Monday, July 31, 2006


I had more to say

But I got tired last night and I have too much work to do today ... so I've forgotten what it is I had to say about non-Israel related issues ... oh well, c'est la vie.

Anyhoo ... talk amongst yourselves, I'm verklempt.


The Left and Israel

I guess I am as obsessed with Israel as the neo-cons and anti-Zionists, but I'll make yet another blog entry (Nate's ruing the day he wondered why I didn't blog more on Israel, I reckon) -- but this one's short.

Some leftists seem to "hate" Israel not out of anti-Semitism nor out of any particular hatred of nationalism (otherwise why embrace the Palestinian cause?), but, almost admittedly, out of a reflex anti-colonialism. But is Israel really a colonial project? Was the migration of Jews to the Land of Israel really done in order for other nations to have a colony in the Middle East? Or was Zionism as much a movement, however misguided, of national liberation as it claimed and not really any different than any of the movements that the left has supported? After all, those movements also resulted in displacement of various peoples. And post-WWII, the peace in Europe was in large part kept by the movement of minorities into somewhat arbitrary national boundaries: something the left has accepted in Europe (indeed, siding with the causes of those moved is seen as a right wing thing to do -- and how much more aligned with the Nazis were Karelians than Palestinians?) but not in the Levant. Perhaps the neo-cons are correct here: the double standard does reflect anti-Semitism?

I'm not going neo-con yet, though: I still am more afraid of Israel's so-called friends on the right than its enemies on the left. I just don't trust anyone hoping that Israel will start the ultimate world war to have the best interests of Israel in mind. And those who think such rubes are tools are often tools of the rubes ... as the Rabbis of yore would have said.


A Blog Post Wherein I Sound Like the MSM

Yes all of them ...

Many of the things about which I criticize the Israeli side, of course, apply just as much if not more so to the "other side". So, I guess, at the risk of sounding like the MSM, "both sides are bad".

Like many, I am woefully ignorant of Islam, though I have read the Koran and some other Islamic texts. To what degree does Islam, in accepting much of the mythos of Jews and Christians, accept the Prophetic tradition? How does Islam feel about those who seek victim-hood? Who go out of their way to place themselves and their kin and countrymen in danger so that they can claim the mantle of martyrdom? Are those who claim the mantle of Islam in terrorizing Israelis as duplicitous as those who claim the mantle of Judaism in their response to such terrorism or in their occupational adventures? Or is the martyrdom complex something we Jews ought to avoid as a Toevah?

Perhaps the ultra-Orthodox are right? We are being punished for a toevah? But they've mis-identified the toevah: not homosexuality, which as we know it today does not seem to be a toevah, but for certain attitudes that ought to be foreign to the Jewish people?


Dual Loyalty

One of the most persistent anti-Semitic canards has been the notion that we Jews have "dual loyalty" to both our "host country" and to the Jewish people with sometimes the latter loyalty outranking the first. Interestingly, you do not hear this canard so much from the right anymore -- at least not about Jews: you hear it applied to Mexican immigrants, etc. Has anybody noticed this connection in reactionary rhetoric? I wonder if those who are so quick to claim that we Jews ought to have a dual loyalty, e.g., toward Israel, are so enthusiastic about the supposed dual loyalties of other groups?

Anyway, with the advent of Israel, "dual loyalty" became something for which there could be evidence given as Israel is a national entity to which one could indeed be loyal, far less nebulous, for example, than the Jewish people. While one should not blame victims of discrimination for that discrimination, is there any obligation among those victims to especially avoid those negative traits ascribed to the group at hand? One could argue from Fackenheim's famous dictum never to grant Hitler a posthumous victory that there is such an obligation: if, e.g., Hitler would say "the Jews are bad because they do bad thing, X", then for Jews to embrace doing X would be granting Hitler the victory of being right.

Yet, according to the narrative, out of the ashes of the Holocaust sprang forth Israel, which could serve as a lightening rod for the dual loyalty charge -- and also a mentality that since we Jews are victims of anti-Semitism, we Jews should be able to behave, even in accordance with what ought to be mere canard, in any way we want and any negative responses to our behavior are still solely the fault of the anti-Semite (which behavior, ironically is paired with a mentality of "we Jews will never again be victims even if it means that we have become persecutors" -- motivating Israel to respond so disproportionately whenever it is attacked out of the mindset that we Jews need to be strong: but what is a bully except one who is afraid of being seen as weak? Don't Israel's actions bespeak the very Jewish fear of which Zionism was supposed to rid us? Is this another way in which Zionism is, as the Rabbis of yore could have warned us, albeit in a non-secular language even the most religious of moderns often fail to understand, futile?). Some Jews have gone further and urge us Jews to have dual loyalties. Is this mentality acceptable? Is it fine for us to take a canard and embrace it? Or is this a part of the sin of granting Hitler a posthumous victory?

I think I know which side Isaiah would be on: why bring on more punishment to yourself? What is the joy that some have in being the martyr, even of divine wrath? Why did Israel, which in this current mess could have had for once the international community behind it, squander that support? Is there a comfort in being the eternally hated one? Do people think "others hate us" frees them from moral responsibilities? Is this why some Jews seem to court anti-Semitism and encourage Israel to behave provocatively? Is this what's behind "we are not provocative, if people think we're provocative, that's their problem"?

Isaiah obliquely wonders this sort of thing from the outset of his recorded prophecies. So who's right? David Galerntner or Isaiah? While there are many things, especially in the realm of technology, about which David Galertner has been perspicuitous and even prophetic, my money on geo-political issues and what's good for the long term of the Jewish people is on Isaiah, who, after all, was right about Egypt.

Also, the issue of dual loyalty cuts both ways. If I as a Jew ought to have a loyalty to Israel, ought Israel to have a loyalty to me, even though I am not a citizen of Israel, nor do I pay taxes there nor have I served in their military? If it need not concern itself with the needs of Galuth Jews (of which Duluth Jews, such as my late grandmother who babysat some kid named Robert Zimmerman, are only a small subset), why should we be loyal to it? On the other hand, what kind of state is it that has loyalty to its diaspora even over the safety of its citizens? Even assuming Israel is "in the right" with its attacks on civilians, these attacks are sufficiently un-clear-cut in their justifiability that they provide very real evidence of Jewish malevolence, to those inclined to see it that way. While some would argue that any anti-Semitism engendered by Israeli actions is per force, by the principle of not blaming the victim, the fault of the anti-Semite, many of us would still maintain that crime prevention, so to speak, is important. Do these people who are always saying "don't blame the victim" vis-a-vis anti-Semitism leave their doors unlocked? After all, if their homes get burgled, it is not their fault, but the burglar's!

Forget about the issues of innocent civilians (even assuming the graded guilt idea of Dershowitz, if the numbers of "civilian" casualties are all due to his quasi-civilians, Israel has a huge enough problem on its hands that I bet even the most hawkish of chicken-hawks would be calling for Israel to fold), etc, ... I simply cannot abide by the fact that the Jewish state is pursuing a counter-productive strategy (they always talk of having to respond with resolve -- I wonder what would happen if Israel for once did nothing: by now the terrorists are counting on Israel reacting the way it does, so Israel doing nothing, rather than trying to do something to scare its enemies, might really be what terrorizes the terrorists!) that makes it, and by extension, us Jews, look bad. There are certain things I just don't want to be done "in my name", so to speak. But what kind of state can be expected to have a dual loyalty to both its dedicated citizens and people like me? But what kind of state in Israel's position, with it's diaspora in our position, can avoid the responsibility of dual loyalty? Certainly, the case is stronger that Israel should have dual loyalty to us Jews in the diaspora than we should have to it.

So what is Israel to do? What are we to do? You can see why, even though I generally am supportive of Israel and would hate to see its hard won gains for the Jewish people (providing us with a place of refuge and access to our holy sites in a reasonably secular democracy), I cannot call myself a Zionist nor, even as I wholeheartedly say the rest of the prayer, I cannot say the part of the prayer for Israel calling it "the dawn of our redemption". That language does not belong in a Jewish prayerbook (it sounds suspiciously dispensationalist to me anyway) until such time as geo-political realities allow Israel to and Israel does function in such a way that it does not serve to provide evidence anti-Semites can use to justify their hatred. We have an obligation to not make anti-Semitism even seem reasonable. Doesn't the Jewish state have this obligation as well?


Weekly Parsha Blogging

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:23.
Isaiah 1:1-27

By this point in the annual cycle of readings, the reading from the Prophets matches the theme of the week rather than the reading of the Torah. Yet nonetheless, there is still often a connection between the Torah and Haftorah readings. In the Torah we read from the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy and from the Prophets we read the beginning of the Book of Isaiah. These books are linked by their singular importance in defining Jewish tradition as we know it today. With its call toward centralized religious worship of a universal God demanding Justice more than anything, Deuteronomy, which contains the verses used to justify the Rabbinic stream of Judaism as well many rules for prayer as well as passages used in prayer (e.g. the Sh'ma), is really the foundation of Jewish religion and practice as it exists today. Isaiah goes even further than Deuteronomy: where God demands Justice in Deuteronomy, Isaiah presents God as sickeningly overfilled of sacrifices and demanding that the ritual observance stop until such time as Justice is done. According to Isaiah, it is Justice that will save Israel, not ritual and not military might.

