Tuesday, May 24, 2022
In 2020, Republican politicians made bogus claims of fraud in order to justify attempting to steal an election they lost. But why bother with the "fraud" allegation at all? Why not just attempt the robbery? The answer, presumably, is that claiming fraud -- however spuriously -- was necessary to justify overturning the will of the voters and assigning electoral college voters to a candidate who got fewer votes.
The problem with this strategy was, of course, that the fraud claims were obvious nonsense and every sane observer -- including virtually all judges -- knew it. Insofar as the strategy was based on a flagrant lie, it was vulnerable to rejection once it actually hit the judiciary.
Fast forward a few years, though, and Republicans are coming to a realization: They don't need to claim fraud. They can cut out the middleman entirely and just assert the right to ignore the voters entirely. The claim being developed is a version of the "independent state legislature" doctrine that just asserts that state political officials (themselves often in highly gerrymandered seats that bear no relationship to the popular will) have free reign to decide who gets their state's electoral votes. Their decision need not be in any way constrained by such piddling trivialities like "who the voters of their state actually voted for" -- even in the funhouse mirror sense of "well if you discount the votes that we assert are fraudulent because *mumble mumble brown people*, then the voters actually chose our guy." The new version of the steal is a straight line argument that if the state legislature wants to assign their EVs to Trump, Trump gets them. The people can pound sand.
Unlike the concocted fraud allegations, this is fundamentally a legal assertion -- an extreme, terrifying legal assertion, but a legal assertion all the same. Getting the GOP judiciary to accept it does not depend on forcing judges to deny reality, it just depends on getting the right mix of reactionary nihilists who can issue a chin-stroking pontification about how slave states in 1810 organized their elections with a straight face -- and recent history suggests that a welter of federal court judges will be eager to accommodate them.
Nonsense fraud claims might gild the lily of this endeavor, but they aren't necessary to the strategy. And for that reason, this strategy for stealing the election is far more likely to succeed than the last one. The 2020 steal attempt was a largely ad hoc, on-the-fly paint splatter thrown together by the least competent attorneys Trump's money could buy in a context where it still was mostly taken for granted that the vote tallies ought determine the winner. In 2024, the GOP establishment will have had time to prepare itself logistically, but also mentally -- it will have come to terms with making the argument that in our allegedly constitutional democracy votes don't have to matter at all (See the Senate! See the electoral college itself! We're a republic, not a democracy!).
Republicans swung as hard as they could in 2020, but they just weren't strong enough to ring the bell. This time around, they'll be trained, toned, and ready. I hope we are too.
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Years ago, I remember reading a famous paradox concerning how Americans viewed the subject of foreign aid. If you asked them "should the US spend more or less on foreign aid," most Americans would answer "less" -- they thought we spent way too much money on the issue. But when you asked them to estimate how much the United States spent on foreign aid each year, they gave an answer that was an order of magnitude higher than what we actually spent. And worst of all, if you asked them how much they thought we should spend on foreign aid, their answer was still far higher than what we actually did spend -- and remember, this is from people who thought their position was that we needed to cut foreign aid!
At one level, this confluence mostly just shows that most people are innumerate. But taking it somewhat at face value, there is a nettlesome political puzzle here. What does one do if people say they want to adopt position X, but actually advocate for moving away from X, because they are under the misapprehension that the status quo is on the far side of X and thus believe that moving away from X actually means moving towards it?
This is a problem with some folks who've joined up on the "anti-Critical Race Theory" crusade. Of course, there are plenty of people who make no bones about their position -- they think CRT is a Globalist Marxist Socialist Communist Soros Triple Parenthesis plot, and they want to destroy it. But others at least purport to believe that Critical Race Theory should be taught, it just shouldn't be the only thing that is taught. For instance, David Bernstein of the "Jewish Institute for Liberal Values", a prominent anti-CRT voice in the Jewish community, took the position that any school which teaches a "traditional" narrative about civil rights should also teach a CRT perspective.
I absolutely believe any school that teaches a traditional narrative should teach a CRT based approach as well. I don’t know if there are more schools in the traditional category.— David Bernstein (@DavidLBernstein) January 30, 2022
Now here's the thing. If your opinion is that every school should teach both a "traditional" and "CRT" style approach to civil rights, you are advocating for a position that is way to the left of the status quo. The vast majority of primary and secondary schools in the United States do not teach "CRT" at all. In some small number, you might get a CRT-influenced approach in conjunction with more traditional accounts. The number of students who are only being exposed to CRT, and no other perspective, is absolutely negligible. Objectively speaking, if your view is "students should hear both traditional and CRT views", you should be pushing for far more inclusion of CRT into public school curricula than is present in the status quo.
In other words, the entirety of the barrier to getting to the world Bernstein claims he wants to see comes from folks like the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, who's trying to get the University of Wisconsin to rescind its hiring of respected scholar Jennifer Mnookin as Dean because Mnookin (this is a direct quote) "supports critical race theory being taught on campus". It's Texas passing laws limiting what can be taught in the classroom with the express goal of seeking to "abolish" CRT. It's Florida with a veritable cavalcade of legislation seeking to target and suppress "woke" ideologies.
Yet Bernstein, like the ill-informed respondent on foreign aid, has adopted a politics that sprints off in the exact opposite direction from where he claims he wants to go, because he has a wildly off-base assessment of how common Critical Race Theory is. He thinks CRT is everywhere, so getting to a position of even-handedness means pushing back against CRT's hegemony, even if it means making common cause with some unsavory actors. The reality is that CRT is still relatively obscure for most Americans, and so getting to evenhandedness would mean a more aggressive deployment of CRT into the American educational curriculum than would be dreamed by even the philosophy's most fervent supporters.
Is he actually that ignorant about the true (non-)prevalence of CRT in the American educational system? I think he probably isn't; but there is something to be said for a certain type of elite who forgets the world exists more than 10 miles beyond Brooklyn and so confuses what is commonplace in a Williamsburg coffeeshop with the national status quo. A little of column B, a little (a lot) of column B, I'd wager.
