Saturday, December 09, 2006

Elections. Yay.

The Washington Post reports that Palestinian President Abbas may call for early elections. Palestinian government has been in an state of gridlock--both because the West refuses to recognize it so long as it refuses to recognize Israel, and because there is bitter internal feud by Abbas' Fatah Party and the ruling Hamas.

Might I inquire what this is supposed to accompolish?

Obviously, I know the theory behind it: A new election might shake up the status quo enough so their can be some movement on the peace process. The problems, though, are

1) There is no guarantee that pro-peace elements will win a new election. Indeed, I'm not exactly sure what party a Palestinian would vote for if they are pro-peace, as neither Fatah nor Hamas really have expressed much of an interest in stopping terrorism. The lack of viable peace party in Palestine does not signal that a majority of Palestinians don't want peace, merely that a majority of Palestinians in organized gun-bearing groups don't want peace, and are willing to intimidate others to insure it doesn't happen.

2) There is no guarantee that any major shift in electoral power will take place peacefully. Hamas and Fatah are already on the verge of a civil war. Any internal instability could easily spill into Israel, prompting their own intervention.

3) It is supremely unlikely that a new government would be stable enough to meet the key demands of the West--recognition of Israel. Groups willing to entertain the notion simply don't have enough power vis-a-vis rejectionist groups (who certainly won't lay down arms just because they come up on the wrong side of a vote).

I'm a big fan of democracy generally, but democractic action in Palestine right now is not necessarily going to lead to peace. Let's not get too excited.


As a certain rapper would say...VOTE OR DIE

The 2006 Weblog Awards

An Anti-Heteronormative Reading of Leviticus 18:22

Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman, for it is an abomination. Lev. 18:22

It is not good for man to be alone. -- Gen. 2:18

I just got back from services today, where I had the pleasure of listening to Marilyn Wind, a congregant and lay member of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards (CJLS), discuss the committees recent debate and Teshuvot on the issues of gay rights. I also got the opportunity to read the (still unreleased) opinion by Rabbi Tucker, and it was (as expected), phenomenal. I had to give Ms. Wind the opinion back, but she promised to make and send me a copy--as soon as I receive it, I'll be able to go into more depth as to Rabbi Tucker's interpretative schema.

But as I was reading his opinion, I was struck with an interesting paradox in how we read the biblical prohibition against homosexuality. The relevant line is, as quoted above, thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman, for it is an abomination. This passage is considered to be the largest barrier against religious reconceptualization of gay rights. We interpret it as an absolute bar against homosexual (or at least gay male) activity. "As with a women" supposedly refers to sexual activity. This is a heteronormative interpretation--only for heterosexual males (and homosexual females) are one's lyings with a women sexual. Cross-applying the rule to homosexuals means taking the heteronormative viewpoint and transplanting the rule (as opposed to the text) to homosexual persons.

But is that necessarily the proper interpretation? The prohibition is not phrased directly--it does not say "men should not have sex with men." The first thing we must observe is that the mandate of the text depends very heavily on who it is speaking to. Even if we accept that the prohibition is on having sex with men, it is facile to suggest that a female Jew is prohibited from having sex with men. In its normative frame, the verse makes no sense applied directly to women. This does not in itself prove anything--one could extrapolate an inverted rule prohibiting lesbian activity for women (though such extra-textualism strikes me as a dangerous maneuver for a traditionalist). It does establish, however, that the standpoint of the reader matters as to the meaning of the phrase. At its most conservative, 18:22 means two entirely opposite things for men and for women: men should not have sex with men, and women should not have sex with women.

A law can only have force against those it is meant to speak to. A prohibition that only refers to Kohenim should not be expanded all Jews. If we understand the prohibition of 18:22 to be against male-male sex, then it can only apply to men, it does not "speak to" female activity in any sense, either (obviously) prohibiting them from having sex with men, or prohibiting them from having sex with women.

It is possible to make the law apply to women, however. From a (heterosexual) female perspective, "not lying with a man as one lies with a women" does not mean "don't have sex with men," because heterosexual women do not have sex with women when they lie with them. For straight women, the analogy "as one lies with a women" does not and cannot refer to sexual activity. Indeed, it means the opposite--presumably, heterosexual women would lie with other women completely platonically. So the law as applied to heterosexual women is that they should not (artificially) be barred from having sex with men they wish to "lie with", for that would imply they must lie with men as they lie with women (non-sexually or platonically). Now, even though I think that for women it is better to interpret 18:22 in a "does not speak to" manner, hold that thought.

