Friday, February 27, 2009


For a long time, there has been a steady Israeli majority in favor of establishing a Palestinian state. Unfortunately, right now that consensus is absent. Mort Klein may be obnoxious, but I have no reason to doubt his polling data: Apparently, the current split is 51% opposed to establishing a Palestinian state, 32% in favor. This confirms fears I had when contemplating Nusseibeh and Ayalon's proposal to put "The People's Voice" plan directly on the Israeli ballot -- right now, I'm skeptical that it would pass. The Israeli people believe that agreements and withdrawals are worth nothing -- they are merely a stepping stone for the eventual destruction of the state.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: One of the most damaging events to occur over the past decade or so is the growing perception amongst Israelis that occupation is completely irrelevant to the persistence of the Israeli/Arab conflict. As far as Israelis are concerned, withdrawing from Lebanon and Gaza got Israel nothing except renewed warfare with Lebanon and Gaza. The lesson they learned is that the existence of Israel itself is what is now provoking the violence. There is no longer any faith amongst Israelis that peace is attainable through negotiation. Yisrael Beiteinu's huge gains in the last election is proof of this fact: their supporters constantly echoed the refrain that Israel could only "negotiate" with Arabs in terms "they understand" -- namely, force and violence.

So, Israel seemingly has resigned itself to a perpetual state of mid-grade warfare, and sees no route forward other than to dig in deeper and hide behind ever-higher walls and ever-bigger tanks. It may provide temporary security, but it will never realize peace or justice, and likely will eventually result in the decimation of the Israeli state as a whole.

Those of us working for peace cannot use this as an excuse to give up. But it is disheartening, and -- more than the Gaza campaign, more than the resurgent popularity of Hamas -- it shows how rapidly things are moving in the wrong direction.

Poster Session

Ha'aretz reports on a story that Paul Horwitz had previously picked up on: namely, the decision by two Canadian universities (Carleton University -- no relation to my alma mater -- and University of Ottawa) to ban certain allegedly inflammatory posters advertising "Israel Apartheid Week". The posters showcase an Israeli helicopter firing a missile at a Palestinian child; a statement from Ottawa University said that "All posters approved must promote a campus culture where all members of the community can play a part in a declaration of human rights." The Ha'aretz article indicates that part of the university's misgivings stem from the evocation the poster makes of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews as child-killers.

Canada does not have as robust a free speech ethos as the United States, though in general I prefer our system to theirs. As Prof. Horwitz notes, furthermore, the students are not protesting the human rights standards which lead to the university's ban -- merely their application to this case.

In the comments of Prof. Horwitz's post, I noted that the administrators may have been spooked by recent events at York University. The University of Ottawa had its own incident recently when their branch of PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) refused to work with Hillel to help fund a speaker from the African Jewish community coming to talk about sustainable development projects and interfaith schooling for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children. OPIRG said its decision was "because your organization (Hillel) and its relationship to apartheid Israel." In general, the anti-Israel community at Canadian universities has shown a disturbing tendency to attack Jews qua Jews, which of course amplifies the "cultural meaning" of their poster as making a statement about Jews, rather than just Israel.

I don't support banning these posters (particularly from within my American free speech ethos), but I understand why the administrators may have been nervous. Anti-Israel discourse at Canadian universities has been teetering on the precipice for quite some time. Inflammatory incitement is the last thing the academic community needs right now. I would rather the university meet the rhetoric of these students with more speech rather than an enforced silence -- the route the university appears to have taken, incidentally, with reference to the proposed academic boycott of Israel, condemning it as in violation of norms of academic freedom.

Rating State Mottos, Part IV

Part I: Alabama - Florida

Part II: Georgia - Maine

Part III: Maryland - New Jersey

Part V: South Dakota - Wyoming

New Mexico: Crescit eundo/It grows as it goes

Everyone who has talked to me about this project has informed me that New Mexico's motto is obviously a metaphor to the penis. This is unfortunate. Once again, I reiterate that just as states should be secure in their statehood (Idaho), states should also be secure in their manhood. New Mexico, admittedly, often is not considered to be part of the United States by less knowledgeable citizens, but that is no excuse for reckless overcompensation. C.

New York: Excelsior/Ever upward!

Whereas New Mexico has an obviously phallic bent, New York here is clearly referencing its huge ... buildings. Right. But it is still better than New Mexico, for two reasons: first, "Excelsior" sounds really cool, and second, when it comes from New York it sounds brash and boastful, not desperate. B+.

North Carolina: Esse quam videri/To be rather than to seem

I couldn't parse this at all until I placed a comma after "To be". Now it sort of makes sense, but it seems oddly existential for North Carolina. Some namby-pamby, liberal intellectual state like Maryland could get away with this (in fact, this would be fabulously aspirational for Delaware), but it rings odd here. B-.

North Dakota: Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable

Liberty and union? Great! Now and forever? Sure, why not. One and inseparable? Okay, dial it back. Love the enthusiasm, but it is overboard for a motto. C.

Ohio: With God, all things are possible

We had a nice break from the church/state violations, but Ohio comes roaring back into the fray with this beauty. I suppose having an omnipotent being on your side does drastically increase one's potential in any activity, but a good motto shouldn't be a tautology. D+.

Oklahoma: Labor omnia vincit/Labor conquers all things

Oklahoma is a right to work state, so I can only assume this motto is sarcastic. I do not approve. D+.

Oregon: Alis volat propriis/She flies with her own wings

This would make a nice slogan for an airline, but I'm not sure how it plays as a state motto. I guess it does signal hardiness and independence, which are decent enough values. And aesthetically, it's not bad. It just feels so ... corporate. B.

Pennsylvania: Virtue, Liberty, and Independence

Unlike, say, New Jersey, I feel like Pennsylvania could step out a little bit and adopt a motto that was more specific to its characteristics as a state. I'm sure many Pennsylvanians are full of virtue, but guess what? So are folks from every other state! But mottoes like this are the slogan equivalent of the tricolor flag: they wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't that everyone else was doing them too. Pennsylvania, as one of the 13 colonies, gets at least a little pass here though. B-.

