Thursday, October 10, 2019

How We Won't Respond to the German Synagogue Shooting

As many of you already know, there was a synagogue shooting in Germany yesterday, during Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the Jewish calendar). The perpetrator live-streamed the attack on Twitch, and may also have targeted a neighboring kebab shop. Two died; more no doubt would have had the synagogue's doors not been locked.

The killer (who has been arrested) appears to be a far-right German extremist. As we endure yet another act of horrific violence in our holy places, it has become all the more imperative that we mobilize together to figure out how to stop this. What policies, what practices, what interventions can keep the Jewish community safe -- in Germany, in America, and around the world?

On that score, here are a few things we will not be considering -- and thankfully so:

  • We will not suggest that the solution lies in a complete and total shutdown on Germans entering the United States, or efforts to restrict German or European migration more broadly;
  • We will not suggest that this is the inevitable byproduct of Europe being "overrun" by European men;
  • We will not insist on crackdowns or government surveillance targeting White, European men writ large;
  • We will not -- despite a ton of history to draw upon -- suggest that attempted mass murders of Jews simply is the full and faithful expression of authentic German-ness, European-ness, or Christianity.
We understand that such inquiries are ludicrously overbroad -- and more than that, would interfere with the real political and social alterations necessary to tackle the sort of violent antisemitic extremism embodied in this attack.

That is a lesson. It is a lesson that goes hand in hand with taking seriously -- deadly seriously -- the ideologies and hatefulness that produces violent antisemitism, no matter where it comes from. Tackling these awful ideologies -- whether they arise from the left or the right, from Islam or Christianity or some mutant form of neo-paganism, from elites or from the disaffected -- can and must be done. Antisemitic or otherwise bigoted ideologies can stem from all these sources, and they cannot go unchallenged. Things have gotten too seriously to ignore them.

But let's be clear: doing it seriously means avoiding profoundly unserious modes of explanation or critique. Sweeping dismissals of entire cultural, religious, or ethnic groups? That's not serious. That is the act of someone who, fundamentally, does not take this threat seriously.

We all intuitively know that in the case of the Halle shooting. But it is a lesson worth internalizing across the board.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Very Much Alive

Hey guys -- I just want everyone to know I'm not dead or anything like that, I'm just super busy. It's the middle of hiring season, and I, like an idiot, also scheduled two conferences over the next month.

So it's been a bit quiet here, and that might persist for the next few weeks. But I haven't abandoned this blog by any stretch, and with luck I might have some exciting news to announce in the near future!

Thursday, October 03, 2019

(Not) Rickey on Behalf of Rickey

I was somewhat of a Rickey Henderson fan when he played, but since his retirement his stock has only grown in my estimation. He really is one of the all-time greats to have ever played. Obviously, nobody disputes that Henderson is an obvious HOFer, but I still feel he's somewhat underrated only because his greatness wasn't a matter of big power (though he had real pop) but rather getting on (and then, obviously, advancing on) bases.

Anyway, I love these quotes from pitchers about the nightmare that it was to face Rickey Henderson at the plate:
"He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen," former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan said. "If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great."
"There was no one else like him," former pitcher Tom Candiotti said. "I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can. If you threw him a fastball, he would hit it for a home run. If you walked him, it was a triple. It was ridiculous. It was like, 'Good gosh, what are we going to do with this guy?'"
There wasn't much anyone could do. "We threw the kitchen sink at him to try to keep him close to first, which we couldn't, but once he got to second, forget about it," Flanagan said. "If you paid attention to him there, invariably [Carney] Lansford would hit a double, [Jose] Canseco or [Mark] McGwire would go deep. If you tried to hold him on all the way around the bases, it was so distracting, before you knew it, you were down five runs."

