Friday, September 19, 2003

MINI-DROUGHT AHEAD: I'll be on the road for the next few days. When I get back to blogging, belated responses (I hope) to Tim Garton Ash on Orwell, Irving Kristol and Steven Lenzer on Strauss, and David Adesnik (who I'll likely be seeing in a few days)'s continuing tendency to jump down the metaphorical throat of the NY Times whenever it reports bad news from Iraq.
In the meantime, if you're not reading Crooked Timber, Norman Geras, Refference, Yglesias, Drezner, Volokh, and OxBlog daily -- well, what's wrong with you? Aside from having better things to do than blog-reading, that is.

SoaF GETS RESULTS! I don't think of myself as a very scary, or intimidating, or indeed impressive or influential person. Still, is it mere coincidence that, after months of building and unresolved tensions and weeks of actual striking, a settlement to end the Yale Strike is effected -- the day after I voice my displeasure with the strike and both sides, and the day before I've announced that I'll be up in New Haven?
Well, decide for yourself.
Anyway, even if I'm NOT responsible for the settlement (hah!), I'm very pleased by it. Even if it also proves my fairly pessimistic view of the likely course of the strike to have been wrong.
Hey, sometimes I'm just too effective for my own good.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

LOX WARS: Who would've thought that one of the most urgently controversial topics of debate spreading over the blogosphere like cream cheese on a bagel is how best to serve and consume smoked salmon? It all started with Josh Chafetz, who declared that the only way to have smoked salmon is with cream cheese and red onion on a bagel. Even when it comes to lox, Josh manages to both be right, and to overstate and somewhat marr, his case. The red onion is, of course, entirely unneccessary and discretionary, and can easily be supplemented or replaced, as others have noted, by cucumber.
However, others offer more radical dissents. Eugene Volokh suggests a rather fancier and more creative recipe for smoked salmon, which I would try if I liked brie more than I do; hats off to Eugene for creativity, at any rate. And Henry at Crooked Timber reminds us that smoked salmon is also good with brown bread and butter (Crooked Timber not loading on my computer at present, so link to come later).
To all of which I say: yum. But, of course, the claim to exclusivity or primacy for all of these recipes is a bit absurd, albeit fairly typical of fan-arguments (a topic I should explore at greater length at some point, but can't now.) Obviously, there are many ways to consume smoked salmon. Someone, I forget whom, noted that it's great with scrambled eggs and onions. So far as I know, no-one has yet recommended -- and thus, those involved in this discussion haven't yet tried -- a smoked salmon, capers, and cream cheese omelette; their loss. Nor has anyone acknolwedged the ability of a discrete among of dill and/or black pepper to enliven smoked salmon, regardless of what it's served on or added to (though someone has at least had the decency to remind us of the advisability of squeezing a wedge of lemon over it).
Finally, a note of caution: let no-one think, just because Josh is at Oxford and recommends smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, that the smoked-salmon/cream cheese bagel sandwiches sold in Saintsbury's are acceptable. They aren't. I know for a fact, they have mayonnaise on them, and wilted greens, as well as cream cheese.
There are some things the Brits still just don't get.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The strike by Yale's Unions has been receiving a good deal of press, both in the print media (NY Times) and on the blogosphere -- or at least those corners of the blogosphere administered by Yalies (quite a few). And, as a grateful and fond son of Yale, I feel I ought to be saying something about it as well.
Readers of this site -- or just of its title -- will not be surprised to find me rather torn by this. For one thing, I don't know enough. I haven't been in New Haven since the strike began (though I'll be up there Friday), so I don't know what the strike's like first-hand. I also don't know enough about all of the details of the ongoing contract disputes between Yale and the Unions, so it's difficult for me to know the justice or injustice of each side's allegations about the other. I receive vastly different impressions and reports from friends who are more involved in all this than I -- but who are also very much partisans of one side or the other.
They, at least, seem pretty sure about where they stand. My friend Jacob offers a dependably and aggressively pro-union perspective -- see this for instance; given that he was actively involved in pro-Union student activism at Yale, and is still very much tied-in with the left-wing student activist community there, he's both very well-informed, and very biased. Josh Chafetz, who takes the other side, seems to do so based on what he's been able to glean second-hand, largely from his friend Jamie Kirchick (a very far from unbiased observer; I don't know Jamie, and don't know how accurate or well-informed his perceptions are; but I wouldn't take their accuracy for granted, or base my views wholly on them) and from the YDN, although he has at least witnessed the strike firsthand. And of course there's YaleInsider, a pro-union blog. It's a source of much information, a good deal of it from the supposedly unbiased -- or at least not to transparently biased -- media. It's also pretty much a union flak site, so one shouldn't base one's impression entirely on it, either. I also get perspectives on the strike -- both pro and con -- from friends still at Yale, again on both sides of the issue.

