Saturday, March 29, 2008

Last Train Home

I'm flying back to Carleton tomorrow (well, today, but in college a day doesn't end until you sleep). Nothing new, obviously, except it's my last time going back. Actually, again, not really, given that I plan to come home for Passover and will inevitably visit some law schools. But again, it's the symbolism of the matter.

Afrocentric Schooling in Toronto

At the American Prospect, Dana Goldstein has a good article up on the debate over establishing afrocentric schools in Toronto, Canada. Though the background of Black students in Toronto is different from typical state-side patterns (the former are more likely to descend from Caribbean immigrant families, the latter from slaves), both share problems with school performance and graduation rates. She concludes:
Toronto certainly isn't alone in trying Afrocentric education as a way to combat the high dropout rate among black students. In Ossining, New York, the diverse local public school district has been experimenting with African drumming lessons and masculinity support groups for black boys. These activities take place during school-day elective periods or as after school extracurriculars, meaning students are gleaning the benefits of both culturally relevant schooling and the increased tolerance of diversity that researchers have found is inculcated in students of all races who attend integrated schools.

Unfortunately, Afrocentric public education, no matter what its effects on self-esteem, hasn't yet proven successful at raising low income black children's academic achievement. Another argument against such programs -- one that's been made by Ontario's Premier McGuinty -- is that students of all races and ethnicities would benefit from Afrocentric teaching. In Ossining, for example, wouldn't all third graders enjoy lessons in African drumming? In Toronto, teachers have already had success teaching multiracial classes about probability through a lesson on racial profiling. If those creative educators are siphoned off to a black-only school, the rest of the student population will be denied the opportunity to tackle an important sociological issue while learning math in a new and exciting way.

The good news is that with almost 300,000 students, 30 percent of whom are immigrants and over half of whom speak a first language other than English, the Toronto school district is large and diverse enough to encompass multiple experiments in how best to educate at-risk kids. One Afrocentric public school won't rip Canadian integrationist values to shreds, and, if successful, the new program could someday provide educators with innovative examples of how to make school more culturally relevant to students of color.

I think that hits it about right.

Blackened Pots

That anyone, much less a respected law professor, would consider citing to an Ann Coulter column in discussions of bigotry and prejudice literally dumbfounds me. She does not "joke", she is not "over the top". She is a monster, albeit one whose poison is limited thankfully to columns and speeches. Coulter is a brutal, vicious bigot who long ago deserved to be run out of polite conversation. It astounds me that some folks on the right who consider themselves to be respectable thinkers haven't grasped that yet.

Justice and Assumed Relationships

From Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford UP 2000):
Onora O'Neill...argues that people (and perhaps some other creatures) who dwell together in the ways I have discussed stand in relations where principles of justice ought to apply. An agent stands in relations of justice with all those others whose actions that agent assumes in the background of his or her own actions. In going about our own business we assume that many others will or will not do things whose institutional and causal consequences can affect our lives and actions, and we likewise implicitly assume our actions as institutionally and causally connected to the lives and actions of others. On O'Neill's account, people have obligations justice to others insofar as and on account of this fact that they assume the specific agency of others as premisses for their own action.

The citation to O'Neill is Onora O'Neill, Toward Justice and Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), ch. 3.

Rejected in the Times

I really hoped these two kids had a "clarifying talk" before this New York Times magazine article, on pro-virginity students at Harvard (there's a novel topic! [/sarcasm]) came out:
Keliher smiled and said he was “a little bit” attracted to her [Fredell] — “in very superficial ways,” he added. “It’s something we laugh about — if we dated.”

But Fredell did not laugh. “No!” she erupted, and with increasing volume, “No! No! No! I can’t emphasize enough that there is nothing between me and Leo! It’s just that we’re not compatible in that regard.”

Otherwise, that would really suck.

As for the article itself: meh. I totally agree that feminism fundamentally means women have control of their own body. If they don't want sex, fine -- and I agree that there are a lot of sexualizing messages out there that push women towards sex when they might not want it. But if women do want sex, also fine -- and there are a lot of really harsh memes out there as well that judge women as sluts and whores, or say that they're worthless, or warn that they'll never be happy, if they do engage in sexual activities. And that's bad too. Being feminist means breaking down these damaging perceptions on both sides. But I'll tell you -- while I've seen plenty of feminists get really annoyed when "virginity advocates" get self-righteous and imply that they're better than women who have pre-marital sex, I've never seen feminists condemn the choice to stay abstinent in of itself. Because that would be utterly inconsistent with what feminism means.


