Saturday, July 21, 2018

Shadow of War Roundup

The newest game taking up my time is Shadow of War. You could say I'm late, but given that the developer just removed microtransactions from the game, I'd say my timing is perfect.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is leaving the Atlantic.

A really interesting profile on Aly Raisman and the work she's done re: #MeToo (in the gymnastics community generally and in the Larry Nassar case specifically). A remarkable woman.

Immigrant mother loses her effort to regain custody over her child (who was taken from her after she was picked up in a raid). The case was on remand from the Missouri Supreme Court, which described the initial proceedings which caused her to lose custody as a "travesty of justice"; it will almost certainly be appealed.

Gershom Gorenberg on Israel's new standing as part of the "illiberal international". As he notes, that the nation-state bill was passed at the same time as Bibi was welcoming Viktor Orban into the country could not be more appropriate.

There was never any doubt that Janus was part of a larger declaration of war against unions -- but Will Baude describes a particularly nasty implication of the precedent: the unions might be forced to disgorge payments collected as unlawfully obtained (even though they were perfectly lawful at the time they were collected).

Rabbi detained and taken for questioning by police for officiating a Jewish wedding ceremony. Iran? Saudi Arabia? Nope -- Israel.

Anshel Pfeffer: Orban is a smart antisemite, Corbyn is a stupid antisemite. I'll buy that.

John Strawson (formerly a professor at Birzeit University) and Martin Bright explain why the antisemitism issue means they can't be a part of Labour anymore. Meanwhile, Labour MP Margaret Hodge defends calling Corbyn a "racist and an antisemite" to his face on the floor of Parliament.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

#HardPickHal and the Rise in (Stories on) Calling the Police on Black People

By now you're familiar with #HardPickHal (my hashtag -- make it fly), who called the cops on a fellow pickup basketball player after -- I swear I'm not making this up -- a particularly hard foul.

He follows in the grand tradition BBQ Becky, Permit Patty, and the many other cases of White people calling the police on Black people for mundane activity -- at best, trivial offenses, at worst completely innocent conduct.

The recent flurry of these stories makes it seem like this is an newly-emergent phenomenon -- what happened to make White people start calling the police on Black people willy-nilly all of the sudden?

Of course, the most obvious explanation for our increased awareness of this phenomenon is not that it's suddenly occurring more frequently but a simple availability bias -- it's always happened like this, only now we're actually hearing about it.

And that seems mostly right. For a long time there have been complaints about White people -- particularly in the context of gentrification -- calling the police to enforce "quality of life" norms that target Black and Brown members of their community (typically long-standing residents) as a means of harassment. If we're hearing more about it now, that's not due to any change in behavior but rather new attention on an old phenomenon.

But I do wonder if there might be something going on reflecting an actual change in behavior -- an increase in White people threatening to call the police on Black people as a means of asserting racial dominance.

Basically, the idea goes like this. One way #BlackLivesMatter has impacted the cultural zeitgeist is that it has brought unprecedented attention to the way that the police can threaten the lives and liberty of people of color. It has placed into the (White) public eye a counternarrative to the dominant view that "the police are here to protect you".

One thing this could be doing is making more salient the prospect that threatening to call the police is a way for White people to specifically hurt Black people. It is a legitimate threat. Think of circumstances where people grope for ways to hurt others -- in an argument, in a dispute, or just when one is being an asshole. One of the reasons racial slurs are most likely to appear in situations like that is that they are a very quick way to wound someone one wants to wound. But -- perhaps paradoxically -- the rise in White associational awareness regarding the role of police as a danger to Black lives also makes it cognitively more available as a "move" one can pull when one is trying to dominate or terrorize the Black life standing in front of you.

I still think that most of the answer lies in column "a" -- this has always been happening, only now it's getting more exposure. But it wouldn't surprise me if there's a bit of column "b" in play as well. The counterreaction to BLM demonstrates that those deeply antagonistic to the claims Black people are making regarding the police nonetheless have absorbed -- through the mirror darkly -- the message regarding the danger the police pose to Black bodies. They just think that danger is justified and legitimately wielded. And if we're seeing that threat put out more explicitly nowadays, that might be part of the reason why.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Post-Bacchanalia Roundup

I had my bachelor party this weekend in Chicago. That sounds wilder than it was -- my fiancee and I have the same core friend group (we all went to college together), so we rented an AirBnb and spent the weekend as a group. We did split off Saturday to do our own things (mani/pedis for the gals, an escape room for team boy -- which we completed with seven seconds to spare), but by and large it was a non-traditionally gender-unified event.

Still a blast though.

Anyway, here's some stuff that's gone on in the interim.

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In Foreign PolicyJacob Levy has a neat essay on the philosophy of my great-grandadviser (the Ph.D. adviser of the Ph.D. adviser of my Ph.D. adviser), Judith Shklar.

Also in FP, a discussion of a possible Israeli-Palestinian confederation -- the first articulation of an outcome to the conflict outside the "classic" two-state solution model which I've found remotely compelling.

