Saturday, July 05, 2008

How To Teach Arabic

Responding to this WaPo op-ed by Joel Pollack (related to Noah?) on how Arab language courses are taught with an Arabist (and thus anti-Israel) slant, Matthew Yglesias mocking commends the Post for being "brave" and "speaking truth to weakness."
Given that in the United States there are virtually no outlets aside from major newspaper and magazines, broadcast and cable television networks, and hugely popular books in which pro-western or pro-Israel interpretations of Middle Eastern politics are available, it's absolutely vital that we eliminate this scourge of Arabism from our campuses.

I bit too nonchalant, I think. Certainly, some of Pollack's complaints seem rather trivial (the film about the Islamic scholar battling fundamentalist didn't mention that he had Jewish transcribers? Anti-semitism!), but I think Matt is misinterpreting how the Israeli/Arab conflict is presented on college campuses on at least a couple of levels (in part because I think Matt overestimates the pro-Israel bias in American society generally).

For starters, even if American society writ large is permeated with Zionist propaganda, that doesn't mean colleges are. We can debate whether being pro-Israel makes one an oppressed minority in American universities, but it is at least clear that the anti-Israel point of view gets plenty of airtime and representation in the collegiate context. And in my observation at Carleton, the folks who were most likely to take Arabic were the most likely to hold these (anti-Israel) views already. That's a generalization -- one of my friends who is essentially a fascist was also one of the first students in our Arabic program -- but it shouldn't surprise that folks interested in Arabic would be ones who already were sympathetic to the broad Arab outlook. You'd forgive me then, if I'm not thrilled about the next generation of critical middle eastern foreign service operatives are one's whose ideology in the region is anti-Israel from front-to-back.

The mistake boils down to the common and inaccurate (in general, but particularly in a college context) sense that Americans only hear the Israeli side of the story, that nobody ever thinks of the Palestinians, and that thus anything that portrays the "voice" of the Palestinian or Arab side -- no matter what the substantive content -- is a valuable addition to our moral and political development (and by extension, anything that gives the Israeli or Jewish side of the story is superfluous or extraneous).

Happy 5th!

I tried to write a post wishing everyone a happy 4th of July, but blogger was uncooperative. So happy 5th of July instead!

CNN has a a round-up of what various citizens define "patriotism" as, but for my money they could have just bought the rights to Eugene Robinson's column (H/T: PG). It's beautiful.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Interview With a Dean

Newly installed dean of newly created UC-Irvine law school Erwin Chemerinsky has an interesting interview about his thoughts on his new posting. I found it particularly interesting that the interviewer felt it necessary to comment on the reputation of UC-Irvine as a bastion of anti-Semitism with regards to American university campuses (Chemerinsky did not seem bothered).

Former Congo Leader Indicted for War Crimes

CNN has the story. Jean-Pierre Bemba, a warlord who ruled over a large swath of northeastern Congo, then became a vice-president in Congo's transitional government, was accused of leading a militia which used rape as a primary tactic of war while intervening in the Central African Republic.

I certainly hope the victims in the CAR see justice done in this case. But I also hope that Bemba's arrest causes no disturbance or instability in Congo's shaky but burgeoning democracy.

Love It or Love It

Conservative style patriotism, as put by Jonah Goldberg: it's a failure of patriotism if you didn't show respect to the American South in the 1920s. As Jonathan Chait remarks, if there was any time and place in America that deserved nothing but condecension and scorn, it was the quasi-oligarchical racist fiefdom that was the Jim Crow south.

It's true, as Matt Yglesias points out, that much Northern scorn towards the South at this time was not matched by a similar commitment to combat epidemic racism in their own communities. But that objectively just serves to further undermine the notion that this is a failure of patriotism: if all of America was at fault, then all of America needed to have its ass kicked into gear.

Quote of the Day

From the indomitable Poz:
The question of the proper scope of a constitutional theory connects with another much discussed issue, what level of generality of the framers' intentions should guide judges in interpreting the Constitution. If you ask what the intention behind the equal protection clause was, you will find that it was both to benefit blacks in some ways but not others and to promote an ideal of equality that may be inconsistent with aspects of the framers' more specific intention, which was to entitle blacks to civil but not social equality with whites. The choice of which intention to honor determines for example whether the Supreme Court was correct to outlaw racial segregation in public schools. But it is a question about the level of generality of intention behind a single clause. To pass beyond that to intentions concerning the Constitution as a whole, a sheaf of documents written at different times and covering a variety of discrete topics--to suppose it possible to extract a single unifying intention or theme from that sheaf--is to enter cloud-cuckoo-land. This is not disparage the holistic approach but to distinguish it from one that depends on the framers' intentions, whether broadly or narrowly construed. Yet it is a considerable demerit of the holistic approach, in the eyes of many legal professionals, that it cuts free from those intentions.