Thursday, May 12, 2022
Earlier this week, Shireen Abu Aqleh, a highly respected Palestinian journalist, was killed during an Israeli raid in the West Bank. Eyewitnesses contend that Israeli soldiers shot her, and the bulk of the evidence points in that direction, though Israel maintains it has not yet been conclusively established who fired the bullet. Israel has asked the PA to conduct a joint inquiry into Abu Aqleh's death, but the PA has thus far refused -- preferring to conduct its own investigation and communicate the results to the US and Qatar (Abu Aqleh worked for the Qatar-based al-Jazeera, and she was a U.S. citizen).
As I said, as of right now the evidence strongly points towards the conclusion that an Israeli soldier killed Abu Aqleh. That corresponds with eyewitness testimony (including testimony that, at the time of the shooting, there were no Palestinian militants operating in the area). The bullet fired is one that is used by both IDF and Palestinian forces, so that washes. And an early video which purported to show Palestinian gunmen as the perpetrators has basically been debunked (the video was taken in an area that was nowhere near where Ms. Abu Aqleh was shot and from where it would have been effectively impossible for her to have been hit by any fired round).
Given all this, the fallback position of Israel's online defenders has been to cry foul over the PA refusing to cooperate with Israel in jointly investigating the event. "Why don't they want the truth?" "What are they trying to hide?"
But the fact remains that the PA has very little incentive to cooperate with Israel here, and "truth" has little (though not nothing) to do with why.
There is basically one, and only one, thing a joint investigation with Israel might be able to offer to the PA that it cannot get on its own. It's not access to the "true story" -- most people believe, and most of the available evidence suggests, that Israel is responsible for killing Ms. Abu Aqleh, and the marginal benefit of "confirming" that belief (whatever that means) is likely to be minimal even if we thought that a joint investigation would make such confirmation more likely.
Rather, what Israel might be able to provide that the PA almost certainly cannot get on its own is information on the actual individual who fired the bullet. If the goal is to see a particular John Doe face potential criminal consequences for killing Ms. Abu Aqleh, then a joint investigation is probably necessary.
That's the incentive for cooperation: not just the "truth", in the abstract, but the specific possibility that the investigation will reveal the personal identity of the shooter, who then will face material and appropriate consequences. What are the risks?
It is true that, from a bloodless, political vantage, the status quo of the narrative on this story is already one aligned with the PA's interests. Most people believe, and most of the available evidence suggests, that Israel is responsible for killing Ms. Abu Aqleh. An investigation could confirm that belief, or refute it, or muddy it up ("we cannot know for certain ..."). From the PA's vantage point, the latter two outcomes are very bad. And that's assuming the Israelis investigate in good faith, a stipulation that even some Israeli government officials concede is not one that Israel is entitled to receive.
The risk, in short, is not just that "the evidence" won't back up the prevailing narrative, it's also either that a bad faith Israeli investigation claims exculpation, or (whether in good or bad faith) the investigation only acts to kick sufficient dust around the issue so as to blunt calls for accountability. The PA presumably deems these risks to be quite weighty; and that fear cannot be dismissed as unfounded. And unfortunately, sans the unlikely event of absolute incontrovertible evidence emerging (which seems unlikely), any outcome other than "all parties agree an Israeli soldier was the shooter" -- whether it's (1) Israel lying about whether one of its soldiers killed Ms. Abu Aqleh, (2) it being genuinely not knowable whether an Israeli soldier killed Ms. Abu Aquleh, and (3) an Israeli soldier actually not having killed Ms. Abu Aquleh -- are largely going to be observationally equivalent.
So the choice of whether the PA should cooperate with Israel can be summarized as a weighing of the following probabilities:
P(Israel identifies a specific soldier who shot Ms. Abu Aqleh and subjects that soldier to adequate criminal possibility)
P(Joint investigation genuinely reveals Israel wasn't responsible) or
P(Israel in bad faith uses investigation to disclaim responsibility) or
P(Investigation, whether in good or bad faith, cannot decisively establish who bears responsibility)
Simply put, it strikes me as very hard to argue that the first probability is high enough to outweigh the latter three. Again, the PA has no reason to believe Israel will investigate itself fairly. Nor does it have much cause to believe that, even if Israel did identify a discrete perpetrator, that it would subject him to meaningful criminal sanctions. The most prominent recent case of an Israeli soldier being convicted of homicide against a Palestinian actor was Elor Azaria, who served a mere nine months for manslaughter after shooting a disarmed and incapacitated Palestinian assailant -- even that short sentence occurring in the face of massive public pressure supporting Azaria (something like two-thirds of Jewish Israelis backed pardoning him outright). I suspect the PA weighs the likelihood of the first probability -- that the investigation will fairly seek out the perpetrator and that the IDF will identify him if it is an IDF soldier and that the Israeli justice system will adequately punish him for any criminal misconduct -- as essentially nil.
In an ideal world, a joint investigation would still be the best outcome: if all sides act in good faith, a joint investigation is most likely to get at "truth" and most likely to identify any perpetrators who ought to face criminal liability. In the world we have, we cannot assume good faith and so we cannot assume a joint investigation in any way makes the "truth" more likely to come out. In practice, the PA has no doubt written off the realistic possibility that it will get the name of any Israeli soldier who shot Ms. Abu Aqleh, much less that he will face significant criminal consequences. Given that, the PA has zero incentive to give Israel the opportunity to blur the extant public narrative of this case; while Israel has every interest in hoping something ("truthful" or otherwise) will alter the prevailing discourse.
