Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Roseanne Barr's firing is a trench warfare casualty; can we avoid the same fate? #1stAmendment

Our freedom of speech has become a trench warfare battle where only "market justice" will determine who prevails.

I just ended an hour long stream with a fellow YouTube creator, Akil Alleyne aka "The Realist Libertarian", and we had a very open if confusing conversation about the issues of the new NFL national anthem kneeling law, and the subject of Roseanne Barr's firing by ABC came up. The irony of our chat was that despite the difference of perspectives on the Colin Kaepernick saga, racial politics, and personal beliefs, I agreed with him on both the idea of a legal restriction of freedom of speech in the workplace as well as that of a moral societal imperative to expand freedom of speech in excess of the legal protection in order to create a more civil society.

Yet after hanging up the call, I continue to sink back into the cynical nature of my personal observations and experience and despair of the state of that freedom of speech. The problem is no longer whether people believe in those rights but of whether they are willing to grant the courtesy and patience to entertain the speech that is being expressed by people whose views enrage them. 

A very simple piece of personal experience with this topic is the series of #FarrakhanFeminism articles and videos I produced since February in response to the Women's March national leadership co-chair Tamika Mallory's ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. My aim in that series was not to say "well, Farrakhan is a hateful person and he should shut up"; on the contrary it was to illustrate that thanks to the availability of his content on the internet any freethinking individual should be able to explore how his religious and social beliefs are simply incompatible with modern day feminism and intersectionality. I would never begrudge YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform for granting Farrakhan a venue to express his beliefs; without them I could not do my work, and I must confess it is a guilty pleasure watching him work a crowd and get into the zone even if I find the words coming out of his mouth to be ridiculous and contrary to my own views.

Those indignant over Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, as Alleyne stated, are in many respects the same type of people that tune into Roseanne because she is also willing to slay the sacred cows of others that are Kaepernick supporters. This is a circle of outrage that feels gratifying in the heat of the argument, but in reality is producing a public forum of people that have little to no trust in one another. In our discussion I repeated the concession I had made elsewhere that while I think that Kaepernick is a jerk-off, the imposition of a new NFL rule prohibiting on-field protests during the anthem is two years too late. The only conclusion I can come to is that the NFL had a chance to give a clear ruling in 2016, and instead it decided to punt the ball away. 

In the same manner, the Walt Disney Corporation as Roseanne's employer OK'ed a revival of her show throughout 2017 and 2018 knowing full well that her viewpoints were controversial and had been for a long time. Barr had at one point been a presidential candidate for the far-left Peace and Freedom Party in 2012 and then later veered to the other end of the spectrum in response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. They knew that signing the comedienne would be accompanied with a fair portion of sweaty collars for their PR people. The day before, Barr had openly sparred with Chelsea Clinton and even ridiculed her looks by retweeting a user making fun of her teeth by comparing them to the donkey from Shrek. 

 So people have to then question what's going on here. Nobody is debating the factual statement of whether Roseanne Barr is correct in saying that Chelsea Clinton has donkey teeth. The debate is also not over whether Valerie Jarrett looks like she's a character from Planet of the Apes. In either case, people are objecting to the purported insensitivity of attacking a woman's looks or analogizing a black person to a non-human ape species. 

I didn't watch Roseanne's new show, and I have a neutral take on her current political "conversion". I have a suspicion, just as I did in Kaepernick's case, that her motivation for becoming vocally political was careerist. She risked nothing as her show was a commercial success in the 1980s and 90s, and has raked in millions for her and others through TV syndication. The reason for her wanting to come back was likely due to a legitimate though selfish desire for the spotlight. I have argued that for Colin Kaepernick, the motivation was a byzantine attempt to get traded from the San Francisco 49ers with whom he was by then feuding.

What I find to be the real threat is not the motivations or validity of the causes of Kaepernick or Roseanne. Rather, it is the idea that currently when someone in the audience of a public event finds something objectionable in the content they are watching, they now have a corporate culture on many telecom platforms that is encouraging them to act as a speech police to squelch the offending speech rather than rebut it with an alternative or at least a review based on taste.

The executives of these companies may behave as if they are receptive to an "inclusive" and "socially conscious" corporate culture, but rest assured that beneath the surface this is how they are thinking:

  • NFL: "We can donate millions of dollars to causes that are supposedly in tune with Colin Kaepernick's beliefs while simultaneously having GM's and owners lacking the conviction to have him on a roster and willing to take the commercial hit".
  • Walt Disney/ABC/ESPN: "We will fire Roseanne Barr in order to slake the thirst of outrage over racial stereotypes, but continue to employ racial and political arsonists like Jemele Hill, Keith Olbermann and Max Kellerman because we lack the courage to look in the mirror and acknowledge that no, we're not a sports and entertainment hub anymore, we're an institution of an imposed social order."
These two approaches may appear different, but they are not. They also have two very important things in common: As far as marketing optics they are not fooling anyone, and at the same time their moral compass spins in every direction and no direction at once.

