Saturday, May 15, 2021

Israel's Scariest Chart

There are more immediate and visceral problems, but at some level the single scariest chart coming out of Israel might be this (from 2019, but I've seen little to suggest it isn't still accurate):

In Israel, Jewish youth are massively, disproportionately, wildly right-wing. Support for Bibi is just the tip of the iceberg -- young Jewish voters show burgeoning support for outright hatred of Arabs, up to and including stripping Israeli Arabs of citizenship and/or voting rights. The precipitous fall of Labor in some ways is simply the story of this chart -- its voters are old, and dying, and they're being replaced by increasingly one-sided right-wing cohorts. 

It's not just that the "cavalry isn't coming", though there is that. The American story that someday soon the old racists will die off and be replaced by progressive youth was always too pat, but imagine how much worse we'd be if the demographics were flipped (one of the millennial founders of IfNotNow said that Gen Z Israel activists make folks like him look "f*cking reformist" -- imagine that dynamic, but on the right).

But the problem is more than just the inability to sit back and let demographic tides do their work. Political parties, first and foremost, try to get elected. And from that vantage point, Likud and the right-wing coalition have to view the past decade or so as a rousing success. They've entrenched themselves as the dominant faction in Israeli politics (even the "anti-Bibi" bloc which may or may not finally succeed in turning him out of office is dependent on considerable right-wing support, up to and including possibly installing Naftali Bennett in the PM's office). Whatever social dynamics in Israel are creating this state affairs, they probably want to keep up.

And that's a capital-p Problem. It's not wrong to say that the international community has not done its job in bolstering the Israeli left. But when one sees gaps like this, I struggle to imagine what sorts of interventions from the outside could even make significant dent in the left/right gap. Even if we reframe the issue in nominally non-partisan terms -- we need to support deradicalization policies that promote trust and collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians and which create space for more moderate leadership and politics to take root -- the glaring issue is that the status quo is good for the current Israeli leadership. And, by extension, attempts to alter that status quo pose a threat to the current Israeli leadership -- an Israel where there is widespread faith in the possibility of a genuine, just, negotiated settlement and where peaceful coexistence seems within reach is one where that leadership probably won't enjoy the massive political advantage it holds now.

The sum result is that the dominant, right-wing Israeli political coalition has -- for entirely bloodless, politically self-interested reasons -- a massive incentive to obstruct or thwart such deradicalization efforts at every turn. If Likud et al are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams in an Israel where Jewish youth are radicalized, have little interest in any sort of just peace with Palestine, are increasingly open in support of explicit apartheid policies, and so on, then their political interest is to preserve a state of affairs where Jewish youth are radicalized, have little interest in just peace, and are open to supporting apartheid policies.

In short: the current dominant political coalition in Israel is likely to be an opponent of even seemingly anodyne measures to promote coexistence and mutual trust between Jews and Palestinians (and Israeli Arabs, for that matter), because the lesson of the past decade is that an Israel where Jews are keyed up to believe coexistence is impossible and trust is a sucker's game is an Israel where they can win election after election. And frankly, I don't have good ideas of how to circumvent that. 

What is clear is that it has to be circumvented -- the sad fact is that the best interventions are almost certainly going to be ones that try to sidestep the Israeli government outright and focus on direct engagement (whether that's peer-to-peer work, exchange programs, NGO investment, or something else). But we need to be on alert that it's highly likely that the Israeli government will do its level best to sabotage these efforts. We should view Israel's "anti-BDS" visa law in that light, we should view the nation-state law in that light, we should view the assaults on Israeli universities and the cultural sector in that light, we should view all the various ways that the Israeli government has demonized and rabble-roused against peace-seeking initiatives and NGOs for years now in that light. It is part of a fight that's been waged for years now to ensure that the status quo which has given Likud and its allies powers stays the status quo. And let's be clear: right now, it's a fight they're winning, and we're losing.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Mask Comes Off

As you've no doubt heard, the CDC has issued new guidance that vaccinated persons normally do not need to wear masks. This has generated some predictable, if bizarre, caterwauling that now anyone who is seen wearing a mask can be assumed to "anti-science" or "virtue signaling" or whatever ad hoc buzzword is currently being pushed on Tucker Carlson.