In this environment, the PA has all the leverage, and it's up to Israel to offer something that the PA wants to make a joint investigation worth the latter's while. The most obvious thing Israel might be able to offer is the prospect that, if a perpetrator is found, he will face meaningful justice. It is hard for me to imagine how Israel could make that commitment in a manner that the PA would find credible -- unless, of course, Israel is able on its own initiative to find and arrest the shooter. If it can't do that (whether because it doesn't actually want to, or because it isn't actually able, or because no such shooter exists), I don't know what it could do that would make the PA inclined to be cooperative.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Thursday, May 05, 2022
Apropos of nothing in particular, I thought it was worth noting an easily-overlooked elision that sometimes makes the antisemitic chant "Jews will not replace us" more opaque than it need be.
Some hear the chant "Jews will not replace us" and, in addition to being appalled, are perplexed. How could Jews "replace" White people when there are so few of us?
The issue comes from an ambiguity in the term "replace". Imagine you're at a baseball game, and you hear the sentence "Smith replaced Jones on the pitcher's mound." That sentence could mean one of two things:
- Smith could be the relief pitcher; the person who takes Jones' place upon the latter leaving the game.
- Smith could be the manager; the person who made the call to remove Jones from the game.
Tuesday, May 03, 2022
It's primary season here in Oregon, and I'm new in town. Consequently, I don't know a ton about local politics here. I'm trying to learn -- I know that homelessness is, by far, the most important issue driving local politics, though I don't have a firm grasp on what the relevant policy divisions are -- but it probably won't happen in time for me to cast a ballot.
So I'll give the races I'm interested in and my preliminary lean, but I am open to more information and persuasion. If you're a Portlander and/or Oregonian, feel free to give me your take and/or efforts at persuasion.
Governor: Tina Kotek.
Of the two major candidates running, Kotek is the more progressive, but she's got a lot of institutional experience as former state house speaker. That's my sweet spot. Plus, the Oregonian endorsed her with the single hesitation that she may have been too ruthless in dealing with state Republicans, which, I have to be honest, I'm not viewing as a downside right now.
State Rep. (38th District): No lean
Daniel Nguyen vs. Neelam Gupta. It seems like Gupta is positioned as the relative progressive to Nguyen's moderate, but I don't have a strong sense of what that means in practice. To be honest, both of their campaign websites were pretty thin. Nguyen's seemed even thinner than Gupta's, but Nguyen seemed to have at least a little more experience. Maybe the tiniest lean towards Gupta, but a stiff breeze could push me the other way.
Bureau of Labor Commissioner: Christina Stephenson
Basing this solely on the Oregonian's endorsement, but they made a good case (and the other candidates they "considered" didn't really wow me).
Multnomah County Commission Chair: Sharon Meieran
A very soft lean here compared to Jessica Vega Pederson. Meieran represents my part of Portland on the city commission, and I like my part of Portland, so she gets some positive feelings off that. She also seemed to have non-platitude plans for dealing with issues like homelessness. Sharia Mayfield is pretty much out for me because she lacks significant political experience. Lori Stegmann doesn't grab me but you're welcome to make your case.
Multnomah County Sheriff: No lean
The Oregonian endorsed Nicole Morrisey O'Donnell, but there doesn't seem to be a lot between her and Derrick Peterson. Very open to persuasion here.
Portland Commissioner (Position 2): Dan Ryan
Won a special election and now is the incumbent. Seems like a thoughtful guy doing a good job. AJ McCreary seems like the sort of activist-y tinged insurgent candidate that I worry won't actually be effective once in office.
Portland Commissioner (Position 3): Jo Ann Hardesty or Vadim Mozyrsky
Hardesty is the incumbent, and made her name securing some big wins for police accountability. That's worthwhile. But she also seems to have that simplistic activist-y mentality that drives me bonkers, and is limiting her ability to broaden her accomplishments. Simply intoning "it's developers' fault" isn't actually the basis for a policy reform. The Oregonian endorsed Rene Gonzalez, but criminalizing homelessness doesn't actually appeal to me, so he's out. Mozyrsky seems like a boring bureaucratic functionary type, which very much appeals to me, but I have no idea where he actually stands on anything. The Willamette Week's endorsement write-up captures my ambivalence well.
Portland Auditor: Simone Rede
It would take a lot for me to pick an Our Revolution/Green Party type (Rede's opponent, Brian Setzler) when there's a credible alternative in the Democratic field.
Metro Council President: Lynn Peterson
A light lean, but here my bias for experienced incumbents benefits the progressive over the centrist challenger (Alisa Pyszka). Peterson seems to have made some mistakes, but "I'm not her" isn't enough for me to back Pyszka, who seems far too tied to business interests for my tastes.
Metro Councilor, District 6: Duncan Hwang
Absolute slightest of lean here, based on incumbency. Both seem good. The Oregonian endorsed his opponent Terri Preeg Riggsby, but was impressed with both and their reasons for favoring Riggsby over Hwang didn't strike me as compelling.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Michelle Goldberg has a very insightful column in the New York Times about antisemitism. It begins by talking about the rapid acceleration of antisemitism that paralleled the rise of Trumpism. Certainly, we are seeing a resurgence of far-right antisemitism (and increasingly, the "far-" is redundant). But even after Trump left office, antisemitic activity has continued to surge. And the most striking thing about this pattern is not its political character, but rather how apolitical it is.
[F]or a huge number of antisemitic episodes, the political motive, if there is one, is illegible. According to Greenblatt, more than 80 percent of the incidents documented in the A.D.L. report “cannot be attributed to any specific extremist group or movement.” Much of the threat to Jews in America seems to come less from a distinct, particular ideology than from the broader cultural breakdown that’s leading to an increase in all manner of antisocial behavior, including shootings, airplane altercations, reckless driving and fights in school.
