Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quote of the Afternoon

The "guest-post" I've been putting together for Feministe is already way too long -- I started writing, and then realized I needed some catharsis. I don't normally shy away from the lengthy blog post, but 14 single-spaced pages and counting is a bit much even for me.

However, if I did have space for such things, this would certainly make it in:
I did not suddenly become nationalistic as soon as it was in my own interest to do so. I continue to think that nationalism is far too frequently an alibi for hatred and domination. I cannot forget that the Jew was always one of the first victims of nationalistic crises. But history has convinced me, at least twice, that a nation is the only adequate response to the misfortune of a people. In the case of the colonized I had already discovered that their liberation would be national before it could be social, because they were dominated as a people. The Jew too was oppressed as a member of a total society which was neither completely real nor completely fictitious! He was considered and treated as a foreigner, or at best as a special kind of citizen.

For the Jew, it is true, the matter was extremely complex. The colonized were generally a people, reduced to impotence, but a compact and obvious mass—a majority. [*288] What then could become of the Jewish people, scattered in a thousand fragments across the globe, not even able to understand each other in a common language? I am sorry to have to point out once again our sociologists’ lack of imagination, one which leads them furthermore into a systematic error in their evaluation of reality. They can only conceive of peoples and nations on the basis of the completed models which they have before their eyes: the great European nations. The result is that no one has the right to conceive of a new type, either in the present or in the future. The same objection had served against the colonized: how dared they claim a national liberation for nonexistent nations? The Jews, it is perfectly true, did not comprise a nation, hardly a people in the usual sense of the word. Efforts, such as those of the Zionists, to demonstrate that a Jewish nation has always existed, apart from the abnormal conditions of its existence, are, I believe, useless. Today the Jew has become an anachronism, irritating to others, unbearable to himself. His dispersion, his crumbling, are part of his oppression. He must cease to be a three-legged sheep: the missing leg must be restored to him, he must be allowed to remake an existence more adapted to the world in which he lives. He must be shaped into a people among peoples, a nation among nations.

In short, the nation is before the Jew and not behind him. Like the colonized, he has to fight for his national liberation and create a nation for himself, since history exacts it. Since the nation is still the most effective historical form, the Jew must adopt this form to rid himself of the oppression and live as a normal people among other peoples. The nation is not a preliminary, it is an ending.

I continue to hope it is a temporary ending.... (287-88, emphasis original)

Albert Memmi, The Liberation of the Jew (trans. Judy Hyun) (New York: Orion Press 1966). Memmi, a Tunisian Jew, is a key figure in the field of post-colonial literature and thought.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Parental Pride

Feminist Law Profs has put up a guest-lecture by conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers. This is, on its own, notable, as I'm pretty confident the FLPers agree with Sommers about virtually nothing and find her brand of feminism quite pernicious. Still, I think it's a good thing, because it's a tribute to open debate and a desire to hear a wide stretch of voices. And for Sommers' part, I think her critiques of feminism carry a lot more weight when they're addressed to fellow feminists, rather than serving as tools for conservative men who aren't interested in feminism of any sort (conservative or otherwise).

But anyway. Before Sommers gets to the main of her argument, she relates the following story which I find quite amusing:
Just as an aside, I should tell you that all of this notoriety has not been easy for my parents — who are very liberal and dismayed to find their daughter reviled by people they admire — like the feminist leader Gloria Steinem–or, much worse, admired by people they regard as diabolical. (My father was driving along a country road in Vermont when he heard conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh praise something I had written. He almost smashed into a snow bank.) But of course, whatever their reservations, my parents remain loyal fans. When a columnist from Playboy magazine interviewed me, my father was eager to get hold of that issue. The problem was how do you buy a copy of Playboy when you are an old-fashioned gentleman, living in a small Vermont town where everyone knows you.

He solved the problem by quietly crossing the border into Keene, New Hampshire where no one knew him. He was still more than a little embarrassed: feeling the need to explain himself to the sales clerk he told her, “It’s OK, I’m only buying this because my daughter’s in it.”


Italian Stallions

Italian officials strongly repudiated a call by a small, leftist union to boycott Jewish (not Israeli) shops in "protest" of the Gaza operation.
Rome's mayor and provincial president went shopping at Jewish-owned stores after a trade union called for a boycott to protest Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Politicians across the spectrum condemned the boycott appeal by the Flaica-CUB union, a small, independent leftist union in the retail services and food sector, saying it was reminiscent of the Fascist era. The boycott call was announced in a flier and Flaica-CUB chief Giancarlo Desiderati told newspapers that a list of shops was being drawn up.

"It's an idea that has an undeniable anti-Semitic flavor and that recalls the darkest pages of our history," Provincial President Nicola Zingaretti said after meeting Jewish shopkeepers Thursday in the historic Ghetto neighborhood.

Mayor Gianni Alemanno, joined by Rome's Jewish community president Riccardo Pacifici, bought two shirts and a tie from a Jewish-owned clothing store in another neighborhood and expressed "firm and intrasigent condemnation" for the boycott call. He recalled that such calls in the 1930s led to the imposition of Fascist-era anti-Semitic laws in 1938.

That's how you respond to such non-sense.

Italian Stallions

Italian officials strongly repudiated a call by a small, leftist union to boycott Jewish (not Israeli) shops in "protest" of the Gaza operation.
Rome's mayor and provincial president went shopping at Jewish-owned stores after a trade union called for a boycott to protest Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Politicians across the spectrum condemned the boycott appeal by the Flaica-CUB union, a small, independent leftist union in the retail services and food sector, saying it was reminiscent of the Fascist era. The boycott call was announced in a flier and Flaica-CUB chief Giancarlo Desiderati told newspapers that a list of shops was being drawn up.

"It's an idea that has an undeniable anti-Semitic flavor and that recalls the darkest pages of our history," Provincial President Nicola Zingaretti said after meeting Jewish shopkeepers Thursday in the historic Ghetto neighborhood.

Mayor Gianni Alemanno, joined by Rome's Jewish community president Riccardo Pacifici, bought two shirts and a tie from a Jewish-owned clothing store in another neighborhood and expressed "firm and intrasigent condemnation" for the boycott call. He recalled that such calls in the 1930s led to the imposition of Fascist-era anti-Semitic laws in 1938.

That's how you respond to such non-sense.

Starting The Engines

Matt Yglesias wishes Israel would use the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as a jumping off point for negotiations. Is it a perfect document? No, of course not: the bit about a "just solution for refugees" is guaranteed to cause trouble. But the plan is within the right orbit of arrangements that Israel should be willing to accept, and that's how negotiations get started.

So what about those refugees? Israel should get ahead of the curve on this: It should submit a plan, listed specifically as occurring under the contours of the Arab Peace Initiative, that proposes something like the following regarding refugees:

I. Palestinian Refugees

(1) All parties which harbored Palestinian refugees and refused to allow them permanent settlement (or, if operating under an international mandate, attempt to facilitate their permanent settlement in the jurisdiction where they were operating), and parties who currently control the territory from which these refugees fled from, including but not limited to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, [other locations to which Palestinian refugees fled] and the UNRWA, shall pay reparations to these refugees in the amount of [whatever dollar figure makes sense].

