Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Why Take a Stand on This?

I had more to blog about, but it has slipped my mind.

But my question (which others have certainly asked): why is (hopefully future speaker) Pelosi taking a stand on the Jefferson case? So long as the FBI had the warrants necessary to seize the papers they seized (which is, nowadays, alas a big if ... if whatever warrant the FBI had did not cover all the papers they seized, then Pelosi is right to complain about the FBI's seizures of otherwise privaleged communications between Jefferson and his constituants -- but the emphasis she should take is on "illegal, unwarranted -- in all senses of the word -- searches and seizures" not on "separation of powers"), I fail to see how Congresscritters should have any immunities different than any other professionals who handle privaleged communications that do end up getting seized persuant to warrants.

What's really bad here is that by going to bat for Jefferson, but not for cases where Bush & CO really have overreached the bounds of the Constitution and propriety, Pelosi is sending the message to voters that we Dems care more about corrupt Congresscritters and protecting our own than about protecting civil rights in general and gives new ammunition to those who frame liberal stances on civil rights as "protecting criminals' rights over victims' rights". Moreover, by standing with the Republicans and their framing of the issue of one of "separation of powers", she is tacitly agreeing to the Republican framing of separation of powers -- that Congress and the Executive branch get to operate as their own separate fiefdoms unchecked by the others. Now if Scalia, et al's, support of "original intent" were more than just so much chin music they would be up in arms about this Republican distortion of the Framers' clearly stated intent of why they wanted a division of labor among multiple branches of government: "separation of powers" pointedly does not mean that Congress has some special degree of immunity (even if it is still partial) to law enforcement actions against it -- it means that the Executive Branch is supposed to compete with Congress for power so that neither side can get too much of it (which indicates also a tacit understanding my the Framers of something Framer worshiping market enthusiasts today just don't get -- that competition can actually create scarcity!). The Executive should be trying to "get" Congresscritters and Congress should be doing the same with the Executive. If Pelosi is supporting Jefferson 'cause she is afraid that Bush & CO will use their powers to squelch Congressional investigations of them ... well, she's barking up the wrong tree.

The Constitutional Option here is not for Pelosi to make Dems. look like criminal-coddling (yes, I know ... Jefferson's not convicted yet, but to your average 'murkin, people are guilty until proven innocent ... unless they are Duke Lacrosse players ... so when will David Brooks comment on that aspect of the case: that maybe conservatives should be a little more, er, conservative, i.e. cautious, about prejudging people as guilty?) lovers of corruption while assenting to the wrong-headed Republican interpretation of the idea of "separation of powers" -- the option is for Pelosi to urge concerned Democrats and Republicans to make a tit-for-tat strike: Bush admin investigates a Congresscritter ... Congresscritters investigate Bush & CO. That is what the Founders (doesn't that term sound so "Twilight Zone"?) would have wanted, eh?

If Pelosi can start taking the lead here, rather than following Denny-boy ... if Pelosi can start framing "separation of powers" correctly rather than assenting to the Republican framing ... if Pelosi can be seen as one who is willing to root out corruption, even in her own party, rather than helping to protect the corrupt -- that would do so much for Dem. prospects later this year, nu?

AFAIC, Pelosi better shape up fast if she wants to be Speaker ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Now that someone's given this a name ...

I might as well commentwhore as is sometimes my wont.


When Will They Ever Learn

Ya know? I bet some people still think GWB is good for Israel.

Well, GWB seems to be tryin' to use his anti-Midas touch again, and after so many times, at least some in BushCO must realize what kind of touch Dear Leader has. Which makes you wonder what they really think of Israel. Which makes you wonder any members of a people as smart as my own people (and others like to think we) are were taken in by this con in the first place? And of course, this ignores the whole issue of how wrong it is for certain people to have voted for Bush not based on whether he was good for the USA but for other reasons: all I'll say is that if they should, HaShem forbid, come for us with the box-cars, I'm blaming you guys for trying to prove those who hate us right. What kind of psychological kronk causes a Jew to adopt anti-Semitic stereotypes into his/her own behavior?

So what has GWB done now you might ask? Well, he's now going on and on about how he is going to stand with Israel. Look, with the reputation GWB has given us in the world, the last thing Israel needs is a strong display of "friendship" from us. Part of Israel's problem on the international scene is that it is used as a punching bag for countries that wish to punch, rhetorically or even physically, the US but are not powerful enough to do so, so they bug the US "proxy" of Israel instead. And now GWB is "standing by Israel" and inviting the world to "bring it on" to Israel who being framed as the cause for US hypocrisy vis-a-vis the democratization of the ME.