It is weirdly tempting to think antisemitism is "about" Jews in some meaningful, if mutated, fashion, such that changing something about Jews -- how Jews talk are or talked about, how Jews behave or are perceived to behave, how Jews are viewed or where Jews are positioned in society -- will alter patterns of antisemitism. The vast majority of counterantisemitism initiatives focus on some version of this approach, thinking -- reasonably -- that antisemitism is about Jews
But as Goldberg points out -- and this resonates with my own observation -- antisemitism often is associated with more inchoate frustration and social malaise. Antisemitism follows things like erosion of trust in social institutions, growth in conspiratorial thinking, widespread financial insecurity, and so on. Such developments are not "about" Jews; no amount of Holocaust education or anti-BDS campaigning or interfaith Seders will change them. And yet they probably play a more direct role in the rise of antisemitism than any Jewish-specific factor one could name.
Even apolitical antisemitism has a political connection, albeit an indirect one. "Post-truth" politics, the decay in an epistemically healthy environment, the rise of viral social media practices which create all sorts of terrible bad coherences, gravely accelerate the rise of "apolitical" antisemitism; in this, it is not an accident that the current surge began with and tracks closely the rise of Trumpism (nor is it coincidental that it's leftward manifestations follow closely similar post-truth post-trust ideologies like tankie-ism). But it suggests that wrestling back down antisemitism paradoxically will have little to do with a distinctively Jewish politics. Antisemitism is a symptom of a larger disease, a disease that ultimately is not really about Jews in any specific sense. One will not ameliorate the symptom without addressing that disease.
Monday, April 25, 2022
A new article co-authored by Albert Cheng, Jay P. Greene, and Ian Kingsbury was just published in Antisemitism Studies purporting to show that highly-educated people are more prone to adopting antisemitic double-standards.
The authors had previously publicized their findings in a Tablet Magazine article, and at that time I actually shared critical feedback with one of the co-authors explaining some serious methodological flaws that severely undermined their conclusions. I had hoped that these concerns would rectified or at least addressed once the article was submitted for peer-reviewed publication. Unfortunately, the final published piece continues to ignore the issues outright -- not even acknowledging their existence, much less meaningfully responding to them. So I'll raise them publicly here, so unwary readers are not led astray.
The basic thrust of the article relies on the notion of the double-standard -- treating Jews differently (worse) than similarly-situated non-Jews should be viewed as a form of antisemitism. Unlike some, I am not instinctively averse to the idea that a double-standard is evidence of antisemitism or other discrimination -- indeed, it seems to me that the core of what discrimination is treating likes unalike. However, the devil in such analysis always is figuring out what counts as a "similarly-situated" case (in anti-discrimination law, we call this a valid "comparator"). If there is a different characteristic than the one being measured that distinguishes the comparators from the base (Jewish) case, then it's entirely possible that that characteristic is what drives any differences in resulting treatment.
For example, suppose one wanted to measure if baseball teams performed better against opponents based in the eastern United States. One thing you might do is look at 2020 MLB records and compare how teams fared against Pittsburgh Pirates compared to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where you would find that teams typically did much better against the Pirates. Hypothesis confirmed? Obviously not -- the Dodgers won the World Series that year, and the Pirates were awful. If we had instead compared the Atlanta Braves (top of the NL East) against the Arizona Diamondbacks (bottom of the NL West), we'd have reached the opposite conclusion -- but the real conclusion is that "it's not geography, it's the quality of the team". The choice of comparators ends up driving the conclusion.
The article constructs four pairs of "cases" which it claims are similar enough such that, if the Jewish-coded option is treated worse, we should infer a double-standard is at work. The pairings are:
- Whether "the government should set minimum requirements for what is taught in private schools," with either Orthodox Jewish or Montessori schools given as the illustrating example.
- Whether "a person's attachment to another country creates a conflict of interest when advocating in support of certain U.S. foreign policy positions," with either Israel or Mexico offered as illustrating examples.
- Whether "the U.S. military should be allowed to forbid" the wearing of religious headgear as part of the uniform, with either a Jewish yarmulke (kepah) or Sikh turban offered as illustrating examples.
- Whether public gatherings during the pandemic "posed a threat to public health and should have been prevented," with either Orthodox Jewish funerals or Black Lives Matter protests offered as illustrating examples.
- Whether "the government should set minimum requirements for what is taught in private education," with either Jewish day schools or Christian home-schooling given as the illustrating example.
- Whether "a person's attachment to another country creates a conflict of interest when advocating in support of certain U.S. foreign policy positions," with either Israel or Russia offered as illustrating examples.
- Whether "the U.S. military should be allowed to forbid" the wearing of religious apparel as part of the uniform, with either a Jewish yarmulke (kepah) or a large crucifix offered as illustrating examples.
- Whether public gatherings during the pandemic "posed a threat to public health and should have been prevented," with either Orthodox Jewish funerals or Evangelical megachurch services offered as illustrating examples.
- Whether medical professionals should be able to receive exemptions from laws which conflict with their religious commitments, with either "Reform Jewish doctor asking for a religious exemption from laws preventing him from prescribing contraceptives" or "Catholic doctor asking for an exemption from laws requiring him to prescribe contraceptives" as illustrating examples.
To be clear, this would not demonstrate that actually highly-educated Americans harbor a philosemitic bias, for the same reason why the published study does not show highly-educated Americans harbor an antisemitic bias. Rather, we'd have a situation where highly-educated persons treat Jews worse than some cases and better than others, and we'd need an explanation why -- and my proposed explanation is "perceived ideological-cultural compatibility".
Of course, critics of this research might object that our four paired items are not truly comparable. They might claim that the public health dangers of BLM protests and public funeral gatherings are not the same, or that a yarmulke and turban are not the same, or that dual loyalty concerns with respect to Mexico and Israel are not the same. However, we are all limited by the lack of a clear objective standard for defining bigotry and for making defensible distinctions based on different circumstances. In fact, every bigot claims that the groups they treat more harshly are deserving of that treatment. All we can do is appeal to the critic to consider whether public health is jeopardized more when Jews gather than when protestors gather, whether yarmulkes interfere with military necessity more than turbans, or whether dual loyalty is more problematic if it involves one country over another. Like the average individual in the general public, we do not see differential treatment in any of these scenarios as defensible. That said, we do encourage the creation of new item pairs that closely correspond to each other and cover a variety of other scenarios so that any observed differences in response patterns can be attributable to whether the item concerns Jews or non-Jews as opposed to any other potential differences across the items.
