Wednesday, March 29, 2006


A Passover-Time Lesson from the Prophets

One of the flaws of the "neo-conservative" foreign policy of the Bush administration is that, in spite of claims that neo-conservatives support a "Wilsonian" foreign policy while those of us on the left who oppose neo-conservativism are actually being illiberal "realists", neo-conservative foreign policy, at least as it had previously influenced the Reagan administration and currently drives the Bush administration hardly represents a break with Kissinger-style "realism" but rather it's continuation. The Bush administration is actually stuck in the pre-9/11 mindset that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" that caused us to nurture the very trends that would bloom into Al Qaeda.

Actually, "foreign policy realism" is very old and has a track record of being, well, unrealistic. One thing we tend to forget about the Prophets of the Bible is that they were, in the theocratic society of ancient Israel and Judah, first and formost political advisors. That the Prophets speak to us today does not indicate they were prophesying about the far future but rather speaks to the fact that "nothing is new under the sun" but rather the political and foreign policy challenges faced by ancient Israel continue to face us today and the moral advice of the Prophets, being inspired by the True word of God, are relavent to us as we face the same challenges faced by all nations in all times (not everything is different simply because of 9/11), including ancient Israel and Judah.

One of the challenges faced by Judah was the Assyrian threat. Assyria was the rising local hegemon who eventually swallowed, among other territories, the kingdom of Israel. The only country that could provide adequate opposition to Assyria was Egypt. Many in positions of power in Judah, sandwiched between Assyria and Egypt, sought alliance with Egypt on the principle, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". The Prophets, however, warned against this. It is was not that they were 100% against allying with Egypt as necessary to repell an Assyrian threat, but that they realized the only way to remain independent was to create a society in Judah that was strong and cohesive enough to play a major role in warding off Assyria on its own (in the end, Egypt was not what kept Assyria in check -- it was the rise of a new Chaldean state which proceded to successfully invade Judah and Egypt could not have done a thing to stop that). Dependence on Egypt would be dicey and just because Egypt hated Assyria didn't make Egypt the friend of Israel. Some have suggested that the emphasis in Judaism on retelling the story of the Exodus (if not the story itself) dates from the tireless campaigning of those, who we know today as "Isaiah" and "Jeremaiah" (who ironically ended up in Egypt when all was said and done -- so I don't think his point was to hate Egypt but merely to indicate the dangers of too close an alliance with it), et al., who wanted to make the point that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

As we approach Passover, let us remember that lesson. Just because some nation wants to help us fight evildoing terrorists doesn't make it our friend any more than those who wanted to help us fight Communism (and who later developed Al Qaeda) were our friends. And specifically us Jews should remember that just because someone wants to "support" Israel in its fight against those who would threaten it, doesn't make that person a friend of Israel and the Jewish people. We Jews need to remember the lesson of retelling the Exodus every spring: we need to be on the look-out not to place too much trust in an alliance with the land of narrow straights (lit. translation of "Mitzraim" -- i.e. Egypt).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


My Inner Essentialist

Those of you who've noticed my campaign against "essentialism", which I find hidden in such pushes as the push to teach "Intelligent Design" in schools, and which I fear will bring with it its handmaiden economic system of feudalism and their handmaiden of anti-Semitism, may be surprised, or not so surprised, to know that I have a hidden essentialist in me. I love situations, products, etc., that somehow seem to capture the archetype of what they are supposed to be (although my "universel" archetypes are probably based on my peculiar experiences in life).

To that end, some recommendations from my inner essentialist.

Tea: any proper "Scottish Breakfast" blend -- while I love any sort of fine tea, with their tannic oakiness, malty and fermented notes, these teas capture what for me is the Platonic ideal of tea

Champagne: Veuve Cliquot, Brut -- its balance of fruitiness, crispness and floral and yeasty notes is what to me a champagne should be, at least based on the interpretation presented by Goerlitz in their "champagne bubbles" candies: raison/warm-spice nose, floral yet acidic flavor with a long finish of red currants. I also like, in this vein, Alsatian Cremants (Arbarbanel Brut is good -- and kosher!) and similar style wines from the US (e.g. Chateau Frank Celebre) as well as Bulgarian sparkling Miskets (although those can make you sick immediately afterwards).

Coffee: Nordstrom's (secretly a Starbucks blend, I am told -- but it tastes different, and better, to me than any Starbucks blend I've had) is to me the ideal coffee flavor (well, actually, the ideal is coffee I had at a coffee bar in some grocery store in Woodland, CA, but Nordstrom's is close enough), especially for espresso. To get that almost artificial archetype of coffee flavor, what I've figured out is that you can start from any decent coffee -- you just have to let it sit for a while in such a way it doesn't get oxidized and hence stale -- e.g. in a reasonably closed containor or infused in liquor. For Irish coffee (ideal whiskey -- with its maltiness and buttery notes, Powers), though, you need a smokier coffee -- Chock Full of Nuts New York City Roast is perfect, IMHO. I also like coffee with some "chickoryness", especially made with a percolator (which usually ruins coffee) to get a smokey note. If you want coffee with a certain terroir, though, you oughta get a single region if not single estate coffee (but make sure it's from a region known for its good and "earthy" coffee, like Blue Mountain or Kona, otherwise it's bound to be insipid) South Indian style coffee also matches a certain image I have of "cowboy" coffee -- of all things to match.

