Saturday, June 03, 2017

One Eyed Blogger Roundup

Somehow, I scratched my left cornea pretty badly yesterday. Ever managed to get dehydrated simply by your eye tearing up? Now I have!

Anyway, good excuse to clear some stuff off the ol' browser tab:

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Two great columns, one by Adam Serwer and the other by Josh Barro, on the growing conservative embrace of cowardly violence masquerading as toughness.

While we're on the subject, Michelle Goldberg explores the propensity to take angry White voters seriously precisely because they seriously threaten violence if they don't get their way. It might be interesting to tie in this claim to the concerns that at least some segments of the radical campus population do engage politically in this angry, threatening fashion.

Interesting Ha'aretz interview with Jamaica Kincaid -- just your standard-issue Jewish Afro-Caribbean writer residing in Vermont -- after she won Israel's prestigious Dan David Prize.

Buzzfeed profiles atheists living in highly religious societies. It's sobering just how many are in fear of their life.

Donna Minkowitz reflects on how it came to be that "proud self-hating Jew" Gilad Atzmon asked her to blurb his book.

Lauren Post has a piece at the Forward giving the history of antisemitism in the feminist movement. Some of the texts she links to are classics -- including a few I had been intending to read for awhile but hadn't gotten my hands upon.

My old Illinois colleague Suja Thomas in Jotwell reviews some new research on implicit bias and judging. And speaking of new research on implicit bias, remind me to get this book by Jonathan Kahn on the subject when it comes out next fall.

Finally, Heidi Kitrosser has an article in the Minnesota Law Review entitled "Free Speech, Higher Education, and the PC Narrative" which seems well worth reading. If ever there was a term being asked to carry far more weight than it is capable of bearing, it is "PC".

Friday, June 02, 2017

More Someones Who Take Free Speech Seriously

Earlier this week I wrote on how the Academic Engagement Network -- a prominent scholarly anti-BDS group -- applauded CUNY for not giving into threats and refusing to cancel Linda Sarsour's scheduled commencement speech. While they obviously disagree with Sarsour sharply on the matter of BDS, they rightly observed that free speech can't be defended only in the cases one agrees with the speech.

Now Emily Shire in the Washington Post has added her name to the list of Zionist, anti-BDS writers who have publicly defended Sarsour's free speech rights. Shire's post is particularly good because it lays out, honestly and fairly, the legitimate reasons one might have for concerns over Sarsour. There are legitimate critiques to be made about Linda Sarsour's politics (there are also bullshit ones, and they're easy to spot as they're almost always the ones shrieking about Sharia law), and they should not be sugarcoated. They're also wholly irrelevant to the free speech question, which is not something reserved for persons free from "legitimate critiques".

Shire's column is principled and fair-minded. I highly encourage you to read it.

Hi, I'm David, and I Don't Drink Almond Milk

Michael Tomasky gives us the latest installment of an everflowering series: crudely caricaturing "coastal elites" while purporting to educate them on middle Americans:
[E]lite liberals need to recognize a fundamental truth: All of these people in middle America, even the actual liberals, have very different sensibilities than elite liberals who live on the coasts.
First of all, middle Americans go to church. Not temple. Church. God and Jesus Christ play important roles in their lives....
Second, politics simply doesn’t consume middle Americans the way it does elites on the coasts.... They talk kids, and local gossip, and pop culture, and sports....
Third, their daily lives are pretty different from the lives of elite liberals. Few of them buy fair trade coffee or organic almond milk. Some of them served in the armed forces. Some of them own guns, and like to shoot them and teach their kids how to shoot them. Some of them hold jobs in the service of global capital and feel proud of their work.
Fourth, they’re patriotic in the way that most Americans are patriotic. They don’t feel self-conscious saluting the flag. They don’t like it when people bad-mouth our country. They believe that America is mostly good, and that the rest of the world should look more like America.
I find these very frustrating, not because of what they say about middle Americans, but because of what they say about me -- born inside the beltway on the east coast, currently living in the ultimate liberal bubble of Berkeley on the west coast.

I don't drink almond milk (I've tried it, once, and think it's disgusting). I don't buy fair trade coffee or sip lattes of any variety. I've fired a gun, and while I don't have any real interest in doing it again, I don't begrudge others who do. I have friends from both high school and college who served in the armed forces. I can chat pop culture with the best of them (ask me about my breakdown of  Gordon Ramsay shows). There is plenty that I find great about America, and am quite happy to kvell about.

Admittedly, I talk politics a lot (I am a political blogger), and I go to synagogue, not church. But I just got back from a funeral (my fiance's grandmother) which was held at a church in a town of less than 2,000 in rural Minnesota (Goodhue County went for Trump by 18, FYI). I survive such locales just fine. And while I always knew of how important her Christian faith was to her life, when I found out that she had specifically included me in her deathbed prayers, I was deeply moved.

