Friday, December 02, 2011

It Bears Repeating

Yesterday, I commented on how Ta-Nehisi Coates' site is one of the very few with a large, worthwhile comments section. Today, I will comment on a very different aspect of his site -- that he is a damn good writer. I'm envious.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Killer Crossover, Among Other Things

My rule of thumb about comments sections is this: If threads regularly top a dozen commenters, it will be a cesspool. I can think of two exceptions to this rule. The first is Alas, a Blog. And the second is Ta-Nehisi Coates' site.

In that vein, I agree with Ta-Nehisi that this comment is excellent and illuminating. It's from a White guy who grew up in an overwhelmingly Black neighborhood in DC:
Speaking to the "at a young age" point, for me that brings up the asymmetry with how I experienced being a "minority" at a young age. At a pretty young age (8 to late teens), I was the only white kid in my neighborhood, and really the only non-black person. Being in DC public schools, I was also a minority at school, but not as much so. I spent 3-4 hours many days at the basketball court a block away (Hamilton, between 13th and 14th, for any DC peeps) where my nickname was "white boy" because that was sufficient to distinguish me. I had a great time and got to be a pretty good playground basketball player. My race was often a thing, whether when an opponent ribbed his teammate who was checking me after a three-pointer ("that's what they do!") assigning me a NBA nickname (my mop of hair doomed me to John Paxson, who I hated), or sometimes worse. I got called a "KKK m**f*r" for no reason other than the kid was having a bad day and I was having a good one. New people to the court often got frustrated and looked to single me out, aggressively. I backed down from many eager combatants, and I rarely called fouls. My friends the other regulars often protected me, but sometimes not, and I chose to prostrate myself in whatever way would allow the game to keep on going, and me not to get my ass kicked.

While this experience has shaped my attitudes on race (and given me a killer crossover and a preference for 33 instead of 21) it hasn't left any legacy of fear or alienation. This, to me, is not a testament to my own courage (clearly lacking, or at least not deployed in this arena) or any great personal conviction, but that I could go home and go out into the wider world with the confidence that any racial resentment I experienced there wouldn't follow me or affect me. When a playground friend asked if I was going to college, and I told him yes, and the name of my very well-regarded destination, he said "Where's that?" This was not my bubble, it was his, and there was a big world waiting for me.

I'd be fine with being corrected on this, but this to me is the essence of white privilege from my experience. Not only do I get to feel "raceless" for most of my life and just be "psychologist," "father," "coach" or "teacher," but even those moments when my race was clearly a hindrance to people seeing me as a person, I could rest assured that this was temporary. In college and elsewhere, that part of my upbringing was essentially optional to share with people, which is not true for someone with different colored skin than I.
Totally off topic, but since people seem to be sharing. And now... back to being the central casting aloof academic...

That's a better comment than you'll find on the main page at most sites. It's worth reading on its own, but it's testament to the sort of site TNC runs that he's able to get these sorts of discussions rolling on a regular basis.

New Israel Poll

The University of Maryland has released a new poll documenting the attitudes of Israelis, broken down between Jews and Arabs. There's lots of interesting data in there, but three things jumped out at me:

(1) Barack Obama's approvals have recovered and are now quite strong -- he's at 54/39 split amongst Jewish Israelis. That's a gain of 25 points from last year.

(2) Jews and Arabs are mostly in agreement when describing the situation of Israeli Arabs: Formal equality, but with institutional and social discrimination. 52% of Jews and 57% of Arabs agree with that statement, as against "full equality" (a third of Jews and a handful of Arabs) and "apartheid" (a third of Arabs and a handful of Jews).

(3) There was a precipitous fall in the number of Israeli Arabs who see "right of return" for Palestinian refugees as a redline issue. Whereas in 2010 57% of Arabs viewed it as an important issue on which no compromise could be broached, now, that same number still call it important but say a compromise should be reached.

Anyway, all the findings are interesting. I encourage you to check it out.

Dual Loyalties, Part Who The Hell Knows Anymore

A British Labor MP, Paul Flynn, accuses the UK's envoy to Israel of possessing dual loyalties, because he's Jewish and "proclaimed himself to be a Zionist". UK foreign service employees need to be "someone with roots in the UK [who] can't be accused of having Jewish loyalty." Well alright then.

