Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Years ago, I remember reading a famous paradox concerning how Americans viewed the subject of foreign aid. If you asked them "should the US spend more or less on foreign aid," most Americans would answer "less" -- they thought we spent way too much money on the issue. But when you asked them to estimate how much the United States spent on foreign aid each year, they gave an answer that was an order of magnitude higher than what we actually spent. And worst of all, if you asked them how much they thought we should spend on foreign aid, their answer was still far higher than what we actually did spend -- and remember, this is from people who thought their position was that we needed to cut foreign aid!
At one level, this confluence mostly just shows that most people are innumerate. But taking it somewhat at face value, there is a nettlesome political puzzle here. What does one do if people say they want to adopt position X, but actually advocate for moving away from X, because they are under the misapprehension that the status quo is on the far side of X and thus believe that moving away from X actually means moving towards it?
This is a problem with some folks who've joined up on the "anti-Critical Race Theory" crusade. Of course, there are plenty of people who make no bones about their position -- they think CRT is a Globalist Marxist Socialist Communist Soros Triple Parenthesis plot, and they want to destroy it. But others at least purport to believe that Critical Race Theory should be taught, it just shouldn't be the only thing that is taught. For instance, David Bernstein of the "Jewish Institute for Liberal Values", a prominent anti-CRT voice in the Jewish community, took the position that any school which teaches a "traditional" narrative about civil rights should also teach a CRT perspective.
I absolutely believe any school that teaches a traditional narrative should teach a CRT based approach as well. I don’t know if there are more schools in the traditional category.— David Bernstein (@DavidLBernstein) January 30, 2022
Now here's the thing. If your opinion is that every school should teach both a "traditional" and "CRT" style approach to civil rights, you are advocating for a position that is way to the left of the status quo. The vast majority of primary and secondary schools in the United States do not teach "CRT" at all. In some small number, you might get a CRT-influenced approach in conjunction with more traditional accounts. The number of students who are only being exposed to CRT, and no other perspective, is absolutely negligible. Objectively speaking, if your view is "students should hear both traditional and CRT views", you should be pushing for far more inclusion of CRT into public school curricula than is present in the status quo.
In other words, the entirety of the barrier to getting to the world Bernstein claims he wants to see comes from folks like the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, who's trying to get the University of Wisconsin to rescind its hiring of respected scholar Jennifer Mnookin as Dean because Mnookin (this is a direct quote) "supports critical race theory being taught on campus". It's Texas passing laws limiting what can be taught in the classroom with the express goal of seeking to "abolish" CRT. It's Florida with a veritable cavalcade of legislation seeking to target and suppress "woke" ideologies.
Yet Bernstein, like the ill-informed respondent on foreign aid, has adopted a politics that sprints off in the exact opposite direction from where he claims he wants to go, because he has a wildly off-base assessment of how common Critical Race Theory is. He thinks CRT is everywhere, so getting to a position of even-handedness means pushing back against CRT's hegemony, even if it means making common cause with some unsavory actors. The reality is that CRT is still relatively obscure for most Americans, and so getting to evenhandedness would mean a more aggressive deployment of CRT into the American educational curriculum than would be dreamed by even the philosophy's most fervent supporters.
Is he actually that ignorant about the true (non-)prevalence of CRT in the American educational system? I think he probably isn't; but there is something to be said for a certain type of elite who forgets the world exists more than 10 miles beyond Brooklyn and so confuses what is commonplace in a Williamsburg coffeeshop with the national status quo. A little of column B, a little (a lot) of column B, I'd wager.
Thursday, May 12, 2022
Earlier this week, Shireen Abu Aqleh, a highly respected Palestinian journalist, was killed during an Israeli raid in the West Bank. Eyewitnesses contend that Israeli soldiers shot her, and the bulk of the evidence points in that direction, though Israel maintains it has not yet been conclusively established who fired the bullet. Israel has asked the PA to conduct a joint inquiry into Abu Aqleh's death, but the PA has thus far refused -- preferring to conduct its own investigation and communicate the results to the US and Qatar (Abu Aqleh worked for the Qatar-based al-Jazeera, and she was a U.S. citizen).