Death Is Nigh

The flip side of my view, when in the absence of my science major roommates to explain everything to me, that the world is amazing and magical, is that, also in the absence of my science major roommates, the world always seems on the brink of cataclysmic doom.

I don't even know what a "strangelet" is, but apparently we might be creating one and it will consume the earth. Or possibly just a minuscule black hole, which will grow and swallow the universe (we're expecting the latter to simply "evaporate" in a puff of radiation).

I found this through what Bean calls a frivolous law suit. Well, who will be laughing when the whole earth is converted to "strange matter"? Presumably not Bean (or anyone else)!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Boxing Blogging: 3/28/08

Though boxing fans everywhere celebrate Cory Spinks losing last night (not because we have anything against him, but because it makes it less likely he'll "grace" our TV screens in the near future), I mourn for Kassim "The Dream" Ouma, who just lost his third straight bout via unanimous decision against Cornelius "K9" Bundrage. Recap of both tonight's and yesterday's action below.


Devon Alexander (15-0, 8 KOs) UD12 Miguel Callist (24-7-1, 17 KOs)

Ugh and ugh. After a couple of entertaining undercard mismatches on the Don King webcast (which went off surprisingly smoothly, incidentally), this fight was the epitome of a stinker. Callist ran, and ran, and ran and ran. He couldn't have created less action if he was sitting in the audience. Alexander did his best to walk him down, but ultimately, if someone is fleeing for their life in the ring, there is not all that much you can do. Hopefully Alexander will move on to bigger and more entertaining pay-days, and hopefully Callist will never be heard from again.

Verno Phillips (42-10-1, 21 KOs) SD12 Cory Spinks (36-5, 11 KOs)

It's a pretty sad day when a Cory Spinks fight is the more exciting of the two main events, but that's what happened tonight. The fight wasn't all that exciting, but it wasn't bad, and it certainly beat the crap out of the execrable Alexander/Callist bout that preceded it. Phillips' victory was a little controversial (though I don't think it was a "robbery", as some have said). I personally judged it a draw, though I could see it going either way. But when I'm judging bouts, I have a lot of trouble giving credit for the type of pitty-pat punches someone like Spinks throws. I don't think you need to be a slugger to win rounds, and I respect the defensive stylings of a Spinks or, say, a Winky Wright. But ultimately, this ain't amateurs. The goal isn't to simply land punches, it's to hurt the other guy, or at least land flush. So most rounds, where "nothing" happened I gave it to Spinks on accuracy, but in those rounds where Phillips did connect with a couple solid punches, it was very difficult for me not to give him the nod even where Spinks might have had the superior work rate.


Mike Jones (13-0, 12 KOs) UD8 Germaine Saunders (27-6, 17 KOs)

Not the most action-packed fight, but a good test for the prospect Jones, as the 38-year old Saunders gave him some veteran looks he'd never seen before (and also, unlike Jones' other opponents, survived to the final bell). I scored it a draw, but don't object to Jones getting the tight decision victory. I wouldn't say he looked phenomenal, and he did seem a bit flummoxed at times, but he stayed the course and got the win, and ultimately that's what good fighters need to do. Certainly, Jones will learn from it. For Saunders, it's his third straight close loss, all against good opponents, but disappointing nonetheless.

Henry Lundy (10-0-1, 6 KOs) D4 Darrell Jiles (8-0-1, 3 KOs)

Far and away the most entertaining of the match-ups I saw, I was surprised this was only a four rounder. Two undefeated prospects, with good pedigrees and an exciting style, certainly took a risk facing each other. Ultimately, neither paid the price as they fought to a hard-earned draw where both had their moments and the pace was kept throughout. Ultimately, I think Jiles has more of a future, simply because he's younger and has a great boxing build. Furthermore, even though he shouldn't have been engaging in an inside fight with the smaller, more muscular Lundy, he showed he could operate in tight, which is a good sign for his versatility as a boxer. But both guys showed that they're worth keeping an eye on.