As noted above, the law can only have affect against those to whom it speaks. If 18:22 does not speak to homosexual men, then it has nothing to say to them, and its prohibition is inapplicable to them. And it is rather clear that the traditional reading of 18:22 is heteronormative--it is not just speaking to men, but heterosexual men. This is true for the same reason applying the law to females is troublesome--"as with a women" does not mean the same thing for a homosexual male as it does for a heterosexual male. How does a homosexual male lie with a women? Platonically, not sexually. If the law is speaking to homosexuals, not lying with a man as with a women is telling them they should not lie platonically with men. Phrased more sensibly, it says that gay men should not be forced to be in platonic relationships with other gay men, for that forces their relationships to be as they would be with women. (Of course, just as the metaphor "as with a woman" in the normative case does not mean that heterosexual men sleep with every women and cannot have a platonic relationship, neither does its use in this case imply that homosexual men must have sex with every man they encounter.).

The upshot of this is astounding: 18:22 is read as an affirmation that every person should refrain from attempting to engage in sexual relations--not with those of the same sex--but with those whom they are not attracted to. It is a prohibition against bearing false witness against oneself. Interpreting the passage in this manner allows for its universalizability and, more importantly, it is the only way the passage can be made intelligible to someone with a same-sex sexual orientation. It also seems to be more thematically consistent with the human dignity and companionship norms that undergird Jewish ethical thought: it reinforces the notion that forcing gay men and women to live a life alone is not just inadvisable, but wrong--just like it was not good for Adam to be alone, so it is not good for gay men to be trapped in the closet, forced to deny themselves and unable to reach complete fulfillment as human beings.

The orthodox reading of 18:22 falters because it takes a heteronormative viewpoint it expands it to all men, homo- or heterosexual. It presumes that for all men, sex is how one lies with a women, draws a rule from that inference, then applies the rule against those for whom the original supposition does not apply. This likely stems from the belief that homosexuality was a aberration from the heterosexual norm--that for all men (including the supposedly gay) the natural inclination was a sexual preference towards women, and gay men were voluntarily choosing to deviate from that norm. Now that we know that this is not true, and that for many men sexual attraction to women is not their default state, we can no longer read "as with a women" as necessarily referring to sex for all men. That is not a tenable interpretation in the modern era. And given what we now know about sexuality, a liberal, humane alternative emerges that celebrates sexual equality and rejects false heteronormative bindings that consign gay Jews to a life of oppression and degradation.

Again, the preceding analysis doesn't mean you have to read 18:22 expansively (as prohibiting gay men from having sex with women). Such a reading is only required if one believes the passage speaks to (can be read against) gay men. If one does not care about that, a narrow reading would just say that the passage does not speak to gay men at all, and the prohibition is only against heterosexual male-male sex, perhaps meant as a bar against certain cultic rituals (as Rabbi Brad Artson has forwarded). Either way 18:22 poses no bar to homosexual males being granted equal standing in the community and full recognition of their sexual orientation. The claim that 18:22 does not speak to homosexuals would mean that the Bible is agnostic toward homosexual activity among homosexuals. That's radical enough. What makes my alternative reading so incredible is that it would suggest that not only is homosexuality okay, but attempting to suppress it--making gay men lie with women as they would lie with men--is qualitatively wrong. 18:22 is thus rendered precisely opposite its orthodox stance: a ringing endorsement of gay equality and a condemnation of the closet.


If you enjoyed this analysis, please consider casting a vote for this blog in the 2006 Weblog Awards!

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Friday, December 08, 2006

Synagogue Services

I'm attending Synagogue Services tomorrow. Since I go to a Conservative (capital "C") congregation, the focus will be on the recent Teshuvot our movement issued on gay rights (blogged here and here). There's no real drama on which policy we'll follow (it's a very liberal congregation), but the discussion should be interesting. I'll let you know if there are any particularly trenchant insights to be had.


And don't forget to vote!

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Firefly's Back!

As an online RPG! I've never actually played a MMORPG before, but I may have to make an exception, for Firefly is a truly special series that deserves all the support it can get.

Via Instapundit, who says: "Shiny"!

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Guess Who?

What Republican said this in 1994?
There's something to be said for having a Republican who supports civil rights in this broader context, including sexual orientation. When Ted Kennedy speaks on gay rights, he's seen as an extremist. When [I] speak[] on gay rights [I'm] seen as a centrist and a moderate. It's a little like if Eugene McCarthy was arguing in favor of recognizing China, people would have called him a nut. But when Richard Nixon does it, it becomes reasonable. When Ted says it, it's extreme; when I say it, it's mainstream. I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican Party and I would be a voice in the Republican Party to foster anti-discrimination efforts.