(2) Palestinian refugees are defined as non-Jewish persons who were forced out of or otherwise fled their homes within the territorial mandate of Palestine due to fighting during the conflict surrounding the 1948 war, or their lineal descendants.

(3) Refugees who currently reside within the borders of the future state of Palestine are citizens of that state.

(4) All other refugees are hereby declared to be citizens of the states in which they currently reside, pursuant to the agreement of those states.

(5) The preceding provisions represent the totality of remedy for said refugees, and parties explicitly disclaim a physical "right of return" for said refugees.

II. Jewish Refugees

(1) All parties which harbored Jewish refugees and refused to allow them permanent settlement, and parties which currently control the territory from which these refugees fled from, including but not limited to the Iran, Iraq, Egypt [other locations from which Jewish refugees fled from], and the United Kingdom, shall pay reparations to these refugees in the amount of [whatever dollar figure makes sense].

(2) Jewish refugees are defined as Jewish persons who were forced out of their homes due to violence or fears of violence during the conflict surrounding the 1948 war, or their lineal descendants.

(3) The preceding provisions represent the totality of remedy for said refugees, and parties explicitly disclaim a physical "right of return" for said refugees.

More Unsurprising Studies

CNN: You may be more racist than you think. A new study out of York University indicates that non-Black persons are liable to seriously over-estimate the degree to which they are disturbed by racist behavior. When one group was asked how they would react to a described racist incident, most people claimed they would be very upset. But when another group was actually exposed to the racist act, they generally were not particularly distressed at all.

Great Power Politics

I'm not the biggest fan of David Bernstein's posts on Israel, but this one detailing the effect of the Soviet Union on the development of the Israeli/Arab conflict strikes me as an important contribution. It shouldn't be surprising that a country as small as Israel would be vulnerable to the machinations of great power politics. Around the world, the US and the USSR were dividing the world into spheres of influence which obviously ratcheted up tensions between neighbors who never knew if they'd be subject of the latest proxy war. Israel behaved defensively after the 1967 war because its neighbors were well equipped and financed by the Soviet Union, which had already proven itself implacably hostile to both Israel and Jews. Meanwhile, the US was compelled to support Israel not just because it was opposed to USSR proxies, but because Israel was different from your average minor power in that it possessed nukes and thus had a greatly increased chance of sparking off WWIII.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

So About That Exciting News

I mentioned earlier that I had some exciting blogging news to share. One such bit of news has already been revealed -- the placement of my Black Conservatism posts at Racialicious. And now I can reveal the second -- I'll be putting up a guest-post on Feministe to give my thoughts on the Gaza operation and it's surrounding issues.

Proving that happy thoughts breed happy outcomes, there has since been one more development which did not exist at the time of the post, and may not come to fruition at all. But it may just. So keep an ear out -- there may be more yet to come.

Quote of the Evening

From today's criminal law reading. Not sure I agree whole-sale, but it is probably true enough to throw an important wrench in how we think of deterrence and crime:
I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected, and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this "loss of face" -- no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.... [T]hese men mean it literally when they say they would rather kill or mutilate others, be killed or mutilated themselves, than live without pride, dignity, and self-respect.... The emotion of shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence.


Excerpts on Clarence Thomas

My moderately famous (for me, anyway) posts on Black Conservatism have been reprinted on Racialicious: Black Conservatism Revisited today, and Black Conservatives in Large and Small Caps yesterday. These posts, however, were not the end of my examination of this topic. Far from it -- they actually inspired me to do an independent study my senior year at Carleton to delve further into what I took to be Black Conservative ideology and practice.

Many of the commenters on Racialicious (all of whom I want to thank for their feedback) were hesitant to apply my argument to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. So I thought I might post an excerpt from the essay I wrote for the above-mentioned research project, where I discuss Justice Thomas and his connections to my rendition of Black Conservatism. Remember that this is from a larger work in progress, so it might reference other sections not reproduced here. Also note that the original version has footnotes, which I had to delete to put this in blog form (I'll list the sources cited at the end, however).


Far and away the most prominent and influential figure in contemporary Black Conservatism is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Born in tiny Pin Point, Georgia, Thomas quickly moved with his mother to Savannah, Georgia, where he attended Catholic school. After two years at the local St. Pius X High School, Thomas began preparing to enter the clergy, transferring to a boarding school six miles away. St. Pius, an all-Black school, was closed down after integration – something that left a lasting mark on the future Justice. He enrolled in Conception Seminary, but never graduated, leaving after just one year due to persistent racism by his fellow classmates.

When Thomas spoke of his experience with racism at Conception, many of his former classmates were stunned. Since high school, Thomas had become adept at hiding his anger at racial slights – apparently so adept that his colleagues did not realize he was being affected at all. A similar occurrence characterized his experience at Holy Cross, where he enrolled after leaving Conception. Though it had just begun a proactive effort to attract Black students when Thomas arrived, Holy Cross was still predominantly White, and Thomas reported feeling excluded and alienated – a memory that, like at Conception, clashed with former classmates who remembered him as quite warm and open. This misunderstanding is replayed again and again in Justice Thomas’ life – because he does not respond to racism the way we have been conditioned to expect Black people to respond to racism (either through overt support of civil rights action or more confrontational Black nationalism), it is assumed that Thomas believes that racism is not an operating factor in America. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be further from Thomas’ own experience as Black man. From his time at the Seminary, to his experience after graduating from Yale Law School (and not receiving offers from elite law firms), to his famous description of the Anita Hill controversy as a “high-tech lynching”, Thomas certainly conceived himself to be a man who had faced and overcome significant amounts of racism in his life.

Thomas’ experience at the Seminary made him deeply suspicious about the entire project of integration. In religion, Thomas expected to find “brotherhood and understand, but instead he found racism and hypocrisy at nearly every turn.” During his time at Holy Cross, he entered a distinctly nationalist phase, helping found the Black Student Union, dressing in army fatigues, and immersing himself in Malcolm X. His relationship with Whites and White society at the time was complex. He advocated engagement with the White community, but only because, as one friend put it, “In order to compete in our society, you’ve got to compete with them,” them being White folks. On the other hand, he led the Black students in a daring walk-out – threatening to abandon Holy Cross entirely – in response to overly harsh and disproportionate punishment meted out to Black students protesting General Electric job recruiters. His logic was simple: “[I]f someone is treating me unfairly, they are demonstrating to me that I am simply not welcome.” The gambit was successful, and the administration backed down. By the end of his time at Holy Cross, however, Thomas reported that his radical spirit was fading. After a particularly violent event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he began to question his participation in protests for the likes of the Black Panthers, and felt he was becoming “drunk with anger.” From that point forward, Thomas claimed, his path was reset.

