Saturday, September 15, 2007

Minority Report

Tavis Smiley, a leader of the American Black community, has been trying to put together a GOP candidates forum focusing on Black issues. Unfortunately, none of the major candidates seem interested in showing up. Now, several Black Republicans are telling their party that if they're serious about presenting themselves as a viable alternative to the Democratic Party, they've got to start acting like it:
Tavis did a 'Shout out' to his fellow Black Republicans, asking them why they were so silent on this matter. They keep on yapping that the GOP is a valid alternative for Black America, yet, when a nationally televised forum is put together so that GOP Candidates can present what they believe are GOP answers to concerns of the Black community, three of their Major Candidates don't even bother to respect Black Americans with their presence.

Why aren't these Black Republicans CHALLENGING their own frontrunners to appear in front of a Black audience?

I will give Maryland Senatorial Candidate Michael Steele credit. In an interview this week, Steele said that the GOP should be at Tavis' forum, and that they need to either ' put up or shut up' about being serious about presenting a platform to the Black community.

But, I haven't heard from any more prominent Black Republicans or Conservative Bloggers...their silence is deafening. And, until they speak up and out about this, they should just keep quiet about the GOP actually being a 'choice' for Black folk. But, as with so much else with the GOP, Black Republicans will find some sort of mental gymnastics to excuse this away.

At a prior forum on Black issues for GOP candidates, the only attendee was Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who thus far is the only Republican to make such an appearance. Tancredo, who is running on a platform of "Immigrants Will Destroy America" probably thinks he can exploit simmering tensions between the Black and Latino community to make in-roads. And, for all I know, he's right. While I find Tancredo's views repugnant, at least he's actually making his pitch to Black voters and letting them decide how to respond to it.

But overall, Tancredo is the gaping exception, and this does strike me as an interesting extension of the Kanye West "George Bush [and the Republican Party] doesn't care about Black people" theorem. It is, I think, true that anybody who runs for President needs to be President of all American, and it's qualitatively harmful when certain groups -- particularly those which have been systematically excluded from political representation entirely for much of our nation's history -- perceive themselves as being utterly ignored by half the Presidential field.

Nobody expects the GOP to alter its long-standing political positions on affirmative action, the drug war, "tough on crime" policies, and other points of contention within the Black community. But at least nominally, they should have some argument for why these policies are actually to the benefit of Black people. And they do have these arguments -- they just only present them to White audiences (what good does that do?). Religious Christians are not my natural political compatriots, but I at least have arguments for why my positions are the right ones and ones they should adopt, and I've supported recent Democratic efforts to try and penetrate that community. For the GOP, though, its even worse, because they don't (publicly, anyway) concede that the Black community is inherently ideologically opposed to them (as is the case with, say, me and the "Christian Right"). This makes their spurning of Black candidate forums all the more troublesome.

Via Pam's

I Love Paris in the Fall

Because it's not Minnesota, which I loathe this time of year.

It's not because of my beloved Carls, who I missed very much and am thrilled to see again. Rather, it's because every fall the flora of this lovely state decides to declare war on me en masse, giving me the worst allergies you can possibly imagine. It happens again in the spring, which is why I like winter here. All the plants are dead, and I can breathe again.

But I definitely feel like if this was the 19th century, I'd be one of those guys on the Oregon Trail because the Docs told me that if I stayed in Minnesota, I'd die before 26.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Jew in Sun Country, Part II

My prior post of cheeseburgers and airplanes got some interesting comments at TMV, a few sympathetic, more "suck it up", and one dude who thinks I'm being "closed minded" because I don't accept my natural place as a marginalized outsider on airplanes. Guess I'm just one of them uppity Jew-folk. So it goes. I don't apologize for wanting to feel like a first-class citizen, and I have little interest in conversing with those who see my liberation as an illegitimate imposition on their privilege.

There were really two themes I wanted to pursue in the prior post. The first is the one most folks latched onto: can I, as a member of a relatively small but prominent minority group, reasonably expect accommodations from organizations such as airlines? I don't want the airplane to revolve around me. I don't think they should never serve cheeseburgers; I just think it would be nice if they set aside a few hamburgers too. In certain contexts (most notably disability statutes), the law requires that corporations accommodate the needs of minority groups, so long as those accommodations are "reasonable." Not every religious request is a reasonable accommodation, and some accommodations are manifestly unreasonable. If I was hyper-orthodox and couldn't sit next to a woman on an airplane, asking for Sun Country to have a separate sex-segregated plane would not be reasonable. There are limits to accommodation, and I freely accept that. Is having a few hamburgers instead of cheeseburgers really this sort of unreasonable burden, though? I don't think so, and I don't think the fact that we can imagine unreasonable requests for accommodation is a reason to shy away from entertaining the reasonable ones.

The second theme, which got less play, was a general reflection on how its tough being a minority, even in relatively hospitable climes. Some commenters asked why I didn't just call ahead to request a Kosher meal. Aside from the fact that, given the circumstances of this flight my mind was elsewhere (and I made the reservations four hours before departure), normally this isn't a problem for me. Peanuts are not unkosher, nor are pretzels. As I said, I keep a modified form of kosher which makes it far less likely I'll face the situation that I did on SCA.

