Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Futile Security

Overhead an elderly gentleman (well he was an alter-kocker, but I'll be charitable except in parentheses) raise an interesting point about security: when we get so paranoid about (internet) security, we end up making people have to keep track of so many passwords, answers to trick questions, etc., that people inevitably start writing these passwords, etc., down. Which itself is a security risk.

At what point does our quest for security become self-defeating? And yes, I am thinking of broader issues (e.g. our so-called war on terror) here. Methinks Franklin was very wise about the costs of security, if you know what I'm getting at ...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I Hope Nobody Takes Him Seriously

I don't wanna link, but N-Pod argues in Commentary that we must bomb Iran. Why people would take the author of an essay arguing "because I grew up poor even though people have stereotypes that all Jews are rich and that Black kids, who are athletic, picked on me, there must be no racism in this country and Blacks have it no worse than Jews, so if I could get a decent job, Blacks didn't need any more rights than they had de facto when I was growing up" seriously, I don't know. But it seems nowadays yahoos like N-Pod are considered to be "serious thinkers" while those of us who merely quote the phrase "military industrial complex" from such a moderate (a Republican no less) figure as Eisenhower are taken as "paranoid moonbats".

Isn't it time to stop. If the GOP wants to say stuff about Byrd's past, they should muck out the N-Pods from their midsts ...


Shavuoth Blogging

The Study Session last night was good -- I'm still tired from being up too late.

Anyway, some interesting background on the holiday was presented: evidently, before Rabbinic Judaism became the mainstream of Judaism, the idea of Shavuoth as celebrating both the weeks of the harvest and the vow of Jews to observe the covenant (a pun in Hebrew) was a big deal (c.f. the description of the holiday in Chronicles and that Pharisaic counterpart to Chronicles, Jubilees -- which, though Pharisaic was suppressed by the Rabbis no less than the Christians). Interestingly (and not presented in the Study Session), if anybody is the most traditional in their celebration of Shavuoth, it is the Reform Movement which schedules confirmation at this time.

The Rabbis do, calling Shavuoth an "Aztereth", make Shavuoth the Spring Holiday Season equivalent of Shemini Atzereth, but minimize the global covenant aspect of it in favor of the Torah covenant aspect. Interestingly (and probably a consequence of the nationalistic sentiments aroused by the Jewish revolts), Rabbinic Judaism looses the universalistic aspect of Pharisaic Judaism here. Of course, Jubilees is an interesting book from the little I know of it -- on the one hand, it adopts the stereotypical viewpoint of Pharisaic Judaism in its anti-Hellenism, its emphasis on ritual and theological purity, etc. (which is maybe why the Rabbis reject it), but on the other hand, it possesses a universalistic emphasis in a way that, in modern Judaism is only present in the Reform movement. Perhaps the problem with Jubilees (and its view of Shavuoth in particular) was not that it was too sectarian but that it was not nationalistic enough to satisfy Jews and early Christians whose messianic and even nationalistic (let us not forget that, ironically considering the later claims of Christians, Jesus seems to have been part of a very nationalistic strain in Judaism -- hence the whole messianic -- annointed kingship -- claims in the first place) sentiments were stoked by Roman maladministration of Palestine and the subsequent rebellions.

Of course the reaction present in the recasting of Shavuoth is very parallel to Zionism. The Study Session brought up Hannah Arendt, whose views on Zionism would mirror my own -- but it's hard to picture a location that could be a homeland to Jews without giving Jews special privaleges to have that land as a homeland. Being of a generation in which "the banality of evil" has become a meme, adopted thouroughly by the very Revisionist Zionists (who use that banality to argue why Jews can never be fully "safe" in the diaspora) Arendt criticized, actually delving into Arendt's work was very refreshing, even if some of her views do strike me as naive and almost straw-liberal (i.e. you can imagine a Likudnik saying "look at how naive Arendt is -- this naivity is why we can never trust you liberal moonbats with security issues") in character. Anyway, though Arendt's comments on Zionists and anti-Semites both having a common goal in removing Jews from Europe seem so fresh today where we have Zionists teaming up with anti-Semites to move Jews away from everywhere else and to Israel to bring on some wished-for apocolypse.