If the US really wanted to help Israel we would either ourselves or arrange for someone else to keep funding the PA and keep channels wide open with them. While Israel cannot be seen as condoning or backing down on Hamas, it doesn't do Israel any good to have increasingly desparate Palestinian neighbors who blame it and American hypocrisy on ME democratization (and view Israel and America as linked at the hip) for their plight. Moreover, part of the reason "they hate us" is not because of our freedoms but because we won't let them have theirs. Our lack of support for the Palestinian electoral process is just the latest in a long line of failures to actually respect and nurture democracy in spite of rhetoric otherwise: you would think the people proclaiming loudest that "after 9/11 everything is different" would have learned the lessons of blowback and what happens when you fail to support democracy. But in spite of their martial, pro-democracy rhetoric, the neo-cons are really 'Realists' in disguise: and more Nixonian than Carterian, besides. We may wave a big stick and invade countries in the name of democracy, but unless we are actually willing to tolerate the results of democratic processes, we are just big hypocrites and it's no wonder we are hated. If we truly want to win this war against terrorism (which Bush & CO have no reason to want to win -- let's face it, they profit more from "fighting" it than winning it), we really need to know what motivates our enemies and cut that motivation off lest our enemies recruit more to their side.

So GWB, however, refuses to lend Israel the help it needs but rather shifts the blame for his admin's latest hypocrisy to Israel, our supposed "friend". Is this really friendship? Pace Faux News: we report, you decide.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Reading my old P.J. O'Rourke Books Again

As I have mentioned previously, I am rereading my old P.J. O'Rourke books. It is amazing how much he says about "liberals" applies to today's "conservatives" and how much, e.g., he says about the 'Kennedy's applies to the cults of Bush and Giuliani we had in the near past (and still have with respect to Reagan).

Of course, some of what he said about "liberals" was always more true of conservatives and that conservatives had this image of a neo-Puritan PC liberal mainly due to projection on their part. But some of what he said did apply to a certain class of liberals (who mainly don't exist outside of the "liberal" pundits -- no wonder people won't vote for us: look at who they think are liberals!) but now applies more to many conservatives, especially of the neo-conservative stock who are more "activist" in inclination (pace The Rhetoric of Reaction) than paleo-conservatives. Of course, given the intellectual history of the neo-conservative movement and its continued resemblence to a form of Marxism (its desire to spread revolution, supposedly democratic and capitalist, but in reality the neo-cons always seem to be undermining democracy and capitalism with their support of whomever is the enemy of our current enemy no matter how unpopular such a leader is and their support of anti-capitalist, un-democratic "free trade" regimes that interfere with the local accumulation and free use of capital for development), it is not surprising that neo-conservatives should resemble a paleo-conservative's idea of a leftist, even if that idea is shaped by projection or a misapprehension of what liberals stand for (e.g. we are not, by and large, Marxists -- indeed, more than anything any "conservative" ever did -- although you cannot blame them as real conservatives are not wont to do things while neo-cons are subtly communist themselves -- it was the policies put in place by certain liberals, suspected by many of being Com-Symps themselves, that eventually led to the defeat of Communism in the Cold War.).

Indeed, liberals like myself often wonder what happened to paleo-conservativism? What ever happened to the idea of "first, make sure you don't do to whatever it is you want to 'improve' what Cheney said Leahy should do to himself"? A little bit of authentic (not pandering, Pat Buchanan, style) paleo-conservativism, stripped of its nativist/racist elements would be an excellent corrective for today's so-called "conservative" political "mainstream".

OTOH, given the degree to which conservatives, in distancing themselves from neo-conservativism can and will label that movement as liberal (read "Jewish") for its messianic interventionism, when we liberals ask for any resurgence in paleo-conservativism, we better be sure to ask for it only in a small dose -- as a large scale resurgence of paleo-conservativism, blaming "messianic activist liberals posing as conservatives" (and we know what that means) is even more frightening than what we have now. As someone pointed out a while back (I forget who), the US in the early 2000s is looking an awful lot politically like Germany around WWI. Let us hope that the inevitable paleo-conservative backlash to neo-conservativism does not take deep roots or resemble Germany's 1920s/1930s era "paleo-conservative" backlash against their version of neo-conservativism (which was, at least, more economically liberal than our version). Part of the issue is, of course, the need for effective liberal leadership -- the neo-cons have made such a mess of things that no matter what liberals do, it won't be good enough and will invite a backlash against liberals, even if the true blame belongs with the neo-cons who will by then be forgotten as a kind of conservative and only the "neo" part will be remembered. This sort of pattern happened in Germany. It happened, arguably in Nicaragua (cf Olvlzl) when people voted against the Sandanistas (who were not that all that good anyway, pace Olvlzl) in part because they really didn't improve things enough from what the Samozas did to avoid getting blamed for problems caused by the Samozas.