The other thing I should say is that the gay community and the members of it that are friends of mine that I've talked to don't vote solely on the basis of gay rights issues. They're also very concerned about a $4 trillion national debt, a failing school system, a welfare system that's out of whack and a criminal justice system that isn't working. I believe that while I would further the efforts Ted Kennedy has led, I would also lead the country in new and far more positive ways in taxing and spending, welfare reform, criminal justice and education. That's why I believe many gay and lesbian individuals will support my candidacy and do support my candidacy.

Hint: He's a favorite of the Christian Right today.

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Counter-Mobilization: Myth or Reality?

Over at Tapped, Scott Lemieux argues that the experience of Canada disproves the "counter-mobilization" myth with regard to gay rights. The counter-mobilzation theory holds that aggressive gay rights litigation and court decisions lead to a backlash from the populace at large, ultimately harming the movement. Lemieux says that Canada proves no such thing occurs:
Gay rights litigation has been very successful in our neighbor to the north, with major victories at both the federal and provincial levels (including with respect to marriage benefits. According to oft-cited conventional wisdom, this success should have been a disaster for the gay rights movement, mobilizing a huge backlash and setting the cause back for generations as citizens were incensed by decision by "activist" courts. The problem is that this is not, in fact, true. Not only did Parliament end up formally recognizing gay marriage, but gay marriage has continued to become more popular, now commanding the support of almost 60% of the Canadian public.

That may well be, but I'm not sure this totally disproves the counter-mobilization theory. My observation was that pathbreaking gay rights judicial decisions do spark a backlash, but not in the jurisdiction their made in. The response to the Goodridge decision, for example, was far more hostile around the country than it ever was in Massachusetts specifically. The anti-gay impacts were felt most acutely in Ohio or Oregon, not that Bay State. Massachusetts denizens, of course, got to observe the effects of gay marriage first hand and were able to conclude that the sky didn't fall. But voters elsewhere had no such direct experience and thus only saw gay marriage presented by demagogic figures through the prism of a grave, imminent threat to the family.

Hence, I think the counter-mobilization hypothesis still makes sense when outsiders hear of a path-breaking gay rights decision elsewhere. Without the countervailing factor of actually observing gay families, counter-moblization can still occur. This doesn't mean abandoning litigation as a strategy, but it does mean that progressives must push harder for the visibility of gay and lesbian families across the country, not just in the stereotypical "hotspots."

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Throwing It In

Tom Friedman on the Imus radio show, via Atrios:
We need to set a date, a clear and defined date, circled on the calendar, for us to leave there.

So, he's finally calling it quits. Tom Friedman, who has supported this war from the beginning, who has stuck through all of Bush's mistakes and catastrophes in the vain hope that we could find the magic bullet, has said we have to withdraw.

I think now would be a great time to revisit one of the most poignant quotes from his interview with me last August:
People come up to me now, because I've written an article basically saying Iraq's not working, and they say "Oh, thank you. Thank you for finally seeing the light." And my attitude is rather hostile to those people. Because I don’t think these people understood the problem from the beginning, and I don't want their thank you now. I feel terrible about Iraq. But I don't feel terrible because I'm going to be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of the war. I feel terrible first of all for all the casualties, and the incredible human devastation--American and Iraqi. But what I really feel terrible about, David, is this project. I thought it was really important. I still think it's important. And I have no apologies to make about thinking it's important. It's still important. I still hope we can salvage something. And so, I don't want anyone to say "Thank you for seeing the light." I haven't seen any light at all. All I've seen is darkness. Because if this project fails, only bad things will come of it for the world that my girls are going to grow up in.

A few days ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote a vicious critique of Mr. Friedman's contribution to Iraq War discourse. While I thought it far harsher than it needed to be, there was one point that I thought legitimate: Supporting the war based on the theoretical "best policy", when this administration has shown no interest in adapting that policy (or even trying to figure out what a "best policy" might look like) is wrong. It is delusional, it is folly, and it is wrong.

It may well be there is the magic combination of policies that can set Iraq right. I have no confidence that the Bush administration will adapt those policies. It is also true that the best reason for both staying in and leaving Iraq is what happens if we do the opposite. Staying in Iraq means being stuck in the middle of a mid-grade civil war that we cannot fix or end, while our global position degrades each day and our military grows more disillusioned and bogged down. Leaving Iraq means plunging it into a brutal bloodbath that could possibly pull the entire region into war--and it would be our fault. There is no good option. But I cannot continue to support a failed policy on the grounds that some administration, somewhere, could still solve the Iraqi dilemma. This one can't. And I can no longer ask American soldiers to die for our leadership's mistakes.

