Friday, October 12, 2018

Tab Reduction is Stress Reduction Roundup

I've been very stressed these past few days. It's the usual mix of personal issues combined with the persistent fact of the world teetering on the brink of collapse. My appetite has gone, I haven't been sleeping well -- if it wasn't for the escape of Historical Murder Simulator: Greece, I don't know where I'd be.

Of course, none of this has stopped me from reading the internet. And here's a taste of what's been on the browser:

* * *

Shais Rishon (aka MaNishtana) has a new book out -- a semiautobiographical text about a Black Jewish American Rabbi.

Jon Chait on why the rise of non-liberal socialism might be good for liberalism. Not sure I'm convinced, but it was an interesting read.

The Cleveland Indians are retiring the "Chief Wahoo" mascot. Good riddance. Now, the Washington Redskins stand alone and unchallenged for the title of "most obviously racist representation in professional sports". (The article did tell me a bit of trivia I hadn't been aware of: Apparently, the Cleveland Indians were named in honor of Louis Sockalexis, the first American Indian professional ballplayer who played three seasons for the then-Cleveland Spiders from 1897-99).

Top Corbyn ally tries to push head of Jewish Voice for Labour -- a fringe-left Jewish group formed to provide Jewish cover against broad-based Jewish outrage over Corbynista antisemitism -- to run for parliament in one of the most heavily Jewish seats in the country. At a candidate event, prominent Jewish community members (including journalists) banned from attending because they "misrepresent people, events, or facts". Protest outside the event includes someone trying to burn an Israeli flag ... that was being worn around someone's shoulders. Just another day.

Good article, bad title: In the Forward, Moshe Krakowski explores the nuanced and complicated posture Orthodox Jews take towards Israel and Zionism.

ADL explains how Soros-talk can be antisemitic talk. It's good, but certain examples of "left politics are a Soros backed conspiracy" were oddly omitted....

Israeli appellate court upholds ban on entry for Lara Alqasem. Guess my column didn't persuade. She may appeal to to the Supreme Court. Also worth noting: a good piece on the Academe Blog regarding Israeli academia rallying behind Alqasem, and a statement from the Alliance for Academic Freedom (which I signed) urging Israel to reverse this ill-advised and illiberal decision.

In happier news, Congress just passed a bill which would rename the federal courthouse building in Minneapolis after my late judge, Diana Murphy. Judge Murphy was the first women to serve on the Eighth Circuit when she was appointed in 1994 (as of 2018, that number has risen to ... two), and served nearly 40 years on the federal bench.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey Initial(?) Thoughts

I've been playing AC: Odyssey over the past few days (I am a big fan of the series). And what a time it has been! I actually don't know if these are my "initial" thoughts, because I have only a very weak sense of how far I've actually gotten into what appears to be a gigantic game (for orientation, I've just finished Perikles' initial set of requests in Athens).

But anyway, here are my scattered comments (some very mild spoilers might appear):

* It's been said before, but this game owes a huge debt to Witcher III. That's a compliment -- Witcher III is one of my favorite games of all time, and I've often gone into game stores and asked "what's a game that's kind of like Witcher III"? Odyssey is more than "kind of like Witcher III"; it is precariously close to a reskin (right down to the musical cues).

Again, that's a good thing.

* I'm playing as Kassandra, and I find her to be super-likable. I think they really did a great job with her. Word is that she's the better voice-acted of the two protagonist choices, and from clips I've seen of Alexios, I'd agree. That said, when you encounter Alexios as Kassandra, he basically sounds like a half-literate cave-person (that's due to specific elements of his background, not bad acting); and I'd be genuinely curious to hear half-literate cave-Kassandra as well.

* I'm enjoying the entire storyline, but the Cult of Kosmos questline in particular is so far a blast. It's also fun to be playing this while enrolled in a political theory program -- while AC games are always basically "murder your way through history", there's something especially tickling to have a buddy who's studying Kleon and be able to be like "oh, you work on Kleon? I just slaughtered somebody for him in my game!"