So how do we liberals, when we do wrest power from the neo-cons, do a good enough job fixing things up that we don't get blamed for the problems caused by the current regime? And what can we do to make sure the paleo-conservative perspective is heard while making sure it's ugly head does not get too far above water or too ugly? And how do we offer a liberal counterweight to both kinds of conservativism that is clearly stated enough so that the paleo-conservatives are not able to get others to confuse us with the neo-conservatives (as conservatives are already trying to do in denouncing GW Bush, et al., as "liberals")?

A similar set of questions can also be asked substituting the word "Jew" for liberal: how do we Jews extricate ourselves from the conservative so-called "Zionists" (whose ideology is not beneficial for Israel's long term survival anyways) who claim to represent us before we get punished for their sins? It may be the case that Jews are no more to blame for anti-Semitism "instigated" by some Jews of bad-faith, than a mugging victim is to be blamed for the robbery -- but the actions of certain Jews, who e.g. were excited about America invading Iraq on behalf of Israel (this sort of thing actually happened -- in spite of the fact that our invasion of Iraq didn't stand benefit Israel anyway, some people were convinced that it would and supported the war for that reason: how much in bad faith of being an American citizen is that? and these people often claim their side has a monopoly on patriotism?), are about as smart as flashing a wad of cash in a poorly lit area with slow police response times.

So how do we get ourselves out of our current mess without inviting a new one to happen in a couple of decades?


Another Good Blog

A frequent commentor at Adventus now has a blog of his own: check it out.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Did Y'all Catch This?

Being paranoid, I figured that the inclusion of Bell South in the USA Today article about the phone number harvesting was a false lead fed the the reporters who had a few real leads in order to discredit the whole story about the NSA domestic wiretapping whose publication was inevitable. But it turns out I may have been wrong. I don't know how many of y'all caught this, but Jeff Battcher, Vice President of Corporate Communications, BellSouth on the Brian Lehrer show yesterday did not know (i.e. he wasn't told) whether his company or it's affiliates had provided the government information pursuant to one of those "security letters" issued by Bush & CO.

So there you have it. None of the companies involved were approached by NSA, most likely -- they were approached by someone with a "security letter". So they deny being approached by the NSA and are not lying (while still managing to keep the FCC and Congressional overseers, such as they might someday actually wish to engage in oversight, off their backs). And unlike as it has been misreported, the payment alleged is not direct (hence they are able to deny the direct payments), but quid pro quo, nu? It was pay to play in a manner that would make the NJ political machines green with envy (they must really be fish-eyed about Bush & CO's skills: compared to them corrupt NJ machine politicians are pikers).

Also, interesting was the discussion today on Air America about some Clinton era program ("thick strand" or something like that -- I guess it was related that Eschelon program the same 'conservatives' who even so embraced TIA so feared) that was reasonably legal and more effective than whatever Bush & CO want to do -- and Bush & CO killed it. As soon as someone reminds us of the name, we should all write Bush & CO why they killed a reasonably legal surveillance scheme that actually had a chance of working and replaced it with a scheme that is likely illegal and is unlikely to work?

And, BTW: when will the commentariat get it? The issue with phonetapping is not whether you have anything to hide about your personal life (frankly, if my personal life is so interesting to some "bureaucrat in the bowels of NSA", that bureaucrat needs not only more work, which there certainly is to be done, but also a life of his/her own), whether the information will be used to convict you for a crime a la the innocents have nothing to hide argument (heck, guilty people have nothing to hide: the program, even by the "if it's reasonable, it's Constitutional" argument, isn't Constitutional -- the spying creates too big of a haystack in which to find any needle) or whether the government will be persecuting people based on what they learn about people's political beliefs from private conversations or even call records (that just ain't happening -- yet). The issue right now at this very moment as demonstrated by the ABC story is whistleblowers. If the government or even big business with government ties has a whistleblower they would like to ferret out, all they need to do is search the phone records of a journalist breaking a story or a cop investigating the case, etc. And, without judicial oversite or even a sealed record in a location physically outside of the control of the executive branch -- it may be that no-one will ever be able to independently review the snooping to see if it's justified, etc. Think of what might even happen as the NSA becomes a tool bandied about it bureaucratic turf wars: who's gonna be minding the door regarding terrorists?

