If #BlackLivesMatter, then…

In light of the events of the last weekend, it’s worth asking a cursory question about this new movement that has grown up over the last few months. Based around the slogan “Black Lives Matter“, rallies to this cause have marched and conducted more… exotic activities in cities throughout the USA. This slogan has been so embraced that its adherents have chastised others for broadening the phrase to “All Lives Matter”. It’s worth asking: do the people involved in this actually believe what they are saying? If so, why have they chosen as martyrs the people they have chosen?

How well does the movement actually match the message? (Source)

If the point of the movement is to illustrate random violence, or unjust treatment of blacks by police, why hold up Mike Brown and Eric Garner? Whatever tragedy is involved in these cases (and no one should minimize the loss their families have endured), they remain cases where… well, people engaged in conduct that ensured they would have bad interactions with police.

Indeed, if this movement is really about the terrible toll violence is taking on the lives of black Americans, then why are the poster children for it people (that in any rational examination of the facts) that were treated… well, exactly the way anyone would be treated in their circumstances. In neither case was it a surprise that the police intersected Micheal Brown or Eric Garner’s lives: Mike Brown had just robbed a neighborhood store, and while the law Mr. Garner was breaking may be a stupid, paternalistic law, Mr. Garner was very clearly breaking it.

It’s not my place to know the nature of Mike Brown’s soul, but we can say with fair certainty that he crammed more crimes into his last 30 minutes of life then most of us will ever even contemplate. Eric Garner’s crimes may have been picayune, but they were crimes he habitually committed. Mr. Garner had over two-dozen arrests, including previous arrests for this specific crime (of selling single cigarettes).

This is seven-year-old India Williams, who was shot in Detroit, September 14, 2014. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Police Department.

If, on the other hand, the point is to draw attention to the terrible toll that violence takes on the black community, and the indifference many have to it, are there not many better examples? Consider the tragic case of India Williams (above): a 7 year old girl shot with a stray bullet during a running gun-battle. Ms. Williams survived her injuries but is paralyzed from the waist down. Or Demario Bailey (below)? Mr. Bailey “was shot to death while coming to the aid of his twin brother when the two were robbed on their way to basketball practice, police said.”

Each of these cases cries out for greater attention, yet Ms. Williams and Mr. Bailey’s stories have received little more then regional attention, and aroused dramatically less public outcry then the deaths of Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner. How can this be squared with the message that #BlackLivesMatter?

A teddy bear and poinsettia are placed on a 63rd Street passageway where Demario Bailey (inset) was slain. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)

 

Sadly, the obvious conclusion is difficult to avoid: that to organizers of these movements, Black Lives don’t Matter. The Ms. Williams and Mr. Bailey have all of the elements we are told should make for compelling media narratives: attractive and sympathetic subjects, compelling narratives and, most importantly, relatable situations. The fear for a child playing senselessly injured, or siblings being victimized even when doing the right thing, these stories strike at the heartstrings. Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner, by way of contrast…

While there is no doubt that many people marching and demonstrating in favor of this cause are sincere and motivated by a deep feeling of injustice. But it’s hard to avoid noticing that the only lives the movement’s organizers seem to find worthy of mourning are… black men killed by the police.

Who can doubt the good will of a protest co-sponsored by the “Party for Socialism and Liberation”?

It’s entirely too pat, too trite, to reduce the people marching in cities all across the USA to dupes or frauds. At the same time, it’s worth asking what this movement is really intended to accomplish other then the aggrandizement of the truly execrable Al Sharpton and the enrichment of his National Action Network. When one of the movers and shakers of a protest is the ANSWER Coalition (or, as Jonah Goldberg termed them, “a slime of Stalinism”), a little bit of suspicion is called for.

The Deadly Cost of a Nanny State

Eric Garner is not dead because of racism. He’s not even dead because of bad policing (which is not to say that this was good police work). Eric Garner is dead because a series of government actors decided: the poor shall not smoke.

NYT, March 26, 2013 : Bloomberg Seeks End to Cheap Cigarettes,

 Along with strengthening the penalties on retailers that evade tobacco taxes, the second bill establishes a minimum price for cigarettes and cigarillos, or little cigars, of $10.50 a pack, the first time such a strategy has been used to combat smoking. The bill also prohibits retailers from redeeming coupons or offering other discounts, like two-for-one deals.

