Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Peaceful Place

This NYT article, about a man who went from Somalia to Minnesota back to Somalia to basically become governor of a local tribal area, is absolutely fascinating. Hurray for technocracy (and Minnesota's reputation as a "peaceful place")!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Weekend Roundup

I've been doing a cite check this week, which has been a huge time suck. Fortunately, I was assisted by the fact that I am a known expert on regulatory affairs, with a particular emphasis on the economic impacts of arcane environmental regulations. So that helped.

* * *

Jews continue to have disproportionately high approval ratings for President Obama. They're only equaled by non-religious Americans, and dwarf Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons (Muslims were too small of a sample to be measured). Fun fact: Jews are the only religious groups to register higher approvals for Obama from non-Hispanic Whites versus people of color (though -- with apologies to Aliza Hausman -- I can't imagine the sample size for the latter was that big).

Yale Law Professor William Eskridge, one of the leading scholars in the field of sexual orientation and the law, claimed in Congressional testimony that he was denied tenure at UVA due to anti-gay prejudice. Via.

Are women better judges? Eric Posner and friends run the data and make the case. Their findings are that female judges tend to have worse formal credentials (elite law schools, judicial clerkships) upon appointment, but are as productive, influential, and independent as men once on the bench. Indeed, on the independence side, women actually outstrip men.

The Second Circuit may have just raised and then killed the prospect of corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute.

Sudan continues to blame the Jews for Darfur. It's a refrain we've heard before.

American mayors are sick of illegal guns plaguing their streets.

Sarah Palin's book was ghost-written by a White supremacist affiliated author?

I never understood these things when I was in middle school. And I was a good student, too.

I think the right-wing hit job on Ken Kevin Jennings is absolutely despicable, but what can you do? They have no shame. The CNN piece is a good start, essentially noting that all their claims are lies. But it would be nice for them to say it directly: instead of writing "Conservative groups charge that Jennings, who is openly gay, condoned statutory rape and child molestation," try "Conservative groups falsely charge that Jennings, who is openly gay, condoned statutory rape and child molestation." Why is that so hard?

The Meaning of Haj Amin al Husseini

Daniel Schwammenthal has an interesting column up about a German exhibition that was to note Nazi sympathy in the Arab and Palestinian community (expressed notably, but not uniquely, by Haj Amin al Husseini), as part of a broader exploration of "The Third World in the Second World War". The exhibit was canceled, the column indicates, because the curator of the center did not like the indication of potential Arab complicity in the Holocaust.

Norm Geras takes issue with the opening of the piece, which reads as follows:
One widespread myth about the Mideast conflict is that the Arabs are paying the price for Germany's sins. The notion that the Palestinians are the "second victims" of the Holocaust contains two falsehoods: It suggests that without Auschwitz, there would be no justification for Israel, ignoring 3,000 years of Jewish history in the land. It also suggests Arab innocence in German crimes, ignoring especially the fascist past of Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini, who was not only Grand Mufti of Jerusalem but also Waffen SS recruiter and Nazi propagandist in Berlin.

Geras responds:
It is true that Israel's existence has a justification that is independent of the Holocaust (though it is not inconsistent with the justification due to the Holocaust). But Arab and Palestinian collaboration with Nazism has no bearing on what the Palestinians lost or what they have suffered because of Israel's creation. To maintain the contrary is to make every Palestinian responsible for Haj Amin al Husseini. It is also to treat the existence of Israel as a form of punishment - punishment on account of Husseini and other Arabs who were complicit with Nazism.

I think Geras is mistaking what's going on here. It is quite true that whatever role the Palestinian political community did or didn't play in the Holocaust has nothing to do with what the Palestinians have lost in this conflict. But Geras is wrong to say that noting the vibrant enactment of Arab anti-Semitism in that time period is to treat Israel like a punishment. It is true that anti-Israel zealots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad try to promote that framing as a turn against the Holocaust-justification, so they can then say that Israel should have been established in Germany. But they miss the point because, as usual, they categorically refuse to center the focus on Jews as moral beings of worth and dignity. It makes the center of the story the Germans, (one of) the perpetrators, rather than the Jews, the victims.

When people cite the Holocaust as a reason for creating Israel, they're not saying Israel was a punishment against perpetrators. They're saying Israel was protection for a victimized group, with the Holocaust being a particularly dramatic instantiation of that victimization. Noting the eager willingness of many Arab leaders to partake and promote in that atrocity demonstrates that the need for this shelter did not exist merely in Europe, that essentially where ever Jews lived -- be it Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East -- the prevailing powers could not be trusted to protect Jewish lives. Israel was established, fundamentally, because the rest of the world had proven itself impossible to trust. Haj Amin al Husseini is a demonstration that this was as true of the local Arab political class as it was of the contemporary European political class.

As I've written before, when dealing with sustained and ingrained systems of discrimination, like racism or anti-Semitism, I'm less interested in "getting the bad guys" than I am in making sure that the disadvantaged group has access to what they need in order to live fulfilling lives in an egalitarian social sphere. Sometimes, that means retribution against discrete perpetrators -- I don't want to minimize that -- but it is a severe misunderstanding of justice to think that's all that it means. It is only when we have these blinders on that restrict "justice" to "punishment" that we view the justice of establishing Israel as making sense only within a frame of punishment, rather than in a frame of securing equality and equal global citizenship.

It doesn't have to be about punishment. Indeed, it shouldn't be about punishment. It's about giving Jews what they need in order to be equals in global society.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Something Completely Different

Kos endorses the Republican in the NY-23 special House election. The reasoning is a mix of two factors: a) the Republican genuinely does seem more liberal than the Democrat (such that there is a "Conservative Party" candidate in the race who is actually competitive with the field), b) overflowing spite towards "blue dog" Democrats, of whom this Democrat would undoubtedly become a part of if elected.