This is the most frightening aspect of the domestic spying: that supposing the executive branch does something immoral, illegal, or what have you. They can find out and go after whomever leaked the wrongdoing and nobody can say "wait a minute -- it would be immoral, illegal and a waste of precious resources that could go into catching real bad guys to go into a reporter's or cop's phone records to identify a whistleblower".

Indeed ... it is precisely those who did no wrong (but who are reporting the wrongdoing of others) that have the most to fear from NSA wiretapping (as I said -- those who did wrong will not have their secrets uncovered by such a profligate data-dump based program; if the government knows enough about what to look for in a data dump, they know enough to get a search warrant. To use Bush's framing of this: "if we know from where Al Qaeda is calling you that we would know that it is Al Qaeda calling you, then we can get a warrant to intercept the call") -- I wish that the media would get this (and that they don't: is that ignorance mere ignorance or is it willful?).


New Jersey and You: A Perfect Fit

Well ... unless you like to go over 25 MPH on supposed "highways" in which case you'll get speeding tickets.

But I digress: the quotation is because at the RU commencement, Fmr. Gov. Kean (what a shame they didn't have Byrne as well -- that would have been too much entertainment for a commencement speech, I guess) praised The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, essentially for raising the level of discourse in the USA. I didn't catch if TDS had a response to it, but I somehow imagine Jon Stewart saying something to the effect of "it's a pretty sad day in America if our show is an example of better rather than worse discourse" -- but of course, Jon Stewart would have said it in a wittier manner.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Our Monomaniacal Foreign Policy

It seems that this administration -- for all of its trumpeting of "after 9/11, everything is different" for defending every powergrab they make -- has not learned the real foreign policy lesson of that "the enemy of my [current] enemy is" not necessarily "my friend".

The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were not always our enemies. Back in the 1980s, we helped expand the movement which eventually gave us the Taliban and Al Qaeda because they were the enemies of our enemy, the Soviet Union. Too often we aided and abetted cruel dictators (and this is "why they hate us" ... they don't hate our freedoms, they hate that we've not let them have theirs) because they were "the enemy of our enemy", viz the Soviets. And look at where this "realist" foreign policy got us -- it weren't too realistic, was it?

Of course the neo-cons who control our foreign policy nowadays (which are, it must be said, a subset of the neo-cons in existance, many of whom really don't like GW Bush and still wish McCain were President) claim to get this lesson, claim they are basing foreign policy around "spreading freedom and democracy" and even claim those of us who oppose them are turning to "realist" foreign policy.

But is this the case? While the merits of the Chavez regime are debatable (I would say he's doing what needs to be done to start an actual capitalist, i.e. not latifundia monopolist business based, economy there -- maybe he's a demagogue about it, but it could be far worse -- the necessary reforms could be being turned into a Mugabe-scale violation of the very rights on which modern democratic capitalist states are predicated, a violation as bad or worse than the plantations being euthanized) and it may be necessary to offer some real sticks to Qaddafi so as to bring him back into the society of decent leaders, to say that Chavez is bad because of some dubious evidence that he "opposes us in the war on terror" (seems to me he's got our back with shipments of cheap oil so we aren't sending all our money to states with a history of buying off terrorism and supporting "Islamo-fascism": maybe that's what BushCO means? he is opposing the efforts to keep the "war on terror" from being never ending?) while Qaddafi is good, no matter how poorly he treats his people, because he is "helping" us in the war on terror is very much keeping in lines with the myopic "enemy of my enemy is my friend" foreign policy that got us into this mess in the first place.

If the neo-cons truly wished to reject "realist" foreign policy, instead of talking the good talk on spreading popular sovereignty, they would actually do something about it. They would reform the IMF/World Bank/WTO so that they stop undermining popular sovereignty and local capitalism by foisting bizarre "growth plans" and "austerity plans" (and Wolfowitz actually has indicated that he does realize the importance of this) -- that tell 3rd world nations to do the exact opposite of how strong economies actually got that way -- on needy nations. They would respect the results of free and fair elections so long as the elected leaders behaved themselves -- no matter what outrageous things those leaders say. They would allow popularly elected leaders latitude to reform their own economies in the way those leaders and their supporters see fit. And they would stop playing the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" game but rather support leaders not myopically based their support for our current war but in their living up to the ideals which made our country great (e.g. not necessarily those ideals supported by BushCO0.

