Friday, February 12, 2010

I've Lost Top Billing

But it was time, and this was important.

For a long, long time, this was the top post if you searched "fuck you google". It was a response to Google Maps pinpointing a location in Virginia when you searched "Maryland" (they've fixed the problem).

This post, about Google's new "Buzz" product, at Fugitivus is also titled "Fuck you, Google". Now I found Buzz a mix of perplexing and annoying, so I pretty quickly turned it off. But what was a minor aggravation for me, was a serious threat to her, as it essentially involuntarily passed on private (or semi-private) data towards people that the author might not have wanted to see it. Like her abusive ex-husband. Or her abusive ex-husband's friends. Or creepy blog-stalkers. To be sure, Google has now taken steps to mitigate the damage, but not all of the harm can be put back in the box.

Her post is now tops on the "fuck you google" search. And quite deserved. For as incensed as I may get over disrespect towards my home state, being reckless with the lives of one's customers is clearly a leap and bound beyond that. Privacy on the internet is nothing to be trifled with -- you don't know why someone chooses to hide or reveal what they do. Google wasn't thinking, and while I'd like to say they paid the price, they really didn't. Some of their most vulnerable customers did.

Quiet Riot Roundup

Yesterday was the birthday, tonight is the celebration. Not sure about the lack of blogging though -- it's not like I was busy.

* * *

Right-wing mob urges the lynching of Attorney General Eric Holder -- ironically, because Holder wants to uphold rule of law.

The Winter Olympics start tonight, and Ghana will be representing for the first time.

In sadder news, a Georgian luger died hours before the opening ceremonies in a crash during a practice run.

Voters like gays and lesbians; homosexuals, less so.

Liberal Democrat (UK) MP Baroness Jenny Tonge was sacked from a high profile party position after demanding Israel undertake investigations of completely unsubstantiated allegations of organ theft in Haiti.

Meanwhile, this is a good post on the longevity and impressive staying power of organ theft rumors (not just about Jews or Israelis).

Jews face the highest rate of hate crimes of any religious group in the United States (Blacks are the most targeted overall).

A Tennessee Muslim community is the subject of a sensationalist CBS report questioning whether it is a secret terrorist training facility. It isn't, but gets hit with vandalism anyway in its wake.

It's nice that Glenn Beck disavowed 9/11 troofer-flirting candidate Gloria Medina, but to call it impressive would be to lower our expectations bar underground.

Hedging Hollywood -- a brilliant scheme to induce bad filmmakers to actively try and make their movies worse.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another Birthday Present!

David Schraub, Comment, The Price of Victory: Political Triumphs and Judicial Protection in the Gay Rights Movement, 77 U. Chi. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2010).

Today ... is an Ass-Picious Day

February 11th is a surprisingly prominent date in global affairs. Nelson Mandela was freed from prison February 11th, 1990 (Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson that same day). The Shah of Iran fell February 11th, 1979 (the Iranian regime is dealing with protests today as a result). I, as noted, was born on the date, 1986. And you know who else shares my lovely birthday?

Sarah freakin' Palin, that's who.

Fortunately, I received a present to her lump of coal -- a new poll out demonstrates that most of America considers her to be somewhat of an unqualified joke. She's been dropping precipitously since election day, indicating that (in a shocking upset) David Broder doesn't actually have a clue what "real America" thinks.

Anyway, I call Mandela's release. Palin can get the rise of the Islamic theocracy in Iran.

Birthdays of our Lives

It's my birthday today -- but most of the celebration will be done tomorrow and Saturday. The only big thing on the agenda tonight is Project Runway. But that's a ton of fun in its own right.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Treading Lightly

Having discussed somewhat unsympathetically defenses of Andrew Sullivan from quasi-charges of anti-Semitism from Leon Wieseltier, I feel it is only fair to link to Sullivan's response. I'd also recommend Jon Chait and Jeffrey Goldberg. But I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is the one who really gets at the heart of the matter:
I've found Andrew to be, at times, infuriating. But I don't think that has to do with a particular animus, as much as it has to do with an attraction to what he believes to be going unsaid. The more it strikes him as something that people won't say, the more he's attracted. For the better and the worse. I'm not saying that his critique of Israel is literally the same as investigating race and IQ. But I suspect that the stridency of his rhetoric comes from a similar place. (Ditto with Palin and Trig, btw.)