But what is the best part of this story? There are so many candidates! Is it:

(1) The classic "I have Jewish friends!" defense?

(2) Flynn prefacing his comments with "I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories...." (Because you sure jumped headfirst into this one!)?

(3) Flynn's appended proclamation as an equal opportunity racist -- he thinks all Brits with non-British ancestry should be suspected of divided loyalties (e.g., since Foreign Minister Denis MacShane's father was Polish, MacShane may have a conflict in loyalty between the UK and Poland)?

(4) Flynn being turned onto this whole "issue" because of a complaint from a neo-fascist anti-Israel activist who broadly waved the flag of Syria's Social Nationalist party and asks "who can blame" Hamas leaders for being "anti Jew" (the woman was upset because she was arrested after trying to break Israel's blockade, and didn't feel like the government did enough to represent her in her flouting of both Israeli law and British foreign policy priorities)?

Cast your votes now!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Liberal versus Left Zionism, Part II

Abir Kopty has a post up attacking the entire concept of "liberal Zionism" (reposted here). In fairness, it is responding to a pretty impressively bad "defense" of liberal Zionism from Larry Derfner (for a much, much better one, see David Hirsh). But even granting that, I'm left, well, kind of relieved to be honest. While in a sense it's unnerving that someone could put up what is essentially a warrantless repetition of the phrase "Zionism is not liberal" for a dozen paragraphs and find it persuasive, the part of me that still thinks arguments matter is pleased to see what I'm up against.

The only argument Kopty explicitly makes against the possibility of Zionism being liberal is that "what matters is the implementation of this ideology on the ground." That is to say, because Zionism is and has been implemented in illiberal ways, it is congenitally incapable of being liberal.

This is, to be generous, gibberish -- and counterproductive gibberish at that. I could just as easily respond that Palestinian nationalism is congenitally anti-Semitic and illiberal. That would be true to the same degree, which is to say, not very. While it is true that the dominant "on the ground" manifestations of Palestinian national aspiration have been characterized by bigotry, violence, and so far mostly futile eliminationist desires towards Jews, that does not exhaust all the "live" renditions of Palestinian nationalism, much less all it could be. There are many Palestinians who forward visions of Palestinian nationalism and self-determination that have none of these qualities, and absolutely recognize and defend the equal status of Jews locally and globally. The whole point is to try and make it so they win the day. It would be both ridiculous and foolish of me to try and argue that the history of Palestinian nationalism as played out through anti-Semitic violence permanently corrupts the entire enterprise. And so it is with Zionism: there are a host of live schools of what Zionism is, some morally defensible (some I'd say morally obligatory), others not, and the whole point is to ensure that the former defeat the latter. I mean, I suppose I could rename these concepts "Xionism", but I don't think that would remove the problem in Kopty's eyes.

That being said, Kopty does sort of gesture in the direction of some bigger claims about liberalism and its demands, which could arguably sustain an assertion that liberalism and Zionism are intrinsically incompatible. Much of the "debate", such as it is, is a reprise of issues I talked about in this post -- specifically, slippage in the use of the word "liberal". That pops up here as well, as Kopty doesn't actually give us a definition of what "liberal" means. For example, "liberal" can simply mean left-of-center. Or it can mean "as agnostic as feasible between competing conceptions of the good life". Or it can mean "viewing its constituent parts as individuals, and taking no notice of 'identity' characteristics such as race, sex, religion, or nationality." It is a fundamentalist account of the last that seems to be in play here.

It is true that this version of liberalism cannot be reconciled with Zionism. That's because it is opposed to all nationalism -- Jewish, Palestinian, French, Chinese -- as well as affirmative action, historically Black colleges, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. But as I wrote in my other post, finding through "liberalism" that Howard University to be the moral equivalent of Jim Crow Ole Miss is no more a strike against Howard than finding through libertarianism that the Civil Rights Act is unjust indicts anti-discrimination law. The arrow goes the other way. Hence why I rearticulated my Zionism as "left" rather than "liberal", though this is more to avoid confusion, since I don't think the very particular form of liberalism I'm reacting against is the essence of liberalism.

