Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Not-Bad Takes on Aziz and Grace

You probably missed it -- it didn't exactly get much traction -- but an essay came out the other day where a woman detailed what she termed a "sexual assault" by Aziz Ansari on their first date. It has spawned a legion of takes, many of them terrible. But some of them are pretty good! So in lieu of substantive commentary, I thought I'd just link to the essays I found not-bad (or better!).

KatyKatiKate: "Not That Bad."

Danielle Tcholakian, Nylon"On Aziz Ansari And Rape Culture’s Generation Gap: Why can’t we hear each other?"

Anna North, Vox: "The Aziz Ansari story is ordinary. That’s why we have to talk about it."

Jill Filipovic, The Guardian: "The poorly reported Aziz Ansari exposé was a missed opportunity."

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason: "Aziz Ansari and the Limits of 'He Should Know Better.'"

Hyejin Shim, Medium"Consenting to Normal."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Taking Rural To School: The Carleton/Minnesota Case

MinnPost has an interesting article detailing the various programs and practices Minnesota private schools (including my beloved Carleton College) use to bring more students from rural communities to campus.

One thing I think the article does a good job of emphasizing is that attracting rural students, specifically, means being attentive to particular range of problems, concerns, or obstacles which transcend a simple, naked, "we're open to everyone" outlook. Obviously, scholarships are helpful -- and some schools have scholarship programs specifically open to students from rural backgrounds.

But another issue that is pointed out in the article goes to recruitment: when sending admissions representatives on recruiting trips around the country, it's obviously more efficient to visit densely populated sub/urban areas (particularly in relatively wealthy high-performing school districts) that are likely to yield more applicants. Hence, rural students may be less likely to hear about (say) Carleton or get information as to why they should attend or how it will be financially possible to attend. This is a structural disadvantage students from rural communities might face, and so it is incumbent on college admissions offices to take proactive steps to counteract it. Likewise, rural school districts may lack the range of extracurricular activities or programs that are found in their suburban counterparts, and so figuring out who are the true "stars" coming out of rural districts may require more work than simply an apples-to-apples comparison of applicant profiles. And for some schools (particularly those which are not themselves nestled in rural communities), there might also be some attention to mitigating the effects of culture shock -- the delicate balancing between wanting to expand horizons while also respecting that adjustment to new and different communities is something that requires work and support.

All of this is to say, to the extent a school like Carleton desires geographic diversity -- and it does, and it should -- it will have to take specific steps to make itself available and accessible to that community. Tailored scholarship programs, extra attention to non-traditional recruiting, and holistic appraisals of applications are just some of the ways Carleton might take these steps.

There's one last thing worth remarking on. Frequently, when talking about "affirmative action" programs, we hear a stock refrain about the "rural White kid from a small town in South Dakota -- what about him?"  As this article makes clear, the myth that colleges don't care about diversity when it comes to rural kids is just that -- a myth. But there's a bigger issue here. The implication of this critique is that concern for rural students is something competitive with, and antagonistic to, affirmative action programs which seek to increase enrollment of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. In reality, they're two peas in a pod.

The strategies discussed in this article include scholarships that are just "for" rural kids (I wouldn't have been able to access them), specific efforts to recruit from these communities, and even certain types of "weighting" when assessing their application (why should their two extracurricular activities be more impressive than my seven?). These are no different in form than how racial affirmative action works. In neither case is the strategy simply a facial neutrality where we tally up GPAs and standardized test scores and rank accordingly. It isn't even a simple reduction of the entire program to class -- scholarships for people (regardless of race or location) below a certain income. Rather, both the race and the geography case involve taking specific actions that are tailored to, and sometimes restricted to, the particular underrepresented community.

Yet I think this article will elicit very few complaints about "special privileges", or the need for "location-blindness", or odes to the lost meritocracy of yore. I suspect most people will read this article and think these are salutary efforts to improve educational accessibility for a community that is often-overlooked in higher education.

For the record: it's the latter reaction that's the right one. While I myself come from the suburbs, and thus did not receive any of the scholarship money or specialized recruitment or tailored review of my application, I still consider myself a beneficiary of these programs. Why? Well, most obviously, I'm engaged to a fellow Carl who comes from what the article calls "Greater Minnesota" -- that turned out to be a great benefit for me. And of course, one of the many virtues of a truly great liberal arts education is getting to meet and learn from people who hail from a variety of different backgrounds.

My life and learning is better than it otherwise would have been because I got to meet and become friends with people from rural communities. It's also better than it otherwise would have been because I got to meet and become friends with people from lots of other communities, many of which were quite distant (spatially and otherwise) from where I grew up in the DC suburbs. Carleton's efforts to promote this sort of diversity are part of what makes it strong -- in all cases, not just some.

