Saturday, September 12, 2009

Clijsters Advances to the Finals

So the much anticipated Kim Clijsters/Serena Williams was delayed, and delayed, and delayed. And when it finally does go off, I'm of course out of the house and miss the whole thing. I told my dad before the match three things: (1) Clijsters would have her hands full with Serena even when she was totally in her prime, so it's difficult for me to imagine that she could handle her coming off a two year layoff (not to mention a kid!), (2) but I could have said the same thing about her facing Venus Williams, and look how that turned out, and (3) it has been so long since Serena Williams has faced a serious challenge that she might be unprepared to face a woman who can actually run with her.

Well, the match ended ugly, but Clijsters remarkable comeback run continues, with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over the 2-seeded Williams. I hate that is overshadowed by Ms. Williams' meltdown, because this truly is an amazing accomplishment by one of my favorite players and a truly talented woman. I can't imagine that she won't have the crowd behind her as she attempts to complete one of the most improbable runs through the U.S. Open in tournament history.

Prisoner's Dilemma

Supporters of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israel will hold a joint rally, Army Radio quoted a Kibbutz Movement official as saying on Saturday.

In addition the rally, which will be staged on both sides of the security fence around Gaza, Kibbutz Movement members will also transfer 100 gift parcels from Gaza to Palestinian prisoners in Israel to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, army Radio reported.

The parcels will be handed to prisoners who have not been visited by relatives or received such gifts since Shalit's abduction by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.

The move is a sharp reversal for the Kibbutz Movement, which has in the past tried to prevent families in Gaza from visiting their relatives jailed in Israel.

I say again: Interesting.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Anti-Abortion Protester Murdered

CNN is reporting that the shooter of an anti-abortion protester today was offended by the victim's anti-abortion material, posted across the street from a school.

This killer is a sick, twisted individual, and I look forward to him being brought before the full force of the law.

Is HRW Sock-Puppeting?

Come on now. In addition to being a grave breach in internet ethics, it would also be a tremendously stupid decision. Compare with and with. Same comment, different name, coming from a Human Rights Watch IP address.

For serious? As another commenter put it: "It's amateur hour at HRW on a number of levels."

Coleman Diagnosed With Bell's Palsy

The condition is generally temporary, so best wishes to a quick and full recovery to the former Minnesota Senator.

Narrative in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, Part II

A fabulous post by Marko Milanovic on the blog of the European Journal of International Law talks about many of the issues I raised in my own "Narrative in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict" post a few years back. I highly recommend it -- as well as the exchange between Milanovic and Darryl Li in the comments.

The Expressive Function of Flak 88

For someone who blogs as much as I do about issues of anti-Semitism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I think I've shown admirable restraint in the amount of ink I've spilled over the various Human Rights Watch controversies that have sprung up of late. I believe I've written but two posts: about Joe Stork's past, and about about how they pitched themselves to various potential Saudi funders.

The latest of these is reports that a former analyst, Marc Galasco, for HRW doubles as an avid collector of Nazi war memorabilia. He specializes in "flak badges", which he literally wrote the book on, and this provides the muse for his internet handle: "Flak 88" (the Nazis operated an 88mm flak cannon during the war). Garlasco has relatives who fought both for the Nazis and the Americans during the war.

There are, as always, a lot of things to be said here. The first is that I really do not believe there is any ill intent behind the "Flak 88" moniker. The objection is that 88 is symbolic for "Heil Hitler" in Nazi circles. Perhaps I'm too credulous though, but that a specialist in flak guns naming himself after a prominent flak cannon seems more likely than closet Nazi sympathies. At worst it is insensitive and stupid, but those are qualities which are alas not in short supply in the world.

And in general, that's my view on Garlasco. It's a bit weird to be a collector of Nazi medals, just in general. It's not necessarily a sign of Nazi sympathies, and it doesn't mean that Garlasco cannot be an objective human rights analyst. The "positive" information we get out of Garlasco's hobby is very little.

But -- and this is what I want to focus on -- there is an expressive dimension to what Garlasco and HRW did that I think is disturbing. When the story broke, HRW responded in what is rapidly becoming typical fashion: accusing critics of being motivated solely by the desire "to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government." You know Jews -- they're only after that one thing.

Human Rights Watch is an NGO that does incredibly important work. It is absolutely critical that it comport itself in a manner that does not even give the appearance of partiality. This is a high standard -- behaviors and practices that do not actually lead to biased reporting can nonetheless undermine a perception of impartiality. Maybe giving millions of dollars to your judges re-election campaign won't influence his vote, but the Supreme Court was absolutely right, in my view, to say recusal is required anyway. The appearance of a potential source of bias -- the nagging doubt, the voice in the back of the head -- is sufficient. Without a commitment to that sort of standard, the entire edifice upon which the judiciary's legitimacy is built upon -- trust -- comes crashing down. And same with an organization like HRW, that likewise casts itself as a neutral, dispassionate judge on the state of human rights worldwide.

