Thursday, August 31, 2006


Haiku Corner: A Double Shot of Bad Poetry -- but at least it's short

(meanwhile I, ironically, have the song "Charles Guiteau" in my head)

Queen moon attended
By a stellar entourage
Peers out from Earthen

Shadows to glimpse the
Dying embers of storms, them-
selves the Sun's last gasp


Fresh Air Last Night

Terry Gross had on some neo-con. I couldn't stand to listen to it for more than a few minutes, but what I heard was very revealing:

(1) Iran does not and will not any time soon develop nuclear weapons. Why do I say this? The neo-con was very clear that we should attack Iran even if it may not develop nuclear weapons. At the very least, the warmongers have learned that crying "WMD" is no longer credible after what's happened with Iraq. At worst, these people again know that they want to go to war with a country with no WMDs, but wish to claim they (well, actually they won't be fighting it ... we all know who gets stuck with that job) had to go to war rather than that we are being led to war 'cause Barney Fife has an itchy trigger finger.

(2) At least some neo-cons don't mind WMD proliferation, so long as a "democracy" (read US friendly, which is fair enough) has those weapons ... of course, Iran is a quasi-republic (actually, it's pretty much what the religious right wants our country to be: a republic, but with established religiosity), so that kinda defeated the neo-con's point (and, funny, he didn't mention Pakistan -- maybe Terry Gross brought that up, but by this point I was getting sick from this yahoo and had to turn the radio off) -- so "neo-con" foreign policy is pretty transparently about placing US friendly governments around the world, by force if necessary ... not about stopping WMD proliferation or democratization. So why do they call we who oppose them realists? How is their foreign policy really any different than the "realism" that helped to bring us 9/11 in the first place?

They claim "9/11 changed everything". But it didn't exactly change things for those liberals now slandered as if they are the second coming of Kissinger, simply because some of us were pushing foreign policies and security ideas that may have prevented those attacks and have not changed course 'cause we were not exactly, er, disproven. Meanwhile, those who were proven wrong are pushing the same course they always pushed, but are repackaging it and claiming "9/11 changed everything". I guess the packaging is "everything" in today's commercial society, eh? Either that or, as we've learned with people who were right about Iraq being considered "unserious" about national security and people who were wrong and who continue to be wrong being lauded as "serious" (it's time to read P.J. O'Rourke's excellent essay on the "serious problem" ... heck, it's time to re-read Hazlitt's "On the Pleasures of Hating"), wrong is the new right like pink is the new black: but really -- can you were pink with all the same colors with which you can wear black?

(3) These neo-cons really think that bombing a place will cause people to turn against their leaders and for democracy to bloom. What the $#@*? When we were attacked we certainly didn't say "GW Bush might be part of the problem" and didn't then vote him out. Instead we rallied behind him and criticized other countries (e.g. Spain) who actually did vote their leadership out following terrorist attacks.

Now, I know -- we are not as bad as the terrorists and our actions are more justified than those of the terrorists. But so what? We could be perfectly justified in bombing Iran (I'm not saying we are) and we could be quite selective in our targetting, but would that change perceptions? Would the Iranians necessarily think "oh, the US was right to bomb us, this really has brought us to our senses -- let's push for more democracy and change our leadership?" ... it could happen, but it doesn't sound like something that would happen now does it? It sounds like "effete" thinking to me -- that if it happened in Europe, the neo-cons would be blasting. So why should they think it will happen in Iran? Are these people that deluded? Especially considering our previous hardline stances against Iran had the opposite effect? And considering that, after what we did in the 1950s, we really will never have any credibility pushing regime change there ...


Public Transport

Many people living in big cities with decent public transport systems or people who have money to afford new or reasonably newish used car tend to forget (and were rudely reminded if they paid attention to what happened with Katrina) that we are an auto dependent society -- living in the suburbs or a medium size city, you simply don't have reliable access to public transportion (e.g. here in Tally buses run on any given route only once an hour and only from about 7 AM ish to 7 PM ish ... nor do they go to the airport), nor does it pay for the city to provide such reliable transportation given how few people could possibly use it.

The upshot is that those who are too poor to have a car which works well (which pretty much is anyone with an income much below the median -- and more so those who cannot afford even to sink money into the constant repairs required for a car they can afford) often have to resort to missing work, etc. (thus hurting their ability to "pursue happiness" as per our "natural rights" according to our very Declaration of Independence).

I do not know at this point what we can do about this situation -- but, in as much as our car dependent society is a problem, we gotta understand that car dependence, and the class stratafying effects, etc., of it, will continue so long as public transport continues to suck ... and there is really know way around that in most areas. And it isn't as if everyone can choose to live in a place where there is good public transport.

Of course, at the very least, we as a society do need to make sure that future development (e.g. through zoning codes) is geared toward service via public transportation. But it seems we've painted ourselves into a corner ...

Monday, August 28, 2006


Where Have All the Conservatives Gone

I know many in left blogistan would disagree with me, but the worst problem with today's political discourse is not the lack of progressive voices -- although there is something dangerously unbalanced with a political discourse which labels the likes of me as beyond the left edge of the mainstream (compare where I stand, e.g. on Israel with the views of actual Israelis ... my views would hardly be considered extreme, even if they would be further to the left of Labor, in a country with parties like Me'eretz regularly getting seats in Knesset, but look at how even liberal Jews would construct my views in this country's political discourse) and misrepresents the views of my political ilk to be something more of a straw-ideology than our views actually are -- but the lack of conservative voices.

We have plenty of reactionary voices, to be sure, but that is something different. When progressives propose changes, of course the reactionaries are happy to provide a conservative voice and ask "what's the cost of this change? is it necessary? will its effects be futile or perverse?" ... but where are the thorough-going conservatives who would ask such questions of the policy proposals of the reactionaries? How come nobody on the right is asking, when the admin. proposes some quasi-unconstitutional methods, ostensibly to catch terrorists, "what's the cost of this change? is it necessary?"? How come only paleo-conservative reactionaries (my plea is not a plea for a return of paleo-conservatism: indeed, I fear that, as some have pointed out, GW Bush & CO may be more analogous to Germany's WWI leadership than to the Nazis in which case it is the return of paleo-conservatism that we have to fear) voiced opposition to GW Bush's Iraq adventure? How come no conservatives were asking "what are the costs, to both us and the Iraqis, of regime change? will its effects be futile or perverse?".

It seems that the "mainstream" political discourse only talks about the benefits of reactionary programs and never the costs (with the situation being reversed to some degree for progressive programs) ... we have at least, an internet fed (receiving much opposition from the MSM, naturally, but even from people who you'd think would support us -- those concerned about media commercialization -- who nonetheless buy into the MSM's line that we are "angry") progressive movement talking about the benefits of progressive plans ... but where is a conservative movement to finally introduce some concepts of costs to discussions of reactionary foreign and domestic policies and so-called neo-liberal economics, etc?


Weekly Parsha Blogging

This past week's parsha begins with the famous passage concluding "justice, justice shall you pursue." Indeed, this parsha encapsulates the central theme of Deuteronomy, "justice", which refers not only to formal justice but also to distributive justice, which the Etz Chaim translation suggests is the possible reason for the repetition of the word justice, to indicate both forms of justice. Interestingly, we Jews tend to refer to charity using the Hebrew root used in this passage, "Tzedakah".

But this passage also immediately mixes in a bit of religious legislation: not to be erecting sacred posts or planting sacred trees. What does this have to do with justice? Is the Deuteronomist indicating that justice involves not only formal and distributive justice, but also curtailments of religious freedom? If you ask yourself, WWJD? -- What Would Jeremiah Do? -- would Jeremiah have advocated legislating morality and undermining the first amendment?