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Kassim Ouma

In one of the odder twists of my life, attending to Carleton has made me into a pro boxing fan. Not because Carleton is some hotspot of boxing activity (not even close!). Rather it is for the far more mundane reasons that the old boxing matches on ESPN Classic were often the only thing on late at night, and with my hours I found myself watching. And I became hooked.

This weekend, a fighter by the name of Kassim Ouma (25-2-1, 15 KOs) will fight Super Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor (25-0-1, 17 KOs) for the world title. Taylor I last saw in a bout against Winky Wright (one of my favorite fighters), where Taylor escaped (in the most literal sense--I thought Wright won the fight) with a draw. Ouma I knew little about other than his recent victory over the highly regarded Sechew Powell.

In boxing, there are a lot of hard stories. But Ouma's stands out as particularly heart-rending. Forced to fight as a child soldier in Uganda's brutal civil war, Ouma was endured atrocities most of us can scarecely imagine:
"The thing is Kassim has to learn to realize that he was a victim then and he's a victim now. He has to learn to let go of the guilt for the decisions he had to make in order to survive. I really believe he has massive issues of post-traumatic stress that he's dealt with as best he could. But the memories are never far from the surface, and almost anything can dredge those memories up" [says manager/translator Tom Moran].

In Ouma's case, those memories are like scars upon his psyche. He was just 6 years old when rebels stormed into his grade school in Busia, Uganda, in 1984 and abducted all the boys. Ouma and his frightened classmates were herded into the back of a garbage truck and driven into the bush, where they were forced to fight with the guerrillas.

Handed an AK-47 that was larger than he was, Ouma suddenly found himself a kadogo in Yoweri Museveni's rebel army.

The first day, Moran relates, the adult soldiers told the children that "there's no more mommies and daddies now" and that "if you cry something's going to happen to you."

Some of the kids cried and, true to their word, they did not live long enough to fathom the high cost of their tears. Ouma was even ordered to shoot one of his friends, or run the risk of suffering the same grisly fate. Simultaneously terrified and repulsed, he complied.

"Can you imagine?" Moran said, aghast that such atrocities can exist and be forced upon the youngest and most vulnerable members of even a violent society. "This is what Kassim has locked up inside him.

"When he finally is ready to agree to it, I hope to get him some professional help so that he can learn to forgive himself. He made a conscious decision as a child to do things, terrible things, which no one should ever have to do. He feels responsibility and guilt for, well, still being alive. That's what torments him and he can't let go of."

Ouma escaped from combat by joining the Ugandan national boxing team, and defected to the United States in 1998, leaving behind his wife and children. His father was beaten to death by the Ugandan army as a result. He was homeless. And this weekend, he's fighting one the best boxers in the sport for the Super Middleweight crown.

I'll be rooting for him.

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Teshuvah of Rabbis Nevins, Dorff, and Reisner

I'm still working my way through the 55 page opinion, but if you want to take a look, it's available online. There's is the liberal teshuvah of the three passed, which allows for same-sex commitment ceremonies, rabbinic ordinations, and lifts the prohibition on all homosexual sex but male-male anal sex (oral sex and lesbian sex is still okay).

Rabbi Nevins also released a journal of remarks after the vote which sheds significant light on the other (as yet unreleased) opinions. I was particularly interested in his description of Rabbi Levy's opinion that has been described as recommending reparative therapy for homosexuals:
It has been reported that Rabbi Leonard Levy called for "reparative therapy" for gay and lesbian Jews to function as heterosexuals. This is, as Len likes to say, a "sweeping generalization." In fact, his point was that while most people who experience same-sex attraction may never be able to change that, even if highly motivated, a small percentage nevertheless may, and they should be offered that opportunity. I don't think anyone disagrees that people should be able to understand their sexual orientation with the assitance of open minded counselors. Where we disagree with Len is in his claim that you can maintain an exclusive public policy that bans all homosexual intimacy and the recognition of homosexual families while also creating a welcoming and respectful environment for people who identify as gay or lesbian. I voted against Len's paper, but I don't think it should be distorted.

I think this may be too kind to the reparative therapy position, but I am curious to read Rabbi Levy's opinion in full to get the complete picture. Unlike the other two passed opinions, which both garnered a majority of 13 out of 25 (one Rabbi voted yes for both positions), Rabbi Levy's teshuvah only received 6 votes--the bare minimum necessary to be considered legitimate.

Rabbi Nevins also talks about the two opinions which were labeled "legislation" (thus requiring 20 votes instead of 6 to pass) and thus were not passed. In this category I am particularly interested in the opinion of Rabbi Tucker:
Rabbi Gordon Tucker, submitted a general essay about theories of Jewish law, citing many modern legal theorists, especially the late Robert Cover, to argue that the law must not be immoral, and that the narrative ethical values of Judaism should direct the law in this case, rather than the reverse.