I agree that Sullivan is probably not motivated by animus. My observation about him is that he tends to write quite passionately, and can shift focus (if not positions) with staggering speed. He himself admits that one of these dramatic shifts came with the onset of Cast Lead. And it tends to occur in an all or nothing way: it's not that Sullivan no longer believes that anti-Semitism in the Arab World is dangerous and detestable, it just fades the background against his new focus on being a bold truthsayer about Israel. It'd be one thing if he was writing the posts in equal measure (though there is no way to mitigate the discomfort and, yes, threat, that occurs when one senses rage coming at you from an (along this axis) empowered class). But the torrent that flows towards one side, then the other -- according to which side Sullivan's contrarianism thinks is getting off light -- is going to raise alarms. There's no way around that.

I also have to say that I think Sullivan tends to subscribe to a pretty shallow version of contrarianism. What he "believes to be going unsaid" is rarely, actually, unsaid. The powerful voices that, in his mind, squelch all dissent rarely do so. That's not just an assessment of his current stance; this was evident when he was hyper-hawkish in the wake of 9/11. Then it was fashionable to believe that the world was insufficiently attuned to the threat of Islamic radicalism, that it was "uncomfortable" to speak in bold strokes about the need to kill off the evildoers. That was, and is, patently absurd. Now Sullivan thinks that the powerful Israel Lobby stifles debate and prevents all but a brave few from being heard. It's a fashionable belief, but that doesn't make it an accurate one.

But there is a more fundamental issue. I think there is a parable here to the racial neo-conservative movement that arose in the late 60s and early 70s. The scions of that movement were not evolved members of the Jim Crow set. Many were on the front lines of the civil rights struggle. The policy positions they advanced were not done out of malice towards African-American. Much the opposite -- if anything, they were borne out of frustration at the seeming intractable nature of the problem, its apparent immunity to the standard tactics, presumptions, and operating procedures of the civil rights movement. So they began offering new ideas.

These ideas infuriated many members of the Black community. And the neo-conservatives, who knew their intentions were pure, responded angrily -- demanding the space for free-wheeling, open debate, decrying a new orthodoxy which tolerates no dissent from the civil rights mantras. There, as here, the ability of the marginalized group to truly set the agenda was wildly overstated.

I think that's a lot of what is going on here. Sullivan clearly is motivated by frustration that his unwavering support for a particular iteration of the pro-Israel position had yielded nothing but more war, more hatred, more destruction, and more stasis. I understand that sentiment; I've felt it too. And a big part of Sullivan's defense is bold statements about political correctness and the need to speak freely and air all grievances, etc. etc..

And this is where things begin to fall apart. I understand Sullivan's frustration with the status quo; I share it. New ideas are always welcome, so long as they come from a position of respect. But the people whose lives are on the line here -- Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians -- are actively endangered by this sort of vitriolic lashing out. It's not what's needed. We perpetually stand near the precipice; these winds can blow us over the edge. As Goldberg writes:
The question of whether Andrew is or is not personally anti-Semitic isn't entirely relevant. What is relevant is that he sometimes uses his blog to disseminate calumnies that can cause hatred of Jews, and of Israel. I know this from personal experience, because the anti-Semites who e-mail him copy me. Andrew's posts on Israel and on Jewish political power in America have lately given comfort to some very repulsive people. This doesn't mean, of course, that the role of AIPAC shouldn't be debated openly, but it should be done without prejudice; without the axiomatic assumption that American Jews who love Israel are disloyal to America; and without the Judeocentrism of the neo-Lindbergh set.

The point is that, as Sullivan flails about in rage -- rage built upon the best of intentions -- he doesn't have to deal with the consequences. It's hard enough to keep an even-keeled perspective when one does have to deal with the consequences -- but if we can do it, he can do it. When he provides succor to or reifies -- unintentionally, to be sure -- the Jews-control-DC canard, he doesn't have to deal with the fallout. I do. When he hammers away at the ability of Jews to advocate in the public sphere without being questioned as to the legitimacy of that basic political act being, I'm justified in being pissed off, and I'm justified in being somewhat indifferent towards pleas of good intentions.

Does this all rest uncomfortably with the desire for open debate? Yes. I admit that, though I maintain that an open debate can be had if we mind our p's and q's. But there is a fundamental asymmetry of power here that prevents the free-for-all that Sullivan wants; that he needs in order to rationalize his passion. The White neo-conservatives, whatever they said about battling the all-powerful civil rights orthodoxy, had power and influence that dwarfed their interlocutors. The moral righteousness of the wild blue discursive yonder begins to pale once we remember that for some of us, the wrong words can bring about real pain and death. When your misstep causes me to fall, I can ask you to tread lighter than you might otherwise be inclined.