First, clearly, it is a good thing that we're at the point where many of us no longer need masks. This is exciting! Be happy!

Second, there are plenty of people who have still ample good reason to wear masks. Most obviously, not everyone is vaccinated yet! And some people can't get the vaccine at all, or are immuno-suppressed, or have other reasons why they remain at heightened risk. And on the whole, there's absolutely no reason to care if someone wears a mask even if there is no logical rationale for them to do so. Wearing a mask when you don't need one hurts no one. Refusing to wear a mask when you do need one hurts everyone. This is a basic distinction and it is maddening that some don't get it.

For me, while I certainly don't prefer wearing masks, I'm not a toddler, so I have not experienced wearing one as an intolerable burden on my human freedom worthy of a temper tantrum either. What does that mean in practice? Well, my building still for now has a mask-mandate in hallways and common spaces, and I'll follow the rules because I'm not an anarchist. But I just had friends over for the first time in over a year, and none of us wore masks, because we're all vaccinated. Great. 

Meanwhile, I'm hosting a somewhat larger event at the law school next week where I don't know if everyone is vaccinated or not, and the law school asked that we stay masked up except when eating or drinking. Fine by me -- the attendees don't necessarily know if I'm vaccinated and vice versa. And that applies to many public settings -- I know I'm vaccinated, but the restaurant hostess or the store clerk or jogger standing next to me at the intersection doesn't know that, so I'll probably still wear a mask for awhile longer just so they don't have to wonder whether I'm maskless because I'm vaccinated or because I'm a sociopath. Eventually, I'll stop. I'll stop faster if there's a vaccine passport system so people can know I'm vaccinated -- not so I can pat myself on the back, but so they know that they're safer. But either way, so long as you stay within the boundaries of being a good citizen, do what you do.

Should I PlagueWatch It?: Series Finale!

In March 2020, I inaugurated on this blog what I said "may but hopefully won't(?) become an ongoing series": Should I PlagueWatch It? Basically, it took the thing Jill and I do best -- watch TV -- and offered our recommendations for what you should watch to get you through the pandemic.

Over a year later, Should I PlagueWatch It? did, indeed, become a series. In addition to the first entry -- HBO's Avenue 5 -- I also did entries on Gentleman Jack, Marvel's Runaways, Alpha House, Never Have I Ever, Jelle's Marble Runs, Making the Cut, and a "roundup" post that covered Billions, Insecure, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ultimate Tag, Titan Games, and Holey Moley.

But now, it feels we're finally closing the chapter on the pandemic. Jill and I are vaccinated, my parents came to visit this past weekend, we're seeing friends, the CDC says we can go unmasked. It seems, alas, that all good things must come to an end. And while the pandemic itself is certainly not a good thing, some of us may be feeling a bit bittersweet at the prospect of being expected to interact with other humans rather than sit around and watch Netflix all day.

So to wrap up the series, one more omnibus "quick hits" review of all the shows we PlagueWatched that haven't yet gotten their own entry.

