Syria – I don’t know.

Middle-East-map
The US is clearly going to be taking some action against the Assad regime in response to its use of chemical weapons. I’ve been following events very closely, but haven’t written about it (other than on Twitter, which is where the rough draft of history is written now, frankly) because I have neither time nor emotional bandwidth. I’ll just say a little bit here, but mostly, I wanted to provide some very, very useful (and easily understood) links.

Let me start by saying that there are genuinely no good options on the table. If the US had intervened early in the war, before it became a full-fledged civil conflict, maybe that could have slowed the carnage and led to something reasonable to replace the current regime. But that’s an enormous maybe, I’m not sure what that “intervention” could have or would have looked like, it would have been tremendously destabilizing to the rest of the region (which is likely why it never happened), and it would have cost the American people, as well. But mostly it didn’t happen, so we’ll never know.

So, having said that, I lean toward supporting military action, which I presume will mean damaging Assad’s capacity to carry out chemical weapons attacks in the future. I believe that doing nothing is the worst of several terrible options, because anything that strengthen’s Assad’s hand (which doing nothing would do) can only lead to greater brutality and the entrenchment of that brutality, not to mention strengthening the hands of other powers not known for their gentle natures: The hardliners in Iran (vs. the current Iranian President – you can read a little bit about divisions in Iran by clicking here), Hezbollah, Russia, etc.

I am painfully aware that such action will neither end the civil war nor unseat Assad, and that Syrian civilians may well die as a result. But a) Syrian civilians are already being mowed down daily as if in a threshing field, b) doing even this little bit of damage is also likely (in some way that we’ll never truly be able to measure) to save lives, and c) it’s possible that such activity could have a domino effect on Assad’s capacity to fight at all. On this last point, I’m genuinely just crossing my fingers, because adding chaos to chaos always produces new chaos — but we can never be sure ahead of time if it will be the chaos we want.

But aside from that, I also agree with Secretary of State Kerry that “it matters here if nothing is done.”

It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will.

I also believe, and I may never be able to prove it, that it matters in a grand, human sense that when people are being slaughtered, someone is willing to do something for them. There is so little we can do — I believe, in some very inchoate way, that it matters that we at the very least try to stand between the Syrian people and chemical weapons.

But mostly, I don’t know. All possible options are bad, all will have consequences we cannot foresee, all will lead to more death and more misery for someone. My only hope is that the limited assault that I believe the Administration is contemplating will ultimately mean that things will be less bad than they might have been. We will likely never know for sure. I am very glad I’m not the one having to make the decisions.

Now for those resources:

  1. Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask – Max Fisher in the Washington Post (the “nine questions” format is a recurrent thing he does, and they’re always excellent)
  2. The U.S. does have nonmilitary options in Syria. Here are four of them – also by Max Fisher. I believe that combining any of these with whatever the Administration has planned would be the better part of wisdom, particularly as concerns aid to the refugees and the countries taking them in. None will end the misery, but all stand a good chance of ameliorating the misery.
  3. The war after the war in Syria – by Joshua Foust, a former intelligence analyst at the Pentagon. Here he discusses who the rebels actually are, and the significance of some apparent splintering in the regime. The reality is that even if Assad disappeared tomorrow, the mayhem would still continue for quite some time.

Finally, a side-note on Iran: Several things have happened lately that look an awful lot to me like signs of a back channel between Tehran and Washington, including (but not limited to) the CIA admission that it was behind the 1953 coup that removed Iran’s only democratically elected leader from office and the CIA admission (coming less than a week after the earlier admission) that it helped Saddam Hussein attack Iran with chemical weapons in the 1980s. These are both things that were widely known, but have never been admitted before.

Bearing in mind all the struggles that the US and Iran have had surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, an issue that the Obama White House seems to want to actually resolve, I believe that the Administration has been trying for some time to quitely improve Washington-Tehran communication — now, add to that the fact that the Iran-Syria relationship is vital to both countries (and to Hezbollah, which serves as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon), and I believe that whatever back channels we have with Iran have been working overtime this week. (Note also that the admission re: the CIA’s assistance to Iraq came after Assad attacked the suburbs of Damascus with chemical weapons — again, that piece I mentioned above re: divisions in Iran is useful here).