Cigars: while the box does not match my archetype of a cigar box, I would say Onyx Reserve matches my idea of what the flavor should be: with musty/wet-cloth (with just the right amount of "stinkiness), warm spice and fermented notes ending with a bit of nettle herbalness and then kumquat-like acridity. San Louis Rey also makes a maduro cigar matching more or less my idea of what a cigar should be -- except, while not as full-flavored as the Onyx Reserve, it has intriguing additional herbal and spicy notes. If Onyx Reserve is the fine coffee of cigars, San Louis Rey is the good quality tea of cigars. Black Pearl Rojo is perhaps even better than either, but is hard to find (it's pricing reminds me of the old joke about bialies -- a customer notices a bakery selling bialies for $2.00 each and asks about the price, "why are you selling bialies for $2 when the store down the street is selling them for $1" to which the baker responds "why don't you get them from the other store then" to which the customer replies "they're out" to which the baker retorts "well, when I am out of bialies, I too sell them for $1 each" -- this joke also is good for teaching students about the properties of the empty set) and leaves a funny aftertaste in your mouth. CAO Brazilia's little cigars are good, but their full sized ones -- in general the CAO line is rather "cabbagy" in taste -- not so much ...

Pipe Tobacco: my inner essentialist was immediately attracted to RLP-6 from Lane Limitted. Evidently my exposure to pipe tobacco as a kid was to Captain Black, so this higher quality form, with nice notes of chocolate and Salice Salentino (my favorite general kind of dry red wine), was my first love in pipe tobacco. Revelation (Einstein's favorite) is also nice, but lately my inner essentialist is attracted to the Black and White blend from Red Carpet tobacco (although, unlike it's billing, it actually burns hot and, if you smoke it in a windy area, it bites). Otherwise, I tend to like Cornell and Diehl blends along the lines of Black Dog and Bridge Mixture.

Rum: pretty much anything Dominican and of reasonable quality. Especially Ron Barcelo Dorado: it is incredibly smooth and has a perfect rum flavor, almost like Demerara sugar, but not quite so heavy. It has a perfect "tropical" flavor for both the standard mixed drinks and drinking as is (or even letting sit for a few days over Chinese-style roasted melon seeds, which makes a rum rough but quite tastey -- Barcelo Dorado is smooth enough to start with that it is not too rough in the end).

Perhaps I'll edit this/post even more later, I have decided to change the time and date info to push this forward in my archives (I hope it works) ... but I think I've put up enough for now ...


My $0.02 on the latest in the Moussoui case

I don't necessarily think Moussoui's outbursts are bad for the defense: it all depends on the mindset of the jury.

If the jury are the same sorts of people who crapped their collective pants on 9/11 and blindly voted for Bush in 2004 "'cause Osama wanted us to vote for Kerry" ... well, then hearing Moussoui take credit for every act of terrorism since the Berserker raids will move the jury to vote for the death penalty, that's for sure.

OTOH, can the defense now claim that Moussoui is not fit to stand trial or even to have entered into a plea? He is obviously, as some on various blogs have put it, "a few terrorists short of a cell". Even if they cannot force a competency hearing or something of that sort, what Moussoui is saying, unlike what the prosecutor will have you believe, actually undermines the government's argument in the case:

The government is essentially trying to hang Moussoui for 9/11 since they are not able to hang anyone else. How are they doing this? They are claiming "if only he would have told the truth to investigators ...", etc. -- a prosecution for hypothetical sins of ommission that would have the President also in deep trouble ("if only he paid more attention to the 6 Aug PDB ...") as well as something which, if I were a policeman/G-man, I would find insulting as it would imply I am so naive/lazy/incompetent I need the criminals to tell me the full truth about things in order to break up conspiracies. The problem with this claim is that it assumes that, if Moussoui had told the full truth as he knew it, it would have helped the government stop 9/11. Now if we are to take Moussoui's contradictory outbursts at face value -- if he were to have been frank and told the government everything he (thought he) knew ... it would have been about as useful as Bush's unconstitutional data mining projects because what Moussoui thinks are facts are a bunch of confusing pieces of wishful thinking that would have been a bunch of false leads anyway!

So if the government's case is that this guy deserves the death penalty because if he cooperated with investigators, they would have cracked 9/11 open ... well, I got a bridge to sell them -- 'cause Moussoui seems to be so confused between facts and fiction that whatever he would have said, even if he were sincerely cooperating, would have been useless. So the government's case regarding the death penalty is, actually, destroyed by Moussoui's testimoney.

Of course, there is a third explanation -- that this is all just a stunt to convince us Moussoui is loonier than a toon and hence his cooperation would have been meaningless anyway even if he might not quite reach the standards of incompetence to enter a plea and certainly is not insane in the sense needed to plea insanity.

On the other side, we also need to worry about the prosecution's dedication to this case. If Moussoui were imprisoned simply for being part of a second wave that didn't end up materializing, that makes the case that standard law enforcement procedures have a key role in keeping us safe against those criminals we call terrorists. This is not what Bush & CO want: they want to have a war or at least have a roll back of the Bill of Rights.

So the defense actually has an incentive to play with fire and risk the jury reacting with their gut and voting for the death penalty even though any consideration of what Moussoui is saying undermines the federal government's case ... and in the end, if the feds overstate their case and loose big (if they win, they get to claim credit for executing "the 20th hijacker") as it merely makes the larger case of Bush & CO regarding how to fight the war on terror (it's great to be king, er, president -- you can manage to change reality to match your rhetoric).