Robert Cover was a brilliant legal and Jewish theorist, and I expect Rabbi Tucker's opinion to be quite intriguing and hopefully lay the groundwork for developments in Jewish law to come.

Obviously, if anyone knows where to find the other opinions, I'd love to read them over.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Will of the People

As some of you may recall, the recent November elections were quite good for the Democratic Party. Which makes this bulletin from the American Conservative Union all the more amusing (all emphasis original):
Republicans in the U.S. Senate could have -- SHOULD HAVE -- confirmed John Bolton! They had the majority in the Senate and a majority of Senators supported John Bolton.

Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Republicans could have played hard-ball. They had the power to bring the nomination out of committee and to the Senate floor, where Bolton would have been easily confirmed.

Yet they did NOTHING. They cringed behind their desks, determined to sneak out of Washington this week, tails between their legs!

Last month, the American people went to the polls, turned about two dozen RINOs OUT OF office and DEMANDED conservative government! And unfortunately in the process, the GOP lost its majority and a few good men like Rick Santorum, Jim Talent and George Allen.

But apparently our leaders did not get the message!

A landslide Democratic year shows that Americans DEMANDED conservative government? Coming up in 2008: Pat Buchanan cruises to the Presidency amidst a Democratic tidal wave.

You heard it here first.

Two Jews, Three Opinions

So the old saying goes. Anyway, a Conservative Jewish panel on the issue of same-sex sex, ordination, and commitment ceremonies has approved 3 teshuvot (legal opinions) on the subject--two of which uphold the traditional view, and a third which allows for gay commitment ceremonies and ordinations, but still forbids anal sex.

This strikes me as a bit of an odd compromise--like getting Goodridge without Lawrence, but I'll take what I can get. As I noted in my previous post, Jewish teshuvot do not have to mutually compatible, or apparently even mutually intelligible. So, like with Hillel and Shammai, both "these and these are the words of the living God." The Post's article also says that three members of the 25-person panel resigned in protest of the decision, although they did not say which teshuvot they were protesting.

If anyone has links to the Teshuvot, I'd be quite interested in reading them.

UPDATE: Still no links to the Teshuvot. However, according to one site, one of the traditionalist Teshuvot "upholds the ban on gay sexual relationships in Jewish law and mentions the option for gays to undergo therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation." If so, that is extraordinarily disappointing. I think that there are solid textualist reasons to maintain the ban on homosexual activity as a (not the, but a) teshuvot, but I think that stepping further than that into reparative therapy has no religious or normative justification, and clashes severely with the predominant scientific literature on the issue. It is a perversion of principles of Halakhah, and Rabbis should not be permitted to press for it.

Jeremy Blumenthal also has more.

Best of Luck

Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, is pregnant.
Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, is pregnant. She and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are "ecstatic" about the baby, due in late spring, said a source close to the couple.[...]
Cheney has described her relationship with Poe -- whom she took to last year's White House dinner honoring Prince Charles and Camilla -- as a marriage. The two met in 1988 while playing ice hockey and began dating four years later. They moved from Colorado to Virginia a year ago to be closer to Cheney's family. In an interview with the Post six months ago, when asked if she and Poe wanted children, Cheney said that was a "conversation I think I should have with Heather first."

In November, Virginia voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions; state law is unclear on whether Poe could have full legal rights as a parent of Cheney's child. The circumstances of the pregnancy will remain private, said the source close to the couple. This is the first child for both.

Best wishes to both parents and the child. Hopefully, their new baby will be born into a world where her or his parents will possess all the rights and be afforded all the dignity that every other American has under law.

UPDATE: In reference to Virginia's draconian anti-gay legislation, Andrew Sullivan coins the term (?) homorein.

It's The Final Countdown

I am proud to inform my many, many readers that I have been named a finalist for a 2006 weblog award, in the category of best blog from 3500 - 5000 in the TTLB ecosystem. This is the first such nomination this blog has received, and I am pretty excited about it.

I've actually been spending this winter break filling out scholarship and fellowship applications, and I keep trying to work my blog in because it is something I'm very proud of and something that (I hope) showcases my skills as a writer and thinker. But I feel like outside the community, it's very difficult to make blogging sound impressive. After all, anyone can create one--what makes mine so special? So this is very much a validation for me, and regardless of whether I win or lose, hopefully I can point to this to show that my blog is not just an idle flight of ego-fantasy, but something that people do read and respect.