Maybe this feels like protesting too much. But it's not just about me. It's also about the folks here at UC-Berkeley -- yes, hyper-lefty Berkeley -- that falsify that coastal bubble hypothesis.

When I started at Berkeley Law, my most liberal student was an alum of the University of South Carolina, and my most conservative was literally the scion of a wine dynasty. In between I taught decorated combat veterans and the daughter of an inland empire county sheriff. This is typical. UC-Berkeley is one of the world's great public universities, and our students accordingly come to us from all over the state and all over the world. They come from suburban Orange County, yes, but also inland ranch towns and impoverished LA neighborhoods. It is no surprise at all that Berkeley ranks ninth in the New York Times college access index measuring economic diversity amongst enrolled students, nor that UC schools comprise the entirety of the top 5.

So maybe we're asking the wrong questions. We know that students come from a wide range of backgrounds and geographic locations and pedigrees to attend to Berkeley. Indeed, I suspect that more Berkeley students and alumni know a sizeable chunk of folks who grew up in small towns than persons who grew up in small towns know a sizeable chunk of folks who attended schools like Berkeley. And we know that the resulting campus culture here at Berkeley is very liberal. And yes, self-selection plays a part in that, as does the relative ideological uniformity of the faculty. But maybe, just maybe, it's also evidence that when you expose people to a rich tapestry of human diversity encompassing people of a wide range of backgrounds, hometowns, and pedigrees -- the result is a tendency towards liberalism.

The fact is, our students aren't born on the Berkeley campus. Some of them come from those rural towns (in California or elsewhere). Or they don't, but their parents did. Or their best friend. Or their roommate. Or their future spouse. To act like Berkeley students have never met anyone who doesn't eat gluten-free is a grotesque parody of who actually comprises our "bubble".

So of course we should respect each and every part of America -- urban, suburban, and rural, north and south, coastal and middle. But the "coastal elites" who supposedly sniff down upon middle Americans from atop their soy lattes? They weren't born in a Starbucks. They might have been born in that small town in rural Minnesota that they supposedly cannot possibly understand.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Thirteen Percenters

Yair Rosenberg has a good article up on the deep, deep Jewish antipathy for the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership -- such that just 13% of British Jews plan to vote Labour in the upcoming parliamentary election.

It's a good piece, but I have one minor quibble. To put that 13% figure in perspective, Rosenberg offers the following comparison: "For comparison, 2016 exit polls showed that Donald Trump received 8 percent of the African American vote."

It's not that this is wrong. It's just that there's a much more striking analogy.

Donald Trump received 13% of the Muslim vote this past election.

That seems to drive home the point much more cleanly, no? British Jews view Corbyn the same way that Muslim Americans view Trump. Sobering -- for those who care about those sorts of things, anyway.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Some Of Us Do Take Free Speech Seriously

The Academic Engagement Network is a national organization dedicated to academic freedom and, specifically, opposed to the BDS movement. A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at their national conference in Chicago on the subject of challenges the AEN would face in the coming year.

My remarks were straightforward: the main challenge we would face would be to tackle right-wing threats to academic freedom and academic exchange with the same vigor that we address left-wing variants. A principled campaign in favor of academic freedom and academic exchange cannot be a fair-weather friend of free speech. And my keynote example of an issue that we had to speak out on was the Israeli law barring entry to persons who have endorsed -- in whole or in part -- the BDS campaign. Such a law purports to fight BDS, but by foreclosing academics and others from entering Israel on basis of their political ideology it in reality is BDS.

Unfortunately, from laws like this to metastasizing partnership guidelines at Hillel to right-wing calls for divestment from Hebrew University to canceling the concerts of liberal Israeli singers, these forms of "self-BDS" are becoming more common. And they're every bit as offensive to liberal norms as their left-wing counterparts.

That's why I'm pleased to report two bits of news with respect to the AEN:

First, the AEN released a statement commending the City University of New York for not bowing to right-wing pressure to cancel the scheduled commencement speech by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. While the AEN made it quite clear that they sharply opposed Sarsour's stance on BDS specifically, they correctly noted that such disagreement could not form the basis for cancelling her speech -- a principled stand that defended academic freedom in the hard case, not just the easy one.

Second, while it has not to my knowledge been posted online, the AEN also just sent a letter to Israeli colleagues decrying the Israeli law prohibiting entry to BDS supporters as a threat to academic freedom and academic exchange, as well as counterproductive to the anti-BDS cause. Indeed, it is quite explicit in drawing the same link I did whereby this law is for all intents and purposes a form of BDS: "[H]ow can we oppose BDS’ divisive and corrosive tactics if Israel is, in effect, openly adopting a similar strategy?"

Both of these positions are correct, and I'm pleased to see the AEN take them. But more than pleased, I'm also proud. Free speech and academic freedom have a great many fair-weather friends -- it's the sort of thing that is often good for me, but not for thee. I associated with the AEN because I believed it had the capacity to resist that temptation and demand that liberal values be protected via liberal means. I'm happy to see my confidence was justified. Kudos.