Isaiah and Deuteronomy are connected in other ways as well. Deuteronomy is believed to be the work of the Deuteronomic School, which is also linked to Jeremiah, whose prophecies we also read during the Three Weeks before Tisha B'av and whose Lamentations, which stylistically echo the earlier Isaiah (some of which echoing parts we read with this portion) we read on Tisha B'av. The Deuteronomists were active in a period when it was clear that the Kingdom of Judah would fall and sought to transform the tribal religion of the Judeans, e.g. that of the "J's" gloss on Judean myths which contributed (along with the similar 'E' gloss of the Northern tribes) to the Torah along with the ritual codes of an upwardly mobile Priestly Caste (originally likely a "separated" outcaste that redefined "separate" into holy, elevating themselves and the people of Israel in the process), into a universalistic religion: first by emphasizing the central religious expressions and common history and mythos of the Judeans and then drawing that religious identity into a more universal covenant of Law that could serve as a model for religious as well as secular communities everywhere. It is no accident that the Rabbinic Judaism that has allowed Judaism to survive the fall of the Temple(s), which fall we commemorate on Tisha B'av (thus linking Deuteronomy to the calendar) draws its very justification from Deuteronomy, which Book was written to guide Judaism through a transition from being the religion of the Land of Israel to being a religion of a People of the Book.

Isaiah earlier thought similarly about in which direction Judaism should go. Isaiah is the first individually named Prophetic book in the Hebrew Bible (i.e. not counting those associated with the Chieftains Joshua and Samuel) and starts a trend of certain policy (alliance with Egypt being questionable) and religious concerns common to the Prophets through those of the Deuteronomic school. In particular, in the first chapter of Isaiah, the Prophet denounces ritual and indicates that more important than prayer and ritual are justice and good deeds. Those who claim that disasters befall the U.S. or Israel due to a lack of ritual purity or strict religious observance would do well to note the words of Isaiah: it isn't the lack of observance of religion or secularization of society that induces God's wrath but rather the continual observance of religious festivals and invocation of and sacrifice to God when such religiosity is not matched by justice. Interestingly, in both Deuteronomy and Isaiah, the very due process of Law has saving power: Israel is to be punished if it does not judge the case of the orphan or the widow, but is to be saved by justice.

In today's troubles, we need to remember the triumph of Deuteronomy: while we Jews should love our Holy Land, we must remember that Judaism transcends even that love. Moreover, those who tell us that the only way to save Israel is through "sending our enemies a message of strength" or through meticulous observance of religious rituals and laws are missing the point of not only Deuteronomy which has given us much of those laws but also of Isaiah's rebuke to Judah: that it is through Justice and Justice alone that Israel is to be saved. Indeed, if we do not hear the widow's cause, even the cause of the widows of our supposed enemies, even if God wreaks vengeance on Her enemies, God's hand, according to Isaiah, will be turned against _us_. Thus, we must be very careful that we not seek vengeance as such vengeance will consume us as a smelting pot melts silver: the restoration of our magistrates as in the days of old may be what some claim to want with their fulminating Messianic Zionism, but, as Isaiah warns us, that is a fearful prospect as that restoration will involve God turning against all of us and only saving us if we can remain dedicated to justice no matter what befalls us.

Alas, we seem to be failing the test. If we cannot maintain a system of justice when we are challenged, what system of justice did we have to begin with? If an attack by those whose express aim is to terrorize us leaves us so terrorized we confuse vengeance with justice and pollute the land further with blood, were we really dedicated to the rule of law to begin with? Isaiah and Deuteronomy both teach us that the one thing God demands is justice. And yet even those who claim that our society's ills relate to our estrangement from God eagerly embrace doctrines of retribution and violence and ignore the widows and orphans such violence, both military and economic, begets. When our defenders of the faith ignore the demands of justice, they become lightening rods for rather than appeasers of God's wrath, as Isaiah would warn us.

Interestingly, Isaiah is perceptive enough to wonder about the martyrdom complex of those who "seek further beatings". Those who give justice the short shrift and emphasize empty observances over good deeds do seem wont to play the martyr, don't they? As do those who seek war rather than peace -- it is always they who want vengeance that nurture a sense of grievance. Isaiah asks us to seek justice lest we be destroyed by our inequities. But Isaiah is also an acute student of human nature and knows that, not only does salvation come from justice, but a chief impediment to justice is the desire of some to play the victim, whether its fundamentalists complaining about how secularists are oppressing them, terrorists hiding in civilian populations complaining about attacks on their civilian brethren or people who seek disproportionate retribution whenever they are attacked as a matter of principle and then wondering why the world considers them to be bullies. In order to be saved, we must open our eyes and stop playing at being victims in order to help out the real victims. And only then will we be saved -- at the very least, those who nurture a sense of victimization ensure that their brethren will become victims of the hatred those with martyrdom complexes seek to be directed at themselves. Isaiah does warn us, when you say "bring it on", God will bring it on -- and, if we are so convinced of our righteousness that we fail to be properly repentant, it is we who will be smitten.

So -- don't say Isaiah didn't warn you when you get what you ask for! And of course, Deuteronomy warns us, as we read everyday in the Sh'ma, as well ...

Friday, July 28, 2006


The Utility of Labels

Thinking about previous posts, it's interesting to consider the utility of labels.

In science, a large part of the effort is figuring out how to organize, classify and label things: that's the difference between science and a mere collection of facts (I forget the good quote that ought to go here). But we must remember that our labels are our constructions and not grant them the reality that essentialists grant them -- and remember that the excitement and interest is often in the breach of boundaries, not in the typical object of a class.

Another thing is that, while labels help us make sense of the world, they often also tell us only what we think we already know. Labels can be constructive or merely lead to destructive confirmation bias. For instance, labeling a child as "special needs" can allow the child to get the help she needs at an early stage. But when the label attaches, sometimes even age appropriate behavior is taken as yet another example of the label applying (confirmation bias).

Truly labels are double edged swords -- and I'm not just talking about getting a paper-cut from the output of a label maker here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Ike Replay

It seems that, just as the Dulles brothers' alternative bouts of sanctimoniousness and desire to help multinational businesses maintain a foothold in various countries, drove Nassar, Castro, et al., straight into the arms of the Soviets (with, in the case of Nassar, consequences in terms of the polarization of the ME that last to this day), our current "leadership" has so peeved Chavez (if you deny that this dynamic can happen -- look at the standard narrative regarding the neo-cons coming from the left for another example) he's turning into the Castro redux we've feared he would -- IOW, our "leadership" as in so many other cases, has, by fearing a monster, created one (cf. Nietzsche).

But at least Eisenhower himself realized how bad things would get if certain people who allowed their greed to blind them would get too powerful. With Bush, it's a case of the blind leading the blind.


Self-Defeating Behavior: Round Two

The third panel has me thinking -- what if, subconciously, Dems really are afraid of winning and that's why we keep fondling the duck (*)? After all, we believe, even the DLC believes, that with power comes responsibility -- we believe that government has a role to play, so whenever we're in power, we must take responsibility for leading the government in the proper direction -- even the most corrupt, Dem. machine politician at some level believes this.

OTOH, the Republicans don't fundamentally believe "gummint" can do a lick of good. So they don't fret about "what happens if we win" -- it's all a power grab and game to be played to win for them. So it's no wonder they win and we don't?

(*) In high school physics, our teacher, a West Virginian with a very similar accent and tone of voice -- though his lack of affect was from his former boxing days not from schizophrenia -- to John Nash, had a drinking bird. It was fragile, so he wrote a poem about it to warn us of what might happen if we were to handle the toy roughly. It went something (my memory is rusty, HS was over a decade ago -- wow! I can't believe it's been so long!) like this:

Do Not Fondle the Duck

Do not fondle the duck
Glass breaks
Cuts hand
Hand bleeds
Loose hand
Lots of pain

We, being good students and taking HS Honors and AP English, upon encountering such an obviously deep and meaningful poem, interpreted its symbolism. We figured out that "fondling the duck" must refer to something akin to "shooting yourself in the foot whilst your foot is stuck in your mouth" ... especially, but not necessarily only, if you've done so due to inaction rather than action.

I would like to popularize this phrase. Please do use it.

I might have other phrases I'd like to popularize. E.g., when we were young, my brother would like to stick cold toys, pieces of ice, etc., down my shirt on my backside -- when he asked how I liked it, I replied "not in the least bit". I guess one time my mouth was full and, a la the origins of Heffalumps (perhaps one of us in left blogistan should begin Pooh blogging? the Heffalump trap seems like something that occurs in our own time) and Woozles, he thought I said "not in the Leash Pit", which he took to be the pit (named after some hypothetical anatomist named Leash) formed between the shoulder blades -- so, whenever you want to refer to that indentation -- do, as my brother and I do to this day, call it the "Leash pit".

My brother, incidently, had a poem very similar to my physics teacher's:

I'm cold
Do you know what cold is?
Do you know what freezing is?
Do you know what blue is?
Do you know what depressed is?
So if you don't want me to kill myself, we better get someplace warmer.

These memories of me and my brother must have been from when we were about 10 and 6 respectively. I think we were a little mature in some ways (or at least had larger vocabularies and understandings of how language and naming worked) for our age -- especially my brother, whom they thought was language delayed. Shows you what "they" know ...


I Know I'm a Chickenhawk in a Way ...

... for advocating that wars be conducted in a way I'm too chicken to sign up for myself, but still --

Read this.

And remember that Ali and all of his brothers, cousins, etc., are very likely to become terrorists who go on to attack Israel. You cannot fight fire with fire and not expect to get burnt: when the Torah enjoins genocide against the Amelikites, it is recognizing that any vengeance against a group in which terrorists operate is likely to merely end up serving to recruit more to the terrorists' side, so short of genocide, escalating violence, well, escalates it. 'Cept I don't think that genocide is something any of us Jews should be behind -- wouldn't you agree that for us to become just like the Nazis would be wrong, somehow? (I understate -- it would be evil). What should Israel do? (or not do -- somehow the good, conservative option of not doing anything is the last thing that people, especially those who call themselves conservatives, are willing to try -- of course, Israel was founded on the principle of "we Jews are never again going to not respond to attacks against us but rather we will now have a state and army to so respond", so you cannot expect Israel to "not do") -- I'll be the first to admit I don't know. But hiding behind supposed technological superiority is a good way to convince your enemy that you really are, when it comes down to it, scared and weak -- as well as to, with the inevitable deaths of civilians whose relatives will seek revenge, drive more people to the side of your enemies.