Why not embrace a solution that is both painful but in the long term a healthier alternative? Accept that we may have to hear things that clash with our worldviews or might even find defamatory, but respond to this with the best presentation you can of why that is wrong. Those that live in fear of things they may hear that are hurtful inherently concede that they feel too weak to live outside of a system of tyranny.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

I'm not living on Sugarloaf Mountain.

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Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

A rare dream from the past has jarred both regret and acceptance of a new path in life. One Saturday morning I woke up early and then fell back asleep. What happened in that dream showed me how much had changed, but also what unfortunately hasn't changed in my life. Has believing in personal freedom and a free society cost me friendship and happiness? 

I thank the Lord above that I live in this country at this time in history and have been privileged (yes, I use that world intentionally) to have spoken with people of different faiths and opinions. I think when my mom (may she rest in peace) came to this country not just to be happy but to challenge herself and think outside of the box. And after watching her battle disability from an injury, ongoing depression and mental health issues, as well as dealing with raising a kid after a bitter and awful divorce, and finally the soul crushing ovarian cancer that eventually took her life five years ago I was unsure what was the best way to preserve her the gifts that she gave to me and my older brother.

If it was to live a life of happiness surrounded by support and encouragement, I wonder if she should have found a better candidate whose social skills were stronger. Most of my strongest friendships are with people that I meet over video chats, and those that I know in person are typically ex-coworkers and friends from college.. 

Growing up I was always the problem student, the one that cut school habitually, used profanity to teachers, and would be the contrarian at every opportunity. I remember that when I moved to Israel and enrolled in a pre-military preparatory programme with other local students and the  director singled me out saying (using the English word): "He is an outsider, and I think we know he's an outsider". The moment sticks with me, and it's not just because I was the only recent immigrant there or that I was unusually antagonistic among the group (quite the contrary, in fact) but because there seemed to be some sort of aura of misery and resentment that's followed me since I can remember. 

So throughout my life every instance when I had the chance to fit in to a formal structure has been a failure, with the exception of several jobs that I've had where I was given a good amount of leeway to do my work individually. So after a thoroughly disappointing military service I had to piece together my life, make amends with my parents and start a career. There was a point that I remember, flying back from Israel to the USA almost nine years ago, that I accepted that there were certain elements of personal happiness that I had lost and would never reclaim. That hasn't changed since enrolling in college, getting my bachelor's and master's degrees, and working in my industry:
  • All my friendships are temporal and seem to dissolve with time, distance, and lack of dependence.
  • I've never been truly needed by anyone, and I don't think that's going to change.
  • My fears of betrayal and abandonment often make my fatalistic approach to personal relationships a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In 2016, I like many others became more politically aware and active surrounding our presidential election here in the USA, and since then my attention to these issues of personal happiness has diminished. Instead I've committed much of my work to supporting civil liberties, a free market and open society, and the belief in individualism above group thinking. Whereas once I was a believer in more progressive/socialist systems years ago in high school, I think that my philosophy has in the last decade realigned to be true to my own reality. 

This is to say: I believe in individual freedom, because unfortunately I'm not as comfortable as others belonging to a group. The only time I do use my voice is often in dissent towards someone else's.

The Sugarloaf Cable Car vision

This weekend out of the blue I had a dream that was so vivid that it felt like a vision of an alternate reality. Some nine years ago, prior to moving back here, I had been infatuated with a girl that was in the same academic program as me. But nothing came of it, as she rejected me and began dating a different kid. It was a frustrating experience because the other guy was someone I generally got along with and an inner voice told me: It makes total sense that she would pick him and not me. This ate at me for years on end, and unfortunately I'm embarrassed to say that I used this rejection as motivation to keep working for myself to succeed. This is because since my mom's passing I haven't had any positive motivations to progress in life, only spite towards others and the need to redeem myself.

So in this dream/vision I felt redeemed. And not only were we together, this girl and I, but bizarrely we were on a honeymoon in her country. And beyond for whatever reason there were numerous other people there; her family and friends, and I think my dad was there too. I remember there being a cable car, which is somewhat consistent with Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. But like all dreams, with one inhalation or movement of a limb, you realize that this did not happen. I think this coincided with a moment when I noticed she had removed her ring and put it on top of a wood cabinet in the dining room. This gesture was as sure as anything a sign to me: "No way did this even happen". 

So the vision ended, and my day began. I don't know how others would react to that type of vision, which was crystal clear and felt like hours, but it did not make the day very cheery for me. Especially when you consider that once awake I was looking out the window at the still chilly Midwest in April and not sunny South America. I was more than disappointed, but downright dejected. 

The next day, remembering her name I checked her profile and saw that she'd been married. This poses for me the question, what was the message of this dream? Was it to let go, or a taunt from above? How is it that after years of putting this out of my mind it catches up once again, and why am I plagued by regrets about things that never happened?

Individual freedom does not mean individual happiness

I've worked so hard to focus on ideas that are so impersonal, they almost render their advocates like me irrelevant: an engineering career, promoting free markets, fighting censorship and compelled speech. These are beliefs that have left me alienated from the world, and isolated me from others. I never thought this would give me happiness or affirmation from others, because those are things that I've yet to experience and I don't expect to anytime soon.

