Saturday, December 10, 2011

Take It Down From the Inside

Everyone is so focused on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) complaining about the "eight unelected and, frankly, unaccountable judges" on the Supreme Court, that they overlooked his proposal to abolish the federal government. To wit: That the Supreme Court prohibited mandatory, state-sponsored prayer in school is "one of the reasons I’ve called for doing away with the federal government."

Well, that's proportionate.

Qatar Depicts "Palestine" as West Bank and Gaza

Maps of Israel and Palestine are touchy subjects. Partisans tend to get angry at maps which don't depict the land in question in the form they like. Sometimes, this leads to hilarity, as when the Palestine Solidarity Committee complained about an Israeli map which did not separate out Israel from the West Bank and Gaza ... same as the PSC's own logo which also presents the territory undivided. Or when a flight to Tel Aviv didn't include Israel on its inflight map, and instead told bewildered passengers they were going to Mecca.

In any event, at the 2011 Arab Games in Doha, "Palestine" was depicted as consisting of the West Bank and Gaza. Which to my mind is a positive development -- building a consensus around two-states is always a good thing, and it's particularly good coming from a nation that currently does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Of course, I heard about it from a very upset blogger at Electronic Intifada -- the "upset" part is unsurprising, since EI is a critical player in the irredentist faction of Palestinian politics. Not being a fan of either Jewish or Palestinian irredentism, though, I'm glad on the occasions where I can see it marginalized.

So good on Qatar. While who controls what particular patch of land will ultimately be decided by negotiations, in broad strokes there is no solution but one predicated on 1967 borders with agreed-upon swaps. The more people who endorse that basic vision, the better off we are. It was gratifying to see a majority of Palestinians endorse that vision this past April, and it's gratifying to see Qatar sign on as well.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Offend Better!

In what might be a first, home improvement company Lowe's has pulled its advertisements from a television program due to complaints over its portrayal of Muslims. Specifically, that it portrayed them in too positive a light. Apparently, depicting Muslims in ways other than "blood-thirsty terrorist" or "stealth threat to the American way of life" does "not meet Lowe's advertising guidelines."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Berkeley Hillel Urges Berkeley JSU to Reconsider

Ha'aretz reports that the local Hillel has belatedly entered the fray in support of J Street after the university's Jewish Students Union controversially voted to exclude them from membership. Hillel had been sharply criticized for its lack of leadership on the issue, but now has come down rather decisively on J Street's side:
"We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an organization sponsored by UC Berkeley student government, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member," wrote Board of Directors President Barbara Davis and Executive Director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman in a letter to Haaretz and the Northern California Jewish Weekly.

"Berkeley Hillel is committed to creating a pluralistic community that embraces the diversity of our Jewish tradition," added the Hillel directors. "At a time when Jewish students are seeking community, we are careful not to exclude Jewish students, and we embrace the wisdom of our namesake Hillel by embodying the value of an inclusive community."

The letter continued: "Berkeley Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations. Berkeley Hillel supports a range of student groups whose activities advance our mission. The JStreetU chapter adheres to our Israel policy and Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines and will receive the support of Berkeley Hillel as do the broad spectrum of other Israel-focused groups working with Berkeley Hillel including, Bears for Israel (AIPAC group), Tikvah: Students for Israel, Israel Action Committee, Tamid, and Kesher Enoshi."

Tikvah also came out with a defensive post where they claimed they hoped to be "proven wrong" about J Street. That, I suspect, will be a difficult task, since their original belief that J Street is secretly anti-Israel is so devoid of factual analysis that I'm not entirely sure how it could be falsified at all. The claim that J Street supports BDS appears to be entirely fabricated,* and the claim that J Street is only critical of Israel and lets the PA and Arab actors off the hook entirely is obviously, completely, wildly, flagrently false. So that leaves the speaker who said that Jerusalem has become a "symbol of violence", which is a remarkably thin reed to rest on (even if the comment is objectionable, which I'm not sure it is -- the ongoing struggle regarding who is allowed to live in what neighborhood in Jerusalem surely is symbolic of the broader conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples). Again, to be frank, I think Tikvah has far more work to do in proving its pro-Israel bona fides than does J Street. Step one would be to disassociate itself from groups which give prizes to anti-Semites like Glenn Beck.