IMHO (which is a phrase only used when one is not humble about one's opinions -- cue Alanis Morrisette on irony here), no! What is being prohibited is not an exercise in religious freedom per se, but a restriction on the use of public spaces to spread a particular religious belief. Indeed, placing this in the context of justice reminds me of the Ten Commandments in the Courts issue: some claim it is there "religious freedom" to place Ten Commandments monuments in court-houses. But the pursuit of justice requires that one not go about placing sacred posts in certain public locations. Does justice thus curtail religious freedom? I doubt that the 10 Commandments crowd would think the Deuteronomic legislation curtails religious freedom, they just fail to see how they are doing that which the Deuteronomist abhors. What they mistake for their liberty is the right to foist their beliefs down the thoughts of others. And a judge who thinks he has that right can be assumed to be as biased as a judge who has been bribed -- being bribed by God, or at least believing yourself to be so, is still being bribed. And note that all bribes are prohibited by any reasonable code of judicial conduct, not just bribes made by the parties ostensibly involved in a case.

Of course, the Deuteronomist at some points does seem to be favoring a state establishment of religion, but, if the Deuteronomist was writing at a time when said state establishment was on its way out, one can forgive this text a bit of nostalgia, especially when this is one of the few cases in which nostalgia is constructive. After all, the goal of the Deuteronomic school was not to create a religious establishment but to create a religion that could outlive that establishment. And that we Jews have survived so long and through so much hardship indicates that they were successful beyond their wildest dreams.

Just a side-note regarding that success: how could the Holocaust follow from Darwinism? We Jews actually are quite successful given what we've survived as a people -- so wouldn't a Darwinist say to let us alone? Actually, didn't Nietzsche make this sort of argument? Interestingly, the "Darwinism causes wars" argument, which makes no sense when you think about it, actually pre-dates WWII -- William Jennings Bryan blamed WWI on "Darwinism", for example.


Authorship of Deuteronomy

It is Deuteronomy's "catch-phrases" that helped generate the Documentary Hypothesis in the first place, but one of Deuteronomy's catch-phrases, "Levitical Priests" does not quite seem to mesh with that hypothesis, except in its crudest form, which hardly is compatible with normative Jewish thought.

So does the concern with the plight of Levites who are not "Cohenim" indicate, as many of those who proposed modern source criticism held, a late date for the centralization of worship in ancient Judea, which would also mean that much of the Priestly source is of a similar late date and the two sources must have been rivals in their proposed method of implementation? I guess the idea is that the P-school pushed centralization and the D-school responded: "we'll go even further with this centralization than you will but what about the Levites who loose their jobs?"

Somehow, though -- and I might be biased -- this doesn't jibe. The D-school is clearly interested in a future, which might not (and it turns out did not) include centralized Temple worship, so why would they be pushing a new centralization? Were they hoping a religious revival would assuage God's wrath? Funny, the big D-man Jeremiah himself just doesn't seem all that sanguine.

So what to make of this concern with a surplus of Levites (a surplus that, if it still existed at the proposed time of the Deuteronomic School, the Exile, Return, etc., took care of as, by the end of the Second Temple, various sources of evidence, including the Parable of the Good Samaritan, indicate that there was quite a shortage of Levites except for the Cohenim, who were in relative surplus)? Perhaps the story behind Deuteronomy's true after all? It was found rather than written out of whole cloth? Or if it was written by a late Deuteronomic school, it incorporated some very old sources from like-minded people writing at the time of centralization: "it's all very good, and we support it even more than the Cohens do, but what about the extra Levites?"

Or does the emphasis on Levitical Cohenim just reflect an understanding of the fragility of the social changes induced by centralization of worship? Various subtleties in the Torah indicate that the Levites were originally an untouchable caste of priests and priestly assistants, punished for "ancestral sins", much like the Osu among the Ibos. The centralization of religious worship, necessary for the unification of Israel out of the disparate tribes of Jacob, had many winners and losers. The powerful "first born" tribe of Reuben was a loser in the deal, and this had to be explained, and much of the E-source is dedicated to compiling into a single volume the mythos that could explain this as well as the ascendancy of the "Rachel tribes" (in some ways, the E, J and even P sources tell "just-so" stories -- in particular, J and E are glosses of a far more extensive Hebrew mythology,which J and E assume is known to the reader and substituting for this lack of knowledge on the part of modern readers is a critical function of midrash which provides the new mythology necessary to keep the Bible readable, which is not a bug but rather a feature -- which perhaps explains why religious conservatives who take the Bible as literal truth are altogether too accepting of "just-so" stories in other contexts, e.g. in their acceptance of bubbe-mieses pretending to be "evolutionary psychology" even as they reject real evolutionary studies, including serious evolutionary psychology).

One clear winner was the Cohens among the tribe of Levi, who saw their status rise from that of untouchable priests to being the pinnacle of society. The Cohenim were not (at least not at first) grauber but rather they recognized from whence they came, and the Priestly Code reflects an interest in wealth distribution to benefit all by benefiting the poor. But the economy of scale in worship centralization meant that there were suddenly a bunch of poor, untouchable Levites out of what jobs they had. This urban underclass was maintained, along the lines set out in the Priestly Code, so long as Judah and Israel were strong nations. But could this particular support of an underclass continue in the diaspora? The Deuteronomists, like modern liberals, wanted to indicate that it not only could continue but, for the sake of the people of Israel, must continue.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Here be Dragons

Nietzsche famously pointed out that those who fight dragons often become dragons themselves. I've thought up a similar aphorism (although alas, I'm don't have the knack for the aphoristic phrase of a Nietzsche or Confucius):

Those fought by dragon-slayers eventually become dragons themselves

Consider, for example, how Castro and Ho, being thwarted by anti-Communists, came quickly to embrace Soviet influence, the current (literal and figurative) embrace by the beleaguered Chavez of Castro and the embrace of "tribalism" by neo-cons, many of whom come from backgrounds stereotyped as tribalistic. I know that "they drove me to it" is hardly an excuse, but it does happen: when one is fought for being X, even if X is an untrue stereotype, one eventually comes to embrace being X.

So does this kind of backlash, however inexcusable, pose a risk to us (and countries aping our strategies) with our foreign policy being as confrontational as it is? IMHO, as my dairy-farming cousins in MN would say: "you betcha!"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Government Corruption

In the latest updates I hear from NJ, it seems Sharpe James, former Newark mayor, is in trouble for corruption.

I've blogged/commented about this in the past: "all politics is local", and people get their images of government being corrupt and intrusive as well as of Dems. being particular a bane from their experiences with local governments -- either directly or based on what they hear about the nearest big city political machine. I've previously written about how Republicans use dissatisfaction with local government malfeasance to convince people to vote for the GOP anti-federal government programs (which ironically ostensibly are to increase the power of local government ... although the "local control" talking point is tapping into actually a slightly different and more sinister vein).

But there is something else going on too -- even if the junkets and what have you of a Sharpe James are insignificant budget-wise, they do leave an impression. People are going to be less sympathetic to geographical wealth redistribution schemes (which have been a critical aspect of the Dem platform in one way or another since the New Deal pioneered many of them) if they feel the money is being sucked into the pockets of corrupt urban politicians. Not only does a large part of the anti-government movement upon which the GOP capitalizes originate from disgust by voters with local politics, but also a large part of the anti-tax movement capitalizes on disgust by voters with fiscal corruption and irresponsibility (and there is also a know-nothing aspect to this, as I am sure y'all have noted).