* Is the map (I can't believe I'm saying this) too big? I don't know, but we might be getting close. One major problem is that there aren't quite enough fast travel points for my taste. The easiest fix would be to make towns and cities fast travel locations (in addition to the usual synchronization points). As it is, it can take a long time to get places.

* I'm not wild about timed quests (they stress me out), and in particular too many of them force you to return to quest-giver when you're done -- which is a problem when you've strayed halfway across the world. I get it from an immersion perspective -- what, a reward magically appears in your pocket? -- but (particularly given the aforementioned issue of a giant map coupled with sparse fast travel points) it's often just not worth it to slog back out to some middle of nowhere cabin in the woods just to report you've killed five sharks somewhere. Suggestion: Quests received at message boards should also be redeemable at any message board around the world.

* While I've been harping on the map, I do want to say that the "exploration mode" works, and works surprisingly well. Just a touch of extra work without ever feeling overwhelmed. Definitely a good call.

* Some gameplay mechanics feel a bit under-explained. Even now, I'm not entirely sure what attacks I should dodge (and how) versus which I should parry. The result is that combat is pretty button-mashy.

* There's something a bit weird and sad about having a million different types of gear built into the game, of which 99.9% will never be used because why would you replace your legendary outfit? Even rare equipment is pretty much pointless as a category, and what is the purpose of a Level 20 common sword?

* Sadly, the naval experience -- which had been a strength of the series since its introduction in AC3 -- is probably the weakest aspect of the game here. Naval combat isn't particularly interesting, and serves mostly as a hassle that interrupts the even greater hassle of having to sail halfway across the planet to get to your next objective.

* Overall, though, this is a very strong entry into the series -- right up there with some of the all-time best. Great job from Ubisoft -- keep it up!

Big Media David: Lara Alqasem Edition

I was planning on writing a blog post about the Canary Mission file on Lara Alqasem -- the American student currently being refused admission to Israel on grounds of past BDS activity. That activity is supposedly documented in her Canary file, and it is a marvel to behold: a 1,500 word dossier, of which all but 70 words are on actions or statements or conduct by people other than Lara Alqasem. All they have on her is that she was (a) a member, then President of her school's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, and (b) once was "involved in an event" advocating the boycott of Sabra Hummus.

The remainder of the file, the other 1,430 words of it, is a smorgasbord of sprawling guilt-by-association. University of Florida SJP posted a video which featured a speaker who said a thing which bit the cat that ate the goat…it’s chad gadya, but for Palestinian advocacy.

Anyway, I was going to write that post, but then Haaretz asked me to do a column on the Alqasem case more generally -- so I folded it into that. You can read the finished product here: basically, my big point is that BDS and the right-wing Israeli government are in a tacit alliance with one another against liberal Israeli institutions (like academia) -- so it's no surprise that they've united around the position "Lara Alqasem should not be studying at an Israeli university."

Nor is it, contrary to popular belief, "counterproductive" -- at least, not if you understand which each side is trying to produce. If you think the goal of the Israeli government is to change the minds of its critics and undermine BDS, or if you think the goal of the BDS movement is to try to effectuate progressive change in Israel to the betterment of the Palestinian cause, then yes, targeting Israeli universities for isolation is counterproductive. But if the goal is to squeeze the life of these institutions and their liberal peers, and make it so the only choice is between opposing "River to the Sea" ideologies, then everyone is behaving quite productively.

The sad thing is though that I think the column has been scooped -- the bigger story than anything I might say is that Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens co-wrote a column in the New York Times condemning Israel's decision to exclude Alqasem. That's more interesting and revealing than my quite predictable jeremiads.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XLIX: Taylor Swift Endorsing Phil Bredesen

There's this weird element of contemporary pop culture where, at any given moment, there's a celebrity that seems inexplicably hated (it's almost always a woman, and that part sadly is quite explicable).