One wag on twitter characterized Tikvah as having a policy encouraging Jews to be apathetic about Israel. While, as I noted in my last post, Tikvah's claims to be neutral on any question regarding Israel beyond basic acknowledgment of its right to exist as a Jewish state is performatively false, that's almost a relief, because actually taking that stance seriously would be catastrophic. Caring about something means having opinions about it. J Street cares about Israel, which means they have opinions about what actions it should take and what actions it shouldn't. Those beliefs put them in line with some Israeli leaders (like Tzipi Livni and Kadima) and against others -- which is how it works in a pluralistic political environment.

* Not only have they not given any sources about J Street's alleged hosting of BDS kingpin Omar Barghouti, they didn't even let my comment asking about it through moderation. So I remain convinced it didn't happen. But hey, maybe Max Blumenthal has the scoop!

Yesterday's News Roundup

I went to bed last night before I could do a roundup, so much of this stuff is from yesterday.

* * *

Is Israel responsible for the OWS crackdowns? No. But is Max Blumenthal lying about his sources? In all likelihood, yes.

Jeffrey Goldberg agrees with Peter Beinart that the settlements are slowly making a "one-state solution" inevitable, and if Israel wants to survive, it has to muster the balls to cut them loose.

11th Circuit decides that discrimination on basis of transgender status is sex discrimination. Arch-conservative Judge Bill Pryor surprises by joining the opinion.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' overruling of the FDA on P;an B is a complete and utter disgrace.

Palestinian poet successfully gets Jewish Israeli Arab writer booted from a panel.

Tim Kaine and George Allen are already trading shots as they chase Virginia's open Senate seat.

Finally, someone from Berkeley has linked through Facebook to my discussion of their JSU's appalling decision to exclude J Street. I'm just curious about the context (is it someone's wall, or is it a Facebook page for one of the relevant orgs?). So if someone knows and wants to drop a comment to satiate my curiosity, I'd be grateful [UPDATE: Mystery solved, I think!].

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Blogger as Media

A federal district court judge in Oregon has just held that a blogger is not a member of the "media", at least if she is not affiliated with a more "traditional" media source such as a newspaper or television station. The case involved a defamation suit against a blogger, Crystal Cox, who had posted allegedly false information about a corporation. She attempted to defend herself by invoking a media shield law which would have protected her from divulging her sources. The court held that
although defendant is a self-proclaimed "investigative blogger" and defines herself as "media," the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.

Cox represented herself in court, which is nearly always a bad decision, and she so far is indicating she'll represent herself on appeal, which is even worse.

The decision itself strikes me as wrongheaded on a host of levels, being in accord neither with what I understand to be the original understanding of what "media" is, nor the animating values that cause us to provide media actors with enhanced protections. This is demonstrated by the courts' own list of archetypical media outlets -- how does one "affiliate" with a "pamphlet"? Pamphlets, of course, were a key aspect of public communication at the time of the founding, and they bear much in common with modern blogs -- they were produced individually, with varying degrees of professionalism, and were circulated organically and haphazardly. Their status as "media" stems not because they approximate newspapers, but because they are opining to the public about public affairs in an intentionally public manner.

Indeed, the court's list doesn't really articulate a standard for when something is media or not -- it simply gives a list of entities which assuredly are media, finds that Cox isn't a part of any, and thus assumes she isn't. That doesn't provide any real basis for adjudicating future cases. What it does do is sharply limit "media" to mostly corporate actors -- businesses and institutions that can afford to set up large printing presses or television networks. This is sharply contrary to the democratic understanding of "media" present throughout our nation's history, which allowed for and encouraged mass participation in the conversation.