So it's very important, especially if we Dems. want to be the party of cleaning house in the House, etc., that we first clean out our own machines. "All politics is local": if we Dems. want to start making headway in Red States (as well as keep certain Blue States safely Blue), we need it to be the case that the image of Dems. people have in Red Counties is not based on the local corrupt Dem. political machine in the nearest big city -- and more philosophically, that people don't feel that government is corrupt due to bad experiences with local government and feel that their tax money is going to waste based on reports of government corruption.

If we Dems. are to be serious about winning, we need to do some house cleaning.


Blunders are a Problem

This doesn't just apply to America ...

Although if distance lends such clarity, what's the matter with Hotzeplotz?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Too Lazy to Link

But Ward Sutton has a good cartoon about how similar Republican claims about Democrats are to the reality: just substitute "weak on terror" with "weak on the GOP", etc.

Meanwhile Ted Rall makes a very important point about how much we really actually actlike we believe in God. Although, it must be said, that the people he may have in mind actually don't believe good deeds get you into heaven but rather believe that faith is what saves ya -- so his point is slightly off.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Quasi-Weekly Parsha Blogging: Re'eh

This week's readings included laws against apostasy, a reiteration of laws regarding the sacrificial system and Sabbatical year and also the part of Deutero/Tritero-Isaiah in which the prophet states the essence of both Judaic spirituality as well as Materialistic ethics, both of which are in opposition to what is called "materialism" in the common discourse. While social conservatives may distinguish between amoral materialists who are materialists in both senses of the word and "Judeo-Christian" morality, Isaiah sides with the metaphysical materialists against those who value possessions not for their material value as food, etc., but for some sort of symbolic value: "why spend money on that which is not food?" he asks. Taken together, the Torah portion, which speaks of celebrating God by spending money on whatever pleases you, and the Haftorah, which speaks of purchasing without money, speak of the importance of both spiritual and physical nourishment and in opposition to a value system which values non-nutritive purchases over other purchases. Something tells me Isaiah is a Democrat who would find religious and atheistic liberalism to be two sides of the same coin whereas he would be confused by the separation of social and economic conservatism which both make idols, out of stone blocks and unfettered markets and what you can purchase therein, respectively.

Anyway, the passage read from Isaiah is one of my favorites, and I've already blogged on it (as you can see in my archives). But it does serve as a powerful corrective to those who view the political divide in the US as between religious and secular when this passage contains a statement that would be supported by the most religious of idealist and the most mechanistic of materialists (who discount the ultimate reality of symbols, including idols and status symbols and the value of the money used to purchase said items: hence Isaiah's comments about money and purchasing) even as it is ignored by both religious and secular folks who place immense value on that which does not satiate.

Interestingly, the portion also contains much textual evidence both for and against the Documentary Hypothesis. In favor are the repetition of certain turns of phrase present in Judges and elsewhere in the "Deuteronomic history". Arguing against is the concern for the Levite: why would someone writing so long after religious centralization in Israel (unless we are to believe that religious centralization happened relatively late in the history of Judah and Israel) be warning people to take care of the Levites who lost their positions due to religious centralization?


How Are They Different from Us? Wahabi Edition

Back when we were defending Saudi Arabia against Saddam Hussein, even many Republicans thought a wee bit differently about Wahabi Islam than many do now.

P.J. O'Rourke, "'Somewhere in Eastern Saudi Arabia': January 1991", Give War a Chance:

Wahabis are strict like old-fashioned American Baptists are -- no drinking, dating, mixed dancing or movie going. [...] The religious practices and attitudes of Saudi Arabia are no more peculiar than those of Billy Graham. A church-going, small town American from forty years ago would be perfectly familiar with the public morality here. Only the absolute segregation of the sexes would seem strange. And I'm not so sure about that. At O'Rourke family Thanksgiving dinners in the fifties, all the men were in the living room watching bowl games and the women were in the kitchen washing dishes.

So what's changed: Wahabi Islam or our perception of it? And which perception is right, our current one or the above quoted one? And is it really healthy to view the "enemy" as alien? It might boost our self-esteem to figure that those who attacked us have wildly different values than we, but is that healthy or strategically wise? Shouldn't we confront how much the enemy is like us?

Note this says something about what the right wing of our country wants. The "American Taliban" is not too far off in as much as the lifestyle to which they want to "return" us is not really that different than the lifestyle in an orthodox Wahabi nation.

Of course, perhaps the answer to my question about what's changed is nothing. P.J. O'Rourke is a thorough-going conservative much different politically than the so-called conservatives of the GOP. Even back in the days of St. Ronnie, P.J. O'Rourke noted about the anti-drug hysteria of the time and the Reagans' response to it (which could just as well apply to the anti-terrorism hysteria of our time and the Bush response to it):

To be "doing something about the problem" is a fundamental American trait and by and large a good one. But, in our love of problem-solving, we sometimes forget to ask what the problem is or even whether it's a problem. And once we start doing something, we often lose sight of whether that something is the thing to do. I give you Vietnam, just for instance. -- "Studying for Our Drug Test", Give War a Chance

Where are real conservative voices like these? To me the difference between the GOP of Goldwater and the GOP of Bush II is not the statism, as some have suggested -- though not Goldwater himself, many of his supporters were statists, and their beef was not with government power but with federal power and how it was being used -- but the lack of consideration of the above quoted point about "doing something". There may be all too few liberal and progressive voices in the public discourse (in which someone like me would pass for a lefty moonbat) nowadays, but there are even fewer actual conservative voices. What passes for conservative thinking nowadays is hardly conservative except in terms of conserving a hierarchical society our nation is not supposed to have in the first place, while real conservatives are either also whack-jobs a la Buchannan supporters or have been exiled to the Democratic party where they lie somewhere to the left of the DLC and Blue Dogs that our so-called liberal media is wont to define as the left wing of acceptable political discourse.


Jewish Law and War

Many in the Jewish community note regarding Israel's conduct and the world's reaction to it: "Israel is the only country from which the world demands the strictest adherence to [liberal] Christian ethics". While it is certainly fair for liberal Christians to criticize Israel from a Christian point of view and such criticisms are often more constructive than many Jews, who are, rightly given our history, paranoid about advice from non-Jews (although that paranoia is often misplaced -- sometimes the same person who thinks the Goyim who criticize Israel mean no good to the Jewish people manages to conflate the agenda of fundie Christians, who really do mean no good for us Jews as they mean for us to die at Har Meggido, with the Zionist agenda), the real question is not whether Israel defends itself according to Christian principles that have never in the course of history been observed by any Christian country actually under attack, but whether Israel defends itself according to Jewish principles.

So does Israel do this?

Much has been made of Israel's warning of civilian populations before bombing in civilian areas. Such warnings are indeed required by Jewish law. But is one warning sufficient? Joshua warned Jericho thrice. Also, Jewish law requires you allow fleeing civilians egress. Israel has, to the detriment of its mission, often done so. But not uniformly. And there is something disingenuous about warning civilians of an impending attack and then attacking them as they flee. I know many in Israel discount the PR aspect of Israel's wars and figure everyone hates Israel anyway (and then they wonder why Israel has such bad PR and why everyone hates Israel?), but it is not only immoral to attack fleeing civilians a la Amelek, but it also is horrible PR, which is important when you are fighting a war against an enemy whose purpose in fighting is largely PR.

And what of targeted assassinations? Israel does follow Jewish laws against secret killings by publishing its target lists. But is it acceptable to assassinate people, even if the target lists are publicized?

Those who argue it is acceptable argue such on the basis of self-defense: in Jewish law, proportional self-defense is, depending on the nature of the situation, either acceptable or mandatory. It is also mandatory to kill someone who is pursuing another when that someone is pursuing his target for the sake of murdering or raping the other person. On the other hand, outside of lethal responses to an immanent, dangerous threat, extra-judicial killings are abhorrent in Jewish law. Vengeance is not ours and summary executions of capital offenders prevent their cases from being adjudicated in courts, which lack of adjudication of capital crimes renders Israel vulnerable to God's wrath.

