Saturday, April 26, 2008

And Now Columbia

After my successful trip to Chicago last week, the only remaining stop on my voyage before I make my final law school decision is Columbia, for which I depart tomorrow (but actually visit on Monday). No computer, so no blogging until I return (so, Monday evening at the earliest).

After that, May 1st is judgment day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Door Close"

This makes me unreasonably upset:
In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer.

The article is a surprisingly interesting essay on elevators. I particularly liked the bit about "smart elevators", in which you input your floor at a central control panel, and it tells you which elevator to take. Consequently, the elevators themselves have no control panel, which apparently makes people feel like they've been kidnapped by a Bond villain.

That Which We Deny

Feddie at Southern Appeal wrote a small post regarding some of the more controversial words said by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright claimed his words were being "twisted". Feddie asks how one can twist claiming that the US government is spreading AIDS (which is, of course, false), or that the "chickens came home to roost" on 9/11? In the comments, I noted that this last statement was, in fact, being twisted insofar as it was being taken as a claim of American moral responsibility or causality for 9/11. What Wright actually was claiming was that the US, too, had supported state-sponsored terrorism in (inter alia) Latin America, and now we were just experiencing what we had already done to others throughout history. Several commenters ("Petrigu's Ghost", "BillyHW"), though, denied that the US, had in fact, supported terrorism and death squads in Latin America. Now, American complicity in the creation, training, and activities of the death squads is not really a contested fact. Denying it is just as false as Wright's claim that the government is spreading AIDS. Yet while Wright is considered to be a monster, there are no consequences to those who deny American complicity in terrorist activity (indeed, if anything, the public backlash would probably target the truth-speakers). How is this justifiable? There are, I suppose, ways one could label Wright's falsehood worse than Petrigu's (though in a way, that's a side issue because Wright isn't just being treated comparatively worse -- Petrigu and his ilk will undoubtedly get off scot-free). While denying America's role in the death squads might anger the victims of the atrocities, the harms in question are largely in the past. By contrast, Wright's fiction does real damage right now in terms of hindering public efforts to combat the AIDS crisis. But in actuality, I think there are real and serious contemporary dangers that manifest themselves when we allow the denial of historical atrocities to proceed. The denial that Petrigu and others indulge in -- denial of responsibility for mass atrocities -- does not just insult the memories of the victims and survivors. It actively paves the way for more similar atrocities to occur. And it is the very strength of the denial instinct that creates the obligation to overcome it. We cannot stand idly by while our cohorts -- by denying the reality of past atrocities -- lay the groundwork for present ones. I. The Harms of Denial When accused of grave moral wrongdoing, the first response of everyone is to deny. We deny knowledge, we deny responsibility, we deny the event occurred, we deny the victims even existed (anyone who's seen the Sudanese government's response to attacks over Darfur has seen this in all its horrifying glory). We deny, deny, deny. Being Jewish means observing this phenomena first-hand: not just in Holocaust deniers, but in those who deny the existence of contemporary anti-Semitism, who deny the relevance of anti-Jewish hatred international treatment of Israel, who deny the way that contemporary Christianity silences Jewish voices under the guise of the "Judeo-Christian" worldview. When one lives with oppression that is so real and tangible, and yet still sees the world deny it, one becomes rapidly attuned to just how much denial the world is capable of. There is a plethora of literature that explicates how important it is to the victims of mass atrocity that the perpetrators accept their responsibility and that the world recognizes the existence and magnitude of the violation. Victims of mass atrocity feel like the world has abandoned them to the killing fields and the rape rooms. When their story is not heard, their experience not verified, it is as if the horrors were being relived. If that was the only reason to oppose the instinct of denial, it would be enough. But denial extends beyond that, and plays a crucial role in the reiteration of mass atrocity in other contexts around the world. In my post on the resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, I noted that such resolutions are not just about historical accuracy, or even comforting the victims and their descendants. It is a fact of genocidal activity (and other moral atrocities) that the perpetrators wish to mask their crimes. Even as they fire the bullet they have already begun burying the bodies. As Charles Briggs wrote, "The architects of genocide are often as concerned with suppressing discourse about the event as with the killing itself." Those with genocidal ambitions carefully observe the way similar atrocities are treated in the world community when determining whether to enact similar policies in their own nation. Samantha Power used the example of Serbia to illustrate the devastating consequences that silence can create:
Slobodan Milosevic saw that he got away with the brutal suppression of independence movements in Slovenia and Croatia and he reasoned he would pay no price for doing the same in Bosnia and Kosovo. Because so many individual perpetrators were killing for the first time and deciding daily how far they would go, the United States and its European allies missed critical opportunities to try to deter them. When they ignored genocide around the world, the Western powers were not intending to 'green light' the perpetrators. But because the killers told themselves they were doing the world a favor by 'cleansing' the 'undesirables,' some surely interpreted silence as consent or even support.
One could also easily use the example of the Holocaust. Hitler famously remarked, "who remembers the Armenians" when deciding to carry out the Final Solution. The lack of any accountability -- even if it is only being remembered as an evil-doer -- is a crucial link in the chain that allows mass atrocity to occur. Consequently, denial about America's role in supporting Central American death squads helps recreate the a pro-murder narrative that encourages other states and organizations who might be tempted to support terror. Albeit indirectly, there is a real and salient link between the denial of America's role in the death squads, and the ongoing killing in Darfur. The latter is nourished and sustained by the former -- specifically, the former's promise that the latter will be tolerated, then ultimately forgotten. But denial's real harms might occur domestically. In my last post, I noted that people have trouble reasoning generally beyond specific problems and contexts they've experienced. When created rules or normative guidelines, we necessarily can only gear them towards problems we can perceive. This simple point becomes chilling when linked up with the logic of atrocity-denial. Insofar as Americans deny their nation's complicity in acts of terroristic violence, we remove the activities from the realm of "problems" we have to be