Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ann Althouse on delicate sensibilities, Rory Stewart on Afghanistan, and Maureen Dowd being catty about Clinton and Obama again. Here’s Ann Althouse’s last column for the NYT:

Recently, the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski had to grovel after one of its recruiters used a racist epithet in an interview exercise at Duke University Law School.

The recruiter was quoting a Waco, Tex., prosecutor in a 1920s murder case in which Leon Jaworski, one of the firm’s founding partners, represented a black defendant.

But never mind. One student heard an upsetting word and lodged a complaint.

Without explaining the context of the partner’s use of that horrible word, the law school’s dean, Katharine Bartlett, sent e-mail to students, saying: “I appreciate the strong feelings this incident has raised.” And before long, Steven Pfeiffer, the chairman of the firm’s executive committee, was traveling to Durham, N.C., to apologize.

As reported in the Texas Lawyer, Pfeiffer said, “There is no excuse for what happened on this campus. There is no context for which that is permissible conduct.”

Closer to home, a perplexing event took place at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where I teach.

As reported in The Capital Times: “Clearly, eloquently and sometimes tearfully, the seven young Asian women who raised the issue of a law professor’s allegedly insulting remarks about the Hmong told their story at a public forum Thursday night.”

What were these “allegedly insulting remarks”? Well, we’re only talking about alleged remarks, because even though the incident in question took place in mid-February, we have yet to hear the law professor’s version of the story of what he said to his class. Teaching a lesson about the failure of the law to take cultural differences into account, Prof. Leonard Kaplan said something about the Hmong that upset several students.

Despite the confusion about what happened, demands for apologies and remedies fill the air. The truth that seems to matter is the fact that the students felt bad.

You might think that a law school would want to teach scrupulous procedure, including a passion for the search for the truth and the need to find the facts before devising the remedy. But the notion instead seemed to be that we could simply treat the feelings and try to make everyone feel good again.

Ironically, you have to care enough about engaging energetically with issues of race to run into this sort of trouble. It’s so much easier to skip the subject altogether, to embrace a theory of colorblindness or to scoop out gobs of politically correct pabulum. It’s only when you challenge the students and confront them with something that can be experienced as ugly — even if you’re only trying to highlight your law firm’s illustrious fight against racism — that you create the risk that someone may take offense.

Perhaps students will jot down the few words you just said that made their ears perk up. What was the rest of this complicated pedagogical exercise, intrusively stirring up difficult emotions?

It would have been so much easier to teach using simple, straightforward lecturing, with every sentence carefully composed, with a sharp eye on the goal of never giving anyone any reason to question the purity of your beliefs and the beneficence of your heart.

Your colleagues may sympathize with you in private, but most likely they’ll be rethinking this idea — heartily promoted in law schools since the 1980s — that they ought to actively incorporate delicate issues of race into their courses.

Publicly, the school goes into damage-control mode. After all, it has worked so hard to bring together a diverse student body and to convey a feeling of welcome to everyone. How can we bear to hear a student say, as one Wisconsin student did on Thursday, that “unless we have a safe learning environment,” the school’s commitment to diversity “doesn’t mean anything”?

But this is madness! Our question should not be about what we can do to make you comfortable or how we can make your life pleasant again.

We owe our law students respect, but part of that respect is the recognition that they are adults who are spending many thousands of dollars and hours of study trying to acquire the critical thinking and fortitude that will enable them to serve clients and to stand up to adversaries who are only too ready to shake their nerve — like that real racist, the prosecutor who tried to intimidate Leon Jaworski in Texas in the 1920s.
Ann Althouse is a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and writes the blog Althouse. This is her last guest column.

And now here’s Rory Stewart from Kabul:

The international community’s policy in Afghanistan is based on the claim that Afghans are willing partners in the creation of a liberal democratic state. Senator John McCain finished a recent speech on Afghanistan by saying, “Billions of people around the world now embrace the ideals of political, economic and social liberty, conceived in the West, as their own.”

In Afghanistan in January, Tony Blair thanked Afghans by saying “we’re all in this together” and placing them in “the group of people who want to live in peace and harmony with each other, whatever your race or your background or your religion.”

Such language is inaccurate, misleading and dangerous.

Afghans, like Americans, do not want to be abducted and tortured. They want a say in who governs them, and they want to feed their families. But reducing their needs to broad concepts like “human rights,” “democracy” and “development” is unhelpful.

For many Afghans, sharia law is central. Others welcome freedom from torture, but not free media or freedom of religion; majority rule, but not minority rights; full employment, but not free-market reforms. “Warlords” retain considerable power. Millions believe that alcohol should be forbidden and apostates killed, that women should be allowed in public only in burqas. Many Pusthu clearly prefer the Taliban to foreign troops.

Yet, senior officials with long experience with Afghanistan often deny this reality. They insist that Taliban fighters have next to no local support and are purely Pakistani agents. The U.N. argues that “warlords” have little power and that the tribal areas can rapidly be brought under central control. The British defense secretary predicted last summer that British troops in Helmand Province could return “without a bullet fired.” Afghan cabinet ministers insist that narcotics growth and corruption can be ended and the economy can wean itself off foreign aid in five years. None of this is true. And most of them half-know it.