So are these targeted assassinations punishments or responses to a future threat? For those who say intent is not important in Jewish law, while any legal system worth its salt considers actions more primarily than intent, contra what those who argue against anti-hate-crime legislation say, we punish intent all the time and any reasonable legal system must: otherwise how would you distinguish an accidental killing with a vehicle, something even our first lady has done, from murder? If the targeted assassinations are intended as punishments, they are against Jewish law and invite God's wrath. If the assassinations are preventative, the question becomes whether the rubric of self/national-defense is operative. My inclination is that it is not as the assassination would not stop a specific, immanent attack (which is the purpose of self-defense) nor, considering reprisal killings, do targeted assassinations really save any lives. And if the so-called act of self-defense is not designed to thwart a specific attack but rather provokes an attack, how is it self-defense?

So does Israel follow Jewish law? This is a very important question. My opinion on Israel is the same as a 1940s era frum Jew, but for reasons of pragmatism rather than pure fundamentalism. Since Israel does exist, it ought to follow Jewish law as, for better or for worse, it represents us Jews as the Jewish State. But I am not so concerned about Israel enforcing "blue laws": if anything, the religious establishment in Israel, as religious establishments often are, is harmful to Jewish religiosity as it forces those not comfortable with a certain strain of Orthodoxy toward secularism by restricting the alternatives within Judaism. But while Israel needs to loosen its religious establishment, it also needs to heed Jewish law where such heeding really counts: in matters of ethics and statecraft. And it needs to consider what really constitutes Jewish teachings (e.g. "turn the other cheek" is Jewish, so asking Israel to do so is not asking Israel to follow a Christian ethic Christian nations don't even follow) rather than following a Christian or Muslim's idea of what constitutes the teachings of the "vengeful" "Old Testament".

If the whole point of Zionism is for us Jews to live in our homeland where we can be un-afraid, but rather come into our own, it's failed miserably. If our homeland is so dependent on US largess that we feel we need organizations like AIPAC to survive, how is the Zionist dream of Jewish sovereignty fulfilled? If Israel is always under threat, how is Israel a place where Jews can live without feeling threatened by the Goyim? If so many Jews continue to act, and consider it normative to act, according to stereotypes of Jewish tribalism (which, in the anti-Semitic world view is not distinguished from cosmopolitanism), and that Jewish rules of conduct ought to reflect the way others have constructed the Hebrew Bible rather than the way we have constructed this book, how have we Jews come into our own?


We're Following the Leader, the Leader, the Leader / We're Following the Leader / Wherever He May Go

In previous posts, I've assumed that much of the Middle East is just like us (even as many Americans seem to assume otherwise) in that, when attacked, they will rally around their leaders (at least to the extent that they prejudge their leaders to be "good people"). But is the world in general like us in that way? To what extent does the rest of the world follow the "rally around the leader in a time of trouble" principle? To what extent even do we? We certainly do not follow it in realms outside of national governance (especially in sport where the sacking of managers and coaches, even if the manager or coach is doing the best with what she's got, when a team is having a loosing streak is commonplace) or even when those prone to following the leader are faced with a leader whom they judge to be the kind of person who likes to do icky things (e.g. Clinton).

In particular, one notable exception to the "rally around the leader" phenomenon is in the ME: Israel. A liberal academic somewhat to the right of me on Israel (as if that's so hard -- although I suspect he's still pretty liberal about such things) was stating that one thing Israel has going for it is it's democracy: they are busy debating the mistakes of the recent war and demanding accountability, which demands will ultimately serve to improve Israel's response to terror and hence make Israel a better and stronger nation. I wondered to him when we would have such a democracy here (which far from undercutting our national security as some claim -- and why do those who claim a competitive marketplace results in better products and services when opposing regulations then claim that a competitive marketplace of ideas would undercut our nation rather than result in a better nation?) would actually make our country stronger) and whether the difference was cultural (although, Americans who might accuse other nations of cowardice for not rallying around their leader and staying the course -- and assume those judged to be cowardly will not rally around their leaders, both the judgment and the prediction being possibly dangerously mistaken when it comes to schemes to attack Arab countries -- certainly cannot accuse Israelis of such cowardice -- unless said Americans really do live in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land ... although some Americans are rallying around the leadership in Israel on behalf of those Israelis who are not doing so). He agreed it might be a cultural difference, but he suggested the difference between Israel and the US wherein Americans rallied around GW Bush for years even as many in Israel have pretty quickly soured on Olmert is primarily geographical (and possibly related to matters of class): in the US soldiers have been trickling home and then spreading across the country so that whatever doubts they have from seeing the war from the front lines are diluted in their homecoming (moreover, the soldiers and the decision makers are from such different classes, whatever doubts the soldiers have will not effect changes in policy for some time). On the other hand, in Israel, there is a mass of returning soldiers, of all socio-economic strata, returning to what is a very geographically small country -- so you have a concentration of people who have questions about the war. And it is that concentration that defeats any attempts to rally people around the leader.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Trolling My Own Blog

I'm not the first to have done this -- but I doubt that me doing this will have the same impact as that bit of trolling by a feminist blogger a month or two ago that started the blow-job wars (which were fun, but not nearly as fun as it sounds) roiling across the feminist province of left blogistan.

Anyway I was talking with a friend last night and I began to wonder about the following questions: how do y'all feel about AIPAC? Do you think that it has undo influence? Do you think that it really helps Israel or is in business for itself? Do you think that a lot of the power that is ascribed to "the Israel lobby" (e.g. McKinney blaming it for her defeats) really lies somewhere else: e.g. with other groups spending money and swaying elections but somehow letting the Israel lobby take the credit (which it does since it likes to look powerful -- and given the anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jewish power, what's the psychology here?)? Do AIPAC and similar groups ever let themselves be used as tools by groups with other agendas, which groups some in the Jewish community think are pro-Israel and think are being used by us Jews as tools (i.e. when "the Israel lobby" defeats a candidate, is that really done for Israel's sake or does the lobby think it's doing what it's doing for Israel's sake but it's really aligning its actions with benefactors having other agendas that really are not friendly to us Jews)?

And what about AIPAC in general? Do other nations have similar lobbying groups or is Israel unique in having such a group lobby on its behalf? If other nations do have such groups, how come you never hear about them? Is it a matter of AIPAC being a focus for otherwise nebulous anti-Semitism? If so, is it an acceptable or even smart thing for us Jews to provide anti-Semites with a focus for their hatred? Is it good to ferret the hatred out? Or is it bad to give anti-Semites the "we don't mind Jews, we just hate Israel" cover? If other nations do not have such lobbying groups, why does Israel have such a group? Sure it's a free country and tons of people spend tons of money lobbying and those who focus on the "all mighty Israel lobby" likely are paranoid at best, but still: why should Israel have a lobby if other countries don't? And if your response is "well, why don't other countries have such lobbies?" do ask yourselves: how would you feel about a similar Arab lobby (and I don't mean the oil lobby -- I mean a lobby whose ostensible interests was in promoting aid and comfort to an Arab entity, not promoting business with same)? Would you accept such a lobby as "well they have a right to do so" or would you feel about such a lobby about the same way as the crazies feel about AIPAC: "how dare they influence our politics like this?"? Come-on now ... be honest ...

And what about us Jews who worry about such things? Are we being too paranoid?


Wikipedia Withdrawl


As a kid, I always had this need to know random facts and hence was glued to my encyclopedia. But now they have Wikipedia. If my parents' World Book was my opiate, Wikipedia is that heroin laced with synthetic narcotic about which NPR tried to frighten us a few days ago.