But, at least on questions of race, Thomas may not have strayed as far from his radical roots as it might seem. As a public figure, Thomas does not detach his opinion of how his public image had been manipulated from the question of race. He described the “controversy” over his tenure as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as stemming from his “refus[al] to bow to the superior wisdom of the white liberals who thought they knew what was better for blacks….” Reflecting back on his bumpy confirmation hearings, Thomas did not back off from his “lynching” description – indeed, titling the pertinent chapter of his autobiography “Invitation to a Lynching.” In his autobiography, Thomas mentions at several points the risk of self-consuming rage; a “beast” which threatened to overtake him and his soul. It was a “battle” he “lost” in 1968, and a sentiment he would continue to fight against for the rest of his life. This same rage appears to have returned during the confirmation fight: Thomas describes himself as having “lost [his] grip,” “spewing rambling questions” at his allies, and under attack by “a vast army of political operatives, left-wing academics, public-relations firms, and cynical reporters….” He analogized himself to Tom Robinson, the Black defendant in To Kill a Mockingbird. The racial injustice he had grown up with was back – albeit this time coming from those Whites who purported to support Black liberation. And Thomas concluded: “Twenty years earlier I’d prayed to God to purge my heart of anger, and since then I had managed to hold the beast of rage at bay. Now it had slipped its leash….”

His policy outlook likewise drew strongly from distinctively Black roots. He recalled reading Invisible Man and realizing that Blacks would never be free if they were forced to act in a particular way – and he turned away from his earlier politics of rage because he believed that was the outlook that White society expected of Black people. His skepticism towards government intervention grew out of the observation that giving more power to a majoritarian government, when the majority is in an oppressive relationship with the minority, will not likely further the interests of the oppressed. If freedom is what Black people want, only they can get it for themselves. Relying on a (White-dominated) government is a sucker’s move. And on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas has battled back against the public sentiment that he is a “clone” of Justice Antonin Scalia: “Because I am black, it is said automatically that Justice Scalia has to do my work for me. That goes with the turf. I understand that deal.” And prior to joining the Court (but still well after his conservative turn), Thomas has emphasized Malcolm X’s place in the conservative camp, against the paradigm of the mainstream integrationist movement he loathes, and has spoken favorably of the nationalist commitment to Blacks building, nurturing, and patronizing their own institutions: “I don't see how the civil-rights people today can claim Malcolm X as one of their own. Where does he say black people should go begging to the Labor Department for jobs? He was hell on integrationists. Where does he say you should sacrifice your institutions to be next to white people?”

Even in terms of the law, Thomas’ jurisprudence echoes strongly of his past affiliations. His skepticism towards integration, and the reasons he gives to justify it, reverberates quite clearly of arguments made by his former Black nationalist allies. In Missouri v. Jenkins, the Supreme Court was faced with the question of how far the judiciary could go in ordering remedies to school segregation. Concurring in the Court’s ruling restricting these remedies, Thomas launched a broadside against the integration mentality writ large. “It never ceases to amaze me,” he thundered, “that the courts are so willing to assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior.” Later on in the same opinion, he insisted that “there is no reason to think that black students cannot learn as well when surrounded by members of their own race as when they are in an integrated environment.” Compare this rhetoric to that of Carmichael and Hamilton, on the same subject. They lambasted integration as “based on the assumption that there is nothing of value in the black community and that little of value could be created among black people.” They continued:
“Integration” as a goal today speaks to the problem of blackness not only in an unrealistic way but also in a despicable way. It is based on complete acceptance of the fact that in order to have a decent house or education, black people must move into a white neighborhood or send their children to a white school. This reinforces, among both black and white, the idea that ‘white’ is automatically superior and ‘black’ is by definition inferior. For this reason, ‘integration’ is a subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy.

The parallels are unmistakable. On cases involving segregation, Justice Thomas has persistently limited his endorsement of governmental intervention only in cases of clear governmental action. If the segregation is de facto, then any remedy – whether judicial or legislative – is immediately suspect. Thomas does not believe that integration is a goal that sanctions government use of race, because he doesn’t view integration as an unadulterated good. As Angela Onwuachi-Willig argues, though Thomas is clearly a conservative jurist, his thinking is “distinct from that of his white conservative counterparts and is intrinsically linked to his identity as a Southern black man.”

Could it be argued that Thomas’ opinions in these cases are merely an outgrowth of his broad conservative legal philosophy, not his particularistic concerns about race? Perhaps, but to limited effect. Most obviously, the appeal to philosophy does not explain his passionate rhetoric on the issue, virtually accusing his liberal peers of racism in their purported belief that “anything that is predominantly black must be inferior.” But the larger problem is that Thomas’ jurisprudence on race does not mesh well with his broader originalist project. The reasoning that he uses in most constitutional cases before the Supreme Court does not seem to extend to racial questions. In the former, he looks solely at the intent and language of the framers, while in the latter, he engages in a far more abstract examination of the principles that underlie the constitution and declaration of independence. A significant amount of evidence exists that the framers of the 14th amendment were quite comfortable with color-conscious policymaking as within the legislative scope of the United States. When forced to account for this in the recently decided case of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (due to a pointedly worded dissent by Justice Breyer), Justice Thomas had little to say, airily dismissing his fellow justice’s argument as “half-hearted” while only observing that the race-conscious remedies around the time of the framing were part of program to remedy explicit governmental discrimination (in the form of slavery). But of course, this does not in any way show what, if any, limitations the framer’s intended to place on race-conscious policies in the future, and Thomas doesn’t provide any, making it difficult for him to elevate the principle of color-blindness to a constitutional mandate (under his prevailing originalist philosophy). When it comes to reconciling his originalism and his desire for a “color-blind” constitution, Thomas appears to have a blind spot of his own. His jurisprudence on questions of race are thus better explained by his personal experience as a Black man who has grappled with racism, than they are by appeals to an abstract and extrinsic judicial philosophy.

Indeed, once one replaces the roster of the standard racist bad guys from Southerner Klan members to patronizing White liberals, the difference between Thomas and old-school Black Power disintegrates nearly entirely. Thomas himself stated that he found the latter far more dangerous, for “at least southerners were up front about their bigotry: you knew exactly where they were coming from …. Not so the paternalistic big-city whites who offered you a helping hand so long as you were careful to agree with them, but slapped you down if you started acting as if you didn’t know your place.” Accepting the belief that White-sponsored affirmative action, and other government programs, are actually detrimental to Blacks (and may be simply instruments to serve White interests) means that there is actually very little space between their respective critiques: in both situations, a White dominated regime – even granting its possible good intentions – will not establish the sorts of policies that are in the interests of Black Americans. Even the element of trust was absent. Like the Garvey, the Black Power advocates, and the Black Liberation Theologians, Thomas assumed that “nothing I could say, however eloquent or sincere, was capable of overcoming the evil assumptions” upon which his accusers during the Anita Hill controversy relied. As a child, he recalled, he had been warned that he “could be picked up off the streets of Savannah and hauled off to jail or the chain gang for no other reason other than I was black.” The mob he saw attacking him, though not carrying ropes, had the same goal in mind: to instill fear in the Black population, and insure that Black men did not deviate from their “place”.