wary of. In order to enact barriers (legal, institutional, psychic, what have you) against the perpetuation of mass atrocity, first we have to recognize in ourselves the potential for engaging in these acts. But denial reifies the opposite -- it allows us to maintain the fiction that such activities are not within the realm of possibility for the United States, and hence blocks the creation and propagation of norms that might guard against it. So long as Americans still can tell themselves "we don't engage in torture" (i.e., engage in denial about what happens in Black Sites and what waterboarding is), we have no need to promulgate strong rules against it (or at the very least, continue conceptualizing it -- and thus gear the rules against it towards -- the behavior of individual troublemakers, rather than official choices of top-level decision makers). So long as we deny that we have supported terrorism, we can refrain from doing anything to insure we don't engage in terrorist activity, because it's not "our problem." The cycle of deny-perpetuate-deny continues unabated because both elements feed into each other: denial of our history of wrongdoing makes it easier to perpetuate crimes, the perpetuation of the crime creates an event that need to be denied. II. Overcoming Denial In the face of all this denial, how do we even learn about mass atrocities at all? Well, there are a couple of ways. The first is that the injustice is so large that it simply cannot be contained. The rupture is too deep, the wounds too wide-spread. I will concede this may happen some of the time, but I do not think often, and only in the most extreme cases. Jack Balkin has written of the paradox in protecting minorities: the most powerless need the most protection, but by virtue of their powerlessness they are unlikely to have enough political weight to be able to demand accountability from elites. The second way mass atrocities get exposed is when it is in the interest of a powerful group to expose it. It is difficult for the weak to deny, not because the weak are more likely to be saints, but because they're much easier to catch. The only reason the Holocaust became anything beyond provincial was because Hitler invaded Poland, thus making it everybody's problem, not just the Jews. Exposing Wright's falsehood was in the interest of elite White power-brokers (obviously more powerful than Wright), so it got exposed. But there is no sufficiently powerful group with an interest in exposing America's support of Central American terrorism. So it stays under wraps. The third way, related to the second, is that the victims managed to muster enough strength to force the world (and their oppressors) to account for their crimes. This was the story of the American Civil Rights movement. For most of America's apartheid regime, Whites did, in fact, deny deny deny that their actions were in any way, shape or form incompatible with liberal norms of liberty and equality. The mass movements of the Civil Rights era gave Blacks enough political and social muscle to force away the veil of deniability and expose the ugly reality within. All three methodologies, though, offer only a faint hope. The first is by and large a crap-shoot, and only applies to a small percentage of cases. The second likewise only applies to those cases where the interests of a victim class intersect with that of an empowered class -- not necessarily a common occurrence. It also provides no hope to those whose oppression is (or was) being carried out by those very elites. The third unreasonably relies on those being crushed to muster enough power to turn the tables on their oppressors, which puts the cart before the horse -- gaining power can't be a prerequisite to remedying your disempowerment. What's needed is to break the cycle at the start: The instinct to deny. We must as a people have the individual and collective courage to admit -- selflessly and on our own initiative -- our own wrongs and aggressively root out others. That is the only ultimate guarantee that they will not be replicated. And it means that those who do engage in denying American atrocities -- such as Feddie's commenters -- are far more dangerous, far worse "fanatics", than anything Jeremiah Wright could be. III. Repositioning the Bayonet The tag-line of Southern Appeal is "giving the bayonet to the dictatorship of relativism." I hesitate to use this as my metaphor, since I have no idea what Feddie's position is on America's terrorist activity in Central America. Perhaps (hopefully) he finds it appalling -- the sort of unforgivable evil that must never be washed over or forgotten -- and I don't want to impute his commenters failure of morality onto him. But I'll use the metaphor because I think it's very illustrative of the final barrier to overcoming denial. Now, I suspect my views on "relativism" are different than Feddie's. But taking the anti-relativism position seriously, it has to be applied universally. That is, the bayonet has to point inward as well as outward. Yet, one rarely sees self-inflicted wounds from the relativism-seeking bayonet. It is very good at attacking others -- people we don't care about or wish to condemn. It is far less adept at piercing our own skin -- our own layer of justification and obfuscation we use to legitimize our own evil acts. So it can attack Burma but not America, German bystanders in the Reich but not White bystanders in the South, Hu Jintao for supporting the Janjaweed but not Ronald Reagan for supporting the death squads. This is why it is so often seen as ethnocentric: the relativism-seeking bayonet seems to stab everyone but its wielder. Of course, nobody likes being stabbed (hence our denial reflex), and so it is difficult for us to turn the bayonet inward. The most fervent proponents of the bayonet are the one's who seem to blanch palest (or sputter reddest) at the prospect of it targeting ourselves. Imagine of Barack Obama gave a speech demanding that the U.S. acknowledge and repent for its role in the death squads? His campaign (to say the least) would be over. Consequently, it is incumbent on the Feddies of the world to be the most aggressive in insuring that America's past and present are not rewritten, because it seems to be his fellow travelers who enable the deny-perpetuate-deny cycle to continue. If this bayonet is to have any claim at universalizability (if it isn't just relativism in shiny garb), giving ourselves a free pass is not a legitimate move. It is a false move, it is a supremely dangerous move, and ultimately it is a killing move. There must be a commitment. We cannot indulge in the luxury of denial. The risks are too great, the costs are too high. Our own mental comfort is not sufficient to rewrite history. If we are to condemn Rev. Wright (as I do) for misleading his flock about AIDS in America, then we must -- with equal fervor and equal resolve -- expel from our fellows those who would deny America's history of terrorism, of violence, and of barbarism. The bayonet must be allowed to point inward.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Originalism, The Death Penalty, and The Perfect Poison

The decision in Baze v. Rees set off much discussion (stemming from Justice Stevens' concurrence) as to whether the death penalty can be ruled unconstitutional. The major argument against is that the constitution clearly contemplates the use of the death penalty at several points -- most notably the due process clauses ("No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...."). Given this rather clear affirmation that the state can (after satisfying due process concerns) take away a person's life, is there any room for the an abolitionist claim?