Richard A. Posner, Overcoming Law (Cambridge: Harvard UP 1995), 179.

Heaven Forbid We Listen To Reason

Jamie Kirchick...massive asshole. I love how he doesn't bother to note whether he thinks the "nutroots"* are even wrong on issues like the FISA bill. Calling them names is so much more fun than substantive engagement.

* I can concede that the netroots has been right on more issues than I have, before I came around -- namely, the Iraq War, and mistrust of Joe Lieberman. That's because I'm a mature human being who can admit a mistake. Kirchick is a child who thinks pugnaciousness can substitute for erudition. He is sadly mistaken. On the other hand, watching him get ripped to shreds whenever he accidentally crosses path with anyone intelligent is one of the blogosphere's great spectator sports.

Civil Rights Review: 07/03/08

Your morning roundup of civil rights and related news. The review will be off for July 4th, and will return to action Monday morning.

The NAACP has made its way to Utah to fight mortgage discrimination.

A Texas death row inmate's execution has been delayed again as he tries to get courts to consider DNA evidence that might prove his innocence.

Gender gaps persist in Houston's fire department -- particularly at the upper levels.

The Justice Department is looking at endorsing profiling by the FBI -- even when there is no individual suspicion of wrongdoing.

A Texas grand jury declined to indict a man who shot and killed two burglars who were robbing a neighbors home. The Houston Chronicle has a good editorial on the matter.

AlterNet reports on folks who are changing their middle name to "Hussein" to combat intolerance.

A lawsuit has forced the release of a detained legal immigrant who alleged that her health problems were received negligible attention from federal authorities. The government denies wrongdoing, but the NYT reports that they have instituted new reporting requirements regarding the deaths of immigrant detainees (this woman, thankfully, did not die -- though from the reports of her condition she came pretty close).

Shorter David Broder: There's no actual evidence that increased diversity is undermining American "identity". But since some conservatives said that was happening, I'll repeat all their talking points anyway.

This is a great example of a technically accurate headline that still probably was a poor choice: "Bushmen denied visas to build mud-huts in Va."

San Francisco has reversed its "sanctuary policy" for illegal immigrant children. The city remains adamant, however, that the young men and women are "victims" and alleges that many of them were effectively pressed into slavery by local gangs. "We have a duty to defend these kids, zealously," said Patricia Lee, manager of the public defender office for juvenile court.

A transgender woman was just found murdered in Memphis, the apex of "a string of hate crimes against the Memphis transgender community."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I make no apologies for the view that the business of judging in constitutional fields is one of searching for the spirit of the constitution in terms of the present as well as the past, not the past alone." -- Judge John R. Brown, dissenting, Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 270 F.2d 594. Judge Brown was one of the "5th Circuit Four" whose tireless efforts in the face of southern resistance to desegregation orders were instrumental in making the promise of Brown, and racial equality more generally, a reality in the American South.

Lead the Way

In the course of reporting on the single-dumbest non-scandal in this election cycle, the WaPo cites this argument coming out of the McCain camp for why his POW experience matters:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., rebutted Clark's claim by arguing that McCain's years as a prisoner of war and the mistreatment he endured made him uniquely qualified to lead the campaign in the Senate to ban the use of torture in the interrogation of detainees in the war on terror.

"Nobody could have taken the floor and spoken about detainee policy" the same way, Graham added.

That would be true, if McCain had actually taken the lead on this issue. In actuality, he's been nothing more than an enabler of America's torture regime.

Still on this issue, this Post editorial misses the point entirely. Is the media's focus on what really is a total side issue obnoxious? Yes. But what's more so is the media's utter inability to recognize that Clark didn't say anything wrong. By acting like this was an actual "attack" that the media should ignore because Clark's views are inconsequential, it implicitly defends its own bogus labeling of Clark's claim as unjustifiable in the first place.

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/02/08

Your morning roundup of civil rights and related news:

This is a frankly bizarre story of an unidentified White murder victim whose burial has been indefinitely delayed because the county is reluctant to bury her in a "Black" cemetery.