Puerto Rico: Joannes Est Nomem Ejus/John is his name

Umm... what? Who is John? I would assume "Rico" would be his name, given that this is "Puerto Rico", but what do I know? I'm just a landlubbing Marylander. With a vote in Congress. C-.

Rhode Island: Hope

Yes we can! Yes we can! Hope happened to Rhode Island, and it can happen to the rest of the nation too! A-.

South Carolina: Dum spiro spero/While I breathe, I hope AND
Animis opibusque parati/Ready in soul and resource

South Carolina is another two motto state, and neither of them are that good, for much the same reason: Both take a good idea and overdraw it. "While I breathe, I hope" pales in comparison to Rhode Island's simplicity. "Ready in soul" might be nice (if a bit Aretha Franklin-esque), but adding "and resource" really makes mundane what would otherwise be a quite lofty sentiment. C+.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wailing Wall

While I may be too timid to put The People's Voice directly to the people, it does stand a chance of finally making this joke (yeah, yeah, it's Marty Peretz) obsolete:
A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.

'Pardon me, sir, I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. What's your name?'

'Morris Fishbein,' he replied.

'Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?'

'For about 60 years.'

'60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?'

'I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.'

'How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?'

'Like I'm talking to a fuckin' wall.'

Heh. Heh. *Sigh*

Should We Hear the People's Voice?

How's this sound for a plan?
1. Two states for two peoples: Both sides will declare that Palestine is the only state of the Palestinian people and Israel is the only state of the Jewish people.
2. Borders: Permanent borders between the two states will be agreed upon on the basis of the June 4, 1967 lines, UN resolutions, and the Arab peace initiative (known as the Saudi initiative).

· Border modifications will be based on an equitable and agreed-upon territorial exchange (1:1) in accordance with the vital needs of both sides, including security, territorial contiguity, and demographic considerations.

· The Palestinian State will have a connection between its two geographic areas, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

· After establishment of the agreed borders, no settlers will remain in the Palestinian State.

3. Jerusalem: Jerusalem will be an open city, the capital of two states. Freedom of religion and full access to holy sites will be guaranteed to all.

· Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem will come under Palestinian sovereignty, Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty.

· Neither side will exercise sovereignty over the holy places. The State of Palestine will be designated Guardian of al-Haram al-Sharif for the benefit of Muslims. Israel will be the Guardian of the Western Wall for the benefit of the Jewish people. The status quo on Christian holy site will be maintained. No excavation will take place in or underneath the holy sites without mutual consent.

4. Right of return: Recognizing the suffering and the plight of the Palestinian refugees, the international community, Israel, and the Palestinian State will initiate and contribute to an international fund to compensate them.

· Palestinian refugees will return only to the State of Palestine; Jews will return only to the State of Israel.

· The international community will offer to compensate toward bettering the lot of those refugees willing to remain in their present country of residence, or who wish to immigrate to third-party countries.

5. The Palestinian State will be demilitarized and the international community will guarantee its security and independence.

6. End of conflict: Upon the full implementation of these principles, all claims on both sides and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end.

The preceding is "The People's Voice" peace plan, forwarded by former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, and former PLO cabinet minister Sari Nusseibeh. Very similar to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (except that it has a far clearer, and far better, stance on the issue of Palestinian refugees), it has a lot to recommend it. There are things one can quibble with (I do not think Palestine should necessarily be demilitarized, I'm concerned with how Palestine can be geographically contiguous without slicing Israel in half, and I wish there was some mention of Jewish refugees from Arab nations), but if it were up to me, I'd gladly vote for it. Indeed, if I was given the chance to vote for it, I would consider it one of the most important votes I would ever cast. It represents the contours of what I hope and pray will be the eventual end of this war.

But, of course, the politics of the moment make such a plan infeasible, right? Neither the Palestinian Authority, torn between its Hamas and Fatah wings, nor the newly elected Likud-led government of Israel, would be likely to come out and support this plan, right?

Right. Which is why Mr. Nusseibeh advocates going beyond them and straight to the people (this is from Jonathan Zasloff).
George Mitchell, Nusseibeh suggested, should take an American peace plan (and he made it clear that it should be the People's Voice framework) to both Netanyahu and Abbas.

He should then publicly challenge Netanyahu to place this plan on the Israeli ballot as a referendum. Netanyahu would not have to endorse the plan, but rather allow the voters to decide whether they would accept it as long as the other side does.

On the Palestinian side, he should publicly challenge Abbas to call for new elections (due in the PA thus year in any event) and run on that platform for his presidential campaign -- accepting the plan as long as the Israeli electorate does.

Now that is daring. Perhaps a bit too daring, as Matt Yglesias argues. Zasloff argues that the incentives are right: neither side wants to be the one blamed for voting against peace. I'm not sure: when you're talking about a referendum, you start running into some serious collective action problems which dissipate the power such incentives might normally hold. Referendums are generally pretty fickle under the best of circumstances: better initiatives than this have foundered under the right combination of financing and fear-mongering, and there is plenty in this plan which could be twisted to exploit the fears of Israeli and Palestinian voters who might otherwise be inclined to support it. Both populations are pretty radicalized at the moment. Had this proposal been put out in 2000, I'd be confident it would pass. Today, I am not sure.

It would be a big gamble, to be sure. What happens if it doesn't pass? Worse, what happens if it is rejected by one side and not the other? Do we throw up our hands and say, "screw it -- fight it out already"? Of course not -- you can never, ever stop fighting for peace, no matter how distant it seems. But it is fair to say that if either side rejected this plan, they would lose nearly all of whatever moral credibility they have to this point obtained, and the peace process might be hobbled for generations. It's putting a lot of eggs in one basket.