The first part does not actually confront the criticism I offered. Certainly, one could argue that the paired items are not actually "the same" in relevant respects. But the criticism I'm leveling relates not to how the proposed non-Jewish comparators differ from theirs Jewish counterparts, but between how the proposed non-Jewish comparators differ from potential alternatives that have a more conservative as opposed to liberal cultural-ideological valence. Perhaps it's still the case that, for example, the public health dangers of BLM protests and Orthodox funerals and Evangelical megachurch services are the same, such that the truly virtuous (and public health minded) deliberator should treat them all identically. But if they don't, the reason why most likely relates to a different sort of in-group affinity than antisemitism -- particularly if they are relatively less favorable towards the Jewish case compared to the BLM example but more favorable compared to the Evangelical example. So while I'm heartened to see the authors encourage the "creation of new item pairs" that can drill down on these questions, that doesn't excuse the authors' own failure to construct their study with appropriate care and rigor.
Friday, April 22, 2022
I'm in Chicago right now, presenting at a conference on the Reconstruction Amendments back at the University of Chicago Law School. I'm obviously excited to be here -- slightly less excited to have unwittingly been thrust onto a largely-maskless plane thanks to a murder cult judge on an ego trip* -- but I'll leave off on more until after the conference is over.
Rather, I want to talk about my hotel's elevators.
I'm staying at The Study at University of Chicago, which apparently just opened this past October. Overall, it seems nice, and I'm having a pleasant stay. However, there's something weird about the elevators.
They have one of those sensors where you need to scan your room card to go to your floor. That's normal. What's not normal is that the sensors are approximately 18 inches from the ground. I'm not especially tall, but I have to bend way over just to reach them. They could not be placed in a less convenient spot unless they were on the elevator ceiling.
The reason this baffles me as that elevators-in-hotels-with-sensors are not a new concept. I'm not going to say we've utterly perfected the genre, but they're hardly uncharted terrain. Elevator manufacturers have been building these things for quite some time, and have long since learned (if there was ever any doubt) to place the sensors at a convenient arm-accessible height. That's definitely already the default option. So what possibly prompted this UI disaster? It feels like it must have been a conscious choice by someone, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what prompted it. It's like if, decades after manufacturers started putting radios in cars, one car came out with the radio controls placed inside the glove compartment. Why? Just, why?
Anyway -- as inconveniences go, this is very minor. The rant is not so much because I'm upset by this, but again, because I'm just flummoxed as to how it happened.
* My view on masking on airplanes is relatively straightforward. On the one hand, I get why people would rather be unmasked and are happy to no longer where them. On the other hand, I also do not get how or why wearing an extra scrap of fabric on one's body -- even one that you'd rather not wear! -- has become the greatest sacrifice and deprivation of human liberty since slavery. Ultimately, I believe the decision on when masking should end in a pandemic should be made by medical experts, not random district court judges in Tampa embodying pilpul.
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Thursday, April 14, 2022
The New York Jewish Week has an interesting story about a clump of fringe Satmar Hasidic Rabbis in New York who are urging their followers not to accept food donations from "Zionist" organizations, which in this case means umbrella communal organizations like the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. The Rabbis are "playing to the crowd" here, since as the article makes clear both they and their followers almost certainly are accepting donations from the Jewish groups they detest, they just are lying about it. So practically speaking, it is not changing anyone's behavior.
Nonetheless, it is interesting. There is, of course, the superficial irony of a group of Jews trying to shun the mainstream Jewish community by yelling about "Zionism", but from the right -- many will no doubt observe that this sort of rhetoric and conduct would, if done by (to pick a random example) some Reconstructionist congregation in Chicago, be immediately lambasted as a form of extreme antisemitism. But since it is the Satmar, it gets a pass.
Yet I actually do think there is more that has to be said beyond just the usual charges of hypocrisy. I do think it is true -- indeed clearly true -- that Jews can engage in antisemitism (though of course we should be extra-cautious about applying that label in reference to intracommunal debates and conversations). One example often given is certain behaviors by far-left anti-Zionists; another we could reference is some secular Jews joining with non-Jewish neighbors in raising hostile and conspiratorial complaints about Orthodox Jews who might be moving into their community. It's antisemitic when non-Jews do it, and it's antisemitic when, sadly, Jews do it too. The term "self-hating" Jew is deeply misleading and doesn't capture to phenomenon -- the persons who engage in this sort of behavior are very often quite proudly Jewish in other contexts. Rather, it is intra-Jewish antisemitism -- antisemitism from one faction of the Jewish community directed at another.
And, in addition to the examples I just gave above, one iteration of such intra-Jewish antisemitism that we need to start talking about is antisemitism emanating from the Orthodox community targeting their less traditionally observant brethren. As the NYJW article makes clear, the statement by these Rabbis targeting the umbrella New York Jewish organizations is part of a broader movement occurring within highly religious Orthodox Judaism that is -- and there is no other way to put it -- stirring up hate and antagonism towards non-Orthodox (particularly Reform) Jews. The story refers to articles in Satmar newspapers spreading stories about how Reform Jews, whom they characterize as "criminals and infidels" are "infiltrating" the community. It expresses outright horror at the prospect that they "build bridges and to unite the communities of the non-believers and Haredis in New York." If ever there were a case where "Zionist" didn't really mean "Zionist" but rather was a stand-in for "[Reform] Jews", this is it. The statement is motivated by, and an expression of, a deep, abiding hatred of a huge swath of the New York Jewish community.