Look at that, this wasn’t short at all. It’s very hard to write short about all this stuff, even when your bottom line is “I don’t know.” At any rate, to quote my sister: More will be revealed.

It’ll be awful, but at some point, at least we’ll know what it is.

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PS For running updates on what’s unfolding, James Miller is doing a great job on Twitter.

UPDATE If you want to watch President Obama’s brief comments on the situation, you can click here. “A lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it.”

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Israeli politicians forbidden to attend Rosh Hashanah event with Abbas.

yair lapid 2

Yair Lapid

Now here’s a head-scratcher.

There’s a lot of talk about Yair Lapid believing that Israel’s position in peace negotiations will be weakened if members of his party attend a Rosh Hashanah event with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As such, even though five Yesh Atid parliamentarians had already RSVP’ed “yes” to Abbas’s little do, Lapid has instructed them to make their apologies. A spokeswoman with Yesh Atid explained the Finance Minister’s decision thus:

When there are direct negotiations between the two sides, we don’t think it is right for coalition MKs to bypass the official talks. We should let the diplomatic process continue via acceptable procedures.

But here’s the thing: Three members of Yesh Atid actually met with Palestinian Authority officials just two weeks ago, and it wasn’t at a party. Indeed, Maarivreported on August 18 that MK Yifat Kariv and two other people from Yesh Atid met with PA officials in Budapest in order to (in Kariv’s words) “support the peace process”:

The sooner we arrive at a two-state solution, the better. These discussions with the Palestinians give me the sense that there’s someone to talk to and something to talk about, and as such, all declarations about construction in the territories or support for the idea of a single state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River only do damage. The government must arrive at responsible, courageous decisions.

The Maariv report goes on to say that the Israeli and Palestinian participants agreed to prepare a joint declaration of parliamentary support for the peace process; to organize delegations of Israeli officials to Ramallah (the seat of the Palestinian government); and to put political pressure on the leaders of both sides to arrive at an agreement. Furthermore, reporter Arik Bender writes, both sides expressed their support for the draft accord known as the Geneva Accord (or Geneva Initiative), agreeing that the parameters of any future resolution are already well-known and enjoy the support of the majority of both peoples.

So, if I understand correctly, a meeting between Fatah officials, Palestinian legislators, and coalition MKs at which all agree on the outline of a future peace deal—a draft agreement known to be based on the 1967 lines and a shared Jerusalem—it’s not an end-run around official talks. Raising a toast at a holiday gathering, on the other hand? You betcha.

I’ve long wondered what some of the folks in Lapid’s party are doing there. Some of the most prominent members of Yesh Atid are unequivocal supporters of a two-state peace and all that such a peace will entail. Their boss, on the other hand, hasrejected the idea of cutting back on settlements, says things like “if the Palestinians realize they won’t have a state unless they give up on Jerusalem, they’ll back down from that demand,” and not long ago declared that Abbas (who has actively supported a two-state peace since 1977) is “still not psychologically ready for an agreement with Israel, either partial or full.”

I wonder if maybe the trip to Budapest was organized without Lapid’s knowledge, or if he later came to regret allowing it to happen. Because to be perfectly frank, he’s absolutely right that allowing his folks to go to Abbas’s holiday event will undermine the government’s position.

He’s right because, as MK Kariv demonstrates, when people reach out to each other, their relationship changes. When people get together in an atmosphere of conviviality, they’re likely to start working together. When enemies jointly struggle with tiny plates of hors d’oeuvres, they are less likely to see each other as enemies.

Yet the government in which Lapid serves appears tied to a notion of eternal enmity. To the extent that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers (other than Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) are at all willing to go along with John Kerry’s negotiation efforts, all signs indicate that it’s because the process of talks serves Israel in the international arena. Actually achieving an end to the conflict, on the other hand (an outcome that will require something very like what the Geneva Initiative proposes), doesn’t seem to hold much appeal.