I do not believe it intrinsically wrong for people to organize around identities (race, sex, class, religion, nationality), nor do I think it's wrong for a state (or other entity) to take note of them. As one might guess from the above paragraph, I do not find Howard University or affirmative action morally problematic at all. Nor do I find national self-determination to be inherently problematic. Indeed, I think it can be a very good thing; I think it is a positive good when national groups are able to find a space where they are relatively autonomous and in control of their own destiny. And I am optimistic that such spaces can be created while still respecting the rights and equality of people who don't identify as part of the group -- Howard University is a Black college that nonetheless has White students and faculty members who don't seem to view themselves as second-class members of the Howard community. Which is why I support the existence of a Jewish state, and why I support the existence of a Palestinian state.

Since, for me, "Zionism" is simply the Jewish rendition of "liberal nationalism" (different definitions of liberal strike again!), supporting Zionism flows out of and commits me to two principles: (1) democracy, and (2) national self-determination. The first holds that all citizens in a given territory are given the equal ability to influence via the ballot box the governing authority; the second asks that national groups be given space where they are in control of their own destiny; where they are the norm.

In pursuit of those goals, I am willing to sacrifice another potential moral principle, one which Kopty seems to hold in much higher esteem: the right of people to live on the particular parcel of land they wish. And I apply this even-handedly -- there are many Jewish families that very much wish to live in certain settlements in the West Bank, and I think they will have to let that go; no matter that they view that lands as "home", no matter that they may have deep historic and familial connections to it.

Now, she might protest that she doesn't support the principle that anyone can live anywhere, bur rather that "native people" ought to be allowed to live on (or return to) "their land". But this gets us virtually nowhere. After all, a major part of Jewish history is precisely analogous to her own account of the Palestinian experience: that Jews lived in what is now Israel, were expelled, and now want to come back. That they were expelled for longer can't affect the sort of moralistic, first-principles argument Kopty is making, and if she's actually putting forward a statute of limitations on these sorts of claims -- after a certain amount of time in the diaspora, "return" becomes "colonization" -- I'm sure the Israeli government would like to know about it so they can run out the clock.

Even if we restrict the conversation to land where a person has a familial claim to a particular deed, it doesn't get us that far (though it does get us further). First, there's ample ground to be suspicious that this actually is a universal principle: I see very few right of return advocates protesting in favor of the Jewish family over in Sheikh Jarrah,who are seeking to reclaim land they were expelled from in the War of Independence (as indicated above, I absolutely think the Jewish family at issue in Sheikh Jarrah should not be permitted to live there, as I care more about protecting Jewish and Palestinian national self-determination rights and democracy than I do about letting every person live on the precise acre they wish).

Second, in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, possessing a deed is hardly a conversation-stopper regarding the justness of owning that plot of land -- much Jewish-owned land prior to Israel's establishment was purchased, but from absentee landlords who held title rather than from the peasant farmers who actually lived there. But either actually occupying the land in question trumps deed ownership or it doesn't (universal principles are tricky that way).

Third, to the extent Kopty is making a backwards-looking argument, it doesn't have a logical stopping point, and that raises the question of why the Jewish people can't raise a prior claim of ownership stemming from their (much earlier) exile. The answer being, of course, that it is impossible to trace lineage, much less figure out how to reallocate resources so as to "remedy" the original injustice. The egg is hopelessly scrambled (this is a problem that hardcore "liberals" of the vein we're talking about, like Nozick, recognize as potentially fatal -- the inviolability of property claims is predicated on that property being justly attained, a characteristic that describes precisely no property). It would be wildly unjust to tell Palestinians that their entire history of living in this area is unjust because it all happened on top of prior Jewish dispossession. This doesn't mean historic injustices are irrelevant, it just means that they can't be remedied via an expectations damages model.

More likely, Kopty could also explicitly jettison the importance of national self-determination as a value. That is, whereas I'm saying "we can't allow everyone to live on the precise parcel of land they wish and still respect the national self-determination aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians, therefore, we must sharply limit Palestinian 'right of return' to Israel and Jewish settlement of the West Bank and Gaza," she could say "we can't allow everyone to live on the precise parcel of land they wish and still respect the national self-determination aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians, therefore, we must abandon the pursuit of national self-determination for Jews and Palestinians". Again, from this "fundamentalist" version of liberalism, this is probably the position she should be taking -- nationalism is not liberal in this sense. But as I wrote in my prior post, taking that view is a very reactionary form liberalism that I think is politically dominative and at this point better thought of as conservative.