THE RACE CARD: An indication of the way in which impressions diverge based on one's position and, I'm sorry to say but can't help but believe, ideological predisposition, concerns the always controversial use of replacement workers -- or 'scabs' (note to my pro-union friends: I'd be much more receptive to your arguments and sympathetic to your side if some of you would stop using the term scab) -- and the still more controversial and inflaming issue of race (Note to everyone: I'd feel more comfort with, and respect for, both sides if they didn't try to play the race card). The Union side charges Yale (which is, of course, viewed -- not without reason -- as lily-white and privileged) with shamefully trying to exploit racial division between African-Americans (who make up the bulk of Yale's unionized custodial work-force) and Latinos (who have made up the bulk of the replacement-workforce). Though, the union side also points out, chortling, Yale's evil machinations haven't been very succesful. As Jacob reports it (acknowledging that he only knows the details of the maneuvering involved at second-hand),
Yale was playing the part of 19th century factory owner by trying to pit New Haven's Latino and black communities against each other. The unions handled that beautifully, and the episode blew up in the administration's face--on Friday, at least 13 of the replacement workers walked off the job and onto the picket line. Saying they didn't want to be treated like slaves (their words!), they decided they wanted union protection too. They were welcomed with boisterous cheers, I'm told, when they made an appearance on Saturday. Yale's response? Threaten to fire any undocumented workers. Somebody doesn't get it.
Now, let's look at the other side. Josh, invoking this YDN article for support, indignantly accuses the striking workers of being racist against the latino replacement workers, and writes:
Outrageously, both the unions and a number of US Congressmen have accused Yale of being racially divisive -- as if it was the giving of jobs to Hispanics, rather than the racist rhetoric of the unions, that is causing the friction.
The article, however, doesn't seem to me to paint the clear picture that Josh derives from it. It suggests that Yale is, in fact, deliberately bringing in hispanic workers from outside -- a move that the administration should know will be divisive. The report of racism on the union side is restricted to one sentence; most of the article notes Yale's policy of bringing in non-unionized hispanic workers -- and opposition to this move from the hispanic, as well as the african-american, community.
That said, it does seem that the unions are doing their best to use racial resentment to bolster their cause -- or, indeed, that the strike is as much an expression of both racial and class resentment (which, in New Haven, with its division between a largely white upper-middle class university community and a largely black working-class community, are intertwined) as it is about genuine, valid, and particular economic grievances. (One particularly cynical view of the unions' playing of the race card comes from one anti-union friend of mine: "We have a union situation here where the white leadership inflames their black members against hispanic workers and then says it's all Yale's fault. Beautiful.")
There's no doubt that race, as always in these conflicts, is a divisive, emotional issue -- something on which both sides seize to whip up indignation against their opponents, gain the moral high-ground, and seek to stir up loyalty and partisanship. I'm not sure if one side or the other is being more racially divisive, or whether one side or the other is more racist. It does seem to me, though, that so far, the unions have been playing the race-card more effectively than Yale has. Whether this bespeaks a greater unscrupulousness and/or rabidity, or whether it just displays superior tactical skill, I don't know.