Redundant headline of the day: Judges rip Texas courts in death penalty case. At issue is the failure of Texas courts to even grant an oral hearing as to whether a convicted death row inmate is mentally retarded (and thus ineligible for execution). Three tests have placed his IQ below 70.

Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, claims he lacks the authority to turn over illegal immigrants to the feds.

A new push to encourage immigrants to become citizens and then vote. Civic engagement: it's a good thing.

America's torture regime: hand-copied from Chinese communists.

Civil rights saves: The rapper T.I. -- imprisoned on gun charges -- is now working with Atlanta mayor and civil rights hero Andrew Young (yes, I'm aware of the controversy around him) to help reduce gun violence. T.I. cites his exposure to the works of leading civil rights leaders as critical to his new focus.

Yay revisionist history! The Claremont Institute has a charming apologia attempting to rehabilitate the institutional right's stance on civil rights in the 60s. Incidentally, anyone who thinks the right was happy to support "Integration and black progress ... when they were the result of private actions like the boycotts of segregated buses or lunch counters" needs to have Will Herberg's "Who are the guilty ones?" article shoved in their face.

WaPo columnist Courtland Milloy urges Black civil rights leaders to get tougher in situations where the perpetrators as well as the victims lie in their own community (the example here being Prince George's County).

The NAACP's youngest ever leader is set to take office. It's a good move for the venerable but aging organization, which is losing ground to hipper new movements like Color of Change. I think the CoC does fantastic work, but we need every bit of cachet, reputation, history, and manpower we can get to win this fight.

Springfield News-Leader: "Even if there were no minority students in Springfield schools, the kids would need minority teachers."

We Are Fabulous

My boss wins "best dressed" at the American Constitution Society's 2008 National Convention.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Unger-neath the Cork Tree

Also interesting: this article on Roberto Unger -- one of the key figures in Critical Legal Studies -- in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fun/demoralizing fact: at the age of 22 (i.e., my age), he was already an assistant professor at Harvard Law School.

At 22, I was already rejected by Harvard Law School. The parallels are astounding!

But it is a really neat article, and reinforces my somewhat dormant desire to actually read some of his work.


A really good post at Feminist Law Profs exploring whether the rhetoric of "empowerment" really is the best feminist frame for dealing with questions of sexuality.

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/01/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news from around the country.

Here's a convoluted story: Eli Lilly and Co. will pay $64,400 to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of withholding severance pay to force a longtime employee to withdraw a discrimination charge.

Disgusting: Blacks given "ghetto" names in SoCal yearbook

It's heading to the courts: group sues to keep anti-affirmative action measure off the Arizona ballot. The group claims the signature-gatherer's pitch "led potential signers to believe it would further the cause of civil rights, in some cases saying it would actually preserve affirmative action."

Mississippians are celebrating Voter Registration Day at the Medgar Evans library. This being Mississippi, the focus of the event is on the state's recently expanded felon disenfranchisement law.

The charge of "judicial activism" is so frequently hurled from the right that it's easy to forget that it was once conservatives whose stranglehold on the judiciary was what blocked the democratic will from being achieved. With what appears to be an Democratic wave cresting, E.J. Dionne wonders if the judges appointed by Reagan/Bush/Bush will have the same effect in the years to come.

It's official: the evidence for holding some Gitmo detainees is comparable to something out of Lewis Carroll (writer of "Alice and Wonderland"). Of note: David B. Sentelle, one of the more high-profile conservative judges in the country, was on the panel (and in the majority).

Prone Position

Following up on yesterday's story about the Clark "questioning" McCain's military service:

Yes, I'm pissed the Obama capitulated. Yes, I think it's dumb politics as well as substantively wrong. Yes, I think this effectively sinks Clark's VP chances, which is a shame. And yes, I'm worried that this is the first salvo in the media's four month long cum shot over John McCain.

Incidentally, Clark is not backing down. Way to show more balls than a certain Illinois Senator.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Civil Rights Roundup: 06/30/08

One of the things I do for my job at the LCCR is help "clip" articles from around the country relating to civil rights and related areas each morning. The articles are saved into and come up in a feed on our website. So I figure: so long as I've got all this stuff in front of me, why not share it with you?

All this is to announce what I hope to be a daily feature (at least through this summer): Civil Rights Roundup -- a collection of news stories related to civil and minority rights, all in one easy location. I hope to have it up each morning by 11:00 AM, but it might be earlier or later depending on my schedule.