During my life I've never denied a spiritual existence that is above our material world. Nevertheless, some of my greatest influences in terms of personal philosophy have been ones that struggled with faith and succumbed to despair. For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms were two books I was enthralled by from the mind of a brilliant but troubled mind, one that eventually took his own life: Ernest Hemingway. Another one, significantly more obscure, is the music parody creator Rucka Rucka Ali who himself struggled with thoughts of suicide and channeled it into a career of being as abrasive and offensive as possible.

I'm not waiting for that dream vision from that Saturday morning to manifest itself in my life. If I want to see Sugarloaf Mountain, the only way is to buy a ticket and actually go there. . . and risk getting robbed. Believing in individual freedom and choice means acceptance of the choices that others make that work against you. I've found the purpose I need to continue without others affirming it and that means digging for the truth beyond the convenient jaded reality that others seek to impose over our dissent. It doesn't feel like misery anymore, because I'm not even sure what true happiness would feel like. So yes: Still contrarian, still a pessimist, still somewhat paranoid, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

I guess even if it were to happen, I won't be "running if you call my name".  

Monday, 25 December 2017

Rubashkin vs. Yanklowitz: Where social justice rejects due process.

The ability of ethnic and racial minorities to excel and become established in the United States is largely a corollary of a governance system that is based on British Commonwealth constitutional separation of powers combined with the added belief in individual liberties that are innate to all free men as established in 1776, which has since been extended by further amendments to include all people regardless of race, sex, creed, and now myriad other qualifying categories. These principles have enabled many "minorities" that were persecuted or at the very least impoverished in their homelands to reach equal status with the rest of society, or even to become  above average in wealth and social status. 

The Jews have benefited as much as if not more than others from this system that gives individual freedom. What is truly troubling to me is that certain elements within our community have set themselves as obstacles to the further enjoyment of those rights by American citizens in order to satisfy their vain and quixotic ambitions of a society without prejudice or hatred. In order to accomplish this goal, these people are disguising their inner anger and lust for power within the sunny cloak of tolerance, love, and social justice.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz during a farewell visit to the White House
with President Barack Obama, Jan. 10, 2017.

The "Plaintiff"

[Note: For the purposes of readability, I will not use the titles Rabbi or Doctor beyond once for each subject]
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz call himself the "Social Justice Rav" and is a product of the "Open Orthodoxy" movement and its school Hovevei Torah, a progressive offshoot of the Orthodox Judaism that trends towards gender equality and embraces many modern departures from traditional Jewish legal doctrines. He has a master's degree in education from Harvard in Leadership and Psychology, as well as a doctorate in education from Columbia University. Yanklowitz has been a tireless defender of illegal immigrants, LGBT+ rights, workers rights, and any number of causes popular on the American progressive left. 

Physically, Yanklowitz has the youthful smiling good looks of the typical young American born to an upper middle-class family. He cuts an impressive figure as his website features him meeting with and towering over such luminaries as former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan the late Eli Wiesel, Michael Douglas and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One cannot find a better example of a young, effervescent, and for lack of a better term "modern progressive" Jewish clergyman. 

So where does the anger and lust for power come in? That would come from Yanklowitz's past litigation and campaigning against a since bought-out kosher slaughterhouse called Agriprocessors, Inc. of Postville, Iowa. 

The "Defendant"

Image result for sholom rubashkin
Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin escorted in 2008 by a US Marshal to a federal court hearing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Des Moines Register).
Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was convicted in November 2009 in his capacity of CEO of Agriprocessors for bank fraud, although was to have been tried as well on 72 charges of violating federal immigration laws by employing over 400 illegal immigrants. Rubashkin was the son of a kosher butcher and a devotee of the Lubavitch International-CHABAD wing of Orthodox Judaism, a community and belief system dramatically different from Yanklowitz's Open Orthodoxy. Unlike the "plaintiff", Rubashkin was first and foremost interested in pursuing his private business of supplying kosher meat products as well as employing like minded workers that were dedicated to the same kosher standards that he does. Rubashkin's plant in Iowa was at various under fire for its environmental, animal rights, and workers rights standards including a notorious video by PETA. 

Ultimately however he was convicted on charges of bank fraud, and this was due to his assets being frozen in the aftermath of the prior Immigrations, Customs, and Excise (ICE) raid and other legal sanctions taken against him by the federal government. He has never been convicted in a court of law of any offenses against workers or for violations of animal cruelty laws. In fact he was acquitted of child labor charges in 2010, whereas Agriprocessors as an entity did plead guilty. Does that mean that he is innocent of any of those accusations? No; it means that he is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the United States government deemed it appropriate not to pursue those charges against him given that the federal judge sentenced him to 27 years in prison, two years in excess of the ceiling requested by the prosecution of 25 years.

Also, unlike the vibrant, clean shaven and youthful Yanklowitz, Rubashkin appears to follow a more traditional image of the diminutive, bearded and middle aged Jew in the ultra-Orthodox garb of a plain white shirt and black suit jacket with a black yarmulke. So in this battle we have two gentlemen, having a common a deep identity with Judaism, are otherwise very different in their approaches to it and their other personal characteristics. So why the present conflict?

