Saturday, April 12, 2014

DePaul Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies

DePaul Law School's Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies had an interesting conference recently where several prominent Jewish law professors talked about how their Jewishness affected their outlook on law and legal scholarship. It sounded like a fascinating program -- I wish I had still been in the neighborhood and was able to attend (I lived very close to DePaul Law my 3L year).

Unfortunately, Randy Barnett reports that the center is close to shutting down due to a lack of funding. This would be a true shame. If you're in a position to donate and help keep them going, it would do the world -- Jewish and otherwise -- a great deal of good.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Motivational Speaking

I like Jonathan Chait. He's smart and he's funny. It is no accident that my last post stemmed from one of his. But in this post, about racism and the "presumption of innocence" is badly misguided.

Chait's basic argument almost completely abstracts racism aways from any concrete, measurable effects it might have on the world. Instead, racism is almost solely a question of personal moral character. Consequently, it is extremely important to ensure that good non-racists are not unfairly lumped in with bad racists. Chait takes particular issue with persons, such as Melissa Harris-Perry, who suggest that there should be a default presumption of White non-racism. "Just how a person so accused could overcome the presumption of racism, Harris-Perry did not explain."

On the topic of trusting White people, I refer back to W.E.B. Du Bois' perspective. Surely Chait does not believe that Du Bois had to presume non-racism in 1920. A Black man in 1920 who assumed that any and all White people he met viewed him as an equal was a Black man who would be lynched sooner rather than later. So really we're talking about when the ledger tilted. 1950? 1970? 2004? When was it that a presumption of White non-racism shifted from being a suicide pact to a moral obligation?

What's particularly bizarre is that Chait proffers no evidence that racism is sufficiently rare amongst White people so as to justify a presumption of non-racism. Perhaps that's the benefit of presuming it -- it negates the obligation to actually offer supporting evidence. This is a problem, given the extensive evidence regarding the prevalence of subconscious racism amongst Americans, including amongst those who have conscious and genuine commitments to racial egalitarianism. And this sort of racism continues to exhibit meaningful, tangible impacts on minority lives. But Chait almost seems to view this more as a question of civility than of sociology. We should be careful about saying people are racist because that's a mean thing to say about another person. There is simply no justification for this approach. At the very least, how we approach the subject of racism in American life should remain connected to the actual presence and impact of racism. If racism remains a serious and widespread problem, then we should treat it as one regardless of whether it hurts people's feelings.

But the deeper problem is the focus on personal motivations at all. As Alan David Freeman observed over three decades ago, this is not largely why minorities care about racism. Racism matters because of the tangible effects it has on the lives of those it victimizes. Were racism solely a matter of "the heart" and never translated into material impacts, it wouldn't be that big a deal.

Chait seems to disagree. Consider his response to Ed Kilgore and the disparate impact many conservative policies have on people of color.
The Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore, in a trio of posts, objects that it is perfectly fair to impute racism to conservative policies that have a “disparate impact” on African-Americans, citing Republican opposition to things like health-care reform. “I’m willing to stop 'playing' the 'race card,' accurate as it often is,” he writes, “if conservatives are willing to reflect more on a fundamental inability to accept the equality — not of some abstract quantity called 'opportunity,' but of access to the basic necessities of life in this rich society.” If Republicans want Kilgore not to assume they are racist, all they need to do is agree to the liberal policy agenda, or perhaps something close to it.

And Kilgore is right, of course, that Republican policies tend to enrich a disproportionately white constituency and harm a disproportionately nonwhite one. He thus deems the question of motive irrelevant. But suppose we lived in a world where Democrats wanted to redistribute even more resources from the (disproportionately white) rich to the (disproportionately nonwhite) working-class and poor. At some point, the level of redistribution could be high enough that Kilgore himself would object — say, a federal government consuming one third, or one half, or two thirds, of the economy. Would it be fair to describe his agenda as objectively racist? Would that free Kilgore’s left-wing critics from taking his stated objections at face value?
Frustratingly, Chait does not actually make clear his views on "disparate impact" as a consequence. He knocks down the straw-man that infinitely biasing policy in favor of the less-well-off should not be viewed as racist on "disparate impact" grounds. This is of course true, but not actually contested. Disparate impact matters for two reasons. First, because it offers a hint as to motives that are hidden or (as aforementioned) subconscious. Second, because it focuses on what racial minorities actually receive and whether that receipt is compatible with what they are due as a matter of justice. Not to repeat myself, but racial minorities not receiving what they are justly owed as members of a liberal democratic society is bad regardless of what actually motivates the deficiency. Indeed, historically speaking it is quite rare for any such deprivations to be solely motivated by "racism" as Chait understands the term -- a pure and unmoderated desire to harm racial minorities for its own sake.

But in reality, the distinction between motive and consequence is less relevant than one would think. Chait thinks it is extremely important to distinguish between someone who advocates policy X because it hurts Black people, versus someone who advocates it for some other reason (and simply does not realize -- or care -- that it hurts Black people). But when formulating policy, we all have an obligation to think about whether our preferences are compatible with what is justly owed to our fellows. Failing in that responsibility may not be as bad as conscious antipathy towards racial minorities, but it's still something we can fairly condemn. And -- returning to Du Bois -- would Chait really defend the claim that White people have earned a presumption that they have thought deeply and critically about whether their policy choices are fair to Black people?