Cornelius "K9" Bundrage (28-3, 16 KOs) UD10 Kassim Ouma (25-5-1, 15 KOs)

Over at MVN, I engaged in a protracted battle over whether this bout was worth watching -- specifically, whether Ouma still had it in him to be an elite fighter. I've made no secret I'm an Ouma fan (I don't see how anyone can not be, given his life story), but my argument was that all his problems were mental, not physical. Ouma at his best is an elite guy at 154 pounds, but Ouma is not always at his best, which at least in part has to be due to the immense trauma he's experienced throughout his life.

After watching his fight tonight, I'm more convinced than ever that it's a head problem for Ouma. For a couple moments in the middle rounds (after K9 was cut), the old Kassim Ouma was back, and he was giving Bundrage serious problems. It was beyond obvious that Ouma has more natural skill and gifts than the physically imposing but limited Bundrage. But for too long, he fought lethargically (and Ouma is normally a "punches in bunches" type of guy), like he wasn't really interested in being a boxer anymore. And so even if it is just in his head, I really don't know if he'll ever regain the focus and mental clarity he needs to become a world champion again. I gave him a close decision that might have been judging with my heart over my head, but I can't say he looked particularly impressive.

As for K9, I was reminded all over again why I don't particularly like him (again, with the caveat that my heart was against him fighting against Ouma). He fights dirty, he wrestles, he clinches like he wasn't hugged enough as a child, and he's offensively limited except for his right-hand. I'm glad referee Steve Smoger took a point away for excessive holding, because Bundrage has an annoying tendency to just skirt under that point deduction line, often by simply varying up the fouls he performs. But that rant aside, this is a career best win over his most credible opponent yet, even if Ouma is on the downslide. So maybe he'll parlay it into a bigger fight where he will get back to being smoked. We can only hope.

Going briefly back to Ouma, there is a documentary film, "Kassim the Dream" coming out detailing his life story, including his harrowing time as a child soldier in the Ugandan army. ESPN previewed a bit of it, and in one clip Ouma said that boxing was "therapy" for him and all the horrors he's lived through. I can only, only hope that his recent downturn is because his therapy is finally complete, and he doesn't feel the need to fight anymore. Because no one in the world deserves to live a happy and successful life more than Kassim Ouma.

FM 3-24

FM 3-24 is the Army and Marines' counter-insurgency manual. It was written in part by one Sarah Sewall, who is now an adviser on the Obama campaign. In the Weekly Standard, Dean Barnett, not seeming to know this, blasts her along with Samantha Power as embodying "dovish idealism" in the course of his critique of the "Obama Doctrine." It's a lot of juvenile giggling over "climates of fear" (because serious people know that fear distracts us from the important task of killing people) and very little in the way of hard-nosed analysis.

In addition to pointing out some other bone-headed errors ("Her name is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you dumb douche."), Spencer Ackerman helps elucidate why the "critique" is substantively flat out wrong.
What Barnett will never understand is that the real danger from al-Qaeda isn't just the people who've joined al-Qaeda. It's the much larger cohort of people who could join al-Qaeda, and the larger-still cohort of those who would not actively help the U.S. destroy al-Qaeda. Those latter two population clusters are where any anti-al-Qaeda strategy has to focus. And there, yeah, climates of fear -- in other words, the experience of people pinioned between the militia on the corner and the U.S.-backed regime that it fights. Those people come to hate the U.S. Lots of them. And it only takes a small number of them to decide to act on that hatred.

....look at who AQI is. According to this fascinating briefing that Bits Bacon gave last week, we're talking not just about fanatics. We're talking about the people brainwashed by al-Qaeda into coming to Iraq to blow themselves up -- brainwashed thanks to propaganda victories that the Weekly Standard's chosen policies, like the Iraq war and torture, have yielded. That's the swamp that Dean Barnett and his homies will not only fail to drain, but they'll expand, over and over and over again, no matter how decisively the last five years have shattered everything they believe in.

We'll never win a war like this if we keep rebuilding our enemy in the midst of destroying it. Barnett and his crew just aren't bright enough to grasp that, or how to avoid it. So we need a new leadership that can.

One of the best arguments for an Obama presidency is that he has been bringing together some of the brightest experts in the world, from all backgrounds, together in his campaign. I'm not saying that the best and brightest always have the right answer. But if there is one thing we've learned from this administration, it's that trusting questions of national security to politicized amateurs is a luxury we can no longer afford. More than any other candidate, Obama offers the chance to break free from that trap.

