Saturday, April 01, 2023

Caitlin Clark is a Crossover Sensation

I was watching boxing today -- the Anthony Joshua/Jermaine Franklin card -- and on the boxing blog I follow the fans between fights were just shooting the breeze about just how good Caitlin Clark is. And not that boxing fans can't follow women's basketball, but it was still striking to see that sort of crossover appeal in this particular forum. She really has the potential to be a true breakthrough sensation.

Obviously, Caitlin Clark is very, very good. First ever 40-point triple double in NCAA tournament history. First player to have two consecutive 30-point triple doubles. She's a threat on all angles. She can create off the dribble as well as anyone I've seen. You can't even say "well, a team just has to stop one person", because she's a fantastic passer as well. And on top of that, she's got a bit of menace to her which I love. She's just a ton of a fun to watch play ball. Her performance against the #1 seeded South Carolina was a tour de force.

The Iowa/South Carolina match was a fantastic game of basketball. Indeed, my only sour note about it is the degree to which the post-game coverage has emphasized it as (in the New York Times' words) "the upset of all upsets", something that nobody saw coming, an impossibility made real. No, it wasn't. To be sure -- it absolutely was an upset. South Carolina was the favorite, and deservedly so, given its absolute dominance on the court this year. But going into the game, South Carolina's victory was not treated as a foreordained conclusion, precisely because Caitlin Clark would be on the floor. To the contrary, the game was promoted -- correctly -- as must-see TV, a "clash of the titans" pitting the tournament's clear best team against the tournament's clear best player. This was not Purdue/Farleigh Dickinson, where nobody outside the FDU locker room could have possibly seen the upset coming. This was seen as a very competitive matchup precisely because everyone knew Caitlin Clark really was that good. And she proved that yes, she was that good.

Friday, March 31, 2023

"Why Some Men Are Above the Law"

In 2016, the eminent philosopher Martha Nussbaum publicly recounted for (I believe) the first time her "Bill Cosby" story -- not about Cosby, but about her being raped by a different famous "TV dad" in the late 1960s. The title of the story was "Why Some Men Are Above the Law", and Nussbaum takes little time to address the myriad reasons why she never did report the attack until some fifty years later. 

One obvious reason for her reticence, Nussbaum noted, was the near-certainty that her attacker would "either to portray me as an extortionist or to sue me for defamation." On this point, Nussbaum said something -- in a parenthetical aside no less! -- that I've found myself returning to year after year:
(The famous are indeed unusually exposed to extortion, and that vulnerability itself is an aspect of their impunity: everyone easily believes that this is what a complaining woman is after.)

This is something I've turned over and over in my head. The famous are exposed to extortion; that is the reality. It is a true vulnerability; it isn't made up. And yet that vulnerability becomes itself a form of impunity: because it's always so obviously possible for them to be accused in bad faith, any accusation immediately falls under a shadow of suspicion.

I thought of this again today, when it was announced that a different television personality would be indicted for various crimes by the state of New York. Donald Trump's defenders have quickly raised hue and cry over this being a political witch hunt, dirty politics, a partisan plot (this, of course, does not even get into the de rigueur allegation that it's a Soros-led plot). I heard it said that Barack Obama will be the last president not to be indicted upon leaving office, as surely this is the new normal in tit-for-tat partisan squabbling.

The thing is, the critics have an inkling of a point. Donald Trump, by his station, is more vulnerable than the average Joe to being targeted in a political prosecution. The prospect of partisan motivations does loom larger. But that vulnerability is part of the impunity; the fact that this specter can never quite be dispelled is ultimately what has let Trump run riot over the civil and criminal laws of this country for years. No matter what he does or how brazen he gets, we'll always have to (rightfully!) second-guess whether we're letting politics overcome law -- far more so than in a standard criminal case.  It is the same ultimate story that Nussbaum told. And for too long, it has let Donald Trump stand above the law.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Schoolchildren Shouldn't Have To Live Like Jews, Part II

This weekend, Lewis & Clark Law School hosted the 2nd Annual Conference on Law vs. Antisemitism, a conference which (I don't think it's immodest of me to say) I did the lion's share of organizing.

Part of that organization was making sure, at the outset, to contact Lewis & Clark campus security to inform them of the event and have a security plan in place. This included having a security officer on site, requiring registration and check-in, alerting the Portland Police Bureau of the event and having them monitor the chatter of "certain" sites to ensure we weren't going to be a target, and other sundry efforts to address what I called our "elevated risk profile" compared to a standard law school event.

All this, to me, felt very normal and unremarkable. I'm hosting a conference on antisemitism -- of course I need to take extra steps to ensure that it is secured.

The day-of grunt work for the conference was provided by a set of Lewis & Clark law school student volunteers, most if not all of whom were not Jewish. They all did, to be clear, a fantastic job. But I think it is fair to say that for them, this sort of extra security was very much not normal. Which I recognized, and at various points during the run-up, I'd update them on the various security measures we were emplacing, trying to balance between "we're a conference on antisemitism, there's inherently heightened risk" and "but there's no reason to fear, most likely nothing bad will happen, this is all just precautionary." I was aware that my normal is not their normal.

The conference went very well, and without any problems or disruptions of any sort. As is the case, 99% of the time. The vast majority of cases where a synagogue brings in extra guards to watch over high holiday services, nothing bad happens. We just had a great event. So I felt kind of bad, forcing all these student volunteers to deal with the anxiety of all those extra security precautions. My normal shouldn't have to be their normal.