Because the "enemy of my enemy" is often not "my friend" but my next enemy. That is the lesson of 9/11. Until the neo-cons learn this, they should have the decency to stop wrapping themselves in the mantle of 9/11 and defending everything they do to undermine our nation by invoking "after 9/11 everything is different" -- 'cause they themselves haven't learned the real lesson.

... unless they have and the whole point is to ensure a steady supply of enemies for us to fight in the future, thus keeping the military-industrial complex afloat and not risking another post-cold-war collapse of that industry [ / Eisenhower's tinfoil hat -- speaking of whom, are the neo-cons in their way with pseudo-idealistic rhetoric actually the heirs of the Dulles brothers who, with their clumsy, ostensibly high-minded strategic bungling of our foreign policy, seemed to turn the friends of our enemies into new enemies for ourselves while getting us mixed up with some pretty unsaviory "friends"? ]

Monday, May 15, 2006


If there are any NSA/CIA/FBI types evesdropping here ...

Could you please explain to me why I always get my luggage searched and often get a pat-down at the airport (can I request that the hot chick do this rather than the old guy?)? What are the odds of getting a search? I suspect I am getting searched more often than I would if it were entirely random. Am I on some sort of political watch list or anything?

I promise I won't sue for damages based on the knowledge I gain from your responses ... as long as I can next time I fly request (and have my request granted) that the hot chick do the pat-down.



I was in a diner eating breakfast and caught a glimpse of a morning show where they were talking about this one polygamist possibly holed up in a compound in Texas, playing up the "this sounds kinda like another Waco waitin' to happen" angle. One thing they said, struck me as interesting though: since they don't know specifically whether the guy is really in there or whether any crimes are actually taking place in the compound, they cannot do anything about it. This strikes me as odd for two reasons:

(1) while the implication is "that darned Constitution -- it keeps us from nabbin' evildoers", it's simply untrue. If they have reasonable suspicion that the compound is hiding a fugitive (and hiding a fugitive is a crime, last I checked), they can easily get a warrant. Whether getting at this guy (who, for a polygamist, looks awfully unlike George Lucas: he doesn't even sport a beard or wear flannels) is worth the Waco-style conflagration that could ensue is another story ... but the government certainly does have the power to go after someone like this even in the current situation and for the media to imply otherwise is irresponsible as it is whipping up fear that could lead to a destruction of the very Constitutional rights a free press depends on (if we had a free press as opposed to a costly one wherein the money for comes from big business expecting something in return -- not that there's anything wrong with that expectation ... it's called capitalism, folks ... and when reactionaries claim people like me are paranoid fruitcakes for mentioning this sort of thing, it sorta makes you wonder: if something so keen to capitalism is so dismissed by reactionaries, they are not really the capitalists they claim to be, are they? well, let me let you in on a secret: business hates capitalism! 'cause real capitalism, Soto-style, means a lot of competition for them from a lot of small operators ... and so big-business likes capitalism about as much as Gulliver liked his stay in Lilliput).

(2) in particular, if this guy were abusing drugs, rather than women, it would be very easy, under our current war on drugs to get a warrant to go after him. if the guy was a terrorist, under our new and very un-Constitutional regime, the government could manage to get him without even bothering to get a warrant (he could be detained as an "enemy combatant" ... indeed, that is the subtext of the reporting, is it not? "we must burn the Constitution to save it" -- where have we heard that one before? it really helped in Vietnam, though, didn't it? which I'll get back to in this post -- "see why we need to weaken our rights to get bad-guys? if we cannot get some polygamist thanks to our Constitution, how can we get terrorists?").

Which brings me to the title of this post: what makes someone a "terrorist"? When theocratic whackos fly planes into buildings, they certainly are terrorists. But what about a theocratic whacko who marries off minors against their wills? Certainly the minors are terrorized by this guy. Isn't he a terrorist? Why can't the government declare him an "enemy combatant" in the war on terror?

Of course, we 'murkins like our own theocratic whackos who, when taking 9/11 into account (when not the next statement is un-true) are less dangerous to us at this moment, even if their ultimate goal is something even more frightening than the goal of Al Qaeda (the Islamic Caliphate was at least often tolerant of religious diversity and provided its citizens and resident non-citizens, dhimmis, with the rule of law -- which is why in tribal areas you actually see many women, who benefit most from the rule of law, pushing for Sha'aria, a dynamic we never understood even though it helped bring the Taliban to power once and may help again -- and a set of laws intended to actually be followed ... whereas our theocrats believe that it is impossible to follow the law which they want to impliment: wtf? ), so we probably won't treat them uniformly as terrorists, but why are they not terrorists?