The Commutation 

On December 22, 2017 President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of Rubashkin allowing him to go free, but requiring him to continue to pay restitution to his banking creditors in Iowa to the tune of $35 million. I had the experience of spending the past weekend listening to the accounts of two former employees of Rubashkin who happened to think very highly of him and in fact though of him as a personal friend and treasure. Obviously there are probably those that think otherwise of him. What I was struck by however was not only their joy at his release, but at their frank concession that he should have served at least some time in prison for the crimes that he was convicted of. It has been rare over the years to hear anyone claim that he should be completely exonerated; the fact is that there were violations of immigration law at Agriprocessors under Sholom Rubashkin, and if they had been pursued then perhaps there would have been discovered cases of environmental violations and animal rights abuse. 

The Reaction

One can debate whether this man was appropriately prosecuted, or whether the punishment fit the crime, but ultimately most would agree that a 27 year prison sentence for a federal crime that normally draws a sentence of 5 years smacks of judicial zealotry.  

For Shmuly Yanklowitz however, this is not sufficient. The 27 year prison sentence that would have left Rubashkin in prison until the age of 77 was wholly apropos,  and in an op-ed in Newsweek claimed that the commutation should provoke this reaction:
We should mourn that our kosher systems continue to be broken, that they are consumed with ritual detail but largely neglectful and unconcerned with the ethical dynamics: worker rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, human health, among many important ethical considerations. As a rabbi, I’m ashamed to admit that kosher products today are not “a higher ethical standard.”
Yanklowitz's  tortured response reflects more on him than it does on Sholom Rubashkin. We know that Rubashkin's conviction was arrived at through the American justice system which is based on the presumption of innocence, and for what it's worth there are certainly other crimes for which he could have been prosecuted. To use an extreme parallel, Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion; does that mean that he did not murder rivals and violate Prohibition laws? No, but it happened to be that the easiest conviction was for tax evation. As in many other instances when criminals are convicted of crimes that are deemed peripheral to their main activities, it is not up to Shmuly Yanklowitz to pin Rubashkin's scalp to a wall as an example that "thus shall be done to he who violates this principle of (INSERT HERE)".

To be fair, there are conservative pundits that have the same righteous indignation at times, such as those that ranted and raved when OJ Simpson was paroled earlier this year. "It's like he's getting away with double murder again", they seemed to say. These enraged souls miss the crucial detail: Though most Americans are confident that Simpson murdered Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, he was acquitted of that crime in a court of law, and he was only convicted on a completely unrelated armed robbery charge in 2007, that itself may have been over-zealously prosecuted.  

Furthermore, in a criminal trial prosecutors may at times only use prior convictions of felonies or other crimes of dishonesty, and these cannot be used to impeach the credibility of the defendant. How much more so for offenses for which any defendant such as Rubashkin was not yet convicted? So what is Yanklowitz's problem?

Restorative justice for a reality that never was or will ever be

As the "social justice Rav", Yanklowitz doesn't care about the due process of law, the presumption of innocence, and other basic principles of our criminal justice system. That is because he takes the ideas of "social justice" and combines them with a divine imperative. He describes that relationship between his religious beliefs and social justice in this video.
Social justice is defined as such by the Center for Economic and Social Justice: 
"Social Justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we institutions. In turn, social institution  when justly organized provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development".
Here we see that the values that Yanklowitz espouses are communal in nature as they emphasize not just the individual but his "associations" and his "personal and social development". For Yanklowitz the Agriprocessors affair was not just a case of prosecuting the crime of a corporation and its CEO, but also one of correcting a number of social ills that he perceived were harmful to the health and welfare of society as a whole. The fact that Sholom Rubashkin was not convicted on the basis of labour, animal rights, or other ethical crimes but on a bank fraud charge was immaterial as he was content to see him sent to federal prison for 27 years as a result of a sentencing that was more than five times the normal length of one for a typical conviction for a similar charge. To Yanklowitz it was also immaterial that no less than 4 former attorneys general of the United States, ranging from conservative icon Edwin Meese III (Ronald Reagan Administration) to far left activist Ramsey Clark (Lyndon Johnson Administration) have all found that the sentencing was excessive for a first time offender. Again, as stated before, the sentencing can only be levied based on the crimes for which the defendant has been convicted, NOT others that he may or may not have been convicted of in further criminal trials.
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Former George HW Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh (Below)
and former Bill Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick (Above)
both signed a 2016 letter to President Obama requesting a commutation for
Sholom Rubashkin due to the overzealous federal prosecution.
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No, to Yanklowitz such details of this case were and continue to be just that - details. More important in his mind, as evidenced by his response in Newsweek was to further his personal agenda of promoting a society based on social justice. Well, how pray tell is that to be accomplished? I apologize to those more qualified than me; I am not a lawyer, and have no pretensions to being one but the past 4 years of observing this type of mob of emotion justice has made it necessary that even common peons like myself must educate ourselves and proclaim to others the basic rights guaranteed under our Constitution. 