Hopefully Cox can be persuaded to attain counsel or, at the very least, some public interest organizations can intervene to make sure this issue is argued fully.

UPDATE: An important update to this story.

Putting the "Buster" in "Mythbusters"

Oops:
One of the zany experiments staged by the "Mythbusters" television show nearly turned into a suburban tragedy Tuesday afternoon in Dublin when the crew fired a homemade cannon toward huge containers of water at the Alameda County Sheriff's Department bomb disposal range.

The cantaloupe-sized cannonball missed the water, tore through a cinder-block wall, skipped off a hillside and flew some 700 yards east, right into the Tassajara Creek neighborhood, where children were returning home from school at 4:15 p.m., authorities said.

There, the 6-inch projectile bounced in front of a home on quiet Cassata Place, ripped through the front door, raced up the stairs and blasted through a bedroom, where a man, woman and child slept through it all - only awakening because of plaster dust.

The ball wasn't done bouncing.

It exited the house, leaving a perfectly round hole in the stucco, crossed six-lane Tassajara Road, took out several tiles from the roof of a home on Bellevue Circle and finally slammed into the Gill family's beige Toyota Sienna minivan in a driveway on Springvale Drive.

That's where Jasbir Gill, 42, who had pulled up 10 minutes earlier with his 13-year-old son, Manvir, found the ball on the floorboards, with glass everywhere and an obliterated dashboard.

Since thankfully nobody was hurt, I'm free to marvel at the incredible "my poor meatball" trajectory of this cannon shot.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Berkeley JSU Rejects J Street U

Last year, Jewish organizations at UC-Berkeley barely staved off an effort to get the student government to divest from Israel. Apparently on the theory that what Berkeley needs is fewer outspoken Jewish opponents of the BDS movement, the university's Jewish Student Union has voted to exclude the local campus chapter of J Street from membership (Bradley Burston has good commentary). Instead of following in the footsteps of the British UJS, which elected to take the lead in pushing for a peaceful, two-state solution which preserves Israel's Jewish, democratic (and thus Zionist) character, the Berkeley JUS instead apparently is looking to sabotage that vision.

One of the "nay" voters, identified as "co-president of the pro-Israel student group Tikvah", explained his vote by saying "J Street is not pro-Israel but an anti-Israel organization that, as part of the mainstream Jewish community, I could not support." This position was expanded on at Tikvah's site, which, while conceding that J Street talks the talk of being "pro Israel, pro peace", argues that its actions speak otherwise. The indictment is rather brief and exceedingly unpersuasive -- deciding whether talks or greater sanctions on Iran is the quintessential embodiment of a tactical question which people can and are likely to disagree on, and the claim that J Street has hosted BDS chieftain Omar Barghouti is one I have not seen verified or even mentioned anywhere else on the internet (a Google search reveals an apparently much-discussed instance of Jeremy Ben-Ami rebuffing Barghouti, but nothing about hosting him -- I dropped a comment on Tikvah's site asking for clarification).

Nonetheless, I'm sympathetic to the claim that not all those who proclaim themselves to be "pro-Israel, pro-peace" really deserve the moniker. For example, Tikvah claims to be a pro-Israel organization and their blogger says he supports the creation of a Palestinian state, thus preserving Israel's Jewish and democratic character and with it the Zionist vision. But I'm dubious -- to wit, I'm skeptical that any group which would act so aggressively to exclude J Street actually is either "pro-Israel" or "pro-peace". Just as Tikvah is entitled to be skeptical of J Street's bona fides, I'm entitled to be skeptical of theirs.*

For example, on their website Tikvah proclaims its agnosticism to any question relating to Israel save "the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland." We can note immediately that their claim of neutrality on other issues appears to be fictitious -- after all, one's beliefs on the tactical question of sanctioning Iran are clearly quite severable from one's beliefs about Jewish self-determination, yet they explicitly use it as a litmus test for "pro-Israel" in opposing J Street.

