Friday, July 07, 2006

There Can Be Only One!

Over a year ago, I wrote a post defending multiple meanings of marriage from a post-modern perspective. I noted that a multiple-meaning paradigm allows us to recognize as "marriage" types of ceremonies that we ourselves wouldn't or can't participate in. That might sound dangerous, but in reality it's essential: Jews should be able to recognize a "union of two people under Christ" as a marriage, and Christians should be able to recognize a "union of two people under a Ketubah" as a marriage, even though both experiences are beyond each groups respective personal horizons. Marriage would lose a lot of its transcendental character if we couldn't make such leaps, or if we blithely argued that recognizing Christian marriages somehow "degraded" Jewish ones, or vice versa.

Anyway, Eugene Volokh today has a great post analyzing and refuting the idea that their can be only one true "meaning" or "purpose" of a given act or institution, be it sex or marriage. As usual, he says it better than I ever could, so go forth and read.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Drunken Party in Alabama!

Dan Filler has two interesting posts up about a proposed law in an Alabama city targeting "open house parties", defined as a party in which two or more underaged youth consume alcohol. The law would impose "strict liability" on the homeowners (i.e., parents) of the house, that is, they would still be punished even if they knew nothing about the party and took all reasonable steps one could be expected to take to prevent it.

Filler thinks that whether strict liability is justified constitutes a "tough" question. I don't--I think it's a troublesome theory in most cases and particularly bad here, where the steps beyond "reasonable" parents would presumably be incentivized to take could very easily cross-over into abuse.

Another question off of this law is what it means for a family which lets their two kids drink wine at dinner. Technically, they'd be liable under this law. When asked about that possibility, the local police chief said that it wouldn't be a problem because there would be virtually no circumstance in which the police would get a call to search the house for such an "offense." But as Filler points out, it's probably bad to write poor legislation and then count on the constitution to bail you out of enforcing the troublesome parts. At the very least, the risk of targeted prosecution is a problem, but it also encourages weak and overly broad legislation.

Anyway, since I don't turn 21 until February, this still has some relevancy to me. Not much, since I live in Maryland, go to school in Minnesota, don't drink, and don't know anybody from Alabama, but still, some.

Nice Ride

I ordered delivery for dinner tonight. When the food got here, I looked out onto my drive-way to see two cars: A grey '99 Ford Taurus Station wagon, and a silver convertible. The delivery boy had the convertible. The Taurus was mine.

My surreal moment of the day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Crying Victim

One of the favored conservative attacks on liberal anti-discrimination proposals is that it's just people "playing the victim." "Culture of victimization" is a commonly heard phrase in these circles. But is it true? Are members of minority groups ready to cry victim at the slightest provocation? Recent research suggest the answer is no.

I just read of a study by Karen M. Ruggiero and Donald M. Taylor regarding how minorities react to ambigious cases of discrimination. Students were given a series of written aptitude tests, then told they did poorly. They were also told that a certain (varying) percentage of the judges were biased against their social groups. Even when they were told that up to 75% of the judges were biased, respondents were still more likely to blame themselves for their results than discrimination--as likely, in fact, as when they were told only 25% of the judges were so biased. Ironically, the exceptions to this rule were Whites and males, both of whom showed little hesistation in calling out perceived discrimination [Ruggiero & Taylor, Why Minority Group Members Perceive or Do Not Perceive the Discrimination That Confronts Them: The Role of Self-Esteem and Perceived Control, 72 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 373 (1997)]. It may well be that the gap between the amount of actual and perceived "crying the victim" is a function of Whites and males projecting their own predispositions onto minority groups. What are the implications of this?

[UPDATE: From the comments, it seems like there is some reason to doubt the credibility of Professor Ruggiero. The aforementioned study is on probation until further notice]

It should not surprise us that minorities are generally unwilling to claim that they are victims of discrimination--even when it is actually occuring. As Deborah Brake argues in her recent argue, Retaliation:
A disturbing body of research demonstrates a high propensity for men and white persons to dislike women and people of color when they claim discrimination, even when the claim is meritorious. The social penalty for transgressing social roles and challenging perceived inequality sets the stage for retaliation.

