Friday, March 25, 2011

I Wish I Was Special

This story about citizens in Westhampton Beach, NY (including many Jews) opposing the creation of an eruv within the town limits rings very odd to me. Religiously speaking, an eruv refers to a sort of enclosure which allows observant Jews to undertake various activities on Shabbat they otherwise would be unable to do (because of rules governing the carrying of burdens across property lines). In modern times, the eruv typically a sort of religious-legal fiction -- as I understand it, it usually is comprised of some wires hung on utility poles to demarcate the borders of the "enclosure". I don't think it entails anything more substantive than that.

Reading the story, then, I really had trouble grasping the substantive nature of the town residents' objections. There was a lot of gesticulation against "special rights" and giving into to a special interest pressure group (that would be the Orthodox Jews). But it didn't sound like that maintenance of the eruv would cost more than a trivial sum, if anything (and I imagine it would be the Jews who funded it). The only reason they need permission is to hang the wires from the utility poles, as I understand it. An eruv is something that requires virtually nothing out of the surrounding community -- it is a near-costless accommodation.

The real motivator seemed to be that allowing an eruv might make the community too Orthodox-friendly, risking "changing the town." The residents were worried about the wrong sorts moving in, the wrong sorts being observant Jews. There seemed to be a lot of preexisting tension between the Orthodox community and the rest of the town (some of the residents accused the Orthodox Jews of being isolated and reticent to support other community institutions), and it seemed pretty obvious that many wished they would just go somewhere else ("If he [the local Rabbi] doesn't like the way things are, he can leave.").

There's a lot here that reminds me of the Incantalupo case (also in NY). It seems quite possible that the Orthodox Jews haven't been the warmest neighbors, and that's a contributing factor. But ultimately, even if that's true (and the evidence is much weaker than it was in Incantalupo), there's something unnerving about the way a ton of classic and modern anti-Semitic tropes ("hidden agendas", Jewish provincialism, half-formed dreams of forcing them out, worries about being taken over by observant Jews) are floating around in this story. Religious accommodation isn't (or shouldn't) be a grace bestowed by the beneficent majority upon its favored supplicants. In America, in a land built upon religious liberty (and religious pluralism), I think it ought to be assumed as of right. That assumption can be rebutted, but it would need stronger evidence than what appears to be going on in Westhampton, which is that much of the community simply doesn't like the local Orthodox community.

Raise Ya Game

Kevin Drum on "the coming GOP spectacle":
I just want to say that I am so looking forward to the Republican primary campaign this cycle. It looks like Michele Bachmann is going to run, Palin might run, Newt Gingrich is probably going to run, Jim DeMint seems like he might run, and I suppose Ron Paul will run again too. This is a freak show of stupendous proportions, and it would be perfect if Donald Trump really did decide to join all these nutbags on the stage during the debates.

I guess I'm wondering how these debates are going to go. I mean, the party line even among the relatively sane wing of the GOP holds that Obama is a socialist Kenyan sleeper agent, global warming doesn't exist, millionaires are taxed too highly, and Ben Bernanke is courting hyperinflation. Parroting those positions won't make you stand out from the pack, so the crazy wing is going to have to up the ante. But how? Obama needs to turn over a DNA sample to prove he's not a mutant mole? Our real danger is the potential for ice caps to start forming in Los Angeles by the middle of the century? We should take a cue from the airlines and give rich people a million-dollar-club card from the government that exempts them from all taxes for the rest of their lives?

I have to say, I've been impressed at the, er, relatively less-sane wing of the GOP to come up with fun, novel, and interesting conspiracy theories as the Obama administration goes on.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fatal Furies, Take Two

Jesus, this wasn't a one-off? CNN's Erick Erickson gets in on the "it's the ladies fault" action for why the U.S. is in Libya:
ERICKSON: By the way, it's the women's fault. … It's, apparently, the women in the Obama administration who have decided we needed to go to war in Libya. … This is typical. This is so typ-- i'm mean, I'm going to bring my inner sexist out I'm afraid tonight, some of you are going to be very upset with me. But this is like women drivers. We're going to war in Libya, we have no plan, we have no map, even if we have a map of war, um, it wasn't going to get read, they were going to pull over and ask the French apparently for help, or at least make the guy pull over and ask the French for help. This is crazy.
This is just silly. I mean, back-seat driving by the women, and they're gonna get Barack Obama lost. What is it with Barack Obama caving to the women? I mean, now we know who rules his personal life. I guess Michelle is firmly in charge as well, if Barack Obama is going to cave that easy to three women in his administration over what to do with Libya.
It took the women to get him involved, and the women apparently went in without a clear plan. No shopping list.