HRW seems to be losing sight of this. In it's haste to deflect any and all criticisms as the workings of bitter pro-Israel partisans, it is forgetting that it's job isn't to flash how independent it is from the influence of pro-Israel supporters -- it's job is to be a trusted and neutral arbiter on human rights. And, hard as it might be, that means that no matter how loud NGO Monitor shouts, they cannot be seen as enemy nor friend. Groups who take it upon themselves to be adjudicators don't have the luxury of friends or enemies -- only an interest in fairness and justice. The minute they forget that is the minute the cease to be a useful resource in the struggle for human rights.

The problem is that, even if everything Whitson and Stork and Garlasco has ever done is entirely above board, the expressive message HRW is sending out is that it does not particularly care if Jewish persons and organizations find them biased, unfair, or hostile. The behavior may be facially innocent, but it is of the sort that leads to legitimate suspicion -- all the more so when it becomes a pattern -- and that in turn is at odds with HRW's mission to be a trusted and dispassionate resource for human rights advocates.

It does creep me out that somebody focusing on Israel's human rights record is a collector of Nazi paraphernalia. I'm sorry, but it does. It's not like descendents of slaves collecting tokens of racism, because Garlasco is not a descendant of Holocaust survivors, he's the descendant of a German soldier. He is George Allen in this story, not Bill Cosby. I am no more sympathetic to the claim that it is unfair that victims of oppression can collect mementos of their oppressors, whereas perpetrators (and their progeny) cannot than I am to complaints that White folks can't use the n-word.

I'm not sure that I'd go as far as this CST post, but it is very true that promoting a marketplace for Nazi mementos is an act that has consequences no matter how innocent the motives. It has real effects on the survivors, and it has real effects on the climate that Jews (and other victims of the Holocaust) have to live in. We say the same thing about Southern good ol' boys who love flying those Stars and Bars. Maybe it is about heritage for them. But there are other people to (not) think about. At best, Garlasco didn't consider that. And what message does that send?

This is not paranoia. These are fair concerns. And they are exacerbated when HRW's response is that as far as it's concerned, any and all Jewish complaints can be dismissed with a wave as pro-Israel posturing. Why on earth would we trust an institution which is transmitting these messages?

DC Set To Approve Gay Marriage

The Washington Post is reporting that the District of Columbia is set to officially legalize gay marriage. 10 of the 13 District council members have already signed on as co-sponsors, making passage nearly a given.

This is tremendously important. Obviously, and lest we skate by it, every jurisdiction that legalizes gay marriage is doing something tremendously important because it is taking a huge step towards the establishment of gays and lesbians as full and equal citizens. But there are particular reasons why DC particularly means a lot. First, it has activists in Maryland very excited -- they think that a DC passage could be the domino that allows my state to follow suit within a few years. Second, it forces the US Congress to take at least an indirect stand, as Congress, as part of its colonial oversight powers over the nation's capital, can overrule the will of the people and reject District laws if it wishes. I fully expect Democrats and Republicans to respect the will of the city's voters and it's sovereignty, and allow their decision to stand, however.

Finally, this is an important riposte to those who seek to portray the gay marriage debate as a wedge between the African-Americans and the Democratic Party. Making DC, a majority Black jurisdiction, amongst the first handful of locations to legalize gay marriage sends an important message to those peddling that narrative. And DC isn't just "anywhere" -- aside from being the nation's capital, it is one of the backbones of the Black political class. It is a weathervane -- not for the entire Black community, but for an important and influential segment of it. And that matters too -- and it's testament to the hard work of activists of all races and creeds who have done the hard work of telling their stories and making their pitch in all sorts of different American communities.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


From Matt Yglesias' speech notes:
Personally, I sort of liked Rep Joe Wilson’s idea of introducing British-style heckling to the halls of congress; totally disrespectful and out of step with American tradition, true, but their tradition is better. Unfortunately, Wilson was also lying about the point at issue and will thereby set back the cause of heckling by decades.

Eh, maybe. But frankly, one thing we've witnessed over the past few months is that Republicans can tank deliberative discourse just fine when it's not socially sanctioned, making me cringe at what things would be like if it were. Ezra Klein, however, is willing to cut a deal:
If we're going to adopt British norms of political behavior, we should also adopt British norms of governance. It's fine to have a polarized system when the majority can wield power. You just can't have it when you need a supermajority --- which is to say, a high level of consensus -- to get anything done. So if we're going to move toward British-style heckling, lets also move toward British-style majority rule.

Pick 'em.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mean Jean's a Birther?

That's got to be one of the least shocking revelations of all time, as Jean Schmidt (R-OH) spends most of her time fuming that Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) has stolen her title of "craziest Republican House member".

Bragging Rights

A conservative, "family values" state representative from California has resigned after being caught tape bragging to a colleague about the not one but two affairs he's currently carrying on.

What. A. Moron.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Zuma Speaks to South African Jews

There has been some valid concern recently about growing anti-Semitism in South Africa, often fostered and supported by persons with high government connections. But apparently things are moving in the right direction: President Jacob Zuma just delivered a speech before the nation's Jewish Board of Deputies (the broad umbrella group of Jewish organizations in South Africa) that's getting rave reviews.