And that's what Hezbollah wants, isn't it? Right now, since Lebanon can neither block Israeli incursions nor disarm Hezbollah, it effectively is de facto no longer a real state, nu? And who will be the defender of the land? Why Hezbollah, of course. This whole thing is effectively a Hezbollah power grab -- and Israel played right into Hezbollah's hands here.

Just a side note -- some say that diplomacy is all talk and never an option. All that matters is who can force whom to do what. But whatever happened to actually opening the Bible? "Not by might and not by power" ... and all of that, eh?

Monday, July 24, 2006


CW and Grapefruit

The conventional wisdom is that you should pick heavy grapefruit as they are juicier and have thinner skins (hence you get more and better grapefruit for your money).

How come is it that I find the lighter grapefruit often taste better? Sure the have more of that inedible spongy part of the rind, but what they lack in juicy pulp, they make up for in intensity of flavor. It may be you get more grapefruit for your money picking a heavy one (assuming that they are being sold by the fruit and not the pound, which is usually a good assumption with grapefruit), but you get more grapefruit flavor for your money picking a light one that smells really good. And isn't the flavor what counts? If you want more water, you can always drink it between bites of fruit.

Am I the only one who's noticed that heaviness of a grapefruit is more about quantity than quality and if you prefer quality over quantity, you needn't go around weighing grapefruit to get a good one?


In Order to Avoid "Blaming the Victim", It helps if the Victim Tries to be Blameless

There is an attitude among some Jews that, since we are victims of prejudice, whatever we do, even if it explicitely re-enforces old stereotypes, can not engender anti-Semitism and if it does, to blame certain Jews for it would be blaming the victim. Indeed, one can argue that it is an interesting lapse of liberal fair-mindedness that somehow Lebanese civilians are given a benefit of the doubt as to their "civilian-ness" (*) lest we blame the victim even as Israelis are not given a similar benefit of the doubt as to the bona fides of their response.

But I think that, while it is bad form to blame the victim, it is also imperative to avoid being a victim (and it's amazing how the very same righty-tighties who damn, based on this imperative, Lebanese and NOLA residents, who were really blameless in that they had not the means to avoid being victims, would deny this imperative exists when it is applied to obnoxious fundies "victimized" by being challenged in their "rights" to use state resources for prostelization, Israelis, and others wont to claim the status of victimhood without claiming any responsibility to avoid rather than embrace it). Who wants to be a victim except for wingers with martyrdom complexes?

It's bad enough that people think we Jews are evil. It's worse when people in the ostensibly Jewish State do things that, even if explanable or justifiable, could reasonably be argued to be evil, thus giving credence to how some people think of us Jews. Call it blame the victim if you want -- but I say Jews acting exactly how anti-Semites claim we would act if given the power to so act is rather giving anti-Semites a victory they don't deserve. Israel is the Jewish state and as such, whether it wants this to be the case or not, its actions reflect the Jewish people. Thus, Israel has a moral and practical responsibility to not just avoid attrocious, albeit all too common, acts of statecraft, but to avoid even the appearance of such things that can arguably be considered horrendous and thus reflect badly on the Jewish people as a whole. Self-defense is one thing -- but a response that is by all measures disproportionate to the attacks and not productive in eliminating the threat (bombing supply routes in theory should end a threat but, as the US experience in the Vietnam war showed, all you do is harm innocent civilians, further destablize civilian governance in the areas bombed while doing nothing to stop a determined enemy from attacking you) is simply not justifiable.

Part of the problem is strategic. As was discussed in the comments thread following this post, few people actually get the goals of Hezbollah, which Israel is playing right into. Part of the problem is one of becoming a dragon to fight dragons. But part of the problem is philosphical: Zionism is based in part on the idea of "Jewish strength" -- that we Jews must never even appear weak (originally Zionism also had an element of Jewish sovereignty, which goes exactly against the AIPAC ethos of the "special friendship" between the US and Israel but rather along the lines of the prophetic tradition's rejection of an alliance with Egypt, and Zionism also had an ethos of Jews not being again "victims", but nowadays the right wing martyrdom complex seems to have started to seep in along the lines of "you can't blame us for what we do, we're victims!"), thus there is a preference to, no matter how strategically bad it is to do so, to show "those people" that Israel is not going to take being attacked without a strong response. Of course, whenever that attitude is taken, there is the problem that you show the wrong people that your country will respond strongly to any attack and thus anger a bunch of innocent people against your country all the while convincing the guilty they can get away with attacking you and you'll respond in such a way that the guilty are not harmed (or get to be martyrs if they are) while innocent people are driven to the cause of the guilty!

(*) Let me say here the Dershowitz's argument per se is racist bunk and exactly the sort of collective guilt theory that (1) when applied to Germany after WWI (as if Germany was the only guilty party) led to the Holocaust, (2) when applied by the Nazis to the Jews (of course, there were Jews in the Prussian bureaucracy) led to the Holocaust, (3) we purposefully avoided applying to the Germans after WWII and (4) if applied to all Jews based on what Israel is doing will put Dershowitz and I in the camps (after you, Alan). But the reason why this argument resonates among many is that:

(1) there is a reasonable debate about how to handle innocents in a war zone -- obviously the "Israel has a right to do anything to defend itself" argument is wrong as is even the "Israel should be allowed to do whatever any other state would do" argument (since when is it a good thing to place Israel on the same moral level as every other pissant state? it's frankly un-Jewish ... as the righty-tighties would call it in other contexts, it's "the soft prejudice of low expectations" and as such is, according to the logic of Israel's rabid so-called supporters who merely want Israel to instigate Armeggedon, anti-Semitic itself) -- but there presumably are some cases where a country can respond to attacks, not only directly to attacks but also against infrastructure used to supply attacks even if such a response necessarily harms civilians (although what's the deal with Israel bombing convoys after it's warned people about bombings but not so long after so that it ends up bombing the very people it's claimed to be protecting? admittedly, this is probably more stupidity than venality on Israel's part, but since it looks like venality, it must be stopped lest it give credence to anti-Semitic slurs -- which is, cf. Fackenheim (sp?), granting Hitler the posthumous victory of being seen as possibly right about us) ... and here it may be useful to compare Israel's actions with other, reasonably "civilized" countries and ask about double standards as well as what are the de facto, vs. ideal, standards as well.

(2) indeed, it is true that not all of the "innocent" civilians are so innocent ... while presumably a family being held hostage, so to speak, by rocket launching terrorists, is indeed innocent of the actions of those terrorists ... and the collective guilt theory of Dershowitz is racist bunk, it is generally understood by many (and even if it's somewhat racist in its blanket assumptions of guilt, it does have a grain of truth -- and why should it be surprising or viewed as an aspersion on Arabs that some would support violent groups in a cause they feel as just? look at "mainstream" support for Operation Rescue in this country ... but are those who support Operation Rescue really innocent? what about those who support Hezbollah? -- and casts Israeli actions in a new light) that not all "innocents" in this zone are truly innocent. It isn't as if the rockets are appearing from nowhere. Someone is firing them -- and often, experience has shown, the people firing them appear to be civilians. Thus, while the shear numbers of "civilian" casualties indicate Israel is harming innocents (while some act as if the vast majority of "innocents" hurt or killed by Israel in it's retaliations are actually terrorists of some sort, if Israel has so many terrorists attacking it, it's powers of defense are miraculous, but it has worse problems than a few extremists -- the assertions of those who claim the actual, not collective, guilt of even the majority of the killed, injured or displaced are laughable if not racist), it certainly is true that not all "civilian" casualties are really civilian casualties. Dershowitz might have become a racist jerk, but his point about civilianity does raise issues in fighting the sort of war Israel is fighting.

And let me add that part of the issue raised is what we faced in Vietnam and are facing in Iraq -- when a civilian population is against our actions, does the civilian population become our enemy? If not, then we cannot go after those who attack us as to do so would harm those against whom we are not supposed to be fighting. Of course, a Christian would say, this is the problem with trying to fight an "enemy" (cf. below). But even for non-Christians, there are very real moral dilemmas here. Of course, in the case of our involvement in Vietnam and Iraq, we can always "cut and run" away from this dilemma, but Israel cannot cut and run away from these issues without disappearing entirely. Which is why Zionists tend to perceive those who want Israel to avoid fighting (due to moral concerns) when the civilian population of your enemy states (or even that you are occupying) are themselves arrayed against you as not necessarily having moral concerns but rather wanting Israel to disappear as a "Jewish State". Which begs the question, from the Zionist point of view, why deny to Jews what so many other nations have -- a state of their own? Of course, we Jews are different -- but that's a Jewish and not a Zionist belief.

Of course, from the Christian (and I mean real Christians, not the faker fundies in power) point of view, this whole notion of guilt and innocence is a red herring anyway, as who among us are truly guilty or innocent? That some justify Israeli attacks as being against the guilty is abhorrent from such a Christian point of view as any action, no matter how horrendous, can be so justified: so what's to stop Israel from, e.g., a genocide and justifying it as necessary and being targetted to the guilty? -- indeed, the calculus of revenge in the ME is such that, without a total genocide, there will always be those who seek revenge against Israel for its disproportionate responses (the possible reasoning of the Bible's commandment to eradicate the Amelekites -- although there is another interpretation of the Bible's commandment: remember to forget about that incident ... a message of "let's move past that" that many nations including Israel might do well to heed today), themselves based on Israeli (mis)-understanding of the culture of honor in the ME. What is sweetly bonkers about this sort of thinking in its use to criticize Israel, even if there is a certain strategery in Christian statecraft which few have appreciated (e.g. Jimmy Carter's foreign policy was actually a form of "realism"), is, as one fellow Jew put it, "how come Israel is the only state expected to live up to Christian standards?" Israel's not a Christian state ... and when Christian states don't follow Christian principles of statecraft, how can one expect a Jewish state to do so?