After Uvalde, I wrote a deliberately provocative post titled "Schoolchildren Shouldn't Have to Live Like Jews." The basic thrust of the post was to argue that all the various ways Jews have enhanced local security, "hardened the target", etc. etc., are not good models for how to protect schoolchildren from mass shootings. That they're normal for us -- a beleaguered, regularly threatened minority group -- should not make them normal for everyone. 

Less than a year later, in the wake of yet another school shooting, this time in Nashville, I couldn't help but return to the same thought. I mourn for the families, not just for their immediate loss, but for the extra wave of grief they will endure upon realizing just how little the American people care about them. But the fact is that when the only response to a shooting is "more guns" -- taking the firefight as inevitable and just hoping it occurs earlier in the process -- we're tacitly (or not so tacitly) conceding that "we're not going to fix it". It is taken for granted that to have your children in public schools is to run the risk of having them gunned down -- a price that too many politicians treat as one families are agreeing to pay, as opposed to being coerced into accepting (witness Tennessee Republican Rep. Tim Burchett's blithe response when asked how to "protect people like your little girl": "Well, we home school her.").

It doesn't have to be like this. Our normal shouldn't have to be their normal.

California Jewish Community Continues To Win the Ethnic Studies Controversy

A few years ago, I was heavily quoted in a great Haaretz article titled "How California's Jewish Community Won the Battle Over the State's Ethnic Studies Program". While I had at that point left California, I had previously been heavily involved in the Jewish community efforts to ensure that the ethnic studies curriculum not only did not discriminate against Jews, but also told the full, robust Jewish story as part of the California educational experience. Despite the efforts by some to fear-monger Those efforts were broadly successful, making the California Ethnic Studies battle one of the Jewish community's great victories.

The implementation of the ethnic studies mandate has not been without friction, not the least because some districts are not adopting the model curriculum the Jewish community worked so hard to develop. I haven't been following the ins and outs as closely now that I've left the state, but I still do hear some things. And to the end, I want to share an email I recently received from the San Francisco Bay Area JCRC, addressing "rumors" regarding ethnic studies in the Mountain View Los Altos High School District (MVLA).

The rumors circulating about the ethnic studies program at Mountain View Los Altos High School District (MVLA) have become a cause of concern in the Jewish community. We are in regular communication with district leadership and have made a formal request to review classroom teaching materials. Based on publicly available information, we have so far seen no evidence of antisemitic or anti-Israel content.

The controversy over this curriculum is causing great division in the district, and we have received numerous emails and calls of concern. Unfortunately, the tone of the conversation is hurting families and educators and we are calling on concerned community members to stop reaching out to the district directly and to allow JCRC to continue our work with district leadership. We reject public attacks on the district as counterproductive to our community’s aims at this time.

The email goes on to clarify that, apparently contrary to certain rumors, the ethnic studies curriculum in MVLA does include discussions of antisemitism and Jewish experience and is not currently tied to the so-called "liberated ethnic studies" curriculum. At this point, the email suggests:

Objections to MVLA’s curriculum appear to be ideologically-based, with some questioning the inclusion of concepts such as systems of power and oppression, concepts that are included in the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. While segments of our community may object to teaching these concepts, these concerns are not related to Jewish identity, antisemitism, or Israel, and should not be conflated with anti-Jewish bias.

Why do I flag this email? Because I think it helpfully highlights several trends and activities worth underscoring.

First, it is illustrative of how the institutional California Jewish community has been consistently excellent on this issue -- vigorously advocating for Jewish communal rights, while refusing to give into or endorse fear-mongering or conspiratorial nonsense. They deserve tremendous applause for this -- you and I know full well that is not something that can be taken for granted.

Second, it is laudatory that the statement correctly distinguishes between mere ideological opposition to teaching about things like "systems of power and oppression", and having leveled a colorable claim of antisemitism. Political disagreement with certain frameworks used in ethnic studies is not tantamount to identifying actual antisemitic content. This is not to say that such concepts cannot be deployed in antisemitic ways. But frequently right-wing Jewish critics of ethnic studies skip past that step and simply assert that the existence of these concepts is inherently antisemitic without any need to show actual, particularized antisemitic content (for my part, I have no idea how one could possibly understand antisemitism without conceptualizing it as a "system of oppression"). 

Third, it highlights how counterproductive ill-informed rabble-rousing around these issues are. It is almost certain that the success of the Bay Area JCRC and affiliated groups in creating a healthy ethnic studies framework for the Jewish community is in no small part attributable to the direct relationships and consultations its had with MVLA officials. Those relationships and consultations are strained when a bunch of yahoos bombard the school board with whatever the latest misleading Tablet Magazine screed is. Even in cases of genuine antisemitism, this approach often is wildly counterproductive and harms those it purports to "protect". 

Much like the folks who decided the best way to support Berkeley Jewish students was to drive a Hitler billboard truck onto campus, these interventions are not ultimately about trying to improve the climate for Jews. They're accelerationism -- trying to increase the temperature in a bid to hasten the crisis point where things boil over. Just as the last thing that the Berkeley Hitler truck purveyors want is a world in which Jews feel comfortable at Berkeley (if Jews are comfortable at Berkeley, then a heaping pile of right-wing narratives attacking higher education go kaput), the last thing the rabble rousers want in Mountain View is for ethnic studies to be able to comfortably incorporate Jewish perspectives (if it does, the whole narrative that ethnic studies is and must ever be antisemitic falls away).

It is, to reiterate, fantastic that California's Jewish community has not, by and large, fallen into these traps. Good behavior deserves plaudits, and I applaud the Bay Area JCRC for the tremendous, superb work they've done on the ethnic studies issue for years now.