to defect to the minority, which I imagine is a rarity. On the other hand, Matt Yglesias is also correct to note that Griffith came from a district whose Democratic control was essentially unsustainable over the long term. Rep. Griffith was the furthest thing from being a progressive while he was a Democrat; so progressives already understood that we would need to know how to push our agenda forward without him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Martin Brodeur Breaks Shutout Record

Yet another record falls to the New Jersey netminder. He notched his 104th career shutout in a 4-0 victory against Pittsburgh tonight, breaking the all-time record held by Terry Sawchuk. Brodeur now holds the all-time records in, among other categories, most wins, most games played, and most shutouts.

"And Then My O-Line Disappeared!"

That trick play the Redskins tried to pull at the end of the first half is how Darth Vader punishes punters who displease him. "I know! We'll put in some 180 lbs dude who was a fourth-string QB in middle school, take away his entire offense line, and hope that he heaves the ball to safety before three men who outweigh him by a factor of 10 flatten him to the earth." And then it gets intercepted.

On the other hand, Todd Collins got to take a few snaps. I love that guy -- he plays in maybe one game every two years, throws a forty yard completion to set up what should be a field goal, and then goes back to the bench to wait another 18 months for a snap. All while being paid an annual salary which rivals the GDP of East Timor. It's the American dream.

Israel and Organs: A Guide for the Perplexed

When I first saw a report that Israel had admitted harvesting organs, I was confused and quite a bit worried. What exactly had happened? When was it (and was it ongoing)? Who was responsible? Who were the victims? Was their any punishment for the perpetrators? And so on.

As the story was picked up, I think I've mostly pieced together what happened. Hence, my guide for the perplexed reader, who wants to keep the story straight.

The latest iteration of this controversy came from a Swedish tabloid piece alleging that IDF troops were killing Palestinians in order to harvest their organs -- a charge bitterly denounced (including by me) as a new version of the "blood libel". The closest thing to evidence that the author had for his piece was the story of an illegal organ trade between an Israeli and a New Jersey Jewish man, apparently on the theory that any action by any Israeli or Jew anywhere is reflective of a broader hive mentality of the whole. The story exploded in the various anti-Semitic fever swamps that inhabit the globe, with Alison Weir alleging in Counterpunch that the original (medieval) blood libel was actually quite true, and Algerian officials spinning tales of transnational kidnapping operations of Arab children. Many other similar claims were raised at the same time.

In the wake of this controversy, an American academic released to an Israeli news station an interview she conducted in 2000 with an Israeli pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss, who admitted in the 1990s that specialists at his hospitals did take corneas, heart valves, and skin from corpses (Israeli and Palestinian alike, but mostly Israelis, including soldiers) they were autopsying for the purpose of transplants. The practice, however, was discontinued by the end of the decade as new rules were written precisely to check these sorts of abuses.

Here's where things get a little murky. The CNN article on the story, which gives the fullest account I've seen yet, has some words to the effect that the doctors thought that the permission to do an autopsy implicitly granted them the right to take organs from the body -- though they conceded they never asked specific permission. This is belied, though, by other statements wherein the doctors indicate that they acted to cover up their offense (such as gluing eyelids shut to mask taken corneas) -- demonstrating that the doctors were at least aware that their actions may not have been entirely sanctioned by the families.

The other thing I am unclear about is the degree to which this scandal was already public knowledge. The CNN article indicates that these charges were indeed investigated, with Dr. Hiss losing his job as head of the institute in 2004 because of them (he still works at the institution).
The forensic institute at Abu Kabir, where Hiss still works, received complaints about improper practices regarding organ harvesting that culminated in an investigation and a change of management.

The current manager, Assaf Harofe Hospital, issued a statement saying, "The committee which examined the said matters have determined that there were purely managerial malfunctions, but as a result of their findings Professor Hiss lost his position as the manager of the institute." Managerial responsibility was changed and new procedures were put in place, the statement said.

What I'm not sure about is whether this investigation was known to the public at the time. Of course, it seems quite wrong at first glance that the doctors received the wrist slap of a "managerial malfunction" and demotion, but without knowing the particulars of the investigation I cannot say for sure (on the other hand, it seems quite right that a complaint was made, the practice was investigated, and then ceased after investigation). But what I'm getting at is that if a scandal that was already known to the public can be dredged up anew every five years as something shocking, horrible, and discrediting, simply by making up a seemingly connected but more extreme iteration, then nobody will ever move on from anything.