And now Wikipedia seems to be slow or down or something ... and I am going through major withdrawls!

Wikipedia's back up -- withdrawl symptoms are diminishing ... whew ...

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Pace Sartre, Which Comes First, Existence or Essence?

Finally the post I've promised; sorry it's shorter than I had intended (btw -- if y'all comment on this post and not, e.g., the post below, I'll figure y'all actually like these sorts of posts and will produce more of this and less of the other varieties ... even bloggers sometimes strive to meet demand ... jus' sayin'):

It has occurred to me that, in this latest conflict, it really was not the case that Israel's existence was threatened. While the attacks on Israel were horrific acts of terror and possibly indicated a threat that could come to threaten Israel's existence, the actual attacks and even the immanent threats threatened something deeper than Israel's existence. Like all attacks that effectively induce terror in Israelis and all who sympathize with them, these attacks threatened the essence of what Israel is supposed to be: a haven for the Jewish people where we can live as any other people, i.e. without a constant fear of extermination. That Israel gets threatened disproportionately to other nations invokes a fear of extermination in us Jews, for whom the threat of extermination has too often been a reality, in the very nation, which is supposed to be a safe haven from said extermination. Thus, it should be of no surprise that Israel responds to attacks the way it does and to not even try to understand Israel's position is rather hateful. Some complain that all criticism of Israel gets shot down as anti-Semitic and some would shoot down all such criticism in that way (which is of no help to Israel: societies can only thrive where constructive criticism is encouraged rather than shot down), but many times the reason why many view "criticism" of Israel as anti-Semitic is that it is clear that such people don't get the degree to which threats which are not nearly existential still might merit a strong response (the strategic value and moral justifiability of said responses is a whole 'nother issue) as they are "essential threats".

We had a similar threat in the U.S. on 9/11, which threatened America's essence as an island nation, divorced from the terrorists threats faced by much of the rest of the world. And look at how we responded (indeed, those areas where the threat was existential have often a very different take on the response than those areas for which the terrorist threat has largely threatened merely the feeling of security and hence where the preferred response to terrorism has not been to try to do whatever, heck even having tea and crumpets with them, if it would stop the threat in the long term, but rather has been one of macho posturing and sending poor kids to die in wars overseas). Most lefties do not have the double standard claimed for us: we either opposed both the U.S. and Israeli responses to respective essential threats or if we supported the U.S. and opposed the Israeli response it was based on bona fide distinctions between the utility of each response, etc. But those who would deny some nations any right to respond with all vigor to essential threats yet accept that others have that right are guilty of a double standard. And one must wonder "why the double standard with respect to Israel?"

Anyway, just as people have a right to defend themselves with lethal force if they are threatened with lethal force, nations have a right to defend themselves proportionally against existential threats. But what is an appropriate response of a nation to an essential threat? Are such threats perhaps even graver than existential threats (as passages of the Torah comparing the threats posed by various groups to the wandering Israelites seem to indicate) or does existence precede essence and threats to either should be ranked in worrisome-ness accordingly?

Speaking of 9/11, though: what is the deal with those who feel we can bomb various countries into submission? Why should other nations respond to a bombing campaign any differently than we would, i.e. by "rallying around the leader" rather than by becoming disenchanted with said leader? The stock answer seems to be "well, we were attacked without provocation on 9/11 whereas the other countries are not innocent". But would the people in other countries feel "we deserve this bombing given what a yutz we have for a leader" when we did not feel the same way? Indeed, there are good reasons why "they" hate us: our support of dictatorships (the neo-cons were right about this: they just are part of the problem not the solution) and a system of neo-liberal free trade that nonetheless only exists because this "free" trade is enforced by goons, etc. So if we whined "why do they hate us?" and rallied around our leader, why wouldn't "they" do the same? How are "they" so different than "us"? Relatedly: we do seem to have a problem over-estimating our bravery and under-estimating the bravery of our opponents: need I mention how strategically dangerous that is?


How do Niebelungs Get Confused with Trolls?

Because we post (perhaps deliberately, albeit subconsciously) provocative comments in certain parts of left blogistan which buck some of the conventional wisdom in such quarters.

And what is this conventional wisdom of some quarters of the left?

X is a social construct propagated by patriarchical, plutocratic society which marginalizes the already un-privilaged and causes real psychological and even physical harm, therefore X is false

What I like about the left, what makes me a moonbat, is that I so often agree with that sort of premise. What makes me wince is the conclusion. Not all constructs of the patriarchal plutocracy are wrong, false, etc. To dismiss X as wrongheaded or even to actively work to change X because it further alienates the un-privileged is sometimes the correct tact. But sometimes the correct tact is to ensure that social construct X is merely reconstructed to include or be accessible to the un-privileged currently further marginalized by that construct.

To reflexively prefer the thoughts of the spinal cord to the intuition of the brain is bad whether it's being done by a feminist attacking the patriarchy or Holy Joe kissing up to the GOP in the name of bipartisanship. To reflexively find all social constructs propagated by a patriarchy or plutocracy to be wrongheaded is just as misguided as the right's embrace of all such constructs. Dismissing X merely because of its ideological implications is something we expect from the right but not from liberals. To claim that because X is un-attainable currently by some, X should be un-attainable by all, not only reeks of the "levelers" whose hypocrasy Sam Johnson so acutely skewered, but also is the mirror image of the moral relativism and nihilism of the religious right. To be obsessed with ferreting out social constructs that people intuit are somehow reality is puts one in bed with (pun subconsciously must have been intended) as the Stevens (Levitt and Pinker) crowd which privileges the counter-intuitive over the intuitive in a manner which ultimately privilages the status quo we lefty moonbats should be trying to reform!

A proper liberal would see a social construct and decide whether the construct should be destroyed or opened up. But to reflexively see any social construct as wrong is really to become a dragon whilst fighting dragons.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I Keep Making the Same Point, I know ... I'm a One Trick Pony, What Can I Say?

If Sy Hirsch is right (and he generally seems to be, although I think he's wrong about Iran and when we liberals get too worried about Bush wanting to directly attack Iran, we tend to miss the bigger picture), then I should hope people finally realize that (1) GW Bush is not good for Israel and (2) Israel's actions in this latest war have neither been smart (unless you think Cmdr. Chimpy McFlightsuit is particularly smart) nor in Israel's own interests. Just because someone wants to get you out of excrement doesn't make them your friend (cf. the parable of the bird, the ox and the fox) and even if someone is your friend, they are not necessarily going to always have only your interests in mind. If you think the U.S. magically is supporting Israel's interests 100%, then what's the point of an independent Jewish state? Why not just all now make Aliyah to the U.S.? Israel needs to be very careful that it really does act in its own interests and not just in the interests it perceives to be its own because it believes the U.S. is such a good friend it's only nudging Israel to act in Israel's best interests. Sometimes influence is pernicious, which is why it pays to look a gift horse in the mouth -- it could be a Trojan horse filled with the fundie agenda.

Anyway, read the article.

Some quotes:

"Hamas believed the call from Damascus was scrambled, but Israel had broken the code," -- cf. the allies deliberately spreading false information for German spies to intercept (which terrorists seem to be doing as well in other quarters) ... it could be a trick, you know ... but certain people think they are oh-so-clever about code breaking, they forget some codes are meant to be broken!

And the money quote for my point:

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks.

Adventus links to the above linked article as well as to an article in Yahoo news. Here's part of the quote singled out by the good Rev.:

Hezbollah fired more than 250 rockets at northern Israel, the worst daily barrage since fighting started July 12. Missiles killed an Israeli man and wounded 53 people, rescue officials said. Cars were set afire in the northern city of Haifa, billowing black smoke into the sky.