This dovetails with one of Chait's stranger arguments:
The most problematic part of Kilgore's argument is his recurrent phrase "objectively racist." It consciously or unconsciously harkens back to a chilling Cold War-era line used by conservatives, who described their domestic opponents as "objectively pro-Communist." Their underlying logic, like the phrase itself, mirrored Kilgore's: if you opposed the conservative foreign policy agenda, the "objective" thrust of your beliefs aided communism. This line of reasoning conveniently enabled conservatives to rhetorically lump together all their domestic opponents under the broad rubric of "pro-communist," insinuating a poisonous motive while freeing themselves from having to demonstrate it.
Chait couples this claim with another one that liberals don't care about a standard of "fairness" in assessing racism. But these positions aren't consistent. One way to "fairly" allocate claims of racism is to tie it to certain objective metrics, like, for example, the standard of living enjoyed by racial minorities vis-a-vis the majority. Viewing racism through this lens -- as a question of concrete and tangible things -- has the advantage of linking racism to the reason we care about racism (not to mention linking it to measurable entities). To be sure, there are still plenty of debates to be had even on that "objective" turf. But it is far easier to assess the trying to peer into someone's soul ala Bush and Putin.

The important thing to stress, and the point Chait keeps sliding past, is that the important question regarding racism is not "are White people bad"? The important question is whether our society is, along racial lines, treating all of its citizens in an equitable and egalitarian manner consistent with principles of justice. If the answer is no, that's a big problem regardless of whether the explanation why not ends up being conscious racial antipathy, subconscious prejudice, apathy, or something else entirely.

...and the Maps?

Former Senator (now Heritage Foundation chief) Jim DeMint on how the slaves were freed (via Jon Chait):
Well, the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to "all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights" in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.
To be fair, his answer may have been ghost-written by another South Carolinian.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The God Market

I'm not exactly an anti-trust specialist, but I found this hilarious (via Will Baude):
Judge Orders God To Break Up Into Smaller Deities

WASHINGTON, DC—Calling the theological giant’s stranglehold on the religion industry “blatantly anti-competitive,” a U.S. district judge ruled Monday that God is in violation of anti-monopoly laws and ordered Him to be broken up into several less powerful deities.

“The evidence introduced in this trial has convinced me that the deity known as God has willfully and actively thwarted competition from other deities and demigods, promoting His worship with such unfair scare tactics as threatening non-believers with eternal damnation,” wrote District Judge Charles Elliot Schofield in his decision. “In the process, He has carved out for Himself an illegal monotheopoly.”

[. . .]

To comply with federal antitrust statutes, God will be required to divide Himself into a pantheon of specialized gods, each representing a force of nature or a specific human custom, occupation, or state of mind.”There will most likely be a sun god, a moon god, sea god, and rain god,” said religion-industry watcher Catherine Bailey. “Then there will be some second-tier deities, like a god of wine, a goddess of the harvest, and perhaps a few who symbolize human love and/or blacksmithing.”
Leading theologians are applauding the God breakup, saying that it will usher in a new era of greater worshipping options, increased efficiency, and more personalized service.

“God’s prayer-response system has been plagued by massive, chronic backlogs, and many prayers have gone unanswered in the process,” said Gene Suozzi, a Phoenix-area Wiccan. “With polytheism, you pray to the deity specifically devoted to your concern. If you wish to have children, you pray to the fertility goddess. If you want to do well on an exam, you pray to the god of wisdom, and so on. This decentralization will result in more individualized service and swifter response times.”
It's an oldie -- I think this is actually playing off the Microsoft break-up decision -- but still hilarious.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

March on Washington

Governor O'Malley announces that Maryland will take back what's rightfully ours. Next stop, Delaware.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Sun Never Sets on the Jewish Empire

The KKK went recruiting in Rhome, Texas. Their message is the usual mix of paranoid, racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering. I found it depressing -- but not for the reason you'd think:
The message informs callers that the United States government “is just like Al Qaeda,” and that it’s using “taxpayer money to fund terrorist acts in the Ukraine” so the U.S. can put in “a puppet government so it can protect the Satanic state of Israel.”

The new “main battles,” it continues, “will take place in Iran and Syria,” and “the Jew bitch behind this scheme is Victoria Nuland,” the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State.
Now, as a Jew, one thing that comes with the territory is the conspiracy theories. We're blamed for literally everything. It's a simple formula: take a social problem, identify a Jew in a position of power, and voila! Obviously it's their secret Jewish plan! And think of the cast of characters they had to draw on! Paul Wolfowitz. Richard Perle. Donald Rumsfield (not Jewish, but that never seemed to stop anyone). It was a list of Devilish World-Controlling Jews we could all be proud of.

And where are we today? The Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs? That's who we're relying on now? What happened to us? What happened to the ZOG?

Thanks a lot, Obama.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Distractions Roundup

A German restaurant in Minneapolis hosts German-themed WWII days! Oh, why did I move away (other than the SS officer down the block)?

Facebook advertising algorithm fail.

Ameinu's Third Narrative announces its Academic Advisory Council.

Cary Nelson has a truly superb review of Judith Butler's latest book promoting BDS and the dissolution of Israel. Though all of it is great, what resonates most with me is the observation that the abstract and ahistorical conception of justice Butler draws is not just unattainable, it's a model that the progressive left has rejected for decades -- led by people like Butler. She knows better, she just doesn't know better when it comes to Jews.

I thought this would kill my productivity. I was wrong. It was this that did me in.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Innocence of Youth

A very interesting study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology systematically overestimate the ages of children of color, particularly Black children, who are accused of crimes. The result is that they view them as less innocent and more culpable, and treat them more harshly.