Saturday, June 20, 2009

Justice for Slaves

I was running through my archives, and came across this post about three Cuban workers who were effectively sold into slavery by Cuba to Curacao Drydock Co.. The post then noted that a Florida court had agreed to hear the case against the corporation for its complicity with Cuban human rights violations. I decided to see if anything had happened, and I was gratified to learn that last October the district court announced a judgment for the plaintiffs in an amount totaling $80 million dollars. Licea v. Curacao Drydock Co., Inc., 584 F.Supp.2d 1355 (S.D.Fla. 2008). I don't think the case is freely available, but you can get a good summary from the Cuba Study Group.

We can disagree over what America's Cuba policy should be. But there must be no doubt about the vicious brutality of the Cuban regime, which includes (but is hardly limited to) constructing a slave economy in tandem with heartless multinational corporations. This verdict, in addition to providing justice for the enslaved workers, is a good start in illuminating these practices.

Wladimir Klitschko: Heavyweight Champion of the World

Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have a true heavyweight champion, with Wladimir Klitschko taking the Ring Belt with a 10th round TKO over Ruslan Chagaev. Klitschko improves to 53-3 (47 KOs), Chagaev suffers his first loss, dropping to 25-1-1 (17 KOs).

"You dominated the fight from the word 'go'" "Uhh...yeah. I did." Heh.

But he's not wrong. I watched the fight, and Klitschko simply dominated the fight from start to finish, mostly with his lethal left jab. It wasn't the most entertaining display, but over the past few years it has shown itself to be well-nigh unbeatable -- I can't remember the last time I've seen Klitschko ever seriously threatened inside the ring. And so it was tonight, facing probably the best heavyweight in the division outside the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir was in control post to post, including a second round knockdown. I don't know who in the division even poses a major challenge. A fight with David Haye or Cristobal Arreola would be entertaining, to be sure, but I can't imagine it wouldn't end by anything but Klitschko knockout.

So while it's good that we have a true champ in the division, it is equally true that the heavyweights are still not going to be providing the marquee fights in the sport of boxing. But that does nothing to dissipate Klitschko's accomplishments. He just might be the single most dominant man for his division in the sport today.


I first read about the Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) "ma'am" controversy over at Not a Potted Plant. Basically, a military officer called Sen. Boxer "ma'am", Boxer asked instead if he would call her Senator, and the officer agreed. And then apparently a huge swath of the intertubes went off on Sen. Boxer as an uppity bitch.

The supposed twist here is that "ma'am" in the military is a standard term of respect used when addressing a female superior officers. This is discussed a bit in the Shakesville comments, where it is noted that even within the military "Senator" is still the proper address to a female Senator, not ma'am (see here). And of course, civilians not part of the military don't necessarily interpret words in the military context -- which I presume is part of the reason why the military has that protocol in the first place.

Nobody was saying this officer was a bad guy. He said "ma'am", which given his background was perfectly polite; Boxer asked to be called "Senator" -- also entirely reasonable and within her rights; the officer agreed. That should be case closed.

Two Thirds of a Step Forward

The Palestinian Authority is launching a Hebrew-language version of its news service! Hurray! It's purpose? For its reader to "get to know his Palestinian rival, as the Palestinian knows his Israeli rival." A fair objective, but Tablet Magazine notes that "perhaps the word 'neighbor' would have been" more in line with the mission than "rival". Still, progress is progress.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Goldfarb: Bad for the Jews

Pretty much every anti-Semitic apologist nowadays will give you a song and dance about how they've dedicated their life to opposing "real" anti-Semitism, and it is that staunch opposition which motivates them to police so vigorously "false" cries of anti-Semitism. Alas, for many of these bold paladins, there is little indication they've ever seen anything that they'd label the real thing. So as for me: I can only hope my volumnious writing on the subject will insulate me from the charge when I call him out on making the ridiculous charge that Andrew Sullivan believes that the Jews control the media.

The context is this post by Sullivan regarded the current flap over the Washington Post's firing of prominent liberal journalist Dan Froomkin. The offensive bits are as follows:
Hiatt will publish op-eds peddling dishonest partial numbers to buttress Ahmadinejad, because that's what the neocons wanted.... Maybe the quality of [Froomkin's] free-lancing was showing up the hackneyed AIPAC boilerplate they publish every day on their op-ed page.