To explore this issue, I offer up a fantastical historical scenario which I nonetheless think might illuminate how context is critical, even in seemingly clear textual cases. It is the story of the Perfect Poison:

* * *

When European settlers first began to arrive in America, they discovered a bounty of new flora and fauna, wildlife and crops, that were rare or non-existent back in their homelands. One of the most intriguing of these was a small, clover like plant that grew wild in the forested expanses of the east. Local Native Americans used it as euthanasia for their dying elders, or warriors mortally wounded in battle, for, when mashed into a paste and ingested, it had the effect of immediately and painlessly causing death. Observers who saw the plant being administered marveled at how -- in contrast to the bloody spectacle of beheadings or the slow struggle for air during a hanging -- men and women who were fed the clover simply seemed to drift off to sleep, without struggle or apparent distress. Dubbed "American Hemlock", the plant was colloquially known simply as "the perfect poison."

Seeking to distinguish themselves from their more backwards European forebearers, American colonists rapidly began utilizing the perfect poison as their sole method of execution. This is not to say there was no debate over the morality of the death penalty. Quakers and other abolitionists argued strongly that the state had no right to claim a human life, as part of their generic opposition to non-violence. When America achieved independence and the constitution was being drafted, this debate grew in salience dramatically. When the due process clause was drafted to include the potential for capital punishment, progressives reformers attempted to make a stand and strip the word "life" from the text.

The debate was fierce, instigated primarily by a few true believers on each side. Knowing that their "objective" critique of capital punishment was unlikely to sway undecided delegates, abolitionists pointed to the excesses of the French Revolution and tried to emphasize the risk of brutal, undignified killing at the hands of the state. The "spirit of '76" made the delegates very receptive to the inherent human dignity possessed by all individuals, even criminals. But advocates of the death penalty responded by pointing to the perfect poison. America already had nearly 100 years of experience with this drug, and thus reliably knew that they could apply the ultimate punishment while still maintaining the dignity of the criminal. They pointed out that if, by some chance, the national government wished to abandon the perfect poison, it would run afoul of the just-completed clause prohibiting "cruel and unusual" punishment (what would later be the 8th amendment). The risks the abolitionists claimed were confined to old Europe. Americans had developed their own method of execution, that was quick, painless, and immediately lethal.

As the debate progressed, it became clear that the existence and use of the perfect poison was going to be the decisive factor. Delegates who had come in undecided were gradually won over to the pro-death penalty side. The abolitionist's arguments were abstract and unpersuasive given the existence and universal usage of the perfect poison. "Were we still in England, and capital punishment meant sickening hangings (with many more savage citizens clamoring for the return of burning at stake!), I would not hesitate to ban it," proclaimed one delegate from New Jersey. "Where the culture is one of barbarism, where the norms of the enlightenment have not penetrated, the penalty of death is too dangerous to lie in the hands of man. But, God blessed America with an excellent herb, one which evades all the traps of savagery, and our people in their infinite wisdom have taken to use it. It is always possible that our people will regress or thirst for more blood, I admit. But I believe that, given the choice between civilization and the abyss, our people will choose the former."

And so it was that the constitution passed explicitly contemplating the use of the death penalty in America.

Unfortunately, what was not foreseen by the Representative from New Jersey, nor any of the other delegates at the Convention, was the rapidity by which Americans would settle their new country. American Hemlock, as mentioned, grew only in the leafy expanses of the eastern forests, and was resistant to cultivation. It was also highly sensitive to human encroachment. As these woods were cut down to make room for new farms and homesteads, the perfect poison became harder and harder to find. At the same time, its demand was skyrocketing, leading to over-harvesting. By the mid-18th century, the plant was only rarely seen. In response to this scarcity, governors began authorizing the alternative forms of execution that had repelled the framers: hanging and firing squads. But even with this shift in policy, habitat loss had doomed American Hemlock. By 1890, it was declared extinct.

* * *

The point of this story is to illustrate how contemporary context can matter, even to an originalist or textualist. The framers sanctioned the use of the death penalty within the specific context of the availability of the perfect poison. Not contemplating the modern problem of ecological collapse, the founders did not envision the potential for these circumstances to change. But, without the perfect poison, it would seem clear that, at the very least, the question of whether the death penalty was constitutionally sanctioned was open again, notwithstanding constitutional text that contemplates its use.

Now, obviously, this story is extreme. Most obviously, there was no perfect poison, nor is there any proof that American colonists would have used or preferred even if there was. Also importantly, the story creates a scenario where the necessary trigger for permitting the death penalty physically disappeared from the planet. I am not arguing that the actual process of deliberation over the death penalty even closely approximated this.