Don't you just know that everyone to the right of Me'eretz will say "see, this is why cease fires and such never are good for Israel: when you tell terrorists when the fighting will stop, they'll just step of their efforts at the last minute knowing that you won't be able to retaliate". Indeed, terrorists will pull this sort of stunt -- but not necessarily to inflict damage without retaliation being possible. The goal of terrorists is to terrorize, nu? They pull this kind of stunt in order to get people in a lather about their inability to retaliate and make them less likely to accept peace deals in the future. Hezbollah's not stupid, and Israel underestimates the bravery, intelligence, etc of terrorists at their own peril. Hezbollah wants Israel to "harden its heart" and be less willing to constructively engage in peace negotiations or even future cease fires. That's their goal: the make sure Israel acts in such a way that it is seen as the bad guy and hence serves as a recruiting tool for groups like Hezbollah. Israel may not be fighting a PR war, but Hezbollah and similar groups sure are.

While no nation should be deprived of the right to respond to attacks and threats, sometimes the best defense is not a good offense but rather knowing when to stand down and not let the bully provoke you into doing something stupid that only makes you look like the bully and allows the bully to gain friends.

Of course, if you are so paranoid you think everyone is out to get you anyway, you won't care and you will do stupid things ... sometimes when you stare at the abyss, it stares, back, nu?

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Read It

Ovlzl has an excellent post on the ME. Meanwhile, people who think I am being too heterodox with my liberal views on Israeli issues might be interested to check out me displaying my vaguely philo-Zionist side in this thread and elsewhere on the nets. As you may have figured, I can manage to disagree with just about any position regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps I should sign up to be the "honest broker" everyone's looking for? I wonder how much that pays? I could use some extra cash ...


"I've Come to Praise the Temple, not to Bury It": Eikev, the Early Authorship of Leviticus and the Deuteronomic Authorship of the "Appendices" to Judg

I'm really starting to embrace modern Source Criticism. There is nothing really inherently un-Jewish about it, anyway. The idea of the law coming to Moses at Sinai is what Ibsen would have called the "vital lie" of Jewish Orthodoxy. And the Rabbis of the Talmud themselves engaged in source criticism of a sort, some of which is preserved in our Torah scroll as we have it: there was a theory that the Torah originally consisted of Seven, rather than Five books. And that fragments of the other two books, which are sometimes marked distinctively in the Torah scroll or chanted in a distinguishable manner, have been integrated into the Five books we have.

Anyway, reading Parshas Eikev this past Shabbos got me to thinking about some authorship issues. Modern scholars differ in when the Priestly School that wrote Leviticus was active. Some hold that, even if centralized worship at the Temple was common long before the Deuteronomic school was active, it was that school which mandated such centralized worship, i.e. in verses we read in Parshas Eikev. However, it seems to me that Leviticus contains plenty of evidence that it was promulgated to ensure the centralization of worship eventually in Jerusalem. On the other hand, the Deuteronomic Book of Judges places emphasis on worship at Shiloh, and represents a nostalgia almost for a long lost Rachelite tradition, also present in the plaintive verses of Jeremiah. The way I see it, J and E evolved along with Israelite society: as Israelite society coalesced at the close of that middle/late Bronze age dark ages, it needed a history upon which to hang its growing national unity as well as to explain how it was that, e.g. the numerically dominant "oldest brother" tribe of Reuben was not the most politically powerful but rather the political power was coalescing around Judah as well as the "Rachel" tribes, etc. This history also explained the displacement of those Egyptianized locals, whose Northern Brethren as the Phoenicians dominated trade as the Mediterranean emerged from its dark age: most of the Torah and even the earliest written elements of the Prophetic and Deuteronomic histories of Israel can be thought of then as what would have happened if the same stories which, when told from the perspective of the Romanized Britainic tribes coalesced into the King Arthur legends, were told from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons.

Unlike the archetypal Indo-European cultures, however, the Israelite culture seems to have, judging from the treatment of "Levi" in the J and E sources, had an un-touchable, rather than exalted, priesthood along the lines of the Osu among the Ibo. The priests were condemned to landlessness by the sins of their ancestors and were ritually unclean due to their being responsible for treating contagious illness. However, as Israel centralized, worship also centralized which necessitated a change in status of the priesthood. The Priestly Code, presumably, evolves from that change, and hence it, and the centralized sacrificial cult it describes, are likely almost as old as the J and E sources. One can argue that the influence of the Priestly Code in Judaism has been missed because it is often only read as the Code for the Sacrificial Cult, which is, due to the wisdom of the Deuteronomists and their Rabbinic spiritual heirs, not active currently. However, the real upshot of the Priestly Code is not only the Holiness code per se but the transformation of the priesthood by associating the separateness of the unclean with Holiness, even at the level of a double meaning of the word Kadosh. The "leper", shatnes and the like are still "unclean" but those who handle them are no longer the outcasts but the most important to society.

Many Christians, e.g., have seen a conflict between Levitical teachings and the teachings of Jesus: but I would urge my Christian readership to note that the two are actually very similar (although many of those who have a so-called "Levitical orientation" in Christianity completely miss the key points of Leviticus). Indeed, it may be the case that before later Christian tradition sought to identify Jesus as the secular "Davidic" messiah, proto-Christian sectarian Jews eagerly awaiting for a Priestly Messiah to overthrow the corrupt, pro-Roman Sadduceic priesthood controlling the Temple, would have found messianic character in someone who taught "the last shall be the first" (what happened to the Levites as Israel centralized) and, with his brother in a Moses/Aaron like pair, took over the Temple.

Pace Mark Anthony, the Deuteronomist "comes to praise the Temple, not to bury it" and with the same intended irony, IMHO, as had Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's play. In forbidding de-centralized sacrifices at a time when the lead Deuteronomist, Jeremiah also prophesized the fall of that centralized worship, the Deuteronomic school must have realized they were, in praising worship at the Temple, burying, at least temporarily, the sacrificial cult. They quite rightly understood that if Judaism were to survive in a foreign land, it could not be based on a sacrificial system, which could easily be corrupted by polytheistic influences, but rather it must be based on something else. By anachronistically emphasizing the spiritual threat of the Canaanite religion and associating local sacrificial offerings with such a threat, the Deuteronomic school voiced its concern that should local sacrifice occur in any land which was not Jewish, whether it was the pre-Israelite land of Canaan or the foreign land of Babylonia, it would be a conduit away from, rather than toward God. Thus, the Deuteronomist did not mandate centralized worship because he wanted to end de-centralized worship in Judah, as part of some political power play or as part of a religious revival or other such as many have speculated but rather, IMHO, he mandated the centralization of the sacrificial cult because he feared what would happen if a de-centralized sacrificial cult were to appear in Babylon: it would seem as a way to continue the worship of Hashem in the customary manner of Judea, but it would in fact be a pernicious means of assimilation. Perhaps the take-home message for today is that sometimes those who seem to be the defenders of the faith really are the pernicious, if not intending to be, deceivers away from the faith.

Another interesting thing about Eikev is how it introduces the mandate to centralized worship: with the phrase "every man does as he pleases". This phrase, in a different tense, appears in the introduction to the "appendices" to the book of Judges. Some have argued that the Deuteronomist, who seems to have written the rest of Judges, did not write these add-ons. However, the commonality of this one phrase suggests that the add-ons were inserted by the Deuteronomic school in order to illustrate the chaos ensuing when everyone does as he pleases. These "appendices" may not fit the style of Judges and may not be part of that Book's otherwise rather coherent narrative, but they do fit the motivations of the Deuteronomic school and suggest, IMHO, a common authorship.