Still, intriguing.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, significant portions of the GOP apparatus are getting behind said Conservative Party candidate over their own nominee. So Democrats are supporting a Republican who they think is more liberal than the Democrat, while Republicans, noting this, are supporting a third-party candidate firmly in tea bag territory, thus throwing the advantage to ... who, exactly? I have no idea.

Poorly Drafted

Eric Johnson takes a look at one of the more sloppy documents in the American legal repertoire: the Constitution.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has noticed that the Second Amendment is, grammatically speaking, completely meaningless.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Project Sapphire

The Washington Post reveals how the US got a half ton of highly enriched uranium out of Kazakhstan -- and away from nuclear proliferators.

It's one of those stories that puts some perspective on what really keeps America safe, day-to-day. It doesn't involve explosions, or Jack Bauer skull-cracking, or getting to put a terrorist's head on a pike. It's the subtler endeavors of recognizing a threat, and putting it to rest quietly, through communication, intelligence, and coordination.

It doesn't make headlines, but LGM is right: it's a classic example of a big foreign policy victory after the Cold War.

Query of the Day

Are there any words more chilling to a law review staffer than "find me where it says this in the Clean Water Act"?

On second thought, don't answer that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Read the Book

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), recently seen floating the secession of Texas as a valid response to domestic policy differences with the Obama administration (but remember, Democrats hate America), has started citing Hayek as a reason to oppose universal health care.
"Read that book. Read this book," he says, gesturing toward the nearby table. I see something from Weight Watchers and a Harry Potter paperback--but the governor is referring to the "The Road to Serfdom" by Frederick Hayek and "The 5000 Year Leap" by W. Cleon Skousen. "Read Amity Shlaes's 'The Forgotten Man.' Amity's book is very eye-opening—scary—for me."

As it happens, Andrew Murphy has read "The Road to Serfdom". And on pages 120-21, Hayek has this to say about the state's role in providing social insurance:
Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provisions. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the effects to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance-where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks- the case for the state’s helping to organize comprehensive system of social insurance is strong.

Read the book, governor.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not Strep

The culprit for my recent rundown feeling is a fading viral infection, plus a canker sore in the back of my throat (which, annoying as it is, pales in comparison to the exquisite agony of having one on the side of my tongue). But I think I'm on the other side of the slope now, so that's good.

Also, Chicago's medical services best Carleton's by a country mile -- one of the few advantages I'll give to this school over my beloved alma mater.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Divorced Virgin

This story about a women who divorced after five years of marriage, still a virgin throughout it all (she had waited until marriage, and then found that she and her husband could not have intercourse) is quite compelling reading. But it also bolsters my sense that abstinence until marriage fundamentally is not a good policy, and in fact is really short-sighted.

To be clear: Anybody who chooses to be abstinent has the right to that choice, for as long as they choose to make it, without any shame or judgment from me (or anyone else). But the case for an over-arching normative commitment to abstinence seems to rest on extremely shaky ground. Start with the fact that it seems to nearly always diverge into slut-shaming -- indeed, it's difficult to see how an argument that abstaining is morally preferable to partaking could avoid such an insinuation. But beyond that, abstinence seems to rest on this mythos that sex is easy and comes naturally, and that there is no such thing as sexual compatibility (or lack there of). Neither of these things are true.

Good sex takes practice, and while there's certainly no shame in learning the ropes (so to speak) with a single partner, I think many people are deluded into thinking that first time is going to be absolutely perfect, and if it isn't, something is wrong with them. Not really -- the odds are much higher that y'all simply don't know what you're doing; with practice and experience, things usually (hopefully) improve.

That being said, some folks simply aren't sexually compatible with each other. There can be physiological issues, but there also can be pairings where one partner really likes or wants something that the other is uncomfortable with. This is the sort of thing that I imagine is worth knowing prior to tying the knot. I think it is qualitatively better when newlyweds already know that they share enough sexual proclivities in common that they can have a good sex life, and I think it is qualitatively better when each partner in a relationship knows themselves well enough and has enough experience to know what their own proclivities are. Simply assuming that because all the other pieces fit, this one will too, is a recipe for unhappiness. At the very least, it's a pretty substantial roll of the dice.

What we should be teaching young people, I think (and alas, it will never happen), is simply this: It is not shameful to feel pleasure. What you do with your own body is your own business. What you do with a partner's body is yours and their business, and we should teach people to treat their partners with respect and view the act of being with a partner as predicated on that respect and mutual reciprocity. If you decide you don't want sex, that's fine, and if you decide you do want it (and have a willing partner), that's fine too, and if you change your mind at any point in the process, that's fine as well. The decisions you make in this arena should be based on your own desires and the safety of others, not an aversion to social shaming or stigma.

Latino Evangelicals Challenge Macho Culture

One of the downfalls of being sick is that I haven't been able to write posts on links of interest. So I will regretfully simply have to give you this WaPo article, on how Latino churches are challenging "macho" norms in their community, without much comment. It's a good piece, but far too short for my liking.

Typhoid David

I've been sick the last couple of days. I don't think it's swine flu. More likely strep (when I swallow, my ear hearts, which is annoying). Still, I've undoubtedly been among enough public crowds to bring down at least two metropolitan areas over the last week, and I haven't really gotten better (haven't really gotten worse either, to be fair). So I'm going to call the clinic tomorrow and make an appointment, and in the mean time, try to not infect any more people.

Hope everybody has an easy fast on Yom Kippur.