Of course, there are good Jewish reasons to want Israel to be more restrained. There are, of course, strategic reasons ... and religious reasons: there are, as I have given them on this blog, Talmudic arguments against targetted assasinations and other Biblically prohibited acts of vengeance. There is the principle of "do not unto others what you would not have them do to you" -- if Israel doesn't want it's infrastructure targetted, it ought not to target the infrastructure of other nations. There is the much maligned principle of "an eye for an eye" which rules out disproportionate responses as well as too strong responses based on merely hypothetical threats. There is the principle of remembering our period of servitude: we mustn't hold others to collective guilt and subject them to ethnic cleansing because we were so treated in our history. And there is even the concept of Chosenness -- Israel must live up to a higher standard as it is "the Jewish State" and in God's Holy Land. But to expect Israel to live up to standards of Christian morality that not even Christian or majority Christian but secular states live up to is a bit odd, pace the good people who suggest this. While it can be argued that morality must be applied universally, and I certainly would be one to argue this and it is part of the Jewish no less than the Christian tradition besides, both the Jewish and Christian traditions (chosenness and the "log in your own eye" doctrines, respectively) recognize that we must hold our own to our own standards before holding others to our standards.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


A Blogger Discussing (Rather than Writing) a Jeremiad? How Meta Can You Get?!

This past Shabbos we read the second Haftorah of Rebuke, which, like the first read last week, is from the Book of Jeremiah, who, according to some, was key in writing the Book of Deuteronomy we start reading this week. While, at this point, the Haftoroth are generally considered to relate to the theme of the week rather than to the Torah portion, this week's Haftorah relates indeed to the Torah reading from the close of the Book of Numbers. God commands us that we "should not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I the Lord abide among the Israelite people" (Numbers 35:34). And Jeremiah describes what is happening due to the Israelite people defiling the land.

There are many directions in which one can go with this verse in Numbers when taken out of context. One important direction is that, per se, when considering the Universality of God's dwelling place, by defiling and despoiling any land, we violate God's commandment. Thus, environmental degradation is a serious breach of God's law.

But in the context of the Book of Numbers, the defilation of concern was human blood being spilt in the Land of Israel (which in fact, to be intellectually honest, was not exactly to what Jeremiah was reacting) without the murderer being brought to justice. In fact, the Torah specifically protects, but only via the institution of the City of Refuge, the accidental manslayer, and killing him, or in general killing outside of, e.g., a system of capital punishment in expiation for a killing compounds, rather than minimizes the blood-guilt placed on the land of Israel. While the Torah allows for self-defense, just (and even some fairly unjust) wars and capital punishment, any killing, even in retribution for other killings, is considered to be tantamount to the idolatry which Jeremiah holds deems the Jewish people no longer acceptable stewards of the land of Israel.

So what are we to make of the modern state of Israel's behavior in its current predicament? Certainly, it has a right to defend itself against attacks: indeed, too many people expect, as some Jews have put it, Israel to be the only country in the world which must follow Christian morality about "turning the other cheek", etc. And this present conflict has reached a point where Israel is, indeed, in a fight for its life. But does Israel have a right to willy-nilly shed the blood of its neighbors, who live in lands that could be considered part of the Holy Land? And when these people themselves are responsible for deaths in the Land of Israel, deaths occurring outside of the standard rules of war, by seeking vengeance, as it sometimes seems Israel is wont to do, Israel brings further blood-guilt upon the land. As we approach Tisha B'av, I know some will view the words of Jeremiah as a call to not let Israel fall again. And some will view the words of Jeremiah as a call to be more "frum" -- that we Jews must live solely within the four cubits of Halacha. But this is not the warning of Jeremiah: his warning is that we cannot let idolatry and blood-guilt -- the worship of machismo and the over-reliance, based on blind and idolatrous faith in that we have no way of knowing whether Israel's policy of strong retaliation makes matters better or worse for Israel, on overwhelming military responses as a "path to peace" -- again cause God to drive us from the land of Israel.

A key aspect of Jeremiah's preaching (and of the Prophetic tradition, from which may very well come the extreme emphasis on retelling the story of Slavery in and Exodus from Egypt) is the warning against reliance on alliance with Egypt as a means of keeping Israel free. While some would take this as a warning against trusting any international efforts for Israel's security (and given the history of the UN in using Israel as a whipping boy for the sins of the first world -- but Isaiah predicted this would happen to any Jewish State, which is why there was a certain practical wisdom of those Rabbis who argued that a Jewish State shouldn't exist until the Messiah comes), the Prophetic warnings are actually more specific: that, e.g., Egypt's interests are different than those of Judah as both countries are independent entities.

I remember in the run up to the Iraq war something which disturbs me to this day: Jews claiming that it was amazing that the U.S. was willing to depose Saddam Hussein, which was something that would benefit Israel even more than the U.S. Aside from the fact that this was too close to anti-Semitic rhetoric for me to do anything but wonder whether the Jews who said this sort of thing, who would be the first to so label Jewish liberals like myself, were self-hating, there was something else, beyond the internalization of anti-Semitic stereotypes about the Jews controlling everything, disturbing about this trust that the U.S. would do something at the behest of Israel. After all, if American and Israeli interests coincided so much as the AIPAC crowd claims, why should Zionism even exist at all? Why would we Jews need a separate country of our own when America represents our interests?

While some claimed that the Iraq war was an example of Israeli interests hijacking American foreign policy, in reality, trusting that what the U.S. does with our military might to be something which benefits Israel rather than the interests of the U.S. (or in the case of the Iraq war, the interests of those in power within this country), was a bit like Judah trusting Egypt to face down the Assyrian and Babylonian threats on Judah and Israel's behalf. When Jeremiah criticized Egypt, he wasn't displaying a hatred of Egypt (indeed, rather than fleeing to Babylonia, he fled to Egypt when Babylonia conquered Judah), but he was trying to convince the Judean people that Egypt was a nation with it's own agenda that may or may not be as friendly to Judah as it may seem. To paraphrase an old fable about a freezing bird with great application to the Arab/Israeli conflict (especially in terms of we Jews realizing which side of the political spectrum are our friends and which side are our enemies), not everyone that throws shit at you is your enemy and not everyone that gets you out of shit is your friend.

The U.S. has different interests than Israel ... that is neither bad nor good, it just is. This doesn't make the U.S. a bad place for Jews no less than Egypt was when Jeremiah fled there. But it does mean that not everything the U.S. does is good for Israel, and both Israel and its enemies, who hate Israel as an extension of the U.S. and conversely, need to realize this. In particular, the Iraq war, no matter how much some Jews and some anti-Semites convinced themselves otherwise, was not a war that was good for Israel. If the U.S. really wanted to remove an enemy of Israel, it would have targeted Syria, and thus prevented the whole current mess (although at what cost, I would hate to even think about). Heck, one can argue that this mess was caused by the Iraq war and it's empowerment and encouragement of Iran (we have deposed the counterweight to Iran in the ME and replaced it with a government that will be far more friendly to Iran, all the while bogging our military down so we have less leverage to use to force Iran to "play nice"), which, I might point out, is a pretty interesting consequence of the Iraq war given that many of its architects were, not so long ago, busy arming Iran as part of the Iran/Contra affair. Of course, if one is being casuistic, one might very well argue that if we didn't depose the Mossedegh regime, Iran would not be the threat to Israel it is today. For that matter, if the U.S. didn't decide to get all high-minded about not bribing dictatorial leaders and played Nasser's game rather than letting him get all his aid from Soviet Russia, the balance of power in the ME would be very different.

Whether the U.S. has done the right thing with its ME policy is one issue -- I personally think we've Cheneyed up the situation something horrible, from Nasser onward. But the issue at hand relating to the Prophetic tradition and it's advice for Israel -- besides that Israel suffers not from its external enemies, but from it's lack of justice, both internally and dealing with its neighbors and that the double standard to which the world holds Israel is an inevitable consequence of us being the "chosen people" and we should hold ourselves to that high standard as well rather than complaining about how the world hates us: and if statecraft cannot be conducted according to such high standards in the absence of the Messianic kingdom? Well, that's why the Rabbis said we Jews ought not to have a state until the Messiah comes! -- is that Israel should stop thinking the U.S. (and more so fundamentalist Christians who think Israel ought to just start WWIII in order to precipitate the second coming) is necessarily on Israel's side.

Israel does have a right to defend itself. And hopefully Israel and the U.S. will remain allies. But if the U.S. tells Israel to not defend itself when attacked (as in the first Iraq war) or goads Israel into over-reacting, Israel should follow its own interests rather than just deferring to the U.S. That is what being an independent state, the goal of Zionism, is about. Moreover we Jews need to be very careful, if only as a matter of appearances, about conflating US and Israeli interests: just because someone tries to sell a policy as "good for Israel" doesn't mean we Jews should support it -- indeed, our support of such policies for that reason gives truth to the anti-Semitic lie of dual loyalty.

And certainly, part of knowing who are your real friends, your real enemies and your real interests is that, in responding to attacks, Israel needs to respond proportionally and to the correct enemy. It is amazing how some liberals supported the right of the U.S. to respond to 9/11 by invading Afghanistan, but do not support the right of Israel to similarly respond militarily to terrorist attacks. On the other hand, those who realized the fallacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as supposedly part of a larger war on terror, ought to realize that Israel is making similar mistakes in so aggressively attacking Lebanon. And the Bible tells us that, in the Holy Land, God does not take kindly to it's chosen inhabitants making mistakes.