Via Balloon Juice

Casey for Obama

Obama picks up a huge endorsement in Pennsylvania from Governor Senator Bob Casey. This is important not just because Casey is obviously a big name in the state, but because he's a very credible figure among the White, working-class voters with whom Obama has struggled. Obama will hold his big city base in Philadelphia -- it all comes down to how much he can penetrate into Clinton territory mid-state and out towards Pittsburgh. Casey's endorsement is definitely a boon towards those efforts.

The World is an Amazing Place

Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.
--Ovid, 43 BC - 17 AD

Every once in awhile, I look out on the world and marvel at where we are. The pace of technological improvement, and humankind's ability to adapt to it, is nothing short of amazing. My roommates are all science majors, and sometimes I grill them to explain to me how these things works. But I'm on Spring Break now, and they're not around. Which means I return to my default position of simple wonder.

We can send streaming pictures -- whole movies -- around the world in minutes, without anything connecting the source and the recipient. We can speak to people instantaneously across the world on our cell-phones. We can transmit pictures and sound over wavelengths and have them heard worldwide.

Do you realize that, prior to the 19th century, it's likely that no human being in history had ever traveled faster than 60 miles per hour (and lived to tell the tale, at least)? Today, we not only do it as a matter of course, but people as young as teenagers control highly complex machines that dance around each other at break neck speeds. An interstate highway lane change must look like a high-wire act to a medieval man or woman, but we do it without batting an eye.

Similarly, human adaption to flight has been remarkable. The Wright Brothers' glider first went off in 1900. By World War II -- less than 50 years later -- passenger air service was already well established. We went from flight being impossible, to flight being a normal part of our travel options, in the space of a single lifetime.

And the innovations keep coming -- in medicine, in telecommunications, in mathematics, in physics, in everything. But I'll tell you what: we could not have a single new technological invention ever again, and our lives would still rock. Most of the big problems in the world are not ones of technology. They're about distribution, or morality, or diplomacy. It's not that we don't know how to treat AIDS -- we just can't get the medicine to the right people. It's not that we don't know how to irrigate farmland, we just don't have the resources to get it to the poorest regions of the world. But the technology -- that's all there.

And that's amazing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marty on Wright

Martin E. Marty, a theology professor at the University of Chicago, has an article up defending Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's controversial pastor.

Around these parts, Marty is known because he's on the board of St. Olaf's college across town, at one point serving as interim President. But he's also one of the most prominent and prolific scholars of religion of our times, authoring over 5,000 articles and recipient of over 75 honorary doctorates.

Anyone who is serious about religion in America knows to take Marty seriously when he speaks. His article is a must read.

Power On

Is Samantha Power coming back? In the course of defending comments that Obama might not automatically draw down troops upon becoming President ("Take for example that 3 am phone call [from Clinton's campaign commercial]... She is not going to answer the phone and play a voicemail she recorded in 2007. That is crazy. She is going to judge the situation in 2009. Of course she is going to take into account what the generals have to say about the Iraq situation and what they are saying on the ground."), she added:
And, to the delight of many in the crowd, she even hinted that she could be part of that hypothetical cabinet. "Because of the kind of campaign that Senator Obama has run," Power said, "it seemed appropriate for someone of my Irish temper to step aside, at least for a while. We will see what happens there."

How awesome would that be? Also, good response to the substantive attack.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Organic Jurisprudence

Guess the speaker:
A philosophy that is imposed from without instead of arising organically from day-to-day engagement with the law isn't worth having. Such a philosophy runs the risk of becoming an ideology, and I'd spent much of my adult life shying away from abstract ideological theories that served only to obscure the reality of life as it's lived.

It's Justice Clarance Thomas, in his autobiography, My Grandfather's Son (p. 238).

It raised my eyebrow 1) because I agree with it, which is a rarity with myself and Justice Thomas, and, more importantly 2) because it really runs counter to how I think Justice Thomas is perceived in the public eye. Perhaps more than any other Justice on the Court, Thomas is seen as the one whose legal writings are the most ideological, the most divorced from arguing about practical impact or contemporary import, in favor of a very tight allegiance to originalism.