INTIMATIONS OF INTIMIDATION? Another disputed point concerns intimidation. Jamie Kirchick has claimed that the strikers have been practicing intimidation against non-striking workers. Josh Chafetz, having reported this allegation, admits that he didn't see any intimidation when he was at Yale -- but suggests that he may just have overlooked it. Josh also, again, gives a very one-sided impression of the article he cites: while the article does note examples of intimidation of non-striking workers, and also notes that a number of workers haven't joined the strike, and that many of these workers do seem to want to avoid confrontation with their striking colleagues, it doesn't suggest that there's been any violence, and it doesn't really give any particular examples of recent cases of intimidation (though that, of course, depends on how you define intimidation. Is having co-workers leave messages on your machine telling you that they're disappointed you're not striking intimidation? Pressure? An expression of sorrow and a sense of betrayal by friends who had depended on you supporting them in their own sacrifices?). Josh also, conveniently, overlooks the mention in the article of the less dramatic but more damaging ways in which Yale can seek to intimidate or penalize striking workers -- by revoking health care benefits, for example. To Yale's credit, it hasn't yet declared that it will do so -- though whether this is a sign of great decency, or a public relations move, I don't know.)
I don't recall Jacob saying anything about the issue one way or the other.

STRIKING AND EDUCATION Finally, there's the relationship between the unions and the students, and the implications of the unions activities for students. Jacob reports wide-spread student support for the unions; Josh accuses the unions of trying to disrupt classes. Both reports are easy to believe. Despite some truly snotty and idiotic things coming from certain anti-union students, most of whom I suspect know and understand very little of the lives of Yale's workers, it's easy for me to believe that most Yale students would be sympathetic to the unions, at least up to a point -- or, as Jacob would (and has) put it, would choose the right side (no moral self-doubt there!) This is quite a tribute to the students, and I have tremendous respect for my friends at Yale who willingly and even gladly put up with the disruptions and inconveniences of the strike out of an unselfish belief that it's the right thing to do.
I don't have the same respect for the unions in this matter. I can understand their frustration, and I think Yale's handled it's negotiations with the unions badly (though I'm not sure whether they should be blamed for condescension, cupidity, or simple strategic incompetence). Obviously, striking is one of the most powerful tools that a union has at its disposal, and sometimes it's the only thing that will work. Ultimately, whether you approve of or support the strike depends on whether you think that Yale's workers are an injured party, and the union's demands just. While the principle that whoever wills the ends, wills the means should not be taken too far -- and has indeed been one of the most dangerous and sinister principles in political morality throughout history -- there's something to it; if only a strike will achieve justice for Yale's workers, and so long as the strike doesn't violate certain absolute moral standards -- so long as it doesn't involve violence, that is -- then the strike is justified.
On the other hand, the strikers do seem to be doing their darndest to disrupt Yale's operations -- as one would expect. That, of course, is what a strike does. In this case, that means disrupting attempts to teach students, disrupting the students' daily lives, their dining, their research. Now, I must say the idea of many of the over-privileged upper-middle-class kids who make up Yale's student body, who normally enjoy quite a blithe and pleasant and rather self-indulgent life (I speak of my own experience and what I was like as an undergrad -- and still am -- here) having to clean their own bathrooms (something some of us have problems with ...) and make our own food (or eat out) doesn't distress me greatly. Indeed, there's something almost pleasing about it, now that I'm no longer one of those thus inconvenienced. And witnessing the strike provides opportunities for an education in and of itself.
Still, I can't help but feel resentment against the unions. They chose to go on strike at the beginning of the year, and thus to make the lives of the students moving in -- and their parents -- quite hellish (anyone who's been in New Haven during moving-in weekend will have some idea of what it must be like to have masses of protesting workers blocking the streets, as well as the usual traffic). They therefore made an already overwhelming and difficult experience for the arriving freshman class even more overwhelming and difficult, and perhaps marred the eager excitement and ruined the sweetness of those first days of Yale for many. This was not necessary; they could have held the strike at another time. They did this deliberately to make things as difficult for the University as possible. But the students -- a bunch of 17 and 18 and 19 year old kids -- were the ones who seem to me to have had to put up with, and possibly suffer, most. These are the tactics of bullies.
I find it disturbing that those who oppose the strike seem to have little understanding of, or sympathy for, the situation of the workers -- their perceived lack of respect and agency, their desire for better working and living conditions, and how much they're sacrificing to go on strike. But I also find it disturbing that the unions, and their supporters, seem to have so little concern for the welfare of Yale's students, or the value of Yale's educational mission, which they are doing their best to disrupt.