Labour's antisemitism policy under Corbyn has basically been "fuck you, Jews" in so many words, but I believe this is the first time a prominent Jewish Labour politician has explicitly said "fuck you" back to him.

Iraq has a long Jewish history, which is memorialized in a giant archive of Jewish artifacts. These artifacts were removed for safekeeping following the U.S. invasion, and unsurprisingly Iraq now wants them back. Problem: virtually no Iraqi Jews live in Iraq anymore, and they want the archives somewhere they can actually access them. For the record, this is a great example of the sort of problem intersectionality was designed to illuminate.

D.C. Circuit upholds funding structure whereby FERC gets its budget from fees assessed to natural gas pipeline projects it approves (against environmental challengers who say that incentivizes them to keep approving pipelines). The more interesting part of the case is a bit buried though -- the court concludes that Pennsylvania's Environmental Rights Amendment does not create an individualized liberty or property interest in a clean environment cognizable under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Meanwhile, the Seventh Circuit concludes that refusing to give an incarcerated transwoman medically-necessary hormone therapy -- and later, forbidding her from taking those hormones herself when she's released on parole -- can give rise to a "deliberate indifference" to medical need claim.

Man calls the police on a Black man over a basketball foul. No, seriously. What's his hashtag going to be? I vote #HardPickHal.

Federal Court: "Jewish" Can Be a Race Under Title VII

Last week, a federal court in Louisiana handed down a very interesting decision in Bonadona v. Louisiana College, concerning whether "Jewish" could be a racial category for purposes of Title VII litigation.

The "is Jewish a race" question is notoriously nettlesome (oh boy is it nettlesome), but it generally can be skirted in law because most anti-discrimination statutes which have race as a protected status protect religious identity as well. But Bonadona managed to tee up the question with possibly the most perfect set of facts imaginable.

Joshua Bonadona was born Jewish to a Jewish mother, but converted to Christianity while playing football at a Christian college and is now a practicing Baptist. After graduating, he applied for a job as a football coach at his alma mater, only to be rejected at the last stage because the college President (he alleges) objected to his "Jewish blood." Yup, "Jewish blood."

So on the one hand, we have a case where the plaintiff has to make a racial rather than a religious discrimination argument because he's not religiously Jewish. And on the other hand, we have alleged statements by the defendant that frame the antisemitism in the most racialized way imaginable. In his Racism: A Short History, George Frederickson excavates how the very concept of race had its origins in the idea of limpieza de sangre -- "purity of blood" -- which was used to discriminate against Jewish converts to Christianity in the wake of the Inquisition. Bonadona's case seems to be a lineal descendant of that fusion of religious and racial antisemitism directed at formerly-Jewish Christians.

The court ended up concluding that Jewish could be a racial identity under Title VII. Certainly that seems right to me under these facts. In Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, the Supreme Court concluded that Jewishness should be considered a racial identity for the purpose of Section 1981 claims, as (regardless of its status today) Jewishness would have been considered a racial identity when the statute was passed in 1866 (a companion case reached the same conclusion for Arab identity; interestingly, this conclusion -- that Jewishness was a race in 1866, but might not be today -- was precisely how Jewish amici at the time urged the Court to resolve the "is Jewish a race" question).

The court here correctly noted that Cobb doesn't conclusively establish that Jewish is a race for all times or all purposes. But it does indicate that race is as it does, and that rather than coming to some conclusive scientific or sociological determination of whether Jewish "really" is or isn't a race, the better move is to analyze when/how Jewishness has and does operate in practice as a racial identity. The court concluded that much of the history of antisemitism in America has taken on a racialized frame (Bonadona's allegations represent a particularly striking example), and hence Jewishness can be legitimately be characterized as a race in seeking to remedy that discrimination.

One question that remains open is whether "Jewishness" should always be considered a racialized identity even in circumstances where the form of the alleged antisemitism isn't as blatantly racialized as it was alleged to be here. That I'm not entirely sure about. On the one hand, if one side of the "race is a mutable and fluid concept" coin is that we should accept the existence of racialized antisemitism even in circumstances or eras where Jewishness is not typically thought of as a "race", then the other side of that coin has to be that in other circumstances the concept of race will mutate and flow such that even genuine antisemitism won't be conceived or experienced in racial terms. On the other hand, I'm not sure what utility there is in such fine-grained slicing and dicing, particularly given that I believe anti-discrimination laws should be broadly construed to effectuate their remedial purposes and few would argue that combating antisemitism -- of whatever kind -- is not among those purposes.

The court's analysis, on my quick read, suggests that it thinks Jews should always have access to race discrimination claims under Title VII. But that really wasn't at issue here and, again, in most cases that don't have these (oh-so-perfect) facts it won't generally come up.

UPDATE: This was a magistrate's report and recommendation, and the District Court ultimately declined to adopt it -- instead concluding that Jews are not covered by Title VII's "race" provision. I wrote about that decision here.