So, they’re just like pundits, then?

One of Sullivan’s readers tries to find some common ground with him on the subjects of Mozilla’s decision to promote and promptly fire accept the resignation of would-be CEO Brendan Eich (because he donated to support the awful Prop 8 campaign in California) and Brandeis University’s decision to extend and promptly revoke an offer to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali (for doing stuff like talking about how Islam has to be “defeated” and occasionally apologizing for mass murderers). Sullivan is naturally opposed to what happened in both cases because Liberals.

What pisses me [this is one of Sullivan's readers, remember] off the most about this is that while Eich and Ali are roundly criticized for saying and doing things that are without a doubt intolerant, the governing bodies that are apparently so averse to any semblance of controversy pay absolutely no price whatsoever for making what apparently were, at least in their eyes, hideous mistakes. Brendan Eich resigned, but he wasn’t the one who was given the job in the first place. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was disinvited from Brandeis’s commencement, but none of the people who asked her to speak – and then withdrew the invitation – will pay any price for this. To me, that’s gutless.

This is a really important point. Rescinding Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree, while probably necessary from an institutional credibility standpoint, still has the effect of granting her “aggrieved victim” status and just completely papers over the question of why the hell Brandeis thought it was appropriate to honor her in the first place. If you ignore the Islamophobia, Hirsi Ali’s story is impressive and her cause is more than worthwhile, but how can you ignore the Islamophobia? How can a major university choose to honor this person on the basis of one part of her career but not be aware of the other, more toxic part? And if they were aware of it, did they really not see it as a problem? Was the decision to revoke the degree based on an honest assessment that the things she’s written and said about Islam are not in accordance with Brandeis’s standards, or was it just a cynical attempt to avoid a lot of public backlash? These are important questions that Brandeis has now managed to completely duck, by making the story about the person they were going to honor instead of the process by which they decided to honor her.

Eich’s case is no different. Did Mozilla’s leadership know about Eich’s support for Prop 8 before they promoted him and, if so, did they just not see it as that big a deal? Do they genuinely repudiate his stance on marriage equality or did they just figure they could avoid an uncomfortable conversation by cutting bait?

It all comes back to accountability, which is why I mentioned pundits in the title. Punditry is very likely the least accountable profession there is, and if you doubt me then ask yourself why pro-Iraq War Andrew “fifth column” Sullivan, the man who wrote that “one of [his] proudest moments in journalism” was foisting the late-20th century version of phrenology on his readers, is not only still out there punditing, but has been so successful at it that he’s now got people paying him directly in order to read his Important Thoughts About Things. There’s not a single person who supported the Iraq War who has suffered even the mildest career interruption apart from Judith Miller, and her only because she demonstrably lied to everybody instead of merely being completely and utterly wrong. I realize that everybody–pundits, university bosses, corporate leadership–gets to make mistakes, but at some point if you make enough mistakes, especially big ones, they ought to add up.

The mistakes we make, how many we make, and why we make them all say important things about who we are and whether or not our words and deeds should carry any weight with the people around us. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brendan Eich, like Andrew Sullivan and his fellow pundits, probably aren’t confronted with the consequences of their past words and actions too often, and when they recently were it was only so that people even higher than they are in the public food chain could avoid being confronted with the consequences of their actions. That’s really too bad.

The inconvenient fact that words mean things

Reihan Salam has a very Hot Take in Slate, “Why I Am Still a Neocon,” in which he says he is still a neoconservative because, well, here’s what he wrote:

Given all of this, why am I still a neocon? Why do I still believe that the U.S. should maintain an overwhelming military edge over all potential rivals, and that we as a country ought to be willing to use our military power in defense of our ideals as well as our interests narrowly defined? There are two reasons: The first is that American strength is the linchpin of a peaceful, economically integrating world; and the second is that we know what it looks like when America embraces amoral realpolitik, and it’s not pretty.

So Salam is “still a neocon” because he wants America to have a strong military and to use it sometimes in defense of its ideals and interests. This is a little like me saying “I’m a big fan of opera, if by ‘opera’ you mean ‘the Pittsburgh Steelers,’” or when my wife tells me “of course God exists; God is Love,” except more self-defeating. Neoconservatism is a specific ideology with particular historical context and specific ideas about America’s role in the world. If we’re trying to rescue that term from the Iraq debacle by redefining it to mean “not isolationism,” then I think somebody needs to cry foul. Continue reading

A Primer on the Iranian nuclear talks, by yours truly

If you’re trying to get up to speed on the Iran nuclear talks, which entered their third round today in Vienna, I’ve tried to hit all the main points in this new piece at Lobe Log. I think the final section is the most important:

Why are the talks important?

A negotiated settlement that allows Iran a limited enrichment capacity with significant inspections and verification requirements is, as Einhorn writes, “not ideal, but better than the alternatives.” If these talks fail, there will be a push for tougher sanctions on Iran, but it is unclear how much more pressure sanctions can bring to bear, and it is even less clear that the P5+1 will hold together to implement tougher sanctions. If harsher sanctions don’t, or can’t, work then limited military action against Iran’s nuclear sites could follow, though experts have explained why that’s the least favorable option. Such an act would end all possibility of negotiations and likely push the Iranians to kick nuclear inspectors out of the country and race toward building a weapon. Even if limited strikes could temporarily slow Iran’s progress toward a weapon in the event that it actually chose to make one, they cannot eliminate the related technical knowledge and expertise that Iran has developed.

These talks will also have longer term implications, particularly in terms of setting a precedent for future such agreements and in terms of Iran’s ability to incorporate itself into the wider international community.