The trial might get really interesting.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Do "They" Really Want to do That?

Are anti-illegal-immigration types in their right mind when they want to make being an illegal immigrant a violation of criminal law?

Unless, as Bush & CO are hell bent on doing, our bill of rights gets taken away, if being an illegal immigrant is a criminal manner, then the government has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are an illegal immigrant before they do something to you (like deport you) -- a simple deportation hearing won't do the trick.

Do some people on the right just not "get" the concept of (criminal) law (because they come from traditions in which obedience to, e.g. God's, law is considered an exercise in futility anyway as we are all tainted by original sin or some concept variant thereof)? It's like in the case of abortion where people want to make that illegal but refuse to think about what the punishments for abortion should be. Laws are not symbols -- they are things to be followed, at least some of the time, nu?


The Difference Between Republican and Democratic Strategists

Consider the recent controversy over immigration reform. Democrats have an opportunity to win back the votes of socially conservative Catholics, for example, by taking a strong stance against any "reform" that goes against the teachings, e.g., of the Catholic church, on how to treat "the least of them".

Will Democrats take a stong stand?

If the Republicans were in this position, their strategists would say "hmmm ... here is a chance to win back the support of a large group of people who now don't support our party -- let's take a strong stand, wrap it in moral language, and who cares if we drive some people away with our stand -- you can't please everyone, eh?".

OTOH, for so long the Democratic strategy has been "we can't afford to drive anyone away" ... but if you are so afraid of driving people away that you cannot take a strong stand on issues, why would people support you?

Of course, part of the problem is the media and the IOKIYAR ethos: when Democrats take strong stands that might drive people away, the media types fret and fret about the Democrats being out of touch with the mainstream ... and the mainstream of America hears the so-called liberal media types fretting and says "wow ... if even the elite media is worried about the Democrats being out of touch, they must really be out of touch!" and is driven away. Whereas the abuse of wedge issues by the Republicans is spun as a sign of their moral courage and connection to "heartland values" whereby the mainstream thinks "if even those elite media types view the Republicans as moral, they must be moral".

Still, if the Democrats were not so afraid of their collective shadow, the media might stop acting as if the Democrats ought to be afraid of their collective shadow if they want to win (while at the same time, they criticize the Dems for not taking any strong stands!) -- and if the Dems. are less afraid ("the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" ?) and the media stops acting as if the Dems. ought to be afraid, maybe the Dems. will win.


The Real 10 Commandments

I am surprised that, in the course of all the debate about 10 commandments posting, while people have mentioned that those of us who actually make some attempt to follow Biblical law refer to 613 commandments for Jews (and 7 Noachide laws) rather than just the "10 sayings" obligatory to Jews but not all obligatory to non-Jews, few people seem to mention that the Talmud (e.g. Mishna Peah 1:1, Shabbat 127a) has its own lists of special commandments -- most prayerbooks compile them into the magic number, 10 -- though they (those commandments whose fruits are to be enjoyed in this world and whose principal remains for us to enjoy in the world to come) are typically given in a paragraph form:

(1) Honor your father and mother
(2) Perform acts of love and kindness
(3) Attend the House of Study every morning and evening
(4) Welcome the stranger
(5) Visit the sick
(6) Rejoice with bride and groom
(7) Console the bereaved (*).
(8) Make peace where there is strife
(9) Pray with sincerity
(10) Study Torah

Interestingly, excepting "pray with sincerity", none of these commandments imply any sort of theological commitment (even studying Torah is something you might do purely for the sake of intellectual curiosity, but as long as -- and only as long as -- Torah study leads to spiritual and moral growth, you have satisfied this commandment whether or not you actually believe what you read) and most involve being an active participant in the life-cycle events of others.

What does that say about the real path to salvation? Is salvation even an individual thing or is it collective?

(*) typical translation ... literally the translation is "bury the dead" -- although I do remember somewhere in Talmud that you are not supposed to make literal translations ... but that prohibition I think only applies to the Bible which, it seems according to the sages of yore, must be read at some level figuratively (!)

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I'm not surprised about this happening: I am surprised it took so long

Every so often people wonder how a place like one of the Dakotas elects Dems. to the Senate. The answer is, of course, that members of the Tribe, whether they be Jews or Native Americans, are maybe a little bit more liberal -- at least politically -- than those around them.

So, I figured it would only be a matter of time before a group of Sioux decided to circumvent SD's evil (at least from the point of view of my morality) abortion law. Good for the Oglala Sioux. Now if they can survive the inevitable smear attack from a bunch of arm-chair generals who, among other things, secretly think if they were Custer they would have won.

Monday, March 20, 2006


In lieu of Ki Thessa blogging

The Conservative Jewish Movement is all abuzz lately over the question of ordination of homosexual Rabbis. A wise Rabbi adapted a Blu Greenberg quotation first stated regarding the role of women in Judaism -- "where there is a Rabbinic will, there is a Halachic way" (how does this sort of judicial activism relate to the problem of avoiding responsibility by merely obeying the law? and isn't concern about this sort of problem the main place where even liberal Judaism parts ways with Kant?) -- to the current schtuss amongst Conservative Jews (not to be confused with Jewish conservatives -- methinks the vast majority of Conservative Jews are Democrats even if not 100% doctrinare liberals). So the question is whether there is a Rabbinic will to finally adapt the writ of Halacha in a direction which (IMHO) appropriately applies the prohibitions found in Leviticus to the modern day (after all, the prohibitions do not seem to be about what we would consider today as homosexuality) and allows for full integration of homosexuals into the Conservative movement? Certainly, judging by the current crop of seminarians, such a will is going to exist in the next generation, but does it exist in this one? My girlfriend thinks so. I am not so sanguine.