American Political Commentary, in a Nutshell

Here's Scott Lemieux:
The heuristic the typical voter uses to resign responsibility is to assign it to whoever controls the White House. This is often wrong. But it’s better than the heuristic used by the typical political reporter or pundit, “no matter who controls what, the Democratic Party is fully responsible.” And of course, there’s the particularly dumb lefty variant, “when Republicans I spent a year before the election assuring you were basically harmless pass terrible legislation with zero Democratic votes, that proves the Democrat Party secretly favors it.”
Sounds about right.

Friday, January 12, 2018

What's a One Point Dip Among Friends?

Is it just me, or am I rightfully a bit skeeved out by this Erik Loomis post on "which demographic has Trump best held his support"?
Since his inauguration, Trump’s support in every polled demographic has fallen. That includes groups where he had massive support (his own voters, evangelicals) and where he had very low support (Hillary voters, African-Americans). But there is only one group where his approval has fallen by a mere 1 point. What do you think that is? Christians? The wealthy? The South? Nope, nope, and nope.
It’s Jews.
Of course, Trump had low Jewish support initially. But those Jewish voters who care only about an aggressive, expansionist Israel love Donald Trump. If you were Jewish and a Trump supporter in 2016, you are still a Trump supporter. Which says a remarkable amount about a particular type of politics that makes you a stickier Trump supporter than literally every other demographic group in the nation.
And yet, among all religious groups, Jews still have the lowest overall Trump support, at 30 percent, although Trump now has a lower approval rating among atheists/agnostics, which he did not a year ago.
Loomis is drawing from this NYT article detailing how much Trump's approvals have dropped off across various demographic groups between inauguration day and today. These range from a 12 point drop for Democratic men and a 10 point drop amongst Latinos to a 3 point drop amongst Blacks and a 1 point drop with Jews.

One bit of context that is missing is that Jews were one of the few demographic groups that moved left from 2012 to 2016. Obama got 69% of the Jewish vote in 2012, versus 70% for Clinton in 2016. That's not a huge shift, obviously, but given that the country as a whole lurched right (most groups -- including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and women -- gave Clinton smaller margins than Obama), it stands out. So one way of interpreting this data is that "NeverTrump" GOP or Independent Jews actually walked the walk in 2016 -- they disapproved of Trump and actually voted against Trump when it counted. Put another way, the Jews most likely to have been "soft" Trump supporters were already were turned off on him by election day, whereas other groups' "soft" supporters only turned against him later.

To be clear, there's nothing in Loomis' post that's inaccurate. We could say that writing a whole post on Jewish support for Trump dipping "only" 1 point seems like a weird thing to focus on given the extremely low baseline of support Trump had with Jews to begin with (although, as Loomis notes, some other groups where Trump also began with very low support rates saw those rates dip by much greater amounts). We could also question how much narrative weight should be put upon the difference between a 1 point drop amongst Jews versus a 3 point drop amongst Blacks (if we're comparing groups that began with low baselines of support). Indeed, since the demographic "voted Trump in 2016" also saw only a modest 3 point dip, maybe the real lesson here is "If you were [a Trump voter in 2016], you are probably still a Trump supporter" -- full stop.

But really, my discomfort stems from what to reads as a weirdly triumphant tone, as if Loomis is eager to have proven something particularly diseased about the Jews -- the one group whose Trump flunkies are sticking to Trump more than any other group in the nation.

Maybe I'm reading into it. But Loomis sure sounds excited to put "Jews" and "Trump diehards" in the same conversation, doesn't he?

Things People Blame the Jews For, Part XLI/Rate That Apology, Part 7: Puerto Rican Power Edition

It's a double-header!

As many of you know, Puerto Rico continues to suffer in the wake of a debilitating hurricane last year, with almost half of the island still lacking electricity. Island residents are justifiably angry at the lackluster federal response to their plight.

So why have repair efforts taken so long? Maybe it's because they're basically a colonized territory lacking full voting rights and so equal status as Americans. Maybe it's good old-fashioned racism (maybe explanations #1 and #2 are not mutually exclusive).

Or maybe, as an op-ed published in Puerto Rico's largest paper posited, it's the revenge of "the Jew":
Monday’s column by Wilda Rodriguez in the newspaper El Nuevo Día, titled “What Does ‘The Jew’ Want From The Colony?”, claimed that “Wall Street types” dictate U.S. policy, and that “Congress will do what ‘the Jew’ wants, as the vulgar prototype of true power is called.” 
“No offense to people of that religion,” she added. 
She went on to claim that Wall Street and “the Jew” are punishing Puerto Rico in order to get the island to pay its $70 billion debts.
I'm glad she added the "no offense" caveat. Who knows how it might have been interpreted otherwise?