Conveying the Jews a Message in South Africa

A few weeks after South African minister Fatima Hajaig set off a firestorm by saying much of the world is under the heel of "Jewish money", it is becoming more and more apparent that this is not a one-off. COSATU, a major South African union deeply tied to the ruling ANC, recently lead a march to protest Israeli government policies. Not necessarily bad in of itself. Where did they march? On the Israeli embassy? Nope. They decided the best place for their march was a Jewish community center. Bongani Masuku, International Relations Secretary for COSATU, phrased the goal this way:
We want to convey a message to the Jews in SA that our 1.9-million workers who are affiliated to COSATU are fully behind the people of Palestine… Any business owned by Israel supporters will be a target of workers in South Africa.

Well, if you want to "convey a message to the Jews" then targeting a Jewish community center is the way to do it. Of course, it does make it more difficult to take seriously the statement of the Palestine Solidarity Committee's Salim Vallie (which helped coordinate the march), "We are not going to support the canard that says if you are opposed to the policies of Israel you are anti-Semitic, this does not intimidate us." As Howard Jacobson put it in another context "No, you don't have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are."

Mr. Masuku then got into an email correspondence with the head of South Africa's It's Almost Supernatural blog, which is dedicated to identifying and exposing anti-Semitism in South Africa, after leaving this comment:
Hi guys,

Bongani says hi to you all as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and zionists who belong to the era of their Friend Hitler!

We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our broathers (sic) and sisters in Palestine. We must target them, expose them and doo allthat (sic) is needed to subject them to pereptual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others and stop their savage attacks on human dignity. Every Palestinian who suffers is a direct attck (sic) on all of us!

In the email exchange, he expressed his view "that Jews are arrogant, not from being told by any Palestinian, but from what I saw myself," and proclaimed that "If the offices of the Zionist Federation and that loud-mouthed Rabbi and his SABJD [South African Board of Jewish Deputies] were in town we would have marched there." More distressingly, he made and reiterated a call for all Jews who did not actively disavow Israel to leave the country -- to wit, "all the people who deny that occupation is wrong must be encouraged to leave South Africa before they infect our society with much more racism" and "none of those who tolerate Israeli apartheid and racism should ever imagine it [South Africa] to be their home." Mr. Masuku made it very clear that full-throated condemnation was what was required -- not "silently consenting or grumbling under tables." Ultimately, the only permissible Jews are those who "have proven to be reasonable and humane."

I think there are a lot of interesting (obviously quite scary) things latent here. The Jewish community in South Africa currently is comprised of roughly 70,000 individuals. COSATU, by contrast, represents nearly two million workers and is an integral part of the "tripartite alliance" that governs the state. The power differential here is off the charts, which of course amplifies the hatred and anti-Semitism latent in Mr. Masuku's remarks. The organization which he is a top-level member of has the influence to make good on his threats, and I hate to think of how Mr. Masuku wishes to "encourage" Zionist Jews to leave. Indeed, it seems that he does not even recognize them as true South Africans to begin with -- posting on a South African blog and corresponding with a South African writer, he attacks "people [who] come all the way from wherever they come from to tell us where and how to march, they can do that in their own country, not here." (Emphasis added).

Meanwhile, if you read the totality of Mr. Masuku's remarks, it is difficult to imagine a starker example of "moral hatred", portraying Jews as "infected", "evil", "enemies of justice, agents of apartheid". It finally reached its apex with him lambasting those who "expect us to regard them [Israel-supporting Jews] as human beings." The moral hatred vacillates between targeting Jews as a whole, and Zionist Jews particularly -- at several points Mr. Masuku indicates that his baseline perspective of Jews has been modified, if ever so slightly, by anti-Zionist Jews: "All Jews who have risen above the fascist parochial paranoia of Israel have changed our views on Jews, as we thought all of them are inhumane...."

I've noted that moral hatred directed at a state can often leads to hatred of all those identified with the state, accurately or no. While conceptually, this can be resisted (by noting that, for example, not all Jews support Israel), what is a lot harder to check from a standpoint of moral hatred is hatred of those who support, at any level, the state rendered worthy of this sort of treatment. Once again, Mr. Masuku demonstrates this: though he crosses into attacks against Jews as a totality on several occasions, at other points he professes respect for those Jews who reject Israel. He does not, however, countenance that Zionist Jews can be South African, or even human, and ultimately advocates their expulsion (by force?).

It is clear that Mr. Masuku considers himself a noble hero fighting for justice against the forces of evil. It is equally clear that Mr. Masuku has come to that conclusion due to the persistent chants of putative "progressives" counseling just that belief. Ben Cohen wrote in response to all this that "Masuku has allowed us to hear how the mob interprets what Paul Berman correctly identifies as the lofty, universalist pretensions of antisemitism." At some point, people need to take responsibility. People need to pause and ask themselves: "Why am I being interpreted this way? What are the effects of what I am saying?"

Finally, this also, I think, reveals the real mechanics of Mr. Vallie's premature rebuttal that his march with COSATU was not anti-Semitic. Rather than creating space for legitimate moral criticism of Israel against a powerful "Israel lobby" that stifles all discourse, here the effect of Mr. Vallie's words was to disarm the victims of hate and bigotry by preemptively dismissing the idea that they could have any grounds for protest. I don't expect Mr. Vallie to be "intimidated" by the claim of anti-Semitism: when your side is part of the ruling government, and your targets are an embattled minority, intimidation is the last thing you have to worry about (except, of course, when one is talking about Jews, who can snap a finger to bring down the full weight of the International Zionist Cabal down upon the heads of the righteous). What I would hope -- out of any decent, progressive-minded individual -- that one would be disheartened or at least surprised by the claim of marginalization. The latter would show it wasn't intentional, at least, and the former would indicate that one is willing to enter dialogue: that, whatever your politics or disagreements are, you consider it a bad thing when a minority group considers you to be fundamentally hostile to their security as human beings.