My Own Lyin' Eyes

There's a new controversy* brewing about a Goldstone report contributor, this one being Irish Col. (ret.) Desmond Travers.
Travers rejects the idea that Israel launched the offensive in Gaza on December 27, 2008, as an act of self-defense in response to Hamas rockets.

The Jerusalem center report says he bases this idea on a "fact" that he presents that in the month prior to start of the war, only "something like two" rockets that fell on Israel.

The report quotes an extensive interview with Travers in the Middle East Monitor, in which he also says that Hamas had sought "a continuation of the cease-fire" prior to Israel's offensive in Gaza.

Travers also rejects Israel Defense Forces photographs as proof that Hamas hid weapons in mosques during the conflict.

"I do not believe the photographs," Travers said, describing the IDF evidence as "spurious."

Now I'm going to confess something here. Whenever I'm shown intelligence photos demonstrating, for example, that the Cubans have Russian missiles, they don't look like anything to me. But I imagine that with intelligence training, what looks like grainy blocks is actually meaningful data, since the analysts draw conclusions pretty confidently from them (and the reveal of the photos is always considered quite the dramatic trump card). So I assume that unless Travers is alleging the photos are doctored, he's simply deciding that he doesn't like evidence that contradicts his pre-existing conclusions. It's a tough world when the facts are established by those who aren't interested in one side's iteration of them.

You might recall that, when pressed about the alleged bias in another panel member (Christine Chinkin), Judge Goldstone's response was that since the panel was a "fact-finding" commission, not a judicial inquiry, recusal was unnecessary. I noted at the time that Judge Goldstone seems to be the only person on the planet who continues to blithely assert that his panel wasn't making any assertions regarding guilt and innocence. As he put it, "if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven." Alas, it seems that Col. Travers is with the majority interpretation of what the panel did:
Travers also criticized Israel's past presence in Southern Lebanon, asserting that Israeli soldiers had "taken out and deliberately shot" Irish peacekeeping forces in the area.

He accused "Jewish lobbyists" of influencing British foreign policy in the Middle East and said that efforts to block the Goldstone reports findings have failed.

"The court of world opinion seems determined to see the report prevail," he said.

We'll skate on by yet another instance of "Zionist" slipping back into "Jewish" (I hate when Jews influence things. So much better when they're under the dominion of their superiors). A fact-finding probe, of course, does not "prevail" or not, particularly when it (in theory) is meant to begin, not end, the process. Once again, Judge Goldstone takes the lonely dissenting view, saying that if the allegations in his report are disproven, "I will rejoice."

And here we return to the problem. Judge Goldstone is a true believer in the system, surrounded by cynics. He didn't mind that his compatriots on the panel were "biased", because, he thought, the was nothing judicial going on. Everything he did was predicated off of taking the system at face value. His panel members are impartial and will evaluate evidence fairly. The world will take the report exactly as far as its technical mandate (fact-finding, not judicial), no further. Testimony received is without question truthful and unimpeachable. Refusal to give evidence means there is no countervailing evidence to be had.

His colleagues were wiser, or at least more attuned to reality. Col. Travers knew he wasn't participating in a "fact-finding commission". He knew that the report would be taken as a definitive pronouncement on guilt and innocence, and he knew that given the subjectivity of conflicting evidence and legitimate fears of bias leading to non-cooperation, he could write a report saying virtually anything he wanted while staying within the boundaries of the process. And so long as he colored inside the (infinitely malleable) lines, Judge Goldstone, he of great faith, would have no thought to protest.

* There is another allegation Col. Travers urged Hamas to demand more for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. The passage cited for this is as follows:
Travers claims that the Palestinians should really demand that more prisoners be released for Shalit: “When the Palestinians sign up to, say, the release of Shalit for 2000 Palestinians, they degrade their own value system. They ought not to do that. But then no civilized country ought to detain 8000, is it 8000 Palestinians? Very nearly 9000.”

I'm not entirely sure what Travers is trying to say here, but it's not at all clear he means that Hamas should have demanded more for Shalit. If anything, I think he's arguing the opposite -- that the 2000:1 ratio implies that Palestinian prisoners are worth 1/2000 of an Israeli one. Then, of course, he pivots to attacking Israel for detaining the prisoners in the first place. In any event, since I don't think it is clear that Col. Travers made the claim alleged, I don't think its appropriate to attack him for it.


Oh, Visa. Emotionally manipulate me -- you know I love it.