How do we know that an actual resolution doesn’t hold much appeal for the Netanyahu government? Because, among many other things, it recently announced plans for more than 3000 settlement housing units, and members of the coalition keep saying things like: “There are no two states west of the Jordan River, and there won’t be two states. Even if there are negotiations taking place—this is not on the agenda.”

Now, these folks may be telling themselves and their followers that the conflict can be ended without two states, but they’re either lying or fools (or both. One must never preclude the possibility of both).

I’m on record as thinking that Yair Lapid is a fool (or possibly the product of a sub-par education, or maybe just doesn’t read very much). I also think he’s an opportunist more interested in his own political fortunes than the needs of any Israelis he’s supposed to be serving.

However, given his government’s clear position of making conflict resolution near-impossible to achieve, Lapid is absolutely right. Getting together with the Palestinian president would be one of those tiny, million steps that might serve to bring peace just a little bit closer, thus undermining Israel’s negotiating position.

In case you missed it, here’s the memo.

Women, no matter how successful, powerful, or influential, must display their bodies for public consumption, and direct their gaze toward men.

Mika Brzezinski posing with Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough.

Mika Brzezinski posing with Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough.

There is a bright, shining line between the above, and Miley Cyrus’s routine at the VMAs (a bright, shining line that appears to have eluded Mika Brzezinski).

There’s a reason that the following picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono remains so odd, and so powerful.

lennon ono

Why joint Palestinian-Israeli police patrols are good for peace.

It’s not that Israelis and Palestinians don’t care about things like traffic fatalities and drug smuggling. It’s just that when you’re consumed with and by a military occupation, it can be hard to find effective methods to combat life’s more banal scourges. Where neighbors might be able to help each other on cross border issues, enemies find it a lot harder.

Which is why last week’s revelation that Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian police chiefs have been quietly meeting for the past 18 months (under the auspices of the U.S.-based Police Executive Research Forum), and that furthermore Israeli and Palestinian police forces may soon begin joint patrols, is good news. Following a three-day summit in Jericho, Palestinian police chief Hazem Attallah explained the rationale at a press conference:

As you all know, crime these days has no limits, has no borders, and of course for all police forces in the whole world, their job is to counter this violence, to counter crime. We are gathered here for this reason and for this reason only—how we are going to be able to improve the ways that we are using to counter crime, in different ways and different levels.

There’s nothing easy or simple about any of this. The patchwork—and entirely political—division of West Bank territory into Areas A, B and C lies at the very root of the problem. Aside from anything else, it can be all too easy to (say) nab a car in one area and take it along back roads to another, driving right off police radar in the process.

Moreover, Israel has a vested interest in keeping Palestinian society at a low-boil of instability in order to deepen the occupation, and the military’s regular raids on Palestinian institutions and general disregard for settler violence make it hard for many Palestinians to trust Israeli law enforcement on anything. Israelis, for their part, often react quite viscerally to the image of Palestinians with guns, sure that years of mutual violence means that we can never be sure those guns won’t be turned on us.

But this was, of course, the point of the outreach. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum:

The bigger picture is that sometimes these lines of communication can act as a prelude to something as large as a peace process by simply getting people to work better together.

If any “peace process,” anywhere on earth, is to be successful, it will be made up of a handful of splashy events like those at which the likes of John Kerry or Martin Indyk preside, and a million smaller moments without which the big events will be meaningless and ultimately fail. The enmity, power imbalance, and sheer ignorance between Israelis and Palestinians are staggering and color every aspect of daily life, for people in positions of power as well as the average citizen. Working together to catch bad guys might very well serve as one of those crucial smaller moments in which some of those issues can begin to be addressed.

Israeli Inspector General Yahanan Danino sounded a positive note:

We have [made] a lot of progress. We feel it not only in the working groups, not only on the issues that we mentioned. We feel it in our relations on a daily base when you need something, we have a lot of examples, that we used these relations for the good of our people in all the area.