Statehood Ho

The cynic in me thinks that DC's loss of a Black majority is, far and away, the best thing that could have happened to it in terms of getting real voting rights in Congress.

New Comments Policy

Countermand all of that. I've just created a new, more comprehensive policy (here, but you can also access it from those shiny new "tabs" at the top of the page).

And what better way to inaugurate a new comments policy than with some beheadings bannings! N. Friedman, Joe (who I think is posting anonymously now, but I'm not sure), Superdestroyer, that insanely passive-aggressive person who I banned awhile ago and can't be bothered to look up, but hasn't been back since anyway -- thanks for all your contributions, but this blog is changing direction and I don't see you as part of our plan for future growth. Take care, and enjoy our generous severance package -- a link for you to start your very own blog! I may even link to it on occasion. You never know.

For the rest of y'all, I hope this clears out the weeds and gives us a better space for future discussion. I also hope it pulls some of the lurkers back into the light -- there are several people who used to comment here far more frequently and I now rarely see around, and I'd love to have you back. Yes, that means you, whoever is reading this. And if you've never commented before because you thought it was just jumping into a cesspool, well, can't say I blame you, but give it a try now! I do care about this blog and the community it engenders, and I really want the comments section to be something I look forward to reading, not dread slogging through.

Let's try this out as a comments policy. I've never seen this before (in fact, I just thought of it two minutes ago), so maybe it will fail miserably, but I'm inclined to try it and see if play out.

You (which is to say, not me) are limited to one comment for every three posted. So if you post a comment, you cannot comment again until at least two other comments are written, at which point you can post again. "Two part" comments count as one comment for purpose of this rule. Any violators will have their comments summarily deleted, regardless of content. I retain the right to waive this rule at any point, for any commenter, and for any reason that I desire (including not counting my own comments as "comments" for the purpose of the rule -- e.g., if I'm explaining why someone is being deleted, that probably won't count as one of the intervening "two" before you comment again).

The goal is to provoke conversation, not endless two-person shouting matches that choke off the life for other commenters. I may move the threshold to three comments if it looks like this increases section vibrancy, or I may keep it the same, or I might abandon the project. But for now, this is the new rule.

On the Other Hand ...

Really, Reuters?
A bomb planted in a bag exploded near a bus stop in a Jewish district of Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing a woman and injuring at least 30 people, in an attack police blamed on Palestinian militants.
Police said it was a "terrorist attack" -- Israel's term for a Palestinian strike. It was the first time Jerusalem had been hit by such a bomb since 2004.

Mmm ... I don't think that it's just an Israeli idiosyncrasy that labels putting a bomb in a public bus station a "terrorist attack". It might, however, be a Reuters idiosyncrasy that such an attack is only open to multiple labels when its victims are Israelis. Just sayin'.

Via Goldblog.

Meanwhile, my coblogger Kathy Kattenberg and BooMan try to "contextualize" Reuters statement by arguing that it comes in the wake of growing global discontent towards Israel and its settlement project which renders people unsympathetic to their victims. BM asks
that Israel's defenders focus less on how they've been delegitimized and more on why they've been delegitimized. Israel is building settlements on Palestinian land, not as a bargaining chip, but with every intention of keeping the land in perpetuity. That's what is killing Israel's legitimacy. Nothing else.

Kathy, for her part, asks where the outrage was at the media's inability to call CIA torture "torture". Which is ironic, because that's exactly where my thoughts turned. I called the NYT's refusal to call waterboarding "torture" only when the US did it "cowardice in the face of ginned-up controversy." Torture is torture even when "the good guys" are doing it; similarly, terrorism is terrorism even when the victims are people Kathy -- or even large swaths of the world -- hold in contempt.

