March 4, 2008

What makes a man turn neutral?

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 1:00 pm

(Updated below)

I figure I may only have time for one more post about the Democratic nomination, so here it is:

Following the Democratic primary has given me a new political experience, which is the experience of being nonpartisan. Normally, whenever a news story breaks, I know exactly how to feel, who’s at fault, who’s the victim: the left is right, the right is wrong. In the back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama, though, I don’t have a strong preference (as I’ve mentioned before), and thus I don’t have a strong automatic response when one of them (or, more often, one of their supporters) takes a shot at the other side. Sure, there are things that I disagree with: I roll my eyes and spit when Clinton releases a fearmongering ad, or when Obama lets it be known that he might appoint Republicans to his cabinet. And lest you think that I’m dedicated to the idea that the candidates are exactly equal, it does seem to me that the Clinton side has been making more reprehensible attacks of late (ahem). Of course, if Obama were on the brink of defeat, he might be taking some desperate steps too…but if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass a-hoppin’.

But my non-partisanship does make me feel qualified to say: a lot of what people are complaining about is just manufactured outrage, tortuous transmutations of ambiguous or poorly-worded statements into supposedly clear examples of “dog-whistling.” I don’t feel that, when Hillary Clinton answered the question “You don’t think Senator Obama is a Muslim,” by saying “Of course not, there isn’t any basis for that—I take him at what he says and there isn’t any reason to doubt that,” that she was trying to imply that he may be a Muslim. I don’t feel that, when Obama said “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal,” that he was trying to imply that Clinton makes attacks when menstruating (though it is still a patronizing comment). Both explanations are feasible, I suppose, but the simplest explanation in both cases is the innocent one. Beyond which, if you think that millions of people can be swayed by commentary that requires PhD-level analysis to unpack, then the electorate is either much smarter or much stupider than we’ve previously supposed.

From a position like that, I’m very sensitive to commentary that claims to be objective, but in fact is anything but. At Days of Industry, Hungarian Great Bela Tarr links approvingly to just such an article, by Paul Jenkins at the Huffington Post, entitled “Clinton and the Vast Media Conspiracy.” I don’t agree with Jenkins’s premise—that contrary to her claims, Clinton has not been treated unfairly by the media, and in fact has been favored by them—but I’m not interested in discussing that here. Indeed, I would rather pound a nail into my eye than get into another debate about media coverage of this campaign. I’ll simply link to what Digby said, not just about the obvious sexism Clinton has faced but also about the left’s failure to demand that she be treated fairly:

…I would warn that if unfair and biased press coverage is now a disqualification for elected office, then I think we’d better think long and hard about whether the Democrats are going to be viable as a political party. Bad press for Democrats is part of the package. (And I would also add that I think it was part of the Netroots job to help fight back this kind of bias against all Democratic presidential candidates, even if as individuals we were pulling for a different one. That did not happen and I think the Netroots failed miserably in one of its primary missions this time out.)

Digby is right. No one has an obligation to like Clinton or to want her to be nominated, but to actually rejoice in her public stoning (and to pretend that the reporting really is Fair and Balanced) because it benefits your candidate of choice is to sell out, not just one candidate, but the party itself—anyone, and that includes Obama, who wants to succeed as a Democrat in defiance of right-wing attack. Which brings us to what I am interested in talking about: Jenkins’s first sentence (emphasis added):

Hillary Clinton has convinced the media that it is biased against her, one of the great (and rare) successes of her presidential campaign, akin to her creation of the vast right-wing conspiracy responsible for conceiving a string of sexual and other disgraces in her husband’s White House.

And I’m thinking: wow. Jenkins has gone so far against Clinton that he has become a 1998 Republican: sneering about the vast right-wing conspiracy, saying that the real problem is the “sexual and other” (which other?) scandals that the Clinton presidency committed. When Molly Ivors at Whiskey Fire says that some Obama supporters “do not seem to know whose framing they’re adopting,” I assume she refers to something like this. (H/T to Mithras, about whom more in a bit.)

I hope I never hear another person wondering why so many Democrats don’t seem to trust hardcore Obama supporters, why they strike us as a little bit of a cult of personality. Anyone who will side with Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr over Bill Clinton, all to score points against Hillary Clinton a decade later, is no Democrat. They should register Republican and not talk to me about politics; they should not talk to anyone about politics, frankly.

