"the less they know, the less they know it"

a classic leiter post on obsession with civility and tone can be read here.


israeli-palestinian actor might be imprisoned; settler accused of selling weapons to palestinians

i saw two stories yesterday about the israeli "justice" system.

first, democracy now reports that famous israeli actor mohammed bakri may face jail time for making a documentary about israeli terrorism. he went to jenin during the massacre in 2002 and filmed footage, releasing it as jenin, jenin. it was originally banned in israel, "the only democracy in the middle east," until the supreme court removed the ban. now he's being sued by unknown people. so he's facing prison time for speech and will not be able to confront his accusers, but he can take comfort in the fact that he's living in a democracy.

the second story hasn't been reported by any english-language media that i've seen, but it can be read here in hebrew. an israeli settler living in qiryat arba is accused of selling guns to palestinians. apparently he presented himself as a collector and bought over 100 decommissioned rifles, which he then recommissioned and sold to palestinians. this is a crime because, you see, while israeli colonists may own private weapons, palestinians, who have pressing self-defense needs, may not.


a summary of legal reasoning, on one leg

this is for entering students who want to know what this mysterious "legal reasoning" thing is all about. it's not, in fact, very mysterious. veterans of law schools just mystify it to boost their own self-esteems. it can be summarized on one leg*, as follows.

1. "issue spotting" is an important part of the process. armed with knowledge of the law, you have to figure out what facts in the fact pattern raise what issues.
2. issues are usually stated as a mixture of factual and legal concepts. e.g. "does Arbuthnot's pocketing the money violate a larceny statute?"
3. once you've identified the issue, you have to apply the law to the facts. sometimes the application is very obvious and straightforward and the conclusion can be neatly deduced. there are very few points on exams for these simple conclusions, and almost everyone gets the points.
4. usually, a general issue has several subparts, each of which must be treated as an issue in itself. e.g. a criminal law issue will require a showing whether a certain action was committed, whether the person who committed the action had a culpable state of mind, and whether the circumstances were appropriate for a conviction. for each of these, the relevant law needs to be stated and applied to the relevant facts.
5. applying the law to the facts usually involves making the best possible case for both sides. there may be two (or more) different legal principles that could in principle apply. in such a case, you apply both to the relevant facts, and show the outcome for each. usually, these will conflict with each other, and you resolve the issue by arguing that one principle should apply rather than the other - possibly for general philosophical reasons, but preferably because it's more pertinent to the issue at hand.
6. other times there's just one legal principle, but the facts don't straightforwardly support a conclusion. this can be because the facts are a mixture of those that support a conclusion and those that support a different conclusion; or it can be because there are some facts that favor a conclusion, but there are possibly not enough, or they are not strong enough, to meet a burden of proof. again, you argue both sides.

and that's just about it. if you found this post useful, you should buy me a drink. i'm at la luna cafe in central square, cambridge, MA right now. if you read this at some future time, shoot me an e-mail to find out where i am. if i'm dead, just pour the drink over my grave. peace.


* this is an anglicization of a useful hebrew idiom referring to a quick summary; the idea being, you do the summary while the other person stands on one leg. there's an old shamai and hillel story about it.

your daily dose of humility

i am aware that nobody reads this blog.

it follows that nobody reads this blog.

it follows that you are not reading this blog.

in other words, if you are reading this, you don't exist.

next time you're thinking you're better than me, meditate on your non-existence for a moment. kind of puts my shortcomings into perspective, doesn't it?


the finkelstein/larudee affair

depaul's denial of tenure to profs. finkelstein and larudee is becoming a cause beyond just middle eastern studies and political science circles. many academics are questioning the motivations behind depaul's decision, connecting it not just to the traditional suppression of points of view critical of israel, but to the right-wing attack on academic inquiry more generally.


many have pointed out that depaul's decision meshes with the level of intolerance in the western mainstream for those taking a critical approach to the israel-palestine conflict. less remarked upon is the factor that noam chomsky emphasized in "the fate of an honest intellectual." chomsky describes how twenty years ago, when finkelstein was a graduate student at princeton, he exposed the large segment of american intelligentsia which had been very publicly enamoured of joan peters' "from time immemorial" as being very foolish for being so uncritically accepting of a massive fraud. since chomsky's interview, finkelstein publicly outed dershowitz as a dreadfully bad propagandist.