One of the perks of being a dominating majority is that an entity which is "nothing" is, in effect, "you". American doesn't need to be a "Christian Nation" to be a Christian Nation. One does not have to create a White congressional district to have a Congress full of White people. This is Anatole France's neutrality -- it forbids rich as well as poor to beg, steal bread, or sleep under bridges. It is a state of affairs guaranteed to oppress minorities, and there are excellent reasons for progressives to oppose it. Which is one of the reason this sort of "neutrality" which studiously ignores the differentiated histories and positions of various social groups doesn't interest me. Those groups have justice claims too, and we should absolutely listen to them and give them space. Often times, this means creating nation-states. The moral ground that is good for all is trying to create a pluralist global order where various national groups -- even relatively small ones with severe histories of persecution and oppression -- are given a few acres that is to be theirs. Surely both Jews and Palestinians can see the appeal in that.

* Kopty actually writes: "[W]hat will you do if a given country decides today that the land of 'Israel' belongs to its nation, and brings its people to occupy and ethnically cleanse those who have lived here for 60 years." It almost feels unsporting to take a swing at a pitch just lobbed over the plate like that.

In a related vein, she asks "Shall we go through history and examine the many cases of nations who were at war, but were allowed back to their homes when it ended?" Umm, sure, but I think it will lose out rather dramatically to the many more cases where they weren't.

My Thanksgiving Break: A Pro/Con List

They say when you're having trouble making a decision, you should make a pro/con list. Well, I'm having trouble deciding how to blog about my Thanksgiving break. So let's give it a shot, in chronological order.


Pro: Going to visit my mom's family in Newport, RI for Thanksgiving. My relatives are great and I always love seeing them. Plus, it's Jill's big rollout to that side of my family.

Pro: Thanksgiving was delicious and my family loved Jill. And she liked them back. Success all around!

Pro: Was actually hungry at around 11:30 PM Thanksgiving night. Ordered online from a pizza place in town, and had to create a profile with my address. When I showed, the guy behind the counter was surprised -- he assumed the order from "Champaign, IL" was a prank. But he had made our pizza anyway, just in case! It was delicious.

Hey, this is going pretty well so far! Let's keep up the momentum!


Con: Travel home to Maryland, and am assigned the dreaded "pack up or give away your treasured childhood toys" project. I'm very sentimental and I seriously anthropomorphized my toys as a kid, so this sort of thing devastates me (I refuse to watch Toy Story 3, which I'm pretty sure would emotionally shatter me beyond repair).


Pro: It's my mom's birthday! And she likes the gifts Jill and I bought (jewelry). We're going to Morton's for dinner, too.

Pro: Jason's gift for mom is even better than mine, but I love my mom so this counts as a "pro" too. Besides, Virginia got slaughtered by Virginia Tech, so he needed the pick me up.

Con: Morton's was delicious, but I actually ate myself sick, which I don't think I've ever done before.


Pro: See a bunch of old high school friends, one of whom is now a law student and wanted my advice. Office hours practice! Also try Settlers of Catan for the first time. It was a lot of fun, even if I did get blown out (stupid ore).

Con: Have to drive up to Annapolis for an all-day professionalism course to be admitted to the MD bar. I hate driving. Even when I don't get lost. Which I did. And I had to rent a car, which turned out to be a Kia Soul. I feel like a massive tool.

Con: I just can't be trusted around food this weekend. Get Ledo Pizza for dinner, another favorite of mine, and eat myself sick again. What is wrong with me?


Con: Hey, you know what takes the sting off a 7:30 AM wakeup call? A 2 AM fire alarm! Thanks, Sheraton!

Con: Professionalism course actually isn't as boring as I had feared, but it doesn't matter because the aforementoned fire alarm means I'm nodding off through the entire morning session anyway.