Of course, as that same wise Rabbi pointed out along with Conservative Rabbis on all sides of this issue (yes -- in the Conservative movement of Judaism, it's possible to take any issue and have at least 5 or 6 different sides! perhaps the "he said/she said" newsmedia could learn a thing or two about what it means to represent all points of view? there are more points of view in the political world than thos of John McCain vs. the DINO Joe twins): even if you are not willing to bend or change your understanding of the writ of Halacha, it still should not prevent Conservative synagogues from fully accepting gay members -- after all, how many of us who attend Conservative synagogues really properly observe the Sabbath? And that's one of the "big 10"!

At the very least the whole debate is interesting: never have I heard so many liberal Conservative Jews quoting Hegel by speaking of dialectic instead of alluding to Kant!


Am I being paranoid?

Or did blogger eat some posts of mine?

It could be both ... I do seem to remember posting stuff since last Monday.

I guess with blogger you get what you pay for?


Monday, March 13, 2006


The Correct Response is "Maybe. So what?"

The question being "is Feingold playing politics with his censure resolution?".

We seem to forget (so shortly after the Clinton admin when such conflict was taken to be entirely appropriate and as a matter of course ... in spite of the fact that Clinton was actually fighting a war on terrorists like bin Laden as opposed to pretending to do so while giving the terrorists everything they ever wanted -- e.g. deposing Saddam Hussein -- of course Clinton was a scalawag whereas Bush is a "good person" so deserves some slack, right [ gag ]) that, according to the Framers, one of the roles of Congress is to provide a check and balance to the executive branch so that the President should not be an uncheck Monarch.

So why isn't Antonin "Original Intent" Scalia also doing his role of being a check and standing with Feingold?

Madison was very clear: "ambition must be made to check ambition". So what if Feingold is only doing this to please us in the Democratic base in anticipation of a presidential run. That's the way things are supposed to work. For Congress to show such deference to the President is frankly un-American, even in a time of war (otherwise what is to stop a President from waging war just to get war powers?) -- even in the Greatest War Ever (TM), aka WWII (the kinds of people who rant and rave about how good WWII was are the same sorts of people who didn't want to enter WWII when it was a matter of the allies fighting Germany and only wanted to join in when those "yellow people attacked us", hence my snarkiness), we had Truman rising to fame criticizing the war effort. Today we would call Harry Truman un-American.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong here? Why should Feingold's motives be questioned? In this case, they don't matter. If the system was working correctly, all of Congress would be out to score political points criticizing the President's illegal actions. That they are not indicates that there is something deeply wrong with our democratic republic: in large part because of the way the media frames issues, but in large part because too many people forget what it means to be a citizen in a democratic republic. It does not mean that we should worship our leader.


A Troublesome Haftarah and a Very Odd Commandment

This last Sabbath, in anticipation of Purim, we read a special maftir and haftarah. The latter describes a troublesome genocide, although it is made more palatable if one considers the sin of Saul to be not his saving of the king but his saving of the king. As the "it was just a few bad apples" crowd so purposefully forgets, a fish rots from the head. For Saul to perform a dastardly genocide (even if it was supposedly done in the name of following the commandments -- which makes it worse?) and then decide to spare the life of the one most responsible for the ill behavior of his people, the king ... that is just outrageous.

The maftir gives the odd commandment to remember to blot out a memory. How does one do that? It does sound impossible, doesn't it? It's a paradox. But it also certainly is a challenge we often face, though: how do we forget something from which we know we ought to move on, but we just cannot? How do we strike a balance between remembering the bad things that have happened so we don't repeat them and trying to move on so we do move past them? Perhaps the secret is that we need to follow this maftir and remember to forget?

Friday, March 10, 2006


The Denouement

Well ... not surprisingly the Republicans managed to turn what looked like it might be the straw that broke the camel's back for the President's support into a political victory in which everyone but the Democratic party and the American people have won: thanks to an (un-named) American company buying the rights to operate the port operations owned by the company bought by DPW (follow that? in confusion, there is profit.), the fixers who arranged the deal will get their money (now at possible cost to the US taxpayer who is having to now guarantee the revenue expected from the deal), the Republicans in Congress get to look like they got the President to back down on something and the Democrats, especially Schumer will either look like unprincipled flip-floppers if they back down now or like Bush-hating xenophobes who want to deny funding to our troops if they don't. This is all so convenient you'd think Rove planned it that way ... hmmm .... <>.