Also, the camel’s back having broken, I’ll go ahead and say it plainly: if you hate Hillary Clinton, hate her like the Republicans hate her (and Jenkins, though he puts it most directly, is hardly the only “liberal” who feels this way), it is because she is a woman. I can’t pretend otherwise anymore, and it was cowardly of me to do so in the first place. Reasonable people can disagree on the impact of her war vote, her compromises with the center, and her effectiveness as a speaker and politician, but speaking as an impartial observer, there’s nothing rational that bridges the gap between those objections and finding her repellent, at least not if you didn’t recoil from Kerry and Gore and Bill Clinton (and if you did, shouldn’t you be voting for Nader?). Mithras, who is a dedicated Obama supporter, puts it well:

Some Obama supporters have made it clear that they are not against Hillary because she is a woman, but because of what kind 0f person she is. I don’t think there is any way to know, really, whether that’s true or not. My gut tells me it’s largely bullshit. I doubt these Democrats loathed Bill Clinton in 1996, by which point you knew what you had in the Clintons. Electing a woman to legislative positions seems to be problematic enough. Electing a woman to be Commander in Chief stirs up anxious masculinity all over the place. You can hear it in the vitriol directed at her that isn’t aimed at her husband. Women hear it and know where it comes from. They’ve heard it before.

So that’s why I’ll have trouble feeling very excited when Obama (who is largely blameless in this) wins the nomination: if it means that the Democrats can’t nominate anyone who has a political history, who has established political connections, or (worst of all) who is a woman, then (as Digby says) our long-term viability may be in question. The Yes We Can generation better stick around until 2016, is all I’m saying.

Now, having said all that…I’m aware that the nonpartisanship I feel (between Clinton and Obama) is not the same as neutrality; in fact, I am still being quite partisan, defending both candidates against attacks that could harm them in the general election. This means that I tend to play down the importance of even those attacks, on both sides, that have merit. A nonpartisan viewpoint is not necessarily the wisest or most unclouded—if it were, Michael Bloomberg really would be what this country needed. So I think I can corral my strong feelings, which are the result of a long and trying primary fight, long enough to say (returning to Jenkins): Obama supporters, let us not go down this road. The vast right-wing conspiracy is real; it was real in the 90’s and it’s real now. How else do you explain the coordinated questioning of Obama’s patriotism, at exactly the moment that he became the front-runner? Do you think that they’re not going to find or manufacture some scandals—as Whitewater was manufactured—starting at about 8 pm Central Time today, if Obama wins the nomination?

I think Obama is great, I really do. But let’s not miss the forest for this one very exciting tree. It’s not just a matter of not alienating female voters and other rational people this November; it’s a matter of understanding, in the long term, who the enemy is and who it isn’t. If we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately—maybe in November, maybe further down the road.

Update (3/5, 10:15 a.m.): What’s the word for the kind of prescience where you predict something, and it turns out it already happened?  Above, I wrote that Obama would have to deal with manufactured scandals, just as the Clintons had to deal with Whitewater, a complete boondoggle and fishing expedition in which the Clintons were cleared of wrongdoing but nonetheless acquired a vague association with financial scandal that persists to this day.  (Indeed, it is almost certainly part of what Jenkins is referring to with “other disgraces.”)  Well, Obama is already dealing with this, in the form of this Rezko nonsense, and it’s just going to intensify if he gets nominated.  Glenn Greenwald lays out not only the utter hollowness of the non-allegations (“…Obama isn’t even accused of — let alone proven to have engaged in — any wrongdoing at all”) but also discusses the similarities to the Whitewater Technique.  Digby has more on this.

Now, this is not a point in Hillary Clinton’s favor; indeed, her campaign has tried to benefit from this and other phony “scandals,” to its and her discredit.  It is, however, a refutation of the fairytale that Obama is immune to groundless attack (as if the various ethnic canards haven’t already proved that), as well as an argument for opposing specious allegations regardless of which candidate they affect.


February 6, 2008

Win one for the Zipper

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Gray Lady, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 11:00 pm

So, I voted for Obama.