As I said, as of right now the evidence strongly points towards the conclusion that an Israeli soldier killed Abu Aqleh. That corresponds with eyewitness testimony (including testimony that, at the time of the shooting, there were no Palestinian militants operating in the area). The bullet fired is one that is used by both IDF and Palestinian forces, so that washes. And an early video which purported to show Palestinian gunmen as the perpetrators has basically been debunked (the video was taken in an area that was nowhere near where Ms. Abu Aqleh was shot and from where it would have been effectively impossible for her to have been hit by any fired round).
Given all this, the fallback position of Israel's online defenders has been to cry foul over the PA refusing to cooperate with Israel in jointly investigating the event. "Why don't they want the truth?" "What are they trying to hide?"
But the fact remains that the PA has very little incentive to cooperate with Israel here, and "truth" has little (though not nothing) to do with why.
There is basically one, and only one, thing a joint investigation with Israel might be able to offer to the PA that it cannot get on its own. It's not access to the "true story" -- most people believe, and most of the available evidence suggests, that Israel is responsible for killing Ms. Abu Aqleh, and the marginal benefit of "confirming" that belief (whatever that means) is likely to be minimal even if we thought that a joint investigation would make such confirmation more likely.
Rather, what Israel might be able to provide that the PA almost certainly cannot get on its own is information on the actual individual who fired the bullet. If the goal is to see a particular John Doe face potential criminal consequences for killing Ms. Abu Aqleh, then a joint investigation is probably necessary.
That's the incentive for cooperation: not just the "truth", in the abstract, but the specific possibility that the investigation will reveal the personal identity of the shooter, who then will face material and appropriate consequences. What are the risks?
It is true that, from a bloodless, political vantage, the status quo of the narrative on this story is already one aligned with the PA's interests. Most people believe, and most of the available evidence suggests, that Israel is responsible for killing Ms. Abu Aqleh. An investigation could confirm that belief, or refute it, or muddy it up ("we cannot know for certain ..."). From the PA's vantage point, the latter two outcomes are very bad. And that's assuming the Israelis investigate in good faith, a stipulation that even some Israeli government officials concede is not one that Israel is entitled to receive.
The risk, in short, is not just that "the evidence" won't back up the prevailing narrative, it's also either that a bad faith Israeli investigation claims exculpation, or (whether in good or bad faith) the investigation only acts to kick sufficient dust around the issue so as to blunt calls for accountability. The PA presumably deems these risks to be quite weighty; and that fear cannot be dismissed as unfounded. And unfortunately, sans the unlikely event of absolute incontrovertible evidence emerging (which seems unlikely), any outcome other than "all parties agree an Israeli soldier was the shooter" -- whether it's (1) Israel lying about whether one of its soldiers killed Ms. Abu Aqleh, (2) it being genuinely not knowable whether an Israeli soldier killed Ms. Abu Aquleh, and (3) an Israeli soldier actually not having killed Ms. Abu Aquleh -- are largely going to be observationally equivalent.
So the choice of whether the PA should cooperate with Israel can be summarized as a weighing of the following probabilities:
P(Israel identifies a specific soldier who shot Ms. Abu Aqleh and subjects that soldier to adequate criminal possibility)
P(Joint investigation genuinely reveals Israel wasn't responsible) or
P(Israel in bad faith uses investigation to disclaim responsibility) or
P(Investigation, whether in good or bad faith, cannot decisively establish who bears responsibility)
Simply put, it strikes me as very hard to argue that the first probability is high enough to outweigh the latter three. Again, the PA has no reason to believe Israel will investigate itself fairly. Nor does it have much cause to believe that, even if Israel did identify a discrete perpetrator, that it would subject him to meaningful criminal sanctions. The most prominent recent case of an Israeli soldier being convicted of homicide against a Palestinian actor was Elor Azaria, who served a mere nine months for manslaughter after shooting a disarmed and incapacitated Palestinian assailant -- even that short sentence occurring in the face of massive public pressure supporting Azaria (something like two-thirds of Jewish Israelis backed pardoning him outright). I suspect the PA weighs the likelihood of the first probability -- that the investigation will fairly seek out the perpetrator and that the IDF will identify him if it is an IDF soldier and that the Israeli justice system will adequately punish him for any criminal misconduct -- as essentially nil.