I won't ask you to vote for me. I will ask you to look at all the blogs in the category and, if you find mine to be the best, then vote for me.

Here are all the blogs in the category:

Another Rovian Conspiracy
The Debate Link
Martin Andrade Blogs
Right From Left
Better Living Thru Blogging
CDR Salamander
Geeky Mom
Blue Gal

Update: I've looked through all the blogs, and there is some stiff competition! For awhile though, it looked like I was the only liberal! It wasn't until the bottom of the list, with Blue Gal and Geeky Mom that there was some fellow liberal love. Meh. I'm just thrilled to be here, and to have an excuse to find some new blogs to read.

Best of luck to everyone!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Brown's Last Stand: The Roundup

On Sunday, I gave my thoughts on the two school desegregation cases before the Supreme Court. Oral argument occurred Monday, and there is a wealth of commentary on the cases lurking out there. Without further ado, let's get to it.

In my comments, I noted the absurdity of Solicitor General Paul Clement's assertion that governments have a compelling interest in ending racial segregation, so long as they don't think about race. The good news is that, according to Court-watcher Lyle Denniston, Justice Kennedy thought it was a bit silly too. The bad news is Denniston thinks that by and large Kennedy was hostile to the Seattle and Louisville plans, and predicts a 5-4 decision against their constitutionality.

BlackProf's Christopher Bracey has a set of potent quotables from the oral arguments.

Scott Lemiuex and Publius both have excellent posts up dealing with the way originalism gets selectively applied in law. There is little to no evidence that the 14th amendment envisioned a "color-blind constitution", so, as Publius states, orignalists have to move to ever greater levels of abstraction to justify the amazing synergy between their policy preferences and "the law." But when abstracting outwards would lead to policies orignalists disfavor, they move back down into the specific and interpret in that manner. It's all very arbitrary and very partisan, which wouldn't be notable except that originalists obsessively trumpet how objective and grounded their interpretation is, which is simply untrue.

Several people asked me to cite the studies showcasing benefits of a diverse education. The brief on behalf of the American Educational Research Association has it. The specific arguments are too long to excerpt, but the summary of their conclusions is roughly as follows:
Research studies have shown that racial diversity in elementary and secondary education leads to important short-term and long-term benefits for students of all racial backgrounds. Among these benefits are improved cross-racial understanding; the reduction of stereotyping and prejudice; gains in student achievement; a strong sense of civic engagement and willingness to live and work in diverse settings; and better preparation for higher education, work, and participation in a diverse society. Not only do diverse schools benefit students as individuals, they also promote social cohesion and reinforce democratic values that this Court has long recognized as foundations for good citizenship. (3-4)

The brief also specifically attacks several other briefs (most notably the brief of Armor et al as presenting incomplete, outdated, or misleading research. I admittedly did not do a close read, but my understanding of Armor's argument is that the relationship between school desegregation and performance is largely inconclusive, while the AERA maintains that these studies are outliers many more recent studies have found the relationship to be viable. It is also worth noting that the Armor brief, which was on behalf of three social scientists, was the only brief for the petitioners (the anti-integration side) I saw that specifically dealt with the issue of the social science research. By contrast, in addition to the AERA brief, several other major briefs supported the respondents' conception of the research, including the American Psychological Organization, the The National Education Association, and an umbrella brief filed by 553 Social Scientists. There were too many briefs to read through in entirity (see the whole list here)--I looked for briefs that appeared to be from either national non-partisan non-ideological organizations (e.g., the APA) or from specific social scientists (e.g., Armor et al). The weight of scholarly opinion seems to be overwhelmingly of the belief that diverse schooling provides important, tangible, and beneficial educational and social impacts. As the AERA puts it:
Unanimity is rare in any body of scientific research, but there is substantial agreement that the best available research evidence, which is composed of studies employing sound and reliable methodologies, solidly supports the Respondent school districts in these cases.

The only two briefs the AERA cites for the opposing position are the Armor brief and a brief that I could not find from Drs. Murphy, Rossell, and Walberg, whose arguments they address in their own brief.

Less "hot" than the issue of social science research, but still interesting, was that the Anti-Defamation League intervened for the first time in 60 years on the side of a race-conscious program (that is, in favor of the respondents). Also worthy of note is this brief, also in favor of the respondents, by several former high-ranking military and defense department officials.

Apparently a rather interesting lawyer argued the case for the petitioners out of Louisville. Even still, Will Baude thinks that he did fine at Oral, and that at least he didn't hurt his side too much.

WaPo coverage, and WaPo editorial.

I was pleased to see that many local students--high school and college--came out to protest and show their support for integrated schooling. Alas, in the through-the-looking-glass world we now live in, support for integration now makes one a racist. Dr. King would be appalled, indeed.