But, more to the point, Tikvah's one issue does not -- or at least does not clearly -- commit itself to defending Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. Since, as expressed earlier, my understanding of Zionism is as the Jewish iteration of liberal nationalism, the agnosticism towards Israel's democratic character could easily render Tikvah a non-Zionist organization (while Tikvah has a section on its site that asks the question "What is Zionism", it doesn't provide answer, instead providing a history of the Jewish presence in what is today Israel). Meanwhile, their apparent endorsement of the Zionist Organization of America provides a clear link to what at this point is an anti-Zionist organization that hands out awards to raging anti-Semites -- a far clearer link that J Street's, at best, nebulous contacts with the BDS crowd.

I don't have a problem with line-drawing in the Jewish community, and I specifically don't have a problem with declaring out-of-bounds positions inconsistent with maintaining Israel's position as a Jewish, democratic state. But that standard has to cut both ways, and while there certainly left-wing Jewish groups that don't meet it (not J Street, but the JVP springs to mind), there are right-wing groups that also cannot honestly state they are committed to that vision. Is Tikvah one of them? I'm not sure, and my default would be to be inclusive rather than exclusive. But if they want to play hardball, then that's the way the game should be played, and in a world where J Street isn't pro-Israel, then neither is Tikvah.

* For clarity, I'm not and have never been a member of J Street, though I'm sympathetic to their aims. I'd characterize myself probably as more as an Ameinu (formerly known as the Labor Zionist Alliance) guy, as I think they've done a better job firmly locating themselves as "Zionists" in the way that I understand the term.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bitch, Please!

In happy blogging news, Tedra Osell, better-known to blogosphere veterans as "Bitch, Ph.D", will make her return to the medium as a co-blogger at Crooked Timber. An outstanding pickup for CT (which already is a great group blog), and equally outstanding for the rest of us who missed Bitch, Ph.D's fantastic blog.

Yitzhar Settlers Abduct Palestinian Shepherd

Ha'aretz reports that a group of Israeli settlers from Yitzhar have abducted a 60-year old Palestinian shepherd (as well as his flock). Apparently negotiations are ongoing with Israel to secure the man's release (Ha'aretz does say it is having trouble corroborating the report).

Assuming the report is true -- and Yitzhar is a hotspot of terrorist "price tag" activity, so it's well within the realm of possibility that it is -- well, let's just say priority one is getting this person back to his family. Priority two is bringing his kidnappers to justice. Priority three is accomplishing priority two without hurting any of the abductors. Hopefully they can resolve this without violence, but it sounds to me basically like a hostage-situation, and the hostage-takers should be treated like any others. If they have to send in a team, that's what they have to do. And if the rescuers are attacked, well, sometimes the IDF has to kill violent terrorists. I'd rather they be arrested and imprisoned, but that's only a preference.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

In Every Word

Likud MK Ofir Akunis, who is promoting a controversial bill sharply circumscribing the foreign funding of Israeli NGOs -- earning criticism from Abe Foxman, among others -- now is under fire for saying Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) "was right in every word." He later backtracked, claiming "I didn't say McCarthyism was right, or that every word that McCarthy said was right." (I'm curious as to the difference between saying McCarthy "was right in every word" and "every word that McCarthy said was right", aside from sentence construction).

Akunis then proceeded to describe his "right and just" bill as saying "that a foreign country will not transfer money to another country." Which, correct me if I'm wrong, is basically a request for Israel to be boycotted? Obviously that's not what Akunis means either, but this is still impressively bad phraseology (One caveat: English may not be his first language and I do not know if these comments were made in English).

Mis-Match Mish-Mash, Part II

Via Ilya Somin, George Will forwards the "mis-match" hypothesis as an argument for abandoning race-based preferences in education admission. Argued most forcefully by UCLA law professor Richard Sander, the mis-match hypothesis argues that race-based affirmative action places minority applicants in schools above their level, at which point they struggle mightily. Someone who would have been a B+ student at the University of Iowa becomes a C- student at the University of Michigan. This has the effect of discouraging minority students, leading to worse rates of employment and bar passage than we would see in absence of affirmative action.