Though White Conservatives may count (some) Black Conservatives as friends or allies, by and large they do not acknowledge the significant divergences in their respective outlooks on race and racism in the United States. White Conservatives are prone to believe that racism in the United States is primarily a problem of the past. While this is a belief shared with some Black Neoconservatives, it is not a positioned adhered to by Black Conservatives writ large. Rather, “unlike their white conservative counterparts, many black conservatives do not believe that a colorblind society is, practically speaking, attainable.” This, to reiterate, is not a position only held by left-wing Black Conservatives: Clarence Thomas has been quoted as saying “I don’t care how educated you are, how good you are at what you do—you’ll never have the same contacts or opportunities, you'll never be seen as equal to whites.”

The gap between what White Conservatives want Black Conservatives to believe, and what they actually believe, is a point of serious tension. According to Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Justice Thomas has been used (against his will) as a “tool” of conservative administrations, who exploit his race for political purposes, while simultaneously opposing affirmative action or race consciousness. Thomas has resisted this to some degree, particularly the efforts by some White Conservatives to create a new politics of White victimology. Speaking at the University of Mississippi, Thomas critiqued elements of the “angry white male” backlash against affirmative action. While Justice Thomas is an outspoken critic of affirmative action, and thus shares the sentiment by many White Conservatives that it is an unjust policy, he observed that “something far more insidious is afoot. For some white men, preoccupation with oppression has become the defining feature of their existence. They have fallen prey to the very aspects of the modern ideology of victimology that they deplore.” Thomas deviation from the conservative political line echoes a broader – normally submerged – facet of modern Black Conservatism: “a certain ‘distrust’ of Whites – even the conservative Whites with whom black conservatives work.”

For obvious reasons, the problem becomes more acute when the focus shifts to left-wing Black Conservatives. Though I noted that there have been some surprising links between Black Nationalists and White Conservatives, in general the mainstream White establishment has remained harsh critics of those groups. But it may be that this hostility is due more to familiarity than difference. Barry Goldwater claimed that defining point of (White) Conservatives was that they are “not too proud to learn from the great minds of the past.” Conservatives draw from the collective past, history, and experience of the people in order to develop their current beliefs. Black Conservatives are the same – except they are drawing from the collective Black past, Black history, and Black experience in order to construct and sustain contemporary political action. Black Nationalists, who were far more aggressive in urging Blacks to jettison White historical figures and arguments in favor of allowing their own traditions to blossom, simultaneously echo and repudiate the White Conservative mindset. They echo it insofar as the argument is essentially the same: political action should be based on the collective historical knowledge of the group, not idealized theories and fantasies about future utopias, and not the lectures and treatises of outsiders whose experiences, ties, and culture are remote from the group. But because that very argument leads them to draw on thinkers and experiences quite foreign to White Conservatives, the practical upshot is repudiation. For Black Nationalists, Whites are among the “outsiders.” Their theories of how to think about race relations, insofar as they are not grounded in Black lived experience, are to be dismissed. For American White Conservatives, used to thinking of the wisdom of past (White) generations as sacrosanct, this is a difficult pill to swallow.

An example of this disjuncture might be found, oddly enough, in the treatment of Justices Scalia and Thomas regarding citations to “foreign” law and legal theory. In Roper v. Simmons, which ruled unconstitutional imposing the death penalty on juvenile defendants, Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist) a blistering dissent attacking the majority’s reliance on foreign law and legal norms as a basis for its ruling. The contemporary laws of foreign countries (unlike pre-revolutionary English common law, upon which Scalia relies extensively in his opinions) played no bearing in determining the text or original meaning of the constitutional clauses the Court is called upon to interpret. Rather, it is being “cited to set aside … centuries-old American practice.” By stripping the decision away from those who actually deliberated and ratified the constitution (and the sources they used to rationalize and contextualize their decision), the Court is engaging in intolerably undemocratic behavior.

But in Justice Thomas’ rulings on race cases, something peculiar emerges. In his opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race-based affirmative action, Thomas opens by quoting Frederick Douglass’ famous admonition of what Black people want from Whites:
In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us …. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! . . . And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ... Your interference is doing him positive injury.

This quote by Douglass thus serves as Thomas’ earliest antecedent for his “color-blind” position. The argument itself is not peculiar – it is, to the contrary, quite standard fare from Justice Thomas. But, from a principled conservative perspective (as mediated through the lens of originalism), quoting Frederick Douglass to support a legal proposition is problematic. In 1865 (when this speech was delivered), Thomas was not a member of America’s voting community. Indeed, he was not even yet a citizen. The Reconstruction Amendments, which (nominally) extended these privileges to Blacks would not be passed for several more years (and would not be enforced with anything approaching a substantive protection for many more years after that). Douglass cannot fairly be included as part of the political deliberations among White Americans that created the original public meaning of the Reconstruction Amendments, and there is no proof that his voice or perspective on the matter was included by proxy. But Douglass is undoubtedly a key element of the Black political history and the Black experience with regards to how Black equality was envisioned after the Civil War. So for Thomas, whose conservatism is rooted in personal (and thus Black) experience, Douglass remains very relevant even though, for all practical purposes, he was “foreigner” during the drafting of the Reconstruction Amendments.

Most of the time, however, this tension remains beneath the surface. Even in Grutter, the problem did not truly manifest itself, for two reasons: first, because the Douglass quote was primarily a rhetorical flourish, not as substantively relevant to the merits as the citation to foreign law in Roper, and second, because the legal/political result Thomas was advocating for was in line with that favored by his fellow Conservatives. Consequently, the White Conservative political and legal establishment did not have to engage with the underlying outlook which made Thomas cite to Douglass. But ignoring the problem does not make it go away; in the words of Naito Jenga, it “may reduce consciousness of a problem, but…does not change the underlying reality.” If White Conservatives solely think of their Black fellows as friends of convenience, useful not for their ideas but for the simple manpower and political influence they can bring to bear on favored right-wing agenda items, this is a tolerable response. But assuming that they view their nominal collaborators as more than just expedient political allies, respectful engagement means looking past the similar end-results and truly accounting for the Black Conservative worldview.

Reckoning with Black Conservatism means, first, reading their arguments and hearing their stories. Too often, as George Yancy argues, “whiteness admits of no ignorance vis-à-vis the black. Hence, there is no need for white silence, a moment of quietude that encourages listening to the black.” The assumption on the part of many White Conservatives that they do understand their Black brethren (by which they mean they understand themselves, and do not perceive any difference worth exploring) flows out of this lack of “quietude.” White Conservatives cannot read Black Conservatives parasitically – for only what immediate sustenance they provide to their political ambitions. Clarence Thomas’ opposition to affirmative action may line up with White Conservative political aims, but the why matters. Thomas may believe the constitution is color-blind, but he has no illusion that society is. His strong support for all- or predominantly-Black schools, for example, does not mesh well with how Conservatives conceptualize “color-blindness.” If White Conservatives truly were concerned with learning from Justice Thomas, they would need to vocalize their support for these sorts of academies and offer them as a definitive counter-argument to the Liberal orthodoxy. As it stands, their criticism of affirmative action comes with no alternative, and thus looks to Blacks suspiciously like abandonment.