New York’s price-regulation bill would, in effect, close off the remaining means of access to cheap cigarettes and little cigars, which make it easier for teenagers to experiment with smoking, and progress to smoking regularly, said Brett Loomis, a researcher at RTI International, a nonprofit institute that offers research and technical services to governments and businesses.

A move, which should come as a surprise to no thinking person and thus every politician, that only served to intensify the illegal trade in “loosies” or un-taxed cigarettes. To be fair, this was just another bump for the loosie trade, which had already benefited from Mayor Bloomberg’s earlier major tax hike on tobacco;

The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has outlawed smoking in restaurants, bars and playgrounds, and outside hospital entrances. Even city parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas will soon be off limits to smokers. Then there have been successive rounds of taxes — the most recent one, a $1.60 rise in the state tax in July — that raised the price of a pack of cigarettes to $12.50 at many Midtown newsstands.

“The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much,” Mr. Warner said. “Bloomberg thinks he’s stopping people from smoking. He’s just turning them onto loosies.”

Wow, it’s almost like imposing crippling taxes will create a thriving illegal trade in a product that many people want, just not at the artificially inflated price!

It’s almost as if you can make big money smuggling tobacco. Almost.

 

Now, some have argued that to look at the underlying cause of the police interaction is to be ‘insensitive’ to the racial issue: I contend that it is the opposite. Unless these (often liberal) reformers that want to “address the race issue in law enforcement” are suggesting that we start using robots as peace officers

And we all know how well robots do as peace officers, right Bob?

It’s a simple truth: police are people. People being flawed, some percentage of people will be bad actors, without regard to their profession. Police, however, are uniquely empowered to administer violence, or as Sunil Dutta, Ph.D., 17 year LAPD veteran proclaimed, “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” Dr. Dutta certainly gets points for honesty, if not tact. Of course, the fact is we live in a time when associating ‘tact’ with police is most appropriate when thinking of them making a Tactical Response.

The truly sad fact of the matter is that a bad result from an antagonistic civilian-police interaction doesn’t even need bad actors, only bad actions. A misheard word, a bad day, a gesture mistaken or even confusion about a toy can change an ordinary day into a tragic one. The reality is that the NYPD did not swoop down on Eric Garner from the sky like a random bolt of lightning, this entire chain of events was initiated (as Senator Rand Paul observed) when politicians that the people elected enacted laws that the police are expected to enforce. As Ace of Spades points out (emphasis in original);

Nevertheless, we actually pay them to use force when a law-breaking suspect (even one breaking a trivial law) resists arrest. That is the job we’ve given them.

To say this guy is guilty of murder or manslaughter seems to me to be a case of scapegoating the people we’ve tasked with implementing a policy that we have imposed ourselves.

If trivial laws should not provide grounds for arrest, We should change the laws to say so.

If cops should just let a non-compliant but non-felony suspect go if he resists arrest, we should make that officially part of their job description.

‘African American Witnesses’ and the social tragedy of Ferguson

Monday night an American city burned.

Celebration: “Protestors” parade in the parking lot of a burning auto parts store in Ferguson following the grand jury decision. Hopefully the fellow on the left was able to get a tasteful selfy.

There were many, many repellent images and ideas to come out of the fires of Ferguson,

 

Looters at the Ferguson Meat and Liquor, a store decorated with images seemingly in solidarity with the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement.

But perhaps the most repellent, and the one that looms the largest over the post-riot dialogue is the invocation of “African American witnesses”;

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly correctly diagnoses the malignancy of rabble-rowsers such as Al Sharpton but she overlooks what I think is the more significant (and more ominous) development, the invocation of “African American witnesses” by both reporters and prosecutor. That this phrase is even used is an indictment of the current interracial climate of the United States: a tacit admission that at this point in time there is a presumption that the oath of truthfulness a witness takes holds less sway over them then racial solidarity. It’s another way of saying that there is so little trust in the system and the police that African Americans will not trust the sworn testimony of random eyewitnesses, if those witnesses are the wrong skin color.

If that strikes you as no big deal, I invite you to reverse the races at issue and to imagine the scene had a reporter asked “where there any white witnesses that testified?”