I came to the decision on Monday, and became more comfortable with it as the day went on. I realized that, all else being equal—and it really is, for me—Clinton’s vote for the war pretty much trumps everything else, especially her claims to be more qualified than Obama. For instance, this letter to the Times, writing in favor of “experience,” makes a pretty good point…

J.F.K. was far more experienced than Mr. Obama, having served 14 years in Congress, winning a Pulitzer Prize and being a decorated war hero. But right after he was elected, the Bay of Pigs, one of the biggest military debacles in United States history, occurred.

…until you remember that Hillary Clinton voted for the biggest military debacle in United States history. I don’t know whether to believe the best or the worst about either Obama or Clinton, but what’s certain is that Clinton didn’t have either the foresight or the conviction to vote against the war, and Obama—facing much less pressure, yes—did. That gets him my support, for now.

But overall I’m enthusiastic about both candidates, which means that, having chosen one, I’ll gripe about him incessantly. I’m still skeptical about the Obama cult of personality—I’m not charmed by people who can only be bothered to vote in November if their Bestest Candidate is nominated, for instance—and every time I came across an ad hominem attack on Clinton before voting, I almost changed my mind and gave her my support instead. For instance, Maureen Dowd—never the most grounded of columnists—has completely lost her mind. If this column had been published on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, I would have voted for Clinton without a second’s hesitation. (More on that column here, here, and here, by the way.)

And now, the waiting game. I do believe that either of these candidates can beat John McCain in a walk, and that having more exposure due to a protracted contest will be good for the Democrats’ chances…unless one side goes negative or dirty and starts tearing the other down. (And yes, I know all the things Clinton is supposed to have done. No sale.) If they can keep the lovefest going to the convention, and avoid some ugly floor fight, we should be in good shape. Just ask Tomemos, the guy who predicts a Democratic victory in every single election.

February 3, 2008

The decision is yours! The decision is yours!

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 12:59 pm

I’ve been a registered California voter since the 2000 election. Living in the most populous state in the union should make a guy feel pretty influential in an election, but because Iowans are so much more important than we are, I’ve never had the chance to vote in a meaningful presidential primary; by the time it gets to us, it’s all over. This year, for the first time in my adult life, a Californian can make a difference in the primary, and what a difference: we’re the crown jewel of OMFG Tuesday, and the race is too close to call. So who am I voting for?

I have no idea.

Voting in the general election is like being a vegetarian in a standard American restaurant: the decision is quick because the options are limited. I didn’t necessarily feel like voting for Kerry in 2004, but it was that or go hungry. It turns out that voting in a primary is like going to a vegetarian restaurant, and in both cases I’m not prepared to deal with even the concept of choices: even though, in this case, there are only two options, I find myself totally paralyzed.

Luckily, I have an easy forum for people to tell me what to do: this blog. I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far, and I hope you’ll weigh in with some ways to make this decision easier. Here’s how I see it:

Opportunity to elect the first female president: Attractive.
Opportunity to elect the first black president: Attractive.

Opportunity to nominate someone who has weathered the right-wing attack machine: Attractive.
Clinton’s connections to a corrupt, entrenched centrist Democrat establishment (personified by Mark Penn, say): Unattractive.
The dynasty thing: Totally indifferent.

Opportunity to take a bold new direction by nominating a candidate with an attractive message and without serious baggage: Attractive.
Thought of nominating an unknown quantity in an election with such high stakes: Unattractive.

Obama’s health care plan in comparison to Clinton’s: Unattractive; equivocal.
Clinton’s stance on immigration in comparison to Obama’s: Unattractive; equivocal.
Other decisive policy differences: N/A

Clinton’s vote for the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq: Unattractive.
Clinton’s refusal to call that vote a mistake: Unattractive.
Clinton’s vote for the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution calling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organization”: Unattractive.
Mitigating factors: Hardly any.
Indications that Obama has his own history of equivocation: Troubling.

Opportunity to take part in historic grassroots movement of young, progressive voters: Attractive.
Sense that we should all calm down about this guy, because he might be a big disappointment: Pervasive.

Obama’s charisma and dry wit: Attractive.
Arguments that Obama is the candidate, at long last, that the right wing will not attack with undiluted vehemence and nastiness: Unpersuasive.