Hazem Attallah did as well:

It was the first time when there is a Palestinian chief of police standing in the Israeli police academy and give a lecture. I think this is part of the success and No. 2, [I am] inviting Commissioner Danino to come and give a lecture to our officers. This is the kind of progress that we are talking about.

It’s not peace. It’s a long way from peace. But joint Palestinian-Israeli police patrols have the potential to improve real people’s lives, right now—and without such steps, any hope for peace will crash and burn. Again.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

A few resources re: Manning’s transition from Bradley to Chelsea.

Not an expert, not a member of the LGBTQ community, etc, etc, all the caveats. Also, FWIW, I’m pretty convinced that Manning’s massive leak to Julian Assange, a foreign national, in the knowledge that Assange would turn around and indiscriminately dump unprecedented amounts of classified information into the public domain was not a good, right, or smart thing to do. Aside from anything else, Manning was a soldier at the time, and had taken an oath. As Josh Marshall wrote at TPM yesterday

Soldiers get in huge trouble for going AWOL, even though one individual soldier abandoning his post seldom does much damage to a country or an army. This is a far graver insubordination with incalculably more widespread consequences….. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free.

At the same time, I’m also pretty well convinced the the level of government and military freak out over Manning’s actions does not accurately reflect the damage done, the intent, or the person responsible. As Amy Davidson wrote in The New Yorker yesterday: “This sentence, given all we know about Manning and what he did (and what was done to him), is a strikingly harsh one.”

I highly recommend that you read both pieces (both of which also discuss the Edward Snowden case and both of which are excellent, in very different ways), but, that’s not what I’m here about.

This morning Manning came out as transgender, and asked to be called Chelsea and referred to with female pronouns henceforth. I happen to have read something at Boing Boing some time ago (possibly as long as two years ago) that indicated that Manning identified as a woman — a hugely complicating factor for anyone making the kind of moral and ethical choices that the then-20 year old Manning felt duty-bound to make (as Davidson wrote yesterday [before the request had been made to transition to female pronouns]: “He thought, his lawyer argued in the trial, that he might save someone, or everyone”).

As far as I’m concerned, you are who you tell me you are. Chelsea Manning is a woman. Period, full-stop — and it’s a matter of sheer good manners and civility to refer to her as such. Whether or not I agree with the actions which earned her a dishonorable discharge and 8-35 years at Fort Leavenworth is utterly and completely beside that point.

So. Here are just a few resources that I’ve found useful as I’ve attempted in recent years to become more familiar with the reality of trans folks. I hope you find them helpful, and would love any added recommendations.

  1. Transgender Terminology – a vocabulary resource (the good, the bad, and the don’t-ever), by GLAAD.
  2. Led by the Child Who Simply Knew – a beautiful feature article in the Boston Globe about a girl who knew she was a girl even though her family thought she and her twin brother were both boys.
  3. How To Make Love to a Trans Person – a beautiful poem about how we talk about bodies and making love: “Break those words open/ Like a paramedic cracking ribs…. Scratch new definitions on the bones.”
  4. A good (brief) definition and explanation of “cisgender,” a recently coined term which roughly means people who identify with the gender they were assigned (“it’s a girl!”) at birth.
  5. And finally, I’ve posted it before, I’m posting it again – Hank Green’s video on Human Sexuality. It’s remarkable, and less than four minutes long.

Ryan Braun and Anti-Semites.

ryan braunSo yes: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and America’s own “Hebrew Hammer” has accepted a 65-game suspension under a drug-testing agreement, which means (aside from anything else) that he cheated in a game which has been (let’s be honest) fairly riddled with cheaters of a similar nature. So that’s bad enough.

But then, but then! On Monday, we heard that back when he was lying about having cheated, Braun called some fellow ballplayers to try to win their support, and along the way, accused the collector of his urine sample of being not just an anti-Semite, but a Cubs fan, to boot.