In Jewish law, Yanklowitz would probably be forced to admit that the burden of proof is much higher and happens to exclude many things such as forensic and documentary evidence in favour of direct witnesses. So instead he focuses on social justice where evidence is irrelevant entirely. As someone born into American society and unused to any other system of justice, I have a natural bias in favour of preserving this system while acknowledging that there are areas where it can be deemed flawed or unfair. I often do see contradictions between the procedures of American justice and whatever traditional Torah law that I've learned, but rather than rage against it, I make do with the basic human reality that the universe does not always align to give the best outcome for anyone.  Yanklowitz however sees American criminal justice as ignorant and unjust, and like the more progressive denominations of Conservative and Reform Judaism combines his own convenience-based interpretation of Judaism with the revolutionary activism of social justice to create a contrived social-religious belief system that is the Jewish equivalent of Catholicism's Liberation Theology. 

For example read here his opinion piece in the Jewish Journal concerning the imperative that a group of 20 Orthodox rabbis see that Congress arrive at a solution to keep in the United States the 800,000 illegal immigrants that received temporary stays of deportation when they were minors. Yanklowitz, as in many other cases here, leads with his instinct of "compassion", but not with the clarity of reason. He invokes verses in Leviticus and the Bava Metzia Talmudic tractate that call upon Jews to embrace the sojourner in their land and not harass him. Unmentioned in this long plea are two crucial elements of context to those examples:

  • The "sojourner" in this case cannot venture into the land and do as he pleases. He must abide by the laws of the Torah and its courts and the king of the time in question, and under Jewish law that could include renouncing his foreign faith. Whether this is a "fair" demand or not is not what is in question here; what is important is that Yanklowitz omits this wilfully.
  • Under the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the principles under which Yanklowitz puts forth his argument are not binding, because as it states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
  • Does Yanklowitz's "social justice" address the concerns of the families of the victims of illegal alien criminals that were protected under DACA such as Daniel de Jesus Rangel Sherrer, a Mexican national who in October 2017 murdered a high school junior named Diana Martinez-Gonzalez? 
I am not going to claim any moral or expert authority based on any legal experience, rabbinical ordination, or past accomplishments. But it seems to me that Yanklowitz's grandstanding over the Rubashkin commutation is yet another example of him seizing an easy target and criticizing it for all of the wrong reasons. I hope this piece will encourage others to look at these issues with a more dispassionate eye as opposed to chasing windmills in the pursuit of the picaresque and fruitless improvised caused of social justice.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rolling Slander

Left: Protesters against the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. How do they feel now that they were revealed to be protesting innocent classmates? 

Against the backdrop of serious social issues on college campuses, the Columbia School of Journalism statement shows that academia is perfectly willing to turn a blind eye when members of the media abuse their position.

Even as President Obama has dubiously proclaimed that the path to a prosperous middle class is for every American child to  have access to a college education, news headlines are showing that this can often be a gateway to discrimination, physical violence, sexual assault, and racial tensions. In fact, judging by the incidents of the past few months, it may be just as well that the President weigh in on these issues, just as he entered the debate about police shootings. Well, maybe not if we want an unbiased opinion about it.

Let's look at a selection of those incidents:

  • In March a chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is shut down at the University of Oklahoma after a number of its brothers are caught on camera singing a racist song. This follows a pattern of similar incidents for SAE chapters across the US, including a sexual assault at Iowa State University.
  • The Fisher vs. Texas lawsuit regarding affirmative action policies continues to bounce between federal appeals courts and the US Supreme Court.
  • University of Kentucky students riot in Lexington following the school's April 5 loss in the Final Four tournament.
  • A University of Virginia student is beaten by alcohol enforcement agents on March 18, an incident that may legitimately be one of police brutality.
  • A UCLA Pre-Law student is scrutinized during a hearing for approval of her appointment to the school judicial board on the grounds of her affiliation with Jewish organizations, despite admissions that she is fully qualified.
  • And the subject that this will focus on: Rolling Stone magazine publishes "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Erdely which claimed to expose in graphic detail a gang rape of a female student by frat brothers that occurred at the University of Virginia on September 28, 2012 from the viewpoint of the victim, known only as "Jackie". The publishing of that story led to the suspension of all fraternities. Even prior to the actual publishing, violent attacks and threats were reported against the fraternity's property, and demonstrations were mounted against it. However, in January 2015 the Charlottesville Police Department revealed that the events reported in the article could not be confirmed, and by January 30 UVA's president declared that it had been discredited. On April 5 the Columbia School of Journalism released a report that outlined all of the journalistic errors that were committed in writing, editing, and publishing the piece.

Men preventing sexual assaults

As a male graduate student, I sometimes am oblivious to the other experiences on my college campus, especially those of female students. I have only two courses this semester, both of which have only two women enrolled in them. My department currently has only one woman on the faculty. Last year there was an all-female group in my senior design course, and they were discouraged from forming as such for reasons that were never explained. The university has numerous events catered toward encouraging the entrance of women in engineering, yet to look at a lot of our average course populations they could easily appear to be an all-male religious seminary class.

Recently I had a casual conversation with a couple friends during which one, who I'll call Becca, said that she had to leave before dark. When I asked why before dark, she said that she was afraid to walk to her car once dusk fell due to the rumours of robberies and sexual assaults on our campus. I realized at that point that she had to deal with a contingency that I could not relate with. The best help I could offer her was to borrow a screwdriver to use as a gouging tool; campus escorts are already available, and she wasn't the type to ask for a dude to accompany her.