Frank Rich’s uncritical pro-Obama hackery: Extremely unattractive.
Maureen Dowd’s petty anti-Clinton mudslinging: Extremely unattractive.
Commentators on the left, whom I will not name, who have argued that Clinton should not be nominated because she somehow radiates pure insincerity and unlikability, comments that are hard to attribute to anything but sexism: Extremely unattractive.
Chance to prove them all wrong by electing Clinton: Extremely attractive.
Sense that spite may not be a good enough reason to vote for someone: Grudging.

Chances, in my view, that the victorious candidate will put aside bad blood and pick the other as a running mate, creating a no-white-males ticket: Nil.

* * *

So what do you think? Whom do I vote for? You have 48 hours; after that, I’m going to the polls and I’m following my gut. Which is the last thing anyone should want.

(I also don’t know how to vote on the Indian Gaming Compacts, but that’s a list for another time.)

January 8, 2008

Save the drama for Obama

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 11:59 am

(Updated below)

(title courtesy of Bad Gods)

Here’s how it went down. First, Hungarian Great Bela Tarr, who resides in Iowa, posted his predictions for the caucuses at his blog, Days of Industry (previously plugged in this space). His Democratic predictions went like this: Obama 40, Edwards 26, Clinton 24. Having seen polls showing a dead heat between the three candidates, that struck me as unlikely, so I posted a comment:

I think we’re seeing a little extravagant optimism here—if Clinton does that badly, I will wear the silliest hat I own everywhere I go for two days.

(I used the word “optimism” to reflect HGBT’s dislike of Clinton, not my own; see below.) HGBT asked if that was a promise, and if there would be pictures; I replied that yes, if Clinton finished in third with more than a fifteen-point deficit, as the post predicted, I would honor my promise and take pictures.

Well, you know how it actually shook out: 38/30/29. Obama did better, and Clinton worse, than I predicted, but she still finished well above the 15-point gap I specified. Nevertheless, HGBT had the temerity to send an e-mail to, like, everyone, with the subject line “The question is: will Tom man up?”

I did not wear my hat everywhere (or anywhere) I went; I consider myself vindicated by the results, if just barely. Nevertheless, the exchange (and the election itself, obviously) forced me to clarify my thoughts about the candidates, and I thought I would share those. And I did end up making a concession regarding my vow—read on for details.


January 3, 2008


Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 12:22 pm

(Updated below)

Two great posts have just gone up that have some bearing on my last, so I wanted to point you towards them if you haven’t seen them already.

Girl Detective just posted about an encounter we both had with a politically-minded drunk, who lambasted me for my laziness, privilege, and selfishness in getting a PhD rather than (for instance) volunteering in New Orleans, and then urged GD to make me understand what’s really important (by taking me to see Charlie Wilson’s War, mainly). One of the points GD makes in her post is that, despite our interlocutor’s avowed progressivism, she was actually embodying the anti-intellectualism (and, in her dealings with GD herself, the sexism) that is such a staple of the right wing. Now, most of the progressives and radicals who level accusations of liberal privilege are not drunk and belligerent, but rather thoughtful, committed, and intelligent. Nevertheless, the same kind of duping is often present: at the Shrub Blog, I observed that some criticism of Yes Means Yes, in dismissing the link between women’s sexuality and rape, was echoing right-wing opposition to (for instance) The Vagina Monologues. One of the right wing’s great triumphs has been to use privilege as a wedge issue against the left—think of the emphasis on Kerry’s billions and Edwards’s haircuts, while Bush and Cheney are allowed to be as rich as they want—such that ambition and idealism are both considered superfluous and inauthentic.

•After reading about my brief meat-eating stint, Uncomplicatedly posted her own solution to being a vegetarian in a meat-heavy locale, New Orleans in her case: simply to ask the chef to prepare something vegetarian, which can be more intimate than simply picking something off a menu:

You see, ordering a vegetarian plate gives you a unique relationship to the chef. Some will just give you a collection of their side dishes, which can be a bummer, but some will look around at their kitchens, see what’s on hand, and improvise something special for you. If taste is the most transitory aesthetic experience, it is also one of the most intimate, and I am grateful to all the chefs who have ever taken extra time to consider my needs. While my family members struggled with difficult choices, I would be sitting serenely with a closed menu, waiting to see what delightful thing the chef would do for me. I didn’t feel restricted — I felt more free.

