Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jennifer Rubin on the GOP's Rot

Holy moly, Jennifer Rubin is speaking sense:
Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.” 
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.
Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”
The cheeky part in me wants to ask if this means Rubin wants to retract her infamous "Jews don't like Sarah Palin because our men are intellectual snobs and our women are frigid bitches" essay. But I'm feeling magnanimous, so I'll just give her credit for taking some personal responsibility and applaud (the uncompromising sections in bold certainly helped brighten my mood towards her).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Not Knowing "Zio" is a Slur is an Indictment, Not a Defense

The Chicago Dyke March, an alternative to Chicago Pride that is meant to have a more "social justice" orientation, caught a heap of bad press when it expelled several Jewish marchers for carrying rainbow Jewish pride flags featuring a Star of David on them. The march has defiantly resisted any and all calls to apologize, and insisted that it was only being "critical of Israel" (isn't everything?).

Yesterday, it popped back into the antisemitism news beat by posting a tweet: "Zio tears replenish my electrolytes!" "Zio" is an antisemitic slur popularized by David Duke; even the milquetoast Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in Labour agreed it was a racist term (and St. Jeremy Corbyn himself agreed: "'Zio' is a vile epithet that follows in a long line of earlier such terms that have no place whatsoever in our party.").

The March is defending itself from renewed antisemitism allegations by saying it "Definitely didn't know the violent history of the term."

They mean this as a defense. It's actually an indictment. Let me explain why.

I'll accept, for sake of argument, that the Chicago Dyke March did not "know" the term "Zio" was antisemitic. Nonetheless, the March almost certainly did not stumble across the term "Zio" by accident. It got it from somewhere, from sources it felt confident enough in that it felt comfortable emulating. In other words, one of the ways the Chicago Dyke March learned to speak about matters of Jewish concern was from people who think it is okay to toss around terms like "Zio." The odds that everything else it learned about those matters from this same social network was magically uninfected by this obvious antisemitism is incredibly scant. It's the thirteenth (or in this case fourteenth, or fifteenth, or seventieth) chime that calls into question the other twelve.

There are many places in this country where people grow up hearing racial slurs that they don't "know" are derogatory -- they're "just what people say." When they move into the wider world and use such terms, they sometimes claim ignorance -- and in some sense, they might be right. But the implication of their apologia is that not that they are free from racism -- far from it. It's that they grew up in an environment where racism was so normalized that they didn't even know how to recognize it. Such a situation demands some very hard work of unlearning, of radically questioning one's own presuppositions and acknowledging that one needs to acquire substantial new information before one can feel confident in one's ability to relate to the other group in an ethical manner.

But let's give the Dyke March even further benefit of the doubt. Suppose they somehow magically stumbled upon "Zio" through entirely innocent means -- nobody in their social network was using it, they came up with it all by their creative selves. Even still, all that would demonstrate is that they don't know crucial information about a subject they nonetheless feel fully confident to opine on. Put another way, if they didn't "know" that "Zio" was antisemitic, shouldn't the next question be "what else don't we know?"

I've long thought that the heart of oppression as a discursive practice is a perceived entitlement to talk about a group without knowing about the group. The Chicago Dyke March pleads ignorance about Jews and antisemitism, but that ignorance in no way dissipates their belief that they are absolutely entitled to talk about Jews and Jewish institutions however they want and be treated as credible and legitimate entrants to the discussion. It's not a valid move. If you don't know enough about Jews or antisemitism to know that "Zio" is an antisemitic term, then you don't know enough to be confident that any of your other opinions about Jews or antisemitism are worthwhile.

The Dyke March, in short, wants the innocence of ignorance without the responsibility. It wants to be able to say, on the one hand, "we didn't know that this term we used was a prominent antisemitic slur", while on the other hand it equally wants to say "we do know that in all other cases everything else we've said or done vis-a-vis Jews is entirely above-board and not antisemitic." They can only have the first if they're willing to disturb the second.

The Wasted Potential of Ben Sasse

Last fall, I noted that if there was any hope that Senate Republicans would actually exercise meaningful oversight over the Trump administration, it would almost certainly have to be led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Since then, Senator Sasse has talked a good game about being upset by this or that Trump administration action. But in terms of tangible actions, he's done absolutely nothing.

This Slate profile of Sasse says everything I've wanted to say about Sasse and more. It's good not because it's brutal but because it's fair -- it really does recognize that Sasse is in many ways different from other Republicans, and at the same time, it recognizes that "if Nebraskans had elected a cravenly partisan alt-right bozo as their senator in 2014 instead of a genial Ph.D. [Sasse], American public life would be little different today." In terms of actual votes, hearings, procedural practices -- everything but words-of-concern on major media platforms -- Sasse is entirely indistinguishable from a standard-issue Republican flack. That he clearly knows better makes him in many ways worse, not better.

I wonder if the Washington Post or another major media outlet will ever run a story on putatively "moderate" or "reasonable" Republicans' reputations running ahead of their voting record. With a few stray exceptions, after all, a moderate Republican in Congress is one who "talks about voting against Republicans before voting with Republicans."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Afghan Girls Robotics Team Allowed To Compete in US; Supervillain Origin Story Foiled

When I read that an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan had been denied a visa to come to the US and participate in a robotics competition, my first thought was to fume about the injustice of it.