Just this week I advised my sister not to park too far away from campus once she started classes there. I later found out she was taking day classes, so the advice does seem ridiculous in retrospect. However, I am not alone among my friends; one of them had bought his sister mace in order to protect herself from an assault when she went to school.

Women preventing sexual assaults

Men are not threatened nearly as much with the threat of sexual assault as women, but we are affected as observers. During my military service I remember one of the women soldiers, a cook, had been gang assaulted by three acquaintances. She had to deal with the same stigmas about sluttiness and asking for it that many feminist advocates rightly criticize. But at the same time, the circumstances of her case were as such:

  • She was invited to her friends' dorms at a late hour of night.
  • She was then imbibed with vodka until becoming intoxicated.
  • The three others then took advantage of her to a degree that was never revealed to the rest of us. We are not aware if they were simply caught in an improper state of undress, if she was forcibly raped, or somewhere in between.

I think that the small gestures that I and others have made are the best form of preventive measures for sexual assault. Our campus happens to offer women's self-defense classes as well. As independent people, women cannot be expected to seek shelter from their male colleagues and relatives in every situation. The best measures they can take are through their own decisions:

  • Be aware of their surroundings.
  • Not presenting themselves as a vulnerable target.
  • Learning to defend themselves if needed.
  • Not becoming intoxicated to the point where they are easy prey; that follows the same principle as not becoming a vulnerable target.
  • Keeping a mobile device or whistle handy if they would need to call for help. 

Education through shame

Rather than promote the measures that I mentioned above, a lot of media outlets like the Huffington Post and MSNBC have chosen to talk about rape culture and how America must change that. This approach is destined to fail, because rape and sexual assault have been an element in every society since the beginning of mankind. The idea that rape can be eliminated by changing American culture is ridiculous; look at how well we have prevented white collar crimes by mandating business ethics courses. There is no need for more studies and debates on this matter, because in the end these crimes seem to be perpetrated under the same conditions. The best solution for women to avoid being taken advantage of . . . is to not arrive at a situation where they can be taken advantage of.

The pathetic attempt by the media to claim that a conversation needs to be held on how to cure America of its "rape culture" is just as moronic as Pres. Obama and Eric Holder's statements and inquiries into police shootings. In the end, the media cannot control the minds of sexual predators, nor can federal officials control the actions of individual law enforcement agents. On the contrary, as recent scandals show Obama and his staff are unable to control information leaks (Edgar Snowden), press leaks, and his own security (Secret Service indiscretions at home and abroad).

Who are the Fifth Estate accountable to?

Now finally to the case of Sabrina Rubin Erdely:

My impression is that it takes a certain type of person to go to a college campus, interview a claimed victim, present her version of events as true, not verify any of the details, and publish the story as fact in a magazine that relies on decades of prestigious journalism that has shaped our culture in many different fields.

I have watched the entire video of the press conference with Columbia School of Journalism officials Steve Coll (dean) and Sheila Coronel (academic dean). It is remarkable how despite all of their claims to professionalism they deliberately dodged the question of whether they would employ Sabrina Erdely themselves, even though at one point during the conference they actually admit that they know that the story as told by "Jackie" was false. Despite every opportunity that the journalists in the audience presented, these two distinguished paragons of the trade avoided giving the plain spoke response that was demanded: that "A Rape on Campus" was a feminist canard and Sabrina Erdely is a quack journalist.

It is very ironic that the University of Virginia has a student parody newspaper called The Yellow Journal. Yellow journalism was coined in the late 19th century to describe poorly researched or sensationalized reporting about current events, in particular the Spanish-American War. In those days, the newspapers were using their power to raise public support for a war in Latin America. Nowadays, their heir Sabrina Erdely used her forum to promote an agenda relating to Rape Culture.

What was the response of Rolling Stone and Erdely to the CSJ report and the clear contradiction of their article by all of the responsible authorities of UVA and Charlottesville PD? On Saturday they issued a retraction, a blanket apology (as Coronel was quick to mention in their defense), and no statement of any disciplinary action. They never apologized to the students and alumni that were portrayed in the article as perverted sex fiends, or to the university whose reputation was stained and suffered dip in applications. They never apologized to their duped readers. UVA President Teresa Sullivan rightly reproached the magazine for its portrayal of campus officials as "manipulative and callous", when in reality there is no evidence to suggest that any incident occurred or that any complaint had been filed. The fraternity chapter is now considering legal action against the magazine.

A proportional punishment

Sabrina Erdely has made a career out of claiming to be the best advocate for victims of sexual violence or discrimination. However, as a journalist she has long been one of the guardians of the supposed legitimate journalism. During the Stephen Glass controversy, when that journalist was caught fabricating entire stories in the early 2000s, Erdely called Glass a "sociopathic creep". This was somebody who had been her managing editor at the University of Pennsylvania newspaper. As of today Glass still has not repaired his career and reputation, and has even been denied admission to the California Bar on more than one occasion. 