And unfortunately, this not a problem that can be limited to a few fringe hot-heads amongst the Satmar (though if the Satmar's anti-Zionism is the hook that causes the broader community to finally recognize it as a problem, so be it). Four years ago I raised the terrible prospect of an out-and-out schism in Judaism where Orthodox Jews simply cease recognizing other Jews as Jews (this was prompted by an Israeli MK who blamed Reform Jews for causing earthquakes), and it does not feel as if things have improved since then. For example, anyone watching Jewish Twitter cannot help but notice the regular and repeated dismissal and denigration of the validity of non-Orthodox Jewish Rabbis -- especially women -- "Rabbi" placed in quotation marks, sneers about their ordination, and so on. It is behavior that, were it coming from non-Jews (and to be clear -- it often does) we would never have any trouble labeling it as antisemitic. More broadly, one could very easily categorize all the debates over permitting women to pray at the Western Wall, or the non-recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel, as a form of antisemitism directed at non-Orthodox Jews.
It is terrible disgrace that part of our conversation about rising antisemitism has to include antisemitism that is promoted by Jews, and it is a further disgrace that "antisemitism promoted by Jews" comes with multiple subcategories. Some of these are political -- far-left Jews cheering on the ostracization and shunning of their "Zionist" brethren, or reactionary right-wing Jews bolstering conspiracy theories about George Soros or "cultural Marxism". Others have religious overtones, such as when secular Jews try to obstruct or block their Orthodox peers from moving to their towns. And, sadly, another in that category is open, seething disdain by some Orthodox Jews directed at the non-Orthodox -- viewing them with hate, viewing their religious practices with disdain, in some cases refusing to view them as Jewish at all. It is, as I said, disgraceful -- and it's not easy to talk about. But talk about it we must. This is not a problem that is going to go away on its own.
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Upon Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin's inauguration, I made an observation about how wonderful it is to be Republican in purple-state America. Namely, that so long as you hold off on biting off a baby head during the campaign, the media will declare you the very essence of sobriety and moderation, and dismiss anyone who tries to tell otherwise. Then, once you enter office, you can bite as many baby heads as you want -- shocking the professional punditocracy (and gullible "independent" voter) who was ever-so-sure you were actually quite reasonable!
I made that observation upon Youngkin's opening gubernatorial salvo designed to help COVID be even more lethal. But it also applies to his latest round of petty partisan vindictiveness, vetoing widely popular bipartisan initiatives that passed the legislature by overwhelming margins for no other reason than that they were sponsored by Democrats. After "earning" the title of a moderate for, as best I can tell, no other reason other than that he wears fuzzy fabrics, Governor Youngkin has in his first few months been gorging himself on the baby heads that he temporarily deprived himself of on the campaign trail -- governing as a virulent right-wing extremist in a state that remains purplish-blue. The best analogy I can think of is if a Democrat manages to sneak into the Missouri governor's mansion in an off-year election and immediately abolishes the police. It's simultaneously unfathomable and yet exactly what one gets from these so-called "moderates".
The reality is that there are, functionally speaking, no more moderate Republicans -- a fact which does not remotely seem to dampen the media's willingness to be duped into believing that this Republican will be a moderate. We went through this a few years back with Cory Gardner -- the Denver Post endorsed him in 2014 against then Senator Mark Udall, saying it was "unfair" to label Gardner an "extremist" and predicting he'd be a fresh and independent voice in the Senate, only to shame-facedly admit its mistake when it turned out he was an utterly bog-standard right-wing hack. Who could have predicted? Answer: everybody! And so it is too with Youngkin. But alas, we didn't learn the lesson then and we certainly won't learn it now. Instead, we're doomed to repeat this dance every single election cycle it seems.
Wednesday, April 06, 2022
"Does (the decision) read like something that was purely results driven and designed to impose the policy preferences of the majority, or does this read like it actually is an honest effort and persuasive effort, even if one you ultimately don't agree with, to determine what the Constitution and precedent requires?" she asked.
Americans should judge the court — or any federal court — by its reasoning, she said. "Is its reasoning that of a political or legislative body, or is its reasoning judicial?" she asked.
I am not the first to point out the irony of this request in conjunction with the Supreme Court's increasing propensity to issue "shadow docket" rulings, nearly always in tandem with the court's ideological preferences, rarely in the context of any actual emergency that might justify expedited decisionmaking (unless one views "too many Black people voting" as an emergency -- which, in fairness, the current Court does seem to treat as a five-alarm fire). Just today, the Court issued yet another one of these decisions staying a Clean Water Act ruling with no substantive opinion whatsoever for us to "read" and assess!
Still, in concept I think Justice Barrett's plea is a fair one. We should look at the actual reasoning of decisions to determine if they're legalistic or not; and that determination should not collapse into political agreement or disagreement with the outcome. For example, I disagree with the outcome of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, and I also think that Justice Stevens ultimately gets the better of the legal issue in his dissent, but I don't think the majority there wasn't engaged in a good-faith effort "to determine what the Constitution and precedent requires."
By the same token, when one reviews the Supreme Court's recent decision to invalidate the OSHA vaccine mandate in defiance of crystal-clear statutory text on the basis of a concocted "major questions" doctrine which still shouldn't have militated against the plain language of the statute, I absolutely think it reads "like something that was purely results driven and designed to impose the policy preferences of the majority" and that's exactly how it should be treated.
(That's the thing about rhetorical questions: sometimes, you get the other answer.)
But there's a deeper point worth making here. One of the first legal research projects I ever embarked upon dealt with how southern courts dealt with challenges by Black litigants in the Jim Crow era -- most notably, in the Scottsboro cases. From our 21st century perch, we understand the rulings of the Alabama judiciary in those cases as little more than an extension of White Supremacist inclinations -- a "legalized lynching" that happened to have the trappings of a judicial proceeding. And I think that understanding is by and large correct .However, as I point out in my Sadomasochistic Judging article, that quality is very much not immediately apparent just from "reading the opinion". The Scottsboro opinions look, in terms of stylistic presentation, absolutely normal in the way they address precedents, make legal arguments, and so forth. If they are best explained as a reflection of Alabama's "policy preferences" of White Supremacy, there nonetheless is little about them that observationally distinguishes them from a "purely" legalistic endeavor.