But more than that, there's the fact that I'd need to call ahead at all. Some commenters said that this is just a fact of life for being outside the norm of society, and perhaps they're right. But as I noted at the end of my passage, because of these little extra burdens I'm faced with, sometimes I like it when I can retreat into a space where I'm the normal one. If I'm scrambling to find a flight on less than five hours notice, and grieving at the same time, I don't want to have to think about if my airline is going to have food that I can eat. This is the appeal of living in a place where Jews are the norm--I can blissfully and mindlessly not think about these problems. And that can be a beautiful thing when you're living your life in a constant state of half-vigilance. The subtle reference here was in support of other "safe spaces" for minority groups in society--such as the oft-maligned "Black Student Centers" at colleges and universities. Like myself as a Jew, I do not believe that Black students should always have to be in the minority, because it's stressful to be a perpetual outsider. No matter how friendly the majority is, no matter how many nice thoughts they think about us, we're still minorities, and that still imposes costs--material and psychic.

This has important implications. As my regular readers know, I'm a staunch integrationist. I like heterogeneous societies. I do not want people of different backgrounds and cultures to feel as if they cannot live together; I do not desire a culturally segregated existence. But for marginalized groups, it is important for us to have our own spaces available, so that we're not always the weirdos on the airplane, so that we can actually eat what we want to eat on Christmas (rather than the long-standing Jewish tradition of Chinese Food--that being all that's open). These issues probably can't be eliminated entirely. But they can be mitigated, and if you're a supporter of integration then you have to support policies which accommodate the difference of minority groups. If you don't mind ethnic separation, then you don't. But if you want to check the impulse amongst groups--majority and minority--to flee from each other and mistrust each other and separate from each other, then this is part one. There's a choice here--if you're not willing to accommodate Jews(/Muslims/Blacks/Gays/Disabled) in your society, then you have to give us space to craft our own communities and horizons. Unfortunately, the American legal regime has been relatively hostile to these enclaves.

Because I am, to some extent, an outsider in American society, I am dependent on the degree to which majority-Christian society is willing to accommodate me (this feeling of dependency is yet another intrinsic disadvantage to being a minority, but I digress). The more you're willing to accommodate, the more comfortable I'll be here, and the less likely I'll feel compelled to "set sail for separate shores." Ditto with Blacks, ditto with gays, ditto with the disabled. If you don't care if I'm here or not, then I'm saddened, but that's the way it goes I guess. But don't act surprised if I withdraw into my own community, and look upon yours with suspicion. It's a nice place to visit, but I can't live there anymore.

The Second Wave

With former Governor Mark Warner running in Virginia and former Governor Jeannie Shaheen stepping into the race in New Hampshire, the Democrats' already strong senate playing field just got even better. Shaheen already has a 16 point poll advantage over the incumbent John Sununu, who beat her by a bare couple thousand points in the 2002 Republican wave year (with the help of a few felonies by New Hampshire GOP operatives), and the state is trending blue. This one leans hard Democrat.

Virginia is a tougher case, but there is reason to be optimistic. For one, Mark Warner is wildly popular there. For two, the Democrats have the momentum in the commonwealth, winning the last three major state-wide races. And Warner benefits from a contested GOP primary, pitting moderate Rep. Tom Davis (Senator John Warner's preferred replacement) against former governor and presidential candidate James Gilmore. Davis is the much stronger candidate, both because he's more mainstream, and, more importantly, he wasn't an utter disaster as governor like virtually everybody recognizes Gilmore was. But in a GOP primary in a southern state, Gilmore is a very viable candidate. If he's the nominee, Warner should win handily--he was better and more popular at the same job Gilmore had. If Davis gets the nod, the race becomes more interesting.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Jew in Sun Country

On my recent trip to New York, I flew Sun Country Air. I've used them before, and have had generally positive experiences. For flights in and out of Minneapolis, they are far cheaper than the competition, especially the exorbitant fares charged by Northwest, which dominates the airport. They fly direct, which is nice for me, in comparison to the other major low-fare airline that goes to MSP--AirTran, which directs all its flights through Atlanta (Atlanta is not exactly on the way between the Twin Cities and DC). And their flights are normally uncrowded--not a good sign of profitability, but far more comfortable to fly in.

The flights on this trip were delayed on both ends, but that was more a function of JFK International being a complete mess than anything the airline did. However, I did have a rather peculiar experience flying home. Sun Country offers a hot sandwich as its "snack" on the flight. The way there, it was turkey pastrami. Coming back, it was a cheeseburger. Being a semi-kosher Jew, I can't eat cheeseburgers. I asked if they had one without cheese, and the flight attendant told me, sorry, they don't. So I told her they should have a few without cheese, because sometimes Jews fly too. And she looked at me and said, half-indulgently and half-patronizingly, "well, we can't have everything."

She didn't say it mean, exactly, but the tone of voice made me feel as if I was making some wildly unreasonable demand of her company. And I resent being made to feel that way. I don't like it when Judaism is treated as some strange and mysterious cult, and I don't think it's utter craziness to set aside a few hamburgers without cheese so that people who--because they keep kosher, or are lactose intolerant, or whatever--can't have cheeseburgers still can eat. But I didn't say any of that. I don't like to make a fuss. So I accepted a small, significantly less filling cookie, and sat quietly for the rest of the flight.