I picked up the quote from a short, accessible review of Thomas' book in the Harvard Law Review. In the review, the anonymous author argues that Thomas' jurisprudence on race, where he tends to break from strict originalism, is reflective of this personal experience. Having experienced the brunt of racist America throughout his public life, Thomas cannot help but utilize that in informing his judicial opinions (even though his prescriptions differ drastically from most other Blacks in similar positions). Elsewhere, where this lived experience is not present (such as on abortion), he feels more comfortable retreating to the theoretical. Together, Thomas' judicial inconsistency is not resolved, but it does make more sense.


The only good thing about really dumb people is that they sometimes prompt brilliant responses.

For example, take your average really dumb person:
Possibly the most preposterous notion to come from the radical Left is that blacks should be given free money expropriated by force from everyone else as a reward for having ancestors who were given a hard time — just like the ancestors of every human being on the planet. I won't insult the reader's intelligence by explaining the absurdity of thinking this unjust and profoundly moronic concept would improve race relations.

And place him next to D at LGM:
Mmmm, somehow I think insulting your readers' intelligence might actually be a steeper challenge than you think.



All glory to the Hypnobama.

Seriously, if anyone can to the transposing that Patrick wants, do it, and you've got a link. I love Obama and still think it'd be hilarious. In the meantime....

When Does Originalism Start?

The 15th Amendment officially enfranchised Black Americans. Hence, I presume that Blacks did not get the chance to vote for the ratification of it, or the other Reconstruction Amendments (obviously, they didn't participate in the drafting). It was only going forward that Blacks actually were officially included in the constitutional process. And, if practically speaking Blacks were only let in on truly equal terms after 1965, then only the 25th, 26th, and 27th amendments can truly be said to have been drafted and ratified with the true assent of the American population writ large.

What prompts this observation? John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport have a new paper on SSRN entitled The Desirable Constitution and the Case for Originalism. Essentially, the thesis is that originalism is a superior form of constitutional adjudication "because it promotes constitutional interpretations that are likely to have better consequences today than those of nonoriginalist theories." The reason is that constitutional texts are approved by super-majorities, which helps protect minority interests and creates the type of consensus necessary for entrenched laws. Since the only time constitutional meaning is affirmed through super-majoritarian means is during the ratification process, that is the best lens for ascertaining the optimal constitutional meaning. Originalism is thus justified because and only because it represents the contours of a broad, super-majoritarian consensus.

I skimmed the article, but the part I was really interested in was where McGinnis and Rappaport deal with that ever-present anti-originalist objection: that Blacks were simply not included in this decision making process for much of America's history (the discussion is on pages 39-43). This raises a larger question of when originalism starts. If originalism is justified by the existence of broad consensus among constitutional ratifiers, originalism only makes sense as a interpretative project where such consensus was present. If a given group is excluded, it's impossible to claim broad consensus, and the whole project is suspect, at least until the exclusion is rectified. And even then, the project only works going forward. It can't claim retroactive legitimacy from the people hitherto excluded.

M&R concede that Black exclusion represented a severe constitutional failing. But, they argue, this failing was mostly corrected via the passage of the Reconstruction amendments, which, facially at least, eliminated the problem. M&R also concede that, for at least a century afterwards, Blacks remained excluded in spite of the existence of these protections. But they say that this was due to a failure of originalism -- had the amendments been construed as they were originally meant, then Blacks would have been able to participate.

The problem is that this response doesn't work within M&R's own paradigm. For starters, it is unclear why creating nominal Black inclusion in the 19th century accords retroactive legitimacy to amendments passed during the period of Black exclusion in the 18th. Perhaps, amendments 16-28 are now in the clear (though not entirely, as I'll get into below), but amendment 1-12 certainly still retain the taint of original sin, if you will. Amendments passed in the future do not and cannot alter the conditions under which laws were enacted in the past. Hence, M&R can't really grant super-majoritarian legitimacy to original meanings cast prior to the period of Black inclusion.

Second, M&R's argument is premised on the existence of actual, not theoretical, inclusion and participation. Even if a group, such as Blacks, is officially free to participate in the political marketplace, so long as there are practical bars, the over-arching consensus M&R strive for remains absent. Hence, the effective absence of Black political participation in the century after the reconstruction amendments also casts doubt on the existence of consensus, and by extension, the legitimacy of post-Reconstruction amendments. M&R do say that they view this absence as a failure of non-originalism, not originalism, but that's besides the point. Regardless of why participation wasn't present, so long as it was absent we cannot assume broad social consensus. This, as my opening paragraph indicates, pushes the "start" of originalism out past 1965, with only the 25th amendment on up qualifying.