The presupposition of Justice Barrett's request is that one who "reads the opinions" will be able to immediately spot the difference between contestable but nonetheless legalistic judging compared to pure results-driven hogwash. This presupposition is almost certainly untrue. That's not the same thing as claiming that all judging is results-driven. It means that whatever differences there are between results-driven and legalistic judging, those differences will not necessarily be facially apparent just by reading the opinions. Indeed, any judge worth their salt should be fully capable of dressing up their results-oriented logic in the trappings of legalistic language. Sometimes they do a better job of it than others (see, again, the OSHA case). But on the whole, it is far more myth than reality that even rancid lawlessness by the court will be "marked on the body of the text."
Tuesday, April 05, 2022
Sometimes I think the most important thing we can do keep ourselves politically healthful is to remember the existence of extremists -- both near and far from our own positions.
It's important to remember the extremists whose positions are (relatively) near one's own -- that is, persons who take the extreme version of your "side" of a given political contest -- in order to guard against the allure of purism. Being pro-Israel for example, one ignores or downplays the existence of pro-Israel extremists at one's own peril. It important to remind oneself that it is not better to adopt ever-more fundamentalist or uncompromising iterations of one's own position, and you are not a failure or a traitor for refusing to fall onto that path. Recalling and recognizing those who speak under your banner but do so in a destructive or harmful way can help dissipate some very dangerous temptations and forestall one from excusing things that are fundamentally inexcusable.
It is also important to remember the extremists whose positions are on the far side from one's own -- if only so one is not surprised by them when they inevitably do emerge. Particularly if one is feeling frustrated with one's own camp, there can be the temptation to romanticize one's opposition; going beyond the (important and correct) refusal to generalize and demonize and instead allowing oneself the delusion that there is no dangerous politics on the other side of the rainbow. The delusion is bad enough, but the real damage comes when one is forced to confront the reality -- if one isn't prepared, it is a shock of cold water that can quickly trip the unwary into spiraling down their own path of extremism. I can't tell you how many videos and screenshots I've seen from "pro-Israel" Twitter displaying the worst of terribleness from various pro-Palestinian rallies or protests, all of which style themselves as trying to shock complacent Jews out of their purported stupor. And indeed, if one hasn't prepared yourself to encounter it, it is quite a bracing sight to behold. But for my part, since I've never deluded myself that this sort of anti-Zionist extremism did not exist, I was never unduly shocked when confronted with its manifest existence.
Keeping these things in mind allows one to keep one's head on a little straighter. Instead of retreating to pathetic denials that this sort of abhorrent politics is present, or opportunistic romanticism of why it's actually permissible or just, remembering and acknowledging the genuine existence of extremism allows one to keep a sense of perspective. Being able to name and recognize extremism as part of the story also allows one to keep a sense of proportion that it is not the entire story.
No matter your ideology, there will always be someone profoundly idiotic who largely agrees with you, and someone profoundly idiotic who largely disagrees with you. Neither fact should be unduly weighted.
Thursday, March 31, 2022
Sunday, March 27, 2022
Why has the Russian invasion of Ukraine grabbed and held international attention? It is not, sad to say, the only example of armed conflict right now or in recent years. And Americans, in particular, are not known for being gripped by foreign affairs. So what makes Ukraine different from other conflicts? Here are a few (non-exclusive) potential explanations.
First, Ukraine is a European country being invaded by another (coded-as) European country. That, for better or for worse, makes a difference, though I don't have much more to add to it.
Second, it's a (relatively) evenly matched hot war conflict between two (relatively) modern and modernized military powers. Most of the major military confrontations involving modern militaries in recent years have been cases where one party is far more powerful in conventional terms than the other (e.g., either of the Gulf Wars). The traditional "war" part of the conflict was pretty much a walkover; any difficulties came later in reconstruction and/or insurgency. Here, neither side has the ability to decisively demolish the forces of the other in the short run even as we remain in a phase of traditional battlefield confrontation as opposed to guerilla resistance and insurgency/counterinsurgency.
Third, the war here involves a relatively stable, relatively liberal democracy on the defensive, being invaded in an existential threat to its existence. That is quite rare in my lifetime. Cases where, say, America has been attacked by illiberal forces tend to be sporadic and asymmetrical terrorist events; America certainly hasn't experienced nor has been at any substantial risk of an invasion in decades, or any other assault that poses a genuine existential risk of seeing the country dissolved. That's been true of most of our European allies as well; ditto countries like Japan or Australia. To see the liberal democratic camp on the defensive like that is, I think, quite shocking.
Other factors I might be missing?
Thursday, March 24, 2022
Michigan Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens -- Democrats thrown into the same district following redistricting -- had a candidate's forum today hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, which Ron Kampeas was helpful enough to livetweet. Levin (who is Jewish) is known as a strong progressive, while Stevens (not Jewish) usually presents as more of a moderate, so it was interesting to see how they pitched their message in this particular forum.
My takeaway -- and this is just from following Kampeas' tweets -- is that they actually didn't sound too different from one another. A lot more agreement than disagreement. There was some distance on issues like Israel and the Iran Deal -- Levin favored the Iran Deal and has spearheaded efforts to reinvigorate the two state solution, which has earned him the ire of AIPAC, while Stevens tends to take more modest and AIPAC-friendly line on these issues -- but they weren't wildly apart. And their rhetoric on domestic policy was pretty similar, and pretty progressive -- which is to say, it seemed like in front of this audience, Stevens was tacking closer to Levin than vice versa.