Another thing Jeremiah does point out with his talk about cisterns is that it's really all about the water. No matter how much the Israeli side talks about "making the desert bloom" or how much the Palestinians talk about how green was their valley before they were displaced (and while most leftists would ask why Jews should have more rights than Palestinians, vis-a-vis Return, it would seem to me that there are good reasons why we Jews ought to have this right ... the relevant question is why should Palestinians have any more right to return than any other late 1940s era refugee group? Of course, if Palestinian refugees really wanted to return, you'd think at least a few would try to convert to Judaism to do so ...), the fact remains that the Land of Israel is a semi-desert which blooms only by the grace of God. When people, especially the religious leaders, in Jeremiah's words, stop asking "where is God" and instead assume that God is on their side, they risk alienating a vengeful God -- and that is not a smart thing to do in a desert that blooms by the grace of God. Moreover, the fundamental problem, being that of water, indicates that the fundamental problem is one of population. Baruch Hashem, there so many Jews that we just cannot all fit in the Land of Israel short of a miracle possible only in Messianic times (so much for Israel being a place where all Jews can go when things go bad for us in the Diaspora -- Zionism could never solve "the Jewish problem" as there simply are too many of us to not have a gesunte Diaspora) ... and there are also so many Palestinians (it's amazing how talk of the "demographic problem" either act as if the increase in the Palestinian population is a normal sort of increase, and not the abnormal out of control population growth that lack of hope begets, or descend into racist territory in fearing Palestinian fecundity) that they cannot fit in their lands with the water available. Pardon me for being callous, but any solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, short of massive advances in desalination technology, will have to involve the spread of birth control on both sides.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Check out the comments in the older posts

I've been catching up in responding to y'all's comments ... y'all ain't gonna let me have the last word, ain't ye?

Oy vey, I've been in Tallahassee too long.


That Decade

You keep seeing it. Sometimes not so subtly. Sometimes quite subtly.

Why do people keep acting as if the 1950s (family TV show) lifestyle is "traditional" even though that lifestyle (which never obtained in real life) was even viewed in the 1950s itself as something "modern" and the way of the future?

It goes from Ned Flanders style delusion to something worse when people want to "return" to that time by undoing what made the 1950s what it was -- the New Deal.

Ironies, about, don't they?

So is this mistake a product of baby-boomers getting nostalgic for their childhoods and figuring "what was in my childhood is how it always was until life changed -- and our generation grew up"? Or is there more too it than that (e.g. racism -- i.e. wanting to undo the 1960s which has some very sinister connotations, don't it?)?

Well, I could ramble longer, but I have work to do ...


Weekly Parsha Blogging, Finally!

Since Nate has part II of his podcast with me up (in which I am compared to Rabbi Dworkin, whom I never met), I probably should finally come through with my promised Weekly Parsha blogging. You'd think it would be easy, considering this was my Bar Mitzvah parsha, but it's not.

After all, you've already heard all there is to know about "that still small voice" (cf. Dagobert Runes on this) although there is the interesting question, which relates to the Akedah and some discussion on the feminist parts of left blogistan about it, of how you know even whether the small voice really is the voice of God? And you've heard about the Daughters of Zelophahad (and note the interesting interpretation of the halacha involved being one not given at Sinai but rather an extra-special one, as I describe in the pod-cast). And, as I describe in the pod-cast, an interesting point about this parsha is that, in shifting toward the end of the Torah, you see a shift in leadership. The Etz Chaim Chumash has an excellent, if brief, discussion about this. And I had intended to blog more on that aspect, but something else has caught my attention -- that stock issue of the "still small voice".

Pinchas, in slaying the couple participating in an orgiastic rite, would have claimed to have heard the "still small voice" of God when doing so, no doubt. But did he? As commentators point out, his "reward" is delayed until the next week's parsha to indicate that one often does not know whether that voice is the voice of God, so acts of violence in the name of God must be considered carefully, 'cause you might not know who's voice your hearing anyway. Also, some point out that Pinchas was not really rewarded with the status of High Priest but rather the status was given to him to keep him in line. Indeed, tradition points out that just as the righteousness of Moses had to be balanced by Aaron who, while the spokesman and high priest of his generation, also was somewhat of a yes-man who actually got into trouble several times simply because he didn't protest against wrong things, the out of touch zeal of Pinchas had to be balanced by Joshua who, while a military leader of great courage and even prone to actions of military excess, nonetheless was, a la that other great general, Eisenhower, a moderate in certain political matters (it is interesting how, like in our own day, some of the most zealous people are actually not the ones who have to fight the battles) and a Julius Caesar-like "tribune of the masses". Actually according to this theory, the "get the extremists into government so they can moderate once they realize they have responsibilities" strategy has divine imprimateur -- in God's annointment of Pinchas.

The problem with this theory is that it only works if one's extremism actually comes from listening to that still small voice and one listens to that voice when the voice says "hold your hand, I have provided a ram in the thicket" and tells you to moderate. If a zealous leader never hears that voice again, or hears it only selectively (e.g. GW Bush worrying about taking the lives of blastocysts but not born humans), then giving a zealot power just makes everything worse, not better.

Another interesting aspect of this parsha, in dealing with the changing of the guard, so to speak, is that either with this last parsha or with this week's parsha (in this case actually with Pinchas), we go from reading Haftaroth relating to the Torah portion, to those relating to the Calendar (e.g. the coming of Tisha B'av, the period of consolation and the coming of the Harvest Season). Of course, the Parshioth themselves have some relation to the calendar (cf. my comments on Korach), but now the Haftaroth specifically relate to the themes of mourning (commentwhore I'm too lazy to link -- please see my comments at Adventus) and redemption with the coming of the dog-days of summer in which crop failure looms as a threat and the following joy of the harvest. And now, we have a double significance, alas, for these readings as we mourn the loss of life in the ME, fear the failure that is war in the region and pray for the harvest of peace.

Alas -- that's all I can figure out to say ... hopefully next week's parsha blogging will be sooner (considering it's already almost Shabbos) and better.


Self-Defeating Behavior

It is almost a stock bit of pop-psychology (I guess I've forgotten the message of a previous post of mine regarding conventional wisdom counter-intuitiveness ;) ): a person who could be successful but keeps sabatoging his success (without even realizing it) because he's afraid of being successful for once after being a looser for so long.

I sometimes wonder if this is what's going on with Israel. After the victory of 1967 and its aftermath, Israel has learned, sub-consciously (they would never admit to these, even to themselves, at a conscious level, as they go against the Zionist mythos of the now-invincible Jew), some powerful lessons: sometimes being seen as the struggling, never quite victorious under-dog is better than being the victor and that victory has a cost -- you need to administer what you've won. So has Israel been sabataging itself -- sabataging chances for victory, for peace, for whatever, because the status quo of being embattled is too psychologically comforting in some weird way?

It seems to be the case in this war. Israel is always complaining that the world views it as the aggressor when all it's doing is defending itself, etc. But for once, Israel was in a situation where the whole world was behind it ... and what did it do? It squandered that moral support and made the reality match what Israel always fears it is: Israel being viewed as the evil aggressor. Why did Israel do this? Did they really need to respond as they did? Or is there an element of self-defeatism in Israel's response?


A slightly OT thought (hey, it's my blog and I decide the topics anyway, nu? of course, you can passive/aggressively change the topics of threads ;) ): how well does it bode for democracy in the ME when the people, who have to step up to the plate and actually engage in self-rule for democracy to work (by definition), of the ME naturally do not see democracy as such a good thing. After all, look at the democracies in the ME -- Israel (the "enemy" and full of wily Jews), Turkey (also a foreign country, from the point of view of Arabs -- and such a good democracy we all know ... btw -- I have a bridge I'm wanting to sell ...), Lebanon (barely has a functional government), the nascient state of Palestine (same) and Iraq (government barely functional and put in by a foreign "enemy" besides). If democracy is so associated with foreigners and weak government in the ME, is it any wonder why "home grown" democratic movements are such non-starters there? I know that's what Iraq was sold as being about (the war was never really about spreading democracy) -- putting an example of a strong, Arab democracy in place ... but that project was so obviously ill-conceived (forcing people to have a democracy ... does that make sense?) and so transparently not about democratization, it was obvious it would backfire. If we really wanted to spread democracy in the ME (which we might not really want to do after all, some would argue -- but maybe not me ... don't call me a "realist"!), shouldn't we be working to strengthan and not undermine the few Arab democracies such as they are? But how does bombing Lebanon and, when the Palestinians elect an admittedly odious government deciding we don't like the results of their democracy, so we'll stop giving them the aid they need to build up any democracy, strengthan democracy?


Let's Review, Shall We Class?

Last night on NPR I heard some Israeli "defense expert" make the oft repeated claim that Israel needs to respond strongly to any terrorist attack to send a message that it is strong. In particular, Israel was bombing Lebanon to send a message to Syria and Iran.


Let's review this again -- it appears some people just don't get it. In particular, some people seem to think (a la Bush responding to Al Qaeda terrorism by deposing Saddam Hussein, which would be an Al Qaeda goal) that the best way to respond to terrorists is to look as strong as possible, even if it means in reality giving the terrorists what they want.

Responding proportionally to a terrorist attack: fine.
Responding disproportionately strongly sends a message -- "we're terrorized": and isn't that what terrorists, by definition want to achieve? In this case, it also achieves another Hezbollah goal, giving Hezbollah the legitamacy of being a force of law and order if not a recognized government in Lebanon, by making Israel seem like a brute and bully so people will rally to Hezbollah's side as the latter "defends" Lebanon.

Sending a message to Iran and Syria by actually striking, er, Iran and Syria: probably would not be prudent and not a good idea, but at least it would be coherent
Sending a message to Iran and Syria by bombing Lebanon: Hunh?

