Thursday, April 16, 2015

Extra-Diverse Democrats, Part II

Back when we were still in the throes of the 2008 Democratic primary, I predicted that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton would add additional "diversity" to their ticket if nominated (that is, both would select a White male VP).
The reason is that there is a very predictable media narrative that will form if two members of politically underrepresented groups appear on the Democratic ticket. One person is ground-breaking and history-making. Two people, by contrast, is an "affirmative action" choice and proof the Democrats are in thrall to "interest groups." If Obama picks a woman, it will undoubtedly be cast as "appeasing" women's groups who were ready to see Clinton break the ultimate glass ceiling. If Clinton picks a Black running mate, same thing, except replace NOW with the NAACP. This is what Derrick Bell calls the unspoken limit on affirmative action. Even if at first the diversity is applauded, at some point folks will start getting uncomfortable with too many women or people of color.
It's hard to say I was vindicated, given the n of 1. But I think the reasoning holds up, particularly given Wayne LaPierre's comments on Hillary Clinton's presidential run: "Eight Years Of One Demographically Symbolic President Is Enough."

Pre-Doctoral Roundup

Berkeley, California has been the fifth city I've lived in over the past five years (in order: Chicago, Champaign, Minneapolis, Washington, Berkeley). That city per year streak comes to a close, as Jill and I are sticking around in Berkeley for at least a few more years yet. I'm enrolling in Berkeley's Political Science Ph.D. program. Moreover, the law school is extending my fellowship (and funding) for at least one more year -- which (in addition to making graduate school considerably less impoverishing than it would otherwise be) means that I can keep my connection to the law community even as I embark on this new adventure.

It will be a bit odd to move over to the demand-side of the education marketplace. But I'm excited to get started, and excited to continue my involvement in the Berkeley community.

* * *

Why "Ashkenormativity" Isn't a Thing. I did not expect this post to be good, and was pleasantly surprised. Not sure I'm ultimately persuaded, but very thought-provoking.

I get the technical objection Justin McBrayer is raising here, but I think "facts are things subject to proof, opinions are matters of pure belief" works as a rough-and-ready distinction suitable for elementary school students. And as one of those darned millennial skeptics of the existence of moral facts, I am obviously dubious that such a belief is responsibility for all the ills of Kids These Days.

My former colleague (and longtime electricity market expert) Bud Earley lays out two views on how distributed generation will effect electric utilities.

Interesting article on how various civil rights centered groups view the ongoing debates over standardized testing. This is, as the article notes, one of the few areas where the mainstream left really is pretty fractured.

Did Hillary Clinton steal Hadassah's logo? Spoiler: No! "H" with a red and blue color scheme is not as original as one might think.

A prominent activist on behalf of undocumented immigrants who warned he would be killed if deported back to Mexico, was killed after being deported back to Mexico. This sort of scenario was, by far, the worst part about clerking. There were many circumstances where I felt pretty confident that a regular person -- not always a saint, but not a monster either -- would be killed if sent back to their home country. But under the laws of the United States and the precedents of the 8th Circuit, their asylum claims were doomed to fail. And so I issued recommendations that I basically knew meant that regular people would be violently killed. It is something that everyone who touches our immigration system has to deal with.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Legitimizing the Anti-Vax Movement

The New York University law school recently hosted an event featuring promiennt anti-vaccination activist Robert Kennedy Jr.. Many folks are upset that this position would be given a platform at an august institution like NYU. And I'm inclined to agree, but this also lets me reiterate the point I made in my Academic Freedom versus Academic Legitimacy mini-article.

The objection to Kennedy speaking is not an "academic freedom" problem, so long as everyone agrees that whichever member of the NYU community that invited Kennedy has the right to extend such an invitation. The objection is that believing like the anti-vaccination movement is within the bounds of legitimate academic discourse is suggestive of a severe academic or intellectual failing. Academic freedom is a constraint on how we can remedy such a failing -- we cannot cancel the speech or discipline the organizer. But it is perfectly fair game to argue that treating the anti-vaccination like even a credible (much less correct) participant in public debate is nonetheless wrongful, and that NYU's intellectual community malfunctioned in an important way when it thought otherwise.

And that, after all, is the real objection isn't it? We don't hear flat-earthers on college campuses not because they're banned, and neither (just) because they're "disagreeable" in some sense, but because there is widespread intersubjective in the academic community that such views are not worthy of scholarly attention, and a professor who did think that such a view was even thought-provoking would seem to be making an obvious misstep (even if he had the "academic freedom" to do just that). And so it should be for this. It's not that anyone thinks NYU endorses Kennedy's opinion. It may well think he is seriously mistaken. But hosting him suggests that his position is "in bounds", the sort of thing that scholars debate over. And it shouldn't be -- any more than "scientific" creationism or Holocaust denial should be.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Too Serious For Discussion

My stance on recognizing Turkey's genocide of the Armenians at the turn of the 20th century is pretty straight-forward: do it. Turkey is embarrassing itself far more by throwing a temper tantrum anytime anyone acknowledges historical fact than it would be if it actually decided to reckon with its past in an honest and forthright manner. Turkey needs to grow up, and all of us have an obligation to the truth. This isn't a tough call.

So for the most part, Turkey's latest fit over this issue -- stemming from Pope Francis' commemoration of the genocide -- is not particularly interesting. I note it here only to add to a growing collection I've noticed regarding how people use "moral seriousness" as a defensive move against moral critique:
“I don’t support the word genocide being used by a great religious figure who has many followers,” said Mucahit Yucedal, 25. “Genocide is a serious allegation.”
Now genocide is a serious allegation. But that, on its own, is no reason for Pope Francis to keep silent. If anything, it is more imperative that the Pope break through the silence that has emerged around this issue so that the victims can be properly remembered. But it is and remains interesting how people routinely argue that because an allegation is "serious", it should not be made at all.