Social psychologists have found that women and minorities are perceived as troublemakers and hypersensitive when they confront discrimination....African Americans who blamed discrimination for a poor performance rating on a test were viewed more negatively than African Americans who blamed themselves. The predominantly white evaluatiors consistently rated an African-American student more negatively--as a complainer, a troublemaker, hypersenstive, emotional, argumentative, and irritating--when he attributed his poor test performance to his discrimination rather than to his own ability, regardless of the objective likelihood that the student actaully experienced discrimination [Deborah L. Brake, Retaliation, 90 Minn. L. Rev. 18, 32-33 (2005) (emphasis added)]

So, if the data implies that discrimination tends to go under-reported, and that people who do report even just claims of discrimination tend to be stigmatized, that should be powerful evidence that something has gone awry with how we treat victims of real discrimination.


Greatest Story Ever Told

I'm not Christian, so I'm going to put a word in for the story of the Entebbe rescue. Arguably the most daring large-scale rescue mission in the modern era, a small attachment of Israeli commandos flew to Entebbe, Uganda, where the Jewish passengers of a hijacked Air France flight were being held under guard by Ugandan soldiers and Palestinian terrorists.

The Jerusale Post has two wonderful articles about the operation, which I highly recommend to anyone. As one of the Israeli commandos said:

"Believe me, even James Bond didn't do such a job."

H/T: Powerline

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th!

No posts today. I just want to wish my readers a Happy 4th, and hope it was a wonderful spent with friends and family.

As for me, I had a delicious hot dog. I really don't like it when the patriotism of dissenters is questioned, but anyone who has something besides a Hamburger or Hot Dog on Independence Day has questionable Americanism at heart.

(And if the Hot Dog isn't Kosher, well, you're only hurting yourself).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Explaining Interest-Convergence

In this post, I mentioned what's known as the "Interest-Convergence Theory" (pioneered by Derrick Bell) to explain why Brown v. Board of Education came out the way it did. In retrospect, not everyone knows about this hypothesis, so I thought I'd lay out the bare-bones of it.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund had been courageously and tenaciously litigating school desegregation cases for many years, usually losing or, at best, winning narrow victories.

In 1954, however, the Supreme Court unexpectedly gave them everything they wanted. Why just then? ....

During that period...the United States was locked in the Cold War, a titantic struggle with the forces of international communism for the loyalties of the uncommitted Third World, much of which was black, brown, or Asian. It would ill serve the U.S. interest if the world press continued to carry stories of lynchings, racist sheriffs, or murders like that of Emmett Till. It was time for the United States to soften its stance toward domestic minorities. The interests of whites and blacks, for a brief moment, converged.

Bell's article was greeted with outrage and accusations of cynicism. Yet, ten years later, the legal historian Mary Dudziak carried out extensive archival research in the files of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Justice. She analyzed foreign press reports, as well as letters from U.S. ambassadors abroad, all showing that Bell's intuition was correct. When the Justice Department intervened on the side of the NAACP for the first time in a school desegregation case, it was responding to a flood of secret cables and memos outlining the United States' interest in improving its image in the eyes of the Third World. [Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: NYU Press, 2001): 18-20]

The original Bell article is Derrick A. Bell, Jr., Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma, 93 Harv. L. Rev. 518 (1980). The Dudziak article cited is Mary L. Dudziak, Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative, 41 Stan. L. Rev. 61 (1988).

The Good Guys

Paul Mirengoff has graciously penned a response to my post regarding Peter Beinart and the Democrats on terror policy. I'm a debater by trade (hence the blog's name), and Mr. Mirengoff was my first mentor in debate, so there's always the potential that these things can run around forever. But fortunately, I think that there is a lot of "agree to disagree" areas that have sprung up, so I think after this post we can let things lie.

The first area of dispute is how much domestic policies influenced our victory in the cold war. I forwarded the argument that America got significantly more aggressive in fighting for civil rights because having a Jim Crow system significantly reduced our credibility in the third world, the battle ground of the cold war. Mr. Mirengoff thinks this thesis is "overblown." I've been sufficiently persuaded by my readings of Derrick Bell, Mary Dudziak, and Richard Delgado to think that it had a considerable role. (Incidentally, for those of you scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I'm talking about, I typed up a bare bones explanation of the scholarly history behind this idea). Again, I find this evidence convincing, but if you don't agree, you don't agree.

But granting that it had some effect, Mr. Mirengoff then challenges me as follows:
Let's assume that the Justice Department intervened in Brown v. Board of Education because diplomats said it would help us defeat Communism. Let's assume that Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the same reason. What's missing is evidence that these moves had anything to do with us winning the Cold War decades later during the conservative Reagan administration.