But the final problem M&R run into is that I believe, under their framework, the Reconstruction amendments are tainted too by the specter of exclusion. Remember, M&R give legitimacy to constitutional texts not because of abstract moral theorizing that tells us that clauses like "equal protection" or "free speech" are cool. They gain legitimacy because they're drafted under conditions of broad participation and consensus. But Blacks still couldn't participate in the drafting of the Reconstruction amendments, and hence those amendments also don't actually represent super-majoritarian consensus either.

This is easy to look past, because it seems apparent that had Blacks been included, they obviously would have voted in favor of these amendments. But this isn't quite true -- as M&R concede, it's entirely possible that they would have demanded additional clauses and protections, for example, ascertaining social rights (they also say they might have tried to protect affirmative action. I think that the case for permitting voluntary affirmative action is far stronger under putatively originalist frameworks than the argument against it -- in fact, I've seen no evidence whatsoever making the case against it beyond mere assertion. It is claims such as this which make me skeptical of originalism's supposed "neutrality" writ large). More importantly and fundamentally, we have no idea what the drafting, debate, text, or ratification would look like under those conditions. Trying to salvage the event through historical counter-factuals is vain endeavor -- but that runs true in both directions. It's equally speculative to assume that the constitution would look roughly the same, as it would be guess at what or how much might have changed. Hence, what would be truly accurate to argue is that originalism is irredeemably corrupted when texts are drafted outside of situations consisting of full and equal participation, and we have to look to other justifications for our preferred interpretative schema in such cases.

At this point, M&R fall-back considerably from their original position. They claim that, even granting the existence of continued defects in the constitution, the costs of fixing them by judicial fiat (or junking the constitution entirely) are outweighed by the costs, particularly that of legal instability and constitutional dissension. This is less of a response than a capitulation -- it admits that their metric may end up reifying political decisions cast under Black exclusion, but claims there is no away around that without trashing the rest of their model. At which point, I don't think they can be surprised if Black legal theorists and their allies advocate doing just that. Stability, after all, is not a boon when we're stabilizing an injustice. Uncertainty about whether you have equal rights is still better than certainty you don't have them. And none of these issues are ones that directly relate to M&R's thematic argument for why originalism is justified: the existence of a super-majoritarian consensus, because we're already beyond the point at which such consensus could be reached. Once this structural argument for legitimacy is abandoned, and we move to more contested issues of weighing (such as the need for legal stability), then the apparatus becomes vulnerable to attack from other competing values, and it loses whatever claim it had to immunity from non-originalist critique.

So, to conclude: the exclusion of Blacks from the political community means that the original consensus surrounding constitutional amendments passed in this period is nullified. Consensus can't be extended retroactively, so the passage of the Reconstruction amendments doesn't impact the original infirmity of the bill of rights and original constitution. And consensus requires actual, not theoretical, ability to participate, so neither can we claim that amendments passed in periods of de facto Black exclusion have true originalist legitimacy. Consequently, M&R's contemporary originalism can only start with those amendments passed under conditions of full and equal participation, which gives us an originalism of amendments 25-27, but nothing else. If originalism is to survive in the future, it has to kill off its desire to rescue the past. There is no way to salvage original meanings of constitutional clauses drafted under conditions of mass exclusion. Originalism can only work in situations where the entire community is participating. Where this did not occur, we must find other paths to constitutional interpretation.


In my in-box advertising an upcoming boxing event, here's one of the match-ups on the undercard:

Tyrone Brunson (18-0, 18 KO's) vs Francis McKechnai (3-14, 3 KO's).

Gosh, I wonder how that'll end? Seriously, how is that match even sanctioned?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everything Turns Gray

I ran an errand for my mom today, dropping off a vacuum cleaner to be repaired. When I got there, the man looked at me and said "oh, your wife called ahead about this!"

Mom, of course, was thrilled, but now I'm going to the mirror to check for gray roots.

Disconnected Originalism

I'm not an originalist, for reasons I can and have expounded on at great length. But that doesn't mean I don't understand it's appeal, particularly to lay persons not used to thinking about theories of interpretation. When we make a statement, we want it to mean what we want it to mean. We get upset when folks take our words to mean something we did not intend. "That wasn't what I meant!" is a common lament of those who feel that the interpretation of their words has deviated from their original intention. Originalism, of course, appeals to that same instinct. If I don't like my words to mean something different from what I meant them to mean, why should want anything else for my constitution?