Nonetheless, I think this story is conceptually illustrative. For one, at the very least I think it demonstrates that changes in context can theoretically alter what is and is not sanctioned by constitutional clauses, even under a very strict form of originalism. And I think it demonstrates that point more broadly that might be apparent at first glance. The framers in this story were making decisions about broad principles based upon what -- in retrospect -- we can see to be temporally-specific assumptions. Here, the assumptions were laid out explicitly (in the debate, anyway -- the drafted text did not anywhere specifically demand that life only be taken by the perfect poison), and the change in circumstances was dramatic. But in general, I think it's obvious that when people engage in deliberation they work from within the only conceptual framework available to them -- that is, their own place, time, and vantage point -- and make decisions that are contingent on those assumptions. As Iris Marion Young points out, "in political communication our goal is not to arrive at some generalities .... Instead, we are looking for just solutions to particular problems in a particular social context" [Inclusion and Democracy (Cambridge: Oxford UP 2000), 113]. Everyone deliberates that way, utilizing assumptions (usually unstated) drawn from the world around us that -- like the world itself -- can and often do change in the future.

The standard "originalist" (or perhaps "classical originalist", since I think the debate here is still largely intra-mural) response here would be to say that the constitution accounts for changing circumstances through the amendment process, nothing more. But I think the perfect poison story demonstrates why this is too thin a response. The existence of the perfect poison -- assumed to be permanent but really contextual -- was an embedded assumption laid into the text as originally deliberated and drafted. It would seem foolish to take from that ratification debate the principle that the death penalty absent the perfect poison is consistent with the mutually agreed upon principles that came out of the ratification debate, because that's clearly not what had been agreed upon. Rather, any debate about the current constitutionality of the death penalty would have to closely examine the relevant context and assumptions under which it was passed (including assumptions about justice and human dignity) to see whether they still hold up in the present day. If, for example, the founders ratified the use of the death penalty based on a conception of human dignity that is now "extinct", is that any different than ratifying the use of the death penalty based on the availability of a "perfect poison" that is now extinct? I don't know. But it's an interesting question to ask.

"Down To Earth Day"

Did the Family Research Council just come out against Earth Day? Yes, yes, they did:
Today isn't just another reminder to use recycled paper or drive energy-efficient cars. It's a calculated attack on the sanctity of human life.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Boxing Blogging: 4/23/08

What a nice Wednesday Night Fights! Four fights, four knockouts (more of what I expected last week, to be honest), including one that is in contention for knockout of the year. Even the "Ringside Remembers" sequence was nice -- I didn't know Evander Holyfield literally fought through a heart attack in his loss to Michael Moorer. Just good quality entertainment all around.

Joe Greene (19-0, 14 KOs) TKO9 Joshua Okine (18-4-1, 12 KOs)

How many disadvantages did Okine face coming into this bout? Let us count the ways:

1) He took the fight on four days notice.

2) He's really a welterweight, fighting against a big middleweight.

3) Joe Greene is a bona fide prospect at middleweight.

4) Greene's far faster and more athletic than Okine.

Yeah, that's a tough gig. Okine showed toughness and heart, but was eventually overwhelmed. He was knocked down twice in the 9th before the referee stepped in. The stoppage was a little questionable, because Okine was still throwing back, but he was trapped against the ropes and too tough to quit, so I can't really complain. The second knockdown, incidentally, was a thing of beauty -- but was to be overshadowed at the end of the day.

Greene continues his progression, although a win with that many built in advantages doesn't tell that much. Okine needs to get back down to fights with people his size -- he'll get eaten alive by people who can take his punches, and he has no power at middleweight. Also, he needs to stop smothering himself on the inside. But he has heart and some okay defensive moves -- at least enough to enable him to make a respectable living in the sport.

Wilmer Vasquez (6-0, 4 KOs) TKO3 Rodney Wallace (4-1, 4 KOs)

Isn't this what makes heavyweights great? Wallace was outweighed by 70 pounds and had a 6 inch height deficit, and it was noticeable. Vasquez had a swagger to his step that told everyone he knew he could hammer Wallace into submission (potentially explaining his otherwise baffling lack of a jab). And that's what happened. Wallace tried to stick and move, and had some success at it, but he inevitably got caught and then Vasquez took over. You can't question Wallace's heart -- he was caught clean loads of times and never went down, but you can question whether or not a 5'9" guy should be competing at heavyweight. Eventually, Wallace's corner threw in the towel, and Vasquez picked up a TKO victory.

Juan Urango (20-1-1, 16 KOs) KO4 Carlos Vilches (53-8-2, 31 KOs)

Wow, what a hook. What a hook. I didn't think anything would top Edison Miranda's show-stopper KO of David Banks, but this certainly came close. Vilches was out cold before he hit the ground, and now falls to 1-5 in his trips to the United States.

This was a title eliminator for Paulie Malignaggi's belt, a fight which probably won't occur for awhile given that the Magic Man has at least two more fights ahead of him before he thinks about a mandatory. But Urango certainly earned the fight with this highlight reel knockout. Urango's a slow, plodding pressure fighter who can crack, which makes for an interesting style contrast with the light-hitting, fleet-footed Malignaggi.

Anyway, this shot should be showing up on YouTube soon, and is worth your time. Welcome back into title contention, Juan Urango.

David Estrada (22-4, 13 KOs) KO2 Alexander Pacheco (14-6-1, 12 KOs)

Estrada is an all-action slugger who's tons of fun to watch. His war with Kermit Cintron is a classic, and sadly descriptive of Estrada's career -- tough and gritty, but ultimately falling short against A-level opposition.