Pro: Afternoon session is a little better. I teach myself to make crosswords puzzles. It's a completely different skill set than filling them in. Mine aren't symmetrical, and have some two letter clues. But they're still pretty good for first efforts.

Con: Finally done! Roll back into Bethesda at around 6 PM, and check my cellphone (no electronic devices allowed at the professionalism course). My character interviewer called. Apparently about half of materials never arrived. He tells me to look into it. My interview is at 11 AM Tuesday. FML. Frantic phone calls ensue.


Con: It's rainy and otherwise miserable. Get to interviewer's office 10 minutes earlier, wait around for 45. My flight back to Illinois departs at 2:30, so I'm a little antsy.

Pro: Interviewer is really nice, and the whole thing takes about 5 minutes. Missing materials are apparently no problem -- just have folks fax him a letter. He also says "good, you're not an idiot" when I refrain from offering "any additional positive or negative things you want the character committee to know about your fitness to practice law?"

Pro: Tell the people who need to fax things to do so, and get to the airport in plenty of time. Things are looking up! And we're actually flying into Champaign (with a connection through Chicago), rather than having to take a train for once. My excitement at this fact will turn into bitter irony soon enough.

Con: Half a hamburger and my stomach starts aching. Oh come on.

Con: Flight from DC to Chicago is delayed an hour due to high winds in Chicago. Uh-oh.

Con: Flight from Chicago to Champaign canceled entirely. Double uh-oh.

Con: Gate agent puts me standby for the next flight to Champaign, which leaves O'Hare at 6:15. Also informs me it's booked solid.

Pro: Realize that there is no way we'll actually get on the Champaign flight, seize on the brilliant idea to just bail in Chicago and take the 8 PM train to Champaign. I'm so clever. I even get the gate agent to pull our bags and retag them to go to Chicago, so we can claim them at the Chicago carousel when we arrive.

Pro: 3:00 rolls around and we're boarding the plane.

Con: 3:30 rolls around and we're instructed to all get off the plane. The gate agent, with a keen insight on passenger psychology, informs us that if she hadn't deplaned us, we would have been stuck on the tarmac for 3 and a half hours. This staves off the torches and pitchforks.

Con: Flight is delayed indefinitely. Suddenly worried that it will get in too late to catch the 8 PM train. Also find out that there is another, 8:15 flight to Champaign which we probably could have gotten on if we missed the 6:15 flight. Curse myself for having "brilliant" ideas.

Con: It's about 5 PM, and we are about to start a half hour of being "just a few minutes away" from boarding.

Pro: It's 5:30 PM, and we've started to board. Hurray! Gate agent says the boarding process will be sped up if people volunteer to gate check their baggage. Nobody volunteers.

Pro: Gate agent gets back on the mic and informs us that if we don't push off the gate by 6 PM, the flight will be canceled outright. Repeats whether anyone is willing to gate check; swarmed by volunteers. She has a very keen grasp on passenger psychology.

Con: Everyone is on the plane by 5:40. We're just sitting here, waiting, at the gate. I wish there was a big red clock giving a countdown until 6 PM.

Pro: We push off at 5:55 PM. Awesome!

Pro: Flight is pretty smooth, but on the approach to O'Hare our jetliner is getting tossed around pretty bad by the wind. Suddenly glad I'm not flying on the 23-seat turboprop that would be going to Champaign.

Con: Land at about 6:30, central time. Frantically doing calculations about how long it will take to get our bags and catch a cab from O'Hare to Union Station. Compare this to the alternative plan of getting our bags, going back through security, and rebooking ourselves on the 8:15 Champaign flight. Not only do we really only have time to pursue one option, but again grapple with possibility that my "brilliant" idea will mean we miss both the plane and the train.

Con: Waiting at baggage, bags start coming off at around 6:50. Ours don't come. At 7:10 I go up to the lost baggage counter.

Pro: Our baggage is indeed lost. This counts as a "pro" because it means we no longer have to wait at O'Hare, and can high-tail it to Union Station. I fill out a quick form telling them where to ship the bags and ask them whether they think we'll make it to Union Station ontime for an 8 PM train. Fraught glances are exchanged.