Previously in the Weekly Readings ... (and a preview of attractions to come)

The Shabbos before last was Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of Comfort, in which the Prophetic reading was the first chapter of Deutero-Isaiah. The shul I'm going to here is so committed to the multiple authorship of Isaiah that, in the Gabbais' list of who's reading what, they had listed the Prophetic reading as being from Isaiah chapter 1. Of course, that could have been a typo, but let's just claim that it's a commitment to the multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah. I wonder if when we get to the last bits of Isaiah if the chapter numbering will presuppose the existence of a tritero-Isaiah?

Also read was that part of Deuteronomy from whence come many of the observances of post-Temple Judaism: e.g. the Sh'ma and the justifications for the Shabbos Kiddush and the Passover Seder. It's almost as if the Deuteronomist were preparing us for an inevitable exile rather than justifying a centralization of worship as some claimed was the goal of the Deuteronomic school (I should get back to this when I blog about this last Shabbos' Torah portion). This provides an interesting connection with the Haftorah, even though such connections do not ostensibly exist in the readings this time of year: the Haftorah contains words of comfort and literal "cheerleading": Deutero-Isaiah wishes to cheer the Jews on as we return from the Babylonian captivity back to the land of Israel. On the other hand, the Torah portion gives us the rituals needed to sustain Judaism, not as a nation, but as a religion, par excellence, perhaps the first to be able to exist as a World, rather than National religion. Yet, the Torah portion also ostensibly deals with the return of the Israelites to Israel, which land was promised to Abraham but abandoned in a time of famine (I can really sound like Jesse Jackson when I want to or even when I don't intend to) by Abraham's great-grandkids. I am sure this has implications for the situation in Israel today, and it might be interesting to have some perspective on this from (and I can also sound like a Faux News liberal, MSM whore when I want to or even when I don't intend to) both sides of the current conflict.

One thing that caught my eye (there is a pun intended, as you, the reader, will soon see), though is the Sh'ma. It is the custom of many to cover our eyes when saying the first verse of the Sh'ma. Normally this is justified as a method to ensure concentration in reading this very important verse witnessing God's unity. But there is another possible explanation. The Baal Shem Tov once said something to the effect of "the world is filled with wonders and miracles yet man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing". It is important to recognize the God's wonder in creation, but that is a relatively simple task. What is more complicated is, when facing a catastrophe or even an essential threat, as Israel faces today (more on what I mean by "essential threat" should be coming on this blog soon), to still see God. The Deuteronomist was inspired to commit these words of witness to the scroll at a time when Judah was perhaps doomed by the Babylonian threat. He also wrote of the importance of not "testing" God with demands for miracles. If we can manage to still be witness to God's unity and glory, even when we cannot see the Divine presence, if only because we have covered our eyes to block out the miracles all around us, then we truly demonstrate our faith when we say its watchword. The Deuteronomic school taught us not to offer sacrifices in local, inherently heathen (cf. the origin of the word "heathen") shrines, but also gave us rituals that allowed us to transcend sacrificial worship at even the centralized shrine, so that we could still witness God's unity even in the absence of seeing the wondrous land which God had promised us. When we cover our eyes during the Sh'ma, we fulfill the true purpose of the Deuteronomist, to worship God even in God's apparent absence.

Interestingly, one can take the ID movement as a refusal to cover one's eyes during the Sh'ma, so to speak. The IDers insist that, unless science can tell us about God's miracles explicitly, it will lead to moral turpitude, a loss of faith, etc. So they try to twist science so it tells us something about which science properly has little to say. What a shame the faith of the self-proclaimed defenders of faith is so weak that they cannot witness God with their eyes covered but rather insist that God's miracles be obvious to all before they feel confident to witness God.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Exploiting Inconsistencies

I'll likely post some notes from my sermon on last week's parsha sometime over the weekend or next week: sorry for the delay.

Anyway ... on to the subject of this post:

We liberals are wont to point out the inconsistencies in the overall doctrine of what passes for conservativism nowadays, to the extent that some see inconsistency when, in fact, there is an overall consistency in values in the right-wing mindset. OTOH, as much as we like to point out incoherency even when the world view involved is quite coherent, we are strangely loathe to do anything about it.

We need to learn from the Republicans a bit. Now, in actuality, liberal support for causes such as gay rights dovetails rather nicely with economic liberalism (e.g. broadening the definition of families, part of the gay rights movement ostensibly, also benefits the many economically disadvantaged folk who by necessity have living arrangements that lie outside of the norm of a nuclear family, which norm, FWIW, is less traditional than these in actuality highly traditional "non-traditional" living arrangements of many of the economically disadvantaged: this is all discussed in the comments here)., but many have seen a contradiction between social liberalism and economic liberalism, if only because those who benefit most from economic liberalism fear social liberalism as they feel that social liberalism, by working toward greater egalitarianism of lifestyle, undermines the few privaleges they have (something about which we social liberals need to be more empathetic if we want to win back the hearts and minds of those who would most benefit from our idealogy -- that's the point of my comments at the end of that one controversial post a few posts down on this here blog) -- i.e. their straightness, whiteness or maleness as whatever the case may be. The right has taken advantage of this "division" and exploited it to win over "Reagan Democrats" (i.e. economic quasi-liberals afraid of social liberalism and, in general, nervous enough about their position in society to defer to any hierarchy, including an economic one from which they are not benefiting).

So why doesn't the left do the same thing? The right wants both "free trade" and government/corporate secrecy? Well, why not use the tools of "free trade" to undermine government secrecy, which is "trade restrictive" (i.e. to newspapers needing stories)? The right wants to be both anti-abortion and pro-landlord? Why not scare the landlords with that one anti-abortion cartoon comparing abortion to eviction and an added caption saying "you know how those pro-life people feel about abortion: it seems they think eviction is the same thing: be prepared for pro-life demonstrators next time you evict someone". Divide and conquer works, folks. Unfortunately, the powers that be in the Democratic party are often too busy trying to make friends to realize that the way you win in politics is not by befriending everyone but by making strong statements that make people who already are friends enemies -- sure you drive half of your opponants further away from you, but it's not as if they are voting for you anyway. And if the benefit is that you push half of them toward you, the non-existant loss is more than balanced out by the real gain.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Definition of Complexity

I notice that I tend to view things differently than a lot of people -- in particular, I seem to be a real computer nerd when it comes to whether or not something is complex. I'm always giving some idea that to me seems simple and everybody says "that's way too complex, such complex things rarely work", etc. And they are right (about the lack of practicality).

OTOH, they will come up with some idea that may or may not be any more practical than what I would come up with (generally it won't work either -- I'm no better than anyone else, but I'm not that much worse either), but which they claim is very simple. But to me, such ideas seem way too complicated.

I guess I do need to develop a better intuition about what people, especially those who've been good at coming up with good ideas, consider "simple" vs. "complex", but I fail to see how my understanding is so un-intuitive to others. My working definition of "complexity" is "how many lines of code will it take to impliment this idea in an appropriate computer language" ... I fail to see how there really could be any other definition of how simple or un-simple ("complexity" has other uses in Comp. Sci., e.g. run-time and space complexity ... ) a method for approaching a task is than how long it takes to explain it in a fully flushed out manner (e.g. how you'd have to explain it to your overly left-brained spouse in order for him/her to "get it", cf. my mom having to explain something to my dad). Something that human of even average intelligence can "grasp" easily but requires some intelligence to understand its description is hardly "simple" (at least until there is a perfect AI language) and something that, even if the math or philosophy behind it is something you cannot grasp unless you've taken a sufficient number of grad courses, takes 10 lines of code to impliment is hardly complex, even if you don't fully grasp intuitively why or how it works.