So when will our nation start discussing the real issue: this myth that private companies are automatically better than the government at everything? On the radio some people from NOLA were saying that if the federal government couldn't handle the reconstruction, they should let a private company take over -- but that's what they want you to conclude: that gummint always bungles everything so let business take over (for a nice profit for certain people in positions of power). The problem is that the numbers just don't add up -- while the profit motive is an excellent incentive for innovation (of certain sorts -- in many areas the government/academy are much better at innovation than businesses who have a bottom line to worry about) and efficiency, a non-profit organization or government operating at the same level of efficiency as a for-profit enterprise is going to be able to do the job cheaper by the amount of profit the for profit enterprise is going to make -- it is a matter of simple math! Unfortunately, too many Americans are innumerate and think of underwear gnomes as capable of working magic in their unspecified step #2 of their business plan. I am not advocating socialism here, but this idea that privatization is a panacea is ludicrous, and we need to tackle it before those who want to sell this country to the highest bidder run away with our national resources for their own profit.

The US did not get to where it is today by following a program of rampant privatization, free-trade and unfettered "capitalism" -- we got here by a robust system of government regulations, from the time of Jackson through both Roosevelts and to our present day. While some regulations no doubt need reform or modification, history has shown that free-market/free-trade idolatery is bad for our economy. So why are some people trying to push an agenda that they must be completely ignorant not to know is bad for us? Are they that stupid or do they hate America?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Secret Evidence

Given the history of our people (e.g. the Dreyfuss affair), all Jewish organizations should come out against the use of secret evidence and call promenant Jews who have explicitly or even tacitly supported secret evidence (Carl Levin, this means you!) on that support.

I'm waiting ... ( crickets chirping )

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


It's Deja-Vu All Over Again

I ment to write this up as a post on my blog, but instead I was inspired to place it as a comment on Digby's blog. So yet again, I am just linking to a comment rather than blogging.

Just an addition -- the poster who complains about the "unserious" nature of those who wish to legislate their morality makes an important point. Part of the issue is that a lot of quasi-dominionist crowd who wants to legislate "Biblical law" fundamentally doesn't believe in the effectiveness of that law (i.e. they believe that everybody is gonna end up breaking that law anyway, so there is no need to make it "work"). Indeed, their Bible says that even attempting to obey the law is futile and is not the path to salvation since each person will always manage to fall short of full compliance with it. They have not seriously thought about how to apply the law when confronted with life's complexities, etc., but rather they throw their hands in the air and say "well, everyone's bound to break the law at sometime ... that's what the concept of original sin is all about".

The interesting thing is that, pro-life Jews (who largely don't understand what the anti-choice movement, even the serious moral thinkers in that movement who are not to be confused with the people with whom I am particularly concerned in this post and the comment it references, really stands for -- they are not merely against "abortion being used as birth control" but rather all abortions -- maybe the SD law will finally wake up those Jews who think they have a lot in common with Christian fundamentalists, of the sort they never knew growing up or really know now, simply because they both are "pro-Israel" and believe in "traditional values"?) excepted, the Jewish tradition, being first and formost a legal tradition, has thought seriously about how to put the laws of the Bible into practice. And this tradition is, by today's standards (although not the standards in much of history) rather pro-choice.

In general, it is amazing how much those who would like to have Biblical law be law in this country ignore a tradition in which Biblical law is implimented as law. You'd think that if you wanted a project to succeed, you would want to learn from the successes and failures of others who've tried it before. But then, do a bunch of pre-millenialists really want any project to succeed.

We Jews should consider that whenever we are tempted to accept the "support" of Israel by these people: the anti-Midas touch so displayed by GW Bush is part and parcel of their ideology.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Building vs. Discovering Sacred Space

A key concept in ancient Western and Near-Eastern culture was that certain spaces are sacred -- God is present (only) in certain places to be discovered by humans.

One of the concepts introduced in the Torah, beginning with Jacob "discovering" new sacred spaces that were not a priori sacred but whose sacredness was constructed by him to the description in last week's portion of the portable sacred space of the mishkan, is that we humans construct our own sacred spaces and times in which God may live.

What are the implications of this different way of thinking? In terms of religion? In terms of being more or less able to accept scientific thinking?

I've not yet wrapped my mind around it.


Realism vs. Neo-Conservativism in Foreign Policy

In much, especially in the media, discussion of foreign policy tends to include some sort of "if the Democrats reject neo-Conservative foreign policy, they must have some heretofore undiscovered realist streak" claim. Unlike, though, the claims that we liberals are becoming isolationists, this claim does not necessarily reflect merely a false dichotomy between neo-Conservative interventionism and isolationism, but rather it reflects a deep misunderstanding of neo-Conservative foreign policy indicating a degree of shallow lack of appreciation for what neo-Conservativism has meant, from well before 9/11 during the Reagan years to GW Bush today, in terms of foreign policy -- in particular, in spite of its own rhetoric, neo-Conservativism does not represent a much of a break with realism as both are fundamentally based on the same principles (1) there is an "enemy", (2) there are no true friends, only stooges (Britain and Israel -- in spite of the rhetoric, neo-Conservatives really do not support Israel except in a role as the patsy for the US -- it is no mere coincidence that major Israeli spying on us has occurred only during the Reagan and Bush II admins: these admins have pointedly refused to actually give Israel information necessary for Israeli security) and enemies of enemies, and (3) no matter how bad a dictator is, if he is the enemy of my enemy, he is my friend.

The Neo-Conservatives may do a good job at dressing their foreign policy ideas in terms of "spreading democracy" but in reality, they still operate from the same principles as the Realists. The liberal rejection of Bush & CO neo-conservatism or even the more authentic McCain backing brand does not mean we are crypto-realists but quite the opposite: we continue to reject the principles of "realism" in foreign policy -- or at least most of us do.

