Jane Bolin at Yale

Jane BolinOn this day in 1908, Jane Bolin was born. She was a remarkable woman, remembered today primarily for being the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale Law School. Like President Obama, it is hard to call her black when she was half white and half black, in as much as those terms mean anything. But it always brings to my mind the pernicious history of eugenics. The idea is that “white” as a race is pure. So mixing it with any other race pollutes it. Thus: half black is black; quarter black is black; eighth black is black. It’s also just ridiculous scientifically. There is no such thing as the white race. We are all of us mongrels.

But given all our prejudices and focus on meaningless distinction, Bolin’s accomplishments are amazing. She was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York. Her father was a lawyer (and the first African-American to graduate from Williams College), and her English mother died when Bolin was just eight years old. So it isn’t surprising that she followed in her father’s footsteps. After high school, she went to Wellesley College, one of only two black students. She graduated in the top 20 of her class. This led to her (against advice) going to Yale Law School, where she graduated at the age of 23. She practiced for a while with her father before going to work with the New York City where she was eventually made a judge in the Family Court. She held that position for 40 years.

She lived almost 30 years after retirement, and spent that time working as an activist for children’s rights and education. She lived the kind of life that makes me feel I’ve totally let the species down. But it is wonderful that people like her didn’t.

Happy birthday Jane Bolin!

Would Republicans Support Voting Rights Act Now?

Racism - It's subtler nowI have to admit: I’m confused. This week, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it didn’t happen fifty years ago this week. Johnson signed it into law on 2 July 1964. But 46 years ago today, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed, exactly a week after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. So it is, I suppose, a good week for remembrance, I’m just unclear about the timing.

During this week, I have heard a lot of chatter among liberals as to whether the law could be passed today. But I’ve found people surprisingly mute in their comments. No one wants to come right out and say what they know to be true. For their part, conservatives say of course they would pass it today. That’s the great thing about conservatives: they are always big supporters of long settled law. But when it comes to any new law that expands the rights of the weak (that is: anyone not already rich and powerful), they are against it.

So let me be clear. With all due respect to Jonathan Chait, the Republican Party’s electoral power is almost entirely dependent upon racism. If the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came up for a vote today, it would be filibustered by the Senate Republicans. And John Boehner would not give it a vote in the House. But I’ll go further. The modern Republican Party would find reasons for not supporting the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, and 1960. (At least Rand Paul will admit to being against the Civil Rights Act of 1875.)

The point here is not that modern Republicans are truly vile. It is that the conservative information system has caused Republican politics to become racist. This is because people who only ever talk to other conservatives eventually get around to thinking, “Hey, the real oppressed are straight white males!” So any policy that tries to address mistreatment of minority groups is unacceptable. For these conservatives, the issue is not about the minority groups but about the great hardship that is being placed on the white man. To them, doing nothing at all would be wrong; doing something for minorities is exactly the opposite of what we ought to be doing.

This is why the last few years have seen a big rise in the quasi-libertarian conservatives. These are people who pick and choose their libertarianism. They aren’t for marriage equality or drug legalization, but they are very much concerned about despotic governments that tax the rich. Thus, they have a plausible sounding argument to make against healthcare reform that has to do with not taxing the rich, even though the actual reason such ideology flies electorally is that it feeds the “oppressed white man and undeserving dark man” narrative.

So let’s not sit on our hands and pretend that Republicans of today would vote for what Republicans of the past did vote for. Racial resentment is the only tool the Republican Party has left. And they will continue to use it until we stop them.

Brendan Eich Is Not a Free Speech Victim

Brendan EichThe whole Brendan Eich affair is not very interesting to me. As you probably know, he recently became CEO of Mozilla Corporation. And almost right away, he resigned over his support of the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California in 2008. But after I saw that racist war mongering idiot Andrew Sullivan on The Colbert Report, I figured I should write something about it. So let me look at the two sides.

On the anti-Eich side, there were people who never wanted him to be CEO. His contribution to Prop 8 was known back 2012. So they wanted to get rid of him, and I understand that. I don’t especially agree. Being a bigot should not stop a person from having gainful employment. But these people are absolutely justified in acting as they did, because clearly they think more strongly about this issue than I do.

Andrew SullivanRegardless, it is wrong to say that these people forced Eich to resign. They simply applied political pressure on the company. And let’s not forget that a large part of Mozilla’s brand is that they aren’t Microsoft and they aren’t Google. They are the Good Guys. And having an anti-gay CEO harms that brand. I’m not completely clear, but I haven’t seen any comments from Eich to the effect of, “I was wrong and I no longer hold those beliefs.” I suspect that would have gone a long way.