So, without further ado....

The Boston Globe has an op-ed urging the creation of more English language classes to assist immigrants attempting to assimilate. They report 14,000 names on the waiting list for state-sponsored English programs.

L.A. Judge OKs Cops' not Asking Crime Victims, Witnesses About Immigration Status

Researchers are looking into reports that subprime mortgages were targeted at minority communities.

In "Flag City, USA", it's tough for Obama to break through the swamp of rumors surrounding him.

Thomas Atkins, a key civil rights leader in Boston who became the cities first black at-large city councilor, has died at age 69.

From the AP: "A police officer who body-slammed an unarmed woman and broke her jaw during a medical call to a suburban restaurant last year was arrested by the FBI on Friday and charged with violating her civil rights."

Affirmative Action: Not a quota system, not judicial activism, not anti-meritocratic.

This is an interesting case: Authorities are investigating whether San Francisco is giving illegal immigrants taxpayer financed trips home -- without formally deporting them.

Reason #414 Why I Couldn't Do Electoral Politics

So General Wesley Clark, a decorated veteran, was on TV the other day talking about John McCain's qualifications for the Presidency. Namely, that in Clark's opinion, he doesn't have any.
"I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility," said Clark, a former NATO commander who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

"He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not," Clark said.

So far, so good -- although I'm not sure that "qualifications" is the right frame for this. Generally, we hold being a US Senator to be a solid qualification for the Presidency. Clark's prior explanation for what he means -- that McCain is hinging his campaign on his unique background as a leader who's "been there" is better, and I guess qualifcations is a pithy way of talking about that. This is also is how he avoids that "Obama doesn't have it either" charge: Obama, Clark notes, isn't basing his campaign on his long background as a Washington leader. Obama's running a campaign based on his judgment and ideas.

But I digress.
[CBS' Bob] Schieffer noted that Obama did not have any of those experiences, nor had he "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down."

"Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark said.

In a statement released by the McCain campaign Sunday afternoon, retired Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith criticized Clark's comment.

"If Barack Obama wants to question John McCain's service to his country, he should have the guts to do it himself and not hide behind his campaign surrogates," Smith said.

"If he expects the American people to believe his pledges about a new kind of politics, Barack Obama has a responsibility to condemn these attacks."


Look. 1) Clark is totally right here. McCain's service was absolutely, 100% honorable. He showed bravery and courage in an unimaginably difficult and harrowing situation. That is not the same thing as a presidential qualification -- particularly, again, under the lens Clark is talking about: the question of having executive responsibility. 2) This was self-evidently not a "questioning", much less an "attack", on "John McCain's service to his country." That's just a bullshit rendition of Clark's claim. Getting shotdown in Vietnam shows many things about a man, but it does not automatically qualify one for the Presidency. If that's now anti-veteran, there's no way to avoid it.

And I can't do electoral politics, because I can't handle the sort of mealy-mouthedness that might turn this into an actual story framed around "Obama surrogate attacks McCain."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Exchange

CNN reports that Israel has agreed to a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, which hopefully will bring home two Israeli solidiers abducted by the terrorist group when it sparked the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. Reports are sketchy, however, on whether the two solidiers are alive, and on the contours of the deal itself. CNN notes (accurately) that Hezbollah's top priority in these negotiations has always been to secure the release of Samir Kuntar, currently serving a life-sentence for the cold-blooded murder of an Israeli man and his 4-year old daughter. That this is Hezbollah's number one objective (they view him as a hero) is highly indicative of their continued rejectionist stance: bloody, illiberal, and properly banished from the realm of respectable politics.

As much as I want to see the kidnapped solidiers come home safely (assuming that even is on the table), I previously wrote that the release of Mr. Kuntar has be seen as a red-line. The sheer depravity of his act -- he shot the father to death before his daughter's eyes, then dashed her brains out with rocks -- is shocking even when cast against the entire history of the Israeli/Arab conflict. It is sickening, and the idea that this man will walk free again -- much less to a hero's reception -- is nauseating, not to mention, a banner around which those who thirst for continued terroristic violence will rally around.

As I have relayed in many other analogous contexts, it is ultimately Israel's choice as to how it wishes to mediate these tough choices. But if Mr. Kuntar is released, the global community must make it absolutely clear that the man now walking the street is not just a terrorist, but a uniquely sick and twisted individual who represents the worst in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel pathologies.

UPDATE: The WaPo version of the story reports that Mr. Kuntar will be released.