Saturday, April 08, 2017

British Bipartisanship

Both the Labour and the Conservative candidates in a Birmingham (UK) ward councilor's election have been deselected by their parties for posting antisemitic abuse on social media. The Labour candidate, Alison Gove-Humphries, was replaced by Liz Clements, but the Conservative candidate's (Obaid Khan) antisemitism was discovered too late and so they withdrew altogether. The Conservatives also announced that Khan had been expelled from the Party (it is unknown if Labour has taken any action, other than deselection, against Gove-Humphries)

The election was called after Labour councilor Sam Burden resigned. Labour has held a majority on the city council since 2012.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Things People Blame the Jews For, Part XXXIV: Syria

Following reports of a horrific chemical weapons attack by Syrian governmental forces, the United States has retaliated by launching missiles on Syrian air bases and other military targets. This raises a pressing question: Are Jews secretly responsible for the chemical weapons attack? Or are they responsible for America electing to retaliate?

Silly reader: The answer is obviously both.

InfoWars -- the fringe-conspiracy website highly touted by Donald Trump -- declared that the attack was actually done by a "Soros-linked group",  because what isn't being done at George Soros' behest these days? Meanwhile, David Duke bitterly complained that Trump had bowed to the Zionists in responding to the attack with military force. And that doesn't go into the false claim (spread by Rania Khalek, among others) that the Israeli government was "toasting" the chemical weapons attack.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Peer Review Stinks Roundup

Well, I've just had my ritual instance of early-academic peer review hazing. Grouch grouch grouch etc.. A roundup of things on my browser.

* * *

Foreign Policy has an interesting story about how affirmative action programs work in Brazil. The story is primarily about the concept of "fraudulent" claims of blackness in a country where, on the one hand, most people identify as mixed-race, but on the other hand discrimination is less about "one-drop" ancestry and more focused on phenotype.

Israel appoints its first female Muslim diplomat. She will serve in Turkey.

The Atlanta Jewish Times writes on the racialized Jewish experience of Jews of color.

Lots of interesting data in this new ADL poll, including the perhaps surprising finding that a majority of American Muslims have positive views about Israel. Most Americans also think Donald Trump harbors racist, anti-Latino, and anti-Muslim views (only a minority think he holds antisemitic views), and while a bare majority of Americans are currently concerned about violence in the U.S. against Jews, over three-quarters of Americans are concerned about violence in the U.S. against Muslims.

The Trump administration's Syria policy has been pinballing wildly over the past few days. As I've stressed before, Syria is a complicated issue -- there is no obvious right move. But the fact that the Trump administration seems to just be lurching to and fro virtually at random is not reassuring.

Will Nukes Save the World?

David Roberts has a good beginner's rundown on what it will take to decarbonize the economy (and, accordingly, avoid the catastrophic global warming scenarios that are likely if we stay on our current path). As we've discussed on this blog, decarbonization is inextricably linked to electrification -- we want more of our energy needs met by electricity, and specifically carbon-emission free electricity.

The big challenge is that the most obvious renewable resources -- wind and solar -- have massive scalability issues because they are not dispatchable power resources. They don't generate power on an as-needed basis, they generate when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. And because electricity supply must meet demand on an instantaneous basis, the inability to control when wind and solar resources generate power is a huge problem that makes it virtually impossible for them to meet 100% of power load requirements without massive overbuilding.

What we need, then, is a dispatchable resource that can lower our carbon emissions. Natural gas is a possibility -- kind of. It is much cleaner than coal, but still emits carbon. Roberts estimates that switching primarily to natural gas could get us to roughly 60% decarbonization. That sounds pretty good, even if the target we need to hit is actually 80% - 100%. But there's a big problem:
Natural gas is cleaner than coal (by roughly half, depending on how you measure methane leakage), but it’s still a fossil fuel. At least without CCS [Carbon Capture Sequestration], it is incompatible with decarbonization beyond 60 percent or so.
If you build out a bunch of natural gas plants to get to 60 percent, then you’re stuck shutting them down to get past 60 percent.
It would be very difficult to strand all those assets. There would be a lot of resistance. It’s just one example of path dependence in energy — choices, once made, tend to perpetuate themselves through inertia. Leaning too heavily into natural gas in the next 20 years will make it more difficult to pull away in the subsequent 20.
Enter nuclear power, the new darling of (some) environmentalists. Nuclear power has a high capacity (it can generate a lot of power), zero-emission (no carbon), and dispatchable -- a holy trinity if your only goal is to decarbonize. It isn't renewable (though I don't think there's any immediate risk to our nuclear fuel reserves), and of course nuclear power has other risks and associations which make it politically controversial. But it strikes me as the most straight-forward, feasible, and immediately accessible method for taking big chunks out of our carbon footprint right now.