Mr. Vallie, though, is neither surprised nor disheartened. He just doesn't care. The genuine fear and anger he is cultivating amongst the Jews is a feature, not a bug. Not only were the Jews told they were not welcome in their own country, but they were also informed that the exclusionary rhetoric was immune from interrogation. Once again, anti-Zionists and particularly non-Jewish anti-Zionists are far too quick to dismiss the possibility of anti-Semitism in their ranks and behavior. The effect is to force Jews into a subordinate position wherein the only proper response they can make when they feel marginalized or scared is to be silent or flee, and it is nearly impossible to imagine Mr. Vallie intended any other outcome (Mr. Masuku, of course, expressly identifies this as his intention).

To be frank, I'm not sure I would feel comfortable even traveling to South Africa under these circumstances. I don't wear my support for a free and democratic Israel (and Palestine, for that matter) on my sleeve, but the topic does come up, and it is more likely to come up when the prevailing norm is that any Jew must prove themselves to be "reasonable and humane" before they can expect to be "regarded as human beings". COSATU, through word and deed, is creating an environment where to be a Jew in South Africa makes one worthy of hatred. In this respect, Mr. Masuku was quite successful in conveying a message to me. I cannot, for my own safety, travel somewhere where my basic humanity is in doubt.

Rating State Mottos, Part III

The death march continues....

Part I: Alabama - Florida

Part II: Georgia - Maine

Part IV: New Mexico - South Carolina

Part V: South Dakota - Wyoming

Maryland: Fatti maschii, parole femine/Manly deeds, womanly words

As mentioned in the first post, it is Maryland's very strange motto that set me down on this path in the first place. Maryland's motto is the only one in America that is in Italian, which makes sense because Maryland has no historical connection to Italy whatsoever, and that probably hurt the Italians' feelings. "Manly deeds, womanly words" sounds like it would have been a stunning blow for feminism in 1622, which was when the Calvert family first established it as their own motto. Unfortunately, the Maryland government apparently translates it to "Strong deeds, gentle words", which is far, far lamer. A.

Massachusetts: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem/By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty

Massachusetts' motto sure is violent isn't it? Massachusetts seeks peace ... but through violence ... and only when it comes with liberty. That's a lot of outs to justify killing folks. C+.

Michigan: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice/If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you

Pedants might note that Michigan actually is two peninsulas (peninsulae?), but pedants forget that nobody actually lives in the UP (Michiganers, by contrast, are well aware of that fact and are quick to bring it up if they do happen to meet one of the 20 or so people who still reside in Sault Ste. Marie). Aesthetes might note that this motto would fail as the tourism slogan for a D-rated Native American historical site, and they'd be spot on. D-.

Minnesota: L'étoile du Nord/The star of the North

Prior to statehood, Minnesota's motto was "I long to see what is beyond." Unlike Kentucky, Minnesotans knew enough to replace an old, weak motto, with a new, cooler one; and unlike Connecticut, Minnesota also is secure enough to jettison a motto that advocates fleeing the state once it became a state. The star of the North is pretty and pithy, and goes well on license plates or when naming hockey teams that will betray their loyal fans and move to Dallas. A-.

Mississippi: Virtute et armis/By valor and arms

A law school friend of mine, born in Texas, educated at the University of Alabama, told me that if she had a motto, it'd be "by force and arms". So I told her about Mississippi's motto, and she was appalled, because she hates Mississippi. Not really bothering to distinguish the various elements of Dixie myself, I think this motto is appropriate, conjuring to mind that distinctive mix of traditional manhood and flaming militarism that so perfectly captures the Old South. A-.

Missouri: Salus populi suprema lex esto/Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law

Missouri could use an editor. I feel like these sentiments could be expressed much more sharply (though again, perhaps it works better in Latin). In any event, utilitarians will rejoice that they are the official guidepost of Missouri law. Now let the gladiator combat begin! C+.

Montana: Oro y plata/Gold and silver

This isn't a motto, it's an economic balance sheet, and that's a bad template for a motto. Oregon would be "trout and salmon", Texas would be "guns and ammo", and California would be "breasts and movies". Mississippi would draw a blank. C.

Nebraska: Equality before the law

Has Nebraska passed a gay marriage law? No? New motto for Nebraska then. C.

Nevada: All for our country

86% of Nevada's land is owned by the federal government. It's rare to find a motto that is so clearly appropriate. Still, I maintain that "all for our country" works better when it's not purely a descriptive claim. B.

New Hampshire: Live Free or Die

Now here's a motto! This is one of the most famous statements in American history. New Hampshire residents are rough, tough heirs to America's revolutionary spirit. The language itself is short and expressive, and flows easily off the tongue. A+.

New Jersey: Liberty and prosperity

The Delaware school of motto formation works equally as well in New Jersey, which, like Delaware, also must tread lightly when deciding how to symbolize its state. Whereas Delaware is simply boring and forgettable, New Jersey is quite well known to the rest of the union -- but for all the wrong reasons. Liberty and prosperity are nice enough, and more importantly vague enough, concepts to pass muster. C+.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DC on the Cusp of Representation?

A bill which would give DC a voting representative in Congress has passed the Senate, clearing a major hurdle. Since DC will invariably elect a Democrat, the bill also expands the House to accommodate another Representative from Utah (which came just short of receiving one in the last census), which will very likely be Republican. The House version of the bill actually goes further in massaging partisan concerns: it makes the new Utah district at-large, to prevent the state legislature from using the opportunity to redistrict Rep. Jim Matheson (D) out of his seat.

Of course, the next step is a constitutional challenge, and so DC could still be left with nothing. But it is a step in the right direction. DC's colonial status may soon be finally crumbling.

UPDATE: Ryan Avent and Matt Yglesias rightly point out that the real end-goal of all this should be DC statehood, and anything less than that (with the possible exception of retrocession to Maryland -- which probably would be more difficult than statehood anyway) is ultimately intolerable.

UPDATE #2: Two steps forward, one step back: Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) wants to attach a rider to the bill which would overturn many of DC's gun regulations, which he alleges are unconstitutional in the wake of Heller. Maybe that's true, maybe that isn't, but either way, it isn't Congress' problem. Congress should let DC determine its own laws. If they're unconstitutional, the residents can sue in federal court, and they'll be struck down.