Pro: Catch a cab, tell the driver our situation. He promises he'll try, then proceeds to weave through rush hour Chicago traffic like a fucking boss. I love him right now. We get to Union at 7:45 PM, joke we could have dawdled and seen the sights. I tip nearly 30%.

Pro: We just make the train. Text that we've "made it", even though "it" means being 3 hours from our final destination.

Pro: Get to Champaign and it's almost 11. Go to the 24-hour diner for dinner. Did I mention I haven't eaten since the half-hamburger at DCA approximately 11 hours ago? Famished. Scarf down two chili dogs with fries.

Con: Feel sick again. This whole concept of food is starting to unnerve me.


Con: Get "good news!" from American Airlines. They've found one of our two bags! I'm so proud, and cannot fathom why they're bankrupt.

Pro: Call them back and manage to track down bag #2. They're both in Champaign. She asks if I want them shipped or if we'll pick them up at the airport. Select "ship", refrain from mentioning that I already told them that back at O'Hare. Am informed I'll be called when they're on the way.

Con: Phone rings in class, so I ignore it, but figure it's AA telling me my bags are on the way. Wrong. It's AA telling me (again) they have my bags and want to know if I'd like them shipped or pick them up myself. If I call them back in five minutes (which is to say, 1 hour and 30 minutes ago), they can send them out at 3 PM!

Pro: Call AA back at around 5 PM, select the "ship" option. Am told they'll get to me in about an hour and a half. We elect to stay in for dinner as a result.

Con: Get another "good news" call from AA, which is behaving a little too much like Hubert Farnesworth for my tastes. They tell me that my bags are scheduled to be sent out at 8 PM, but that it might take longer for them to get to me.

....and that's where we're at now. Good to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Not Good News and the Bad News

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is retiring, and that's not good news. Rep. Frank has been one of the more vocal and passionate voices for financial sector reform, and his vigor and assertiveness will be sorely missed in the chamber.

In line to be Frank's replacement as ranking member of the Financial Services Committee is Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). And that's bad news -- Waters not only has a ton of corruption allegations swirling around her, but those corruption allegations are specifically tied to banks. To be sure, while Waters is next in line on a seniority basis, no decision has been made on this question as of yet.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Unbearable Boldness of Andrew Sullivan

Ta-Nehisi Coates is in rare form taking on Andrew Sullivan's obsession with the alleged race/IQ link. I particularly loved Coates' explanation for why he, unlike Andrew, tended to avoid this topic, to wit: "because I have a bias toward knowing what I'm talking about." (For someone who actually does know, see here).

But Coates' also taps into an aspect -- can we call it a character flaw? -- of Sullivan and his writing that bears mentioning again. Sullivan really is wedded to a self-image as a bold crusader who is willing to say the hard truths society needs to hear but refuses to say. The problem is that what he believes to be unsaid, rarely is. To the contrary, it is often the tritest conventional wisdom, dressed up in "forgotten man" language that was dated when William Graham Sumner was doing it.

That Blacks are biologically inferior to Whites along the axes of intelligence is not cutting edge. It is not the brave frontier of social science research. It has been, for most of our nation's history, the (nakedly ideological and poorly argued) default position, and the effects of that persist to this day. Similarly, after 9/11 America was not oblivious to the threat of Islamic extremism -- and informing us of that peril was not the bold, stand-alone position. Neither is Sullivan's sharply critical stance towards Israel the sort of silenced taboo that only a brave rebel like Andrew can shatter.

All of these positions command a solid and influential following in the circles Andrew runs in and in our media. That doesn't mean one shouldn't say them (though one should probably adopt Coates' bias in favor of having actual subject-matter knowledge), but it does mean one probably should cease trumpeting one's bravery and maverickness. It's self-congratulatory without actually having anything done anything laudatory.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eat Darling Eat!

Sorry I've been quiet these past few days. I've been doing a lot of Thanksgiving traveling ... and a ton of Thanksgiving eating. I'm not sure I've ever had more food over a four day period. It's so good, but I feel so sick.

Anyway, the relative silence will continue for a few days still. I have my Maryland professionalism course tomorrow, and then my character interview Tuesday ... a few hours before my flight back to Champaign. Busy busy busy.

But it was a great few days seeing family and friends. And for those who are wondering, Jill's rollout to my mom's family went great!