As a the daughter of hard-core Cubs fans, I’m not sure which accusation could be considered the deeper cut. But I will say this: you shouldn’t be an anti-Semite. Not if you collect the urine of professional athletes, and not if you do anything else, either. (I’ll leave it up to readers to decide what they think about clinging to the Cubs).

But wait! According to Braun’s own mother, who is a Catholic, Braun “is totally not Jewish”—in 2007, USA Today reported that:

Ryan was not raised Jewish and never had a bar mitzvah, but suddenly he’s hearing from Jewish organizations claiming him as their own. 

“He’s totally not Jewish,” Diane says. “I heard some organization started called him ‘The Hebrew Hammer’.” I said, ‘Oh no.’ My mother would be rolling over in her grave if she heard that.” 

“Ryan is proud that people want to claim him now, but where were they before? You know how that stuff works.”

But hold on! It’s not even clear that Braun accused anyone of anti-Semitism! Some of the people to whom he’s supposed to have made the comments have issuedcategorical denials.

And yet, none of that has stopped actual, self-revealing anti-Semites from being just as pleasant as you might expect actual, self-revealing anti-Semites to be.

“Ryan Braun typical sneaky Jew,” tweeted one upstanding sports fan last month. “Of course Ryan Braun took steroids,” wrote another, “he’s a Jew, and last I checked, sports aren’t really their thing.”  And of course: “Bye Ryan Braun, you cheating piece of sh*t. CANT JEW YOUR WAY OUT OF IT THIS TIME.” You can read more (if you really feel the need) by clicking here.

So I don’t know. Was the guy whose unenviable job it is to collect urine an anti-Semite? Did Braun ever say that he was? Does Braun genuinely identify as a Jew, or was he forced into a virtual yarmulke and then despised for it? It’s kind of hard to say at this point.

Here’s what we do know: Braun did, in fact, dope, and then he lied about it, and then he agreed to pay a price for his unassailably awful behavior. And no matter what he did or did not say about the guy who took his pee, actual anti-Semites are a real thing.

It’s been my impression that Catholics have some pretty well-established ideas about lying and cheating and how to address those problems. But if Braun wants to tackle them through the faith of his (Israeli-born!) father, we have a special day coming up on which he can do so. Everyone’s welcome in shul on Yom Kippur.

As for the actual anti-Semites who dumped their repulsiveness on a man they presumed to be Jewish? Some sins are harder to absolve.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Ashton Kutcher on opportunity, being sexy, and living life.

I’ll be honest, I never thought that I’d be quoting Ashton Kutcher at length — not, I stress, that I have anything against Ashton Kutcher.

*

I really don’t. I mean, I know that all the hip, indie-type kids are supposed to eschew all things mainstream, and there’s little more mainstream than being a hugely successful TV and movie star, but the dude is just doing his job and doing it well. Plus which he is, if we are to be frank, very handsome. So I have nothing against him – he’s just not my jam. (Who is my jam? Let’s not discuss that here *cough*Tom Hiddleston*cough*).

But, that being the case, I never really expected to be quoting Ashton Kutcher at length. And yet here I am, about to do just that. He said the following at the Teen Choice Awards, so that room + those who watch the Teen Choice Awards were his audience — which is to say: People who don’t often hear the kind of thing he’s telling them here. The video of him saying all of the following (starting at about the 1:59 mark) is above, and it’s worth a watch, because it’s nice watching people being passionate when they say good things.

I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. When I was 13 I had my first job with my dad, carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground. And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job. And I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.

Number two: Being sexy. The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful. And being generous. EVERYthing else is CRAP, I promise you. It’s just crap that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don’t buy it. Be smart, be thoughtful, and be generous.

The third thing is something that I just relearned when I was making this movie about Steve Jobs. And Steve Jobs said when you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is. And that your life is to live your life inside the world, and try not to get into too much trouble, and maybe get an education, and get a job, and make some money, and have a family, but life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing, and that is that everything around us, that we call life, was made up by people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things, you can build your own life that other people can live in. So build a life, don’t live one, build one. Find your opportunities and always be sexy. I love you guys.