Going in with ground troops and capturing suspected terrorists and placing them through a due process of law: sends the message Israel is strong and daring enough to pull off such a thing and that Israel really is a democracy under the rule of law.
Re-occupying South Lebanon with Israeli troops: this may very well be a goal of Hezbollah in attacking Israel, to goad Israel into a re-occupation -- after all, the last occupation was, shall we say, very good for Hezbollah, if only for their Hazbarah (oy, now I sound like Jesse Jackson).
Targetted Assassinations: bad on many levels -- (1) what if the targetting is not so good and civilians are killed? (2) it sends the message Israel will hide behind its superior technology (3) an assassinated criminal cannot be brought to justice, which lack of justice risks God's wrath on the Land of Israel (see Pirke Avoth and its list for causes of aveiroth)

Air strikes against specific Hezbollah munitions: good if and only if the targets and only the targets are hit
Air strikes that harm in any way civilians, even if Hezbollah is essentially using them as human shields: bad. If only because people (including Israelis) assume that all Jews are infinitely clever and cannot make mistakes -- thus any death of any civilian will be deemed not a failure of Israeli intelligence, a failure of targetting or the result of a deliberate strategy by Hezbollah to keep civilians in their way, but rather will be suspected to be intentional. Same with targetting of infrastructure (and cf. Nasser, the relevent quote is given by Jon in a comment downstairs). When Israel over-reacts, what is really a stupid over-reaction (which is bad enough, 'cause it indicates that the terrorists have accomplished their definitional goal of terrorizing people) may seem like part of an evil plan.

So class -- do we get this now? There will be a quiz tomorrow. The penalty for failing is WWIII. But then again, I know some of you want that 'cause you think it means Jebus will return or something like that. But why some Jews think that crowd is pro-Israel (just 'cause they are sending some cash to keep in motion events leading up, they hope, to armeggedon?) is somewhat beyond me ...


Some in Left Blogistan have asked what the obsession with targetting infra-structure is. I suspect Israel is merely copying the US here. Why the US obsession? Well, every bridge that is bombed needs to be rebuilt, nu? And every bridge to be rebuilt is a lucrative contract for someone, nu? While we may think that our leadership is purely evil (and thinking that they are pure evil is, as a labmate of mine pointed out, rather reassuring, because it allows one to excuse Bush & CO crimes as "they are just different than us" -- if we rather realize they are merely guilty of cupidity, that makes things worse because while, pace the Calvinists, humans are not purely evil, all too many of us are guilty of cupidity at some or other point), they really are exactly the greedy (if only subconciously) bastards Ike warned us about. Of course, we all (cf. the MSM) know that Gen. Eisenhower was outside of the mainstream and some conspiracy nut, right?

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Delayed Weekly Parsha Blogging

Is still delayed -- I'm bogged down at work.

Anyway, Nate is putting up his pod-casts with me in which I, among other things, give a preview to the blogging of Parshas Pinchas (read last week). I come off as rambling and effete, though -- it's my fault, I did not prepare well enough for the interview -- I was not being a good Boy Scout, now was I?

But maybe someone will notice this, think they're getting a Faux News Democrat (effete version) and hire me on as a commentator?

And then, since I would be paid to jabber, I'll have a motivation to prepare (although the odd thing about being a liberal commentator, or a commentator in general, seems to be that you get paid to notbe prepared -- so maybe I'll be further dismotivated to prepare -- which would make it the coolest ... job ... ever ... no wonder Faux News Dems will do anything to keep their paid vacation positions!) -- so I'll come off fighting, effectual and spin things correctly.

Still, I guess the experience should learn me to have some sympathy for the Dems. that make public appearances and at least try to get out there and explicate our position -- and in front of people a lot less friendly to the Dem. party than Nate. But ... nah! I think I'll learn nothing and remain a blogofascist. After all, people who get paidto do something ought to do a better job than those of us who dabble in it without remuneration.

Or maybe not -- I forget, up is the new down.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


American/Israeli Relations

An excellent article on the Israel lobby, etc.

Two points I'd like to add:

(1) About the paranoid and right wing (both in terms of Israeli and even American politics) turn of certain American Jews -- just as anti-Semitism supposedly thrives in the absence of Jews, anti-anti-Semitism thrives in the absence of real anti-Semites. A large part of the right-ward turn amongst American Jewry is among Northeastern Jews who've never actually experience anti-Semitism personally and are rather oblivious to, e.g., the anti-Semitic code in which the religious right in this country speaks. OTOH, they are most paranoid about anti-Semitism, so they look for it wherever they see, e.g., strident criticism of Israel. Which leads them to see the left as anti-Semitic and not the political right.

(2) It actually may be beneficial for the US and Israel to distance themselves from each other. Not only should any Zionist support a decrease in the dependence of Israel on US largesse or even moral support (I thought Zionism was about us Jews having an independent state of our own), but it may be good for both sides if we are seen as more independent of each other. A lot of anti-Israeli sentement in the ME is actually anti-Americanism directed at a less powerful and more locally convenient whipping boy, Israel, viewed as America's proxy in the region. Conversely, a lot of anti-Americanism relates to negative views toward Israel, some of which are based on Israel's actions (e.g., using American provided firepower) but some are based on anti-Semitism. It would help Israel if it were not seen as America's proxy (and it would help Israel if it were not constrained to do America's dirty work or, OTOH, refrain from defending itself out of deference to American interests). And it would help the US if we were not seen as Israel's pet hyperpower. The U.S. shouldn't abandon it's pro-Israeli tilt entirely, but it might not only be good for the U.S. but also might be better for Israel if both sides would be more open about having divergent interests and not be (seen as) so dependent on each other. At the very least, it should be recognized (pace AIPAC) that not all people arguing for a reduction of ties between the US and Israel are even anti-Israeli and certainly not all are anti-Semitic.

Monday, July 17, 2006


I'm a Highly Trained Scientist, Do not Try this at Home

If my mom were writing this blog, she would title it "what ever happened to common sense?" and the body would merely say "discuss", but, since I have my Ph.D., I'm going to feel free to pile it on higher and deeper.

I like to complain that it isn't so much the Enlightenment that seems to be fading away (indeed, a lot of, e.g., fundamentalism, actually can be traced to the Great Awakening, which though we think of it as being counter to the Enlightenment, was, even according to its movers and shakers, part of it) as the Age of Reason (it would be interesting, e.g., if Bacon were right about eschatology: imagine Jesus coming down to Earth -- looking suspiciously like the Soup Nazi, asking some fundie about how God created living beings, the fundie would respond "intelligent design" and Jesus would say "No! haven't you properly studied God's creation without your mortal prejudices getting in the way? living organisms evolved -- no rapture for you!"), but, for all of our Franco-phobia, there is a certain trend, especially in American society, that in some ways is a weird take on Descartes. Where Descartes sought to prove everything from first principles but "magically" managed to "prove" (I wonder how? < / snark) the conventional wisdom of his day, today the kewl kids consistently try to establish certain things from first principles that always somehow manage to be counter-intuitive: and the counter-intuitiveness is supposed to mark the thinking being purveyed as somehow intellectual, rigorous and novel even if the thinking has no correspondence to reality, is incoherent and merely reflects the conventional wisdom of the managerial class, as some have pointed out regarding the work of, e.g., Leavitt. Of course for some economists the problem isn't class bias but a desire to be taken seriously as scientists that leads them to reject intuitive results and celebrate the opposite -- the ironic thing being that, of course, (scientific) intuition is most important in science, so at best those economists who glorify the counter-intuitive in pursuit of scientific sounding "objectivity" (is this an example of scientism?) are becoming dragons in the course of fighting dragons.

How is it that the counter-intuitiveness of the results of certain economists, for example, are supposed to make those results more rather than less valid? If economists are obtaining those results based on some notion of people engaging in rational choices, what does it mean then that people are such poor judges of the rationality of the choices they make that their intuition, which they use to make such choices, cannot tell them anything about those choices? Considering that people bet on the state of the economy all the time (e.g. in the stock market), if people are making decisions when they cannot know what the rational decisions others are making, doesn't neo-classical economics vanish in puff of logic? Yet somehow the counter-intuitive incoherency of neo-classical economics is what makes it serious social science.

You see this lack of common sense and celebration of counter-intuitiveness being pushed by the punditocracy all of the time -- "aggression is necessary to maintain peace", a politician who is bad at politics is a "statesman" (reminds me of the jokes about what "research oriented" and "teaching oriented" on a CV mean -- btw: I'm both "teaching oriented" and "research oriented"), etc. While sometimes sophistic arguments are enlightening -- it may be interesting and enlightening to consider that, at some level, for example, terrorists are cowards -- to label as dangerous radicals those who cut through the sophistry and tell us intuitive truths -- e.g., terrorists are on the face of it, not at all cowards -- is itself dangerous as it causes us to "mis-underestimate" the threats we face (it is especially ironic, FWIW, that the people taking the lead in punishing the anti-sophistic Socrates' of our day claim to be followers of Strauss whose chief concern was how to protect Socratic figures from society's sophists for the good of society: one imagines Strauss siding with Sontag over the neo-cons).

To understand that there is a hidden side to some things is important -- to assume, pace Leavitt, et al., that there is a hidden side to everything, is to miss the obvious forest for the hidden trees at best and to be a paranoid conspiracy nut at worst. And in that worst case are many Zionists who think everyone is out to get Israel and thus do everything they can to make sure their prophecies are fulfilled rather than actually seeking the real (as opposed to self-interested fundamentalist Christians who want Israel to be bellicose so as to bring on Armageddon) allies and good will Israel needs. Also in that worst case are anti-Zionists who mistake stupidity (at worst cupidity) for pure and cunning evil (of course, Likudnik types who try to spin Israel's mistakes as "we meant to do that in order to expand into Biblical Israel" are not helping matters).