OTOH -- while there is no movement toward realist foreign policy on the left, since the Vietnam war even, foreign policy realists have been trickling left-ward. Neo-Conservativism and its precursors on the right may not have rejected realist principles of foreign policy, but from the realist point of view, the neo-cons are making quite a mess of things ... because they are delusional about what they really are after. And it doesn't make me a "realist" to say, delusions don't make for good foreign policy, does it?

Friday, March 03, 2006


Democrats are Icky

It has occured to me and I presume others (I know it has at least in the context of abortion) that part of the political problem we Democrats have is that we support things a lot of people consider "icky".

People generally agree with us on those issues and, if we were to change our platform, it would hurt us as it would be seen, quite rightly as pandering and it would actually move us away from the mainstream. OTOH, people, even as they support abortion, see it is "icky" and thus don't feel comfortable with our support for it. The pundit-class, even as they live lives impossible before feminism, are largely men who've not outgrown Middle School (the Middle School mentality is obvious by their ideas on appropriate public discourse and national security) and who hence find women icky -- and, since people perceive the punditocracy and media as liberal, they have an especial ability to disuade people from voting Democratic. Too many people feel gays are "icky" even as they, when pressed, support gay rights. Blue-staters may actually want to keep America safe from terrorists, but people in the safe heartland really respond to the GOP platform on the subject because they find terrorists "icky". Etc. Etc.

So the question for us Democrats is "how do we get people to vote based on how they think and feel in their hearts rather than based on the ick-factor?" Because ... no matter what we do -- unless we abandon all principles, we will have to support icky things ... because, well, society cannot work without some ickiness ... now can it? But alas, the Republicans will win every time if elections are decided by the public's reaction of "ick" rather than their actual views on issues.


Security and the Imperial President

One aspect of Bush's imperial presidency which has not received enough attention in even the liberal side of the media is Bush's obsession with security.

While current presidents do have impressive security, there is generally a dialog between the security people and the political people in which the former, whose job it is to protect the pres., try to keep him in a security bubble and the latter, whose job it is to keep the president popular, try to get him out of that bubble every so often. And the president himself may wish to go jogging, have a Big-Mac or do things like any other normal human.

From Phila. on 4 July 2001 to India now where U.S. security officials are keeping Indians away from their own homes (!) to keep the President safe, this President, for all of his "tough guy" and "bring it on" rhetoric, has deferred consistently to his security people, not even really wanted to escape his bubble and generally proven himself to be a coward. The problem is, from 4 July 2001 if not before, our enemies have realized this about our leadership and presume (maybe correctly given the strength of the chickenhawk brigade) that we are all cowards in this country.

Perhaps the chickenhawk brigade is not keeping us safe but rather doing the opposite. When the President is so obsessed with security he makes sure Indians cannot even go to their homes, he is sending a clear message that terrorism will work against us as we are easily terrified -- so terrified we'll do Al Qaeda's bidding in Iraq just to convince ourselves we still are strong.

I wish there would be more coverage about how the personal cowardice of key leaders affects our country's risk for terrorist attack. If Gore were president would he and his political people have let security concerns keep people from hearing his 4 July speech in Phila? No ... and that would have sent Al Qaeda a very different message than GW Bush did on that day.

For all his rhetoric, GW Bush is not a tough guy. Who can blame him personally? I cannot ... but when our country needs a tough leader, we should not be electing WATB chickenhawks but rather actual tough guys. Yet the electorate is so farblonget, farchadat and stuck in middle school they mistake a chicken-bully for a tough guy and a real tough guy in the mould of TR (high pitched voice, NYC accent) would never get elected today.

Security voters need to wake up to what security entails. Part of it is to have a leader who doesn't just say "bring it on" but who is willing to take it when it is brought on.


Professional Responsibility and the Catch-22

I forget whether it was Alito or Roberts but one of them wrote an underappreciatedly frightening memo about the lack of personal responsibility an attorney working for the US would have when working on the job. Most people would agree with this memo -- but the fact is that part of being a professional is that you have personal responsibility to follow your profession's codes of ethics and proper working procedures. E.g. this is why doctors have malpractice insurance.

Why this is interesting right now is that many professionals working for the military are in a Catch-22 situation: the military is asking them to do things that run against their professions' codes of conduct and which, quite rightly, could get them de-certified. So the professionals have a choice: follow orders and be decertified and thus not able to work in their profession again or disobey orders, get dishonorably discharged and not be able to work in their profession again (if any of them are OB-Gyns, will GWB be concerned about their ability to "practice their love with women"?).

I should hope that these professionals should they be discharged and/or decertified sue the military and the CiC in charge of said military for the damages. It's about time people giving the orders take responsibility for the orders they give. If GWB were Hitler, he would not have committed suicide but would have gone to Nuremburg and said "I was just giving orders, it's not my responsibility that people follow them".

From corporations contracting to sweatshops to our political leadership, I am tired of the "I'm just giving orders" defense and wish society would decide to say "enough is enough".


Drinking a Beer

Remember (in spite of his supposedly being on the wagon) the "voters would rather have a beer with Bush than the Dem." meme?

I think around the world part of the problem with Bush's lack of popularity (relative to say the wildly popular Clinton) is that even though Clinton was Republican-lite and backed many of the same deletarious policies as Bush (perhaps even worse -- at least Bush has put Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank (?) ... as bad as Wolfowitz was at Defense, he does have his heart in the right place regarding international banking issues ... which is more than you can say for many others in his sort of position), people would much rather have had a beer with Clinton than with Bush.