In an ideal world, a joint investigation would still be the best outcome: if all sides act in good faith, a joint investigation is most likely to get at "truth" and most likely to identify any perpetrators who ought to face criminal liability. In the world we have, we cannot assume good faith and so we cannot assume a joint investigation in any way makes the "truth" more likely to come out. In practice, the PA has no doubt written off the realistic possibility that it will get the name of any Israeli soldier who shot Ms. Abu Aqleh, much less that he will face significant criminal consequences. Given that, the PA has zero incentive to give Israel the opportunity to blur the extant public narrative of this case; while Israel has every interest in hoping something ("truthful" or otherwise) will alter the prevailing discourse.
In this environment, the PA has all the leverage, and it's up to Israel to offer something that the PA wants to make a joint investigation worth the latter's while. The most obvious thing Israel might be able to offer is the prospect that, if a perpetrator is found, he will face meaningful justice. It is hard for me to imagine how Israel could make that commitment in a manner that the PA would find credible -- unless, of course, Israel is able on its own initiative to find and arrest the shooter. If it can't do that (whether because it doesn't actually want to, or because it isn't actually able, or because no such shooter exists), I don't know what it could do that would make the PA inclined to be cooperative.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Thursday, May 05, 2022
Apropos of nothing in particular, I thought it was worth noting an easily-overlooked elision that sometimes makes the antisemitic chant "Jews will not replace us" more opaque than it need be.
Some hear the chant "Jews will not replace us" and, in addition to being appalled, are perplexed. How could Jews "replace" White people when there are so few of us?
The issue comes from an ambiguity in the term "replace". Imagine you're at a baseball game, and you hear the sentence "Smith replaced Jones on the pitcher's mound." That sentence could mean one of two things:
- Smith could be the relief pitcher; the person who takes Jones' place upon the latter leaving the game.
- Smith could be the manager; the person who made the call to remove Jones from the game.
Tuesday, May 03, 2022
It's primary season here in Oregon, and I'm new in town. Consequently, I don't know a ton about local politics here. I'm trying to learn -- I know that homelessness is, by far, the most important issue driving local politics, though I don't have a firm grasp on what the relevant policy divisions are -- but it probably won't happen in time for me to cast a ballot.
So I'll give the races I'm interested in and my preliminary lean, but I am open to more information and persuasion. If you're a Portlander and/or Oregonian, feel free to give me your take and/or efforts at persuasion.
Governor: Tina Kotek.
Of the two major candidates running, Kotek is the more progressive, but she's got a lot of institutional experience as former state house speaker. That's my sweet spot. Plus, the Oregonian endorsed her with the single hesitation that she may have been too ruthless in dealing with state Republicans, which, I have to be honest, I'm not viewing as a downside right now.
State Rep. (38th District): No lean
Daniel Nguyen vs. Neelam Gupta. It seems like Gupta is positioned as the relative progressive to Nguyen's moderate, but I don't have a strong sense of what that means in practice. To be honest, both of their campaign websites were pretty thin. Nguyen's seemed even thinner than Gupta's, but Nguyen seemed to have at least a little more experience. Maybe the tiniest lean towards Gupta, but a stiff breeze could push me the other way.
Bureau of Labor Commissioner: Christina Stephenson
Basing this solely on the Oregonian's endorsement, but they made a good case (and the other candidates they "considered" didn't really wow me).
Multnomah County Commission Chair: Sharon Meieran
A very soft lean here compared to Jessica Vega Pederson. Meieran represents my part of Portland on the city commission, and I like my part of Portland, so she gets some positive feelings off that. She also seemed to have non-platitude plans for dealing with issues like homelessness. Sharia Mayfield is pretty much out for me because she lacks significant political experience. Lori Stegmann doesn't grab me but you're welcome to make your case.
Multnomah County Sheriff: No lean
The Oregonian endorsed Nicole Morrisey O'Donnell, but there doesn't seem to be a lot between her and Derrick Peterson. Very open to persuasion here.