Anyway, before I got to this Rodriguez issued an ... well, let's decide whether we'll call it an apology:
“I’m profoundly sorry that some have interpreted one of my pieces as anti-Semitism,” she wrote. “My career as a writer has been clear, and prejudice and racial and religious hostility have never been a part of it. I can understand the strong reaction that some of have had to the mere usage of the word ‘Jew.’ My intention was not to offend, but to provoke a public discussion. With that clear, I ask for forgiveness from those of good faith that were hurt by my political allusion. I have not and never will intend to offend them.”
Call me crazy, but I'm not convinced that the "mere usage of the word 'Jew'" was what set people off here. Had she written the sentence "At the age of 13, a Jew undergoes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and becomes a full adult member of his or her community," I dare say everybody would be cool. I'd say the objection is 25% to the invocation of "the Jew" as a general archetype, and 75% to the content of that archetype being unbridled financial greed and power.

But hey -- public discussion provoked!

Grade: 2.5/10

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Issue is (Jewish) Power

Andrew Mark Bennett has a searing piece in the Forward detailing Jewish Voice for Peace's antisemitic obsession with Jewish power. One striking aspect of it is that it self-consciously does not focus on BDS. JVP has plenty of other sins that can be hung on its head, and Bennett does a good job detailing many of them.

Let me put it this way: reading this article made me want a cigarette. And I don't smoke. That's how good it felt.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Many People Are The Real Threat To Free Speech, Part 2

Last Fall, I noted that while we basically only hear about "threats to free speech" on campus when the alleged perpetrators are liberal, attempts to shut down distasteful speech are quite bipartisan in flavor. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Aaron Hanlon collects some right wing instances of speech suppression on campus -- including the striking statistic (drawn from FIRE) that, while campus liberals are more likely to try to disrupt or shutdown speakers, conservatives are more likely to succeed in doing so. This doesn't really surprise me -- on the one hand, there are more liberals than conservatives on campus, and on the other hand, if there's one thing conservatives are really good at, it's working the refs.

Again, the moral of this story isn't to simply flip things on their heads -- conservatives are the only threat to free speech, and liberals are as pure as driven snow. The right lesson is, to reiterate, that threats to free speech come from all sides of the political spectrum, and that genuine commitment to the principles of free expression -- as opposed to opportunistically crying "free speech!" only to swiftly abandon it once it ceases to be politically convenient -- is actually a rare beast.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Lacking God's Time

Jelani Cobb has a great profile of Wayne A. I. Frederick, the President of Howard University, and the difficult dynamic even elite HBCUs face as they seek to navigate Trump-dominated political waters.

Cobb does a great job giving historical context to an ongoing dilemma HBCU leaders often face between directly challenging White supremacist power structures in America versus accommodating White leaders who control desperately-needed resources and access. It grates -- obviously it grates -- for students on these campuses to see their President, say, appear in a photo-op with President Trump, or to watch as Betsy DeVos uses their campus as a backdrop to prattle on about "school choice", or (in a particularly extreme example) to hear that Lee "Willie Horton" Atwater may join the university's  board. Such moves are, to say the least, way out of step with the prevailing sentiment of the campus community.

On the other hand, "Pragmatic" leaders often consider the putative conciliation to be its own form of power. What could be more revolutionary than extracting money and support from inside the belly of the beast?  Yes, it might be ideal to not have to make such compromises. But, Cobb quotes Frederick as saying: "People think we’re doing God’s work, on God’s time, with God’s money. The problem is, we don’t have access to the latter two."

The paradox of being an HBCU leadership position is that "pragmatists are in the business of producing new generations of fierce idealists." It's a difficult issue, without clear answers. But Cobb's piece is well worth a read to begin unpacking it, at the very least.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XL: Weed

Andrew Anglin. chieftain of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, has a message for his followers regarding who controls the legal marijuana industry. Give you one guess:
“It is personally disgusting to me that we are condemning a generation of children to grow up baked in this noxious substance. But there is now huge public support for it,” website editor Andrew Anglin complained in a post about the Trump administration potentially pushing back against marijuana consumption and distribution. “Most of the marijuana industry, I can assure you, is run by Jews.”
Sadly for Anglin, it seems like many of his followers like toking up and so are resistant to the message that they have fallen under the thrall of the Jew-agenda. As one of Anglin's followers put it in eloquent rejoinder: "I enjoy cannabis and I'm not some filthy fucking hippie … or some faggot libertarian or [civic nationalism] cuck."

Can't wait to see how this debate plays out.

Friday, January 05, 2018

The Humiliation of The "Responsible" Republicans

I firmly believe that the "responsible" Republicans -- those who didn't already start on the Trump/Bannon side of the Party -- are deeply humiliated that Donald Trump is now the standard-bearer for their party.

It's embarrassing that a man whom everyone -- including his closest confidants -- agrees is a complete idiot has become the Republican mascot.

