Best of the Web Today – October 12, 2007
By JAMES TARANTO
Calm Down, It’s Only a Swastika
This week saw a pair of ugly incidents at Columbia University. On Tuesday, somebody hung a noose from the doorknob of a professor’s office at Teachers College, Columbia’s education school. Yesterday an anti-Semitic graffito was found in a men’s room at Lewisohn Hall, home of Columbia’s School of General Studies.
In both cases Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, sent a mass email to members of the “Columbia community.” A source from within that community forwarded those emails to us, and they make for a fascinating contrast.
Here is Bollinger on the noose incident:
As most of you now know, a terrible incident of bias occurred at Teachers College yesterday, directed at a member of the faculty. Teachers College is a cherished affiliate of Columbia University with its own president, Susan Fuhrman, to whom I have offered our support and assistance. We may be two independent institutions, but we are one community; and we stand together in our commitment to oppose the frightening sentiments that lay behind this act.
Tolerance and mutual respect are among the core values of our diverse community, and all of us must confront acts of hate whenever they occur within it. As I said last night, an attack on the dignity of any member of our community is an assault on all of us.
I will be meeting with student leaders this afternoon, and other members of the administration will be communicating with faculty and students in the coming days. Our mission as a university includes addressing the most important and searing issues of our time, and we have a particular obligation to respond forcefully to events that affront our values.
And here is Bollinger on the graffito:
I am saddened to report that one of the bathrooms in Lewisohn Hall was sullied with an anti-Semitic smear. It has been promptly removed and is now being investigated.
I want to make two points. When words are the offender, as in this incident, I am reluctant to draw attention to them and will exercise restraint in doing so going forward. I do not want to broadcast, in any way, the message they attempt to send or empower those behind them. Despite the irrational, destructive hatred that persists in our society and world, we do not accept this anywhere at this University. No one among us should feel marginalized or threatened by words of hatred. We are one community; and as one community, we will overcome these hateful acts and hold each other to the highest standards of respect for the dignity and diversity of every individual.
In response to questions students have raised, I also want to reassure you that we have utmost confidence in our Public Safety officials and in the NYPD. Not only do they have well established communications protocols in place when there is an immediate threat of harm; they distinguish crimes that threaten our physical safety from incidents like the one that occurred today.
What accounts for the differences in tone and substance between these two letters–expressing unambiguous outrage in the first incident, while urging restraint in the second one?
Although this second email does not mention the noose incident, it seems clear that Bollinger is trying to distinguish the rest room incident from it when he says that in the latter, “words are the offender,” and that the police “distinguish crimes that threaten our physical safety from incidents like the one that occurred today.”
The first of these distinctions rests on a factual error. The Village Voice quotes a police report’s description of the graffito: “a caricature of a male wearing a yarmulke above a swastika.” (We assume this means the caricature was above the swastika, not that the male was depicted as wearing the swastika.) These cases are alike, then, in that both involve powerful symbols of hatred, not mere words.
What about the distinction between “crimes that threaten our physical safety” and “incidents like the one that occurred” yesterday? As a legal matter, the question of whether the noose constitutes a “true threat” is a very murky one, and one that depends in substantial part on the motives of the person who placed the noose–whose identity apparently remains unknown. One factor that militates in favor of its being a true threat, however, is that it appears to have been directed against a specific person. (We are assuming for the purpose of discussion that neither incident is a hoax.)
But imagine if the situations were reversed. What would Bollinger’s reaction have been if the swastika were painted on the door of a Jewish professor’s office and the noose turned up in a rest room?
One can only speculate, and we shall do just that. We can imagine that a swastika on a professor’s door would draw a stronger reaction from Bollinger than the one in the men’s room actually did. But if it were a noose in the rest room, we find it very difficult to imagine such a tepid response.