I could be really snide and agree with Paul on the grounds that Reagan's overt hostility to the civil rights movement makes it difficult to ascribe to that same movement our victory in the Cold War. But that would be mean (and counter-productive). So I'll just make two arguments here.

First, this seems incompatible with how conservatives view Reagan's contribution to ending the Cold War. Sure, they'll go on about winning the arms race and muscling the USSR under as crucial components to Reagan's strategy. But where they really wax poetic is in talking about the bold moral challenge Reagan put out to confront the Soviet Union. In other words, they do recognize the importance of drawing sharp moral contrasts between "the land of the free and the home of the brave", on the one side, and the "evil empire," on the other. Civil rights is obviously a critical part of this.

Second, Mr. Mirengoff is proposing a counter-factual scenario. We can't, of course, go back and see what the upshot of the Cold War would have been had Brown gone the other way, or the Civil Rights Act never been signed. I have serious trouble believing that we would have done as well in the Cold War had we not taken significant, tangible steps to show we were serious about protecting (non-White) rights, especially given the importance of non-White countries in prosecuting the war. Mr. Mirengoff apparently believes it would have had no effect--we could have gone completely Bull Connor and done just as well in our diplomatic efforts in Africa, South and Central America, Asia, et al. This is agree-to-disagree part number two, again, let the reader decide.

The next question is what degree liberal norms help convince wavering Muslims that democracy is in their interests. I argued that the case for democracy is seriously weakened when people see some of the worst trappings of authoritarianism (torture, detention without trial, "ghost" internment camps) still happen inside of democracy's biggest cheerleaders. Paul responds as follows:
There's no doubt that genuine human rights abuses like Abu Ghraib can create anti-Americanism. It's conceivable that they can even cause people to take up arms against us. What's far-fetched, I believe, is the view that human rights abuses by Americans will cause people who might prefer self-government over a dictatorship to decide that a dictatorship is better after all. Arabs can certainly have a democratic government without adopting specifically American policies, a point that critics of the administration are fond of making.

I have three responses here. First, even if American human rights abuses "only" cause "anti-Americanism" and "cause people to take up arms against us," those are still Really Bad Things that make it more difficult to effectively fight and win the war on terror. So I'd say that even this minimal concession is proof positive that American human rights violations are counter-productive to fighting this war, ipso facto, the party that fights against those abuses gains a unique advantage in prosecuting the war effort.

Second, I'm not sure that I do believe American human rights abuses have no role in causing anti-democratic sentiment. A Sunni in Iraq might very well conclude that having a Sunni dictator is superior to democracy, if "democracy" means that the Shi'ite controlled government is sending out death squads and slaughtering his compatriots and political leaders. One might respond that this would be an Iraqi-perpetuated rights violation, not an American one, and thus falls outside our control. But I don't think that neat division of labor is coming across--Sunnis (rightfully) expect America to do everything it can to stop the government from oppressing them, when it was the American's who promised that this democracy thing would be the cat's meow. As long as Iraq is effectively an American client state (which it is as long as we still have hundreds of thousands of troops in the nation), it is on our heads to send the message that torture is intolerable from the government we're propping up. This is why liberals like me swooned over Peter Pace when he told Donald Rumsfeld publicly, to his face, that American troops have an obligation to intervene to stop inhumane conduct by Iraqi forces. Rumsfeld thought they should just look the other way. So this view-clash is present, and it pits folks like me and Pace, who think that America does have a role to play in preventing Iraqis from torturing each other, and the Bush administration, which doesn't care at all.

Third our goals for Iraq are not encompassed merely in the phrase "democracy." We don't just want a democracy, we want a vaguely liberal democracy that respects the rights of its citizens and (among other things) doesn't discriminate on the basis of religion (in Iraq, that's the big one). So now working from the Shi'ite side of things, they might decide that a theocratic democracy is superior to a liberal one if "liberal democracy" still means Abu Gharib. This might be what Paul means when he says that Iraqis can choose their own form of democracy, and he may well be right that we should allow them this choice. But to reiterate, Iraq turning into a theocratic-leaning democracy hostile to America still represents a case of a Really Bad Thing that makes our war on terror harder. So policies which make that outcome more likely vis-a-vis a more liberal democracy are also Really Bad Things that make our job harder.