Of course, the ordeal was even more awkward for me because of my own imperfect record of keeping kosher. Though I still don't ever eat bacon or shellfish, the "milk/meat" mix rule has started to fall apart significantly. The turkey pastrami sandwich on the way there had some hot goo on it which "for all I knew was mayonnaise", but pretty surely was cheese. I eat Philly Cheese Steaks without embarrassment now, and Chicken Parmesan as well. But, in my childhood, cheeseburgers were the quintessential example of an "unkosher food", something everybody ate but I didn't. As such, even though I don't really honor the rule which prevents me from eating it anymore, it occupies a peculiar space in my psyche that turns it into a sort of redline: if I start eating cheeseburgers, I've crossed over into total non-kosherness. So, unlike the pastrami, I refused the cheeseburger, and sat hungrily in my chair. Academically, I think this sort of negotiation over how to be Jewish in the modern world is totally legitimate. But practically speaking, it makes it hard for me to truly press that the airline accommodate kosher preferences.

But even still, this experience really impressed upon me that, even though Jews are treated pretty well in America and are reasonably comfortable here, we're still "strangers in a strange land." If I was flying El Al, this event would not have happened. My imperfect little negotiations would have been a moot point, and it's nice sometimes to not have to deliberate about which little sacrifices to my Judaism I'm willing to make to be a non-obtrusive citizen. What this event signifies is that even minority groups which are on relatively friendly terms with majority culture still remain minority groups. There is always that moment of strangeness, and the more common those moments are, the more stressful life can be. It's nice sometimes to be able to retreat into my own space--the Jewish Students Center at Carleton, for example--where I know I'm not going to be weird because I'm Jewish. And because of that experience, I feel I have an obligation to support similar cultural spaces for other minority groups who are "strangers in a strange land", and should not have to always be a minority, all of the time.

Red Glass

Reuters has an article up on the inability of women to penetrate the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party. Mao Zedong was, publicly at least, supportive of women's equality, but apparently the message never broke through to the Chinese communist culture. Sixty years after the revolution, women are still only 20% of the Chinese parliament.

Hey! I know another country that has only 20% female representation in its parliament!

It's nice to know that we're keeping up with the Jones on women's rights. Or keeping down, as the case may be.

Badgery, Part II

Mark has posted a response to my badgery post, but a very perplexing one. I say so because it rather persistently refuses to engage with the actual points under contention, instead continually reasserting that "people badge" and that this is often a good thing. Given that I don't disagree that many, if not most or all, people badge, and that this is perfectly fine (when, in Mark's own words, they do it "willingly and eagerly"), there's very little point in rehashing that badging can be okay.

What still seems to be under contention, and the original point that prompted the debate, is when a covering demand is not okay. So, in writing this post, I want to pin down a simple position which I think is being elided thus far. Does Mark think covering requirements can ever have negative effects on those its demanded of? If so, does he think those effects are ever bad enough so we can legitimately say "this is an unjust requirement", and speak out against the requiring party and argue they have a moral obligation to change it? And finally, do you think there are covering requirements that can be legally proscribed, by, say, anti-discrimination law (as I argue the "women and only women must wear make-up" position by Harrah's should be?).

But unfortunately, it appears we still need to clarify terms. I cited two distinctions between badging and covering demands: that the former are done willingly and the latter reluctantly, and that the former tend to be "grassroots" and the latter sent from up on high. I can't tell what Mark thinks of these parameters--he cites them, but doesn't respond positively or negatively to the first at all and only throws out a half-hearted objection to the second (which I admitted may have exceptions anyway). I say half-hearted because one of the two examples he cites for covering that is not brought down by elites (hip-hop stylings) is actually probably a bona fide case of badging precisely because it seems to have been adopted rather organically, and the second case (circumcision)--even if it was originally from on high (and since on pure historical grounds I don't think that the Bible is the literal word of God, I think it's far more likely that circumcision was intersubjectively agreed-upon by the early Hebrew community), I certainly think the manner in which it is operationalized today by most Jews is as intersubjective communal acceptance (which is why Conservative Jews such as myself, who "no longer hear divine voices", still do it even while jettisoning many other Biblical commandments). I'll concede that khakis in a business setting are similarly organic, to a lesser degree, but I do not think the anti-kinky hair or anti-uncovered women standards can be said to be so agreed upon by the effected community.

Upon further reflection, a third distinction, somewhat more complex than it appears at first glance, needs to be added. Badging always trumpets one's affiliation in a group. When I badge, I am always trying to make it more obvious that I am a member of a certain group. In it's purest form, covering is the reverse--it tries to downplay my membership in a certain group. So the example I used of a Kippah--I put it on to badge my Judaism, I take it off in rural Minnesota to cover it. But, unfortunately for analytical clarity, covering can also speak to cases where I'm making a group membership more prevalent, not less (I believe Yoshino refers to this as "reverse covering"). A woman who cuts her hair short may be covering her femininity, while requirements that she, say, wear a push-up bra and high heels serve to trumpet it instead. Yoshino groups both as covering because they both "cover" what he calls the "authentic" presentation of self--being forced to either under- or over-identify with a group represents in some sense a coercive shift away from this authentic vision, thus covering it. Make-up, incidentally, is a tough case to call, because while it is "tagged" as accenting femininity in our society, it (quite literally) covers a woman's face, masking her identity. This is why I think it is properly analogized as a cousin to a veil or burqa, and like with both, where women are forced into covering their face, that's something we should protest against (incidentally, I wasn't accusing Mark of misogyny as much as Harrah's--that they're position is morally analogous to the Taliban requiring woman to cover their face [albeit with a different cover]. If Mark believes that we can protest the Taliban's policy, but doesn't similarly protest Harrah's, then he's simply being hypocritical. And if Mark thinks the Taliban could escape condemnation simply by agreeing that woman can leave the country whenever they want to, he's consistent but delusional). But again, if a woman wishes to do any of these things--accent (badge) her womanliness through heels, or downplay it through haircuts, or do something in between with a veil or makeup--that's fine; I just object to when it's forced. So, to return to the original point of the paragraph: covering can accent or downplay one's group membership, but badging always accents it. I'll let Mark decide whether involuntarily being forced to trumpet one's identity (e.g., the Nazi "yellow Star of David" requirement for Jews) qualifies as a badge, or just reverse covering.