Rating State Mottoes, Part II

Continuing from yesterday ....

Part I: Alabama - Florida

Part III: Maryland - New Jersey

Part IV: New Mexico - South Carolina

Part V: South Dakota - Wyoming

Georgia: Wisdom, justice, and moderation

I feel like the laundry list of positive ideals is a pretty safe choice for a motto, but it's also pretty boring. I guess compared to a lot of southern states Georgia is relatively wise, relatively just, and relatively moderate. Or they were, until they elected Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R). B-.

Hawaii: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono/The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness

In English it's a mouthful, but maybe it rings better in Hawaiian. But the sentiment is nice -- it's like some of the random calls to the divine many states have, only without the deity. You'd think think that Hawaii would hang its hat on its fabulous weather or beaches. There's something heartwarming that they instead focus on justice. B+.

Idaho: Esto perpetua/Let it be perpetual

Is it just me, or does this come off as a little desperate? I'm actually amazed that as many people live in Idaho as they do, and I can understand that when Idaho first came about, it may have been a bit more of an open question about whether it could make it as a state or whether it would become East Washington County. But hey: you made it! Congratulations! Now develop some self-esteem. D+.

Illinois: State sovereignty, national union

Illinois tries to vacillate its way through the civil war, and failed dramatically. Nobody who knows anything about "the Land of Lincoln" has any doubts where it falls on the state sovereignty/national union divide. So not only is this motto hopelessly outdated, it also was a lie from day one. Boo. C-.

Indiana: The Crossroads of America

There are a lot of benefits to being positioned at a crossroads. You get a lot of commercial traffic, which boosts the economy. You'll be better known to the rest of the nation than might otherwise be warranted. You might even get some tourism. Still, I feel like it is a rather hollow boast to say "we're where people stop while trying to get somewhere else!" C.

Iowa: Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain

TMI! Mottoes should be short and sweet. This is long and ungainly. I don't particularly associate Iowa with vigorous protection of human rights -- unless it's their right to the first caucus, which they will defend with the ferocity of a thousand minutemen. C.

Kansas: Ad astra per aspera/To the stars through adversity

Meaningless, but pretty. An improvement on Kansas, which is meaningless, and boring. But it's aspirational, so that's okay. With a lot of sweat and labor, maybe Kansas, too, can share in the American dream of "terrain". B+.

Kentucky: United we stand, divided we fall AND Deo gratiam habeamus/Let us be grateful to God

Kentucky, which had a pretty cliched motto to begin with, decided to supplement (but not replace) it with one that is even worse. Together, they manage to exemplify two wholly different ways of writing a really stupid motto. D.

Louisiana: Union, justice, and confidence

Let this much be said for Louisiana: It's never suffered from a lack of confidence. Unity? Sure. Justice? You bet. But confidence? Never. From breast-baring at Mardi Gras to cheerfully corrupt politicians, Louisianans are bold, brash, and secure. A-.

Maine: Dirigo/I lead

Not really, no. One word mottoes do benefit from being in Latin, but they still should bear some reasonable relation to the state they describe. Who exactly does Maine lead? Vermont? Nova Scotia? C+.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama Speech Liveblog

I'll be live-blogging it here. All times central.


9:08 PM: And we're out. Open thread if you want to give your reactions and thoughts.

9:07 PM: "Every American here loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate." A starker contrast from Bush era rhetoric could not be drawn.

9:04 PM: I'm zoning out during story time.

9:01 PM: No torture, no Guantanamo. After 7 years of profound moral evil taken under America's name, and perpetually swept under the rug, the ability to restore the fundamental justness of American behavior may be the most transcendentally important test of the Obama administration.

8:59 PM: Raising pay and increased benefits for veterans. Long, long overdue.

8:58 PM: It is amusing to watch Republicans applaud today what they were calling treason in October, though.

8:57 PM: Did the GOP really stand when Obama promised to publicly account for the cost of the Iraq War? Good on them, if they did.

8:52 PM: That was the shortest consensus on record.

8:51 PM: Obama loves to hit that theme of parental responsibility for education. It's such an easy target for a Democrat -- and it has the added benefit of being an age-old theme in the Black community.

8:50 PM: Dropping out high school is "not just quitting on yourself; it's quitting on your country." A bit hyperbolic, I think, especially when you consider why many people drop out of high school. Is there going to be support for struggling families sufficient so that their older teens don't have to work? Much of the stress around rising college tuition focuses on the middle class, and that's fine, but when you're talking about college dropouts I don't think the issue is going to be resolved by better financial aid programs.

8:48 PM: I'm surprised charter schools didn't get more applause.

8:43 PM: Cure for cancer and they don't cut away to Ginsburg? That was a gimme.

8:41 PM: Cap and trade? Daring to come out with that now. I'm skeptical it will go anywhere, but putting on the agenda is a big step forward on its own.

8:40 PM: Power lines! Yglesias will be thrilled. Infrastructure isn't sexy (and when it is in the form of highways, it's usually pork), but by and large it's important.

8:39 PM: Ah, it's good to have a rival. If nothing else, China on the horizon may motivate America to raise its game.

8:34 PM: On the other hand, that was an impressive bit of tempering to try and tamp down at the rage at the banks and Wall Street, which is teetering close to stifling recovery aid rather than enabling it. "It's not about helping banks; it's about helping people." Good moment.

8:31 PM: I remain a bit unnerved at the populist streak going after the CEOs, but I can't deny that it's wildly popular.

8:30 PM: One of Obama's true gifts as an orator isn't in the soaring rhetoric, it's in the laundry list of policies. He is simply stellar at detailing his proposals in a way that is simultaneously substantive and intelligible.

8:26 PM: Obama just is a more casual person than George W. Bush, and it shows. Few Presidents would dare, in situations like this, to say something like "nobody messes with Joe".

8:21 PM: I actually really like that Obama is laying the fault of our current situation upon our prior irresponsibility. It's a good wake up message. And yes, it's clearly laying blame on the GOP, even though he says it's not. Nobody will be fooled -- but nobody is really going to disagree, either.