We’re six years into the term of the first Black president, with an African American man as Attorney General for that same amount of time, about to be replaced by (presumably) an African American woman. Yet faith in the judicial system is so low that revealing reams of documents from the grand jury intensifies racial paranoia across the country rather then calming it. For all the criticism of Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s comments that ‘the overwhelming majority of blacks are killed by other blacks‘, this is a fact, which has been argued about for decades. Martin Luther King Jr. himself noted the terrible phenomenon;

“Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in 1961. “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

That was fifty years ago. Today, the structural, formal racism of that era has been all but banished from America. For all that today we are told that the race of witnesses is of great importance and that ‘police need to look like the people they police’. Dr. King’s dream of people being being judged by “the content of their character” has never been further away.

Obama beats a path for the Devil

Tonight President Obama addressed the nation, and while the judgement of history will reveal if this is a mild exercise of executive power or an unbridled assumption of an imperial air by the president, one thing is certain: the president placed as much, if not more, emphasis on the moral case as the legal one. Yes, one may point out that he has only the loosest understanding of the biblical precedent he appealed to, and that he didn’t so much make a moral case as simply assert that his actions were moral, it remains that he couched his actions in the idea of “doing right”.

I think the best evaluation of whether doing “good” or following the law is preferable is this clip, from A Man For All Seasons;

The most important exchange;

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Even if we are to grant that President Obama is acting in good faith (an uncertain position to be sure), his decision tonight will have consequences long after he has left office. Consequences that I think it very likely we will come to regret.

The Virtue of Hold-Your-Nose Elections

Jim Geraghty, National Review author and writer of the excellent Morning Jolt sagely counsels about this election, “If you want to beat Bad, you may have to hold your nose and vote for Less Bad.” Excellent advice on a practical level and it echoes a point related by Alicia Colon (with an article evocatively titled “Hold Your Nose to Vote But For Goodness Sake, Don’t Stay Home”); “Every single Republican candidate is better than any Democrat including all the RINOs”.

Now all of that may be true (or not, depending on what you think of RINOs), but let’s remember what happened the most recent time a candidate played the “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” game…

Just another quiet, understated evening with friends…

Of all the benefits that the new Senate leader Mitch McConnell will have the most useful may be the least flattering: the benefit of low expectations. When the guys on you own side say things like “the transparent selfishness and corruption of McConnell and his GOP Senate cronies”, and “As a conservative who profoundly despises Mitch McConnell and everything that unprincipled swine stands for, I feel guilty offering his campaign good advice, but the crisis facing our nation requires me to transcend my personal animosity to the man“, well, Senate Republicans may be lesser, but they are firmly planted in the category of “necessary evils”. Not exactly a dewy testimonial to a schoolgirl crush, is it?

Obama came in as a blank slate, but is leaving as a wet blanket over his whole party. By contrast, McConnell comes in unadorned by Olympian wishes or caviar dreams, a man openly acknowledged by his supporters as a poor retail campaigner. Put another way, no one in a year or two is going to be making an ad comparing a vote for McConnell to falling in love;

 

Then again, the USA did seem to write quite the love letter to John Boehner…

 

Regional party indeed!

Does Wendy Davis think her voters are stupid?

As we inch ever closer to election day Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis stares into the long dark night of a probable double digit loss to her opponent Gregg Abbot (as one poll group reports, “The probability that Abbott will beat Davis is 98%“). Fear, especially fear of defeat, leads people to take desperate and strange chances but well, her latest charges against her opponent are… hard to describe;

The best thing that can be said about accusing a man in an interracial marriage of being against interracial marriage is… at least it isn’t talking about sex toys.

What’s so egregious about all this pandering (beyond the insertion of “dildo” into the public discourse*) is that there are provocative and interesting philosophical issues that could be brought up here. The entire archaic issue of anti-miscegenation laws was originally broached by San Antonio Express-News reporter Peggy Fikac explicitly as a way of exploring Abbott’s stance on the Texas state ban on Gay Marriage.

Now, I don’t favor the interpretation that Loving v Virginia (the Supreme Court case that struck down the laws against mixed race marriages) is directly applicable to the gay marriage debate, but it’s very clear that a number of people such as reporter Ms. Fikac do feel it is, what with her article being titled “Echo of past in ban on gay marriage?”. A quick perusal of the wikipedia page for Loving shows that the case has been repeatedly brought up either supporting or being distinguished from the analysis of gay marriage.