Okay, hopefully we've cleared up terms. Now, we have to examine the interplay between them. As I concluded in my last post, we shouldn't reflexively condemn a badging or covering requirement, nor should we automatically sanction them. "A critical view" is the best stance to take. Sometimes, Mark argues, a requirement to cover is actually just a requirement to badge. But for someone who really seems to think badging is important, Mark's position is actually fraught with considerable peril towards badging. Take my African-American female attorney who may wish to badge her Blackness ("Black is Beautiful") by wearing her hair in a natural style. I say that a corporate policy that requires her to straighten her hair is a covering requirement (I'd also say that's it's racially discriminatory, as it imposes economically differential burdens on one race vis-a-vis another. Mark--inexplicably, given the time I've spent on it--has never addressed this gaping problem in covering/badging regimes. I'll return to that below). But from Mark's point of view, it also should be seen as an anti-badging stance. The woman is being prevented from badging her Blackness. If badging is as important as Mark says it is, this should not be something that he is so sanguine about.

Not persuaded? Well, let's take an example apparently nearer to Mark's heart: circumcision. What if the law firm prohibited circumcised males from working for it? Circumcision has no intrinsic relation to legal performance--but then, neither does kinky hair. Mark might say that people don't see circumcised penises in a legal context, so the covering requirement is unreasonable. Aside from this being a concession that some measure of reasonability can be brought to bear on covering demands, this isn't necessarily true. Many corporate firms treat (or are treated) by their clients to various jaunts and activities which may put attorney and client in close personal contact. In a gym or country club locker room, one's circumcised status may be rather easy to ascertain, and the firm may say that this doesn't present the "image" the company wishes to give off. The next objection is that it's a more extreme example than requiring a Black woman to straighten her hair. But is it? Kinkiness is a biological fact, while circumcision is (nominally, at least) a choice. While I don't know the price tag on genital reconstructive surgery, I'd be skeptical that it costs more than a life-time of buying hair straightening chemicals. Ultimately, I think we'd agree that the anti-circumcision policy is simply backdoor discrimination against Jews, and I think anti-kinky hair policies are backdoor discrimination against Blacks for the same reasons.

Mark's last argument (that I can anticipate) is that the company should be allowed to require Jews to have reconstructive surgery as a condition for working there--and if Jews don't like it, they can simply move elsewhere. Even if I believed that such a policy could be contained in isolation, I'd still oppose it as antithetical to the purpose of anti-discrimination laws. But more importantly, there is no reason to believe that such a policy would necessarily stay contained to one firm. If the market has a "taste for discrimination" (and in an anti-Semitic polity, this is not difficult to imagine), the covering burden could be replicated across the corporate sphere. Operationally, this would simply neuter anti-discrimination law--assuming Mark thinks we can prohibit companies from taking a "no Jews allowed" position, then we can't allow them to take a "no circumcised males" position either. And if Mark thinks that its a good thing that Jews wish and are able to "badge" their Jewishness, he needs to recognize the threat his current stance poses to our ability to do that.

The entire above argument can be reprised with kippahs, instead of circumcision, as the barred badge. On the one hand it makes the argument weaker--its easier to take off a kippah than it is to reattach foreskin to your penis. On the other hand, it makes the argument stronger: anyone who believes that, for a religious Jew, it is a simple demand to just take off the yarmulke is deluding themselves, and Jews would and have resisted bitterly requirements by social institutions to require them to do so. Anyone who knows anything about Jews would underestimate the severity of the demand to remove a kippah would be, and if such a demand were presented and duplicated across the market, it would pose a serious barrier to Jewish participation in the workforce.

The final issue which I'm going to continue to press until Mark deigns to give a satisfactory answer is the issue of covering/badging as differentially imposed burdens. While Mark rather patronizingly dismisses Ms. Jespersen's case (hint: while in some circumstances its flattering to call a woman a "young lady", when its in the context of dismissing the complaint of someone whose been fired from her job of 20 years, it's really just insulting), he doesn't actually grapple with the circumstances the case presented--indeed, he labors long and hard to obfuscate them in his summary of it. Hence, a 20-year employee becomes a "young lady", a uniform and absolute requirement to wear make-up becomes "dress regulations," her continued and undisputed exemplary service was dropped entirely, as was the critical fact that Harrah's literally made it more expensive to be a woman and work at their casino. All Mark has to offer against my conclusion is that Harrah's motivation wasn't internal misogyny, rather, it was a response to its perception of how its clientèle wished to see the women. How Mark thinks this helps his case eludes me--all it does is shift where the misogyny is coming from. Instead of being endemic to Harrah's, now its something the entire market demands. I don't think Harrah's can be excused for reifying societal sexism, and worse, for Mark's case, it just strengthens the "taste for discrimination" point I made above--which indicates that no matter where Ms. Jespersen goes, she'll always be dogged by the requirement to veil herself in make-up because "the market" demands its women to be covered. This makes it more critical that anti-discrimination law intervene, not less.