8:19 PM: Obama's opening riff makes it sound like were hit by a meteor. I'm not sure how that will play.

8:17 PM: Barack and Michelle = cutest first couple ever? Potentially.

8:14 PM: NBC estimates this speech will go for an hour. I'm not sure I have that attention span, even for Obama.

8:12 PM: I'm watching on NBC, for the record.

Diaz Goes Home

Fabulous news from USA Today: former welterweight boxer Oscar Diaz has been released from the hospital. In a nationally televised fight against Delvin Rodriguez last July, Diaz collapsed at the end of the 11th round and fell into a coma. He awoke in August, and has been hospitalized ever since. But apparently his condition has been steadily improving, and he is predicted to be able to walk and talk again.

Rating State Mottos

I was thinking of state mottoes, because Maryland's is so strange, and I got to wondering what other state's mottoes are? And are they any good? In the spirit of the Book of Ratings, I decided to evaluate them myself. Here's the first batch, all taken from this Wikipedia page.

Part II: Georgia - Maine

Part III: Maryland - New Jersey

Part IV: New Mexico - South Carolina

Part V: South Dakota - Wyoming

Alabama: Audemus jura nostra defendere/We dare defend our rights

This is a classic example of a great motto. It's pithy without being terse, and strong without being crazy. The alliteration works for it very well, and overall it comes off with a very nice cadence. Sure, I'd prefer if "rights" here wasn't a synonym for "segregation", but I have to leave politics out of it. A.

Alaska: North to the future

Eh. I understand you're working with some serious limitations when you're talking about Alaska. The motto does kind of crib off of Minnesota's though. Yes, Alaska's further north, but there's not really any future there. Though I suppose "Alaska: Northern wasteland" would be too depressing for a license plate. B-.

American Samoa: Samoa, Muamua Le Atua/Samoa, let God be first

And now we have the first of a long line of Godly shout-outs. Samoa's has the added advantage of making no sense. Let God be first in what? Going through doorways? Picking baseball teams? I think they just ran out of ways to praise God and had to get desperate. Though it still could teach a lesson to Florida. C.

Arizona: Ditat Deus/God enriches

I'm going to keep docking points for these utterly unoriginal religious mottoes. Whereas Samoa's motto is just incoherent, "God enriches" actually calls to mind the repellent theological selfishness of the Gospel of Wealth. God enriches, Satan impoverishes. I think I know the latest GOP welfare reform proposal. C.

Arkansas: Regnat populus/The people rule

This a motto that really benefits from being in Latin. "The people rule", in modern speech, would invariably be translated as "The people rule!" and would have to be spoken by some MTV surfer dude, and who wants that in a motto? Well, me, maybe, but not coming out of Arkansas. In Latin, though, it brings to mind a firm but sober commitment to the principles of democracy. A-.

California: Eureka/I have found it

"Eureka" actually is Greek, but has crossed-over into an English word that manages to be cute and out-moded at the same time. That's kind of the opposite of California, which is too trendy to be out-moded and too self-righteous to be cute. And given how dysfunctional its referendum system is, Arkansas' motto would take on a decidedly more sinister (if accurate) tone. Still, so much of California's psyche is based off the idea that it is America's promised land that it is difficult to imagine it adopting any other motto. And self awareness isn't really their strong suit anyway. B+

Colorado: Nil sine numine/Nothing without God's will

Yes, I'm reflexively annoyed at this as well. But a few things mitigate in Colorado's favor here. First, "Nothing without God's will" is both coherent and doesn't actively call to mind religious evil. And second, since I only pay attention to Colorado when it is snowing there, it is fair to say that the state would be worthless without God's will, as expressed through weather patterns. B.

Connecticut: Qui transtulit sustinet/He who transplanted sustains

Maybe this makes sense in Latin; in English, it is gibberish. The usage of the past tense is a good effort at not encouraging people to flee Connecticut for their lives, but I'm not convinced it's successful. C-.

Delaware: Liberty and Independence

Kind of blah, if you ask me, but then again, so is Delaware. It's a state that only exists between the high and low tide marks anyway, so what else will they advertise beside abstract virtues? Lack of sales tax? I'm a strong proponent of Maryland annexing Delaware and taking their beaches, so if I get my way this motto will soon become moot anyway. B-.

District of Columbia: Justitia Omnibus/Justice for All

The District of Columbia always likes to subtly remind the rest of the country that they are an oppressed and colonized member of the American polity. Which they should; it's disgraceful. This motto really suffers from the Latin though -- "omnibus" is the name attached to the legislative equivalent of a burrito, and really doesn't have the majestic gravitas that "Justice for All" commands. B.

Florida: In God We Trust

Oh please. D-.

Usain Bolt Can Stumble a Bit

Ezra Klein notes a peculiarity in how the first month of President Obama's administration is being perceived. Conservatives harp on nomination missteps and economic travails. Liberals think Obama has been too conciliatory to the right and the blue dogs. And yet:
We've just closed out the first month of Obama's presidency. During that period, Obama passed S-CHIP expansion, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a $787 billion stimulus package that was many bills in one (including such liberal priorities as comparative effectiveness research, transit funding, Health IT funding, broadband funding, etc), and is about to turn his attention to comprehensive health care reform.

These are big progressive wins. And meanwhile, the Democratic Party is winning the PR battle hardcore.

Abbas to Hamas

PA President Mahmoud Abbas says that Hamas must recognize Israel as a prerequisite to it gaining international legitimacy and creating a unified government with Fatah.
Abbas said he hopes the upcoming round of reconciliation talks would lead Hamas to accept deals with Israel agreed to by previous Palestinian administrations even if they are not in line with the group's own political platform.

"When governments come, they respect and honor the obligations of a previous government," he said, prior to beginning of new talks scheduled for Wednesday. "That's what we ask."