What does this mean? While I tend to think many intra-party divisions amongst Democrats are overstated, particularly when they're presented in flatly apocalyptic terms, that doesn't mean I think Levin and Stevens are basically interchangeable. Levin really is a more progressive option than Stevens is, rhetoric from this debate notwithstanding. And moreover, I suspect that in other venues Stevens may do more to accentuate her "moderate" credentials -- I don't think this is necessarily symbolic of how she'll run her entire race. What is interesting is that both Levin and Stevens apparently came to the conclusion that the way to appeal to the Jewish audience, specifically, was to emphasize their progressive bona fides. In contrast to some narratives of "Jexodus" or "Jexit" or whatever portmanteau neologism is being pushed this week, the betting line on how to talk to Jewish Democrats is to emphasize that you are a progressive Jewish Democrat. That's heartening to see.
Monday, March 21, 2022
A new study (summarized here, published and paywalled version here) explores how the phrase "objectively reasonable" -- a very important phrase in the law surrounding assessments of police misconduct -- changes American perceptions of police officers. The core finding is that "objectively reasonable" makes listeners -- and particularly racial minorities -- think more favorably of the officer so labeled (compared to saying something like "the average police officer").
It's an interesting study, though my initial instinct is that the takeaway from it may be exactly opposite of what the authors imply. The authors suggest that the use of "objectively reasonable", since it is associated with more positive perceptions of the police, primes listeners (such as jury members) to think of the police more favorably than they otherwise would. But I think the effect may be the opposite: by asking jurors whether a given officer acting as an "objectively reasonable" officer would, the fact that "objectively reasonable" brings to mind higher levels of professionalism and conscientiousness means that the actual flesh-and-blood officer being judged is effectively being held to a higher standard than he or she otherwise would have.
Consider a jury deliberating over whether an officer accused of misconduct violated the legally-relevant standard of behavior. If that standard is that of the "average officer", the juror might think "well, their conduct wasn't great -- but then, the average officer isn't that great either. Can I really say that this guy performed worse than average?" But if "objectively reasonable" calls to mind more conscientious behavior, that same juror might conclude that the officer in front of the court did not meet that more idealized conception of how an officer should behave. So telling the jury that the officer they're evaluating must have acted as an "objectively reasonable" officer would cause them to more rigorously scrutinize the officer's conduct.
In other words: an officer whom we've already stipulated is "objectively reasonable" will be viewed more favorably than one who we only stipulate is "average". "Objectively reasonable" is better than "average" (at least for non-White respondents). But for that very reason, an officer whose performance we are trying to assess on a blank slate should be less likely to surpass the standard of "average" than the standard of "objectively reasonable", since the latter appears to be a higher bar than the former. So insofar as jurors are instructed to ask whether an officer behaved in a manner that comports with an "objectively reasonable officer", that should make them less likely to answer "yes" compared to if their standard was that of the "average" officer.
Suppose you attend a stand-up comedy performance. You're excited to listen and giggle and laugh. But unfortunately, the comic in question -- let's not mince words -- bombs. The jokes don't land, or worse, they're outright offensive. The crowd, which started with a few half-hearted chuckles, starts to turn stony, and eventually downright ugly. Eventually, halfway through the set, the boos set in. Ultimately the comic is booed all the way off the stage.
Most of us, I think, would not view this as a successful evening -- either for the audience members or the comic. But would we say the comic's free speech rights have been violated? I doubt any of us would go that far. Free speech by no means guarantees a favorable reception.
Yet many of us -- myself included -- think things are quite different in the case of an invited university speaker who is "shouted down" by protesters in the audience, such that they cannot finish their talk. This is thought to represent a free speech threat. But what -- and I ask this question earnestly -- marks out the difference between this and the comic?
The answer typically given for why drowning out of the university speaker is wrongful is that it deprives those members of the audience who did want to hear the talk of their ability to do so. I do find this a compelling argument generally, but it doesn't to successfully distinguish the comic's case -- it is easy to imagine that somebody in the comic's audience also wanted to see how the set would have ended.
Another possibility is that the audience for the comic did not come to the show with the intention of blocking the performance. Their anger was unplanned and organic, in contrast to the university protesters, who we suspect came to the talk knowing from the outset that they wanted to disrupt it. If this is our distinction, it suggests that there is no foul in "shouting down" a university speaker some stanzas deep into their talk, if it is the result of genuine on-the-spot negative reactions rather than a planned disruption (though how one could tell the difference, I don't know).
Still another possibility is that a comic performance is only valued insofar as it pleases the audience, and so where the crowd turns against the performance there is no particular interest in the comic being able to continue performing. A university lecture at least nominally is not quite so hedonistic in its assessed value, and so we feel it is important that such talks be allowed to proceed notwithstanding the fact that the audience does not like what they hearing. This makes some intuitive sense to me, though it gets blurry with intentionally political stand-up comics, or university talks that are more performative than educational. I also struggle with how this accounts for a permutation of the hypothetical where a political speaker is speechifying on a public square soapbox and the crowd (while not violent) reacts deeply negatively to his speech, in a way that effectively drowns out the speaker. There, even though the talk is as "political" as a university speech, I do not tend to think there is a violation of free speech norms if the speaker ends up being drowned out. But why not?
Perhaps the answer is a lot more contingent than we might otherwise like to admit: certain spaces and events, like talks by invited speakers at universities, are ones where we stipulate heightened valuation for rules which allow for speeches to be given relatively uninterrupted in a fashion where they can be heard by any who care to listen. This is not a general rule of "free speech"; there are many other spaces where it does not apply -- but the very fact that there are many other spaces where the rules are different and responses can be more "raucous" (if you will) actually serves to further justify the importance of the validity of having a space with this sort of rule. It's good to have some known space where we can stipulate in advance that the speaker will be able to "complete their set" notwithstanding a possible hostile audience, and the fact that there are many other spaces where people are allowed to be more immediately expressive in their disdain mitigates the burden of foreclosing or limiting that sort of expression in this particular space.
Anyway, I don't have firm conclusions here, but this is a puzzle that I had been wondering about for awhile so I figured I'd sketch some preliminary thoughts here as I work through it.