Uncomplicatedly also writes movingly about the ways those with good intentions towards animals can reconcile themselves to the times when we can’t help them as we’d like. This seems to me applicable to other attempts to help the disadvantaged, and provides a link between what the two threads of my last post, threads which at the time I thought were unconnected. We should do what we can to help, and we should absolutely criticize those who harm. (To slip into the specific for a moment: some may feel this way about Yes Means Yes; I disagree, but more power to them.) But energy is almost always better spent doing, than it is lambasting oneself or others for not doing more.

Update (1/4): Joseph Kugelmass gives his take on all of this over at his blog, in an ambitious and thought-provoking entry.  It includes, among other things, the only defense of meat-eating I’ve seen that goes beyond “The lions do it,” “The cavemen did it,” “It tastes good,” or “How do you know PLANTS don’t feel pain?”  Highly recommended.

December 31, 2007

Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, General Me, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 2:29 pm

Two unconnected month-of-December items, so that my conscience can be clear going into the new year:

•Julie and I finally took our honeymoon, to Ensenada in Baja California, about three weeks ago. It wasn’t sub-tropical by any means—our shorts and bathing suits went unused, which we half-expected—but it was quite relaxing, with plenty of napping and strolling, with a pleasant day trip to Mexican wine country thrown in. It also featured a minor milestone: I fell off the meat wagon. For the first time since (roughly) May 1993, I knowingly ordered and ate meat.

I’ve never been one of those vegetarians who is appalled by the thought of eating meat unknowingly. When, at one Midnight Breakfast at Sarah Lawrence, I realized that the fake sausage I had been enjoying was actually real sausage, I didn’t freak out, nor was I bothered when I realized that “imitation crab” is made out of other fish, not out of gluten or something. I also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards broths, stocks, and sauces. But even with this permissiveness, my trip to Japan a couple of years ago felt extremely unsatisfying: while my family enjoyed every kind of fish dish, I was eating the same miso soup, salads, and edamame everywhere, and anything else I tried was most likely cooked in fish products anyway. Furthermore, my moral commitment to vegetarianism is wholly personal; I’m perfectly fine with others eating meat, so it felt strange holding myself to an absolute standard.

So, when I learned that our vacation destination was the Home of the Fish Taco, I realized that I was open to trying some. It was important that it be fish—I do believe that they feel less suffering and consciousness—and also that there be few interesting vegetarian options where we were traveling; even in Greece, I was able to enjoy local varieties of Greek salad, as well as various pita-based foods, whereas around Ensenada few restaurants had anything vegetarian other than quesadillas.

Over the course of the trip, I ate five fish tacos at two different restaurants, as well as a plate of seafood pasta. (I also ate steak tacos after all, but that was a misunderstanding: I ordered “tacos quesas,” and it ended up having steak, and the food took so long to arrive that I didn’t want to send it back.) How was it? It was fine. It felt somewhat odd knowing I was intentionally breaking an abstention, and I worried that I would have digestive problems (I didn’t), but it was basically anticlimactic; I was just eating food.

In the end, though, I think this experiment ended up strengthening my vegetarianism. The fish tacos tasted good; they didn’t make me feel like I had been missing out on something amazing for fifteen years. At one point during our trip, I had a vegetarian tostada, and that was as satisfying a meal as anything else I ate in Mexico. Taste is possibly the most transitory aesthetic experience: even if you eat a meal that you remember for the rest of your life—and I’ve had one or two—it can’t make you want to live a different way. My feelings on eating meat are unchanged: for me, it is a moral issue, but not a moral absolute.

Incidentally, in talking about this experience, I received a reminder that the personally significant is not always identical with the objectively significant. Talking to my sister about our trip, and trying to build suspense, I told her that there had been a “significant occurrence” on our honeymoon. She thought I was going to tell her that we had gotten pregnant.

•There’s a debate raging in the feminist and left-wing blogospheres these days, over a new book project, Yes Means Yes, a collection of essays about fighting rape culture through emphasis on women’s sexuality. The book was announced at Feministing and is co-edited by Jessica Valenti, controversial author of Full Frontal Feminism, which was (to my mind justly) accused of excluding middle-class, non-white, and international feminist issues, despite its claims of universality. (My two favorite responses were petitpoussin’s and Kugelmass’s.) Yes Means Yes is facing much the same criticism: it has been accused of being ahistorical, reductionist, and indifferent to working-class and third-world rape cultures, among other things. However, the book right now is just a call for submissions, and so there is no content to critique; furthermore, many people seem to be taking it as a given that the book is attempting to be the last word on rape, and that it could not be relevant to underprivileged women’s issues. Neither point seems fair to me.