More concretely, White Conservatives who seek to engage with their Black peers must grapple with the latter’s belief that racism continues to exist and acts as a salient force in American life. Whenever an “official” report documents the truth of this observation, White Conservatives are shocked. This is new information – but only if ignored the words of generations of Black writers making the same claim. Such ignorance comes off as arrogant and patronizing. Black Conservatives do not see racism as the only influence on Black Americans, but they do see it as very significant one. Shelby Steele went as far to say that “no explanation of black difficulties would be remotely accurate were it to ignore racial victimization.” As the Black Conservatives have persuasively argued, accepting this fact does not mean accepting all the stock liberal remedies to it. But it does mean offering up some remedy. Particularly given Black Conservative aversion to White attempts to “help” Blacks, it seems most fruitful for Whites to turn inward and direct their anti-racism efforts towards their own community.

One way to conceptualize this is with reference to the belief held by (some) Black Conservatives and (some) White Conservatives in favor of “limited government.” For many Whites, this belief stems from abstract theorizing by libertarian-influenced writers and philosophers (Hayak, Nozick, Friedman) who argue that too much governmental power is inefficient or a priori immoral. For other Whites, mistrust of government might come from a more concrete and experiential basis. In the early days of American democracy, the experience of British colonialism gave advocates of small-government much of their argumentative force. Today, a White immigrant from the former USSR might also have solid experiential basis to be mistrustful about the wisdom of big government.

Black Conservatives could, too, base their support for limited government on abstract moral reasoning (and often times this is the logical underpinning of the Black Neoconservative position). But when it is experientially based, it is comes from experience with governmental abuse not from a foreign power or society, but from the American government and American society. Thomas recalled an argument he had while at Yale Law School (prior to his identification as a Republican – he voted for McGovern later that year) over the new requirement for cars to have seat belts. His interlocutor asked him: “Clarence, as a member of a group that has been treated shabbily by the majority in this country, why would you want to give the government more power over your personal life?” The question, Thomas recalled, “stopped me cold.” Black Conservative mistrust of governmental authority is motivated by mistrust of abusive foreign authority, just as White mistrust often is. The difference is that, for Black Conservatives, White America is part of – indeed, represents – the foreign.



Book Note, Justice Thomas’s Inconsistent Originalism, 121 HARV. L. REV. 1431 (2008)



Richard Delgado, Affirmative Action as a Majoritarian Device: Or, Do You Really Want to Be a Role Model, 89 MICH. L. REV. 1222 (1991)

Frederick Douglass, What the Black Man Wants: An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, on 26 January 1865, reprinted in 4 THE FREDERICK DOUGLASS PAPERS 59, 68 (J. Blassingame & J. McKivigan eds. 1991)

Feminist Discourse, Moral Values, and the Law – A Conversation: The 1984 James McCormick Mitchell Lecture, 34 BUFF. L. REV. 11, 62 (1985) (Isabel Marcus and Paul J. Spiegelman, moderators; Ellen C. DuBois, Marx C. Dunlap, Carol J. Gilligan, Catherine A. MacKinnon, and Carrie Menkel-Meadow, participants)


Natsu Saito Jenga, Unconscious: The “Just Say No” Response to Racism, 81 IOWA L. REV. 1503 (1996).

Tony Mauro, Clerks: Minority Ranks Rise, LEGAL TIMES, Oct. 16, 2000, at 10


Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Just Another Brother on the SCT?: What Justice Clarence Thomas Teaches Us About the Influence of Racial Identity, 90 IOWA L. REV. 931 (2005)

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Using The Master’s “Tool” To Dismantle His House: Why Justice Clarence Thomas Makes The Case For Affirmative Action, 47 ARIZ. L. REV. 113 (2005)

Eric Schnapper, Affirmative Action and the Legislative History of the Fourteenth Amendment, 71 VA. L. REV. 753 (1985)

Christopher E. Smith, Clarence Thomas: A Distinctive Justice, 28 SETON HALL L. REV. 1 (1997)



Clarence Thomas, The James McClure Memorial Lecture in Law, (October 19, 1995), in 65 MISS. L.J. 463 (1996).


Elwood Watson, Guess What Came to American Politics?—Contemporary Black Conservatism, 29 J. BLACK STUD. 73 (1998)

Juan Williams, A Question of Fairness, ATLANTIC MONTHLY, Feb. 1987, at 73

George Yancy, Introduction: Fragments of a Social Ontology of Whiteness, in WHAT WHITE LOOKS LIKE (George Yancy, ed. 2004)


Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)

Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U.S. 70 (1994)

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 127 Sup. Ct. 2738 (2007)

Has the Bell Tolled on the Ding-a-Ling Man?

Darnell Wilson is one of my favorite fighters active today. How could he not be? He's funny, well-spoken, self-effacing, and confident. Plus he lives about 30 minutes away from me in suburban Maryland. And, oh yeah, he has some of the most concussive power available right now in the sport of boxing. When he was announced as a participant on this season of the Contender, he was easily the most accomplished fighter on the show.

Yet many people predicted an early exit for "The Ding-a-Ling Man". And, unfortunately, I found it hard to argue with them. Wilson has huge power. But his boxing ability is suspect at best. And the format of the show, in which the early bouts are only five rounds, seriously cuts to Wilson's disadvantage. It's much easier to avoid that one big shot for five rounds than ten.

That wasn't all Wilson had to deal with. Wilson was struggling with his weight throughout the show, leaving the already rather slow fighter even more drained. And the fighter who called him out was Ehinomen "Hino" Ehikhamenor -- not the most feared fighter on the show, but certainly someone with a tested chin: in his last fight prior to the contender, he went 12 rounds with former titleholder Herbie Hide, becoming only the second person in Hide's (to that point) 42 wins to make it to the final bell. Not the fighter Wilson wanted to see.

Sure enough, Wilson was clearly out-boxed for five rounds, losing a lop-sided decision to the now 13-3 (7 KO) Ehikhamenor. Wilson dropped to 23-8-3 (20 KOs).

And now, Wilson has a problem. The template for beating Darnell has been well-established by now. After four straight losses to elite competition, Wilson bounced back into the title hunt (and into The Ring Magazine's top 10) with four straight KOs over Daniel Judah, Dale Brown, Kelvin Davis, and Emmanuel Nwodo (the last of which was rated ESPN's KO of the decade). That set him up for a title eliminator against undefeated BJ Flores. I watched that fight, and while I believe Wilson narrowly won, it was in a fashion akin to Valuev/Holyfield where neither man looked good. The only reason that Wilson won on my card (the judges handed the decision to Flores) was because his opponent didn't throw any punches. But what he did do -- quite effectively -- was make Wilson miss. A lot. And make Wilson lose his balance. A lot. Wilson's main (really only) offensive weapon is his wide, looping hooks. A boxer smart enough not to try and brawl with Wilson can easily avoid them, and pick Wilson apart in the meantime. That's apparently what happened in Wilson's next fight: a title shot against Firat Aslan. Wilson swung wildly, Aslan hung back, and cruised to the decision victory.