* * * Mild spoilers * * *

Blown Away
  • Reality TV can be wonderful in its formulaicness. Take a random hobby, find ten people who are pretty good at it, dangle $50,000 in front of them, and bang, you've got a competition show. This one's about glass blowing. I know nothing about glass blowing, but the competitors seem pretty talented to me?
  • I was impressed at how versatile a medium glass is. I worried when I started the show that the challenges would end up being pretty one note (how many vases can one make?). But the competitors actually made a lot of really cool material!
  • There's a lot of running and swinging and flailing given that they're handling molten-hot material.  It stressed me out. Also, apparently "glory holes" are an essential part of glass blowing, and nobody made a joke about it.
  • This show is definitely more in the "everyone likes and supports one another" mold of reality TV compared to the "constant cat fights and 'I'm not here to make friends'" mold. No judgment, just letting you know what to expect.
  • A Netflix series about a young college student with no sexual experience who decides she needs to develop an app to optimize the female orgasm. It's not the most innovative concept, but it works well enough.
  • Of the core trio, my favorite character is Paulina -- the religious Catholic best-friend who is having (bad) sex with her fiancé and feels guilty about even that sin. She does a lot of great expressive work and has some superb character beats (her popcorn addiction -- just casually munching away while watching porn). 
  • Speaking of Paulina, at the outset I told Jill she looked like someone and Jill's first guess was "a plainer Emily Blunt" (that's not an insult -- who isn't plainer than Emily Blunt?). It wasn't who I was thinking of, and soon I realized the answer was like six women I've known over the years. So maybe "plainer Emily Blunt" is a more common face than I realized?
  • The show is in Polish (with subtitles), and I'm very proud that I managed to identify the language as Polish right away (I do not speak a word of Polish).
  • The musical motif for the show combines one of the catchiest guitar riffs I've ever heard with a sample loop of a woman's sex moans. It fits the show perfectly, but it's a bit awkward to listen to on its own.
  • You shouldn't need me to tell you about this show. It's good, but my hottest take -- and I stand by it -- is that as an exploration of grief Never Have I Ever does it better and it's not close.
  • Can we concede that Wanda is the unambiguous villain of the show? With only the barest shift in perspective, Wanda could be the nemesis with an admittedly sympathetic motive. To some extent, I think the show was far too forgiving of her. Motives aside, how different is she from Kilgrave on Jessica Jones?
  • Poor Emma Caulfield. So much build-up for her character, and it's only a head-fake.
Space Force
  • I liked it. It's not in the most elite of the elite comedies, and maybe that's the standard when Steve Carrell is the lead, but it was quite funny. That said, I keep on almost forgetting that I watched it, and have no substantive commentary to offer. So take from that what you will.
  • AOC lookalike alert (the character even gets the nickname AYC -- "Angry Young Congresswoman")!
Mythic Quest
  • I love that Ubisoft is actually involved in the show (which is set at a game studio producing a popular massively multiplayer online RPG).
  • Surprisingly, given my love affair with Community, Danny Pudi is one of the least interesting characters on the show.
  • The actress who plays Poppy isn't the very strongest (though she's improving), but Poppy herself may be my favorite character. Of course, everyone knows I'm a sucker for an Australian accent.
  • The show has some great characters in side parts who don't get enough attention, like Sue the community manager and Carol the HR director. Also, Aparna Nancherla has a small recurring role in the first season and apparently doesn't come back for season two? I don't get why she keeps getting sidelined like this -- she's funnier than the rest of the cast put together.
Ted Lasso
  • Good, sweet, endearing, fun. British soccer comedies with heart are a winner for me (Bend It Like Beckham, anyone?).
  • Ted's estranged wife is played by the same actress who plays Linda in Better Off Ted. This was very strange, though admittedly I'm probably the only person who cared enough about Better Off Ted to notice or care.
  • Dashing gentleman thief who's always a step ahead of his adversaries, except maybe the one nemesis who actually can match him step for step in a constant cat-and-mouse game? Look, it's a cliché for a reason. I'm not going to say Lupin breaks the mold, but it certainly is a well-crafted entry into the mold.
  • If there is anything innovative, it's how Lupin particularly leverages stereotypes about race and class to maneuver more freely in certain spaces (e.g., he can smuggle himself into prison because the guards can't tell him apart from another inmate -- sad commentary, but useful for Lupin!).
  • It did do something I hate, which is release "half a season" and just leave the audience hanging at the end. Maybe it was the pandemic's fault, but one could really feel its incompleteness.
Kim's Convenience
  • Of the Canadian shows I've been watching, I'd say Working Moms (not in this post because it is pre-pandemic) is the stronger of the two. But this is fun as well.
  • It just got cancelled, unfortunately depriving it of the chance to wrap up its single greatest storyline (that's been ongoing since season one). That's a real, real shame.
  • Simu Liu as Jung is the latest iteration of the Jason Mendoza trend of "dumb male Asian hottie leads". I guess it's a blow against stereotypes?
  • Pastor Nina also could be an AOC lookalike. I think the show struggled a bit to draw a bead on her character.
  • I actually mentioned this show in my post about Jelle's Marble Runs, but it is such a joy to watch. I can't wait for season two, which is dropping very soon. For pure, simple, uncomplicated happiness, Legomasters beats out everything on this list.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Supporting a Bad Client's Bad Position in Service of a Bad Principle is Bad

Yale Law Professor Jed Rubenfeld is representing Children's Health Defense, an anti-vaxx organization founded by Robert Kennedy JR., in its suit against Facebook for slapping "content warnings" on their material, which spreads false conspiracies about vaccines in general and the COVID vaccines in particular. The allegation is that, since Facebook is following CDC guidance in deciding that the CHD's speech about vaccines is false and misleading, that means Facebook is effectively engaging in "state action" and so can be held liable under the First Amendment.