What are the alternatives? The best one is high-capacity energy storage (which can convert a variable resource like wind into a dispatchable one like nuclear). But the technology to have such storage on the scale and flexibility necessary is just not there yet, and while it's more than an eye-twinkle, it's also not particularly close at hand. After that, we could simply engage in massive, massive overbuilding of wind and solar. But even then we'd need to also basically globalize our transmission network (and massively upgrade that too), so that we could be confident that the wind is blowing/sun is shining somewhere.

Roberts indicates that there is a debate between those who think we can go 100% renewable (no nuclear, no CCS) versus those who want those options on the table. Count me decisively in the latter camp. It might theoretically be possible to design a grid system available today that is zero-emission and entirely renewable. But the political, economic, and technological obstacles to putting it together are more than formidable, they are towering. Nuclear power is a technology we have now, that checks all of the key decarbonization boxes.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

What We Now Know About Sex Discrimination

In a landmark decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that discrimination on basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination, prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Judge Diane Wood (my former civil procedure professor) wrote the lead opinion -- and it looks very shrewd.

I've long been convinced that sexual orientation discrimination simply is sex stereotyping -- namely, the stereotype that men should date women and women should date men. This opinion lays that argument out in meticulous detail and, importantly, situates it within Supreme Court precedents which have clearly demonstrated the importance of sex stereotyping to the statutory sex discrimination inquiry and how it can be applied to same-sex interactions.

One further thing I'd add is this: It is almost certainly true that the drafters of the Civil Rights Act did not have discrimination against gay and lesbian persons in mind when they drafted the law. Judge Posner's concurrence -- wholly unnecessary and unhelpful, in my view -- takes from this that what judges are doing when they interpret the law to encompass sexual orientation is "updating" the law for the modern era.

But -- whether or not that's a legitimate judicial practice -- such a view is wholly unnecessary in this case. We pass anti-discrimination laws because there is significant discrimination in society, and discriminatory impulses exist -- in greater and lesser degrees -- across the whole of society. So it shouldn't surprise us that even the drafters of the prohibition against sex discrimination might not recognize certain ways that they behaved in a sexist manner or supported sexist discrimination. Indeed, it might not even surprise the authors themselves. When one commits to saying "I oppose sex discrimination" or "I oppose race discrimination," one need not be implicitly saying "and nothing I do or believe right now qualifies as such discrimination." To the contrary, we might pass these laws precisely because we suspect that we as much as anyone else sometimes behave in such a manner, and are fully willing to submit to legal correction when we do so.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Uniters and Dividers

A BDS resolution failed at Columbia this week. Commentary, of all places, went out of its way to note that J Street U was "an important ally" in the fight, and framed its column around the importance of uniting the Jewish left and right in the anti-BDS struggle.

Meanwhile, at an anti-BDS conference at the UN, South Carolina State Rep. Alan Clemmons (R) told J Street U students in attendance, and who were asking for advice on how to combat BDS, that they were "antisemitic". His remarks were reportedly met with rousing applause. Clemmons has since taken to the Wall Street Journal to argue that the bare usage of the word "occupation" is antisemitic as a form of "demonization" (referencing Natan Sharansky's "3D" test of antisemitism as pertains to Israel -- double-standards, delegitimization, or demonization).

No matter what one's views are on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the notion that simply calling Israel's domain over the West Bank "occupation" is a form of "demonization" is patently ridiculous. If J Street U is antisemitic for using the term "occupation", then so are the Israeli Supreme Court and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Frivolous arguments like this delegitimize Sharansky's quite useful framework for sussing out the links between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. They also do great harm to an organization that has been a critical ally in fighting BDS on campus.

Anti-BDS coalitions and pro-Israel networks alike need J Street U far more than we need misguided political hacks like Clemmons. The Israel Action Network at least had the grace to offer some backing to J Street U following this scurrilous attack. The other key players in the anti-BDS movement -- particularly those who were involved in the event Clemmons spoke at -- need to step up as well.

UPDATE: Both the AJC and Hillel have now denounced the attack on J Street U.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Playing with Cards: Final Version Available

The final, official version of my article Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith, is now publicly available (here on or here at SSRN).

The full citation is:
David Schraub, "Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith," Social Theory & Practice 42.2 (2016):285-303.