There’s obviously a lot more that can be said than can be fit into a ~1600 word primer (you could write that much and more just about how a potential deal could impact Iran’s place in the world). One of the real keys to the process falls outside the scope of the talks themselves, and that’s the ability of the negotiators to sell whatever deal they reach, should they reach one, back home. Iran’s political system is so fragmented and so at odds internally that it’s going to be fascinating to watch what Khamenei does and how the Rouhani-IRGC tug of war plays out; it could have real meaning for other regional crises, especially Syria, if the IRGC were, for example, to agree to go along with a nuclear deal in exchange for a freer hand from Khamenei in other matters. And on the other side, the big hurdle is obviously going to be the US Senate. This is a body that was ready to torpedo even the temporary JPOA because it couldn’t countenance even a small amount of sanctions relief and only pulled back after being publicly shamed by the White House. They’re not going to go gently into a long-term deal.

I am optimistic that a deal will be reached but pessimistic that it can be reached in the initial six-month timeframe envisioned by the Joint Plan of Action, just because it seems like in these kinds of situations the pressure of a firm deadline (the JPOA allows for another six month extension if needed, making its first deadline not really that firm) really seems to get things moving. On the other hand, if blowing past the midterms here is going to make it harder to get the Senate to consent to a final deal, then there is substantial incentive to push to be done with this over the summer.

Bearing false witness

For religious folks of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic persuasion, lying is generally treated as a sin. The most succinct and famous religious law in the Abrahamic tradition is the Ten Commandments, and one of them reads (NASB): “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” If the Ten Commandments version isn’t your bag (the phrasing leaves open the possibility that it’s more about justice than lying; maybe “witness” really just means you’re not allowed to lie in court, you know?), then what about Proverbs 6:16-19?

16 There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination [a]to Him:
17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
19 A false witness who utters lies,
And one who [b]spreads strife among brothers.

Huh. Seems like Yahweh doesn’t care for liars.* So, then, how to explain this?

The newly-released trailer for The Principle promises film audiences commentary from prominent scientists and features the recognizable voice of former Star Trek: Voyager star Kate Mulgrew narrating. But while the onetime Starfleet captain announces that “everything we think we know about our universe is wrong,” it appears that everything she and several of the world’s top cosmologists thought about the film was also incorrect: they now say they were tricked into participation in a film on the widely-debunked geocentrism theory (that the Earth is, in fact, the center of universe and that the sun really revolves around it).

On Monday, Raw Story reported that the film, funded by noted geocentrist and Holocaust skeptic Robert Sungenis, featured narration by Mulgrew — a staunch Democrat and a star of the Netflix hit Orange Is The New Black.

Tuesday morning, Dr. Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State University tweeted that he had not consented to participate in the film and strongly opposed its message…

Two other experts used in the film told ThinkProgress that they were mislead [sic] into participating

Dr. George Ellis of the University of Capetown in South Africa said that the film was “not presented” as geocentrism to him

Tuesday afternoon, Mulgrew posted on Facebook that she too was duped into participation

Now, I suppose it’s possible that all of these people secretly adhere to a model of the universe that has been thoroughly debunked over the past five centuries give or take, and that they’re lying about their “participation” in this film because…because, but I’m betting that Dr. Sungenis, who as a Catholic scholar presumably knows about the whole “lying BAD” thing, lied to nearly everybody he got to appear in his production.

Also, too, what about this, from Michael Peroutka, founder of something called the Institute on the Constitution and apparently a very religious guy?

Continue reading

No double standard here

Married male congressman gets caught on security camera kissing a lady staffer of his, who is not his wife. Congressman says “I’ve asked them [his wife and kids] for forgiveness, and I’m asking forgiveness from my constituents who elected me to serve them.” This is fine, whatever, your marital problems don’t have anything to do with your work as a politician unless the voters say it does.

Here’s the problem: the lady the congressman was caught kissing has been fired (via). Why does one of these people get to beg forgiveness and keep his job, while the other one gets canned? Forget fairness, how does that even make logical sense?

BREAKING: McAllister is the victim of a conspiracy, according to his pastor, which just Makes Sense.

This can’t be good

I’m home with a feverish kid, but I notice things are reaching kind of a fevered pitch in eastern Ukraine today:

The seizure of government buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists is being orchestrated by Moscow to create an excuse for a military invasion like in Crimea, Ukraine’s prime minister said Monday.

“Russia’s scenario is division and destruction of Ukraine,” said Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at a Cabinet meeting. “The plan for foreign troops to cross the border and attack the country. We won’t let it happen.”

Ukrainian authorities said armed gunmen took over the local headquarters of the security services in Luhansk, which is 15 miles from the border with Russia. Luhansk is one of several cities in east Ukraine where secessionists have held protests in recent weeks.

Groups of unidentified people erected barriers overnight on Luhansk’s thoroughfare and police have blocked all entrances to the city. Local media reported that the pro-Russian demonstrators stormed the building Sunday, pelting the building with eggs, stones, a smoke grenade and finally a firebomb.

In the eastern city of Donetsk, pro-Russian separatists who seized the main administration building on the weekend and raised a Russian flag over it proclaimed Monday the creation of a “people’s republic” independent of Ukrainian rule, according to Ukraine and Russian media.

People in Donetsk said the police are not doing enough to stop the pro-Russian violence.

The thing is, an appropriate response to Russia’s deliberate efforts to destabilize and annex eastern Ukraine these totally spontaneous, grassroots protests would require better governance out of Kyiv, and by “better governance” I don’t mean “better than they’ve had since in the chaos since the Euromaidan forced Yanukovych out of power,” I mean “better than Ukraine has had at any time since it became independent 23 years ago.” So I’m not optimistic.