This would be controversial in general, and in particular since Rubenfeld is currently suspended from Yale due to sexual harassment issues. But at PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman doesn't see how Rubenfeld's litigating on behalf of anti-vaxxers is different from the ACLU representing Nazis who want to march through Skokie. Both, in Wasserman's view, can be described as "the principled lawyer using civil litigation to pursue general ideals for all, albeit for the immediate benefit of the ultimate bad or unappealing person."

I have to admit, I don't share Wasserman's confusion. At least two things distinguish what Rubenfeld is doing from the ACLU's conduct in the Skokie litigation. The most obvious is that Rubenfeld has indicated that he thinks that the CHD's anti-vaccine conspiracies are true, not just constitutionally protected. The ACLU defended Nazis by saying that their speech, while abhorrent, is constitutionally protected. We'd look at them quite differently if their defense took Rubenfeld's form: "what the Nazis say about Jews is true (but even if it weren't, it'd be constitutionally protected)."

Second, the ACLU's position in Skokie was, as Wasserman states, a situation where the organization was defending a good constitutional that happened, in this case, to redound to the benefit of a bad actor.  They were, in short, defending a bad client's bad position in service of a good principle. That doesn't translate if one thinks that the legal principle that would entail a victory for CHD over Facebook would be a bad principle (and not just bad because of its results in this case). In that case, Rubenfeld would be defending a bad client's bad position in service of a bad principle, which seems fairly characterized as bad. 

The same applies to those who hopped on Trump's challenges to the 2020 Election. In addition to representing a bad client (Trump) and supporting him on the moral, not just legal, merits, and in addition to the case-specific outcome of his litigation being bad (overturning the democratic election results), the overall legal principles that would have been established (allowing states to reverse election results after the fact because they don't like the candidate who won the most votes based on specious claims of "fraud") would have been bad too. That's quite a bit of bad stacked on top of one another. And Rubenfeld, to me, seems to be in a similar circumstance, and can be judged similarly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Is a Coup Coming?

I've read a fair number of pieces -- and I'd call them "alarmist", except I don't think they're wrong to raise the alarm -- that the Republican Party is laying the foundation to simply not accept a Democratic victory in 2024. "Stop the steal" becomes "steal it back", if you will. Certainly, the defenestration of Liz Cheney is part of this dynamic. The branches of the GOP which are even nominally supportive of democracy in America grow more brittle every day.

But meanwhile, Politico is observing goings-on amongst retired military officials, and there's some cause for concern there too:
A day after 124 retired generals and admirals released a letter spreading the lie that President Joe Biden stole the election, current and former military officers are speaking out, calling the missive a dangerous news sign of the military being dragged into the trenches of partisan warfare.

The open letter on Monday from a group calling itself Flag Officers 4 America advanced the false conspiracy theory that the presidential vote was rigged in Biden's favor and warned that the nation is "in deep peril" from "a full-blown assault on our Constitutional rights."

The good news, such as it is, is that most of the flag officers are below three stars (and no four stars) -- not the heaviest hitters. The bad news, well, I'll kick it over to Peter Seaver (formerly on the NSC in the Clinton and Bush administrations) for the bad news:

Every military that coups or threatens to coup constructs a narrative in which the military is acting to save the country from something worse than military rule. Clearly the authors are attempting to write that narrative.

Not good. Not good at all.

Also, I'll just note that Thomas Sowell was flirting with supporting military coups to keep Democrats out of power since 2008. So this rot, while no doubt accelerated by Trump, did not begin with him. It has been percolating in conservative circles for awhile.