I mean wouldn't you rather have a beer with a back-slapping good-ol' boy than a spoiled, mean-spirited frat boy? Forget about what it says of our country that we would pick a President based on with whom we would rather have a beer -- what does it say about a country that we would rather have a beer with Bush than sip sherry with Kerry? Or bourbon with Gore? Or even a beer with Clinton?

When did we become the densest place in the world?


Bush Stuck in Pre-9/11 Mindset

For the longest time a large part of our foreign policy has been dictated by the aphorism, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". One of the lessons of 9/11, when we were attached by an enemy of a former enemy whom we likely helped get started in the fighting superpowers business when he was fighting the Soviets, should have been that this aphorism is not necessarily the best way to run a foreign policy.

Yet, GW Bush & CO are still basing our foreign policy around this principle in that they are associating with the most unsavory characters simply because they are "helping" us in our war on terror.

While I do not deny that we might have to have some unsavory partners in any endevour of ours, deciding that someone is our "friend" simply because they too "hate terrorists" is just not good policy. Such friends, from Saddam Hussein to the Mujahedin from whence was populated The [Data]base [of Jihadis] or as we more comonly call it (in Arabic) Al Qaeda (why do these friends always seem to be made under Republican admins? so much for the Republicans being good for national security!), inevitably turn on us. And even if they don't: what profit does it have for us to be too much in bed in our war on terrorism with an unpopular leader like Mussharif? Even if he doesn't turn on us, by being seen as propping up an unpopular leader, we build not only resentment against ourselves (Mussharif is exactly why "they" hate us: in the name of economic and political freedom we foist unpopular leaders on countries simply because they are willing to collect bills based on illegal contracts made by our big industries and energy companies) but also against our war on terror. We may make alliances based on the principle of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" but others make alliances based on the principle of "the friend of my enemy is my enemy" as well as the former principle -- the net result being that people will hate us because we are friends with those they hate (which, btw is not primarily Israel -- Israel is just a convenient scapegoat) and thus will be friends with those who want to attack us.

Either BushCO, for all their talk about the "pre-9/11 mentality" of their political opponants -- who, by and large "got it" even before 9/11 so their having a "pre-9/11 mentality" must mean we still "get it"? -- still is mired in a pre-9/11 mindset (as demonstrated by going after state sponsor of terrorism Iraq) and just doesn't "get it" or even worse -- they don't want to get it because the status quo is still too profitable.


BTW -- Bush is now on record with out and out lies (regarding Katrina), breaking laws, etc. When will impeachment hearings start? And why did the press corps, etc., go more after Clinton about much more minor lies while they still pussy-foot around and not call Bush a liar? Has our press corps bought that much into the mindset where a scalawag like Clinton can do no good while a gentleman like Bush can get away with anything?

Who won the civil war?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I Wonder if Any of these People Support the Abortion Law-to-be in SD?

In MI they want to make it under all conditions legal to shoot to kill so long as, Jimbo and Ned style, you shout "he's coming right for us" before hand.

My question is whether any of the people supporting this bill would support an SD-style, no health exceptions abortion ban.

After all, let us assume for the sake of argument (e.g. as they do in the Rabbinical lit. at some points), that a fetus does count as an ensouled human. Then, if the mother-to-be experiences the potential for injury from a pregnancy, prevention of said injury (or death), even if it means harming the fetus, would count as self-defense, wouldn't it?

Thus, if you can shoot to kill due to a home invasion (before you know what harm the trespassers wish for you), can't you abort to kill when your very body is invaded by "someone" who is causing, however inadvertantly, harm?

I wonder if any righty-tighties will see the disconnect (it would be more ironic if the laws in question were in the same state, but still -- I bet people will take incoherent positions on these two laws): or do they actually, as liberals parody it, care more about the unborn than the born?


Wedge Issues to the (Religious) Right

Part of the success of the Republican party was its ability to use "wedge" issues to splinter groups from the Democratic party and then pick up the pieces.

Democrats are in a position now to do the same thing. This is appreciated in the split between "social conservatives" and "economic conservatives", but it has proven hard for us to pick up positions to appeal to either side without being seen as pandering. Part of the problem lies in the fact that too many Democrats think we need to move to the right or at least moderate to attract conservatives when the solution, used by Republicans a generation ago, is to show how the ideas of your party's lunatic fringe actually address the concerns of particular groups in the mainstream of the other party: you don't move to the mainstream, you move the mainstream to you. For example, we shouldn't try to attract social conservatives by moving to the right on social issues -- this will only be correctly seen as pandering and why should a social conservative vote for us when the Republicans already represent them as social conservatives? Instead we should use our social liberalism (and our newly established support for fiscal responsibility -- support which resonates politically because it did not come about via pandering but by reconsideration of how fiscal responsibility fits in with our own ideals) to attract economic conservatives. To attract social conservatives, we should use our economic liberalism and address their real needs -- they will agree to disagree with us on gay married terrorists having abortions so long as we can deliver on promises to bring home the bread and bacon, even if they know we prefer to eat pitas and tofu amongst ourselves.