The problem is this linkage is one of original intention. But, for reasons I outline in this post, most originalists today have abandoned original intent as unworkable, in favor of original meaning or understanding. These two forms of originalism don't connect with that intuitive "I want to mean what I want to mean" formula. Hence, we have a disconnect between how originalism is academically justified and operationalized, and it gains popular support and legitimacy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ideal or Necessity?

The Washington Post had a good article today exploring the differences in how Whites and Blacks perceive the status of race in America, and some of the psychological reasons for the disparity. This claim was the one I found most illuminating:
The intriguing question prompted by Eibach's study is why whites and blacks are unconsciously drawn to different yardsticks. Eibach said one reason might be that racial equality means different things to whites and blacks: Whites see it as an ideal, blacks as a necessity. When people evaluate progress toward idealistic or optional goals -- saving for a vacation -- they tend to focus on progress made. But when people think of necessities -- paying the rent -- they focus on how much they are short.

That's a really important insight. White folks can wax lyrical about how we're getting closer to those ideals that animated the constitution and the American dream, because by and large they already possess them. It's other people for whom we're falling short. But for Blacks, those guarantees -- liberty, life, pursuit of happiness -- are not luxuries but necessities. And insofar as they do not have them, they're going to focus on what's missing, rather than the distance we've made from slavery to today.

The entire article is chock full of other good insights. I highly recommend that you read it in full.

The Wealth Gap

One thing I've continually tried to impress when talking about contemporary racism is that it is an independent point of oppression from class. I have many friends -- liberal and conservative -- who don't understand this. A few months ago I was talking with a friend of mine, who I adore and who is brilliant, about affirmative action. She said she could supported it for Black kids who come from poorer areas, but she did not understand it for those who grew up in wealthier areas like Bethesda. The point being that racism is a subcategory of classism. At worst, racism is bad because it makes certain people disproportionately poorer. Where there is no poverty or economic deprivation, though, there is no racism or disadvantage.

This sentiment is wrong, for reasons the above linked post helps explain. But today I observed an even more dangerous claim that I hope is not becoming a trend. I had assumed that most of the folks making the race/class conflation were only making the point in reference to the present day. Surely, in the epochs of American history where the gains of the Civil Rights movement were not yet actualized, we could recognize that Blacks of all social classes were impacted by White racism?

Or perhaps not. Marty Peretz passes along a brief statement by Morton Klein, current President of the Zionist Organization of America. Here's what he wrote:

How do I know?

It happens that, as a Philadelphian, I attended Central High School – the same public school Jeremiah Wright attended from 1955 to 1959. He could have gone to an integrated neighborhood school, but he chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school. Central is the second oldest public high school in the country, which attracts the most serious academic students in the city. The school then was about 80% Jewish and 95% white. The African-American students, like all the others, were there on merit. Generally speaking, we came from lower/middle class backgrounds. Many of our parents had not received a formal education and we tended to live in row houses. In short, economically, we were roughly on par.

I attended Central a few years after Rev. Wright, so I did not know him personally. But I knew of him and I know where he used to live – in a tree-lined neighborhood of large stone houses in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. This is a lovely neighborhood to this day. Moreover, Rev. Wright's father was a prominent pastor and his mother was a teacher and later vice-principal and disciplinarian of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, also a distinguished academic high school. Two of my acquaintances remember her as an intimidating and strict disciplinarian and excellent math teacher. In short, Rev. Wright had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. It was hardly the scene of poverty and indignity suggested by Senator Obama to explain what he calls Wright's anger and what I describe as his hatred.

The point we're supposed to gather from this is that, since Wright did not grow up in "poverty", he did not experience "indignity" but "privilege". But to act as though only impoverished Blacks faced racism in 1950s Philadelphia is unreal. We know that racism acted upon Blacks of all social classes. MLK, too, hailed from an upper-middle class background. W.E.B. Du Bois was born in a solid economic setting in Massachusetts. But in the America of that era, there was nothing "comfortable" about it. So they got angry. And they fought against it.