Portland Commissioner (Position 2): Dan Ryan
Won a special election and now is the incumbent. Seems like a thoughtful guy doing a good job. AJ McCreary seems like the sort of activist-y tinged insurgent candidate that I worry won't actually be effective once in office.
Portland Commissioner (Position 3): Jo Ann Hardesty or Vadim Mozyrsky
Hardesty is the incumbent, and made her name securing some big wins for police accountability. That's worthwhile. But she also seems to have that simplistic activist-y mentality that drives me bonkers, and is limiting her ability to broaden her accomplishments. Simply intoning "it's developers' fault" isn't actually the basis for a policy reform. The Oregonian endorsed Rene Gonzalez, but criminalizing homelessness doesn't actually appeal to me, so he's out. Mozyrsky seems like a boring bureaucratic functionary type, which very much appeals to me, but I have no idea where he actually stands on anything. The Willamette Week's endorsement write-up captures my ambivalence well.
Portland Auditor: Simone Rede
It would take a lot for me to pick an Our Revolution/Green Party type (Rede's opponent, Brian Setzler) when there's a credible alternative in the Democratic field.
Metro Council President: Lynn Peterson
A light lean, but here my bias for experienced incumbents benefits the progressive over the centrist challenger (Alisa Pyszka). Peterson seems to have made some mistakes, but "I'm not her" isn't enough for me to back Pyszka, who seems far too tied to business interests for my tastes.
Metro Councilor, District 6: Duncan Hwang
Absolute slightest of lean here, based on incumbency. Both seem good. The Oregonian endorsed his opponent Terri Preeg Riggsby, but was impressed with both and their reasons for favoring Riggsby over Hwang didn't strike me as compelling.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Michelle Goldberg has a very insightful column in the New York Times about antisemitism. It begins by talking about the rapid acceleration of antisemitism that paralleled the rise of Trumpism. Certainly, we are seeing a resurgence of far-right antisemitism (and increasingly, the "far-" is redundant). But even after Trump left office, antisemitic activity has continued to surge. And the most striking thing about this pattern is not its political character, but rather how apolitical it is.
[F]or a huge number of antisemitic episodes, the political motive, if there is one, is illegible. According to Greenblatt, more than 80 percent of the incidents documented in the A.D.L. report “cannot be attributed to any specific extremist group or movement.” Much of the threat to Jews in America seems to come less from a distinct, particular ideology than from the broader cultural breakdown that’s leading to an increase in all manner of antisocial behavior, including shootings, airplane altercations, reckless driving and fights in school.
It is weirdly tempting to think antisemitism is "about" Jews in some meaningful, if mutated, fashion, such that changing something about Jews -- how Jews talk are or talked about, how Jews behave or are perceived to behave, how Jews are viewed or where Jews are positioned in society -- will alter patterns of antisemitism. The vast majority of counterantisemitism initiatives focus on some version of this approach, thinking -- reasonably -- that antisemitism is about Jews
But as Goldberg points out -- and this resonates with my own observation -- antisemitism often is associated with more inchoate frustration and social malaise. Antisemitism follows things like erosion of trust in social institutions, growth in conspiratorial thinking, widespread financial insecurity, and so on. Such developments are not "about" Jews; no amount of Holocaust education or anti-BDS campaigning or interfaith Seders will change them. And yet they probably play a more direct role in the rise of antisemitism than any Jewish-specific factor one could name.
Even apolitical antisemitism has a political connection, albeit an indirect one. "Post-truth" politics, the decay in an epistemically healthy environment, the rise of viral social media practices which create all sorts of terrible bad coherences, gravely accelerate the rise of "apolitical" antisemitism; in this, it is not an accident that the current surge began with and tracks closely the rise of Trumpism (nor is it coincidental that it's leftward manifestations follow closely similar post-truth post-trust ideologies like tankie-ism). But it suggests that wrestling back down antisemitism paradoxically will have little to do with a distinctively Jewish politics. Antisemitism is a symptom of a larger disease, a disease that ultimately is not really about Jews in any specific sense. One will not ameliorate the symptom without addressing that disease.