The first thing that has to be said about these studies is that they are deeply controversial, not in the "their conclusions are uncomfortable way", but in the "the data doesn't support the conclusions" sort of way. That's always important to note before we cede too much terrain to this argument off the bat.

But putting that aside, it is an argument I continue to find very, very strange. The basic thrust of the argument is that it is worse for a student to attend a better school. That's counter-intuitive to begin with, but one can see Sander's logic. Where it starts to crumble a bit is that nobody seems to notice or worry about "mis-match" in any other situation but race-based preferences.

Legacy admissions are the obvious control case, as they offer a situation where (mostly) White students are admitted to a school they likely otherwise would not have been in absence of the preference. Two things jump out here. First, I've yet to hear anyone say these students are "mis-matched". People argue against legacy preferences on the grounds that they are unfair to the marginal candidate not admitted to the university, but I've yet to hear anyone argue they hurt the legacy beneficiary. Second, if we're to take mismatch seriously, we'd have to come to the hard-to-swallow conclusion that wealthy, well-connected parents -- the epitome of the sophisticated education consumer -- are deliberately sabotaging their children's academic futures. Someone should tell them.

On a smaller scale, Sander's hypothesis indicates that all the steps law school applicants take to improve their profile without actually becoming smarter (e.g., LSAT prep courses) are actually self-destructive. I took an LSAT prep course and my LSAT score went up four points. Since my LSAT score basically was carrying my GPA on its back, that may have been no small thing in getting admitted to the schools I was. Was I shooting myself in the foot? Oh cruel world, if only I had been placed properly, at the appropriate law school, my life probably wouldn't be such a dismal failure right now.

The other oddity about this, particularly stemming from someone like Somin, is how openly paternalistic it is. Somin writes that he is "pessimistic about the ability of government to institute compensatory justice preferences that are simultaneously equitable and effective in accomplishing their objectives." This is purely an attempt to harmonize some cognitive-dissonance, because it is Somin who is taking the interventionist, big-government approach here. He promotes a one-size-fits-all government mandate which stifles local innovation and prevents schools from adopting the admissions policies they think are optimal for creating the best possible incoming classes.

Public universities are essentially market participants -- they for the most part act similarly to their private counterparts, except when some state law or regulation constrains them or otherwise forces them to modify their behavior. When it comes to affirmative action, it is pretty clear that most state universities, left to their own devices, would practice it. They don't because some law or regulation or court decision forbids it. To test this hypothesis, imagine if tomorrow the University of California, or Michigan, or Nebraska was cut loose and went private. Would they utilize affirmative action for their next incoming class? I think the answer is obviously yes -- in all these controversies, the university administration wants to have such programs and it is some act of government which forbids it.

Somin's argument, hence, is clearly a plea for greater government intrusion in the field of admissions policy -- it replaces what is in essence quasi-private market competition amongst universities (each university decides its own policy, and presumably the one with the best admissions policy is rewarded by having better students, more successful alumni, greater prestige, etc.) with a blanket legal rule. And the "why" is even more embarrassing: First, because he, in his judgment, thinks that the admissions directors and college administrators are so bad at managing these programs that it is better for a government power (the Supreme Court) to make the decision for itself (a command-and-control model); and second, because he is worried for the sake of the students who are being given the opportunity to attend their dream school (i.e., naked paternalism).

The cop-out here is to just say government should get out of the field of education entirely. That's a cop-out because it doesn't answer how we should structure legal rules in a world where that's a pipe dream. It would seem the answer, from a libertarian perspective, would be to have the rules governing these schools approximate a free market regime as much as possible -- to wit, allow the schools to implement whatever admissions standards they want, and certainly don't step in as a paternalistic measure to protect admitted students from their allegedly unwise choices.