Everyone’s already focusing on the middle bit, where he said those wonderful things about being sexy and the crap that we’re sold to try to make us feel like less, and I absolutely love that bit (and yes, Ashton Kutcher makes his money from selling things and being presented to the world in a conventionally attractive manner, plus he tends to date/act with women who are conventionally beautiful. That doesn’t make what he said any less true, and I would submit that for the audience in question, it gives those words a powerful added punch. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the kids who watch the Teen Choice Awards aren’t reading this blog).

But I also really loved the bits on either side of the middle bit. Now, I’ve already written about successful people talking about striving for success and how frustrating that can sometimes be to hear, and of course, in an extemporaneous, three minute speech at the Teen Choice Awards, no one is going to hit all the important points (like the ones I made right here, if you’re wondering), but whatever: He’s right. Opportunity looks like work, and often like very hard work. Not always, but often. If you really want what you want, it will almost never be handed to you, and I think that’s a good thing to remind people from time to time, especially young people who might be venerating The Famous.

And building a life rather than just living it — finding the things that you want to build and that are meaningful to you, because you are capable, too — that’s really powerful, and really important.

Have I gotten everything I wanted in my life? Do I always feel sexy (despite the fact that I am, in fact, really smart, and try hard to be thoughtful and generous)? I think that my writing on this blog is testament to the fact that no. Because I also try to be honest.

But that doesn’t make any of the above untrue, it just makes it part of a larger whole. We cannot expect anyone to deliver all of the truth in three minutes — but we can be grateful to those who tell some of it, particularly to an audience in particular need of hearing it.

Thanks, Mr. Kutcher. You may not be my jam, but you are A-OK. If you ever see Mr. Hiddleston, please tell him I say hi.

Yes, Virginia, there is anti-Israel bias at the UN.

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon

On Friday, several sources reported that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had “admitted” that the State of Israel faces unfair treatment at the United Nations. The European Jewish Press reported that in a meeting with students in Jerusalem, Ban replied to a participant’s question saying “Unfortunately, because of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, Israel’s been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias—and sometimes even discrimination.”

Yup.

We on the left don’t often like to bring it up, but it’s the truth: Israel is often singled out for behavior that goes along unmentioned in other countries, often in much greater measure. Resolutions condemning Israel carry a nearly ritualistic quality at this point, yet blatant human rights abuses in other countries in the region (Saudi Arabia comes to mind) and around the world (China, anyone?) often appear to barely register on the official U.N. radar. The ongoing brutality in Syria provides an unfortunately apt example: While many member states have clearly wanted to take a stronger stand all along, for others the mere notion of harsh language was a bridge too far.

And that is wrong. That is wrong, and unfair, and frankly unhelpful to anyone wanting to build genuine, lasting peace anywhere in the world, not least Israel/Palestine.

Not because Israel shouldn’t have to answer for its behavior in the occupied territories. Of course it should—I’m a firm believer in the universality of human rights law, and as an Israeli, it’s a matter of no small concern to me that my government is often far too happy to trample Palestinians’ innate human rights in pursuit of political and territorial gain. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be studied closely in Israeli schools and by Israeli diplomats, and when evidence of violations is found, those responsible should be held responsible. And the occupation must end, full stop.

But when the international community singles out one country’s bad behavior while all but ignoring that of others, we send a clear message that our concerns are not centered entirely on the question of human rights—and it makes it very easy for the country in question to shrug off the criticism.

In an ideal world (a world in which, alas, we will never live), we would make equal demands of each other. We would insist that not only must Israel behave a certain way, but so must Saudi Arabia, China, Syria, the Hamas government in Gaza, and indeed the American, British, Canadian and Australian governments. I don’t know of any culture that has a lock on good behavior, or any government that doesn’t abuse power, often in pursuit of a goal that it deems righteous and worthy.

The fact that Israel gets called on the carpet so often is wrapped in a multitude of sometimes contradictory factors. Within its internationally recognized borders, for instance, Israel is a fully functional democracy (which is to say: flawed, like every other fully functional democracy) and as a result, much of its government’s bad behavior is exposed by Israel’s own citizens. That can’t happen in countries without a free press, so countries without a free press often get away with more.