Great ad.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Magic of Intent: Matt Yglesias Edition

So Matt Yglesias is angry at Leon Wieseltier for being mean to Andrew Sullivan. The argument is that Wieseltier is throwing around "baseless" charges of anti-Semitism, for the sole purpose of instilling fear in the "innocent" so they dare not critique Israel. He then compares Wieseltier to a Bolshevik show-trial ringleader (really).

The problem is that Wieseltier's argument is not "baseless", at least in the sense that it isn't supported by clearly-stated warrants. He's making pretty specific claims about what demands Sullivan makes of Jews, and how they fit into a broader history and structure of power that Christians possess over Jews (and majorities tend to possess over minorities). One could disagree with those claims on the substance, but what Yglesias is relying on is a particular definition of when something is legitimately labeled anti-Semitism:
If you call anti-semites anti-semites, then people who aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism will figure “hey, since my political opinions aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism, then I’m safe.” The idea is to put everyone on notice that mere innocence will be no defense.

And y'all know what my objection here is. Intent is not a magical ward guarding its wielders from doing racist or bigoted things. You can mean perfectly well, consider oneself to be a totally fair and egalitarian person, and still hold positions or beliefs that are marginalizing or discriminatory towards particular groups. Being "motivated by anti-Jewish racism" is not the totality of what makes something potentially anti-Semitic, and if the threshold for non-abusive discussion of anti-Semitism is getting the defendant to admit "I'm an evil bigot who hates Jews", then we're just trying to suppress any critical discussion of anti-Semitism under the guise of preventing its "baseless" deployment. It is not a good thing when everyone who isn't a Klan member gets to claim immunity from grappling with ingrained racism and anti-Semitism. It simply allows people to say that nothing is ever anti-Semitic.

What does Sullivan feel about Jews? Like Wieseltier, who writes "it is impossible to know what is in a man’s heart", I have no way of knowing. But I suspect that he considers himself a friend of the Jewish people, committed to them flourishing and living in peace and security. That's great. It's also entirely consistent with holding policy prescriptions, stereotypes, prejudices, and other attitudes that act to keep Jews in an unequal status and deny them the ability to flourish, live as equals, and enjoy peace and security. The measure of a true friend and ally isn't what's in their heart, because racism isn't fundamentally "in the heart".* It's whether they are willing to go beyond that bare assertion of friendship and dig deep when they are told "you're hurting me".

* See Tommie Shelby, "Is Racism in the 'Heart'?" 33 Journal of Social Philosophy 411 (2002).

UPDATE: I think there is a fair tactical review of the upshot of Wieseltier's piece. I still maintain, though, that restricting the scope of anti-Semitism to evil Klansman cackling in their robes is wrong on essentially every level, and buying into that framework guarantees an increasingly impoverished discourse on the subject that will continue to marginalize Jewish lives.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Star of David Keffiyeh

The NYR Lede Blog reports on an Jewish music agency's creation of a "Star of David" Keffiyeh (traditional Arab head scarf), which is raising hackles in some circles as a potential appropriation of Arab culture. However, the creator of the product retorts that the garment is as much a part of his tradition as anyone else:
My family originates from Yemen, where my ancestors had lived for close to 2,000 years. Nearly 100 years ago, my grandmother’s side of the family decided to move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and then to Israel, in 1933 (Southern Syria/Mandate Palestine at the time). On my grandfather’s side, our family emigrated to Israel in 1924. Jews indigenous to the Middle East, such as my family is, have worn some variation of the kefyah (cap/kippah) and keffiyeh (head/neck scarves) for thousands of years.

Chalk another one up for remembering the Sephardic/Mizrachi community (but what will Malkin say?)!


Monday Quick Hits

So how about the big game this weekend, eh?

* * *

Exonerated accused rapist forms a bond with the woman whose erroneous accusation put him in prison.

I assumed this was a tasteless Onion piece, but it wasn't: soldier waterboards four-year old daughter because she couldn't recite the alphabet. But let's be careful -- we wouldn't want to say something radical and uncivil like calling it "torture" (every little thing the Spanish Inquisitors and Khmer Rouge did....).

The University of Oregon campus and administration reacted with appropriate outrage when the offices of its LGBTQA offices were defaced with swastikas. However, as a gay Jewish-Israeli student noted, there was somewhat more serenity -- and appeals to "free speech" -- when certain other groups were targeted with swastikas.

The judge deciding the Proposition 8 challenge is a gay man. Both sides are being very careful not to make hay over it -- for now (my thoughts on the matter can be accurately deduced from this post).