My second thought was to be perplexed at the logic. Even if you're a raging Islamophobe, surely you recognize that "six Muslim girls who are experts in robotics and have an ax to grind against America" is the start of a supervillain team, right? Why play with fire?

But the story appears to have a happy ending. Apparently at the intervention of President Trump, consular officials have reversed their decision and the girls will be allowed to come to America for the competition. Which is the right decision, and good news.

Kudos to President Trump (with appropriate discounting for the degree to which President Trump's rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies were responsible for the initial exclusion).

How About We Declare a Moritorium on Concert-Cancellation Calls?

Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters supports BDS. Consequently, he wants Radiohead to cancel their concert in Israel.

Nassau County, New York has passed legislation opposing BDS. Consequently, some politicians on Long Island want to cancel Pink Floyd's concert at the Nassau Coliseum (the stadium is owned by the county).

While I fully expect 80% of commenters to be delighted by one of these calls while aghast at the censorial suppression of the other, put me in the camp of not supporting cancelling concerts as a means of grinding political axes.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Avi Gabbay Doo!

Avi Gabbay is the new head of Israel's Labor Party, defeating former Labor head and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a run-off (both advanced past current Labor chief Isaac Herzog, who placed third in the initial round of voting). Gabbay is a political novice who is not currently in the Knesset, although he did formerly serve as Environmental Protection Minister.

I don't really know a lot about Gabbay's politics, so I won't say anything more there. But I did want to point out that the run-off between Gabbay and Peretz featured two Israelis of Moroccan descent. That's especially noteworthy given Labor's long history as the redoubt of the old Ashkenazi elite in Israeli society -- a feature which is not unrelated to Likud's rise to power starting in the 1970s and to political dominance since the end of Ehud Barak's tenure as Prime Minister in 2001.

So congratulations to Gabbay, and here's hoping that he can help reinvigorated a genuine liberal alternative in Israel.

Nuclear Power: The Macho Man's Manly Path to Global Salvation

I've written a bit about nuclear power before, and how it may be our best hope at achieving deep decarbonization in a reasonable time frame while still meeting our electricity needs. Put simply, nuclear power has three characteristics that make it extremely attractive from a decarbonization perspective:
  1. It's high capacity.
  2. It's zero-emission.
  3. It's dispatchable.
Back in the day, nuclear energy was attractive for a fourth reason -- people thought it would be inexpensive. Nuclear energy would famously be "too cheap to meter". This turned out to be a less than oracle-esque prophecy. Nuclear power plants have long been plagued with cost overruns, and their skyrocketing expense (along with a few very public safety scares) is what caused a long freeze in nuclear construction from which we are only just beginning to see a thaw.

But from my vantage, the issue blocking us from pursuing necessary anti-climate change action isn't monetary. We have the resources to do it. The problem is, for lack of a better word, cultural. Conservatives have gotten it into their heads that fighting climate change and promoting renewable power is something only woolly liberal hippies care about, because they hate capitalism or something. And since Cleek's Law states that "Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily," that means conservatives oppose pretty much anything on the clean power agenda.

Enter nuclear energy. Nuclear power is not coded as liberal -- if anything, its public valence is probably still more anti-environmental stemming from "nuclear-free zone" politics emerging out of the 70s and 80s (nuclear waste controversies stemmed from whether holding sites designed to last 10,000 years were sufficiently permanent. Given that we're staring down catastrophic climate change by the end of this century, that timeframe looks adorably quaint). It's muscular -- nuclear energy is something big, bad-ass countries produce -- unlike solar power which might turn your calculator on if you're not in a dark room. Sure some people fret about "safety" (although nuclear power is on net actually quite safe), but conservatives actually tend to be less risk-averse when it comes to nuclear energy than liberals. And conservatives actually have no problem expending resources when it comes to things they care about -- like funneling money to really rich people or building jet fighters.

Basically, nuclear energy is culturally coded in a way that makes it acceptable to conservatives in a way that other clean power sources aren't. And so regardless of whether it's theoretically possible to go 100% clean power without resort to nukes, nuclear energy is unique in its ability to not be rejected out of hand by conservatives who hate what renewable energy represents -- limp, paternalistic liberalism that wants to take away American muscle and replace it with some Dutch windmill and hippie solar communes.

Now I want to be 100% clear: This is a profoundly stupid reason to push for nuclear power (there are good reasons, but "nuclear power is manly" is not one). As a human, I'm embarrassed that the argument has come to this -- that we can only convince people to endorse global salvation if we can frame in a way that allows them to feel sufficiently manly about it. But we're past the point where my pride matters. If conservatives need to feel like they're sticking it to liberals and environmentalists by promoting nuclear energy, har-dee-harharhar, I say we indulge them.

So let's go, conservatives. Make electricity great again. Back a big nuclear energy push. That'll show me and my liberal pals what's what. It's the macho, manly way to save the planet.