Mark is certainly right that badging is important. I desire to badge my Jewishness, because I am quite proud to be Jewish. But this does not mean I like the idea of being forced to wear a Yellow Star of David to mark me as a Jew. The badge of my Judaism should come from within the community, not imposed from outside. Personally, at the very least I think it's obvious that companies can and should be proscribed from initiating covering requirements that differentially burden and impose greater economic costs on certain groups. Covering requirements often fall on this differential axes, and are suspect for that reason alone. But I also believe that the psychic burdens of covering are worthy of concern too, and if Mark agrees that one's ability to badge one's group affiliations are important, he should too. I should not be put in a position where badges of my Judaism are seen as dirty or ugly or the type of thing which a good law firm hides in a back room. To take the position Mark does is, more often than not, actively hostile to most badging, and perpetually relegates minority groups like Jews and Blacks to subordinate status.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I've decided I like cemeteries. Aesthetically, anyway. The green shrubbery and marble tombstones, markings, and small mausoleums are as close as we've got nowadays to ancient marble temples of old. I find them very pretty. My dad disagrees, but then, he wasn't really in the state of mind to appreciate them this very moment.

The cemetery we had the service at was a Jewish one, and very nice (if rather crowded in the run-up to the high holidays). It's testament to an excellent design that it managed to still feel serene even though it was located right next to a rather major thoroughfare, as well as lying underneath approach paths for both JFK international and an US Air Force base. It also had street names, most of which were named after various Jewish luminaries (Brandeis, Heschel), but one main drag which was named after Lincoln. I assume it's Abe they're referring too--it's not as if "Lincoln" is a very common Jewish last name. I thought that was touching, to me anyway; I like when Jews define our experience and history, even internally, in as broad and inclusive strokes as possible.


I've decided I like cemeteries. Aesthetically, anyway. The green shrubbery and marble tombstones, markings, and even

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pre-trip Roundup

Since I won't be posting for the rest of today or tomorrow, here's a round-up to keep you busy in my absence.

A few days ago, there was some form of Israeli/Syrian skirmish over Syrian airspace, where an Israeli military plane was fired upon. Both sides, however, are keeping uncharacteristically mum about the circumstances surrounding the event. Daniel Levy's hypotheses are worth your time.

Both of these posts by Zuzu at KPMT are good in their own right, but I particularly found interesting her argument on how making someone into a "role model" often entails an assertion of ownership over them; as in, they have an "obligation" to behave in precisely the way you expect of them.

Bitch Ph.D hits the spot on the Latino voting demographic.

Apparently, someone hung a noose outside a Black student center at the University of Maryland.

What if we calculated total UFOs in America like we do total IED's in Iraq?

Michelle Cottle is deliberating over a new parenting method.

The Fix has the run-down on the now-open Nebraska Senate race. If Bob Kerrey jumps in, it has a good chance of being a Democratic pickup.

Amy Zegart is guest-blogging at the VC on 9/11 intelligence failures.

I have to admit, among all its sins (real and imagined), I never thought to blame Israel for global warming.

See y'all on the flip side!

Monday, September 10, 2007


Responding to a part of my reading of Jouvenel, Mark Olson cites back to his own response to Covering (which I recommended he read) to argue that people "badge" more often than they "cover." (Go ahead, read that again to be sure you get the thread. I'll wait).

"Covering" is when people downplay (but do not necessarily deny) a part of their identity or presentment in order to better move within dominant social circles. For example, a Black person might straighten her hair, rather than wear it natural, because the law firm she works at associates the latter hairstyle with "ghetto" people and not professionals. This woman is not denying her Blackness, but she is covering it--making it less noticeable and more easily integrated within the White mainstream. The cost, most obviously, is that the woman cannot wear her hair as she likes or feels most comfortable with (even though hairstyles have no intrinsic connection to legal performance), and less obviously, often economic costs--buying straightening chemicals is time-consuming and far more expensive than natural styling would be.

"Badging", as Mark defines it, is when people voluntarily alter their appearance to signal their membership in a group. The Amazons of myth, who cut off their right breasts (to better string back their bows) might be an example, or perhaps a fraternal order which initiates its members be giving them a marking, uniform, or tattoo. Olson continues:
Most people don’t cover, they badge. We significantly alter our public persona, behavior and speech in order to signify joining, to willingly if not eagerly show our membership our assent and unity with various groups in our society. The missing part of Mr Yoshino’s dialectic is a recognition of the value men (and women) place on badging, for I found little if any recognition that badging forms a universal and important part of every culture.

The distinction between "Covering" and "Badging" appears to lie on two axis. First, covering is done grudgingly and under (implied) threat of sanction, while badging is done voluntarily, "willingly if not eagerly" to signify membership in a group. I badge when I want to proudly announce my membership in a group; I cover when I need to minimize my membership in a group to move comfortably or effectively in a social arrangement. If I wear my kippah in Synagogue, I'm badging; if I take it off while going to the store in very-not-Jewish Northfield, I'm covering. Second, I'd argue that there is at least an implied difference in the originating point of a "badge" versus a "cover." The former should ideally stem from the bottom up--the people who are badged should, broadly speaking, determine that a badge is necessary and what the badge is. Covering demands, by contrast, tend to come from up on high. They are societal demands, not consented to by their targets, often the expectations of social elites or corporate executives. There are exceptions to this (an army uniform, perhaps), but by and large I think it holds. And even the army uniform I think may be better described a justifiable requirement to cover which is later adapted as a "badge" by the people it is imposed upon.