So with the interview about gay marriage, the commentary about gay marriage, the entire reason sex toys came up* at all is related to enforcing state bans on gay marriage, naturally Wendy Davis… accused Abbott of being soft on miscegenation. Apparently Wendy Davis thinks that actually following the chain of reasoning is too much for her voters, no matter how frequently the idea of gay-marriage is no different from miscegenation is discussed or laid out. But then again, maybe not…

Maybe she is afraid of telling the truth to her voters: accusing Abbott of being soft on miscegenation may be nonsensical, but it avoids pointing out that liberals like Davis view gay marriage as the continuation of the march of Civil Rights. Which is a comparison that no small proportion of African-Americans find deeply offensive;

“To state that marriage redefinition is in any way similar to the civil rights movement is intellectually empty, dishonest and manufactured,” says minister Stacy Swimp, founder of Revive Alive Missional Ministry. “When has anyone from the LGBT demographic ever been publicly lynched, specifically excluded from moving into neighborhoods, prohibited from sitting on a jury and denied the right to sue others because of their sexual preferences?”

Pastor James Crowder, of St. Galilee Baptist Church and president of the Westside Minister’s Alliance, also weighed in on the narrative of sexual orientation being a civil right.

“Judge Friedman is sanctioning the staging of a false story,” Crowder says. “On stage are many actors who pretend that redefining traditional marriage is as valid as blacks fighting against the carnage of chattel slavery and the humiliation of Jim Crow. Never have I been so insulted. The curtain must be pulled down on this play of disinformation.”

Then again, to imagine that the subterfuge of pointing to anti-miscegenation laws will actually distract these voters from the habit of treating gay rights as the newest version of Civil rights… well, she’d have to think that her voters were pretty stupid not to be able to connect those dots.

Then again, when a candidate launches an attack on a man in a wheelchair with an ad that prominently features a wheelchair… maybe it’s just projection.

 

*Yes, I know.

 

The Ebola problem isn’t the Ebola, it’s the politics

The recent incidents of Ebola virus infections in the United States have prompted something of a crisis, but not a crisis as other outbreaks before: our present crisis is of confidence, not necessarily fear of infections.

Most damaged has been the reputation of the CDC and its head, Dr. Tom Frieden;

CDC director Tom Frieden holds press conference on Ebola, October 5, 2014

Simply put, when a person wearing the mantle of Scientist/Physician says things like;

“Though we might wish we can seal ourselves off from the world, there are Americans who have the right of return and many other people that have the right to enter this country,” Dr. Thomas Frieden told a press conference. “We’re not going to be able to get to zero risk no matter what we do unless we control the outbreak in West Africa.”

The argument of “zero risk” is a giant red flag for anyone even passingly familiar with medicine; it’s a political term used to provide plausible cover for not taking an action, in this case, enacting a travel ban. Consider, for example, that never touching a cigarette does not reduce your risk of lung cancer to zeroIf we were to apply the logic Dr. Frieden espouses, why should a physician discourage a patient from smoking? It will not reduce your risk to zero.

The answer is, of course, that not smoking or quitting smoking has a substantial and positive increase in your health. The idea that people shouldn’t quit smoking because their risk will not go to zero is silly… yet this is the logic the head of the CDC promulgates. Scientists and physicians speak in terms of risks and rewards, benefits and trade-offs: ceasing or restricting the number of people coming from West Africa would not reduce the risk to zero. But!

  • Restricting ports of entry would allow concentration of personnel,
  • Concentrating personnel allows for concentration of expertise,
  • Reducing volume of incoming travelers increases man-hours of safety personnel per traveler,
  • Increasing man-hours per traveler allows systems to perform differently: health monitoring systems that would be overwhelmed with 1000 visitors per day may perform fine with 10 or 20 per day.

Now, there may be perfectly reasonable drawbacks to any of these hypothetical benefits (then again, some of them already seem to be happening), but we’re not having that discussion. Instead we’re having a discussion that leads one to conclude that “[t]he public-health profession is more committed to social justice than to sound science“, and an administration with little approval burns through yet more of the public’s confidence.