Yet everywhere, probably in order to affirm and spread the prejudices of the powerful (as any student of the right can tell you, paranoia about hidden conspiracies goes hand in hand with a de facto deference to what are really obvious hierarchies if only people would notice the nakedness of the emperor), the punditocracy has convinced everyone that their intuitions are bad (e.g. even if Joe Sixpack is actually rather socially liberal, and his cousin Jane Microbrew, the engineer, will admit as much, they will still vote for socially conservative politicians because of their social conservativism, which the Joes and Janes perceive as "moral" positions) and that counter-intuitive thinking is de facto more sophisticated (in reality, one should leave off the "ated") and to prefer the counter-intuitive to the intuitive.

Thus, we are left with a public discourse in which people who supported stupid and resource draining wars (e.g. our Iraq war, many of Israel's counter-productive retaliations against terrorism) are deemed to be "serious about defense" while those who were right are blamed as "back-stabbers" for being right! (BTW -- any Jew who thinks the right is "safer" for us than the left, need look no further than to consider the prevalence of the traditionally rhetoric of back-stabbing on the right to realize how mistaken they are) And, as is obvious to any Mother worthy of that title, we have no more "common sense". If I may be allowed as a biologist (I'm a highly trained Biochemistry Ph.D. ... kids, don't try this at home) to channel Bergson a bit, by insisting that the counter-intuitive is deeper than the intuitive, we risk loosing our elan vital. Both metaphysically but, given the realities of a world in which there is, e.g., terrorism and economic failures due to the economic non-sense peddled by certain people named Friedman, also quite physically.

So I'll go back to how my mom would have written this post: whatever happened to common sense? Discuss.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Inauguration of the far Left Flank of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders

I figure if it's a good enough organization for wingnuts, it's good enough for lefty moonbats.

Actually, pursuant to a question about my lack of blogging related to Israel, the war about which I am being a chickenhawk (or wolfdove, my position is maybe hard to characterize), is whatever the latest actions of Israel constitute.

My question is: how do members of my tribe get to be so stupid? It sometimes seems, and many have claimed, that Israel has been fighting a dragon (which is largely one of stereotype rather than the very real existential threat that Israel has previously faced) so long it has become said dragon (cf. Nietzsche). It sometimes seems that Israel, being so obsessed with being strong and macho (in supposed response to "how you need to fight 'those Ay-rabs'"), that they do things solely to project their strength, but end up only projecting weakness -- and it all backfires. And then, to add insult to injury, since Israel's enemies, to the extent that they believe in anti-Semitic stereotypes, assume Israel is infinitely smart -- thus, what in reality is stupidity, is mistaken for some extreme form of venality.

Specifically: consider what Israel is doing in Gaza and Lebanon. While some on the left may disagree, it is necessary and appropriate for a country to appropriately, e.g. in kind, respond to an attack. But what has Israel done? Have they responded according to the Biblical principle of "an eye for an eye"? No -- they've escalated the situation. While too many Israelis believe that "Ay-rabs respond only to overwhelming force", the situation is simply that more violence begets more violence. Israel is hit by rockets? Take out those rockets. An Israeli soldier is kidnapped -- don't try and "target" leaders: you only kill innocent civilians (all of whose survivors will then seek vengeance on Israel -- sheez, don't these people read the Bible? if they did, they would understand the principle of blood revenge current in the ME that is expressly forbidden by the Torah: both when they have the urge to do it and when Israelis get on the wrong side of it) and demonstrate that you are cowards who hide behind superior technology to fight wars rather than bravely (and at greater risk to life -- remember, one reason why "they" hate us Jews is 'cause "we love our lives too much") fight our enemies face to face -- all while violating the principle that capital crimes must be adjucated in a court of law (cf. Pirke Avos ... note that by killing someone extra-judicially, you deprive society of killing them following proper adjucation: and thus risk an averah coming to Israel) -- try kidnapping a Hamas militant and then using the newly kidnapped feller, rather than some prisoner, as the bargaining chip. To kill a Hamas militant from the air only demonstrates you have the money to purchase superior weaponry and to place civilians at risk only demonstrates that our side lacks honor (yeah -- I know "they place civilians at risk" and thus there is a double standard, but there always is vis-a-vis us Jews -- after all, it's from our Bible that there should be such a higher standard for us: whaddya think the whole "chosen people" thing is about?). But to capture a militant is a sign that Israel has real power to curb militant actions -- that is why they are so keen on getting their prisoners back. Deaths can be spun as martyrdoms, but prisoners are tokens of defeat! And maybe Israelis would realize this if they considered their own reactions to the kidnappings -- "we" aren't so different from "them" as we'd like to believe.

As to Lebanon: there Israel is really being teh Stupid. By attacking Lebanon in retaliation for attacks from Hezb'allah, Israel de facto legitimizing Hezb'allah as the Lebanese government. And this de facto is not merely a theoretical fact: if it's Hezb'allah responding to what will be perceived as an Israeli attack (people will forget Hezb'allah started it), then Hezb'allah will be seen as the protector and de facto government of Lebanon. That is likely Hezb'allah's strategy. Why Israel is playing along with it is beyond me. Israel either needs to somehow aid the Lebonese government in responding to Hezb'allah or take the matter directly to Syria which is the force behind Hezb'allah (and likely the attacks on Israel are really about Syria trying to regain control of Lebanon ... another example of Israel being a victim of squabbles within the Arab world -- but then again, why is Israel acting in a way that will only allow Syria to recement its control over Lebanon?) -- even if that means risking broadening the war. And, call me a chickenhawk here (very definitely do -- I'm clearly being one) you'd think the blustering Israeli side wouldn't be so cautious about that risk.

Of course, these blunders of Israel sound familiar. While some argue that Israel's problem is that in fighting Arab "dragons" it has essentially developed a (stereotypically) Arab mindset, it seems that the real problem with Israel is not that they are not thinking like Jews but rather like Arabs but that they are not thinking like Jews but rather like Americans. Of course, do we really all think so differently? Especially Arabs and Americans -- while there has been, much to the detriment of our national security as security (as Sun-tsu would tell us) depends on our understanding the "other", much demonization and failure to empathize with Arabs and Muslims (and any such empathy, no matter how strategic in our war on terror it may be, is denounced as treachery -- which makes me wonder about the commitment of the right, which has in the past supported terrorism both at home and abroad, to actually fighting terror rather than scoring political points: so the media should stop accusing Dems of same, btw), in fact our "enemies" in the war on terror are really no different than us -- after all, how different could camel-driving Arabs be than cowboy Americans? And naturally, Jews who've become "pioneers" have become no different, eh?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


History of Religion Question

When did fundamentalist pre-millenialist Christians, whose faith tended to make them believe that the secular order was completely corrupt and beyond redemption, go from eschewing participation in that secular order (and in some cases, even rejected evangelization) and waiting instead for an immenant "second coming" to being active participants in the secular political sphere and wanting to get a head start on the millenium by overturning that secular order? I suspect it may have something to do with the mobilization to oppose civil rights legislation, but I am not sure ... anybody know the history/chronology here?



Some on the left (e.g. Yglesias) have called into question the very cult of Harry Truman worship -- the closest thing we liberals have to Reaganolatry. However, it seems to me we need to reclaim Truman as fighting Dem: not above partisanship nor above using containment strategies to deal with even existential threats rather than necessarily resorting to hot wars.

But somehow we need to counteract the argument that Harry Truman was, in today's terms a hawk. He certainly wasn't a dove, nor am I sanguine, unlike some on the left, that a Dem. can run successfully as a dove (which kinda concerns me -- not that I'm a dove, but how militarized is our society? and is that such a good idea? how safe will we be if we are always fighting a war?). But, it is a mistake to consider hawk = being in favor of going into Iraq. This framing is part of the Republican strategy and should be avoided by Dems (which is part of the problem with the Lieberman wing -- they push this framing that ultimately benefits the Republicans who pushed for the Iraq war in the first place): we Dems. need to fight the idea that the only way to be strong on defense is to be reckless in offense. So long as people think this, we will loose as we are considered less reckless than the Republicans: and the lack of success of the Iraq war may very well help the Republicans by making them seem all the more reckless!

Part of the reason why Harry Truman is a good model is that the idea of containment, developed largely by his people and what eventually won the Cold War, was not one of reckless offense. Indeed, like us left-wing moonbats of today, Harry Truman's advisors' dislike of the reckless offense got them branded as sympethizing with the enemy and being against a strong defense. But unlike today, enough people saw through the smoke and mirrors of the Republicans and pro-reckless offense Democrats (with the help of some of them splitting from the Democratic party to form the Dixiecrats) that Truman got re-elected, if only in a squeeker. If us lefty-moonbats on the hawkish side of anti-Iraq-war left-blogistan can reclaim the Truman mantle, perhaps we can us it to remind people that being strong on defense does not entail supporting a reckless offense and indeed a reckless offense can make us less safe, not more safe.

I say let's keep the Trumanolatry -- let's remember that containment is not what failed before WWII, it wasn't tried in the first place and was developed as what we should have tried. Let's remember, as Truman's sage moonbat advisors did, that a reckless offense is not a good defense but quite the opposite. And let's use this popular President's policies as an example of how hawkishness needn't equal "supporting a stupid war".


Pardon the incoherence of my posts -- somehow the caffeine isn't working right: it's just made me jittery but not more lucid.


Death and Taxes

Evidently some on the right are considering Warren Buffett's when he dies donation to be an example of hypocrisy: if he really feels that government does a better job of allocating money than private charity, why doesn't he donate the money to the government?

As many on the left have pointed out, the set of people who are rich enough that the estate tax will attach but who are not rich enough to set up a foundation to avoid having the estate tax paid is pretty much the empty set. Thus, Buffett is not a hypocrite (*) unless he is also claiming that large estates should have to be assessed an estate tax even if the estate is shunted into a foundation -- which he is not.