It is not only politicians who misrepresent the facts. Nonprofit groups endorse the fashionable jargon of state-building and civil society, partly to win grants. Military officers are reluctant to admit their mission is impossible. Journalists were initially surprisingly optimistic about transforming Afghanistan. No one wants to seem to endorse a status quo dominated by the Taliban and drugs. Humankind cannot bear very much reality, particularly in Afghanistan.

Does it matter? Most people see our misrepresentations as an unappealing but necessary part of international politics. The problem is that we act on the basis of our own lies. British soldiers were killed because they were not prepared for the Helmand insurgency. In the same province, the coalition recommended a Western-friendly technocrat as governor; he was so isolated and threatened he could barely leave his office. Hundreds of millions of dollars invested in anticorruption efforts, and the police and the counternarcotics ministry, has been wasted on Afghans with no interest in our missions. Other programs are perceived as a threat to local culture and have bred anger and resentment.

Still others have raised expectations we cannot fulfill, betraying our friends. I experienced this in Iraq, where I encouraged two friends to start gender and civil society programs; we were unable to protect them, and both were killed. Even when we fail, instead of recognizing the errors of the initial assessment and the mission, we blame problems in implementation and repeat false and illogical claims in order to acquire more money and troops.

The time has come to be honest about the limits of our power and the Afghan reality. This is not to counsel despair. There is no fighting in the streets of Kabul, the Hazara in the center of the country are more secure and prosperous than at almost any time in their history, and the economy grew last year by 18 percent. These are major achievements. With luck and the right kind of international support, Afghanistan can become more humane, prosperous and stable.

But progress will be slow. Real change can come only from within, and we have less power in Afghanistan than we claim. We must speak truthfully about this situation. Our lies betray Afghans and ultimately ourselves. And the cost in lives, opportunities and reputation is unbearable.
Rory Stewart’s latest book is the “The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.” He runs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul and is a guest columnist this month.

And to complete today’s roundup we have Maureen Dowd:

As I sit across from Barack Obama in his Senate office, I feel like Ingrid Bergman in “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” when she plays a nun who teaches a schoolboy who’s being bullied how to box.

I’m just not certain, having watched the fresh-faced senator shy away from fighting with the feral Hillary over her Hollywood turf, that he understands that a campaign is inherently a conflict.

The Democrats lost the last two excruciatingly close elections because Al Gore and John Kerry did not fight fiercely and cleverly enough.

After David Geffen made critical comments about Hillary, she seized the chance to play Godzilla stomping on Obambi.

As a woman, she clearly feels she must be aggressive in showing she can “deck” opponents, as she put it — whether it’s Saddam with her war resolution vote or Senator Obama when he encroaches on areas that she and Bill had presumed were wrapped up, like Hollywood and now the black vote.

If Hillary is in touch with her masculine side, Barry is in touch with his feminine side.

He turned up his nose at his campaign’s sharp response to Hillary and her pinstriped thug, Howard Wolfson. He told The Times’s Jeff Zeleny that he had not been engaged in the vituperative exchange because he was traveling on a red-eye flight, getting a haircut and taking his daughters to school.

I ask why he couldn’t have managed the donnybrook while he traveled and did errands. Since he’s sitting across from me using his BlackBerry, I wonder: “Where was your BlackBerry? Did your aides not ask you how to respond or did you not want to ride herd on them — even just to tell them to ignore Hillary?”

“Look, I came up through politics in Chicago,” he says. “When I arrived in Chicago in 1985, I didn’t know a single person. Seventeen years later, I was the United States senator and in a position to run for president. So I must know a little something about politics.”

Channeling Ingrid, I press on and say: “I know you want to run a high-minded campaign, but do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little. That’s how they judge how you’d be with Putin.”

“When I get into a tussle,” he replies, “I want it to be over something real, not something manufactured. If someone wants to get in an argument with me, let’s argue about how we’re going to fix the health care system or where we need to go on Iraq.”

If campaigns follow the arc of the hero myth. ...

“What’s the demon that I’ve slain?” he finishes. “You’re getting kind of deep on me here. I think that, for me, the story was overcoming a father’s absence and reconciling the different strands of my background and coming out whole.”

Has he ever been struck by the similiarity of Bill Clinton’s growing up without his father?

“You don’t want to go on with too much pop psychology,” he replies. “Somebody said that every man is either trying to live up to his father’s expectations or trying to make up for his father’s mistakes. And in some ways, when your father’s not there, you’re doing both. You try to live up to the expectations of somebody who’s not present to tell you that you’ve done a good job, but you’re also trying to make up for the mistakes that partially led to his absence.”

Does Al Gore have first dibs on the presidency?

“I love Al Gore,” he replies. “He’s a smart guy.” He said he liked Mr. Gore’s seriousness on issues he cares deeply about. “This sounds clichéd, but this week I had five mothers of folks headed to Iraq cry during rope lines where I was shaking hands and had me hug ’em. This stuff is just not a game. ... Now that doesn’t mean that there’s not the basic blocking and tackling of politics. I’ve got to raise money. I’ve got to manage my press. We’ve got to respond rapidly to attacks. But what I don’t want to do is get drawn into the sport of it.”

When the Tiger Woods of politics goes to a civil rights commemoration in Selma, Ala., this weekend — just as the story breaks that his white ancestors had slaves — he will compete for attention with Hillary and the man billed as the first black president. How does he feel about the Clintons double-teaming him?

Talking about the woman he described at the Beverly Hills fund-raiser as smarter, better-looking and meaner then he is, he grins: “My wife’s pretty tough.”



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