I don't like it when AIPAC gets used as a stand-in for a laundry list of conservative ailments that it may or may not have anything to do with (see the discussion in this thread). There are certainly plenty of neoconservatives affiliated with AIPAC, but I don't think that AIPAC as an institution is the driving the neoconservative movement.

But that being said, there is nothing in here that indicates Sullivan holding a belief that the "Jews control the media". He is arguing that Froomkin was fired because he made folks like Charles Krauthammer look bad, and Hiatt (who is the top dog at the Post, albeit a position he does not hold on behalf of the Jews) didn't like that because Hiatt sympathizes with Krauthammer and his ideological compatriots over those of Froomkin's. A totally legitimate point to make.

And since I keep trying to argue that anti-Semitism is not typically a case of trying to cheap shot political points, I'm a bit resentful towards Michael Goldfarb for making my job more difficult. I take solace in the fact that Michael Goldfarb is a complete moron who isn't taken seriously by anyone respectable of note (though, given the way that Jews are mistakenly assumed to be represented by the American right, he might be trotted out yet). More importantly, conservatives like Goldfarb, who (in my general observations) don't really have a sophisticated grasp of discrimination or prejudice and who tend to view those issues as fig-leaves for political power plays, are always going to wield these sorts of charges clumsily, because as far as they're concerned their core function isn't about remedying a system of disadvantage but rather the more provincial concern of winning the day's argument.

Turning One's Back

Perhaps the most personally loathsome Supreme Court Justice in our nation's history was James McReynolds. Appointed to the bench in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson, McReynolds was an arch-conservative, becoming one of the infamous "four horseman" who tried through hell and high water to stop FDR's New Deal. But there are plenty of conservative judges out there. What distinguished McReynolds was his flagrant, public, and unapologetic racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. McReynolds refused to speak to the Jewish Justices with whom he served, going so far as to cancel a scheduled photo session of the Court because he would be forced to sit next to Louis Brandeis, and signing a letter urging the President not to "afflict the Court with another Jew." He would often leave the bench if a female attorney rose before the court. And in one of his all time nadirs, he conspicuously swiveled his chair to turn his back on the brilliant Black lawyer, Charles Hamilton Houston, during oral arguments for Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. Unsurprisingly, Justice McReynolds dissented in that landmark case (one of the very first to strike down a school segregation policy), declaring that integration would "damnify both races".

I was reminded of McReynolds when I read that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is refusing to even meet with Sonia Sotomayor, saying his opposition was a "foregone conclusion". It is just the sort of disrespect that McReynolds displayed to Houston so many years ago -- the sort, in other words, that I had hoped we would have moved past by now.

Look -- I understand that to some extent these meetings are a charade -- the factors which will cause any given Senator to vote yea or nay on Judge Sotomayor's nomination are not ones likely to be affected by a one-on-one session. But there are still norms of collegiality and respect that one demonstrates to those persons you believe have a right to be treated with dignity, and this is one of them. Pierce Butler, after all, joined McReynolds in his Gaines dissent, indicating his racial views were none-too-progressive either, yet apparently he didn't not feel personally aggrieved by having to look Houston in the eye. Senator Inhofe has already distinguished himself amongst elected Republicans for making racialist charges against Judge Sotomayor. This, alas, is just par for the course.


The 800

I just hope none of these kids ever has an ill word for affirmative action.

Oh, THERE They Are!

Earlier, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out against those protesting suspected election fraud in Iran:
"The nation's huge river would not leave any opportunity for the expression of dirt and dust," said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a rather elliptical reference to the surging protests on the streets of Tehran.

For good measure he followed up with some more earthy language comparing claims of massive election fraud in last week's poll to the passions of supporters of a beaten football team after a match.

He then went on to accuse his opponents of "officially recognising thieves, homosexuals and scumbags" in exchange for their votes.

Homosexuals? But I thought there were none in Iran? As Peter Tatchell put it, looks like the cat is out of the bag now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Conversion of Charles Taylor

There is a running story that Charles Taylor, the brutal West African dictator, has converted to Judaism. It's almost certainly false -- not his claim, but the truth of it, as there is no evidence he has studied under a Rabbi, and he still claims to believe in the divinity of Christ.

But the Forward asks an interesting question (related, I think, to our discussion on what we want Judaism to be): what if he really did want to? Should we let him? And in the midst of answering, this fascinating anecdote of a former KKK leader converted to Judaism by the very Rabbi he threatened to bomb was revealed:
One person who knows firsthand about the spiritual transformation of people with evil pasts is Rabbi Michael Weisser. When he was working in Lincoln, Neb., a white supremacist named Larry Trapp began threatening and harassing him and his family. Trapp, state head of the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan, had a long history of terrorizing black, Asian and Jewish families in the area.