Anne Hathaway was it for awhile, and I could never figure out why. What's wrong with Anne Hathaway? She seems lovely! Lena Dunham certainly fit the bill for a bit. And then there was Taylor Swift -- who had the extra misfortune of not just being hated seemingly randomly by the masses but also being involuntarily made into a White Supremacist mascot. Ouch.

But now Tay Tay has made a very prominent endorsement in the 2018 midterms -- Phil Bredesen, Tennessee's former Democratic governor, who has very quietly pulled into the lead in his bid to flip the open seat from red to blue.

You can imagine the Nazis are pissed. You can also imagine who they blame.

I can't get the screenshots here (follow the link), but here are two excerpts of comments floating around far-right message boards:
“This looks so ghost written. Ever notice how every celebrity seems to be reciting the same exact script and even use the same exact wording. Not that I’m excusing Taytay, fuck her. I just noticed how she sounds exactly like Chris Evans and all those other faggots who suddenly try to get political. Their tweets always read as if some faggy Jew wrote it for them.”
“This is Soros trying to bluepill [sic] us by kidnapping /our princess/ they must have blackmailed her or something. We need to save her.”
On that second one, I feel compelled to point out that under Brit Hume rules there's nothing antisemitic there since the poster only said "Soros" and not "Jews". Good thing, too, because if we actually were willing to recognize Soros for the obvious dog-whistle that it is, who knows how many mainstream Republicans would get caught up!

Anyway, fist-bump for team Jew for successfully "bluepilling" Swift (whatever that means) and to Taylor, hey, "shake it off" (whatever that means).

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The Impossibility of Speech Disruption

Last week, I went to a talk at UC-Berkeley by James Loeffler on the Zionist history of the architects of post-WWII human rights law.

In the middle of the talk, there was a disruption.

Now you might think that "disruption at Berkeley of a talk on Zionism" would be from some sort of pro-Palestinian or anti-occupation activist -- but in this case, you'd be wrong. The disrupter instead was a disheveled old White man who stood up in the middle of the talk and started rambling incomprehensibly about Mammon and Christ and the coming day of judgment and some 500 year old campaign of resistance which either Jews were a part of or Jews were the adversary of (it really was hard to follow).

In a sense, this was the "ideal" disruption because it is entirely unsympathetic. There's no political controversy that skews our prejudices, there's no uncomfortable dissenting view that may need space for airing. On the ledger of "ensuring the speaker can speak" and "ensuring the audience can participate", every entry fell in favor of silencing the protester as quickly and decisively as possible.

Which is why I found it interesting that, even in this case, there really wasn't anything the event organizers could reasonably do to end the disruption in a timely fashion. We were pretty much at his mercy for as long as he wanted to talk. The organizers walked up towards him and sort of vaguely gestured at the exits, which he ignored; eventually a different organizer got a microphone and asked him to leave and let people listen to the talk, which he also mostly ignored. Eventually, he made his way down to the front and out the door (never not talking), started to walk out (to cheers), briefly walked back in (to boos), and then finally exited once again. But there was no real doubt that he could have kept going indefinitely, at least until some form of security arrived to forcibly remove him.

And that's the interesting thing about such disruptions: even in a case like this, where one is wholly unsympathetic to a protester who is adding no intellectual or social content to the event whatsoever, if he withdraws social cooperation and just refuses to leave when asked, there's really nothing anyone can do short of the physical. And that, in turn, will no doubt feel like an escalation and an overreaction -- the protester literally dragged out of the room -- even in a case like this, much less in one where some people might have sympathy for the protester.

And in a way, that dynamic is what is being relied upon in these sorts of protesters. Our society relies on certain implicit norms of social cooperation (such as, if you're asked to leave an event you're disrupting, you walk out under your own power). Where that cooperation is withdrawn, society isn't powerless, but it becomes a lot cruder a lot more quickly -- and the revelation of the crudeness is often the point of the protest. But the point of using the above example is to stress that this is the reality in any social case -- it isn't something unique to a particular political or social worldview. Any social institution relies on implicit cooperation as a substitute for physical power as against any sort of challenge -- it's not something unique to the good guys or the bad guys.