Returning to BM, though. As a descriptive matter -- that Israel's delegitimization stems from "nothing else" but its settlement campaign -- it's clearly wrong. Israel's defenders would assert that the settlements are naught but a spurious variable -- after all, there was a time in Israel's history when it possessed no settlements and it was hardly basking in regional legitimation at the time. More to the point, there currently is an important section of Palestinian territory that is entirely settlement-free, and its relationship with Israel badly deteriorated in the years following Israel's pullout. BT asks what Palestinians are supposed to think if their adoption of nonviolence gets them nothing (I think BT is once again descriptively inaccurate here -- the situation in the West Bank has improved for Palestinians in the since 2001, while the situation in Gaza has gotten far worse -- but certainly one could say that relative nonviolence hasn't gotten them enough, fast enough). But of course, Israelis are asking the same question -- withdrawing from Gaza got them rockets, withdrawing from Lebanon got them a war with Hezbollah, and neither action seemed to exert much influence on the pace or even rhetoric of "delegitimization." Hell, I've heard many folks assert Gaza is still occupied -- a position which seems legally untenable (occupation requires effective control of the territory in question, and, as one international law scholar wryly put it, at least one threshold for "effective control" is that the occupier "does not have to fight his way in") and motivated by little more than a refusal to give Israel credit for anything that could be called an improvement.

But that's a little rantish. What's more disheartening about these two posts is their profound moral laziness. Deeply entrenched conflicts are morally complicated, and often require us to balance several important commitments which are not firmly lashed together. Lord knows the Israeli/Palestinian conflict meets that description. But, as often as it's been where I've felt like I've had to do a delicate balancing act between competing moral commitments with respect to this conflict -- this case wasn't one of them. Balancing the need to condemn the settlement project as immoral, counterproductive, and severely damaging to the peace process is easy to reconcile with calling a bus bombing "terrorism". It's just not hard to pull off. Balancing nationalism with liberalism is difficult, security with free movement is difficult, when a security measure's effectiveness is a reason to perpetuate it or declare "mission accomplished" is difficult. This is not difficult. Which raises the question why Kathy and BM, and Reuters and the "global community" whom Reuters is supposedly reflecting, are finding it so difficult. If it was settlements alone that were doing all the work, this wouldn't be causing so much consternation.

BM claims that Reuters' reticence to call a bus bombing "terrorism" stems from its connotation of "illegitimacy". But, he asserts, many people don't think that indiscriminate bombings of Israeli civilians are illegitimate at all -- legitimate struggle against a more powerful enemy. And so, he says, there is no "reflexive" (I hate the way "reflexive" is used in these discussions -- as if immediate sympathy for people blown to pieces is a sort of cognitive defect) sympathy for Israeli victims. My feeling is that if your fury over settlement activity burns so hot that you don't really care if a random Israeli bus passenger is bombed, then maybe you're the one who needs to do some introspection -- both about your sense of prioritization, but also about whether "settlements" really capture everything, whether there is "nothing else" playing a role in your thought process.

The "legitimacy" point goes to our belief that terrorism is only done by bad people (and thus the hedge is traceable to increased sympathy for the Palestinians, but it also implicates our belief that terrorism is only done to good people (and thus is traceable to increased demonization of Israelis qua Israelis). This is Naomi Klein and Alice Walkerism -- a writing out of Israelis as real people, the sorts of human beings who even are candidates to be terrorist victims, even candidates to be objects of our sympathies. I think BM is actually probably right that Israelis are rapidly being so written out, but that's the sort of profound moral abdication that Reuters should be challenging, not magnifying.

BM wonders why Israel's defenders aren't inquiring as to the "why" Israel's being delegitimized, focusing instead on the "how". The answer, I think, lies within BM's post itself -- for it demonstrates that the supposed "why" and the actual "how" are so weakly connected so as to raise the question as to whether there is any meaningful link whatsoever. It will be hard to get Israel to disengage from its settlements in any circumstance, but surely it's much more difficult to the extent that Israelis doubt it will actually have any positive effect on their moral standing. What BM and Kathy demonstrate is that the delegitimizers -- whether they think themselves motivated by the settlement project alone or not -- cannot arrest their own train. They can't stop themselves from bleeding over into far more serious assertions -- delegitimizing Israelis as human beings, delegitimizing Israel as a legitimate state, delegitimizing Jews as legitimate speakers about their own experiences.