This is an educated guess based on years of observing how multiculturalism, the regnant ideology in American higher education, works. Multiculturalism conceives of mankind as being divided into various groups (based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) and imposes a complex hierarchy in which an individual’s moral authority depends on the degree to which the groups to which he belongs are “oppressed.”
The purest form of multiculturalism is what Shelby Steele calls “white guilt.” White guilt, of course, has a real and powerful basis in history, as whites actually did oppress blacks, systematically and brutally, for most of American history. White guilt constrains Bollinger against urging blacks to “exercise restraint” in the face of the Teachers College noose. As a person of pallor, he simply lacks the moral authority to second-guess the reaction of blacks to racial offenses.
The relationship between multiculturalism and anti-Semitism is much less black- and-white (in more ways than one). Multiculturalism anathematizes anti-Semitism by white Christians, whether of the Nazi or the country-club variety. But it embraces other forms of anti-Semitism, most notably under the guise of supporting “oppressed” Palestinians against their Jewish putative tormentors.
Bollinger’s muted reaction to the Lewisohn Hall episode, we’d venture, is partly a result of not knowing who the culprit was. If it turns out to be a white Christian with National Socialist tendencies, it will be easy to condemn. But what are the odds of finding such a man on an Ivy League campus in 2007? If the vandal is Muslim, or Arab, or black, or a left-wing anti-Israel activist, by contrast, the multicultural moral calculus is much more complicated and must take into account his status as a member of an “oppressed” group.
A final thought: No institution in America has embraced multiculturalism with anything like the ideological fervor of higher education. It’s hard to think of any institution in America that is more beset by strife over race and other distinctions among identity groups. Could there be a causal relationship here?
Defining Peace Down
On Tuesday the Nobel Foundation announced that Albert Fert of France and Peter Gruenberg of Germany had won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance. This morning Al Gore won a Nobel Prize for his global warmist propagandizing. But despite Gore’s scientific pretensions, his prize was not in physics, or in any other scientific discipline. The best he could do was the Peace Prize.
Gore became only the second former U.S. vice president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first was Theodore Roosevelt, 101 years ago. (A sitting veep, Charles Dawes, also won in 1926.) A comparison between Roosevelt’s prize and Gore’s shows how far the Nobel Peace Prize has strayed from its original purpose: Roosevelt won the prize for negotiating a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Gore won it for something that has nothing to do with peace.
But if you look at the list of Nobel Peace Prizes, you’ll see that in recent years it has often gone to people or organizations whose work, while often worthy, has little to do with the promotion of peace per se. Last year the prize went to a Bangladeshi banker and a bank for their efforts to make credit available to the very poor. In 2004, it went to Wangari Maathai for planting trees in Kenya.
One reason for this may be that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has had reason to be disappointed in the results when it has given awards to more traditional peacemakers.
- In 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize notoriously went to Yasser Arafat (along with Israel’s prime and foreign ministers) for signing the Oslo accords–which, far from establishing peace, enabled Arafat to set up a terror statelet in the West Bank and Gaza.
- In 1973, the Nobel went to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Lu Duc Tho for negotiating the Vietnam peace accord–which, far from establishing peace, led to conquest, repression and mass murder in Indochina.
- In 1926, 1930 and 1931 the Nobel Peace Prize went to men involved in the Briand-Kellogg Pact, which “outlawed war.” By 1939 it was clear how well that was working out.
When the Nobel Peace Prize was established more than a century ago, wars were largely fought between traditional nation-states over material interests. But the 20th century saw the rise of a series of aggressive ideologies–communism, Nazism, radial Islam–that render old-fashioned notions of war and peace quaint. Determined ideologues cannot be appeased; peace through strength is the only alternative to war.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee rejects strength as well as war–hence its failure to award a Nobel to Ronald Reagan for winning the Cold War (Mikhail Gorbachev got one for losing, in 1990), or, say, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for averting armed international conflict in Europe for half a century after World War II.