Another interesting question: how does the notion that evil and good can both be so banal relate to magical realism -- which can be described as the banality of the fantastic?

Also discussed -- Jews and porn. Touched upon (no pun intended) was the idea of Jewish involvement in porn being used against us Jews as a modern day version of the blood libel. I'm sure the neo-cons and Likudniks would say that since anti-Semitic tropes are used to criticize Jewish involvement in the porn business, Jews should be proudly involved in porn and those who say maybe we Jews should anathemize (sp?: spelling correctly is avodah, so I'll not spell check on the Chag ;) ) such involvement are "self-haters" and "blaming the victim" according to the neo-cons. But is this what we want? C.f. Arendt -- do we Jews really wanna be the kind of people who have a nationalistic state? C.f. Nietzsch on dragons and abysses ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Congressional "Compromises" on Iraq

It seems to me too many Democratic Congresscritters, especially Senators, have been listening too much to the punditocracy, et al. They seem to be in fear of making a strong statement on Iraq because it'll be seen as playing politics with the war effort and divisive.

The problem is that, as far as many Americans, even or perhaps especially of the mushy middle, are concerned, we elected the Dems. to Congress to do something. That Democrats are carefully calibrating what they are doing -- and more often not doing -- is seen, quite correctly, as "playing politics".

As I've long said, the Democrats appear more partisan precisely because they are so afraid of being partisan they fumble the ball. Democrats in Congress seem not to have played much football -- 'cause if you are afraid of the ball, the worst thing you can do is not throw your body at it but rather try to catch it gingerly -- that is how you break fingers catching footballs ... you don't break fingers just going for the ball.

I do think it would be smart politics to throw the ball back at the President: he doesn't want a timeline? well, give him something else (that he'll like even less) to make him keep to some sort of plan for progress. But let's stop with these political stunts(**) that are designed to demonstrate opposition to the war but not in such a way as to make it seem like the Dems. are going to do something that could backfire politically and ultimately do nothing and hence do backfire politically. If the Dems. wanna catch the ball, they should throw themselves into catching it. Otherwise they should get out of the way. Right now, they are just breaking their fingers.

(*) it might not be politically smart for a Dem. to do this as it would seem as if that Dem. were supporting stupid Bush CO policy (pardon the redundancy), but why isn't say a moderate Republican making the point about Bush's opposition to even certain kinds of benchmarks being linked to funding that Bush supported the same thing with regard to school funding with "No Child Left Behind"? If the war in Iraq is too important to defund 'cause of failure to meet a few benchmarks, isn't education no less important? Why does Bush hate our children?

(**) c.f. a no-confidence vote on Gonzales? Oy vey ... that's a Yurpean thing bound to make the Dems. look like effete Yurpeans (it's no wonder that effete GOoPer Specter is so all fired up about a no-confidence vote). Either impeach him or do nothing. If y'all wanna take a page from a parliamentary system, make funding for the war contigent upon the Pres. answering a few questions about the war's progress, Prime Minister's Questions-style.

Monday, May 21, 2007


My Evil Twin

I am not sure if I should point this out to y'all, but I have an evil twin the right blogosphere. I've never actually met the feller, and I don't seem to have much in common with him, other than general nerdiness of disposition and tastes. But he looks just like me -- the physical resemblence is freaky.

So if you ever want to know what I look like (or, what I will look like in just a couple of years as I suspect this twin of mine is somehow, magically as can happen with evil twins, albeit not with the real kind of twins by definition, actually a few years my senior), you can look through Nate's archives for a picture of me. Or you can just look for pictures of Josh Trevino, formerly of Tacitus and Red-State.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Unity '08

Are they still around? In general, I think it's a stupid idea, but if they run that guy from Alaska as their Presidential candidate and Ron Paul as their VP candidate, I'll just have to vote for them ;)


If Not in One's Blog, Whence Ought One to be Musing?

Why do reporters insist on describing people who are involved in scandal as "embattled"? I was always taught that journalists ought to eschew un-necessary adjectives. So why describe So-And-So as "So-And-So, the embattled Such-And-Such"? What is wrong with an attitude of res ipsa loquitur when it comes to scandals? All the refusal to adopt that attitude does is provide a bludgeon of evidence of subjectivity to those with an interest in having people see objective journalism as biased.