Israelis should abandon the settlements because they're bad policy, are a (not the) barrier to peace, and are profoundly unfair to Palestinians under the best of circumstances (and, when they're built on private Palestinian land, simple theft). Whether or not it arrests the state's "delegitimatization", I don't know. Maybe it will, and that will be nice. But it would hardly be inconsistent with past practice if it doesn't.

Building settlements may be a serious bar to a final resolution of the conflict, but so is the refusal to call terror victims "terror victims". The sort of dehumanizing mentality that renders that sort of logic comprehensible has become part-and-parcel of the "delegitimization" campaign, whether they admit or not, and it is incompatible with a future resolution to the conflict where Israelis and Palestinians view each other as friends and neighbors. The first step for everyone is remembering that we are dealing with human beings, not monsters. And that's why I think the delegitimizers fundamentally are problem-creating rather than problem-solving. Everybody has some introspection to do -- it's not just Israel with blindspots.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Registration Requirement?

I'm thinking of requiring folks to register (either via a Google account or OpenID) in order to comment on the blog. It seems like a reasonable enough policy -- accounts are free and easy to set up (and can even be done with a fair amount of anonymity), so it shouldn't be much of a barrier to entry. And lots of folks have been doing it in order to raise the quality of their comment sections and deter trolling. I'm not sure how effective it is at that, but I've been less-than-thrilled at the quality of the commentariat for some time now, and I know I'm not the only one. I also know several former commenters whose contributions I did generally enjoy who have left precisely because they don't like the direction the section has gone in, and that bothers me, a lot.

On the other hand, I do sort of like the ability of a random reader with no connection to the blogosphere being able to pop in and leave thoughts without having to go through any hoops. It feels very democratic. But how often does that actually happen?

The (very few) blogs I know of that have comments sections that I consider "value-added" to the blog itself are ones that take an extremely aggressive moderating posture -- far more than I've ever done here. I don't think Blogger's comment moderations software is robust enough to let me do that even if I wanted to. But perhaps this is a small step.

In any event, consider this a notice-and-comment period. I have some unaccounted (heh) commenters who post here regularly. How would this affect your posting? What do you think of the possible change? And I also especially want to here from lurkers and former-commenters who have been quiet for awhile -- come out from the shadows for a moment and give me your perspective too.

Disaster Money

As many of you know, a bomb went of in Jerusalem, killing one and injuring 30. The attack was harshly condemned by the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.

It's the first terrorist attack in Jerusalem in quite some time, but follows the brutal massacre of a Jewish family in the Itamar settlement and increasing tension in Gaza, where Palestinian militants have stepped up rocket fire and have been met with IDF reprisals. And I'm a little baffled as to the "why now" -- it seems as if this recent flare-up doesn't have any particular precipitation. Perhaps it doesn't need one -- when you're in a conflict, flare-up happens for many, little, or no reasons. That's the nature of being at war with someone. Still, it just strikes me as a bit odd. I haven't gotten my head around it.

Meanwhile, ThinkProgress chides AIPAC for dashing off a fundraising letter in response to the bombing. Apparently, it's gauche of them? I really don't understand the objection. If something bad happens to a group, institution, or entity you style yourself as defending, why wouldn't you try to muster up additional resources to assist in the reconstruction? Criticizing AIPAC for fundraising in the wake of the Jerusalem bombing is like criticizing the Red Cross for fundraising after Haiti. Rabbi Michael Lerner's home has been repeatedly attacked by right-wing thugs, and each time it happens I get a fundraising letter along with it.

One doesn't have to agree with AIPAC's policies to understand that its behavior is completely normal. As it happens, I don't donate either to Tikkun or to AIPAC, but that's because I find neither of them sufficiently attuned to my positions to justify supporting them financially. But I don't blame them for trying, and I particularly don't find it weird that they'd step up their efforts when a highly salient strike against what they claim to represent hits the news. If Israel is seen as under attack, groups which support Israel are going to try and muster resources dedicated to defending it. This pearl-clutching about how crass it all is -- ugh. It's just so nakedly opportunistic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Love and Respect

In Minnesota, some conservative gadflies are up in arms because Jewish members of the state legislature were offended by a sectarian prayer delivered before the chamber by a Baptist priest.
[Bradlee] Dean is the founder of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International, a Christian youth ministry that holds assemblies in public schools. He suggested that [Rev. Dennis] Campbell's [the minister who delivered the prayer] ministry work against Bonoff's re-election in 2012.