What am I missing? Is it just a language issue conflating the notion of complexity with intuitiveness?

Monday, August 07, 2006


Indexing Arrays from Zero or One

Why does Matlab have to index arrays starting at one and not zero? Gevalt! Maybe I've been programming in C/C++ too long, but it's so much more convenient so much of the time to index starting at zero!

( / computer geek complaint )

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The Left and the Empathy Gap

Some people on the left wonder why so many Jews view the left as potentially anti-Semitic even as they miss the very real anti-Semitism of the right. How does left-wing skepticism about Zionist claims translate to anti-Semitism? Isn't such skepticism even a form of philo-Semitism as it is the hard un-bigotry of high expectations as opposed to the soft bigotry of low expectations (which, if this conservative talking point applies anywhere, it applies to the moral relativism some on the right have concerning Israel)?

This could be how such skepticism is meant, but it is now how it is perceived, and, (cf. South Park: "the reason why we hate Americans is that Americans don't even understand why we hate them"), that so many on the left don't even understand how such skepticism could be perceived as anti-Semitism is why such skepticism is perceived as anti-Semitism.

It used to be called "the Jewish problem": "where do Jews belong?" Some Jews feel more comfortable with the right than the left because the neo-conservative and fundamentalist dominated right wing of present day America, even if their answer is hateful, is willing to answer this question in a manner other than "no-where", i.e. by answering "Israel". What is the left's answer to this question? History has shown that, even in Germany, which was arguably the most tolerant country to Jews, Jews could easily become personae non gratae and become deemed worthy of extinction. Given this history of not being accepted anywhere in the world -- which, not to minimize the sufferings of the Palestinians and the Lebanese, no Arab group would have experienced but for the fact that Arabs did not accept Arab refugees at a time when Israel accepted Jewish refugees, Finland accepted Karelian refugees, etc., and where is the left wing on the problem of repatriation of Karelian refugees? -- is it any wonder that Jews react so viscerally (and Israel responds so disproportionately) when Israel is attacked? "If we cannot be safe in Israel, where can we be safe?"

I know what my fellow lefties are thinking here, because I'm thinking it too: "what about the Lebanese? What about the Palestinians? Don't they deserve a place to be safe?" Indeed, Jewish ethical teachings mandate that if we Jews really don't like feeling unsafe, we won't make other groups feel unsafe (and thus one might come to doubt the sincerity of those who claim they are only looking after Israel's safety and claim to adhere to Judaism). But this immediate "yeahbuttal" to Jewish concerns when Israel is attacked is indicative of a lack of empathy. Why must we lefties not even pause to consider the emotional impact any attack on Israel has on us Jews?

The reason why so many Jews cannot consider the left to be their friends is that one cannot be a true friend to another unless one has empathy for another. One even must have empathy for one's enemies (thus ironically the right fares better with many Jews because it views Jews as an enemy whereas the left doesn't even seem to grant us that), if only as a matter of strategy (at which strategy Israel often fails: many in Israel seem to think they understand the "Arab mindset", but Israel consistently fails to bend the hearts and minds of the Arab world except in a manner to make them more determined to destroy Israel -- and I should hope that's not the point, otherwise Israel does not deserve our support as Jews ... it's God's place to harden the heart of Pharaoh, not our own). But to have no empathy for someone or some group is to write them off as inhuman and worthy only of extermination: who can forget the possibly apocryphal response of the Nazi minister asked if he loved the Jews? "Jesus said love thy enemy and love thy neighbor: the Jews are not my neighbors nor are they my enemies". Many on the left may detect this mindset amongst some Zionists toward the Arab world (cf. my last parenthetical remark), but many Jews detect this mindset on the left. Is it no wonder that many Jews view the left as anti-Semitic?

Left wing criticisms of Israel are often fair enough, even the double standard toward Israel has its roots in Jewish teaching (e.g. the traditional Ashkenazic interpretation of Tritero-Isaiah, who seems to have been a left-wing humanistic materialist). But when a left-winger so clearly doesn't have the empathy to have stopped to seriously consider "the Jewish problem", we Jews respond accordingly and wonder why the lefty cannot even treat us as an enemy (as the right does) and begin to think of such leftists, and even that wing of the political spectrum as a whole, as potentially anti-Semitic.

FWIW and why I didn't title this post "on left wing anti-Semitism", us Jews are not the only group to which the left displays a lack of empathy. Many on the left are not empathetic toward religious conservatives. Certainly those politicians, ironically generally Democrats, who rail against "anti-religious, secular elements of the Democratic party" seem a bit confused (who are these anti-religious politicians?) or at least are using the GOP culture wars definition of anti-religious wherein support for the strong disestablishment of even any hint of religion is deemed anti-religious even when said support is voiced by religious people and such disestablishment is what makes religion so strong in this country, e.g., relative to places like Europe where religion was historically established. But that Sen. Obama likes to fight strawmen doesn't indicate the left is friendly toward religion. While we may vehemently disagree with the quest by the religious right for public religiosity, if we even want to frustrate that quest, we must understand why so many people support that cause: we must empathize with religious conservatives. When we fail to even empathize with them, we not only "mis-understimate" the draw of a program we can and must defeat, we also send a message to "heartland, church goin' 'murkins" we don't even respect them enough to view them as opponents, but rather we lack any consideration of them as fellow humans. Is it any wonder then that the very people who would be most helped by our programs think we hate them?

Friday, August 04, 2006


Tisha B'Av Blogging

Somewhere in left blogistan, I promised this yesterday, but alas it's now today ... one more thing to consider when saying Kol Nidre ...

Anyhoo, on to the blogging:

Reading for Tisha B'Av: The Book of Lamentations

I suspect that in the Jewish corners of right-blogistan, Tisha B'Av this year, occurring when Israel has recently entered into a period of grave danger, will be an occasion for a lot of preening about "never again", this time in the context of not letting Israel and Jerusalem fall to non-Jewish invaders and Jews being exiled from our homeland.

However, let us remember that Jeremiah claims that the Babylonian Captivity was the punishment by God of the Jews for our iniquities. If we want to remain within Israel (cf. the parts of Deuteronomy we will read the Shabbos after next and we read as the second paragraph of the Sh'ma, ideally twice each day), we must be as just as the land demands we be, otherwise we will be vomited from the land and calamity will befall it.

In particular, those who mistake justice for vengeance and argue that it is morally acceptable to do anything to the guilty (forget about what is done to the innocent who happen to be amongst the guilty) outside of a due process of law, might do well to remember Lamentations 3:34-36: "Crushing under His feet / All the prisoners of the earth / To deny a man his rights / In the presence of the Most High, / To wrong a man in his cause -- / This the Lord does not choose" (JPS Translation).

Interestingly, those who reject as "Christian" and foreign to Jewish teachings the idea that Israel should try simply not responding to the deliberate provocations of terrorists whose aim, in spite of their recent denial of this and claims of miscalculation, is to terrorize Israel into a response which would drive the civilian population of Lebanon to further support Hezbollah as a de facto governing party, should realize that "turn the other cheek" is actually a Jewish teaching -- at least when it comes to the nation of Israel (Lamentations 3:30 -- which fascinatingly places this advice in a strategic "PR" context -- turning the other cheek is not a act of even passive resistance but is an act of defiance: of refusing to be a victim): cf. Deuteronomy, we are not to "test" God but rather hope for God's deliverance. Of course, as the old joke has it, God "sent you the boat and the helicopter to rescue you from the flood, what more did you want?" -- we cannot test God by relying on a supernatural miracle when it is one's own hand that will defend one's state, but on the other hand, one cannot test God's willingness to forgive all sins in under the rubric of "we were only defending our state".

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