Past efforts have failed to form a unity government between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the more moderate Fatah movement led by Abbas, which controls the West Bank. Hamas, meanwhile, needs Fatah's international legitimacy to get foreign aid to rebuild Gaza, which was devastated in Israel's recent 22-day offensive.

Abbas said Tuesday that one reason previous unity governments failed was because key powers, including Israel and the United States, refused to accept a coalition that included Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.

"This [new unity] government must have the acceptance and recognition of all parties," said Abbas, appearing at a brief news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

I'm skeptical that Abbas can pull this off, but it was a bold move nonetheless. If Abbas does manage to get Hamas to accede to his demands, it will be absolutely essential that Israel reciprocate. Getting Hamas to recognize past agreements with Israel and accept the legitimacy of the state would be a huge step forward, and Abbas needs to be backed up for taking this step.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Settlements and a One State Solution

I'm already pretty firmly on the record that the continued expansion of the settlements poses a massive threat to the viability of the two-state solution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The longer the settlements stay up, many argue, the more entrenched they will become -- eventually, they will be so dug in that evacuating them will become impossible, and suddenly there is no two-state solution. At that point, the only alternatives will be ethnic cleansing, outright apartheid, or a binational, one-state solution.

This is bad enough for me, because the former two options are morally intolerable and the last I consider to be pretty awful as well. But I was doing some thinking, and it occurred to me that the settlements are near-equally threatening to a one-state solution as they are to a two. There are a few Palestinian advocates who are publicly nonchalant about the settlements precisely because they signify that "the egg is already scrambled" -- that is, Israel is inexorably on the path to one-state. But the reasons that the settlements would need to be evacuated won't go away in a one-state climate. It's not as if it will suddenly be okay for Jews to be living in Ariel or Hebron just because the territories have unified.

The problem is that (a) much of the settlement territory was appropriated by outright theft of Palestinian land (as in, land to which property-owners hold real, legally enforceable deeds to) and (b) much of the settlement territory occupies the most choice, strategically important land in the West Bank (particularly with regards to water rights). In a one-state environment, there will be as much pressure from the Palestinians to remove the settlements as there were before. If the settlements aren't removed, the new government will have no legitimacy from a Palestinian perspective, and the armed factions will be extremely unlikely to accede to it.

However, all the factors that made getting rid of the settlements too perilous to make the two-state solution viable, will multiply ten-fold in a one-state environment. A large scale evacuation requires a strong state to be managed smoothly; a new binational state will undoubtedly be fragile. Settlers sometimes resist Israeli evacuation efforts; they'll be far more likely to resort to outright violence and guerrilla warfare if they perceive the evacuators as non-Jewish entirely. Commentators wonder if a full-scale Israeli evacuation of West Bank settlements would trigger a civil war; I guarantee you that such an effort by a binational government will yield one.

This, if anything, makes the settlement expansion an even scarier prospect. It's not just poison to a two-state solution, it's poison to a solution period. It is setting the stage for a conflict more violent, more intractable, and more dangerous to Jewish and Palestinian lives than anything Israel has experienced thus far. That is something I could do without.

"Part IV" Up

So, you may have noticed that, while posting the remainder of my series on anti-Semitism was the ruse by which I obtained a guest-spot on Alas, a Blog, I have cunningly avoided posted anything from the series itself. Actually, this was not intentional -- the Taking a Theory post was meant as an introduction -- but I got side-tracked. Pre-written posts are definitionally non-organic, which I dislike. They are also very stressful to post and keep an eye on.

But one part of the series I found to be very personally important, and I always knew would go up eventually. So now we have the pseudo-Part IV, "The Superseded Jew", up at Alas. Enjoy.

Heroes Apply Elsewhere

McDonald's, which must have laid off its entire PR department to screw up this badly, has denied a Worker's Comp claim stemming from an employee who took a bullet rescuing a patron who was being beaten inside the restaurant. The employee has needed several surgeries and has racked up $300,000 in medical damages.

This blog claims that a good Samaritan act while on the job makes one eligible for worker's compensation insofar as the act provides "good will" to the employer. I'm not sure how much goodwill McDonald's is reaping insofar as it is hanging this kid out to dry, but anything that takes them to the cleaners is okay with me at this point.


I Think You're Insulting Me Wrong

With the ADL charting a disturbing persistence in anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe, and a flurry of anti-Semitic activities racing through the continent over the past month, the head of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, says that he believes that the actions have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza, but instead represent economic scapegoating of Jews due to the current financial crisis.

Kantor is obviously more familiar with the facts on the ground than I am. And to some extent, I think he is clearly right: for the most part, I think hatred shines through when people are scared, angry, hurt, aggrieved, or vulnerable. Even people who might harbor anti-Semitic or otherwise hateful attitudes are less likely to act on them when they are feeling happy, content, fulfilled, and secure. So in that sense, it strikes me as extremely likely that the economic crisis was a primary spark in setting off this anti-Semitic wave.

Still, some things leave me nervous (not that I'd be any less nervous knowing that I'm liable to be stabbed because I'm associated with the Jewish banking cabal than because I'm associated with the Zionist war machine), and unsure that the rhetoric surrounding Israel in the international system isn't also playing its part.

Primarily, we have to ask why the rhetoric of the wrongdoers themselves is tied to Israel, rather than to economics. There is something to be said about taking people on their own terms, after all. A British man was beaten by an assailant who said "they were doing it because of what had happened to the Palestinians in Gaza." What makes this statement "bizarre", in a way, is that there are no shortage of available anti-Semitic stereotypes far more directly tied to economic malfeasance than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. If the hate was reducible to economics, we would expect lightening to take the most direct route to the ground: "This is for destroying my job, Shylock!" would seem far more appropriate.

But yet, Gaza is the hook, and that raises the question of why the haters are deviating from the most direct trail. And the reason, I suspect, is that people are interpreting the state of the discourse around Israel as legitimating anti-Semitic violence in a way that is not being replicated across other potential "justifications" for targeting Jews. Surely, this sentiment is aided when the parties normally counted on to hold the line against such hateful activities respond with a yawning silence. Something is happening in which the people tempted by anti-Semitic violence to begin with are receiving the message that tagging it to Israel makes it okay and justifiable, whereas tagging it to Jewish banking circles is not. I strongly suspect that criticism of Israel that is consciously tied to retributive or utilitarian norms is significantly less likely to inadvertently send this legitimating signal.