It's always interesting to me what gets a positive reaction in these sorts of addresses to Jewish groups. You never hear of one of these meetings where the audience comes out and complains that the speaker wasn't supportive of settlements or Greater Israel. The big applause lines seem to simply be supporting a two-state solution, and calling for peaceful co-existence without terror or violence. That's all it takes to keep Jews happy.

Anyway, I'm glad the speech was such a hit, and I think President Zuma for delivering it. It may not always seem like it, but these things matter.

Or Else What?

CNN reports that the DRC has convicted two Norwegian men of espionage and murder, and is sentencing them to death. But that's not all! "The court also ordered the pair to pay $60 million in damages."

I feel like, having already handed down the death sentence, much of the judiciary's leverage has been lost. But that's just me.

The First "R"

Yeah, I'm cribbing. But the galpal sent me a link to a fascinating article about how babies and young children "see" race. It is a very good piece, particularly because it explodes a lot of myths. One is that diverse schools are some sort of panacea that will lead to cross-racial friendship and understanding. Apparently not: students in integrated schools still tend to self-segregate dramatically. Of course, they do that in segregated schools too -- the article claims that only 8% of White kids and 15% of Black kids have a "best friend" of the opposite race -- but integrated schools don't seem to help.

Second, the article takes aim at what I have elsewhere called colorphobia: the fear of race as a conceptual category. The article opens by noting the failure of a study which sought to measure the effect of multicultural and egalitarian messaging by parents to young children. The problem was that the parents resisted engaging in specific race-talk as required by the study parameters. Some dropped out entirely, others just didn't say anything beyond extremely vague bromides like "everyone is equal". And, unsurprisingly, this had very little effect on the attitudes of young children.

The idea behind the parents resilience was the notion that race isn't something children notice absent social messaging. But this, the authors say, isn't really accurate. Babies already notice skin color differences at six months, and begin using color as a sorting proxy at very young ages. But children also very rapidly attempt to ascertain a social meaning behind their categories. Lest we exonerate parents entirely, young White children do tend to ascribe to their parents negative attitudes towards people of color. But even if parents do effectively communicate no meaning, that just leaves a blank slate upon which they'll make up their own -- usually demonstrating an in-group preference. The absence of race-talk doesn't shield children from the subject of race so much as it makes it taboo. Given the plain phenotypical appearance of skin color, it is likely impossible to raise truly "color blind" children.

In response the article basically says we need to get over our colorphobia. Even raising children in diverse environments -- absent explicit messaging -- has little impact on racial attitudes. But stepping behind the typical "underneath, we're all the same" rhetoric and engaging in explicit and specific race-conscious discussions with children has a real and measurable impact on their attitudes. Indeed, it seems to be one of the few things that does.

There's more, but this post is long already. Suffice to say, it's a great article. Highly recommended.

Crabs in a Bucket

From Happy Bodies:
I feel betrayed by these activists who work on issues I care about, because they don’t seem to care about me. Activism must come from community. How can I be part of a community of activists that fights for aids awareness, when I don’t feel like my body is respected? I don’t want to be part of a green movement that thinks the environment is greater than gender equality. I won’t join a movement for same-sex marriage, if they can’t understand that sexual objectification contributes to a culture of sexual violence, and that all these issues are intertwined.

Boy, do I relate to that. I was just instructed to ignore a whitewash of anti-Semitism in Venezeula (except for the 2009 synagogue attack, virtually none of these events are even mentioned. But don't worry! Chavez says he opposes anti-Semitism! So it's alright then!) because the article, even though the person sending it to me admitted it was distorted, provided an important "counterbalance" to the "corporate media's" hostility to Hugo Chavez. This didn't sting quite as much as it might have, because I'm actually only interested in one of those campaigns (anti-Semitism concerns me; hostility to Latin American autocrats, less so), but I was still rather stunned that somebody would think it's legitimate to erase anti-Semitic hostility because it was critical to some putatively superior struggle.

If someone genuinely feels that protecting Hugo Chavez (or opposing capitalism, or indicting the corporate media, or attacking imperialism, or really, anything) is so important that it's okay to erase and marginalize Jews and Jewish experiences in Venezuela, fine, tell me that. But don't expect me to view you as an ally. Don't even expect me to view you as particularly progressive. You're not.

Monday, September 07, 2009


Welcome to Israel's world, Switzerland!
A Libyan motion calling for the dismemberment of Switzerland was rejected by the United Nations about a month ago, a UN spokesman said on Thursday.
Gaddafi first mentioned the idea of dismemberment during the G8 summit in Italy in July. Switzerland "is a world mafia and not a state", he said, adding that it was "formed of an Italian community that should return to Italy, another German community that should return to Germany, and a third French community that should return to France".

Robert Farley asks what other countries we should get rid of. He also notes his opposition to the state of Delaware, which I heartily endorse.