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Labour Constituency Schedules Vote of No-Confidence Against Jewish MP for Kol Nidre

I don't want to say this is "peak Labour" because it seems like they're always capable of reaching new, er, heights, but my goodness this might be peak Labour:
A Labour branch in Dame Louise Ellman’s Liverpool Riverside constituency is to debate a motion calling for her resignation – on the evening of Yom Kippur.
The St Michael’s Labour branch is to meet on Tuesday evening - Kol Nidre - to discuss a motion of no confidence in the Jewish MP.
A motion, proposed by a member named Ritchie Hunter, cites a JC article that reported Dame Louise's speech in which she said she “understands why Jews would seriously consider leaving Britain if Corbyn became PM".
The motion says: "We have no confidence that our MP Louise Ellman will carry out the wishes of our CLP and our Riverside constituency or that she will follow Labour Party policy.”
It adds: “This branch therefore call on our Riverside MP, Louise Ellman, to resign.”
I just feel the need to walk through this more slowly, in order to emphasize all the layers here:

The mind boggles. It boggles.

Monday, September 30, 2019

NBC Thursday Comedy Quick Thoughts

NBC really pushed its fall comedy lineup, with veteran battleships The Good Place and Superstore looking to boost newcomers Sunnyside and Perfect Harmony (notably, Brooklyn Nine Nine's seventh season will be coming a bit later). The first two are great shows, and they inspired Jill and I to give the pilots of the latter two a try. So ... quick thoughts on all four!

*Potential Mild Spoilers*


  • I actually don't really have much to say about this show, other than Mateo's ICE detention is heartbreaking and terrible and a really good storyline but also just makes me very sad.

The Good Place

  • Seems like a whole bunch of our favorite guest-stars are going to get return appearances this season. I'm always here for more Marc Evan Jackson in my life. The sexy mailman who's always "going to the gym" shows up, much to Eleanor's side-eyed delight. We haven't seen Vicki yet (though to be honest, Tiya Sircar was much, much better as Real Eleanor). But the real stretch goal is if Trevor (aka Adam Scott) and his crew stage a return.
  • This show has earned a ton of trust, so take what I'm about to say very lightly, but ... if the show is serious about following through on using these random (or "random") four humans as test dummies to see if humans generally can get better in the Fake Good Place, then they're forgetting an important point of their premise. It's not that being in the (Fake) Good Place improves people. It's that particular elements of the original quartet, in conjunction with being in the Good Place, ended up bringing out the best in each other (under conditions of adversity). But that doesn't apply to any random four people, not the least because not all of them will necessarily experience this iteration of the Good Place as "adversity".
Perfect Harmony
  • I've missed Bradley Whitford on my TV screen. Trophy Wife, you were gone too soon. With respect to his probably drunk, deeply embittered character, Jill comments: "Josh Lyman in the Trump years."
  • Somebody identified Whitford as being from "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and I almost tossed my computer across the room.
  • I know Anna Camp is from South Carolina, but boy that accent she's putting on feels broad, doesn't it (and yes, I know that South Carolina and Kentucky are different places with different accents, but that's just it -- it feels like a caricature of "backwoods hick")? It's testament to just how gosh darn likable she is that I can look past it.
  • Dwayne's voice -- real, or put on by the actor?
  • That "Eye of the Tiger/Hallelujah" mashup was pretty damn good, I'd say! Seems like a lot for the choir to throw together on a few days notice without their star director, though.
  • The evil megachurch pastor definitely has engaged in some serious sexual misconduct, right?
  • Kal Penn! Remember that time he got a job in the Obama administration and so they just had his character commit suicide out of nowhere on House?
  • I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that the actress who plays the councilwoman who took Kal Penn's seat is an AOC looklike. And by "not the only one", I mean "everyone noticed, immediately, it's incredibly on the nose).
  • Man, between Mateo on Superstore and Drazen (a Moldovan immigrant and disco music fan) on Sunnyside, network TV is all of the sudden actually willing to tackle the fact that a bunch of people who are just living their lives in America are at constant risk of being plucked off the street and thrown into detention.
  • I really hope we haven't seen the last of Drazen -- his dynamic with Brady (also from Moldova, but came to America at two years old and doesn't even know where Moldova is) is fabulous. Save Peggy!
  • Best running gag on Sunnyside is Griselda working a job at every single place the group meets. Probably can't carry for a whole season, but it absolutely worked in the pilot.
  • Whoever plays Kal Penn's sister can get it.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Extremist Anti-Zionist Jewish Sect Requests Asylum in Iran