But one thing most Democrats, even those who get the above concept, miss is that social conservatives themselves are a very diverse group that can be further split by wedge issues. We tend to focus, for example, on the opposition of social conservatives to abortion and access to birth control by unmarried individuals. But while they are united in this sort of issue, they are divided in others in way that, if we press the right political buttons, some elements of the "religious right" will scare other elements right to us.

For example -- do people realize that, on birth control, your typical socially conservative Catholic stands right in the middle of two camps in the Protestant religious right that are at complete odds?

While the politically powerful nuts who are wont to get into bed politically with the religious right don't quite feel this way, most socially conservative Catholics simply don't want the state to be seen as doing or even approving of something that contradicts their religious views (funny -- many don't have this sensativity on behalf of others when it comes to the religious views of people like me: do they feel squeemish about the state being seen as approving Christianity by allowing displays of creches on public property?): they don't want public resources involved in handing out condoms, but they don't want them banned either. And while they want to ban abortion, they also want to at least put a moratorium on the death penalty. So a Democratic candidate that doesn't seem like s/he wants to promote pre-marital sex (just be pragmatic about it's existence) and opposes the death penalty and generally wants to address underlying concerns about poverty, etc (although the term "social justice" doesn't necessarily play well with this camp) will do well -- and by emphasizing opposition to the death penalty, long thought to be a loser for Dems, the pro-death penalty elements of the religious right will get so riled up, they'll scare away the Catholics.

OTOH, there are elements of the Protestant religious right that would just assume ban condoms for all people, not just try to restrict their distribution to single-'uns. And they go further in believing "every sperm is sacred" than any Catholic, except for maybe Rick Santorum. If we do bring up birth control -- and heck, bring up masturbation -- we can get these people so riled up they'll scare away even the Catholics. They'll certainly scare away a group which most liberals don't realize exists: the "I'll purchase a condom, for I am a Protestant" crowd.

Yes -- not everyone in the religious right who believes "all your uteri belong to us" is against birth control, at least when it comes to married couples. And many of these people also believe that one way to avoid fornication is to -- ummm ... relieve those urges on your lonesome.

Bring back Dr. J. Elders or someone of that sort. It'll get the whackos in the religious right hopping mad ... so mad they'll scare away those who start to think: "well yes, I believe abortion is murder and I don't want to 'encourage' premarital sex by handing kids condoms, but I ought to have the right to, if I wanted to, go to the drug store and purchase a condom ... for I am a Protestant living in a Protestant country".

In general, what the Democrats fail to realize about wedge issues is that you cannot drive a wedge into the other party by being bland, trying to win over a few moderates with pandering DLC "centrism" and trying not to scare people away. In order for a wedge issue to work, some people have to hate your opinion about it. The Republicans were not successful with wedge issues 'cause they made themselves bland and less scary to social conservatives and Southrons. They were successful because they scared (anyone remember the 1964 campaign of the "scary" Barry Goldwater? did that mark the end of the Republican party due to the hijacking of the party by the right or rather did it mark the beginning of the re-emergence of the Republican party) the bejeebers out of us liberals, which made the social conservatives start to wonder about us liberals.

Wedge issues can be a successful strategy, but they are not for bland wimps. So when will our side stop worrying about what the media (who are not our friends no matter how liberal they claim to be) will say and simply be less bland and more wedgy-edgy?


I Know Some Conservatives. A Conservative is a Great Friend of Mine. And You, Mr. President, are no Conservative

Conservatives are picking up what I have been thinking for a while now -- Pres. Bush is no conservative in that he doesn't seem to want to conserve anything in particular. He is a pure right wing / reactionary (props to my parents for teaching me from a very young age about the difference).

But are other conservatives calling GWB a reactionary? Nope. They're calling him -- get this -- a liberal, I guess 'cause that's, as far as they're concerned, the worst epithat ever.

So now they are blaming Bush policies on "liberals" trying to further mischaracterize and discredit us.

Of course, it could be as I've also worried -- that liberal is a code-word here; i.e., they're starting in the direction of blaming all of BushCO's bad decisions on us Jews (as someone pointed out, GWB is not Hitler ... he's the Kaiser, the GWOT is "the Great War", and it's upon the resurgence of paleo-conservativism that we really have to worry about someone to whom Hitler comparisons would more alarmingly accurately attach). I guess inside every paranoid person must be someone who is not sufficiently really concerned about real threats -- otherwise how would those sorts of my coreligionists, who are quick to see anti-Semitism everywhere even where it doesn't really exist, not be able to see that when neo-conservativism went predictably wrong, that the right would predictably start blaming the Jews (if only at first in code words). What happened to the supposed intelligence of my people? How did we get from Benjamin Disraeli and Albert Einstein to Bobo Brooks and Richard "Math is Hard" Cohen?

I just wish some people would learn the lesson of the parable of the bird, the ox and the fox: not everyone who dumps feces on you is your enemy and not everyone who digs you out of feces is your friend. Just because someone criticizes Israel doesn't make them an anti-Semite. And just because someone is a "friend" of Israel doesn't make them a friend of us Jews. The ones who want a strong Israel so that way it'll bring on an Armeggedon in which all but a small remanent of Jews is destroyed are obviously not interested in Israel sticking around for the long haul, and some of those who would be the first to help us Jews all move to a greater Israel are the ones who may in the future be the first ones to "help" us into the trains going you-know-where.

Let's wisen up about who these righty-tighties are and not express "shock" when they turn on us and start blaming us all for their demented policies.

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