Existential Threats

After 9/11, a political cartoon was published that featured a rat which had plucked a single feather from an eagle. The rat was celebrating deliriously, blissfully unaware of the now-aroused eagle glaring down on him from above. The lesson, of course, was that 9/11 was, in the grand scheme, not a crushing blow to the United States or a mortal wound. Our ability to fight against terrorism was not in any way weakened. All that happened was they awakened a sleeping giant. And now they'd pay the price.

I bring up this cartoon for two reasons. First, because we need to resist all the comparisons that make the War on Terror akin to World War II or the Civil War or other existential threats to American security. It isn't. That isn't to say we shouldn't fight it. But in terms of what powers we grant our government, what information we give to the press, etc., there is a qualitative difference between those past wars and the current conflict. We didn't grant the government special powers because the Confederacy or Nazis were evil (although they were). We gave them because the very existence of the country was threatened. Terrorism can pose such a threat (in Iraq or Israel, perhaps), but it simply does not here and now. The al-Qaeda navy will not be blockading Charleston harbor. Islamist troops are not marching on Minneapolis. There is a limit to the military damage al-Qaeda can do to us, and it's not very high. So everyone who compares the NYT's disclosure of Bush's wiretapping program to code-disclosure in WWII, stop it. You're embarrassing yourselves.

The second point is that while al-Qaeda cannot truly hurt us directly, there are lots of ways it can hurt us indirectly. For example, as Tom Friedman noted, they can destroy the networks of trust and freedom that keep our country great. And that's the other thing: it seems some people's strategy for fighting terror is for America to systematically pluck out our own feathers and use them to suffocate the rat. It could work, but it's win-win in all the wrong ways: We succeed in defeating al-Qaeda, and they succeed in obliterating the rights and values that make our nation great. Frankly, I'd rather just stomp on the rat, or work with other eagles to kill the rat, or isolate and starve the rat to death, since none of those options involve metaphorical self-mutilation. Does not being able to torture detainees make our nation less safe from terrorism? Maybe yes, maybe no, but even if it does it's only in the same sense that not locking up every American male makes us less safe from crime. I know that we can win this conflict without giving up our soul, so I see very little point in sacrificing it simply to show how tough and manly we are.

Again, this isn't to say we should not fight the war on terror vigorously and with a will to win. It's merely saying that we should not give up our precious rights and privileges under false notions that we're in a do-or-die scenario. Somebody has to say it: al-Qaeda isn't worth these sacrifices, and too many people are far too eager to demolish the foundations of the nation for no reason at all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

These and These

Thru Ezra Klein, the interesting story about the forthcoming decision by the Conservative Judaism movement (my denomination) on same-sex sex, marriage and rabbinic ordination.
Rabbi Avis D. Miller of Washington's Congregation Adas Israel said the "rabbinical scuttlebutt" is that the panel -- the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards -- will approve two conflicting answers, one upholding the status quo and one calling for change.

That is possible because it takes the votes of just six of the panel's 25 members to declare an answer to be valid -- meaning that it is a well-founded interpretation of Jewish law, not that it is the only legitimate interpretation. It would be possible to approve all the answers, or none of them.

If two or more contradictory answers are accepted, "that will be the strongest statement for America, because everything in America spiritually and religiously seems to have become political, and the way you know it's political is that it's either 'yes' or 'no,' " said Irwin Kula, a Conservative rabbi who heads the New York-based National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

A long-standing Jewish practice (dating back to Hillel and Shammei) known as the "these and these" principle allows for more than one interpretation (including mutually exclusive interpretations) to be considering equally valid and legitimate in the Jewish community. I agree with Rabbi Kula: there is beauty in this type of humility and refusal to declare only one interpretation to be ultimate or dogmatic. Klein notes how this stance--so rare in modern religious thought--seems to be in closer alignment with the view of imperfect and fallible humanity:
Organized religion's attempts to profess certainty about the will of the divine based on majority votes conducted by mortal arbiters has always been a discomfiting element: A belief system based on human fallibility and transcendent Truth allowing fallible humans to decide, deterministically, what that Truth is, or at least how it manifests? Yikes. This method seems much more aligned with the view of humanity put forth by the religion itself: That people are error-prone and unsure, that they can do their best to interpret the source documents and relevations they have, but claims to spiritual certainty or infallible guidance face avery, very high burden of proof.

The willignness of Judaism to entertain a variety of differing positions, rather than immediately asserting the primacy of orthodoxy, is one of the reasons I'm proud to be a Jew. And by sanctioning the equal dignity of gay and lesbians as a legitimate point of Jewish law, they will make a great stride toward establishing their equal dignity as a point of American morals.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brown is Dead! Long Live Brown!