Weisser decided to confront Trapp. He called the KKK leader’s racist hot line and left messages, until one day, he finally got Trapp on the phone and managed to strike up a conversation. Eventually, Weisser and his wife met with Trapp and inspired him to renounce racism and antisemitism. Eventually, Trapp converted to Judaism at Weisser’s Reform synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun — the very synagogue that Trapp once had planned to bomb.

Anyone can change, and therefore, anyone can be a candidate for conversion, Weisser told the Forward — even someone as bad as Larry Trapp or Charles Taylor.

“There’s a spark of decency in everybody, no matter how bad they’ve been,” Weisser said. “The truth is, human nature is good, not bad.”

In Trapp’s case, Weisser said, the former KKK Grand Dragon truly repented for his many sins and expressed remorse, asked for forgiveness from those he’d wronged and tried to set things right. Trapp called and met with people he used to harass to apologize and beg their forgiveness, and he spoke publicly to high schools and other groups about how he had repudiated bigotry and hate.

When Trapp first mentioned converting to Judaism, Weisser said he was concerned that guilt was the motivation. But Trapp studied hard, reading about 50 serious books on Judaism, and showed a genuine desire to join the faith for positive reasons.

“If we believe what we say we believe [as Jews], how can you go against it?” Weisser asked. “I think when Larry died, he died a good Jew.”

Obviously, when dealing with the sort of supreme evil of a Charles Taylor, we test the extremes of our principles. But there is a large part of me that wants to believe that nearly anyone could be a viable convert to Judaism, so long as their conversion path incorporated sufficient atonement and restitution for their sins.

So Much Taboo, So Little Time To Break It

Jeffrey Goldberg collects years worth of pundits congratulating themselves over their daring breaches of the "taboo" over criticizing Israel. I wonder if they grasp just how much they sound like your cranky conservative uncle who takes so much pride in his bold anti-PCness ("you say one bad word about Negros -- I'm sorry, I mean Afro-Americans or whatever they're calling themselves these days -- and you're tarred a racist.").

It's Good To Be Free

Letter from Jourdan Anderson, an ex-slave, to his former master after the Civil War. Fabulous reading.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


My last three posts tagged "Barbara Mikulski" share one word in common: BAMF.

Make it four:
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) says that he's not sure who wrote the Affordable Health Choices Act but that if you put "Rube Goldberg, Karl Marx, and Ira Magaziner in a room," you'd have ended up with something pretty close. A classy, gracious line from the man who was nearly Obama's secretary of commerce.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) shoots back, "Our current system is a combination of Adam Smith, Darth Vader, and the Bodysnatchers. So I like our plan better!"


You've Got 'em on the Run Now!

The UK Palestinian Solidarity Campaign recently raised a kerfuffle over an Israeli tourism ad campaign that presented a map of Israel which included, without demarcation, Israel proper, the West Bank, and Gaza, saying they "wiped Palestine off the map". Okay, fair enough. Except, as TULIP noted, the PSC's own logo also portrays the territory as a united whole without demarcation -- seeking to "wipe Israel off the map".

Sounds like hypocrisy to me. But don't worry: Instead of panicking, the PSC decided to put TULIP on the defensive with this savvy gambit:
Responding to the accusation, PSC's trade union officer, Bernard Regan, said: "If TULIP can send me a map of Israel then I will comment."

Oh noes! How will TULIP get out of this bind?
A map that clearly showed the 1949 armistice line, which also labeled the West Bank and Gaza as Palestine, was sent to Regan, but he declined to comment further. However, Betty Hunter, PSC's general secretary, said that the PSC will continue to use a map of historic Palestine.

Curse those sneaky TULIPers with their ability to run a simple Google image search!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do They Have Irony in North Korea?

The North Korean government has explained why it is holding two American journalists: Because they were going to "slander" the nation's human rights record.
"At the trial, the accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts, prompted by a political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of North Korea, by faking moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it," the statement said.

Clearly, any critique they might have leveled at the regime would have been nothing but vicious, vicious lies. It's not like the nation imprisons people for reporting on human rights.