To start with, I'm not sure why Mark is so sure that people are more likely to badge than cover. Perhaps maybe upper-middle class White Christian heterosexual males are more likely to badge than cover, because there are likely to be fewer characteristics they possess that require covering in the circles they move in. However, I think it is facile to assert, without argument, that a Asian gay male professor is more likely to badge than cover--or that the benefits he gains from badging outweigh the harms he experiences from covering. To be frank, it displays a sort of arrogance for Mark to transpose his social position (in which the "badge" he wears to signify his membership in the cycling community--shaving--outweighs whatever covering he has to do) over and on top of the narrative of another whose life experience has made him cover more than badge. Mark simply has no way of knowing how badging versus covering affects people who are differently situated from him, and he's epistemologically wrong to assume that he knows, much less is so sure that he knows that he'll overwrite their own narratives with his own.

More importantly, "badge" seems to valorize presentation-altering requirements in a way that often just doesn't seem to fit. I had to wear a polo shirt and khakis when I went to work at a law firm. I presume (though never asked) that they expected me to keep relatively cut and short hair. To say the shirt, pants, and hair were a "badge" of my office rings less hollow than it rings ridiculous.

The paradigmatic case I use to illustrate the harms of covering is Jespersen v. Harrah's Casino, and it showcases this and the other problems with being too quick to replace "covering" with "badging." Decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year, the court held that Darlene Jespersen could be fired from her position as a bartender at Harrah's after 20 years of service because she refused to assent to a new requirement (for female bartenders only) to wear makeup. Specifically, Harrah's brought in "image specialists" that gave "make-overs" to each employee, creating a "personal best" picture which supervisors were told to compare the presentment of the employee to everyday. For women, this makeover invariably included makeup requirements. Jespersen tried wearing the makeup for awhile, but stopped, saying it made her feel "dolled up" and put a barrier between her and her customers. So she stopped, and in spite of 20 years of undisputed and continuing exemplary service, she was fired.

Let's start with the obvious: it would be absurd to call make-up a "badge" of Jespersen's job, just as much as it would be to call khakis a badge of being a Library Assistant at Williams & Connolly. To call either "badges" twists the meaning of the word so out of sync with common usage as to make it effectively meaningless. Next, we can note another problem elucidated by Jespersen's case, critical to the point I and Yoshino make but overlooked entirely by Mark: the possibility that presentment-altering requirements can be differentially imposed upon different social groups. In this case, only female bartenders were required to wear makeup. In fact, men were prohibited from wearing makeup at all. Two implications flow from this. First, forcing women to wear makeup isn't just a differential burden, it costs them extra money. Men had their own requirements as well, and its true that the bar on men wearing make-up imposes a covering burden on men as well, but eyeballing the schema Harrah's set up makes it pretty obvious that women will have to spend more to adapt to it than men. This is discriminatory on face--it makes it more expensive to be a woman and work at Harrah's than to be a man and work there. Second, the Harrah's case reminds us that sometimes, covering requirements can be premised upon subordinating perceptions of the "proper" position of a given social group. While women should be free to wear anything they like on their face if they so desire, the idea that women "need" to (literally in this case) "cover" their faces, whether with make-up or a veil, is emblematic itself of deep-seated misogyny. Indeed, while I strongly oppose states (or companies) which require woman to be veiled, there is at least somewhat of a glass house here that I wish Mark would recognize. We have an obligation to at least interrogate badging and covering requirements when they perpetuate racist, sexist, or otherwise subordinating ideologies.

Moving forward, look at where the covering requirement originated from. Again, it's ludicrous to suggest that the make-up rules grew out some fraternal bonding initiative amongst the bartenders that Jespersen refused to accede to. This was a corporate policy, sent from on high, that had virtually no relation to Jespersen's ability to do her job but required her to make significant physical alterations at her own expense anyway. Nor was this requirement a reasonable expectation Jespersen could expect to have to endure as part of entering the bartending community. She had been their for twenty years, and executives unilaterally changed the rules on her to require her to mark herself as they liked. Finally, to act as if there is no costs (in a free labor market) to being fired from the job you've held for 20 years is absurd--particularly when the termination is for non-performance related reasons--and since she sued, she has to deal with the costs (monetary and non-) of that as well.

The moral of the story is that, while I sometimes badge and I sometimes cover, being coerced into covering is distressingly common, it's really bad when it happens, it's more likely to happen to already marginalized groups, and it has significant costs that remain worthy of address. By and large, we shouldn't force people to alter themselves so as to live happy, productive, socially tolerated lives. When we do require it, we need to ask why its justified, and we need a pretty good reason. Fostering fraternal bonds or social solidarity can be part of that reason, but it needs to be warranted--the demand for solidarity needs to outweigh the harm of the covering requirement, and the fraternity argument can only be used when solidarity is part of what's at issue (which, in Jespersen's case, it really obviously isn't). A critical view remains, as always, the best choice.

Due Process for Bin Laden

You won't hear me complaining: I can't think of a better contrast between the rule of law America represents and the theocratic despotism Bin Laden wishes to install than to hold a massive, public trial explicating all his crimes. And now I have a major Presidential contender backing me up: Fred Thompson.

Steve Benen gets snarky on all the right-wing pundits who called for Howard Dean's head when he said the same thing in 2004. And perhaps he's right. But credit where credit is due: this is not likely to be a popular position amongst the right-wing base, and I'm not sure I see an angle for Thompson taking it. Which means I give him credit for taking the right position whilst in the line of political fire.