Fortunately, Pacheco is not A-level opposition. Not only is a he a bit chinny, but he was willing to stand with Estrada and trade, giving us an entertaining scrap for what little it lasted. Estrada was credited with three knockdowns, though only the last was all that legitimate. The first was really bogus -- Pacheco was literally thrown to the ground. The second Pacheco held onto the ropes for support, but it didn't look like he'd have gone down had they not been there -- the litmus test for whether a ref can rule a knockdown in that situation. The final one was a crisp shot that laid Pacheco flat on his back. He couldn't beat the 10 count, and Estrada earns a KO victory.

Movement and Stillness

Last week, a close friend of mine published an article in the Carleton Progressive about Barack Obama -- a small portion of which dealt with his position on Israel/Palestine. The thesis of the article is that Obama doesn't have the stones to really go to the mat for progressive principles. With regards to Israel/Palestine, he contrasted Obama's famous remark that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinians, to his more recent demand that the UN unequivocally condemn rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip as evidence of selling out progressivism in favor of...what? Zionism I guess, though I hate it when these are considered to be in opposition.

But I have to say, I find that whole argumentative sequence bizarre. I've noted before that I -- resolute Zionist that I am -- have no serious problem with the "nobody is suffering more" statement. People are acting as though Obama was claiming that the Palestinians are objectively worse than Darfuri Africans. But Obama was speaking in the context of a) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and b) failures of leadership -- nobody suffers more than the Palestinians from the failures of their own leadership. And that's true (as was quipped, the Palestinian leadership "never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity"). Tragically, I can't say that nobody would be so rabidly anti-Israel as to think that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is worse than the Sudan's treatment of the denizens of Darfur, because that appears to perfectly characterize the UN (more on them in a minute). But it's clearly not Obama's position.

So, the original statement -- supposedly proof of Obama's bold progressive independence from the clutches of The Israel Lobby (or whatever) -- is perfectly consistent in my mind with mainstream pro-Israel politics and practice. Then, we move to the betrayal: Obama's demand that the UN unequivocally condemn rocket attacks coming out of Gaza.

Knowing my friend, the problem here isn't (I don't think) that the rocket attacks are not important or condemnable. Rather, I suspect his concern is that Obama didn't nod strongly enough towards the suffering of the Gazans. But anyone who even casually observes the UN knows that their problem is not that they're insufficiently attentive to the plight of the Palestinians. The UN is perfectly able and willing to launch an infinite amount of fusillades regarding the horrific Israelis and their bloody imperialist wars of domination. What's missing is any substantive counter-weight -- that Israelis are suffering too, that Palestinian terrorism is a significant issue, a (if not the) primary obstacle to the peace process, and utterly unjustifiable to boot (as opposed to "resisting the occupation"). Criticizing a speaker for being insufficiently worried about Palestinians getting their due account in UN resolutions is like criticizing the NAACP for not showing enough concern about White people's rights in 1935 Mississippi. That isn't the problem -- Jim Crow Mississippi didn't due anything else but concern itself with the rights of White people.

I remember once being in a practice debate round in which the other team ran a plan by which the US would become more "balanced" in its voting on UN resolutions concerning Israel. "More balanced" was left incredibly vague, but I noted that the US already has a well-delineated criteria, the Negroponte Doctrine, determining whether we will support a given UN resolution regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (this was in July of 2002):
For any resolution to go forward, the United States — which has a veto in the 15-nation council — would want it to have the following four elements:

* A strong and explicit condemnation of all terrorism and incitement to terrorism;
* A condemnation by name of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, groups that have claimed responsibility for suicide attacks on Israel;
* An appeal to all parties for a political settlement of the crisis;
* A demand for improvement of the security situation as a condition for any call for a withdrawal of Israeli armed forces to positions they held before the September 2000 start of the al-Aqsa intifada Palestinian uprising in which 1,467 Palestinians and 564 Israelis have died.

Precisely which of those four elements is an unreasonable demand for inclusion? But yet, they consistently fail to be met, so the US consistently vetoes SC resolutions. It is extraordinarily depressing to me that this is considered some sort of capitulation away from progressivism.

So getting back to the original point: Obama really hasn't moved at all. There is no tension between noting that Palestinians suffer greatly in the I/P conflict, particularly from being constantly betrayed by their leadership, and demanding that the UN take a time-out from single-minded blasting of Israel to remember that Jewish lives matter too. Both are crucial insights that all progressive parties need to keep in mind when viewing this conflict.

Preventative Care

Opinio Juris has a guest-post by Israeli academic Elihu Richter, who makes a case for adopting a "precautionary principle" in favor of punishing those who incite to genocide.
The proposal to indict the President of Iran for incitement to commit genocide is the template case study for applying the Precautionary Principle based on "predict and prevent" as opposed to "proof of intent after the event".

It is my premise that the core of a program for prevention of genocide and genocidal terror should be based on applying public health models for prediction and prevention which specify surveillance, prevention and control of early genocidal conditions and proactive interventions keyed to early predictors. Based on the lessons of the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, and many other genocides, it is clear that state sponsored incitement and hate language are highly specific early warning signs that should be the trip points for preventive legal action, instead of waiting for prosecution after genocide is over.

Text, subcontext, and context. The foregoing is the basis for some statements I would like to make about text, subtext, and context. The text is the threats--some claim they are merely predictions--to wipe Israel off the map as part of this decision. The subtext is the pictures of missiles below which phrases such as these threats appear. The context is the enriching of uranium in violation of UN resolutions, developing ever more advanced missile systems, promoting Holocaust denial, and supporting terror groups with explicitly stated genocidal agendas, and the fact that the President of the country carrying out such enrichment, is the most vocal advocate of these genocidal threats.