The Lev Tahor sect (really, closer to a cult) of Haredi Orthodox Judaism -- notorious for facing kidnapping and child abuse allegations -- has apparently requested asylum in Iran.

You may remember the Lev Tahor from their time in Guatemala, when Students for Justice in Palestine -- noting that Lev Tahor was (a) Jewish and (b) bad -- concluded that they therefore must be "Zionists". Lev Tahor is in fact extremely aggressively anti-Zionist, which may explain why they think Iran might be a hospitable site for an asylum claim. (As best I can tell, SJP's response to the fact that Lev Tahor is anti-Zionist, not Zionist, was to define the problem out of existence: anti-Zionism is good, Lev Tahor is not good, therefore, Lev Tahor cannot be anti-Zionist).

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Teaching is a Job, in Grad School and Out

The NLRB is gearing up to implement a new rule which would establish that graduate students, even when acting as teaching assistants, are not "employees" of the university and therefore are not entitled to labor law protections (such as the right to unionize). This is the latest swing in an ongoing battle over that issue at the NLRB, which has largely tracked partisan politics: grad students first won the right to unionize under a Clinton-appointee controlled board in 2000, lost it under the Bush administration in 2004, gained it back under Obama in 2016, and are poised to lose it again under Trump in 2019.

The logic of the argument that grad students are not employees is that we are primarily students, and our teaching roles are extensions of our role as students. I'm somewhat uniquely positioned to address this, as I became a graduate student after serving as a (non-permanent) faculty member at two universities, and thus was able to compare whether and to what degree serving as a graduate student instructor (Berkeley's term for a teaching assistant) differed from teaching as a faculty member.

Here's my answer: there's virtually no difference.

There are many things I've done at UC-Berkeley as a "student". Most obviously, I enrolled in classes for credit. I wrote a master's thesis, and will write a dissertation. In these roles, my relationship to the departmental faculty is pedagogical -- they are there to teach and mentor me, and I interact with them in effectively the same way as I did to my teachers as an undergraduate or a secondary school student.

But as far as Berkeley is concerned, I do not teach classes to be taught how to teach. I teach classes because Berkeley needs people to teach classes, and they've decided I'm qualified to do it. As a GSI, both my day-to-day and semester-long routines are effectively the same as when I was a faculty member. I build my own lesson plans, hold office hours, give lectures, grade papers, write letters of recommendation, and often times create assignments. Nothing in how GSI work is structured remotely resembles any pedagogical practice akin to the professor/student relation that exists when I, say, submit a dissertation draft. As a GSI, I receive effectively no mentoring or even oversight by faculty members (indeed, in three of the four classes I've taught as GSI, the lead instructor was another graduate student). The only substantial difference between being a lecturer at the law school and a GSI in the political science department is that in the latter case I do not have control of my class's overall syllabus -- but all this means is that I'm a worker underneath a boss. To the extent that Berkeley has taken an interest in teaching me how to teach, it's done so through a class in pedagogy. It is an accident of structure that my GSI responsibilities come attached to my studies as a PhD student -- they are scarcely different in form than what I would be doing if I was an adjunct instructor.

This ruling will not directly affect me (it only applies to private universities). And I say all of this as someone who has had a sometimes adversarial relationship with my own graduate student union. But that doesn't change the obvious fact that when I teach, I'm engaging in work, not study, and the law should therefore treat me as a worker, not a student. The determination that graduate students serving as teaching assistants are not acting as "employees" but as "students" is patently absurd to anyone who has ever worked as TA.