At the same time we’ve also seen some astonishing partisan attacks to go along with the flailing of the administration. While Ebola is very unlikely to become a major health hazard in the US, that doesn’t change the basic nature of the virus. So it’s especially disturbing to see political partisans in the media tear into Senator Rand Paul (one of the few MDs in Congress) for stating basic medical facts;

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) reportedly put on his scientist hat this morning, telling CNN’s Ashley Killough that Ebola is more easily spread than AIDS–a statement that is an irresponsible, flat out lie.

You’ll be shocked to discover that Mother Jones is… pretty much completely wrong, and Dr. Paul pretty much right (or, at least, he was using the CDC’s own recommendations). This can be simply and easily understood with the following practical advice;

A person that wished to engage in sexual relations with a significant other infected by HIV/AIDS needs the following,

A sense of humor and some care would also be advised.

A person that wished to engage in sexual relations with a significant other infected by Ebola needs the following,

Also needed: a very liberal interpretation of the word “sex”.
Ebola is not the 1918 flu (*fingers crossed*). But we are poorly served when the people that need to be above politics are consumed by politics, and even worse served when the media abandons it’s own good sense.

Rice, Knox and who gets to speak

May 23, 2014 Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife, Janay, during a news conference at the team’s practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Things seem to have finally calmed down on the Ray Rice imbroglio, and as I look back, I ask: why was it that the only person we never seemed to hear from also the only person that the events really mattered to? It takes very little to suspect the Ray Rice scandal was never chiefly about what Mr. Rice did to the future Mrs. Rice in that New Jersey elevator. Now let’s be clear: I’m not making any sort of excuse for Mr. Rice’s deeds or any assumptions about the health (or lack thereof) of their marital relationship. Sometimes relationships are simply toxic and pathological.

But if that was the case here, why was so little actually done to hear the side of Janay Rice, the woman in question? Why, at the end of the affair, was Mrs. Rice turning her finger accusingly at her erstwhile saviors in the media?

The simple fact is that Mrs. Rice’s anger at the media and the NFL (specifically, functionally ending her husbands career) doesn’t require reducing Mrs. Rice to a puppet or thrall of her husband. Instead a very logical and pragmatic reason exists: she lost a metric truckload of money.

To those that say “well, our media would never celebrate a women doing a morally questionable, potentially dangerous and degrading thing for money!”, I would reply, “In fact, they do!”

Belle Knox (Miriam Weeks), Student, Pornographer, (self-proclaimed) Feminist Icon
Belle Knox and Whoopi Goldberg after Knox’ interview on The View (March 17, 2014).

For those blissfully unaware, above are some of the many, many pictures of Belle Knox (Miriam Weeks), the Duke freshman who (as an observant classmate discovered) was acting in pornographic movies, ostensibly to pay her tuition.

I’m not (well, not just) bringing her up because the blog could use a little Rule 5: the stories of Belle Knox and Janay Rice have more in common then one might think, but the reaction in the media, and specifically the interest (or lack thereof) of the media in hearing from the women in question, is very revealing.

Where Mrs. Rice found herself buffeted by a media that claimed to act in her interests while depriving her (through her husband) of millions, Ms. Knox faced a very different media response. While there was plenty of criticism for her stance of female empowerment through debasement, she also found her share of defenders.

Mrs. Rice? Let’s just say that I haven’t noticed anyone saying (as they said of Ms. Knox) that “This girl seems wise beyond her years”, nor is Conde Nast likely to do a 5-part series on Mrs. Rice to accompany the one they are doing on Ms. Knox.

The argument might be made that you cannot compare these women because, while Ms. Knox’ motivation can be reduced to money, suggesting that Mrs. Rice’s actions reflect a callous mercantalism cannot avoid the specter of mental infirmity. It seems ever present, the whisper that “oh, those women, they always take the abuser’s side…”, that Mrs. Rice is, if not fit to be a ward of the state, at least not a rational actor.

Which is all the stranger for the fact that Ms. Knox is a clearly troubled women. Consider this fetching Not-Safe-For-Work picture of Ms. Knox. Nothing you haven’t seen at the beach… except for something you hopefully haven’t seen before: a mass of scars on her upper thighs. These are the results of (as the article linked above notes) “Like man[sic] young women grappling with depression, I used to take it out on myself”, which is made even more troubling when she claims that she stopped cutting 5 years ago. Making the peak of her self-mutilation the tender age of thirteen.