NO WINNERS. As I've said, I simply don't know enough about either Yale's history with the unions, or Yale's current treatment of its workers, to know whether the strike is justified or not. So I can't say that I oppose the strike. But I can't say I support it, either. What I do think, and think I can say, is this:
It seems to me that relations between Yale and the unions are dominated by distrust and resentment based on past events. It seems to me that this strike is as much, and indeed perhaps more, about power and control, about resentment and respect or the lack thereof, about larger issues of social class and race and the historical divisions of New Haven and America, than it is about the welfare and working conditions of Yale's workers. So long as this is the case, the conflict between Yale and the workers will be irresolveable. For any real progress to be made, both sides will have to look beyond their own institutional power and prestige. For both sides, I think this conflict is largely a matter of winning -- of gaining more power against the other side. I think we need to get beyond that. I think that Yale needs to figure out how to behave with more respect towards its workers and New Haven -- needs to acknowledge to itself how much it is resented, and acknowledge that, while its intentions may be good, there is just cause for that resentment. And I think the union leadership will have to put achieving a good deal for their members ahead of being able to exert greater power against Yale, and of using the vilification of Yale as a means of making their members more loyal to them. And I think that the union leadership and membership alike will have to stop using Yale as a whipping-boy on which to focus all of their resentment and anger and indignation at the many injustices and inequities of American society and history.
And I don't expect any of the parties involved to behave in such a responsible, mature, and unselfish manner.
As for my own feelings: I love Yale, I think it's a wonderful institution at which to study, I identify with it in its triumphs and sufferings, I take pride in its achievements and feel shame at its errors and injustices. I also, as a student and a would-be academic, think that eh purpose of the university is above all education, and that this is a noble and precious mission and duty. Therefore, anything that tends to embarass or disrupt or divide Yale, hurts me. Anything that interfers with Yale's educational endeavours -- anything that disrupts classes, that pressures students to not do their work or attend classes, that makes it hard for students to study, or faculty to teach, or students and faculty to learn together in concert, angers me.
I therefore cannot but deplore the strike and what it's doing to Yale. I cannot regard it as a noble or glorious moment of true democracy; I cannot see it as a necessary part of a just struggle, by either side. I don't know who should be blamed, or blamed more; I suspect both sides have contributed to creating a situation in which the strike could not but occur, and in which it cannot now be called off.
So I don't take sides in this; I don't make any assertions about who's right, and who's wrong. I don't know. But I do know that the strike is a disaster for things that I care about -- and also that it's causing pain to people whom I care about. As such, I can only deplore it.

FRABJOUS DAY: Jeremy Reff is back posting. Go read him, now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

GETTING BUSH: It seems to me that this NYer piece by Nicholas Lemann is spot-on in its analysis of the thinking and assumptions behind George W. Bush's (and at least some members of his administration's) pursuit of war with Iraq. In addition to offering a far more plausible anaylsis of why our leaders led us to war than either the cynical doves ('no blood for oil') or the trusting neo-cons, Lemann is very good in conveying the well-intentioned but, I think, misguided and deeply scary manicheanism, and wishfulness, of Bush's outlook. He argues that Bush operates off of a belief that what is right is also good - that spreading democracy and asserting power are not only compatible with one another, but also with effectively fighting terriorism -- indeed, that they all go together. It'd be nice to think that this is the case; but I don't think experience thus far supports it, and I think the willfulness, complacency, and self-righteousness that accompany Bush's wishful thinking make it dangerous.
Lemann ends on a cautionary note, reminding us of how much is at stake, and how badly things will go for so many people if Bush should prove wrong, and incapable of handling the situations he's so confidently created. This, too, seems to me exactly right.

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