On the pro-Eich side, it’s mostly just nonsense. Conservatives everywhere are claiming that Eich’s free speech rights have been violated. Most of the liberal bloggers I personally know write anonymously because they are afraid that their employers will find out. I am basically unemployable because of books I’ve written. This is not a free speech issue. We are all free to say pretty much whatever we want. And other people are free to not like it. Sadly, in America, you do not have a right to a job.

On Colbert, Sullivan gave his usual song-and-dance about how this was intolerance. He is under the mistaken impression that he is currently married to another man just because they have had the better of the argument and not because of any hardball political tactics. Given his business, he has no excuse for being so very ignorant of the centuries old gay rights struggle.

Conservatives like Sullivan want to make this out to be all about tolerance. But it isn’t. Tolerance of intolerance is just chaos. In Across the Pond, Terry Eagleton provides a proper definition of tolerance:

Tolerance does not mean respecting viewpoints simply because they are viewpoints. It means accepting that ideas which make you feel sick in your stomach should be granted as much of a hearing as those that send an erotic tingle down your spine, provided such views do not put others at risk, and provided you have done your damnedest to argue their advocates out of their fatuous or obnoxious opinions. Otherwise you are simply buying your tolerance on the cheap.

What I especially hate about this is that conservatives understand this in all cases where the boycott is conservative on liberal. In fact, conservatives are the true experts when it comes to boycotting. And when Christians boycott whatever it is they are boycotting this week, Fox News is there to say (properly) that they are just expressing their views in the market. But when companies boycott advertising on Rush Limbaugh or people boycott Firefox, well, then Limbaugh’s and Eich’s free speech is being deprived. It’s all so silly and transparent.

Update (11 April 2014 1:13 pm)

While I was writing this, Martin Longman wrote, The Principles Behind the Mozilla Controversy. He seems to agree with me completely. That’s especially true in his conclusion:

The main principles here aren’t with people’s right to disagree without being defined as a bigot or losing their job. The principles are the right of people to not do business with people they don’t like, and the right of two people in love to get married regardless of their genders. If you can figure out how to respect the first two of those principles without injuring the the second two, let me know.

None Dead at School Stabbing

Alex HribalYou’ve probably heard about Wednesday’s stabbing at the Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. Alex Hribal, a tenth grader at the school, allegedly brought two large kitchen knives to school and started stabbing students as they prepared for class that morning. The whole thing took only five minutes, but in that time 20 students and one adult were stabbed, some of them very badly. Thankfully, no one died, but two students remain in critical, but stable, condition.

My colleague Carl at Simply Left Behind makes the important point, Imagine If He Had a Gun. I’m not especially interested in the reasons why a young man would do such a thing. From time to time, people are going to do bad things. We can try to help such people, and we certainly don’t do a good enough job of that. But there will always be people who fall through the cracks and it is best that when they do, we limit the harm they can do.

When it comes to international affairs, we as a society are obsessed with the idea that Iran might get a nuclear weapon. The idea is that we can’t allow an unstable actor to have such potentially catastrophic power. I don’t actually think that reasoning applies to Iran more than any other country (Iran is stable and rational), but the basic reasoning is valid. “Loose nukes” are very bad indeed. But in the United States, “loose guns”—the nuclear weapons of the streets—seem not to be a big issue.

If Hribal had had a gun, people would have died—probably many, including Hribal himself. We don’t know much about the case, so we can’t say for such why he chose to use knives. My guess is that a gun was not easily available to him. And that’s as it should be. It amazes me that in many homes, the Wii is locked up but kids can get at guns any time they want. But this goes against the idea that if someone tries hard enough they can get a gun. While that is undoubtedly true, kids especially tend to be more impulsive, and if guns aren’t around, they’ll use something else. (Sometimes with tragic consequences.)

I understand the gun rights advocates arguments, and I’m not totally opposed to them. But as in all of my politics, I’m a pragmatist. Serious people keep their guns locked up in safes, and they treat unloaded guns as if they were loaded, and they always keep their finger off the trigger until they are ready to shoot, and on and on. But most people aren’t serious when it comes to this stuff. They take no more care for their guns than they do for their kitchen knives. And that is a major problem that gun rights advocates should spend more time on. (Note: there are a lot of gun safety nuts who shout this stuff all the time. But the NRA isn’t spending most of its money lobbying for more gun safety courses.)

It would be a much better nation if it were a whole lot easier for unstable people to grab a couple of knives and hit the streets than to grab a gun and a box of ammo. And that is to take nothing away from the suffering of Wednesday’s stabbing victims. But you know the old saying, “Better in a hospital bed then dead.” I wish them all a speedy and full recovery.