Monthly Archives: June 2009

Thank you, Lord, for not making me politically correct

The other day, I was browsing Lisa Belkin’s “Motherlode” blog on the New York Times website when I stumbled on this post, discsussing the saga of an alleged racial faux pas by “momblogger” Jackie Morgan MacDougall.  Apparently, a year ago MacDougall shared the story of how her three-year-old son, brought by her husband to see her at the office, saw her African-American co-worker and blurted out, “Mommy, why is her face brown?”

MacDougall wrote:

I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren’t we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have “dots” (aka freckles) on my arms.

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she’d like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat–thought about what she said–and then asked if we could watch Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice–it’s natural. It’s when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that’s hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.

The post sat there quietly for nearly a year with only two comments (the first quite positive, praising MacDougall’s wisdom, the second neutral), until it was discovered by another blog in May and became fodder for debate.  Champions of “anti-racist parenting” flocked to MacDougall’s blog to accuse her of “white privilege” and call her post “disgusting.”  She was castigated for everything from punting the question to her co-worker — and thus forcing a person of color to be a spokeswoman for her race — to having the temerity to think that being “colorblind” is a good thing.

There was more criticism after Belkin publicized the debate.  Well, now, MacDougall offers profuse apologies that brings to mind the “self-criticism” sessions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as well as the horror of a character in George Orwell’s 1984 who learns he’s been guilty of  “thoughtcrime.”

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Filed under motherhood, political correctness, race

More Kremlin follies: Russia vs. Georgia, redux?

Today’s New York Times has a harsh editorial castigating Moscow’s latest exercise in stupid self-assertion:

In a depressing sequel to its petty and destructive war against Georgia last summer, Russia has now cast a petty and destructive veto in the United Nations Security Council, compelling the abrupt withdrawal of 130 badly needed international military monitors from Georgia’s secessionist region of Abkhazia.

It was petty because Russia’s larger interest lies in calming, not stirring up, secessionist ambitions in the Caucasus, a violently fractured part of the world that includes other restive regions like Chechnya. And it was destructive because whatever hopes the Russian-backed Abkhazian separatists might still retain for a semblance of international legitimacy vanishes with the withdrawal of the United Nations mission.

….

Moscow’s heavy-handed meddling has isolated Abkhazia, and Russia. Only Russia and Nicaragua recognized the “independence” Abkhazia proclaimed after the Russian incursion last summer. This month Russia voted alone in the Security Council to evict the monitors.

They could have added that Russia suffered an embarrassing setback in its quest for recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia when former pal Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus took the first half a $500 million loan that was a tacit bribe for recognition, and then didn’t come through.

The Times is quite right that further destabilization and growth of separatism in the region would be detrimental to Russia more than anyone else; hardly a day goes by without deadly violence, including assassinations of high-level officials and military officers, in places like Ingushetia and Dagestan.   But of course, for the Kremlin leadership, muscle-flexing and ego-tripping counts for a lot more than such practical considerations.

Meanwhile, Russia is planning large-scale military exercises near the Georgian border; not only will these exercises take place in “independent” Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but they are pretty clearly directed at Georgia — at the very least, to send a signal.  Adrian Piontkovsky, writing on Grani.ru (Russian text), speculates that Russia may be preparing for Georgian War II.

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Filed under Dmitry Medvedev, Russia, Russia-Georgia conflict, Vladimir Putin, War

Sotomayor: the right’s great white whale?

Richard Viguerie, one of the lions of conservative activism, thinks the Sonia Sotomayor nomination could invigorate conservatism.  Viguerie  writes:

President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor has so far managed to unite all wings of the conservative movement — economic, foreign policy, social, traditional and libertarian — in a way we haven’t seen since the early Clinton years.

Is this true?   Most conservatives aren’t thrilled with the nomination, but I also don’t see a whole lot of passionate opposition (except among those who would passionately oppose any Obama nominee, even Mother Teresa).  For an example of not-exactly-thrilled but muted conservative reaction, see, for instance, these posts by Jonathan Adler on The Volokh Conspiracy.   Adler writes:

Looking at the race-related cases in which Judge Sotomayor has disagreed with her colleagues leads me to the following conclusion (although it does not convince me to oppose her nomination).  Compared to the other judges on her Cirucit, Judge Sotomayor appears more inclined to accept aggressive and innovative use of equal protection arguments in race-related cases and seems to be more accepting of the use of race to achieve diversity in the workplace. This does not make her an “extremist,” and it certainly does not make her a “racist,” but it does suggest she would fit comfortably on the “liberal” side of the current court on such issues, and is consistent with the inference one could draw from her speeches. Insofar as one disagrees with this approach to race-related cases, this could be cause for concern.

A new article by The New Republic‘s Jeff Rosen, who has caught flak in the past for his criticism of Sotomayor, argues that she would be a liberal-but-not-too-liberal, and definitely not knee-jerk  liberal or hardcore ideological, presence on the Supreme Court.  It’s unlikely that any Obama appointee would be “better,” from a conservative/libertarian point of view.

Meanwhile, rallying around opposition to Sotomayor would be unwise for conservatives for a few reasons.   It would be hard to paint her (convincingly) as an out-of-the-mainstream radical.  Also, the right would be investing a lot (scarce) political capital into attacking a Hispanic woman; giving her impressive credentials, trying to paint her as a less-than-competent “affirmative action baby” could easily come across as sexist and racist, particularly given some of the nasty rhetoric already directed at the judge.