After his loss on the Contender, Wilson seemed determined to go back to the drawing board and make another run. He noted he had at one point been on a four fight losing strike, and managed to crawl back to a title shot "the old fashioned way" (by which I assume he meant, taking the head off of everyone who got in his way). But he seemed to think that the main problem in this fight was that he came in "unprepared", by which I assume he was referring to his weight problems.

Let's cast aside Hino's performance, which from what I could tell seemed quite good (this clearly was the biggest win of his career). Wilson's problems do not end with his weight. He needs to dramatically improve at least four facets of his game if he is to be competitive with anyone who won't slug with him.

First, his jab. This is a key for all fighters, and Wilson doesn't really pay enough attention to it. When the other guy isn't willing to stick his neck out and ask to be clubbed, you can't get a KO without a jab to set it up. See how Edison Miranda knocked out David Banks for a demonstration.

Second, ring generalship. No matter what we do to round out the edges, Wilson is never going to be a boxer's boxer in the ring. He'll always be better off in a brawl. Fine. But ring generalship is how you get an opponent to fight your fight. Wilson needs to learn how to box in his man, get him trapped in a corner or on the ropes, so he can unload. Right now, he just sort of follows people around, and fighters (like Flores or Hino) who aren't afraid to put on the track shoes can just pot shot him to death.

Third, develop an uppercut. This is short-hand for "diversify your offensive arsenal", but at least in this last fight an effective uppercut would have done wonders. How do you avoid a sweeping hook? You weave it. What happens when you weave? You duck down and lean forward. Where does this put your chin? Sticking way out, begging for an uppercut. Wilson knows this is going to be the reaction of the smart opponent to his money punch. So why not make him pay for it?

Fourth, work on your balance. Darnell Wilson has an excellent chin. Yet, in two of the fights I've seen him in (this last one, and his KO victory over Kelvin Davis), he's been on the canvas. It's not because he's been seriously hurt. It's because those sweeping hooks leave him badly off balance and vulnerable to counters. Not only does this put Wilson in a hole (bad for any fighter), but it makes him even less likely to try and settle in and box, and more prone to look for one shot KOs. Also, the lack of balance makes it harder for Wilson to put together combinations -- problematic when your opponent has learned to avoid option A (the sweeping hook).

Can he do all of this? I don't know. Wilson's been fighting for a long time. I don't think the Contender trainer is a good fit for him (though Wilson himself had very nice words). He needs someone who will sit him down and rebuild him as a fighter, and I don't know if that can be done to a fighter like Wilson at this stage in his career.

Wilson will always have a place on TV sets simply because he carries with him the potential for brutal, devastating knockouts. But against a fighter who can box and move? I'm not sure he has an answer. And that's a shame. Because as I said, I really like The Ding-a-Ling man, and I'd like nothing more than to see him make another run at the top.

Social Messages

Sarah Palin felt she was "exploited" by Katie Couric and Tina Fey:
“I did see that Tina Fey was named entertainer of the year and Katie Couric’s ratings have risen," Palin said in the interview. "I know that a lot of people are capitalizing on, oh I don’t know, perhaps some exploiting that was done via me, my family, my administration — that’s a little bit perplexing, but it also says a great deal about our society.”

Indeed, it does say something about our society.

We like accountability.

Maybe you're not accustomed to that in Alaska, where you need to be convicted of a felony to get knocked out of office (a high-profile criminal investigation isn't good enough, as Don Young found to his relief), but the rest of America expects our politicians to at least be able to go through the motions of walking the walk.

Maryland Schools = PS Excellence

The Maryland public school system has been rated #1 in the country by two separate reports. Score one for big spendin' liberalism.

Way to represent, MD!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cited Senators

Already in my criminal law textbook (Kadish, Schulhofer, & Steiker, 8th Edition), there have been two citations to articles authored (or co-authored) by sitting US Senators. This is shocking, since I always sort of assumed that when US Senators wrote articles, they never said anything worthwhile. Yet here they are, apparently key elements of the criminal law.

The one I saw today was written by Jon Kyl (R-AZ), along with Steven J. Twist & Stephen Higgins, On the Wings of Their Angels, 9 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 581 (2005) [pg. 1015 in the book]. At this point, Kyl had already been Senator for 10 years.

But the one I spotted yesterday was, if anything, even more amazing. Found on page 13, it was an excerpt from a book review written by one Arlen Specter (R-PA), cited at 76 Yale L.J. 604 (1967). In 1967, Specter was still a mere district attorney in Philadelphia, embarking on a failed run for mayor of that lovely city. He would proceed to lose re-election for his DA position, lose in a Republican primary for Senate, and lose in a Republican primary for Governor, before finally breaking through to the US Senate in 1980, where he has remained ever since.

Justice as Fairness? Boxing Edition

ESPN reports that Jr. Middleweight contender Joe Greene (20-0, 14 KOs) is out of his title fight with Sergio Martinez (44-1-1, 24 KOs) due to kidney stones. Bad luck for him, and bad luck for us: Greene is an exciting young fighter who deserves the shot and the exposure on HBO.

But still, the date needs to be filled, and HBO is shopping for a replacement. One of the names on the list is Anthony Thompson (23-3, 17 KOs).

This is where my strong sense of fair play clashes, deeply, with my desire to enjoy my life as a boxing fan. Unfairness really bothers me, and I define "unfair" broadly, as basically being deprived of opportunity and/or recognition for reasons outside one's talent or ability. I find it unfair, in a cosmic sense, when a fighter loses a decision they should have won (due to poor judging or referring or whatever), or suffers an injury during a fight causing them to lose a fight they were winning, or even just loses a really close fight and then gets discredited as a pretender in the eyes of the boxing public.

Anthony Thompson, for example, lost a very close decision to Yuri Foreman two fights back. It was "controversial", but in the acceptable way -- it genuinely could have gone either way, and Thompson had the bad luck for it to go against him. In his next fight, Thompson got genuinely screwed: in the course of pummelling a journeyman, Thompson suffered a cut over his eye, and the fight was stopped. The cut was clearly caused by a headbutt, but the referee screwed up, said it was from a punch, and suddenly Thompson's on the wrong end of a TKO loss. All of which makes me want him to get a shot at the title. Karmic justice, chance to prove himself, etc. etc..

But all that gets weighed against the fact that Thompson is dreadfully boring. He is the furthest thing from Joe Greene. It would be painful to watch him fight. Admittedly, perhaps fighting Yuri Foreman (another, shall we say, technician) doesn't bring out the best in him. But Thompson is, to say the least, not known as an action star.