After a South Carolina Republican operative was caught tweeting that an escaped zoo gorilla was an ancestor of Michelle Obama, he attempted to defend himself by saying it was only a joke. To which Michelle Cottle wrote: duh. But why do you think that helps you? Noting it was a joke just means you made a racist joke. That's still a bad thing.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch is under fire after calling an undercover officer a "dirty Arab". The officer doesn't appear to be Arab, the remark was apparently a crack at his appearance. Aharonovitch's apology was at least a little less equivocal than his SC peer, but he still said it was "in a moment of jest". Well, sure, but that just means you jest in a racist manner.

Oh, and I'd be far more inclined to believe such statements "did not reflect your worldview" if you weren't a member of Yisrael Beiteinu.

Con Caracter

ESPN2's Friday Night Fights is now sponsored by Tecate beer, and so, unsurprisingly, they've been running Tecate commercials. But there are at least two things I find interesting about them. First is the fact that the commercials are all in Spanish -- no subtitles, no nothing. I keep waiting for Mark Krikorian to pitch a fit, but so far, no dice.

Second, though, and the subject of this post, is how the commercials handle the trope of masculinity. In general, I'm interested in efforts at reconstructing dominant social paradigms (masculinity, Whiteness, etc.) in ways that are compatible with egalitarian and equitable norms. And I think in many ways the Tecate ads step dramatically in that direction.

Like many beer commercials, the ad campaign here was specifically designed to appeal to a norm of manliness. Yet by and large, it doesn't indulge in the usual beer commercial stereotypes of what a "real man" is (crude, sloppy, disrespectful to women, etc.). Instead, it seeks to evoke tropes of self-respect and dignity for the many Mexican men who have come to America for a better life. Consider this example:

The first person is a sweltering farm worker laboring in the hot sun. The second is a big, tough, tattooed guy who lights up when he sees his mom. And the third is a soup chef who ignores the burn as he moves a pot of boiling liquid from point A to point B. So, as far as Tecate is considered, real men work hard, love their mom, and play through the pain. That's not the worst set of ideals I can imagine.

Is it true that the commercial renders Mexican women supporting characters? Yes. But I'm not 100% convinced I'm against targeted marketing so long as the marketing doesn't reinforce hierarchy or negative stereotypes. Promulgating a positive vision of masculinity requires, at some level, a focus on men and manliness. It's a trade I'm willing to make.

(Semi-inspired by this post by Daisy).

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Iranian Election

The current events in Iran are one of those events I'm simultaneously transfixed and rendered mute by. What is there to say? There is a lot of compelling evidence out there that the election was rigged. Whether or not reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi actually won, or the regime just panicked, is still an open question. It will likewise be interesting how the emerging fissures within Iran's ruling class will resolve themselves (or not).

Obviously, in any circumstances the brutal crackdown by Iran's paramilitary forces is inexcusable. And while American interests are certainly at stake here and we should keep a close eye on things, fundamentally this isn't about us. It isn't my place to demand that Iranian students willingly put themselves at risk so they can fulfill my own political desires. At this point, the important thing is to support them as they determine how to pursue their own (of course, direct American governmental support would probably be counterproductive in any event).


An ideological history of the Supreme Court. It does show how the Court has notably tilted to the right over the past twenty years (since the appointment of Clarence Thomas). There is simply no true blue liberal on the Court anymore -- the closest is John Paul Stevens, but he is dwarfed by the conservatism of, say, Antonin Scalia, and doesn't approach the hey-day ratings of a Marshall, Douglas, or Brennan.

On That Demilitarization Thing

Matt Yglesias' post gives me occasion to talk about one of the more interesting parts of Bibi Netanyahu's speech (the first in which he expresses willingness to recognize a Palestinian state): demilitarization.

I oppose requiring a Palestinian state to be demilitarized. The right to a military is a key part of what makes a state sovereign in the modern world -- refusing Palestine's right to have one is humiliating and likely to stoke resentment. And frankly, it is a stupid idea from the perspective of Israel's security: how else but through a military is Palestine supposed to interdict and suppress radical elements who may continue to battle Israel after independence is achieved? The call for a demilitarized state is one that seems to exhibit a rather naive faith in legal pronouncements; as if groups like Islamic Jihad and the PFLP will disarm simply out of deference to the agreement.