One thing that needs to be stressed, and was mentioned in both the CNN and Guardian articles, is that the original explosive allegations in the Swedish article -- that Israel was killing Palestinians for their organs -- was and remains untrue; it is, as CNN blithely put it, "a different allegation". Taking corneas from already dead patients (without regard to who the patients were -- the majority of the patients whose organs were taken appear to have been Israelis) is, of course, an entirely different animal from actively going out an killing people in order to harvest their organs. The distinction is important not to minimize the gravity of the former offense, but to prevent the revelation of the former from being blurred and merged into the latter.

Finally, as they put it at Harry's Place, "the truth is ugly, and deserved to come out no matter the consequences." But the truth remains the truth -- it is not free license to support falsehoods like the Swedish article, or feverish claims of Jewish bloodlust.

I would also ask that we resist the traps of the politics of respectability, which demand of otherized groups universal sainthood lest they all be tainted as corrupted and fallen. A federal building explodes in Oklahoma, and Timothy McVeigh is evil. A suicide bomb explodes in Tel Aviv, and Palestinians are evil. A Israeli doctor takes organs from corpses without permission, and Israelis are evil. No. Girls don't suck at math, that girl sucks at math. That doctor did wrong; that wrongdoing deserves investigation and punishment. But the hivemind doesn't exist.

Franken Anti-Rape Bill Makes It Into Law

Despite worries it would be stripped out in conference (as well as Republican whines that they were actually being held accountable for their nay votes), the Franken anti-rape amendment was part of the defense appropriations bill President Obama just signed into law.

Congratulations, Senator Franken -- an excellent holiday gift to our men and women serving abroad.

"Reform" Wasn't Happening Anyway

The AFTP's Hussein Ibish has a good post up on how the death of Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri will affect the burgeoning opposition movement to Iran's increasingly dictatorial regime. The short version is: less than you think. Montazeri was by far the most prominent and credible voice amongst the dissident clerics who believed that the Islamic Revolution had lost its way. Consequently, his death makes it that much harder to usher in a so-called velvet revolution which seeks to reform rather than revolutionize the system by casting it as a return to its roots, rather than a wholesale change. However, the steps taken by the ruling forces -- increasing reliance on outright dictatorship and brute authority -- were hastily closing the window on that option anyway. They were designed to give the populace a stark choice: either revolt outright, or accept the new order of things, with barely even a gesture anymore at showings of democracy or freedom.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lie of the Year

PolitiFact (a project of the St. Petersburg Times) has selected their first annual "Lie of the Year". And the winner? Sarah Palin, natch, for her contribution of "death panels" to the health care debate.
Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest.

"Death panels."

The claim set political debate afire when it was made in August, raising issues from the role of government in health care to the bounds of acceptable political discussion. In a nod to the way technology has transformed politics, the statement wasn't made in an interview or a television ad. Sarah Palin posted it on her Facebook page.

Her assertion — that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care — spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings. Opponents of health care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink. Still others scratched their heads and said, "Death panels? Really?"

The editors of PolitiFact.com, the fact-checking Web site of the St. Petersburg Times, have chosen it as our inaugural "Lie of the Year."

I can't think of a more deserving winner.

Big Capital

DC businesses expecting an economic windfall from gay marriage.

Israel Thinking of Banning Underweight or Photoshopped Models

Story here. The bill, which is being justified as a tool to combat childhood eating disorders, is being drafted by lawmakers from the centrist Kadima and right-wing Likud Party. A previous iteration of the bill, introduced by a member of the far-right secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, failed last year due to concerns that the government shouldn't discriminate on basis of weight (in this case, by barring models below a certain BMI).

"Recommended"

Another blogging/scholarship landmark is passed, as "Sticky Slopes" receives a favorable mention and a "recommended" rating from Lawrence Solum's vaunted Legal Theory Blog.

I think the worst part about progressing in my academic career is that the giddiness of events like this will start to wear off. But for now, exciting!

...The University of Alberta Law School is cool too, I guess.

A Christmas Martyr

In what tragically doesn't surprise me in the slightest, the Washington Times and Han Van Spokavosky both pen pieces decrying the persecution of Joe "War on Law" Arpaio. (Via).