This comes up surprisingly often in boxing. On fairness grounds, I think that both Fres Oquendo and Evander Holyfield deserve rematches for the fights they recently "lost" to James Toney and Nikulay Valuev, respectively. But as a fight fan, both of those bouts were hideously boring and would undoubtedly improve not a whit in the recast (Holyfield/Valuev was worse than boring, it's very creation was an embarrassment to the sport of boxing).

I really don't know what to do about this. Justice and fairness are all well and good. But they can be mighty dull affairs when attached to the sweet science.

It's All Too Much

Emily Yoffe snaps at her colleague, Christopher Hitchens, for going off the rails and saying it would have been better off if Israel did not exist and that it should not exist now:
For most who wish to see the elimination of the state of Israel, it is not sympathy for the Palestinians that drives them (Where were the voices asking Hamas to stop its daily rockets into Israel so that this incursion could have been prevented?)—but a lust for the end of the tiny Jewish state. Pakistan, which was founded just about the same time as Israel, can hardly be called a success. It is a corrupt nuclear state with regions run by terrorists. But I have yet to hear anyone suggest the founding of Pakistan was a mistake and it should be wiped off the world map. Somalia became independent in 1959. It is now an anarchic terrorist redoubt whose main export is pirates. Again, no one is saying Somalia was just a mistake and let's get rid of it. For some reason, Israel seems to be the only country whose very existence can be casually dismissed.

Phoebe Maltz continues on the same vein:

It's amazing how many commentators, not just Christopher Hitchens, have used the latest Middle East conflict as a reason for why Israel ought not to have existed in the first place. This always makes me think of all the other countries founded on someone else's land (I'm sitting in one such country as we speak). What, other than our forebearers' successful all-but-elimination of the Native Americans, gives the US the right to exist? It makes me think of how Europe could kill off the Ashkenazi civilization, then say 'Oops, our bad,' and can now claim the moral high ground in international debates. So basically, had Israel just wiped out or expelled the Palestinians, then said, 'Oh, we're so sorry for the genocide, we'll never do it again, we promise,' the Jewish state would be in the clear. That this didn't happen, it seems, is why Israel's existence can still be questioned.

This is a point that can easily slide (both in the minds of its proponents and in the interpretation of its readers) into the appalling "Israel should have wiped out/expelled the Palestinians, so we wouldn't have this problem now." That is not what Ms. Yoffe or Ms. Maltz are arguing. What they are saying is that the bar for forming a country in a way such that it continues to deserve existence is not particularly difficult to leap. America crosses it, Pakistan crosses it, Somalia crosses it, European states cross it. All of these countries were formed by and/or continue their existence through a constant shroud of pain and death. This includes expulsions, genocide, terrorism, and warfare far beyond anything Israel can reasonably be said to have done. None of these countries, though, seem to be existentially indicted by it.

In all the places Jews have historically lived -- Israel, North Africa, the Middle East -- there seems to be very little recognition that, to a large extent, the current state of affairs was built over and on top of the backs of (among others) Jews. It's not like we weren't there. We're obviously aware of the brutality latent in the history of these places, because often times we were the victims of it. For these people to turn around after their own experiments with genocide and accuse us of being uniquely and paradigmatically demonic, and expect to be seen as credible, is unbelievable.

It's not that Israel can't be criticized. But history has told us what crimes deserve the punishment of state-destruction, and it's beyond apparent that Israel's actions don't fit. The speakers don't have credibility, and have ulterior motives besides. So when the criticism branches off into that territory, it's facial evidence that we're no longer in the realm of fair-minded moral critique. We're now in the business of bashing the Jews. Because if there are two things that stand out in the history of the Gentile view of the Jew, it's (a) they can't stop us from having our way with them, and (b) they deserve whatever we mete out.

The Second to Last Laugh

As shown by this post, it really is rather amazing the way in which Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) managed to completely out-maneuver Senate Democrats even while in the depths of career-destroying scandal. The vote by the CBC urging that Roland Burris be seated will be the final nail in the coffin. And the upshot is that this process became about as embarrassing, drawn out, and politically damaging to national Democrats as possible.

Blagojevich won't have the last laugh, because while the Democratic Party will recover, he'll be spending some quality time in prison. But still -- well played, soon-to-be-ex-governor.

One More Football Followup

After this post and this post, a friend of mine sent me this article from ESPN, reporting that being in an interracial marriage is a barrier to Black coaches seeking top jobs in college football:
- Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong believes race is a reason he hasn't been offered a head-coaching job during his 25 years in college football, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Strong, a 48-year-old black man, shook his head affirmatively when an Orlando Sentinel reporter asked him if his interracial marriage was a factor in getting passed over for jobs, including one at a Southern school a few years ago. Strong, whose wife is white, said he heard that too many times for it to be rumor.

"Everybody always said I didn't get that job because my wife is white," Strong said at media day Monday, as the Gators prepare to face Oklahoma in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. "If you think about it, a coach is standing up there representing the university. If you're not strong enough to look through that [interracial marriage], then you have an issue."

The same article reports that Turner Gill, the Buffalo coach who was the primary subject of my last few posts, also is married to a White woman.

Boycotts Hop the Pond

Readers might recall my post last month on Ottawa-PIRG's (a campus-based progressive activism group) refusal to associate with the campus organization of Hillel, on the grounds that Hillel is too close to "apartheid Israel" and "Zionist Ideology does not fit within OPIRG's mandate of human right's (sic), social justice." Now it looks like OPIRG was just the tip of the Ontario iceberg engaging in wild, hyperbolic condemnations of the Jewish state. The Ontario arm of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has announced it will propose "a ban on Israeli academics doing speaking, teaching or research work at Ontario universities," unless they specifically condemn Israel's activities in Gaza (via).

The precipitating event was Israel's attack on Islamic University in Gaza, which Israel claims is Hamas-linked. Personally, that wouldn't be enough on its own in my view to make it a legitimate target, though if the university was being used to store weapons or was a sanctuary for terrorists (neither of which is particularly unlikely), that would be a different matter. As is per usual, the lack of knowledge of the relevant facts isn't stopping anyone from going insane:
"Attacking an institution of learning is just beyond the pale," CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan said last night. "They deliberately targeted an institution of learning. That's what the Nazis did."

Now, I'm no history major, but I'm pretty sure the Nazis did a few other things that are the primary basis of their historical condemnation -- though it wouldn't surprise me if Mr. Ryan found those activities to be a lot less worthy of his attention (UPDATE: Fair is fair: Mr. Ryan has apologized for the Nazi comparison, though he has not backed down his original demand for the boycott).

In any event, the academic boycott movement had previously been waged primarily in the UK -- it is not a positive sign that it has hopped the pond to Canada. This "ban", particularly", is especially repugnant to academic freedom, as it prohibits Israeli professors from doing any work in Ontario unless they agree to espouse a particular position -- for many, on a topic that is far outside their area of expertise (what does a Chemistry Professor know about the complex array of military, humanitarian, moral, and legal considerations that should all form a part of our individual judgment of the Gaza operation?).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Why Quiet on the Northern Front?