Now this could go on forever, but there are really two issues that need to be touched on; First, the visceral. There are no two ways about it, watching the video of Ray Rice striking his then fiancee is… distressing. In the interest of intellectual honesty I should now link to the video that brought Ms. Knox to fame… but I can’t. I can’t not only because the video is pornographic, but because it is debauched. Ms. Knox may view her “enjoyment of rough and dirty, nasty and filthy, saliva-dripping and name-calling-filled sex” as sex-positive, but… well, let’s just say most people will find their gorge rising, rather then anything else.

Second, the lynchpin of the comparison: the legal. What transpired between Ray and Janay Rice however much one might object to pornography in general or the intensely violent extreme pornography in particular, it is legal. But this leads us to the stickiest problem of all: Ray Rice was no fugitive from justice, but a man that had gone through the criminal justice system and been pronounced fit to walk among the citizenry. One of the most interesting, and telling, elements of the coverage that I observed was how there was seemingly no weight given by any of the commenting class on the way the legal system adjudicated the situation. The idea that the criminal justice system worked in this case seems to be almost always be regarded with skepticism.

The ultimate fact remains: if the point of the whole affair was to help Mrs. Rice, then why is it that by all objective measures she seems to be so much worse off then if the media had respected her privacy? Why is it considered fitting that an Ivy League pornographer is invited to an in-person interview on national TV, but not a woman who’s private life is the center of a media circus?  Why is it that the media did a much better job of respecting the limits and privacy of a woman that takes her clothes off for a living then the victim of a deeply personal crime? In all honestly, I don’t have a good answer.

Of course, might one advance the idea that the media is deeply, passionately, interested in the integrity of the sacred bond of marriage, and any person that desecrates the connubial vow will feel their wrath? Well

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Hillary Clinton looks on as President Clinton discusses the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 26, 1998.

Yeah… I don’t think that’s it.

The Shameful Decline of Academic Virtue: or, the continuing affair of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

First, I have the rare pleasure of congratulating an Ivy League university for doing the right thing: later today Yale University’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale will welcome Ayaan Hirsi Ali to give a lecture on their campus. For those of you who are not aware, Ms. Ali is a rare individual who embodies the triumph of the individual against overwhelming odds and (sadly) also the perfidy of our current academic climate.

This invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali was explicitly a reaction to the actions taken by Brandeis University earlier this year: for those unfamiliar with the earlier fracas, Brandeis University was set to award Ms. Ali an honorary degree, in recognition of her tireless fight for women’s rights, especially the rights of women in Islamic countries. Unfortunately Ms. Ali would discover that the virtue of speaking for powerless women, of being “a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights” is no protection for a critic of Islam.

Along with many others, I found the incident a shameful renunciation of the principles Brandeis claims to honor (my letter to the administration can be found at the bottom of this post), a sign their priorities had a great deal less to do with Truth, and more to do with what was politically comfortable. In fact, just as the news of the rescinded honor was making the rounds, Brandeis was flogging on their Facebook page a hagiograhpical movie about that tireless defender of women… Anita Hill.

 

Isn’t it funny how unattractive “speaking truth to power” becomes when the people with power actually cut off critic’s heads?

This is the second reason I am congratulating Yale University and their William F. Buckley, Jr. Program: the same forces of “tolerance” that succeeded in persuading the hapless Brandeis administration to rescind their honor have descended on the Yale administration. Thankfully Yale (or, more appropriately, the Buckley Program) has stood fast in the face of those who would destroy freedom of speech to save free speech. People like, say, the spokesman for the Yale Muslim Students Association (MSA) who proclaim that “the group and their Islamic values uphold freedom of speech”, but, alas, “The difference here is that it’s hate speech, [which] under the law would be classified as libel or slander and is not protected by the First Amendment.” Ah, he is only looking out for Yale and its liability, how generous of the fellow!

Except, of course, his legal understanding is completely wrong. Unfortunately, while he may be completely wrong, the list of organizations that has signed on with the MSA shows he is far from alone.

 

The following is the letter I sent to the Brandeis University administration on the occasion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s dis-invitation;

As a Brandeis alumnus, and with the holiday season fast approaching, a certain folktale was brought to my mind when thinking about the recent incident with Ayaan Hirsa Ali and how her outspoken criticism of Islam (especially its shameful treatment of women) seems to have cost her an honorary doctorate.