OTOH, if we now say every criminal is a terrorist (and many do mean to terrorize, that makes 'em terrorists, eh?), then every time anyone is so much accused of speeding (you were trying to terrorize those other drivers weren't you?), you could be declared an "enemy combatant", nu? This is why all these anti-terrorism powers the executive branch is claiming really are part of a very slippery slope: what is a terrorist but a kind of lawbreaker? So when is a suspected terrorist different than someone suspected of breaking the law? Is this not a complete end-run around our Consitution? And those who say "well, we'd never elect a President who would abuse such powers"? I'll ask them to imagine living under President Hillary whom the media has annointed the Democratic front runner. Are they saying we won't elect a Democrat in 2008? And if so, what do they know?

There is a fundamental issue here, though, besides the Consitutional one. If indeed we are at war against terrorism, shouldn't we have a better definition of what or who is a terrorist? How can we win a war if we don't know against what we are fighting? Isn't that part of the reason we lost in Vietnam? We didn't really consider the popularity of the cause against which we were fighting?


On a side note regarding my occassional glimpses of TV: ya know, until a few days ago, I had never seen Nancy Grace? I saw her on a somewhat extended promo for her show: is it just me or is she a real life version of MadTV's Darlene McBride?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Back to Today's Regularly Scheduled Blogging

I've uploaded everything I want to upload for now from the weekend ... now back to the concerns of today.

Blogger is sure slow!

I guess their motto should be "Blogger, you get what you pay for"?


Recommendation of the Day

My Inner Essentialist would like to recommend Silver Tips “Organic Twilight Tea” (Silver Tips, although I’ve not been there, seems to be, in terms of its product line, the New York equivalent of So.Cal’s excellent Chado). You can really taste that tea is part of the camellia classification. And speaking of such things, my outer Epicurean would like to make an interesting comment regarding a verse of Pirke Avos, which states that some would claim that God created the tongs used to forge the first pair of tongs. Perhaps the Rabbis of the Mishna did not mean it this way, but the whole idea that God had to create the “zero’th” pair of tongs, because you have to use tongs in creating tongs, seems silly to use moderns. As would the idea that God must have created the first wheel or the first watch. It almost seems like taking God’s name in vain to make some of these claims. Perhaps this wasn’t the intended tone, but the Mishna’s Nixonian “some would say” sounds almost derogatory to that opinion and the “logic” which produced it.

Yet, this turn of thought is exactly what is behind the notion of Intelligent Design. Does Intelligent Design involve a vain invocation of God? If so, would teaching it in school violate my right of religious practice which includes following, more or less (well, maybe I should have been a little stricter with my Sabbath observance, um, er …), the “10 commandments”?

A similar strange loop, as came out in comments on the Adventus blog, occurs with the idea of “law” and “order”: which comes first? The TV show ;)? Seriously, while the Torah seems to indicate law comes first (the wishful thinking – albeit a wish that has largely remained true, not all wishful thinking is wrongheaded! – of the Deuteronomists hoping they could with a series of laws maintain a culture), the Rabbis realized that each was necessary to the other. Did the Rabbis suggest that both literally came from God? Only in the sense of Ibsen’s vital lie: they realized that legal systems, even those given in theory to Moses at Sinai, must evolve.

So if evolution is so pervasive a concept in our lives, why is it so hard to conceive of biological evolution? Maybe the problem is not the idea of natural selection, but the idea of diversity: that, in reference to a recent Haftarah, progress requires a diversity from which to select the best, and that the classes into which we group things are not existential but rather matters of the tastes of our collective Inner Essentialists (albeit classification, equivalent to regression, is also the tool, par excellence, of science: an activity which is essentialist not out of Platonic commitments but out of the Pragmatism of Idealism: how Kantian, don’t you think? Pace Morrisette, isn’t Kant ironic?).


Weekly Parsha Blogging

This week’s parsha was another double: Achre Mot and Kidoshim. I am sure in today’s environment, everyone is addressing Achre Mot, the controversial part of which I have already addressed ad naseum (a phrase I am using ad naseum today it seems – I hope this doesn’t indicate I am coming down with an intestinal illness). So I’ll address Kidoshim and the Haftorah from Amos.

Kidoshim begins with the commandment of Imitateo Dei: “You all must be holy for I the Lord your God am Holy”. This is a very odd commandment when you consider the meaning of the Hebrew “kiddush”, translated as “holy” but implying separateness. What does it mean that everyone should be “separate”? Is this one of those silly imperatives like “whosoever should be a man, should be a non-conformist” (what if I don’t want to conform to the ideal of non-conformity?) that caused us in high school to consider all the Transcendentalist works foisted upon us by our teachers to be nothing more than philosophical Onanism and for us to find every single reference (and there are plenty to be found when you’re a teenager) to masturbation in the works of Emerson, Thoreau, et al.? Is God, OTOH, saying we should live apart from society?