Not too much credit, mind you:
Later, a Thompson spokesman explained that Thompson meant "the same rules ought to apply to him as to everyone at Guantanamo Bay, and there ought to be due process thru a special military court or commission."

"For anyone to suggest that we shouldn't squeeze out every last bit of intelligence information has absolutely no understanding how to fight a long term global war on terrorism," spokesman Todd Harris said. "It would be very dangerous for the long-term security of our country to not try to milk bin Laden for every ounce of information he has."

I'm especially concerned that "milk", in this context, is fraught with implications. And the "rules" we apply to other Guantanamo detainees aren't exactly that much to shout at. But hopefully, some reforms will be pushed through, and even saying the words "due process" next to "Bin Laden" is a step up from most Republicans. It's not like I disagree that high-value intelligent assets like Bin Laden require different sort of treatment than a common-criminal--I just don't think that these differences justify chucking all of the rule of law out a ninth story window. And, in some small way, perhaps Thompson doesn't either. So, minor kudos all the same (or perhaps my expectations are too low?).

Blog as Flash Memory Card

I've realized that a major function of this blog is to serve as an external memory drive for my brain. I blog interesting stories or anecdotes, then, when I want to retrieve them, I just run a search (tragically, I have very little confidence in the blogger search tool, but it works well enough I guess). The upshot is that I often blog little tidbits that may not be of interest to others, just because I want to make sure I can access them some day (a lot of times my "quotes of the day" are serving this purpose). The other major impact is that I rarely write big, substantive posts at The Moderate Voice, for the simple reason that I want them to be here in three months when I go looking for them. Well, and because my ego likes the traffic I get when I direct TMVers to come here. But the first answer is far more legitimate, so let's go with that.

The Defector

Is there any blogger who has had a more extreme makeover during the last few years than John Cole? Read this post and then recall that up until recently, Cole probably would have called himself a Republican (albeit a moderate one). He voted for Bush in 2004. And now listen to him. He makes me look tame.

One thing that the media has never quite grasped when writing about the "angry" left blogosphere is that a great many of us didn't start off angry, or even all that far left, and only became so when pushed by innumerable prevarications and provocations by the Bush administration. Even back in my pro-war days, I recognized the degree to which erstwhile moderates had grown furious with the way a far-right President with no principles and no respect for alternative views was running the nation into the ground. It's not like Cole is an outlier here. Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Drezner are other Republicans who turned against the administration, and hard. Kevin Drum would have been considered "center-left" once upon a time, and TNR's Jonathan Chait, he who wrote a two-part series on his hatred of Bush, is probably still considered center-left. Even the all-powerful Kos is a former GOPer. The left-wing bloggers are made, not born fellas. And we're made not because we've got a mental imbalance. It's a reaction to particular policies and particular attitudes by a particular administration that makes good people of all political persuasions justifiably angry.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Multiple Choice Mitt!

I doubt this endorsement will end up on Romney's website any time soon:

Multiple Choice Mitt!

I doubt this endorsement will end up on Romney's website any time soon:
I'm back to seeing Romney as the least poisonous president in the GOP field, simply because he's unprincipled enough to not try anything ambitious.


Quote of the (Sun)day

"I contend that we have not integrated privilege in the racializing process. We have explored and documented the effects of oppression on its victims and they have, in turn, borne powerful testimony to their injuries and resilience. We have yet to chronicle how those who oppress make sense of their power in relationship to those they have injured. We are all potentially oppressors given that having power over others varies from context to context and is primarily determined by race, class, gender, and sexuality. Yet, we lack an elaborate language to speak about those who oppress -- how they feel about, think about, react to, make sense of, come to terms with, maintain privilege over, and ultimately renounce the power to oppress. Missing in the puzzle of domination is a reflexive mechanism for understanding how we are all involved in the dirty process of racializing and gendering others, limiting who they are and who they can become."

Aida Hurtado, "The Trickster's Play: Whiteness in the Subordination and Liberation Process," in Race, Identity, and Citizenship: A Reader, Rodolfo D. Torres, Louis F. Miron, & Jonathan Xavier Inda, eds. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp.225-243, 244.

Jouvenel: Who Will Guard the Guards?

Awhile back, I recommended that my old blog comrade Mark Olson read Kenji Yoshino's Covering and Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism by Jody Armour (now permanent on BlackProf, fyi). In exchange, he suggested that I read Bertrand de Jouvenel: Conservative Liberal and the Illusions of Modernity and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology, both by Daniel J. Mahoney.

I have checked both out from the library, though given the crunch of this term (LSATs, applications, and my senior thesis), I may not be able to read them as closely as I'd like. And since I can't even guarantee I'll have time to read both, I decided to start with the book on Jouvenel, on the simple grounds that if I read the book about him, I may stop confusing him with the Roman poet Juvenal whenever Mark mentions him (I've definitely done it several times now).

So, here are my thoughts about a third of the way through. But first, a preface. Though this book is about Jouvenel, it is written by Mahoney, a professor at Assumption College. Though it isn't slavish, Mahoney is definitely writing an apologia for Jouvenel, and from a relatively conservative slant. This can make it difficult to determine just how much of what I'm reading is "pure" Jouvenel and what is Mahoney's gloss. This isn't a knock on the professor--it'd be impossible to write a book like this and not provide such a sheen. But, for example, when Mahoney attempts to rebut critics by "softening" some of Jouvenel's positions, I have no way of evaluating whether the move is legitimate or not. Similarly, in any given position, I have no idea how much of my reaction is to what Jouvenel actually wrote, versus Mahoney's spin on it. So when I say I'm making a response to "Jouvenel", it's based on the assumption that Mahoney is perfectly mirroring what Jouvenel actually wrote or thought--an assumption that is not possible to make.