Many are familiar with the stories of the Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew, and his creation of the Golem. How with his hands he carved it from base materials of river clay and breathed life into it by carving upon its forehead a certain word. In some versions the Golem is animated by the name of the Lord, but in other versions, a more familiar word is used. That word is “Emet” and it is familiar because it is inscribed in the center of the Brandies University school crest, for it means Truth.

You see, what is important about this version of the Golem story is how it ends: the Golem, tainted by world concerns becomes unable to fulfill its purpose. So the Maharal placed his hands upon the Golem’s head and erased the Aleph, leaving behind only Met.

Which is Death.

The divine magic gone, the Golem returned to the lifeless clay from which it came.

Has the Aleph been scratched from Brandeis’ crest? Has the school that proclaims “Truth, Even unto its innermost parts” turned its back on the truth, on the principles of open debate and free speech? Is what may and may not be said to be determined by the mob?

Ms. Ali “is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world” and before last week she was worthy of an honorary degree. But not last week. As of last week, Brandeis “cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values”(1).

One must forgive a certain confusion as to what these core values are, precisely. One wonders also what the “past statements” of Ms. Ali were, they certainly must be very serious to be both so obscure that they were unknown until now, but also so inflammatory that they cannot be borne. More serious certainly then the statements of Tony Kushner (honorary doctorate 2006) who “believe[s] that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing”(2). And that “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community.”

When it was time to honor Mr. Kushner, then Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz proclaimed the standard was to look beyond politics, and award the degrees only on the basis of specific works;

“Brandeis bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor. Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.

Over the years, Brandeis has honored hundreds of men and women of distinction whose personal views, I am sure, span the full spectrum of political discourse, and the University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate.”

What now? If Truth at Brandeis is subject to the mob’s veto, if one’s politics can stray far from the polite and into the insulting, but only when certain groups are involved, what then is left of Truth at all? Should we get the chisels and carve an asterisk into the motto? “Truth, Even unto its innermost parts*” *So long as no-one from approved groups is offended; so long as only Israel and Jews are demeaned.

Let’s be clear: I don’t know and I don’t care if Ms. Ali is deserving of the “honor” of an honorary degree from Brandeis. What I do know is that the principles that operated before, the principles of open discussion and tolerance that had Desmond Tutu (no friend of Israel there!) address my own commencement, have been cast aside.

Maybe it’s time to just scrape the Aleph from the school’s crest and be honest about things?

1) http://www.brandeis.edu/now/2014/april/commencementupdate.html

2) http://www.scribd.com/doc/54643560/Letter-to-CUNY-Trustees-05-04-11

The Iron Dome saves lives in Gaza

If you want to end a war you have to defeat the enemy, humiliate the people and change the government so that they are no longer an adversary, and that requires a lot of capital and a great deal of blood and treasure. Or you can live with the alternative.

-Victor Davis Hanson, 2013

With the lull in hostilities in Gaza, it’s worth examining some of the misconceptions and strained thinking that was broadcast through the media; specifically, the truly bizarre idea that the Iron Dome missile defense system is not just a bad piece of technology, but morally bad and, for all its apparent success, harmful to Israel. While John Podhoretz nicely dispatches several elements of the “the Iron Dome is really a bad thing” complaint in Commentary’s Contentions blog, there is an even more important point that has been allowed to go unsaid: the Iron Dome has saved uncountable lives in Gaza. But before we go into that, let’s take a detour just to show that, yes, people really are saying these things.

Marc Lamont Hill, “Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College”, manages to spectacularly misunderstand the situation in a discussion on CNN;

I think, though, the challenge is, because if you look at the Iron Dome in isolation, then yes, Ross, I agree with you 100% because the Iron Dome is exclusively a defensive mechanism, but what the Iron Dome does is it also takes away all of Hamas’s military leverage which is very different than say, 10 years ago or 15 years ago in other wars like Lebanon, et cetera. As a result, it not only serves a defensive purpose but de facto serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially  assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.

Yaov Fromer, who “teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University”, writes in the Washington Post that the Iron Dome “may do more long-term harm then good”;

[W]hat was once a tactical defense mechanism to temporarily protect the civilian population has become a strategy unto itself. In that way, it may actually undermine Israel’s long-term security. By temporarily minimizing the dangers posed by Hamas and Hezbollah, it distracts us from seeking a broader regional political solution that could finally incapacitate these terror networks and make systems such as Iron Dome moot.