... Well, some folks are doing their best to tip-toe up to the issue.

It looks like some form of talks between Israel and Palestine are going to restart.

Meanwhile, a Likud minister bluntly told a right-wing caucus that they need to give up their dreams of Greater Israel.

Justice Thomas talks a bit about his clerk-hiring practices (Thomas is known for being the Justice most prone to hiring outside the traditional Ivy strongholds): "I have a preference actually for non-Ivy league law clerks, simply because I think clerks should come from a wide range of backgrounds."

$6 million dollars is but a small price to pay to bring about the likely extinction of the human race.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Where Which Boys Are

Mark Perry (via) of the American Enterprise Institute trumpets a Bureau of Labor Statistics report on continued gender disparities in higher education, less to forward any sensible solutions on sending more men to college than to attack "gender activists" who will presumably ignore the results.
1. This huge gender gap will receive almost no media attention, and will be largely ignored by the gender activists.

2. There will be no calls for government studies, or increased government funding to address the “problem,” and nobody will refer to this gender degree gap as a “national crisis,” the way former astronaut Sally Ride described the gender disparity for jobs in engineering, technology, and science (women hold only 25 percent of those jobs).

3. President Obama will not address the gender degree gap by signing an executive order creating the “White House Council on Men and Boys,” like he did last year for women and girls.

4. Neither Obama, Congress, nor the gender activists in academia will address the gender degree gap by invoking Title IX gender-equity law, like they have proposed using for the gender gap in some math and science programs (see here and here).

5. Nobody will blame the gender degree gap on structural barriers from grades K–12 that discourage men from attending or graduating from college, like they do for explaining the gender gap for women in math and science.

In other words, the standard “disparity-proves-discrimination” dogma, followed by calls for government intervention, will not be applied in this case of a huge gender imbalance in college completion by age 22, because the disparity favors women, not men.

Well, not quite. Because there is are two variables that Mr. Perry is, quite predictably, missing: Race, and class.

Let's be clear -- there is a gender gap in higher education among all races (except Asians -- they're essentially even). A study from the American Council on Education found that in 2007-08, 46% of all undergraduates under age 24 are men (an 8 point gap). For White men, that figure is 47% (so a 6 point gap). For Hispanic men, it's 42% -- a 16 point gap. And for African-American men, it's 41% -- a whopping 18 percentage point gap. (There's also evidence that a college degree is worth less for people of color due to post-graduation discrimination, but that's a separate matter).

As for class, the data shows that the gender gap is intricately connected to income. Again in 2007-08, for the highest income quartile there is no true gender gap at all: 51% of White undergraduates, 52% of Asian undergraduates, and 48% of Hispanic and Black undergraduates are men. For the bottom quartile, by contrast, only 45% of Asian, 44% of White, and 42% of Black and Hispanic undergraduates are men.

The problem, in other words, isn't really with "men" as a class. White men comprise 47% of White college attendees, which isn't bad, given that men are around 49% of the population. Where things get hairy is when we focus in on men of color, and poorer men of all races. I have no trouble asserting that these classes of people are badly failed by our educational system; and that we should be more aggressive in finding tailored solutions for helping them (and there are groups working to address the problem).

But to frame the problem in such a way so as to assert that the men who went to, say, my alma mater (Walt Whitman HS in Bethesda, Maryland) are in a serious way disadvantaged, much less a "second sex", vis-a-vis our female peers borders on delusional -- it obscures far more than it illuminates. The men who are facing discrimination are members of the usual suspects in American society: the poor, and racial minorities. And in general, it is the progressive movement of which those maligned gender-activists are a part that have taken the lead in trying to advocate for these classes.

This is Why We Think You're Dumb

There's a piece coming out in the WaPo complaing that liberals are so condescending to conservative ideas.
American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration.

I think the real split here is that liberals think conservative ideas are moronic and bigoted, whereas conservatives think liberal ideas are traitorous and immoral. But I digress. Matt Yglesias notes that it's not really a bad thing to try and link your own ideas to "fact and reason":
If I thought my views weren’t correct and based on fact and reason, I would adopt different views—correct fact-and-reason based ones. Does Alexander really think that conservatives don’t think their views are correct? Does Alexander not think his own views are correct? Not based on fact? Not based on reason? I’m not sure it’s possible to be condescending enough to this op-ed.

Meanwhile, the Virginia GOP is using the DC snowmaggedon to demonstrate once more that Republicans don't understand the difference between weather and climate. Is there any other way to respond to such an ad other than "you people are morons"?