Subtext and context, I submit, are critically important. Up to Oct. 25 2005, Ahmadinejad's predecessors were quoted as having made many threats similar to those made by Ahmadinejad. These were ignored by the International legal community. Had these "inchoate" statements triggered some kind of punitive action, would we be where we are now? Re context, I would be willing to bet that Ahmadinejad--and many others--had made many similar statements on all kinds of soapboxes when he was a minor politician unknown to the world. The case for action to prevent an imminent peril emerged from the day he became President, acquired real power, his statements about wiping Israel off the map became headlines everywhere, and his government rejected all UN resolutions concerning Iran's nuclear plans.

Lapsed period between the statements and the actions. I believe the discussion of the lapsed period has to take into account the fact that children are those most vulnerable to the effects of incitement and hate language from official state sponsored sources, such as texts, media, and places of worship, and the effects may be decades later. We know that for adults, where there is an authoritarian environment, incitement can convert normal people into sadistic killers over a matter of months. But children are the most vulnerable group, as is the case for so many toxic exposures in medicine, and incitement and hate language reaching children increases the likelihood of intergenerational transmission of the effects. As with all cause-effect relationships in which the relations between exposure and effect may be years or decades (e.g. Asbestos, cigarette smoking and cancer, or DES in mothers and congenital malformations in their offspring), we cannot dismiss the case for legal action and accountability just because there is a long lapsed period between exposure and effect. Where the audience for incitement includes schoolchildren, even if there are no immediate effects, we have an obligation to apply R2P-the responsibility to protect future generations-to ensure R4L-Respect for Life.

In a sense, this is pie-in-the-sky. The international community will take no substantive action against Iran and its leadership for genocidal rhetoric towards Israel so long as it remains just rhetoric and not action. Of course, as Prof. Richter eludes to, intent becomes moot after the event, so we're really just rolling the dice and hoping (a rather common trope when it comes to the fates of vulnerable minorities -- Jews and otherwise). But Prof. Richter I think at least establishes the grounds by which we could take substantive action.

I Could Not Be Happy In Rural America

Tyler Cowen hates America. Do you?

Esq. sympathizes, no doubt.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moving the Line

Politico has an article up about that ever-present question hovering over the Obama campaign: how many votes will he lose because of the racism factor (the same thing, I feel, applies to Clinton with sexism, but let's focus on Obama for now). Steve Benen also contributes to the discussion.

As far as I can see, most of the talk about the impact racism might have on an Obama candidacy is centered around the "hard-core" racist -- that is, those people who simply would not vote for a Black man, no matter what. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but that's not really what worries me. I don't think it's a significant part of the population, and I suspect it's concentrated amongst people who weren't voting Democratic anyway, in areas which Democrats weren't going to win anyway.

The bigger issue, I think, is on the more subtle effects of racism -- the one's that don't manifest themselves so dramatically as a categorical refusal to vote for a Black person. Rather, the more damaging element of racism is that how it might warp the perception of voters of all backgrounds, making them less amenable to Obama's overall message. In America, it is extraordinarily difficult to escape being influenced by at least some racist tropes -- at least at the unconscious level. This is true regardless of one's political alignment, class background, or even (ironically enough) race. But because much of how most people evaluate their political choices relies on a complex and volatile mix of policy preference, instinct, gut feeling, and social pressure, these subconscious cues can play an out-sized role.

Imagine a typical liberal Democrat. She agrees with Obama on most issues, but a few things about him make her a bit uncomfortable. She's not a big of Jeremiah Wright, and wonders if Obama has more Black Nationalist sympathies than he's letting on. She worries about the message his admitted youthful drug use sends to her kids. But ultimately, these concerns pale against the amount of political commonality she has with Obama compared to McCain, so she relatively easily makes the decision to vote for the Illinois Senator.

Now, switch to a more "swing" voter. He is not as lined up with Obama on the issues as the rank-and-file Democrat, though he still shares more with him than he does McCain. But it's a closer call, and for him, those nagging gut instincts (Is he really prepared? How do we know he's not a militant? He's friends with too many rap stars for my liking...) play a bigger role. They could push him over that line that divides between a vote for Obama and a vote for McCain.

This man is not a "hard core racist" by any stretch. If a Black candidate ran that was in line with his views, he'd easily vote for him over McCain, just like our liberal Democrat did. But the confluence of racial factors makes it a harder sell -- it makes it more likely that the marginal voter will end up swinging towards the GOP whereas he might vote for a White Democratic candidate substantively identical to Obama. Those little pushes that racism gives in one direction or another -- those are I think the bigger concern in the 21st century; more so than the standard, easily identified, and easily remedied Klansman form.

So Much on So Little

I have to say, I am thrilled that Pennsylvania is finally voting. It seems like an age since the last primary or caucus, and the press has already shown it has the attention span of a three-year old and that without the immediate specter of horse races to analyze or polls to parse, it will mindlessly pursue the first shiny object that catches its attention. So, if only for giving us a temporary respite from questions like "Is Rev. Jeremiah Wright as patriotic as Barack Obama?" (wtf?), thank you Pennsylvania.

That being said, this is a totally meaningless primary. There is no likely outcome which could seriously change the dynamics of the race.