But why Al Gore? Here’s one explanation: Global warmism is an all-encompassing ideology, but one that, unlike communism, Nazism and radical Islam, has yet to inspire anyone to take up arms. Maybe in defining “peace” the Norwegians have simply decided not to set their sights too high.
What a Pacifist
“Back in 1991, I was one of a handful of Democrats in the United States Senate to vote in favor of the resolution endorsing the Persian Gulf War. And I felt betrayed by the first Bush administration’s hasty departure from the battlefield, even as Saddam began to renew his persecution of the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the south – groups that we had after all encouraged to rise up against Saddam.”–future Nobel Peace laureate Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002
But Will He Run?
Al Gore’s Nobel has, naturally, prompted speculation about domestic politics. “The possibility that former Vice President Al Gore might take the prize has some Gore supporters buzzing that the 2000 Democratic Party nominee for president might be convinced to take the plunge once again,” CBS News reported yesterday. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that “hundreds of loyal ‘Draft Gore’ activists in California and around the nation” were hoping that the prize would “prompt the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate to change his mind and launch a 2008 presidential run.”
We doubt it’ll happen. As the Associated Press reports:
Two Gore advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to share his thinking, said the award will not make it more likely that he will seek the presidency. If anything, the Peace Prize makes the rough-and-tumble of a presidential race less appealing to Gore, they said, because now he has a huge, international platform to fight global warming and may not want to do anything to diminish it.
It isn’t clear whether the anonymous Gore advisers violated the prohibition against sharing his thinking or were just sharing their own thinking, but in any case, thanks for sharing! What they say makes sense: If Gore really believes in global warmism, he couldn’t possibly want to be president, a job that would require him to spend most of his time dealing with more important matters.
Regular People Are Against It Too
“Analysis: Odds Against Gore Run”–headline, Associated Press, Oct. 12
Reconsidering Mrs. Clinton
In February 2005, we published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called “Hillary’s Secret Weapon,” in which we argued that Republican loathing could put her into office:
Right-leaning Web sites bristle with hostility for New York’s junior senator, who once blamed a “vast right-wing conspiracy” for her husband’s sex scandal. “Hil has no core values, except a love of as much power as she can get,” says a typical post on Lucianne.com. “She is the most dangerous woman in the world.” Such sentiments will make her attractive to her party’s Angry Left base, which otherwise would find her positions on issues like Iraq objectionably reasonable.
They may help her in the general election, too. One reason Democrats failed to unseat President Bush was that they were blinded by their hatred for him. This made them overconfident, as they mistook their emotions for facts, assuming that because they couldn’t stand him, he must be (as one candidate put it) a “miserable failure.” They obsessed over nonissues (Halliburton, Mr. Bush’s National Guard service), and they failed to realize that their totally negative campaign reflected badly on them, not on Mr. Bush. If Mrs. Clinton is the nominee in 2008, Republicans risk repeating these mistakes.
We are beginning to think we might have been wrong, and Charles Krauthammer‘s very judicious description of Mrs. Clinton–which more or less coincides with our own–illustrates why:
I could never vote for her, but I (and others of my ideological ilk) could live with her–precisely because she is so liberated from principle. Her liberalism, like her husband’s–flexible, disciplined, calculated, triangulated–always leaves open the possibility that she would do the right thing for the blessedly wrong (i.e., self-interested, ambition-serving, politically expedient) reason.
Our sense from the blogosphere is that the Angry Left hates Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani even more than the right hates Mrs. Clinton. It would be ironic if she lost the election because she turned out not to be polarizing enough.
“Jose Luis Calva told police he had boiled some of his girlfriend’s flesh but that he hadn’t eaten it, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the case,” the Associated Press reports from Mexico City.
It sounds as if AP’s promise of anonymity fooled the spokesman into talking about the case without authorization.