That said, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight … except where it spills over into unfounded incriminations of progressives generally. At an excellent post by tekanji at Shrub Blog—a post that correctly critiques aspects of book’s promotional material while recognizing the potential value of the project overall—I read a comment that seemed to cross the line between making supportable claims about the book, or about Western feminism in general, and unsupportable generalization and hyperbole (“the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count”). Breaking my usual policy, which is not to discuss politics online except at friends’ blogs, I responded, and a discussion followed, including what is probably the longest comment I’ve posted anywhere. The thread seems to have run its course, but you never know.

You can read the actual arguments at tekanji’s blog. I do want to say a word, though, about where my interest in this issue comes from: it comes from attending both high school and college with students who were 1) universally left-wing and 2) divided, to different degrees, into pretty stark contrasts of privileged and unprivileged, both financially and demographically. Consequently, identity politics has been central to my political understanding and discussion, for better and for worse. Some would expect this to be the point where the white, straight, middle-class man complains about how unfairly he was treated; actually, I found most of political discussions in my youth to be thoughtful and productive, and especially important for someone coming from natural positions of privilege. The exceptions have been cases where assumptions of exclusion and privilege preclude and eclipse fair consideration of content, and I think that’s what’s happening with Yes Means Yes. At Shrub Blog, one commenter accused progressive and feminist bloggers of paying “lip service” to working-class issues, which for me raised the question of what other kind of service can be paid on a blog; aside from organizing and fund-raising efforts, the internet is all talk. In fact, people seem to be criticizing Yes Means Yes precisely for its failure to make explicit mention of unprivileged women’s issues. Honestly, this is a fair point—if the book wants to be for everyone, it should make this clear— but the fact remains that the suggested topics are just that, suggested, and before the essays are compiled it is impossible to conclude whether or not the book is “exclusionary.” The frustrations with the state of feminism and the feminist and progressive blogospheres seem valid to me; the assumptions about this unpublished book do not, and run the risk of alienating potential supporters and allies.

Be safe tonight and this year, everyone.

September 17, 2007

You people are the real thing

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 11:43 am

Way to get mad, everybody:

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake and Erwin Chemerinsky have reached an agreement that will return the liberal legal scholar to the dean’s post at the university’s new law school, the university announced this morning.

With the deal, they hope to end the controversy that erupted when Chemerinsky was dropped as the first dean of the Donald Bren School of Law.

Of course, to save face, UCI has to pretend like it was Chemerinsky’s fault for being so darned divisive:

Drake has insisted that Chemerinsky didn’t lose the dean’s position because of his politics, saying that it was only because he expressed himself in a polarizing way.

This would make sense if Chemerinsky had gone all Ward Churchill between being hired and being fired, but since he didn’t one would have to conclude that UCI hired him without actually knowing what he had said publicly and how he said it.  And can someone explain what was “polarizing” about Chemerinsky?  He expressed political opinions in a polarized political environment; that’s not the same as being inflammatory.  Did he tag up somebody’s house or something?

But whatever, I’ll let all that slide.  Kudos, UCI; I don’t mind spinelessness as long as it’s equal-opportunity.

September 12, 2007

Mad as hell

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 9:11 pm

Update: Here’s an online petition from the UCI community to Drake.

In what can only be described as an act of humiliating cowardice, UCI’s chancellor, Michael Drake, fired Erwin Chemerinsky, the head of UCI’s new law school, out of concern that Chemerinsky’s left-wing views would cause too much controversy. Drake had to fly across the country to give Chemerinsky the news, because Chemerinsky hadn’t started the job yet. He only signed the contract last week; nonetheless, he had already started assembling his choices for the board of advisors, including a former Bush appointee. Chemerinsky did not say something shockingly controversial, or announce some radical plan for the law school—it was simply feared that conservatives might raise a stink about him.

I read that at Atrios a little more than seven hours ago. In the intervening time, quite a bit has developed: the LA Times picked up and verified the story; there was a discussion of it on my department listserv; conservative bloggers Hugh Hewitt and Instapundit, to their great credit, condemned the firing; and a left-wing UCI blogger dismissed out of hand the possibility that he, or any graduate student, could make any difference on this or any matter. So there’s a lot to consider here.