“Maybe what we need to do is get her name eradicated,” Dean said, according to the Minnesota Independent. “She’s looking to get rid of who we are as a people. Well, then, why don’t we help her possibly leave?”

Meanwhile, I found Rev. Campbell's own account of the aftermath intriguing:
“After the prayer we were ushered out to the back room there and I had one or two people that opposed the prayer -- and they were both Jewish folks -- to one of them I said, ‘I want you to know that as Christians that we really love the Jews,’ ” Campbell told Dean and his radio sidekick, Jake McMillian. “He made a comment that they weren’t interested in our love so much as respect.”

Boy, do I relate to that. I wonder what Rev. Campbell thinks of the concept?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fatal Furies

Frank Gaffney, former Reagan defense official turned leading anti-Muslim nutjob, is wondering whether Obama's Libya intervention is ... wait for it ... just a stalking horse so he can later invade Israel. It provides "precedent". Or something.

And while a mind who thinks that Obama is merely prepping for a military action against the IDF in the West Bank is not the sort of insanity one willingly plumbs (at least, if one wants to keep one's own sanity intact), I really don't know why Gaffney blames the femaleness of Obama's top foreign policy advisers (Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice) as the leading cause of the imminent America strike against Israel. I mean, I guess if you're going to throw together a toxic cocktail of wild-eyed conspiracy-mongering and degenerative sexism, I shouldn't be surprised at its randomness, but I am.

Is That Discrimination?

In an NYT article about alleged discrimination by Evangelical churches against unmarried male pastors, one evangelical leader makes the following defense:
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said it was unfair to accuse churches of discrimination because that word implied something "wrongful."

"Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society," he said, justify "the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married."

Putting aside whether an open bias against unmarried men for the mentioned reasons is or isn't "wrongful", I do agree with Mr. (Rev.? Dr.?) Mohler on one thing: "discrimination" does imply something "wrongful".

Some folks try to get very cute with defining "discrimination" as any sort of distinction or evaluation. It's a valid usage, and can even be a point of praise (as in "he has discriminating taste"), but it is also rapidly becoming archaic. In our society, discrimination does imply not just that a distinction is being made, but that the distinction is wrongful. Which, perhaps it is -- but that's usually precisely what is being debated. If one doesn't think that there is anything wrong with Evangelical churches preferring married men to their single peers, then it's a bit weird to still call it "discrimination". The way that language has involved gives discrimination an inherent connotation of wrongfulness and immorality, which is something that must be demonstrated by argument -- it can't be inferred simply from the fact of a distinction.

Femme Up

You've seen those Bud Miller Light "man up" ads, right? Possibly the most misogynist (and annoying) ads on television now (and that's saying something), they feature a man declaring to a hot female bartender that he doesn't care what his beer tastes like, at which the bartender derides him for undertaking some stereotypically female activity (wearing skinny jeans, wearing a thong, excessive texting). The early versions were even worse, amazingly -- they had the bartender tell the guy to take off his girlfriend's skirt (and showed him actually wearing a skirt) -- I guess the literal statement by women that being a bad drinker = being a women (horrors) was a little too obvious.

Anyway, I was thinking -- wouldn't it be an awesome-yet-revealing parody to create a serious of "femme up" ads for, I don't know, sparkling wine? The women could ask for a glass of wine, the hunky male bartender could ask "sparkling or not", and the women could declare her indifference. At which point the man could mock her for being like a man: "Kinda like how your boyfriend doesn't mind you're borrowing his football jersey?" "But I actually like the Jets!" "Whatever -- femme up."

The point being that it's pretty difficult to imagine a female equivalent of the Bud Miller Light campaign, because we don't view stereotypically manly acts as humiliating, even (normally) when women do them. I guess you could pull it off if you had the women being staggeringly incompetent in their attempts at being masculine, but that's not the point of the Bud Miller Light commercials -- it's not that the dude looks bad in skinny jeans, it's that he deigns wear them in the first place. By contrast, it is difficult to think of a situation where a woman "performing" masculinity is considered inherently absurd or worthy of scorn, without regard to whether she's able to perform.