But anyway. Jouvenel certainly seems to be an intriguing thinker, and his work on power in the enlightenment state especially struck me as worthy of attention. However, at several key points he seems to make serious errors in assessing the dynamics of power in western democratic society. Jouvenel argues that the state always seeks to maximize its power, and as far as possible it does not tolerate other branches of society from exercising power. It wants to exercise a monopoly. This isn't unique to the modern state, but what is different is that the democratic process is said to give legitimacy to any state action, hence justifying the power grab and thus posing a fundamental threat to liberty. Conceding that the state has an important role to play in safeguarding our liberties, Jouvenel worries that the modern system has obliterated any natural restraint on the scope and power of the state. So, despite not being my lovely Roman poet, the large question Jouvenel asks is, in fact, that of Juvenal: Who will guard the guards?

Jouvenel's response advocates creating and nourishing alternative poles of power--"barons", in the book--who can serve as a check on the state. He does not think these institutions should supplant the state, and according to Mahoney recognizes that the state must act to restrain the barons as much as the reverse. But what Jouvenel worries about is a state, rationalized by its democratic legitimacy and shorn of any external constraint, riding roughshod over the liberty of its citizens.

Certainly, it is true that an unrestrained state is a scary thing, and I fully agree that society needs to develop both internal and external constraints to maintain its freedom. However, Jouvenel seems to assume that there is a marked separation between the interests of the state and the interest of the barons. Ironically enough, given that he argues that atomization is one of the ways the state breaks the influence of competing social institutions, Jouvenel himself assumes a complete and pre-existing split between the state and the elites. But as any observer can readily see, to a large extent the interest of these two parties are in accord--indeed, often times they construct each other. The military-industrial complex is one famous example of this; the lobbying "iron triangle" is another. This leads to a serious descriptive inaccuracy in Jouvenel's assessment--far from jealously guarding power from being exercised by any other party, democratic states often willing allow alternative bodies to exert significant power over the people. Ironically enough, it is Yoshino's Covering that explains why, noting how people are forced to significantly alter their public persona, behavior, and speech due to some external pressure (if that isn't power, what is?). Sometimes these are governmentally mandated, and sometimes they are "just" social norms, but often times they are the function of "private" entities like corporations, run by the very barons Jouvenel (descriptively) believes the state should be suppressing the power of, and (normatively) should be working to counter the power of the state. Yet, what we see instead is state organs explicitly sanctioning serious corporate restrictions on the activities and presentment of their employees. Some companies could fire me for writing this blog, others for wearing my hair in a certain ways. Even the supposedly liberal 9th Circuit has held that a women who is otherwise excellent at her job (as a bartender) can be fired for not wearing make-up. That these encroachments come in areas where the state has historically asserted its supremacy in determining the boundaries of restriction (speech, discrimination) makes it stand in even starker contrast to how Jouvenel says the world should be behaving. In a sense, the outsourcing of power from the states to the elites is what Jouvenel wants the state to do, unfortunately, this has proven to increase rather than decrease the total danger to liberty.

Another questionable move is how Jouvenel treats the masses versus the elite barons as potential checks against the state. The former is seen to be dangerous--the democratic legitimacy it grants is the threat Jouvenl is trying to diffuse. The latter is the potential savior, the counterbalance that preserves the liberty of all. I already noted how Jouvenel vastly overstates the degree of differentiation between the elite caste and the state. The simple fact that elites and states often work in tandem with each other cripples their potential as a check at the outset. He may be deceived by the democratic character of the states he is examining, but even here the elites tend to call the shots. As Rodney Peterson explains:
As political pressure groups from different segments of the citizenry assemble to negotiate, the result is often a compromise skewed in favor of those who were most successful at using their bargaining strengths. Success is often based on the amount of persons a bargainer represents and the property and wealth backing the bargainer. Those with most political influence are often those with most economic advantage. Once both have been acquired, they reciprocate and reinforce each other, especially if the property holders are active in the political arena, pressuring to get laws passed for their benefit, or to gain privileges, subsidies, and favors for themselves. [Rodney D. Peterson, Political Economy and American Capitalism, (Boston: Kluwer Academic, 1991), 37]

Indeed, we can describe the core flaw in Jouvenel's reasoning as assuming that, in a democratic polity, the state is reflective of the interests of regular people, and that elites need to be brought in to counterbalance. But in reality, the state remains largely in thrall to the elites, and alternate voices struggle to break through to have their opinions heard.

The irony is that the non-elite, non-dominant groups which Jouvenel so fears actually are better suited to the checking task he envisions than are the elites he assigns to it. Gerald Torres and Lani Guinier's "Miner's Canary" argument is emblematic here--because they are more likely to feel the effects of it early, marginalized groups are the "miner's canary" that can warn of incipient threats to our liberty and give us time to head them off. Because the interests of these groups are likely to be at odds with the state's, there is the genuine clash of values and tension that creates social restraint. As a result, Jouvenel's worries would counsel towards dramatically increasing the weight and value we place on the perspective of these marginalized groups as a barrier against despotism.