Then there’s international politics, not least the fact that Israel enjoys the almost unqualified backing of the world’s single most powerful nation. Yelling at the U.N. is one of the few ways that those who oppose Israeli policy can get an international hearing—and for all the umbrage that Israel takes, you would think that it’s had some kind of impact. I don’t know if you’ve checked, but the occupation continues merrily along, gobbling up land that is not Israel’s to gobble, even in the face of peace negotiations with the people to whom the land belongs (the rather limited E.U. sanctions that were only recently introduced notwithstanding).

There’s also the fact that the world has always known better how to deal with violence between two distinct peoples than with civil wars. There’s habit, inertia and institutional bias. And yes, Virginia, there’s some anti-Semitism, too. Everywhere you go in the U.N., you’ll find diplomats who hate another people for little but their faith or skin—the opinions of former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton regarding Muslims serve as an excellent example here.

Yet rather than look only at the imbalance, bias, and occasional genuine anti-Semitism, as an Israeli and as a Jew, I would rather focus on what we’ve done wrong, and what we can do right. The fact that there are other bad actors out there doesn’t cleanse our bad acts or make them anything but what they are.

Is life at the U.N. fair? No. Do Israel’s abuses (bombing civilian areas of Gaza, for instance) occasionally come in direct response to the abuses of other parties (rockets fired out of Gaza into Israeli towns)? Yes.

That still doesn’t render the human rights of Palestinians an optional concern.

I’m glad that Ban made the comment he made, because honesty is very important. Now I would like Israel to be honest, too, and rather than endlessly fight its critics, take responsibility for its actions.

Barbie’s a real doll!

barbie

The doll on the left is, of course, Barbie, freak of plastic. The doll on the right was created by artist Nickolay Lamm using CDC figures to create a 3-D printed model of an average American 19 year old woman.

It’s been referred to as “normal” Barbie, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, nor how I feel about CDC “averages” — “normal” can be a very problematic word, and as a social scientist I can assure you that “average” is often useless.

And yet, having said that — more of this please! It’s remarkable how initially odd the “average” doll looks (or, at least it did to me!), and then how absolutely right.

More pictures of Lamm’s process and a link to his blog after the jump.

(more…)

Kissing vs. injustice.

That Vladimir Putin. He’s a piece of work. As you likely know, last month he signed into law new legislation that forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors” — ie: the “gay propaganda law,” ie: the law which holds that Russians can be arrested for discussing LGBTQ rights and relationships within the hearing of children, ie: the reason some folks are talking about boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi.

After winning the 4X400m relay with their team at the IAAF track championships in Moscow, Russian runners Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firov had a different idea — in the tradition of Jesse Owen, who showed up despite Hitler’s hate, they showed up with a kiss, “to protest their own country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.”

This isn’t the first protest of Russia’s laws that penalize anyone for talking about homosexuality in front of children, but it’s the most visible one done by Russian athletes. U.S. runner Nick Symmonds dedicated his silver medal in the 800m to his gay friends back home, and Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her nails in a rainbow in honor of LGBT pride.

…One of the reasons many LGBT sports leaders are against a boycott of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is because more can be accomplished by LGBT athletes and their allies standing atop the medal stand with pride.

I’m not gay, I’m not an athlete, I don’t even much watch the Olympics when they roll around, so there is a level at which none of what I might say matters. I do think that the officials involved and sponsoring corporations must do something to protest this gross abuse of civil rights, but I also think that people who spend their lives building to a single moment should not be forced to deny themselves that moment because of the assholery of a nation’s government. That on the contrary, as the President suggested at a recent press conference, the best response to Putin is for LGBTQ athletes to go, to win, and to get up on that podium and fly their flags. I don’t know what I would do were I one of those athletes.

But I’m grateful to the two women who defied their nation’s leaders with a kiss, and I hope that their act is just one of many to come. To defy injustice with love — that’s a world in which I want to live.