This does not mean that conservatives and libertarians should not criticize Sotomayor.  There’s plenty to criticize.  This is not, however, a wise fight to pick as the mother of all battles.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics.com)

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Filed under law, left and right

Paging Dr. Freud

While visiting the gallery of Russian artist Ilya Glazunov on his 79th birthday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks at a painting of the legendary Russian hero, Prince Oleg, and remarks:

“His sword is a bit too short.”

In response, Mr. Glazunov promised to make it longer, and the National Leader gave himself a pat on the back for having a good eye for detail.

In Novaya Gazeta (alas, Russian only), the brilliant Dmitry Bykov comments, in hilarious verse,  on the encounter between the artist and the prime minister (who also chided the Russian Orthodox Holy Martyrs Princes Boris and Gleb, depicted in another Glazunov painting, for submitting to martyrdom rather than defending the Motherland), and imagines other conversations with artists in which Putin might want to do something about the naked Bacchus.

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Filed under Russian political humor, Vladimir Putin

Russia stumbles in “post-Soviet space”?

In case you have been following the conflict between Russia and Belarus: the “milk wars” (the Russian ban on imports of Belarussian dairy products, followed by the imposition of harsh new customs tariffs on Russian roducts in Belarus) are over.  Now, it seems there’s a gas war coming.  Belarus’s wily authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko (popularly known as “bat’ka” — a folsky and rather affectionate term best translated as “Big Daddy”), canceled his presence at a summit on security issues in a fit of pique.  What it’s really about is the fact that nearly a year ago, Russia gave Belarus a $500 million loan with the tacit understanding that it was the first of installments in a bribe for recognizing Russia’s new client states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Big Daddy, who has been playing a skillful game of seduction with both Russia and Western Europe. took the money and bailed on the two republics.  Russia refused to cough up the second installment of the bribe.

There are no good guys in this clash: Belarus is an authoritarian state that, in many ways, makes Russia look like a beacon of freedom, and Bat’ka Lukashenko is a clever thug.  Nonetheless, this latest row underscores the fact that Russia’s power in the “post-Soviet space” it likes to claim as its sphere of “privileged interests” is not nearly as great as it is often made out to be — even if the Kremlin still has the ability to throw money around (in a crisis!) to give another neighboring state the incentive to kick out a U.S. air force base.   Russia’s crude manner of swinging its weight around — in response to Lukashenko’s show of defiance, a senior Medvedev Administration official told Kommersant newspaper, commenting on the situation in Belarus, that “apparently, someone has had enough of being president of that country” — has contributed to its problems.

In this excellent Russian-language article on Grani.ru, the astute Russian policy analyst Stanislav Belkovsky notes that in the past decade, “the Kremlin has done everything it could to squander the remnants of its influence in its former empire” and to quarrel with precisely those neighbors with whom it most needs good relations.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics.com.)

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Filed under Russia

Hate speech

Paul Krugman thinks the recent murder of abortion doctor George Tiller and yesterday’s shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC are related to an upsurge in extremism caused by irresponsible, inflammatory, Obama-is-leading-us-into-fascism rhetoric from the right, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Let me make it clear: I despise the “fascism is coming!” scaremongering.  That said, I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that 88-year-old neo-Nazi James von Brunn — who, as Jonah Goldberg puts it in his NRO column, was “considered a dangerous nut even within the dangerous-nut community” — was inspired by the likes of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, or Glenn Beck.  Von Brunn no doubt regards the conservative establishment as controlled by the Jews (The Weekly Standard was reportedly on his hit list).

Trends in anti-Semitic hate crimes make it hard to speak of a pattern linked to overall political trends.  However, it’s fair to say that a lot of anti-Semitism in recent years has been linked to, and fueled by, left-wing rhetoric against Israel and its supporters.  I think Jonah goes too far in suggesting that swipes at “neocons” are usually code words for anti-Semitism, but the connection, in many cases, does exist.  Discussions of “the Israel lobby” on the Internet certainly do draw the Jew-haters out of the woodwork.

That aside, Krugman’s a good one to talk about political hate- and panic-mongering, after eight years of hysterical warnings from the left about Republican fascism.  Remember Naomi Wolf’s “Fascist America” screed, followed by a book called The End of America?  Wolf was given a voice in such respectable venues as the Colbert report and National Public Radio, and her paranoid rants about Sarah Palin as “the muse of the coming Rovian police state” were hosted by The Huffington Post.  And that’s just one example.  Hate and hyperbole have become an endless cycle in American political discourse, and while there are stylistic differences between the left and the right, no one is innocent.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics blogs.)

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Filed under anti-Semitism, left and right

Happy birthday, 1984!

Slightly belated (the actual date was June 8).

My take on the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s great novel can be found here: “We have met Big Brother, and he is us.”

Meanwhile, here’s a gallery of the covers of the many editions of Orwell’s dystopian novel.  Here’s a quaintly hilarious one from 1955:

orwell84-big

1984 as pulp romance.  (That’s a pretty alluring uniform for the Junior Anti-Sex League!)  Pity the poor reader who picked this up expecting a steamy tale of forbidden love, fear, and betrayal.  What a cruel way to sell books.

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Filed under books, freedom, philosophical musings