The minimal response from Rolling Stone would have been the immediate firing of Erdely in January and an official audit of all of her stories. Instead, they've allowed all of their detractors to do that job by claiming that they were submitting her story for the CSJ to review. Since then, opponents of Erdely and her opinionated journalism have poked holes in numerous stories where she has completely misrepresented the facts, such as this one about her claims of gay teen suicides in Minnesota being linked to evangelical hatemongerers. Now that the doors have been blown off of her credibility, Erdely apparently has no remorse over the reputations that she's ruined, and therefore she should be held personally accountable to the people affected by her actions. In her apology, Erdely claimed that the past few months had been ". . . a brutal and humbling experience". Most of the three paragraph statement was about her challenges as a journalist covering rape. Apparently Sabrina Erdely now views herself as the real victim. Is that not the mark of a sociopathic creep, which is the type of epithet she used about Glass back in the day?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

My message to the Palestine Poster Project about the previous post:

Dear PPPA,

I was viewing your web page today, and encountered a poster that you claimed was made by opponents of Israel that likened their behaviour to those of fascists, specifically the Italian fascist Forza Nova party.


 Although you state that the poster's origin and publicist is unknown, I'm sure you've done enough research to know that Fuorza Nuova actually does not support Israel, but is a loyal supporter of the cause of Gaza. In fact it publicised just yesterday a declaration that Israel is terrorist and opens it by saying "Yes, Forza Nuova is an anti-Zionist movement". You can understand it here even if you don't speak Italian:


Are you willing to acknowledge this error, because given the statements of FN leader Roberto Fiore it would seem very odd to place him in the same camp as the Israelis and you are mistakenly disregarding his support for Palestine.

Which side is more fascist? Maybe ask the Fascists.

Turkish fans assaulting a Mac. Haifa player during a game between the Israeli side and the French club Lille.

On pro-Palestinian image aggregator site Palestine Poster Project supporters of Gaza have gathered images of worldwide artwork in favour of the Palestinian cause. Among the images is the one below, which states in Italian that "Every Palestinian is a comrade, SAME ENEMY, SAME BARRICADE" (Barricata may also mean side in Italian). The project makes the claim that the Nordic cross on the lower right side of the image is meant to allude to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as "fascist", because it is a logo associated with the Italian neo-fascist Fuorza Nova political party as well as other likeminded movements throughout Europe. But what does it mean to be a fascist, and who bears the right to call someone else one? And is the Poster Project being truthful about this piece of art, or could it be misrepresenting the nature of the artwork.

Poster that Palestine Poster Project claims condemns Israel's fascist policies. In reality it is a Fuora Nuova poster in support of Palestine.

 But first, a note on fascism . . .

Since the end of WWII, the word fascism has become a common label used by all parties in any conflict to discredit the other side. Just one example that is close to home was the Vietnam War, where it was common for the North Vietnamese and American war opponents alike to call the US Military fascist due to the heavy civilian casualties of war in that nation. Domestic political debates become completely hostile and vicious when each side accuses the other of being a fascist, so that every politician from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama and every cause from pro-life activism to universal health care, has been framed as a fascist idea. The War on Terror has been justified partially because of the threat of "Islamofascism". 

What is the strictest definition of fascism? The Fascist Party was the Italian movement that stabilized Italy during the economic turmoil following World War I and reorganized its state under the direction of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini focused the symbolism of the state around him and an Italian identity dating back to the Roman Empire. Despite Mussolini's complete mismanagement of Italy's effort in the Second World War, there remain numerous Italians who to one degree or another see his regime as having saved Italy from communism, which is indeed one of the few lasting goals that it did achieve.

Why call someone a "fascist"?

Beyond the association with Mussolini, the implication of being fascist is that someone lacks even the most basic consideration for the weaker parts of society, such that they are willing to perpetrate the most immoral acts in order to achieve their vision of the world. More specifically, those who make the accusation usually do not refer to the original fascist state, Italy, but rather to the more emotionally upsetting template of Germany. This is because the German government's policies included policies of genocide and forced relocation against its enemy populations: Jews, Gypsies, political enemies, and Slavs. Yet in reality fascism in the most literal sense refers to belief in a one-party state, a corporate (state-administered) approach to economics, and nationalism. Mass murder is linked to fascism mostly due to events associated with it, and not its actual ideas.
Does this mean that fascism has lost its true definition, because it is such a useful accusation to make even in situations where the target of "fascist" does not believe in corporatism, one-party government, or other stated goals of fascism? In an ironic way, this question is solved because there have been since after WWII individuals and organizations that proudly believe in fascism and refute any accusations against its leaders during the war. In Europe, groups like Golden Dawn (Greece) and National Front (France) have major public support while simultaneously claiming that the Holocaust is a lie concocted by Zionists, Jews or the USA. In Italy Forza Nuova (New Force) is the largest party that remains faithful to the original fascist vision of Mussolini and the post-war ideologue Julius Evola.