Here’s my thing, though. Why is it that you never hear about a candidate being withdrawn (scratch that: an employee being fired) because of fears of left-wing criticism? There aren’t more right-wingers than left-wingers in this country—certainly not in California—so obviously the reason is that left-wing partisans by and large won’t mount an organized campaign of criticism and complaint over ideological issues. Why should that be?

I understand that many on the left see equanimity as a matter of liberal principle (and what principle might that be—not wanting to be a bother?), but it is past time to see that this is disparity is absolutely killing the American left. In 2000, there weren’t Democratic staffers in Florida to face off with the Republican ones pounding on the windows of the Registrar of Voters. Given what the last six years have been like, can you say there shouldn’t have been? Despite Alberto Gonzales resigning in disgrace, despite his own lame-duck status, George Bush is once again trying to appoint a clear partisan to be Attorney General. He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t think he’d get away with it. And the reason he gets away with it is that we don’t have the backbone to get exercised about it. The left used to march in the streets while the right wing used to be the “silent majority”; what the hell happened?

I’m not advocating that we protest whenever a conservative gets hired to an academic position; I’ve known a number of intelligent and professional center-right professors who would be good on any faculty, and I teach conservative thinkers who I respect. But at minimum we have to reject attempts to dislodge qualified employees because they hold left-wing views. (Think about what I just wrote; is it 1947?) So to answer Scott Kaufman’s post (linked above): yes, write a complaint. Write complaints to everyone involved. Tell everyone you know to write a complaint. Get UCI—or whomever—to realize that the outrage it provokes from, horror of horrors, hiring liberal employees is nothing compared to the outrage it provokes from firing them out of fear before they’ve even stepped in the door.

It’s not a fun way to spend a Wednesday night. It involves working yourself up to a lather you may not really feel, a lather this single issue maybe doesn’t deserve. But it has to be done. Conservatives are winning the outrage war, and they’re not going to back off so we have to step up.

I am absolutely serious about all of the above.

Chancellor Drake’s e-mail address is

p.s. — Sorry for the cliché title. Honestly, it’s just because every time I see “Erwin Chemerinsky” I think “Paddy Chayefsky.” I had to indulge that impulse or lose my mind.

July 7, 2007

On the other side it didn’t say nothing

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 12:47 am

Real quick: Here’s an excerpt from a letter to the New York Times, in response to a July 4 op-ed pointing out that the US has a long tradition of accepting immigrants despite native anxieties. The letter writer disputes the relevance of this historical argument to our current immigration controversy. Put your fingers on your buzzers and your reading glasses on your, um, face, and let’s play … Spot the Tautology!

Regardless of the number or ethnic background, the entry of illegal immigrants is, according to our laws, unacceptable.

If you answered “the whole quote,” you’ve found the tautology! That’s because illegal immigration is by definition unacceptable “according to our laws”; that’s what “illegal” means. The issue before this house is whether our immigration laws match our standard of what’s acceptable; if not, then we should change the laws. It does no good to rest your argument on the law that’s being debated, any more than a criminal can say that he shouldn’t be put in jail because incarceration is unacceptable to him.

You see this argument all the time in the immigration debate, and actually whenever any issue of decriminalization comes up: that the activity in question should not be decriminalized, because it’s illegal. I had an argument about whether marijuana should be legalized, in which I was told that people are free to use marijuana as long as they accept the possibility of imprisonment. There was an episode of The West Wing where one character asks another why prostitution shouldn’t be legal, and she responds, “Because in this country you’re not allowed to sell your body.” Without taking any stance for the moment on these issues, or on immigration, it should be obvious to everyone why this type of logic is not helpful. It’s circular: we can’t legalize marijuana, because if we did then we couldn’t punish people for using marijuana, which is illegal. In real life, we often find that the absolute positions that keep some laws on the books are out-of-date or harmful; when we decriminalize, surprise! nothing bad happens. Remember the laws against contraception and adultery? (Not to mention sodomy, miscegenation, and on and on…)

Of course, one could argue that, until the law is changed, it is wrong of us to break it. But that too is begging the question, since laws don’t have some sort of moral value in and of themselves, but are moral to the degree they serve the public good and protect people from harm. You have to convince me that illegal immigrants are causing harm by entering the country, not just that they’re scofflaws or whatever. If I thought otherwise, I’d have a hard time explaining to my kid how great Martin Luther King was. (And yes, people used this same argument against him: it’s fine if he wants rights, as long as he doesn’t break any statutes to get them.)