Of course, nobody likes being humiliated. But rather than taking aim at the actual root problem -- that they're Republicans in a world where Donald Trump is the Republican Party -- they're instead lashing out against those figures who are keeping Trump's mendacity and incompetence in the public eye.

This is how we get Senators Grassley and Graham -- often thought of as members of the "responsible" GOP wing -- requesting a criminal investigation of the author of the Steele Dossier. This is how we get Speaker Paul Ryan backing Trump water-carrier Rep. Devin Nunes over the Department of Justice regarding access to classified documents in the Russia probe (Nunes recused himself from that investigation after being accused of disclosing classified information; the House Ethics Committee cleared him last month). We see it in the ongoing efforts to discredit virtually our entire law enforcement apparatus as it continues to zero in on Trump administration malfeasance. We see it in the flatly incredible pivot back to LOOK AT HILLARY'S EMAILS in a last-ditch attempt to deflect attention.

They know that they're in bed with a bad guy. I have no doubt they find it deeply shameful. But instead of manning up and actually working to extract themselves from the situation, they're instead more upset that everyone keeps on talking about it. What they want is to return to a state of blissful -- if not ignorance, than at least quiescence -- where Trump's obvious deficiencies can be laughed off as within the bounds of normal politics, and they can just pass tax cuts and gut health care without having constant whispers of "is the Republican Party fiddling while American burns" hovering in the background.

It won't work, of course. It isn't Comey, or Mueller, or Rosenstein, or the FBI, or the DOJ, or the mainstream media, that is the root of their humiliation. It all boils down to the fact that they're Republicans in a period where Donald Trump has ascended to the fore of the Republican Party. So long as Trump is still in charge and still a Republican in good standing, he will continue to do things that will humiliate other members of his party.

The only question is how much damage the so-called "responsible" Republicans will do in their desperate attempt to avoid responsibility and pretend like if they close their (and everyone else's) eyes, this will all go away.

The Other Voting Rights Travesty

One interesting aspect of studying "anti-discrimination" issues in America is the degree to which Indigenous rights are frequently simply forgotten. In Australia, New Zealand, or to a lesser extent Canada, indigenous issues often occupy a substantial part of the attention of scholars in this area, but in the United States Native Americans are completely overlooked. An American law student, for example, will invariably get a significant education in the history of civil rights legislation and jurisprudence spanning the entirety of American history. But one can get an entire American legal education at most schools and pretty much never read a case that is primarily about Native American law.

On that note, I found very interesting this New York Times article about renewed pushes in Native communities to get and protect their right to vote. Whether the demand is opening polling stations in remote areas where Native Americans often live, to contesting gerrymandered districting lines which deprive Native Americans of proportionate representation, to ensuring that Native Americans have equal access to the necessary infrastructural prerequisites to voting (e.g., adequate postal service in vote-by-mail communities, or available registration offices in places that require voter ID), Native voting rights issues overlap with but are also distinct from the more familiar set of problems that are present in the race field.

Anyway, the article makes for a good read. Recommended.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

And To Think, For a Minute I Thought Roy Moore Really *Did* Have a Jewish Friend

As you might recall, at the tail end of his campaign Roy Moore's wife Kayla tried to refute allegations that he was antisemitic by saying their "attorney is a Jew". This set off a media manhunt to figure out who the Jew in question was, and my prediction was that whoever it was, he'd turn out to be a Messianic Jew -- which is to say, not really Jewish at all.

Sadly for me, it looked like I was wrong: reporters discovered that Richard Jaffe -- who defended the Moore's son Caleb on drug charges -- was Jewish (actually Jewish) and so likely the man in question. While disappointed that my take didn't pan out, I took solace in the fact that Jaffe was a longtime friend and backer of Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.

But twist! Now Kayla is back in the news and claiming that Jaffe was not the Jew she was referring to. The suspect is still at large; and the hunt is back on!

Now two thoughts occupy my mind:

(1) I cannot believe this is still a story.

(2) Given that at least some of Moore's "Jewish" friends and Rabbis are indeed actually Messianic, I'm thinking that my original prediction has new life within it.

UPDATE: And boom goes the dynamite.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The West Coast is the Best (Target for a North Korean Nuclear Apocalypse) Coast

After many wonderful travels around the country to see family and friends -- in Fort Walton Beach, in Coral Gables, in Boca Raton, and in Chicago -- I'm now finally back home in Berkeley, California to begin the year 2018.

These travels make me miss my own time living in the middle of the country. Less because Chicago is so much better than the Bay Area (though it is), and more because Chicago is far less likely to be incinerated in an atomic holocaust after the President of the United States decided to get into a Twitter war with North Korea over who has a "bigger" nuclear button.

Anyway, Happy New Year!