Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Which I Respond To PG

PG has launched another one of her trademark flurry of comments, and I figure I'll just respond to them on the front page, one by one.

On Samantha Power's relationship to Obama and Darfur:
Has Powers [sic] helped Obama formulate a position on Darfur? If so, do you know what it is?

I am nearly positive that Power was brought on to the campaign specifically because of her Darfur expertise, and I assume she has played a key role in crafting his position on the matter. Darfur Scores gives Obama an A+ on the issue, "for supporting and voting in favor of all significant Darfur legislation." He is on the record as supporting a UN peacekeeping force, and I believe he has expressed willingness for US troops to act as a "bridge" until such a force can be put together.

Here's Rolling Stone on the Power/Obama link:
One of the biggest names to work with Obama is Samantha Power, the scholar and journalist who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. "In 2004, I came out of election night just completely depressed," Power says. "We thought Kerry would win and we'd all get a chance to change the world. But then it was like, 'Nah, same old thing.' " Obama gave her a place to channel her energy. She advised him on the genocide in Darfur, an issue that most politicians at the time were studiously avoiding. "He's a sponge," Power says. "He pushes so hard on policy ideas that fifteen minutes after you've started talking, he's sent you back to the drawing board. He doesn't get weighted down by the limits of American power, but he sees you have to grasp those limits in order to transcend them."

Power is part of a generation of thinkers who, like Obama, came of age after the Cold War. They worry about the problems created by globalization and believe that the most important issues America will confront in the future (terrorism, avian flu, global warming, bioweapons, the disease and nihilism that grow from concentrated poverty) will emanate from neglected and failed states (Afghanistan, the Congo, Sierra Leone). According to Susan Rice, a Brookings Institution scholar who serves as an informal adviser to Obama, their ideas come from the "profound conviction that we are interconnected, that poverty and conflict and health problems and autocracy and environmental degradation in faraway places have the potential to come back and bite us in the behind, and that we ignore such places and such people at our peril."

On hockey players being smarter than other jocks:
I can't help but wonder how much of the better academics you've noticed among hockey players has to do with race, geography and class. Hockey players will tend to be white, non-Southern, and (given the expense of hockey equipment and rink time) middle or upper class. All of these are groups more likely to be higher academic achievers.

Probably true. I think it may be a little easy to overstate the class bias for hockey--I'm thinking Canadian farmboys who are playing on frozen ponds and backyard rinks, and where the sport is so widespread that it's a lot cheaper to get started. But that may be pleasant nostalgia at this point, and in any event my intuition is that Canadian prospects are far more likely to play in Juniors instead of going to college anyway, and so the Ivy Leaguers I'm noticing are Americans for whom PG's analysis is probably completely on target (Richter, for example, is from Pennsylvania).

On Hate Crimes, Jews, and Paul Begala (the example here was the difference between spray-painting "Go Longhorns!" and "Kill the Kikes"):
I don't think there's much reason to fear that hate crime laws will bleed over into chilling expression. Hate Jews all you want, talk about it all you want -- just don't commit a crime against them. However, I think Begala's example is one where the two actually should be punished the same, because otherwise the government IS treating people differently based on their speech, rather than their motivation. If defacing school property is a crime, it should be the same crime regardless of what the defacing words actually say. On the other hand, if you choose to deface a synagogue, "Kill the Kikes" certainly indicates that you have a hateful motivation for the crime, whereas spraypainting "Go Longhorns" on a synagogue is just weird.

I'm not sure why we can't assume a hateful motive for "kill the kikes" regardless of where it's spray-painted. It is, of course, hateful when spray-painted on a synagogue. But what other motivation could possibly be operating when the venue changes to a school? Is it really meaningfully less likely that the motive there is hate too? I feel like the distinctive harms we associate with "hate crimes"--sowing fear, perpetuating marginalization--are pretty generalizable. Certainly, I'm not sure I'd feel any differently if I saw my synagogue vandalized with anti-Semitic slurs than if I saw it in my school.

"Just World" theory:
The research on "just world" mindset is really fascinating -- I only started reading about it this semester while editing an article about the problem of requiring people to file sex harassment complaints with the EEOC within a few months of the first harassing incident. This is problematic because people often want to rationalize away the bad stuff that happens to them, to deny that it did occur, because they have the just world mindset that says bad things only happen to bad people. Either they're good people so a bad thing like harassment couldn't have happened to them, or they're bad people and they deserved it and shouldn't complain.

Yes, it is fascinating. Yes, employment discrimination law is a key area where it really causes problems with what current legal structures demand. Yes, this whole area is awesome and I want to do research on it (and now, maybe I can!).

Incidentally, I wish I could comment on PG's posts at HTSM, but her comments thing doesn't ever work for me. Any insight there?


PG said...

Thanks for the reply! My enetation comment system sucks -- I've enabled the blogger comment system, but for some reason it only shows up if you click on the postlink to put it on an individual page, at the bottom right above the sitemeter button. I started on blogger way back when, before they offered a comment system, and entation is actually the second comment system I've been on. The first, shoutback or something like that, suddenly demanded that I start paying for it in order to see my old comments again... weird sort of hostage taking, and like the U.S. government I don't give to such things (except between Barbary Wars and with Iran). Another problem with HSM is that several years ago, I had a friend write me a template b/c someone objected to the standardized one I'd gotten from Blogger as being too ugly to be borne. So now the non-Blogger template isn't playing well with the New Blogger -- my archives were gone after I was forced onto New Blogger, and I just figured out how to restore them.

PG said...

Oh, and to respond more substantively:

I'm glad that Obama has someone on his team who is ready to grapple with the failed state problem. I wonder how Power will come out on Iraq -- which we're probably going to turn from a semi-functional dictatorship to a failed state.

Re: the spraypainting, remember that the underlying crime here is defacing property. You're saying that someone who defaces school property with "Kill the Kikes" must have a hateful motive, whereas someone who defaces school property with "Go Longhorns" must have a non-hateful motive, and therefore the former should be prosecutable under federal hate crimes statutes, with larger penalties. But punishing people differently for the same underlying crime, based *solely* on the speech made in that crime, is getting dangerously close to speech-content regulation. If there's the standard "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden on the prosecution to show that the spray-painter is motivated by hate, I can accept the different punishments, but if it's like the original Virginia cross-burning statute, which assumed that anyone who burned a cross was doing it to intimidate others (intimidation itself being a crime), then I'm opposed to it.

And with all due respect, we can't prosecute defendants based on how the victims (if you can be called the victim of the school property defacement) feel about the crime.