Let's break it down. Barring something cataclysmic, Clinton cannot win the Democratic primary. She is expected to win Pennsylvania solidly, but the models all have incorporated that prediction and it isn't enough. A huge win -- say, 25 points -- might qualify as cataclysmic, but that's not going to happen. On the reverse side, while most people consider anything less than a 7-point win for Clinton to be a mortal wound to her campaign, she's not going to withdraw after winning Pennsylvania, so even a narrow victory won't push her out. Obama would have to score an exceedingly improbable upset (or maybe lose by just 1 or 2 points) for there to be any hope of Clinton exiting the race.

In absence of those two exceedingly unlikely scenario, the state of the Democratic race will be the exact same tomorrow as it was yesterday: Clinton remains in with only a negligible shot to win. Never has so much been said about a race with such little import.

But He Didn't Reject AND Denounce The Idea

Speaking on The Daily Show, Barack Obama denied that he was planning to "enslave the white race": "That is not our plan, Jon, but I think your paranoia might make you suitable as a debate moderator."

I dunno. That's just not a strong enough denunciation for me. I think "the American people" still have "questions" about it. Perhaps we can dedicate a whole week of news coverage to asking whether Obama is a closet slave-master?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Facebook and Sex

Phoebe Maltz links to a Gawker post claiming that the new "Facebook chat" will rapidly become the fastest way to get laid in college.

Pshaw, I say. The intelligent among us already knew how to use Facebook for the effortless score.

But We're Elites! We Know Everything!

In the wake of the Barack Obama "bitter" controversy, specifically the stunning revelation that it did not actually hurt him in the Pennsylvania polls, Daniel Drezner offers multiple potential reasons for the discrepancy between what the media elite said would happen and, well, reality:
A) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they don't watch cable news outlets;

B) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they aren't likely to show up as "likely voters" in a poll;

C) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that their phone service has been cut off;

D) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they dislike Hillary Clinton even more than Barack Obama;

E) The commentariat is elitist and out of touch with what engages gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers.

I always thought the most elitist act in this whole ordeal was a bunch of beltway strategists essentially demanding to rural Pennsylvanians: "You will vote on this, peasants!"

Other Issues

Commenting on a report that several House members are introducing a resolution opposing the college bowl system, Michael D of Balloon Juice explodes:
Having solved Social Security, poverty, the War in Iraq, SCHIP, tax reform, Medicare, illegal wiretapping, and other such trivial issues, some lawmakers have latched onto an issue that will, no doubt, positively affect the lives and living conditions of millions of Americans.

Can we declare a moratorium on these sorts of posts? As hard as it is to believe sometimes, nobody in Congress has forgotten the war in Iraq. And introducing this resolution is not what's blocking Congress from reforming health care. If the Representatives had not introduced this bill and instead devoted themselves 100% full time to debating Iraq, the net effect in terms of practical movement on that issue would be nil.

Look, I can understand one thinking that this resolution is wrong, or even that it is not the sort of issue Congress should get involved in. In other words, attacks on the merits. But there is no time of year where one couldn't wax indignant about the amount of serious issues Congress isn't dealing with to satisfaction; and that really can't be a bar to Congress spending time deliberating over the many smaller issues that still potentially should be debated in the public arena. Indeed, so long as it isn't actively interfering with the big stuff (and again, the College Bowl Resolution is not what's stopping Congress from passing S-CHIP), I actually kind of like it when lawmakers buckle down to solve some lower-profile problems that won't necessarily give them prime-time billing on the talk show circuit.

Cosby Conservatism

Anyone who liked my series of post on Black Conservatism will undoubtedly enjoy this article from The Atlantic situating Bill Cosby in the same tradition.

Matt Yglesias accurately says the long article is tough to summarize in excerpts, and also pulls out the reason conservatives have trouble recognizing their philosophical affinity with the movement:
The aspect of the tradition that says African-Americans will need to solve their own problems has enormous appeal to most moderate and conservative whites. But the tradition's analysis of why that's the case -- that America is a fundamentally racist society -- is viewed with horror by those some moderate and conservative whites.

And indeed, in the article it is pointed out that there are plenty of culturally conservative Blacks who vote Democratic "not out of any love for abortion rights or progressive taxation, but because he feels -- in fact, he knows -- that the modern-day GOP draws on the support of people who hate him."

Anyway, it's a good read, and well worth your time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Boxing Blogging 4/20/08: Wednesday & Saturday Blogging!

Of all the boxing this week, I saw both more and less than normal, on account of Passover and visiting Chicago. On the one hand, it meant I missed Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 (Airport) and Bell/Adamek (Seder). On the other hand, I did get to see Hopkins/Calzaghe after the Seder was over, which I wouldn't otherwise have been able to, along with (most of) the online webcast of Henry/Diaconu, and of course "Wednesday" Night Fights (in quotes because the endless Red Sox/Yankees game pushed it well into Thursday).


Chazz Witherspoon (23-0, 15 KOs) UD10 Domonic Jenkins (13-8-1, 6 KOs

Honestly, I don't remember enough about this fight to give good commentary. I do remember that I thought Witherspoon won cleanly, after an early spurt where Jenkins looked like he might have tried to make a go of it. I also remember Teddy Atlas telling us that if Witherspoon really wants to be considered a prospect, he had to knock out Jenkins (which several other fellow prospects had done in Jenkins' 7 previous losses). Eh. A knockout is nice, and it's not like Jenkins has a granite chin, but I thought Witherspoon looked fine this outing. 15 KOs aside, he doesn't really have that much pop in his fists. He's a boxer. Now, how far will boxing skill take him against a higher caliber than Jenkins? We'll see.

Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin (18-0, 14 KOs) UD10 Antwun Echols (31-8-4, 27 KOs)

Now, this was a fight where I really wanted to see a knockout. Echols is a three-time title challenger who is at the end of the rope. Since 2004, he is 0-3-3 (all, it should be said, against reasonably solid opposition) with one loss by knockout. I saw him in his fight immediately previous to this one, against untested prospect Michael Walker after Allan Green bailed last minute. A confluence of factors: Echols' veteran savvy, Walker stepping up for the first time, Walker taking the fight on very short notice -- all led to Echols escaping with a draw. But anyone who saw the fight could see his legs were not there. Had he been in with a power puncher like Green, he would have been destroyed.

And Quillin has a reputation as a power puncher. So I told my friends: "this one is going to end by KO -- possibly a career-ending KO." Wrong by me. To be clear, Quillin absolutely dominated this fight from start to finish. But he displayed no killer instinct when he had Echols hurt. Sure, the older fighter exhibited some solid survival techniques, but he was not being pressured in any meaningful sense. Though the biggest win of Quillin's career, it was somewhat of a disappointing outing, and I hope he shows more aggression next time out.

As for Echols, he looks done. Certainly he needs to stop taking fights against young punchers like Quillin and Green, as they are fights Echols cannot win. The last thing to go in a fighter is power, and Echols still has it. But he doesn't have the legs to stand and trade with a guy with dynamite fists, which takes away his only winning option. It didn't happen tonight, but if keeps up signing for these sort of fights, Echols is going to get seriously hurt.


Adrian Diaconu (25-0, 15 KOs) UD12 Chris Henry (21-1, 17 KOs)

This fight was webcast by, after a relatively successful experiment doing the same with the Spinks/Phillips title fight in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the feed cut out in the middle of the 10th round in what was a competitive and exciting fight, leaving us assorted fans in the dark as to the outcome. While this was disappointing (as one person said, "why doesn't this happen at Cory Spinks fights?"), these sorts of things happen with new technology, and I remain glad we got to see the fight at all.

Anyway. Going into the tenth I had it 5 rounds to 4 for Diaconu, but he seemed to be fading. Since I have no idea how those last few rounds actually played out, I can't comment on the decision. What I can say is that both guys looked good, and I particularly liked Diaconu's adjustments after Henry really dominated the first round. I'd seen Diaconu once before annihilating Rico Hoye in his only other major fight, so I knew he could smoke guys, but this time he also showed he had some ring smarts.

On the bad side for Diaconu, the aforementioned fading late was worrisome. More dangerously, he eats uppercuts like they're delicious, delicious candy. That something Henry was able to exploit throughout the fight, particularly when nothing else was working, and kept the fight close even when Diaconu seemed on the cusp of pulling away.

Rumor is Diaconu might fight Glen Johnson next, which would be a stellar fight and one I think Johnson could win (but an excellent learning experience for Diaconu). As for Henry, he was pretty unknown coming into this fight, and losing rarely helps careers. But he didn't look out of his league or anything, so a few bounce-back fights and he could put himself back on the map of contenders.

Joe Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KOs) SD12 Bernard Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs)

The more I watch boxing, the more I'm realizing I have my own perspective on fights that not every other observer shares. I care a lot more about quality of punches over quantity -- I'm likely to reward even a couple clean hard punches over a lot of pitty-pat work. And I gather that some people share this view, and others don't, which is the why Calzaghe/Hopkins decision is causing such heated debate. On the one hand, SC of BLH thinks anyone who scored the fight for Hopkins is crazy. Well, I guess Dan Rafael is crazy. And I, too, saw it for Hopkins -- albeit very close with many tight rounds. The distinguishing factor is that even though Calzaghe was landing more, Hopkins was landing effectively, and that swings me as a judge more than flashy aggression.

None of this is to take away from Calzaghe's victory. After being firmly out-fought in the first three rounds by The Executioner (including a first-round knockdown that seemed to embarrass him more than hurt him), he was able to substantially turn the fight in his favor -- picking up the tempo and pressuring Hopkins far more than the 43 year old enjoyed. Hopkins is not an easy man to even bend to your will in the ring, and that Calzaghe was able to do that at all is a tremendous accomplishment. Even insofar as we debate what actually happened during that long low blow break (I think Hopkins was simply smart enough to know that, hey, he's 43 and getting a free rest. Why wouldn't he take it? It's not like he cares about fan reaction normally), it's clear that Calzaghe did manage to get inside Hopkins' head, and that might have been his greatest weapon.

But still. A lot of Calzaghe's flurries felt like shoe-shine work to me, and shoe-shining looks a lot more damaging than it is. By contrast, when Hopkins landed his counter right (including the beautiful one that caused the knockdown), it did damage. Inside, Hopkins knows just how to work inside a clinch to actually land punches that hurt. And while it's true that Calzaghe did manage to push Hopkins out of his element, let's not forget he also wasn't exactly showing Miguel Cotto levels of focus (his father basically had to smack him when he started complaining in the corner about Hopkins' "cheating". Not that I disagree -- the generous way to describe Hopkins is a "cagey veteran", or perhaps "it ain't cheating if you don't get caught").

So, in my mind, Hopkins still has not been convincingly beaten. That's not saying this decision was highway robbery or anything like that. Only that, as is so often the case in Hopkins fights, the scorecards are arguable. Calzaghe won that argument where it mattered.

Oh, and one more thing that might betray my total amateur status in terms of boxing strategy. It seems to me that, when Calzaghe goes into one of his furious flailing combination bits, he'd be vulnerable to the uppercut, no? I mean, those punches look wide to me, and if one can overcome the sheer speed of it all, you'd think a fighter could sit down on a good uppercut and catch Joe Cool clean. No?