An interesting non-development Matt Yglesias points out today is that things are quiet on Israel's northern front -- that is, Hezbollah hasn't decided to take advantage of the Gaza chaos to open up a new war front against Israel. Abu Muqawama speculates on some reasons why that might be:
1. Like Hamas (and unlike, say, al-Qaeda), Hizballah has a constituency for which it is responsible. Were Hizballah to attack Israel, it would not want to do so as the result of a hasty decision-making process. Although Hizballah indeed attacked Israel in 2006 at the same time Israel was active in Gaza, that was an operation that had been planned (and attempted, unsuccessfully) for some time. Were Hizballah to attack Israel now, the IDF -- with its ground forces still engaged in Gaza -- could still make life miserable for the Shia population of Lebanon. Keep in mind that in 1993 and 1996, Israel was able to displace well over 100,000 Lebanese from the south on each occassion solely through the application of air power and artillery. In 1993, over 6,000 homes were destroyed. In 1996, more homes than that were leveled -- along with four civilian power plants. So were Hizballah to attack Israel, that would probably be the result of a very deliberate and calculated decision. Because it would be understood that the Israeli response could be devastating.

2. It is possible that Hizballah would very much like to attack but has been counseled by either Iran or its Lebanese political allies not to do so. Again, why this would be the case remains a mystery to me -- and would to all but a handful of Iranian and Hizballah decision-makers.

3. Although the IDF is busy in Gaza, I am quite sure their defenses along the Blue Line are on full alert and expecting an attack of some sort. Could Hizballah launch a few rockets south? Of course. But I think they might have more difficulty pulling off a more spectacular operation like the one on 12 July 2006.

Of course, contra Matt, reason #2 is consistent with Hamas* and Hezbollah being closely tied to Iran and being at least in part extensions of Iran's regional policy towards Israel (admittedly, it does disprove some of the more zombie-like arguments wherein Iran single-mindedly pursues Israel's destruction and Hamas and Hezbollah have no independent agency). Fortunately, reason #1 strikes me as the most likely option. Reason #3 is undoubtedly true as far it is goes, but there is no question in my mind that Hezbollah -- if it set its mind to it and didn't care about the inevitable Israeli response -- could wreak some serious havoc right now even without something as ambitious as its 2006 operation.

* Do people view Hamas as an arm of Iran? I would have thought that the Sunni/Shi'ite split would make that rather difficult. I have no doubt that Hamas and Iran have contacts and connections, but I can't imagine Hamas going so far as to render itself an Iranian client organization.

It's Optimific All Over Again

I used the word "piker" today in Contracts class, to denote a person who was below-average or mediocre at their avocation. The professor had never heard of it -- she asked if it was football term. After class I asked around: most people hadn't heard the term; one person who had defined it as someone who was a cheapskate or who gambles only for small amounts of money. Wiktionary verifies their definition, as well as my own through the third definition, an "amateur".

Is this word very uncommon? It didn't occur to me when I said it I was saying anything regional or obscure, but I gather than it's not a well known term.

Property Class Win

"I, O, do hereby brynde Blackacre to A & A's heirs."

This statement was up on the board at the beginning of our Property class today, and our professor immediately asked for volunteers to tell the class what it meant.

Five people raised their hands and failed before someone had the good sense to ask "what does 'brynde' mean?" Which, of course, gets to the real point: "brynde" is a made-up word, and thus it (and the sentence) mean nothing. But five law students attempting to skirt that and pretend like they "knew" the word and thus the sentence.

I shouldn't be too harsh. Not only is there a lot of pressure in law school not to admit you don't know something, but this particular professor "speaks middle ages" as he would say (he has a Ph.D. in medieval history) and thus might very well have dropped in some obscure old English phrase on our unaware heads.

Even still: Professor 1, pompous law students, -5.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Cute Cute Cute

Since nothing bad happened and the kids were quickly returned to their parents, I can say that this is totally adorable.

"Robinson Rule" Followup

Apropos my post a few weeks ago on the dearth of Black coaches in NCAA football, the Sports Law Blog has a fascinating post delving into even more detail and giving some excellent context to the situation (via).

One interesting factoid was that, of the seven Black coaches in the NFL (out of 32 total positions), four of them were listed by players as among the top five coaches they'd like to play under (Tony Dungy (1st place); Lovie Smith (2nd place); Herm Edwards (4th place); and Mike Tomlin (5th place)). There are several ways to interpret this data, but my intuition would simply be that -- even in the NFL, which has made strides at diversifying its coaching ranks -- if Black coaches want to get and keep a position, they better rock peoples socks off. There is no room for average when you're African-American.

Bizarre Headline of the Day

CNN: "Study: Teens on MySpace mention sex, violence".


The article seems to be saying that teens mention their own (often false or exaggerated) exploits with sex, drugs, or violence, which I guess is problematic. Though the Orwellian measures the researchers recommend to parents as a response are more than a bit creepy as well.

Hearing Voices

The somewhat infamous Stephen Walt (of, with John J. Mearsheimer, "The Israel Lobby" fame) has a blog on the Foreign Policy website. I don't have a problem with this per se. Walt is an important thinker, albeit one I disagree with rather stridently on a few choice issues (fun fact: posts like this really reduce the credibility of posts like this). And, as Matt Yglesias says, it's probably a good thing to get a few more neo-realist voices into our foreign policy discussion.

But -- always a but -- let's not get too excited. Yes, "The sort of 'realist' perspective that Walt comes from (and helps define) is definitely one that looks better in light of the past eight years worth of events." But recall why realism spent some time in the IR doghouse in the first place (not much -- it is and always has been the dominant player in international relations theory): Because it was massively, dramatically, and embarrassingly wrong in predicting the 15 years prior to that: both missing the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then not really knowing how to handle either the rise of multilateralism in the Clinton administration or the emergence of non-state actors as serious players in the international sphere (Cf.).

That isn't to say it deserves permanent exile: it remains the dominant player, and with the utter collapse of neo-conservatism and with neo-liberalism remaining on shaky territory, it has done a nice job stepping into the gap. I'm just trying to keep folks from jumping on the neo-realist bandwagon too quickly. It deserves attention -- not blind obedience (not that I think Matt is doing that, but I just wanted to give his post a little bit of historical perspective).

Kagan and Johnsen to DC

Elena Kagan, one of the hottest young stars in the legal profession, will be leaving her position as Dean of Harvard Law School in order to become Barack Obama's Solicitor General, where she will be the first permanent female appointee to that position. Congratulations! Joining her in DC will be Dawn Johnsen as head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen was a part of the Clinton administration, and also was the former legal director for NARAL. She currently teaches at the University of Indiana-Bloomington Law School.

Congratulations to both!

The Best Posts of 2008

I really should toss a link to Jon Swift's "Best Blog Posts of 2008 (Chosen By The Bloggers Themselves)", which is a really cool idea which he's decided to now make an annual occurrence. Head on over, and see what looks cool.