underlying the whole issue of "tone of scholarship" seems to be the disturbing idea that dissident scholarship can be tolerated to an extent, as long as it's polite; if your work, however, doesn't just argue that the conventional view is wrong, but that the conventional view is idiotic and not worth serious consideration, the guardians of the idiot convention will come gunning for you and the merits of your scholarship will not protect you. it might be a useful study to check up on the "tone" of academics who criticize literature at the scholarly and moral level of dershowitz's writings on israel, but less politically popular, like maybe holocaust denial or apologetics for al-qaeda.

another suspicion i have is that there's funny business going on behind the scenes. a university doesn't just deny tenure to an world-renowned and unquestionably qualified scholar based on discredited accusations made by an outsider, even if the outsider is a celebrity and the scholar is a lightning rod for controversy. it even more certainly does not deny tenure to another qualified scholar who is not especially controversial but stands up and supports a controversial professor against the university. presumably the leadership of depaul is not stupid, and knows that its decisions would lead to a serious loss of reputation in the academic world. based on this i'm guessing that depaul was secretly promised some large amount of money, perhaps by a right-wing foundation, to get rid of finkelstein and larudee.

good to outstanding movies i've seen in the last couple of months

all of these are available on netflix.

1. the battle of algiers

phenomenal movie about the struggle between algerian revolutionaries and french colonists in the city of algiers in 1957. many of the actors were veterans of the revolutionary fight. the movie is a good strategic study of anti-colonial struggle. i found it very helpful to read eqbal ahmad's writings about algeria right before watching the movie.

2. sima the witch (hebrew title: sima vaknin machshefa)

this recent israeli film is not very well-known, but it's very funny. lots of crass humor but well-executed. it's about a widow who just wants love discovering that she has the powers of a witch, causing everyone around her to get greedy. it's a commentary on the degeneration of morals, and also has lots of ashkenazi-mizrahi stuff.

3. the dinner game

pretty good french movie about a group of wealthy friends who invite unwitting stupid/boring people to dinner parties and compete over who can bring the "best" guests. predictably, it ends up that the wealthy hosts are the real stupid ones; but the execution is good, and so is the acting.

4. catch a fire

the tim robbins movie about a south african anti-apartheid militant and the anti-terrorism official trying to catch him. interesting subject matter and pretty good acting.

5. stranger than fiction

y'all know about this will ferrell movie. it's surprisingly crisp and clever.

6. upstairs, downstairs

not a movie, but a very good british TV show from the early 70's. it's about a patrician family and its servants in the early 1900. the acting is fantastic and the writing is very good. no melodrama, no cheap attempts at humor. very theater-like.

7. the sweet hereafter

a 1997 film by atom egoyan about a community in western canada that's torn apart by litigation after a deadly schoolbus accident. to be honest, i thought this film was good but not great; but it's worth seeing just for sarah polley. yeah, i have a bit of a celebrity crush.


well, it's been a couple of months. i'm a damn slacker, i am.

i'm living in boston now. dorchester, to be precise. it's much better than living in cleveland, i'll tell you what. there's public transportation, attractive women, and left-wing people - sometimes all in close proximity. the main disadvantage is that liquor is much more expensive. even in the lower-income area where i live, it's hard to find a drink for under $6.

working for legal aid is great. much of the work is over-the-phone intakes, which is designed to get the basics of the person's situation, but it also helps to lend a sympathetic ear to people who are either distraught or very angry. i also get research projects, lobbying calls and assorted other duties. last week i wrote an appeal of an administrative ruling in an unemployment insurance case. this past week i researched massachusetts tax law. my co-student-interns are lovely people, but have two flaws. one, they never want to go drinking; two, they're goddamn liberals.

i have a new nephew, who's almost two months old. his name is "adin", which means "delicate" or "gentle" in hebrew. i guess my brother and his wife decided to go with the "boy named sue" theory of child-rearing. they're all moving to maale edumim, an israeli colony, next month.

grades are in, and if i may be immodest, i did very well. i'm hoping that my performance this semester pulled me up to the top 15% or so. i decided not to try out for journal or mock trial. instead i'll occupy myself with the national lawyers guild and hopefully street law. maybe i'll sleep more or get a girlfriend, if i stop being so unloveable.