But I'll concede that even many of the critics whose criticism is, I think, outside these parameters -- who are engaging in or at least fostering Kaiser's "moral hatred" -- do not intend this result. They intend to demonstrate that they do not believe the policies criticized are acceptable, or they intend to try and effectuate change to create a more just world, or they intend to show the victims of said policies that there are people on their side and that they do not stand alone. They do not intend for Jews to get beaten on the street. They are appalled (if sometimes very quietly appalled) by this sort of violence. One reason I think they would give is that it is clearly wrong to hold individual Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli state -- particularly given that we have no idea what their individual politics are vis-a-vis Israel (let alone whether they are in any position to influence the state). However, it is worth noting that a position which engages in "moral hatred" of Israel will have a lot of trouble checking the impulse to also engage in "moral hatred" of those who support Israel in any way, shape, or form -- i.e., those who voluntarily identify and associate with an entity deemed worthy of being hated. And surely we all agree that violence against Jews who identify as Zionist is just as bad as violence against those who do not.

Intent is not all that matters when engaging in a speech act; we speak knowing that our words are subject to interpretation, and bear at least some responsibility for the likely and foreseeable interpretations thereof. "I didn't intend for that to happen" is not a good enough excuse in cartooning or politics, when the effects being protested are known and predictable. The fact that vitriolic criticism of Israel is, observably, being used as a justificatory schema for anti-Semitic hate is warrant enough to impose obligations on the speaker who wishes to launch such criticism. At the very least, we have to ask ourselves: What qualities of our current pattern of discourse are leading others to interpret what we're saying as legitimating violence? Again, my strong suspicion is that the answer to that question is the quality of "moral hatred". Write folks out of society, and society will take you up on it.

In law (criminal and civil), to be "reckless" is to go through with an action where you have knowledge that X is a likely consequence, even though X is not your intended consequence (where X is some sort of legally cognizable wrong). Under this definition (taken out of the realm of criminal or tort law), criticism of Israel that crosses into the realm of moral hatred can justly be labeled as reckless. We have good reason to believe that moral hatred of Israel legitimates violence at least against Jews who identify with Israel. Even if that is not the intent of the speech, by following through with it while indifferent to its likely consequences, we are demonstrating reckless disregard for the bodies put at risk. That's intolerable.

I believe in society's ability to criticize and to punish wrongdoing without sending the signal that the wrongdoer (and his, her, or its allies and associates) are extra-social beings worthy of hate. I believe that at least in part because I think criticism and other forms of punishment are critical tools in our moral toolbox. It is important to signal that wrongful acts are wrong, and it is important to try and change behaviors and states of being to bring about a just world, and it is important for persons victimized by injustice to know that they do not stand alone. These things are essential moral obligations. But they exist in tandem with moral obligations to the wrongdoer, they do not supersede them. I believe that the obligations can co-exist with each other. Indeed, I believe that respecting the rights of the alleged wrongdoer makes it far more likely that the preceding three obligations will stick.


"If you love the good, you must hate evil; or else you are sentimental. But if you hate evil more than you love the good, you become a damn good hater! And the world has enough of that kind of activist." -- Rev. William Sloan Coffin

Gee, Thanks Guys

The Washington Post has an interesting article chronicling the journey of Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi "from captive to suicide bomber". Caught in Afghanistan and alleged to be a Taliban fighter, Ajmi was held in Guantanamo Bay for four years without trial before being released without explanation to his home country of Kuwait. From there, he traveled to Iraq and killed himself while detonating a truck bomb in an Iraqi army base in Mosul, along with 13 Iraqi soldiers.

But buried in the story there was this lovely tidbit detailing one of the ways the Guantanamo Bay staff tried to prevent the inmates' lawyers from effectively representing their clients:
In subsequent meetings, said Wilner, who is Jewish, one of the Kuwaiti detainees, Fouad Mahmoud al-Rabiah, told him that one of his interrogators urged him to be wary of his attorneys because of their faith. "How could you trust Jews? Throughout history, Jews have betrayed Muslims. Don't you think your lawyers, who are Jews, will betray you?" the interrogator said, according to Rabiah.

Oh how fabulous. There's nothing I like the US government doing more than encouraging folks to hate and mistrust Jews so as to help deprive other people of effective legal representation. What a charming little story in the history of American religious tolerance.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another Bit of Texas Mayham

The Faculty Lounge points me to a horrifying story involving Texas appellate court judge Sharon Keller. Basically, what happened was this: Michael Richards was on death row, about to be executed. But the day before his scheduled execution, the US Supreme Court accepted cert in Baze v. Rees, which threw into question whether lethal injection was "cruel and unusual punishment" under the 8th amendment. So Richards' attorneys spent all day crafting and filing an appeal -- and then their computer crashed.

The court was scheduled to close at 5 PM. So Richards attorneys went to Judge Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and asked if she would keep the court's clerk office open 20 minutes beyond closing time so they would have time to print and deliver their petition. Judge Keller refused to do so, even though she was not the judge assigned to Mr. Richards' case. Indeed, the judge who was assigned to the case was present in the court building, and would remain so along with other judges on the court who stayed well after 5 PM in anticipation of an appeal that never came (because it was not allowed to be filed). Judge Keller never consulted with any of the other judges.

Michael Richards was executed the next day.

After an ethics complaint against Judge Keller went nowhere, a Texas legislator has introduced impeachment proceedings against her. These likely will go nowhere either -- Judge Keller is a Republican, and so are the majority in the House and the Senate.

But her conduct was a gross abdication of judicial duty, one that displays a shocking indifference to justice and human life. She deserves to be punished -- even if that punishment can only come in the form of publicizing and memorializing her misdeeds.