Stories You Won’t Read in the Washington Times
“Mystery of Moon’s Looney Orbit Revealed”–headline, Discovery News, Oct. 11
He Refuses to Ask for Directions
“Colin Powell to Visit Idaho for Korean Summit”–headline, KTVB-TV Web site (Boise), Oct. 11
The World’s Shortest Report
“Report Details Progress in Battle Against Corruption at U.N. Office”–headline, FoxNews.com, Oct. 11
With Attorney General Moonbeam?
“Hunt for Extra-Terrestrial Life Starts in California”–headline, Agence France-Presse, Oct. 11
We Hope It’s Indoors
“Streaker to Perform Community Service”–headline, Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette, Oct. 12
Aren’t There Laws Against This?
“Egypt to Open Baby Bourse for Middle East”–headline, Financial Times, Oct. 12
Great, Where Do We Get Some?
“Arthritis Limits Work, 33 Percent Say”–headline, Associated Press, Oct. 11
This Makes Us Feel Better About Eating Seafood
“Difference Between Fish, Humans Defined”–headline, United Press International, Oct. 11
Win One for the Digger
“Notre Dame Football Star Gipp’s Body Exhumed for DNA Testing”–headline, Associated Press, Oct. 10
They’re Too Young to Work at a Convenience Store Anyway
“Study Reveals Stressed Out 7-11 Year-Olds”–headline, Guardian (London), Oct. 12
All Your Base Are Belong to Us
“Fred Thompson Grabs Top Presidential Site Traffic Seat”–headline, ClickZ.com, Oct. 12
News of the Tautological
“Pattie Boyd Looks Back in Memoir”–headline, Associated Press, Oct. 12
News You Can Use
“Researcher: Humans Will Wed Robots”–headline, United Press International, Oct. 11
Bottom Stories of the Day
- “Fed’s Fisher Doesn’t Comment on Policy”–headline, Reuters, Oct. 12
- “Rapper Pleads Guilty in Fatal Shooting”–headline, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 11
- “Calendar Committee Seeks Status Quo”–headline, Tampa Tribune, Oct. 12
- “NKorea Criticizes Bush Remark”–headline, Associated Press, Oct. 12
- “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Happy With Democratic Congress”–headline, FoxNews.com, Oct. 11
Carter: Bomb Iran
Reader Martin Shimp parses Jimmy Carter’s comments on Iran and comes to a surprising conclusion:
So let’s sum this up. According to Mr. Carter, diplomacy consisted of having American diplomats kidnapped and then dispatching a clandestine operation, which entailed invading a sovereign country, to rescue said kidnapped diplomats.
He is worried that the current administration isn’t using enough diplomacy with Iran. As I understand it, we currently have Americans being held against their will in Iran. All that’s left, I suppose, is for President Bush to invade Iran to complete the circle of Carter-like diplomacy.
This logic seems impeccable. Who knew Jimmy Carter was such a neocon?
(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Ethel Fenig, Stephen Wyse, Nancy Jancourtz, Monty Krieger, Mark Davies, Dan O’Shea, Benjamin Johnson, Sean McPhail, Mike Driscoll, Darren Gold, Tim Willis, Judd Serotta, Jim Gates, Greg Lindenberg, Adam Phillips, Hillel Markowitz, Bernard Levine, Jim Fehrle, Rob Slocum, Brent Silver, Joshua Piotrowski, Michael Hopkovitz, Daniel Goldstein, Jeff Dobbs, Larry Pollak, Bryan Fischer, Brian O’Rourke, Bruce Goldman, John Williamson, Jeff Currin, Nicholas Zeisler, Justin Bartlett, Alan Utter, Bret Popper, Ed Jordan, Steve Karass, John Nernoff and Donald Walker. If you have a tip, write us at email@example.com, and please include the URL.)
URL for this article: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110010728
Today on OpinionJournal:
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- The Journal Editorial Report: Tune in this weekend for discussions of the GOP presidential race, Internet taxation and wiretap politics.
And on the Taste page:
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