Fascism and the Arab-Israeli wars

To document the involvement of fascist or associated far-right people with the Arab grievances against Israel would take an article in and of itself. The Grand Mufti of Mandatory Palestine and Arab nationalists in Iraq and Egypt were directly allied to Germany and Italy during WWII, and following the war Arab states sheltered former officials of the German regime.  The neo-fascist and neo-nazi movements throughout the west have with almost every opportunity actively dedicated their support to the Arab cause as shown by the following links to ARYANISM and the National Socialist Movement. The theory that the Holocaust was a fabrication meant to justify the founding of Israel and American support for it is a viewpoint that reinforces the positions of both European ultra-nationalists and Palestinians.

Fascism for Gaza

And here is where we get to THE POINT. The Palestine Poster Project is one of many small web pages that seeks to portray the current Israeli offensive against Gaza as a fascist programme. It is ironic that they caption the Italian photo with this explanation: 

There's no more need to beat around the bush: This caption is a lie from the foundation to the roof. The poster was in itself produced and distributed by Forza Nuova. It is only one of the materials that this group of proud and unashamed fascists has disseminated in order to express its support for the Palestinian Arab people. Just take for example this video produced by the group during 2009's Operation Cast Lead, a previous round of Israel-Gaza war.

Convenient Lies

The Palestine Poster Project has only one reason to depict this small detail in the way that it has: Their cause is not served by being seen to draw support from a group that is openly fascist. They would rather declare their enemy fascist than acknowledge that their cause is a source of validation for the xenophobic and anti-Jewish views of Italians and other Europeans. This is not meant to disparage the Italian public in general because if they were supporting the views of the Fuorza Nuova it wouldn't be a party that fails on every occasion to obtain representation in the two houses of parliament in Rome. 

Although fascism is not an illegal ideology, the stigma attached to it makes any association with it negative. Therefore, the Poster Project found it more suitable to their agenda to depict this work of propaganda as a condemnation of fascism rather than an originally produced fascist poster.


If this seems to you the reader as dishonest, you might want to distribute this breakdown to your social circle through Facebook or email. It is unlikely that a clearly impartial body like the Palestine Poster Project will issue a retraction, but the awareness caused by this incident may harm the credibility of this source among news readers. This issue will nevertheless be brought to their attention, and any support from you the reader would obviously be welcome.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Judging bad taste, Bob Costas style

Dan Snyder Mike Shanahan, the new Executive Vice President and head coach of the Washington Redskins and owner Dan Snyder (L) shake hands before a press conference welcoming Shanahan to the Redskins on January 6, 2010 at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia.
Snyder & Shanahan, when they  thought the situation was under control.

The following is a copy of an email I sent to Shane French, host of Rover's Morning Glory. I've written Rover numerous times, and one of my criticisms of him is his attitude towards American Indian mascots in pro sports.

Yo Rover:

I was wondering why you didn't comment on the remarks of NBC Sports' Bob Costas yesterday night during the Dallas-Washington game. I've always been a huge Cowboys fan and part of being one is our rivalry with Washington. As you may have noticed I've written you before about how our baseball team should change its name and end its legacy of denial. I would say that by ridding the football team of the Redskins nickname we as followers of this rivalry, regardless of which side, would lose a symbolic element of it. 

And so be it. As Costas concluded, "no offense has been intended, but if you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense might legitimately be taken?” After a long meandering monologue, Costas finally made sense. In the past couple years I've been the target of slurs about my own religion and ethnicity on a daily basis, and I've admittedly responded sometimes with the same type of trash talk. Some would say it's racism; I say it's the price of living in a society where the hatred we once hid inside is now a form of self-expression. 

You're usually the type of radio host who says that politics should be left out of sports, but don't hold your breath. The Miracle on Ice, Tebow, John Rocker, and other events or people in sports have always had a significance that transcends X's and O's. Just last year Washington area writer Dave Sheinin wrote a book about Robert Griffin III and his being called Black Jesus by some people. How's that working out.

Every year since I was in elementary school the  important two dates of the year were when we would trade blows with a team that uses imagery of warrior savages blind with rage. They're not using Indian imagery because the Indians helped the Pilgrims or traded furs with colonists. If I turned around and rooted for Chief Wahoo or another Indian themed team, then what objection would I have to the team being called the Cleveland Christkillers? I think that a tradition that is intrinsically painful and degrading towards someone else doesn't really deserve the benefit of the doubt. That might be strange logic to someone who runs cactus soccer contests like you, but try to understand  this side of the argument.

Ramon Epstein

So there you have it, I'm backing up the Arch-Geek of sports commentators, Bob Costas, against that of one of the radio programmes I'm most addicted to. But when you're right you're right, and good for Costas. Unfortunately for Daniel Snyder, Mike Shanahan, RG3, and their cohorts, it's now clear that the great saviour from Baylor isn't enough to compensate for their team's crappy composition. Also, the mascot and name controversy are no longer fringe issues that Snyder can suppress. It's starting to snowball, and in truly ironic fashion the Redskins are being upstaged by the Oneida nation, and Indian tribe that numbers in the tens of thousands. Snyder, who like myself and many of his critics, is Jewish, pledged that he would NEVER change the team name. I'd say that Snyder is fighting for a fake cause with a disgraceful legacy. And I'll keep my eyes open for the next crack in his wall. . .