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear two school integration cases that may well be the most important decision they release on the topic since Brown v. Board of Education. The Court will consider two voluntary plans adopted by Seattle (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District) and Louisville (Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education)to try and diversify their school district by spreading the White and non-White students across the various local elementary, middle, and high schools. Louisville is a particularly interesting case, as it has just emerged from being under court-supervised desegregation, and could be put in the peculiar position of being ordered to stop voluntary desegregation just a few years past when was still under order to desegregate. So we're on the verge of coming a full circle--from the courts refusing to interfere with local government segregation in Plessy, to the courts refusing to allow local governments to interfere with segregation in Meredith.

How we've gotten to this point is a strange odyssey that is a rather telling indictment of the fetishization of color-blindness. Consider the argument made by Solicitor-General Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of the Bush administration against (did you have any doubt?) the desegregation plans:
School districts have an unquestioned interest in reducing minority isolation through race-neutral means," Solicitor General Paul D. Clement said in his brief to the court. "But the solution to addressing racial imbalance in communities or student bodies is not to adopt race-conscious measures."

This is an evasive and roundabout way of saying that school districts can and should work to reduce racial segregation ("isolation"), so long as they don't use race. How one simultaneously notices race to identify a problem and ignores it when crafting a remedy (or at least a remedy that would be remotely effective) completely escapes me. To be clear, the practical upshot of Clement's formulation would be that any plan to desegregate the races, by virtue of the fact that it noticed race, is unconstitutional. Or put another way: desegregation is unconstitutional.

I'm a general advocate for using a complex vocabulary when talking about race and racism, but here is a case where the various rhetoric is mudding the waters. This case has alternatively been tagged as about affirmative action, race-consciousness, race preferences, diversity, integration, and desegregation. It is, to be clear, about the last. Sixty-two years after Brown v. Board required that schools desegregate, Meredith and Community Schools would--quite literally--forbid them from doing it.

People who engage in this color-blind fetishization try and invoke the specter of Brown by saying that Brown was about schools using race as a principle for sorting students. That's funny, because I thought the problem in Brown was that schools were segregated. If schools remain segregated, it doesn't really matter from the student's perspective why they are or how they are, just that they are. A student in a segregated school is harmed regardless of what circumstances place him there--a law saying "Blacks must attend this school," or a social reality in which all the Whites have moved to the other side of town. Rewriting Brown's history in this manner demeans the reality of segregation and its inherent ugliness regardless of whether it is imposed de facto or de jure. People can prioritize the color-blindness principle so far as to sanction the re-segregation of our schools, but it's a perversion to do that and claim the noble mantle of our nation's greatest case.

Some are wondering if these two cases might become known as Brown III. I don't know if that will come into being, and I don't know how the Court will rule. Tragically, defenders of racial justice are on the defense here--a victory will do little to move school integration along (after all, cities must voluntarily adapt these plans and it does nothing about interdistrict segregation), but a defeat would cripple the integrationist agenda. What I do know is that both sides, in their opinions, will insert the requisite paeans to Brown. We will never hear the fateful words uttered: "Brown v. Board of Education, overruled." But if the Seattle and Louisville plans are struck down, then the Court will be left to praise Brown in the very act of killing it.


Looking through a collection on old New Yorker comics, Quaker of Crescat Sententia concludes that the 50s weren't all that fabulous:
I was amazed at how many of the cartoons were about marital discord and loveless marriages, etc (generally based around the trope of shrewish wife and henpecked husband, natch). If advocates of eliminating no-fault divorce and so on to return us to the halcyon days of traditional marriage, I find myself wondering if they've really thought the whole thing through.

I had an argument once with a conservative friend once, in which she contended that rates of sexual assault would have been lower before feminism (implicitly the 1950s), because back then men were taught to properly respect, cherish, and protect women. After seeing the number of cartoons in which women were explicitly treated as sex objects -- never mind the cartoon about the humor inherent in workplace sexual harassment -- I continue to be unconvinced.

Sexual harassment! Oh God, my sides are splitting.

Seriously, it's high past time we recognize that the belief that the pre-feminist era was some halycon time of respect and chivalry between the sexes is nothing but a nostalgic illusion. It never happened. As Justice William J. Brennan once wrote in Frontiero v. Richardson:
There can be no doubt that our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination. Traditionally, such discrimination was rationalized by an attitude of "romantic paternalism" which, in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage.

That was 1973. I sincerely doubt that he was talking about the era between 1964 and 1972.