Finally, Mr. Mirengoff is just skeptical that most Democrats actually believe all of this. He cites Beinart's call to "purge" the more leftist elements from the Democratic party. I might even sign onto this, but I think it's a smaller portion of the party than Paul does. For example, he tries to group on "MoveOn" and "Michael Moore" with "the Kos crowd", but of course these groups are not the same (Moore, for example, isn't a member of the Democratic party). Again, this is kind of one of those "agree to disagree" moments. All I can say is that I'm a hawkish Democrat who goes to bleeding heart liberal college, and while I see a lot of fury at President Bush (which I share, incidentally), I have not encountered many opinions incompatible with a Beinart-like view on foreign policy. Differences at the margins and in the mechanics, of course, but the basic principles seem relatively widely held: that radical Muslim extremism is an awful thing incompatible with basic liberal norms, that America needs to fight it, that this fight needs to be conducted constrained by certain moral considerations, both because it's right and because we won't win if we don't, and that this fight will at times involve the use of American military forces. I feel comfortable ascribing these basic beliefs to the majority of Carleton Democrats, who I think themselves are mostly left of the party median.

Lieberman Willing To Go Solo

So it's official. Joe Lieberman will run as an independent if he does not win the Democratic primary.

I don't really know what to think. I've never been as much of an anti-Lieberman basher as most, although his persistent shilling for the Bush administration is supremely aggravating (and the fact that he was responsible for the inept securities laws that gave us Enron is another big strike against him). His justification for the move was also interesting:
"I am very loyal to the Democratic Party, but I have a loyalty higher than that to my party. That is to my state and my country.

Great words, but I'm not sure I really believe Lieberman is being totally honest. He's loyal to himself, not to the "country." Maybe he's loyal to the country in the egomaniacal sense of "the country needs me, whether they want me or now," but I don't know if I want to give brownie points for that.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Gay Foster Parenting Winner

Via Mirror of Justice, I am pleased to report that the Arkansas Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a lower court judgment striking down that state's prohibition on gay foster parenting. Actually, the regulation in question here went beyond prohibiting homosexuals from becoming foster parents, it extended the prohibition to any family which had an adult homosexual living in the household.

I blogged about the lower court ruling previously. It's very interesting reading, as the testimony it describes really demolishes whatever scientific basis there is for preventing homosexuals from starting families.

As for this decision, the ruling was rather narrow, focusing only on separation of powers issues and not the more meaty equal protection or privacy arguments. The Court rather simply noted that the executive agency did not have statutory authorization to make this prohibition, and that the testimony given showed pretty clearly that there was no rational basis connecting such a regulation to the best interests of the child. It said nothing about whether or not such an act would be permissible if the legislature had enacted it directly (although a concurring opinion said that it would not). Hence, this might be another case of a democracy forcing decision--not letting legislatures hide behind executive agencies to avoid going on the record voting for such a draconian violation of gay civil rights. Basing the decision on these grounds makes it harder for the right to argue that this is an "activist" decision--not that they won't try, only that it will be less coherent than normal.

San Francisco Symbolism

Tom Elia points to two cases where (presumably liberal) commentators said there were hidden motives behind conservative notations of a place. Specifically:

New York = Jew

San Francisco = Homosexual

Elia thinks both are ridiculous. I'll agree with the former, but he's delusional if he thinks the latter isn't in play. Totally coincidentally, Elia doesn't even try to say what conservatives mean when they talk about "San Francisco liberals" (nor do the other blogs who commented), preferring to focus on Pelosi herself:
Nancy Pelosi = "Over-her-head, out-of-touch-millionaire, with rhetorical skills that make George Bush look like Cicero."

Well, perhaps, but that certainly isn't what springs to mind when one thinks of San Francisco. It does absolutely nothing to explain why Republicans love to harp on the fact that Pelosi is from the city of the Golden Gate. Is there something about San Francisco that makes it entirely a bunch of "out-of-touch-millionares"? Or is it famous for its poor rhetorical skills? Please. What the heartland thinks of, when it hears "San Francisco" in a political context, is its large gay community. San Francisco = pro-gay. There is no way Elia can be a serious observer of politics and not know this.

In other words, sure, there are plenty of angles of attack on Nancy Pelosi that have nothing to do with homosexuals. But they also have nothing to do with San Francisco. Once you start mentioning "San Francisco" in the ads, you have to give me a convincing reason why you'd bother bringing it up. The self-evident answer is the gay symbolism.

(Incidentally, the reason this doesn't apply to "New York Times" is that NYT is a stand-alone proper noun. If Republicans started talking about "New York liberals," then they'd have to explain the symbolism behind that, but talking about the NYT and talking about New York are not the same thing).