The rest of the portion shows that neither is the case: holiness requires neither a withdrawal from society nor paradox-inducing philosophical refusal to give back to society as a man ought to try to produce an heir for his levirate wife. How do you be holy? The Torah follows the command to be holy with a slew of commands about dealing fairly with others and being an exemplary member of society. You be holy by doing holy. You become set apart by always doing things in a more fair and exemplary way than everyone else. Of course, this can lead, as we all have seen, to what is known in the Jewish community as “the frum Olympics”, but the actions prescribed here by Leviticus are not matters of ritual but of practice. Moreover, the notion of holiness implies difference – you cannot become holy by spiritual and moral keeping up with the Jones’; you have to really adopt an attitude of justice in your mind and actions.

The idea that holiness is a matter of behavior rather than mere being is reinforced by the reading from Amos. Amos declares: “yes Israel are God’s chosen people” but so are other nations. Israel is set apart, i.e. made holy, only by the degree to which we set ourselves apart by behaving more justly than others. If we Jews, or any group, wants to be God’s chosen people, we have to act in a manner befitting such a state of being. Those who want this country to be a force for good in this world must maybe do a bit better of a job deciding where and how we are using our force. Just because we have convinced ourselves we are good doesn’t make every action of ours good: we must be sure to do good things if we want to be considered good.

BTW – doesn’t the difference in attitudes toward Israel and Zionism amongst Bedouins depending on the nature of their interaction with the governmental apparatus of Israel disprove the claim “they will hate us no matter what we do”? Of course, even if that claim were true, we as Jews still have a special obligation to do the right thing. Just as a victim’s flashing around wads of money does not excuse the actions of the mugger, a person should be smart enough not to flash around money. And where the actions of those in “Nineveh” who do not “know there right hand from their left” are concerned, there is also the issue, from the Holiness Code, of not placing a stumbling block before the blind.


Finally Uploading the Posts I wrote over the Weekend

I had problems with the first disk to which I saved my not-work, but this one seems to have worked ...

Anyway, let's start with some Tee-Vee Newsiness:

How come the MSM can manage to cover, ad naseum, the under-the-influence of who knows and who cares what driving escapades of Patrick “Son of Ted” Kennedy, but cannot seem to find the juicy sex scandal possibly involved in the resignation of Porter Goss? And people say the news-media are biased in favor of liberals?

BTW – is it my imagination or does Patrick Kennedy look like P.J. O’Rourke and sound like Chris Matthews? No … don’t say that about me! It’s not true. Some of my best friends, in fact, are Irish-Americans …

Monday, May 08, 2006


Civility and Discourse

As I commented at Eschaton in more detail, it used to be that incivility was seen as the sine qua non of democratic, republican discourse (both by the supporters -- who welcomed it -- and opponants -- who feared the coarseness of democracies -- of the liberal democratic republic as a form of government). Now civility is seen as the sine qua non of democratic, republican discourse, albeit with some double standards about who is civil.

When did this change occur? And why? Was it when the supporters of liberal democratic republics won at least the rhetorical battle over their opponants (who now claims to be against democracy? even those who are against it argue that they are in favor of it and those of us who support it are trying to keep liberal democracy from spreading, however false their characterizations of our opinions, e.g., on the Iraq war, are) so they had to argue that we who come from the incivil authentic democratic tradition ought to reform our discourse (even as they are more uncivil than ever in theirs) to save democratic discourse rather than arguing that incivility was just characteristic of that discourse and why it's so bad -- a badness they don't claim anymore? Or was it something else?

My suspician is that the change is part of the reaction against the civil rights movement: "how dare 'those people' be so rude as to demand their rights?" -- that sort of thing sublimated and applied to the discourse as a whole. Of course this illustrates the problem with the "be civil" imperitive that some, e.g., the DLC, would enforce: when you have the right to something and it is not honored, well, you ought to demand it, eh?

I guess the Founding Fathers would have called this "the Tyranny of Civility". Did they mention such a thing? It sounds like something that would have concerned more than a few of them ...

Friday, May 05, 2006


The Global War on Straw Men or Why Do People Think the Media Speak for the Democratic Party?

Yet another person mistaken for a conservative thinks that her "traditional" lifestyle means she has no place in the Democratic party. Where does she get this idea? Why from the "liberal media" of course.