So please, everyone in the universe: stop arguing this way on anything. Understand that when you’re talking to adults you have to demonstrate why something should be illegal, rather than just relying on our inherent love of the rules.

February 13, 2007

There ain’t no time to wonder why

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 4:28 pm

Updated 2/14/07, 6:20 p.m.

A month ago, I found myself depressed and terrified by a Glenn Greenwald post I read that laid out, in a way I found very convincing, the reasons to believe that the United States may be deliberately heading towards war with Iran. The article, like most of Greenwald’s work, is highly worth reading, but the salient points were:

•that a number of unambiguous signs, including military decisions and Bush’s own rhetoric, suggested that the Administration was attempting to make war with Iran both thinkable and possible;

•that the apparent insanity of such a war was no evidence that the Administration wouldn’t pursue it, as evinced by its decision to escalate the war in Iraq even after widespread repudiation; and,

•that Congress and the American people were not likely to have any say in the matter, since the Administration seemed to be maneuvering for an (apparently) accidental conflagaration; according to Greenwald, “some grand announcement by the President that he wants to start a war, followed by a debate in Congress as to whether such a war should be authorized” was “the least likely way for such a confrontation to occur.”

You can see why I found all of that frightening, and my first reaction to reading it was to blog about it. However, I didn’t want to be an alarmist, and it was hard to know if what Greenwald was saying was really credible, or if it just seemed so due to his strong writing and my anxious and dim view of neoconservative foreign policy. Plus, I didn’t really have much to add except to say that I was scared and frustrated. So all I ended up writing was the following disclamatory fragment:

“Of course, this is a worst-case scenario. There was a time, Julie reminded me, when the government and its mouthpieces was triumphantly signalling that we weren’t going to stop with Iraq; we were going to show Syria who was boss as well. (Of course, Syria was also mentioned in the speech last night.) There was a time where I linked to reports that Bush was pushing Saudi Arabia for lower gas prices and pushing Afghanistan and Pakistan for the capture of bin Laden in advance of the 2004 election; neither of those materialized. Never has an administration gotten so much enjoyment out of bragging about the things it can do, whether it does them or not, and my hope is certainly that that’s what this amounts to. Nevertheless, given the enormous stakes involved—we may be talking about war consuming the entire Middle East for generations, war that could well involve the use of nuclear weapons—even the idea that the Administration may be keeping the option of war with Iran on the table is more than alarming, it’s outrageous. And the fact that there is nothing we can do about it, even after we elected a whole new Congress, makes me feel helpless and afraid.”

In the month that’s passed since then, the President has unilaterally sent 20,000 more troops to Iraq and once again accused Iran of aiding insurgents, this time in the State of the Union address. The Administration, in a flashback to 2002, has been asserting Iran’s culpability through anonymous sources, and the New York Times has published those untraceable assertions on its front page. Newsweek has published a cover story entitled “The Secret War with Iran.” And a Republican Congressman, speaking on national television (scroll down a bit), has said that not only should Congress not take war with Iran “off the table” (echoing my unpublished hand-wringing above), but that the President, and not Congress, has the power to declare war.

Maybe it’s not going to happen.

But I will say that if it does happen, they’re not going to give us warning this time. We’re not going to hear about weapons inspectors or deadlines; Condi Rice is not going to address the UN holding white powder in a vial. It will be the Tonkin Gulf again: we will wake up one morning and read that Iran has struck (or allegedly struck) in Iraq, or that the Administration has decided that the Iranian government has been building insurgent bombs, or that the line has been crossed in any one of a thousand different ways. And the bombers will already be in the air.

Update: Here comes another one, here it comes again, here comes another one, when will it ever end: Bush now says that it doesn’t matter whether or not whether the Iranian government has been supplying the insurgents (“What’s worse?  That the government knew, or that the government didn’t know?”—actual quote), and says, “I intend to do something about it.”  Note that “I.”

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