All that being said, the demilitarization call is not as radical as Yglesias makes it appear: it is part of the People's Voice plan that Yglesias himself endorsed a short while back.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Teaching Conservatively

Peter Berkowitz (via) has an editorial up on the WSJ calling for greater inclusion of conservative intellectuals in the syllabi of elite colleges and universities.
[M]ost students will hear next to nothing about the conservative tradition in American politics that stretches from John Adams to Theodore Roosevelt to William F. Buckley Jr. to Milton Friedman to Ronald Reagan. This tradition emphasizes moral and intellectual excellence, worries that democratic practices and egalitarian norms will threaten individual liberty, attends to the claims of religion and the role it can play in educating citizens for liberty, and provides both a vigorous defense of free-market capitalism and a powerful critique of capitalism's relentless overturning of established ways. It also recognized early that communism represented an implacable enemy of freedom. And for 30 years it has been animated by a fascinating quarrel between traditionalists, libertarians and neoconservatives.

While ignoring conservatism, the political theory subfield regularly offers specialized courses in liberal theory and democratic theory; African-American political thought and feminist political theory; the social theory of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school; and numerous versions of postmodern political theory.

I want to say at the outset that I am and have long been in favor of greater integration of conservatives in the academic sphere (I've publicly called for diversity affirmative action for conservatives in highly liberal academic environs, a move that Berkowitz actively disclaims support for). But I'm not 100% convinced the problem is as stark as Berkowitz makes it out to be.

First, we do need to observe that at least portions of the conservative movement, comprising some of its most prominent public writers, bitterly decry "liberal bias" in the academy, but show an utter blindness as to what sorts of conservatives are intellectually sophisticated enough to merit inclusion in a high-level college political theory course. The folks that Berkowitz mentions (Roosevelt, Buckley, Oakeshott) certainly qualify. But I recall a poster featuring such "distinguished" academic lights as Ann Coulter, Dineesh D'Souza, Robert Novak, and Michelle Malkin with the tag "no education is complete until it includes us." Well, no -- I can't think of a single political theory course, including one specifically focusing on modern conservative thought, that would not be drastically diminished by the inclusion of Ann Coulter. To the extent that this is what some conservatives (presumably not Berkowitz) mean when they complain about their exclusion from academic halls, my sympathy is rather dramatically curtailed. The definitive anti-intellectual turn (see also) trumpeted by at least some modern conservatives is a barrier to including conservatives in any form they'd recognize as valid.

Second, I'm not hugely convinced conservatives are absent from political theory courses, at least those which are broad enough in scope so as to include a broad swath of political schools (I would agree that it would be interesting to have a course that focuses specifically on conservative political thought). I only have my own Carleton experiences to go on, of course, but let's run through the authors I read in "Introduction to Political Philosophy": Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Burke, Mill, Marx. Plenty of names on their that conservatives would be happy about. My "Justice and Politics" class opened with a unit on libertarianism and was heavily invested in the Rawls/Nozick debate. My American Political Thought class, too, seemed to give the ideas that Berkowitz wanted aired their proper due. The thing here is that it's always possible to name another writer that wasn't on a syllabus -- an "inexcusable omission". But given that there is a limited amount of time, and allowing professors some leeway to teach courses from the angle that most interests them,* I'm not sure that conservative ideas are being short-changed.

Finally, I want to register a serious quibble I have with Berkowitz putting "conservative political thought" as a polar opposite of "African-American political thought". Obviously, as someone interested in Black Conservatism and Nationalism, I'm annoyed at this dichotomy. And it's not just my own idiosyncratic pursuit. I took a course in the Foundations of African-American Political Thought: The primary authors we read were Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Marcus Garvey. I think both Douglass and Washington could rest comfortably in Berkowitz's conservative tradition; I also think you can make an argument that Garvey's Nationalism lies closer to it than it does to a Du Boisian liberalism. Between the fact that Berkowitz names solely White authors and the fact that he expressly casts African-American Political Thought as being a course one does instead of a course that might draw attention to conservative ideas, one gets the disturbing intuition that Berkowitz "doesn't count" Black Conservatives as genuine figures in his movement. But if Berkowitz is going to short-change his own side, no wonder he feels so lonely!

* My APT professor's primary research interest is in early 20th century American pragmatism, hence the Du Bois/Lippmann/Dewey stress. But interestingly, despite all being "liberals", they are very attuned to "moral and intellectual excellence, worries that democratic practices and egalitarian norms will threaten individual liberty, and atten[tion] to the claims of religion and the role it can play in educating citizens for liberty" -- the former two being the subject of my final paper for that class.