But the larger claim of the right, that individuals do a better job of allocating resources than the government does, is not necessarily true. Adam Smith may have come up with a nice theory about the "Invisible Hand", but people who have problems accepting the "theory" of evolution should realize that a less tested theory about a mysterious "Hand" no-one can see may not always apply to the real world. While certainly the choices of individuals are often better than those of government and the politicians therein (and that includes Holy Joe and GW Bush and St. Ronnie of GE, conservatives should remember), sometimes they are not -- even assuming an individual as acting in rational self-interest, what is good for an individual may not be good for the economy as a whole.

Suppose, for example, a person gets a huge inheritance. She presumably would not spend it all at once but would rather save and/or invest it. If the stock market is under-capitalized, her investing her estate in the stock market is a good thing. But suppose, as happened during the tech bubble and its bursting, everybody and their mother('s pension fund) was invested in the market and there was so much capital in the market that every single underwear gnomes business was having a successful IPO and getting overly-capitalized. On the other hand, suppose, due to a recession or fear thereof, interest rates are lowered to ensure that people can get loans and spend money. In such a case, who's gonna put money in a savings account? What happens then is the case of the $0.02 bialy (**): that, even if the cost for a small business or individual to obtain an infusion of capital is low, there simply is not the money around for a bank to loan. In such a situation, it is in society's best interest (to jump start the economy by helping out those entrepreneurs and middle class families that politicians so claim to want to help but don't) for the money the rich person has to go to a loan making institution, but in the best interest of said rich person to invest in the stock market (so long as low interest rates can keep it from crashing). In such a case, it is certainly better for society (if not the heiress) to have steep estate tax: the federal government, which can allocate money to federal loan programs or even pork barrel spending which certainly will put money in the hands of contractors some of whom are entrepreneurs, etc. as well as their middle class employees, does a better job, as far as society is concerned, allocating resources than a (selfish, not that there's anything wrong with that according to some) individual.

The claims of Libertarian types are not always wrong, but the idea that these free-market claims are hard facts while liberalism is squishy is certainly wrong -- free-marketism is a faith like any other. And do you want money that could be put to use for the good of society to be sacrificed for worshiping free market idols?

(*) Actually, I was thinking about whether it would have been a good thing for religious liberals if Gillman (do I have the right person?) were appointed Chancellor of JTS over having the movement punt all the hot-button social issues and assert that JTS is an academic institution rather than the arbiter of Halacha (come to think of it, having the Chancellor of JTS play the role he did would kind of be like if the leading voice on what is Constitutional or not were not the SCOTUS but rather the Dean of Harvard Law School). Certainly Gillman would have likely taken, with Halachic authority attached to this move, our movement in a more liberal direction, but would he have been the right person to do it? After all, would people listen to the Halachic authority of a person who doesn't consider Halacha normative? The problem with Gillman, after all, is that he not only practices what he preaches, but he practices more than what he preaches -- he practices Halacha but doesn't preach its normativeness. While it is nice to put such a fence around being hypocritical and to possess such intellectual honesty, sometimes to have moral authority you must skirt the line into being hypocritical and certainly enter into a territory of intellectual dishonesty: if you restrict your pronouncements solely to reflect what is lest you apply any sort of double standard, how do you say anything meaningful about what ought to be? So even if Gillman were appointed Chancellor of JTS, how could his voice, being overly honest, really have any authority? In general, am I correct -- is too much intellectual honesty problematic in the exercize of moral authority?

(**) cf. the joke about the $0.02 bialy: a woman goes to a deli offering bialies for $0.02 only to learn they are out of stock, so she goes to the deli down the street selling them for a dollar. She asks the proprietor why they are selling them for a dollar when the shop down the street is selling them for $0.02. To which the proprietor replies "lady, why didn't you get them at the shop down the street?" "'Cause they are out" "Aha ... when I am out of bialies, I sell them for $0.02 as well". This happens in real life. The Black Pearl Rojo cigar typically sells for about $4 or less a stick -- but nobody actually has any in stock. At places where they do have it in stock, it sells for $6 a stick.



They are just popping into and out of my head before I can even blog them ...

Meanwhile, a commentwhore.

Monday, July 10, 2006


A Thought about Taxes

How much of the opposition to progressive income taxation is really about the richers not wanting to pay money as (to use Nixon style sources and tilt at strawmen in the manner of a Sen. Joe) some liberal Democrats might presume? I suspect that outside of a few liminally rich people in (ex-)urban areas who have a high cost of living and really could use a few extra bucks, the marginal utility of the money most people who stand to pay less in taxes in a regime other than one based on progressive income taxation is minimal. Also, some people who know well enough to be able to add 2+2 still have issues with progressive income taxation.

I suspect that a lot of the richers who have a beef with progressive income taxation really just would rather starve the government for reasons that go beyond the mere expense of paying an accountant to help them pay less than their fair share of taxes (e.g. dismantling the safety-net that gives people a meaningful alternative to supplying their labor, thus creating elasticity in the labor market, which benefits society but hurts the profits of certain businesses). And those in lower income brackets might not identify with the richers so much as we Dems may think -- there is also the matter of the complication of income taxes: the forms, the audits, the paperwork, etc.

I wonder if people wouldn't mind taxation so much if they felt that they didn't have to be or hire tax-accountants in order to optimally fill out their income tax forms? Given that, in large part, the anti-government feelings on which the GOP feeds are themselves fed by frustration over filling out income tax forms (either you pay money to have them done right and get the deductions you feel you deserve or you do them yourself with the attendent frustration and knowing you missed an opportunity to get more of refund check) as well as the incompotence and money grabbing of local governments (*), honest to goodness tax reform (e.g. not what the GOP passes off as tax reform), should be part of the Democratic agenda -- it's not just good policy but also good long term political strategy (btw: Dems. used to be good at using policy to forward long, not just short, term political strategy -- now the Republicans seem to be the only outfit which can do this, although the Republicans still, though anachronism and projection, still pretend Dems. do this) to push through some tax reform. Not only would it preserve progressive income taxation and head off Republican attempts to damage the system at the pass (nothin' wrong with thinkin' strategically when thinkin' of policy, folks) but it also would, if successful, remove a major irritant driving people to vote Republican.

I say, add an income tax reform to the Dem. "Contract with America" we should have (but under a different name, so we cannot get accused of having no new ideas based on borrowing this particular old one). I know some say that an opposition party need not and ought not to provide specific policies that it cannot impliment anyway and only serve to focus the other party's attacks ... but Dems. who say this are confusing actual policies with "policies" (TM) -- a critical weakness of ours that often causes us to bore media talking heads and get them surly with us as well as to give voters the impression that we are wonks (it's a bad sign for democratic governance that this is the case, but voters dislike wonks). Dems. need to offer the latter (as in a Contract with America) not the former.

btw -- is part of "what's the matter with Kansas" the entrenchedness of Dem. political machines in Midwestern cities? All politics is local, or at least regional, remember. Perhaps the reason why rural/suburban voters hate Democrats has nothing to do with our stands on social issues, etc., and everything to do with how horribly Democrats are running the government in cities like St. Louis and Chicago. Perhaps if the national party could force local political machines to clean up their acts, people in the Midwest would stop associating the Democratic party with the graspingly corrupt and incompetent local governments the local Dems. run? I mean, if my image of the Democrats was based solely on how the party operates in Central NJ and I had no ideological reason to vote Democratic, I too would vote for the evil that's far away in Washington, or more likely stay away from the polls alltogether, over the corruption that is really making my life miserable (in terms of speeding tickets, registration checks getting "misplaced", etc.) close to home -- even if I really didn't agree with the Republicans, I might find them more "moral" based merely on them not being the corrupt government of St. Louis or Chicago or Middlesex County. Something key then, that we Dems. are missing from our national electoral strategy, is some real cleaning house regarding corruption in local government. In general, it's not good politics to eat your own as Dems. tend to do on a national level (btw -- all this talk of "purges by the left" from the DLC wing of the party is just so much projection considering their attempt to purge the party of anyone who isn't Republican-lite and their continual eating of our own with their continual war on strawmen lefty Dems.), but some purges at the local level may really be good politics in that they will obviate another key irritant driving people to vote Republican as well as help to establish the rule of law (rather than graft) in people's lives at an important level (see Ted Rall for more on this subject) which will ultimately make them more respectful of the need to have a federal government bound by law and Constitutional tradition -- which is also a case Dems. have to make.

So let's clean up the tax code and clean house!

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Jumping on the "Are Madmen Strawmen" Bandwagon

Ironically, those who argued against the containment of "madman" (TM) Saddam Hussein using the you cannot contain a madman like Saddam Hussein or Hitler, forget that containment was not only never tried against Hitler, but also that the Cold War doctrine of containment, thought of by Truman's people (who were considered soft on Communism 'cause they wanted to have a coherent policy in dealing with the commies rather than just waving around big weapons and sending other people's kids to war -- this historical insight should be remembered by all those bloviators who claim to be the heirs of Truman: it isn't those who want to kiss Cmdr. Kookoo Bananas who are the heirs to Truman, but those who want to have a long term policy to minimize terrorism rather than merely getting into millions of hot wars, who are the heirs of Truman), was developed with the idea of being exactly how we should have dealt with Hitler in the 1930s rather than appeasing him: i.e. as an alternative between having to fight myriad wars and appeasement. Hitler isn't the poster child for the failure of containment, he is the poster child for what happens when containment isn't tried.

So arguing that containment cannot work when a leader is as mad as Hitler (and Stalin was so much more rational?) makes no sense historically as the theory of containment was developed using 20/20 hindsight based on what we should have done with Hitler rather than trying to appease him.

Something tells me this irony, like so many other ironies, is lost on the "you cannot contain a madman" crowd.

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