… As long as the Israeli public believes it is safe, for now, under the soothing embrace of technology, it will not demand that its political leaders wage diplomacy to end violence that mandated Iron Dome in the first place. Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace.

To understand exactly how wrong these two “intellectuals” are, let us imagine the counter-factual: that when the current cease-fire is broken (an eventuality only slightly less predictable then the phases of the moon, as Islamic Jihad is eager to boast), they actually manage to sneak a larger missile past the Iron Dome and inflict the civilian casualties Professor Hill imagines will give Hamas their “military leverage”. In other words, Hamas succeeds in causing Israel’s version of Pearl Harbor.

And we all know how well that worked in cooling tensions in the Pacific, right?

 

It takes very little creativity to imagine that a mass casualty attack on Israel, perpetrated by Hamas (which is both a, the closest thing to a democratically elected government in Gaza and b, a death cult that as a matter of public record is devoted to the destruction of Israel, the Jewish people and the West as a whole), will in fact not bring an thaw in relations.  The result will, I think it fair to say, be much closer to the reaction of the United States after Pearl Harbor then, say, Spain’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq after the 2004 Madrid train terror attacks.

For all the protestations certain parties have lodged against the Iron Dome the truth of the matter is this: wars end when they are won by one side or the other, once hostilities have commenced anything other then victory or defeat is what the Romans called bellum interruptus (an interruption of the war). Sometimes the bellum interruptus can be long, sometimes short, but there are no good choices, no choices without costs.

The US is involved in at least two notable bellum interruptus at the moment, which show precisely how costly peace can be: North Korea and Iraq. In North Korea the US (and South Korea) decided that a cold peace was better then the option of fighting into the heart of North Korea. And it costs: tens of thousands of US troops remain in South Korea, North Korea exports nuclear technology to bad actors across the world and minor outrages are endured by the free nations of the world (such as kidnapping citizens of western countries). The costs, however they are tabulated, are judged to be less then the costs of actually finishing the conflict and ending the war. In Iraq, the US was content to watch the gains of the last decade be frittered away, perhaps tonight we will find that the terror army of ISIS has proved sufficiently outrageous that our president will declare delenda est.

Carthago Delenda Est. That is the phrase attributed to Cato the Elder, who used it regularly as he argued that Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, could not continue to threaten Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean. The Punic Wars spanned over a century until the reversals and battles became too much for men like Cato to endure and the threat was ended by the third and final Punic war.

What the Iron Dome does when it reduces or removes the threat of Israeli civilian casualties (at least, to a degree) is give the time and space for less efficient, less brutal warfare. Make no mistake, when Israel calls ahead to warn civilians or distributes leaflets warning of an impending attack, they are sacrificing many prized commodities in war fighting.  Losing the element of surprise certainly limits civilian casualties, but it also allows for the escape of at least some fighters that might otherwise be killed. Further, it establishes in the minds of Israel’s enemies that Israel cares, perhaps cares too much, about preserving life, even the lives of their enemies. This is a dangerous attitude to have, and even more dangerous to be understood to have, for it enables actors so deranged that they consider Hamas the victor in the current struggle.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the assorted other heads of the hydra of Islamic fascism will never be satisfied to have peace with Israel, and like Carthage, as long as they exist they will rise from the ashes of their defeats to fly at Israel’s throat. For the time being the Iron Dome, and systems like it, make the bellum interruptus tolerable, but only just barely. The citizens of southern Israel, of Sderot and other cities, are weary and tired of an endless, empty peace. By way of example, at the onset of the conflict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction rating was 57%, when ground forces entered Gaza it was buoyed to an astonishing 82%. Today? 38%. It’s worth remembering that at the conclusion to the Punic wars Carthage was destroyed utterly, its citizenry either slain or enslaved, and while we may imagine the Israeli response will have much more the form of General Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay then Publius Scipio Aemilianus, the conclusion remains the same…

If you care for the lives of Gazans, pray for the continued success of the Iron Dome.

 

 

For those interested in the study of Warfare, I cannot recommend the works of Victor Davis Hanson strongly enough. The quote at the beginning of this piece is taken from his talk below;