Don't you just love this dynamic? The media, presumed to be liberal, come up with some straw man who is saying the Democrats are against God, mother and apple pie, because in their hearts they find God, mother and apple pie to be hokey. Then, since the media are presumed to be liberal, those of us who are vaguely religious, love our mothers and -- why am I now craving a piece of apple pie? mmmm ... gurgle ... -- just "know" the Democrats and their spokespeople in the media have no place for us in their party. And this confirms the media is liberal and that liberals hate 'Murka, 'cause it's so obvious that the media gets allergic from apple pie so they must be liberal.

It's all a consistent story but it's based on so many assumptions that are verified simply by the consistency of the story built on those assumptions that it's a castle in the air. I am not a big fan of Emerson, but he nailed the current "liberals, as the liberal media even tells us, hate real 'Murkins" mindset when he posited "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".

But given how this particular foolish consistency is so distorting the electoral process, it is a dangerous hobgoblin. But why are people so mentally little that they fall for this naarishkeit? Do people swallow everything they are told so long as it paints a consistent story? Are people that naive even as they would like to think of themselves cynical and aware of media bias (which, in assessing it to be liberal, totally mis-asses -- even in discussions with conservatives who would never say the media has a conservative bias, they realize the media's bias is not liberal, just toward silly vacuities: the debate becomes which side benefits from media silliness, though).?

What is the deal with how stupid our discourse has become?

Monday, May 01, 2006


A New Blog

Is it true that this blog kills fascists?


Iran and the US: Pissing in the wind and claiming it's raining

That guy on Terry Gross (or was it Diane Rehm) mentioned something very interesting about the (perhaps not exactly intended) strategy of taking over the US embassy: after their taking over our embassy, the U.S., naturally, wanted to get back at Iran. But what did this do? It created a crisis situation in which the U.S. was now a threat and enemy of Iran, so people would have to rally around the Mullahs for protection. That guy pointed out that this dynamic is repeating itself in Iran today, which is likely true.

But it also happened in Germany (Reichstag fire) and its happening all the time in the U.S. lately. It actually is an old reactionary strategy here -- pissing in the wind and then saying the nation must rally around the pisser in chief to stay dry from the rain. It's almost something from out of the Twilight Zone, yet the American people fall for it every time.

Why is it? And am I the only one distressed by the eery similarity between Iran's theocrats and our wanna-be theocrats?


Reagan le Poseur

The author of Black Hawk Down was on Terry Gross (or was it Diane Rehm?) yesterday (or was it today? -- it's all a blur in post-doc land) talking about his new book on the hostage crisis in Iran about a quarter century ago ... and it got me thinking: is there anything good for which Reagan and his cronies took credit that wasn't actually thought up, if not implemented by someone else?

Winning the Cold War: happened because we followed the Truman admin's containment policy

Precipitating the End of the Cold War: alright, I'll give the conservative strategerists Afghanistan, but that was Carter and CO's idea -- 'cept they weren't dumb enough to actually arm and train the mujahedin to the extent that Reagan did ... we paid nicely for that on 9/11, didn't we?

Responding to the End of the Cold War: Reagan was peddling his "Evil Empire" schtick long after it was getting old. Everything the Reagan admin did in its second go around was actually from Mondale's plan -- listen to the 1984 presidential debates where you'll see Reagan spewing forth inflamatory rhetoric about the USSR (which sabre-rattling may have actually prolonged the Cold War and Soviet government rather than promoting their folding) while Mondale actually puts forward in great detail the plan of constructive engagement for which people give Reagan credit. And given how Reagan and CO botched Carter's idea of bogging the USSR down in a land war in Afghanistan, one suspects Mondale would have handled the transition out of the Cold War a bit more astutely than Reagan/Bush.

Rescuing the Iranian Hostages: unless the speculation about funny business by Reagan and CO (which would be, btw, highly treasonous -- are Reagan admin boosters admitting that administration was treasonous?) it was Carter and CO that successfully pulled off the negotiations.

So would someone please tell me why is St. Ronnie venerated so much?


Election results which were not merely bad but in which this country was placed in a handbasket and directed toward hell:

1876: the most qualified and popularly elected candidate, Samuel Tilden, was denied the presidency while the richers in the North and the South got to see the end of Reconstruction and the re-feudalization of the South as a resource colony for the North

1984: the American people overwhelmingly voted for an empty suit who said good sounding things over an emenantly qualified candidate, showing everyone that substance doesn't matter in US politics

2000/2004: I needn't say anything here ...

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