I'm not saying that poverty doesn't matter. But racism still acts upon middle and upper class Blacks. Indeed, there are reams of scholarship about how the Civil Rights movement was primarily a middle class struggle that was indifferent if not actively hostile to lower-class Black people -- the only ones, according to Klein, who had anything to get upset about. But if anything, Wright is proof that there is no sector of the Black population that is immune from racist indignities, because you can't buy off racism.

Booing Peace

It's moments like this that show the worst elements of some in the Jewish community:
Twelve-hundred Jews booed you last month.

This happened at the "Live for Sderot" concert at the Wilshire Theatre on Feb 27. All three presidential candidates each appeared on screen to deliver a videotaped statement of support for the Israelis undergoing a brutal campaign of terror in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared first, spoke clearly and decisively and received a smattering of applause. Then you came on. The crowd jeered throughout your brief statement and booed and hissed at the end of it. I didn't have the opposite of an applause meter with me, but I'd say the reaction hit a low point when you said we must all look forward to a day when "Israeli and Palestinian children can live in peace."

Jimmy Delshad, the Persian Jewish mayor of Beverly Hills, bristled. "Palestinian?" he told me. "It's like he has to throw that in our face."
That brief audition was as clear a demonstration as any of something I've noticed happening over the last few months: the giant sucking sound of Jewish support for the leading Democratic candidate.

There a couple of things that could be noted here, particularly that the type of Jew that is engaged enough to attend a "Live for Sderot" concert might differ from the average. That being said, I actually have a friend who is from Sderot (a border town under consistent rocket attack from the Gaza Strip), and I certainly think that Jews (and human beings) of all political stripes have an obligation to stand for its security and the safety of its inhabitants.

But booing peace for Palestinian children? "Bristling" when their lives, too, are brought up? Claiming that it is something that he "threw in your face"? It's sickening. For that is the dream, isn't it? We can disagree over how to get there and what needs to be done, we can be adamant (correctly) that Israel's security must be maintained. But the end of this trip has to be a world where Israeli and Palestinian children live in peace. One in which either has peace, but the other has fear and strife, is no world I wish to live in.

They boo, I say it louder: I look forward to a day when Israeli and Palestinian children can live in peace.

Now, who out there among my Jewish friends wishes to boo me for saying it?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Media's Third Toxic Story

TalkLeft links to a Times (London) article purporting to show Obama's "third toxic mentor." The first was Tony Rezko (not a mentor), the second was Rev. Wright (okay), and the third is Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones. Like Rezko, Jones, we are told, has some ethics problems. Okay, that's bad. But the article tells us (buried eight paragraphs deep) that none of them have any link to Obama. That's good, yes? Well, apparently, it's irrelevant, because he "can ill afford another scandal related to his former Chicago allies."

Look, there's a lot of corruption in Illinois. And in Washington, for that matter. If every Republican who had ever counted Rick Renzi, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Richard Pombo, Bob Ney, or hey, John McCain (remember the Keating Five?) as a colleague was permanently disqualified from higher office, we'd have a problem. We need to crack the culture of corruption. If Jones is guilty on that charge, then by all means, take him down. But this guilt by association -- particularly on issues outside of the policy arena -- trick the media has been on is getting out of hand.

Kmiec Endorses Obama

Doug Kmiec, a former attorney for the Reagan and Bush (I) administrations, has announced he is endorsing Obama.

Kmiec isn't a big name, and I already gave away what salience there is by noting Kmiec's significant links to the modern Republican Party. But it raised my eyebrow because Kmiec is not an ex-conservative who's seen the light. Even as recent as last July I sparred with him (I'm vastly overstating my relevance, of course -- he wrote a column, and I responded to it. The odds he ever read my response are rather slim), and it was not the first time.

As best as I can tell, Kmiec's endorsement is based solely upon disgust with the war in Iraq. He reiterates his opposition to gay marriage and abortion, his support of federalism and limited judiciary -- the works. And while he expresses hope (audacious hope?) that Obama's actions will match his rhetoric on such issues as race and human rights, his only positive reason for his decision came in this passage:
Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment.

This, more than anything else, shows how the GOP coalition is fracturing at the seams. At the same time as moderate Republicans are finally recoiling from their affiliation with far-right social conservatives, social conservatives (at least in the rank and file) are beginning to rebel from supporting the Iraq war. Which leaves a Republican Party consisting of Paul Wolfowitz...and very little else.