How many of today's self-described liberal Democrats would have, a little over a century ago, voted for McKinley over Bryan? Bryan may have been something of a bumpkin, especially in his dotage, but being against Evolution, while still a rejection of the Northeastern intellectual establishment meant something different in the days when that establishment was a bulwark of prejudice and facile support for just-so-stories that, when cast as science, benefited the establishment in the same way that the "what's a wookie doing on the planet Endor?" confusionism of "Intelligent Design" benefits that same sort of economic establishment by muddying the waters about what a competitive system can and cannot accomplish?

Not to be an anti-intellectual supporter of tyranny of the majority, but, c.f. Michael Lind, that some many even so-called liberal Democrats look and feel, shall we say, like McKinley Republicans, might explain why liberalism doesn't resonate with people.

If Democrats wish to do well enough in 2008 to survive GOP dirty tricks, and well enough beyond that to survive Bush & CO's mess being blamed on the Democrats following Bush, we need to do better in the war of ideas. And the perception of liberalism is important. And this perception has some basis in a reality we must confront.


Speaking of perceptions of liberalism, the "see, Bush & CO even managed to Cheney the World Bank response to the Wolfowitz scandal gives truth to the lie that we suffer from irrational Bush hatred. True, Wolfowitz did walk gleefully into a conflict of interest trap which he should have been able to avoid. But let us not forget -- that trap was set by people who are not our allies: they are people who are wont to do to the 3rd World what Bush & CO are wont to do to our nation. Wolfowitz did not bestow upon the World Bank the Bush & CO patented reverse Midas touch -- the World Bank, et al., were pretty Cheneyed up to begin with. Blaming Wolfowitz for anything but being stupid enough -- and desperate enough to keep the girlfriend he somehow managed to woo -- to walk into a trap set by some smarty-pants Yurpeans doesn't play well in Peoria, and with good reason.

Don't we liberals remember anymore how the World Bank and IMF work? That too many liberals have suddenly forgotten who it is that is complaining about Wolfowitz being (and admittedly he was, so I'm not crying any tears for him) un-ethical will be seen as evidence that we liberals actually support the machinations of the World Bank (and that our "help the poor" rhetoric is empty hypocrisy) and that we are irrational Bush haters. These are lies of which liberals are accused: do we really wanna be like neo-cons who give truth to anti-Semitic lies and give truth to anti-liberal lies by being too gleeful about Wolfowitz's downfall?


The President says placing a timeline on the war is bad strategy. While Democratic politicians have been challenging the President on this, they've not challenged his fundamental theory that timelines make for bad strategy. Now if we are fighting a bona fide insurgency that wants us out, doesn't telling them that if they get involved with the political process, we will leave -- and we have concrete plans to do so, including a timeline -- help put the air out of the insurgency? And even if the insurgents themselves are really terrorists, telling people we do not plan to be in Iraq forever will deflate their popular support and make it easier for us and/or the Iraqis to defeat them.

So why no timeline? Because it goes against the original PNAC plan of being in Iraq forever? And why all the amnesia about what that plan was?

Anyway, though, smart politics dictates the Dems. should say "ok, we'll take away the timeline, but you need to provide sworn statements as to war progress for the funding to be maintained" (and to give the admin the "they lied under oath" full Clinton treatment if they make any misstatements whatsoever) and also to extract compromises. Alas, the Dems. are talking about "waivable timelines" and such which only make the Dems. look weak and vacillating.

I reckon too many Democrats buy into the GOP spin (after all, that's what you hear on NPR which many people think is liberal -- and hence many Democrats pay attention to it and figure they are getting friendly advice -- because as they repeat the GOP spin, they have sneer in their voice) that it's bad to play politics with war. Aside from how un-American that spin is (and the general, "politicians are wrong to engage in politics" meme -- wtf? Isn't that what politicians are paid to do?) in going against everything the Federalist Papers said about how our government is supposed to work (i.e. based on, um, politics), in taking that sort of advice Dems. end up looking more political, not less so. If Dems. would unify in opposition in a quick and organized manner, nobody would notice the political machinations involved. The GOP is expert at this, and do they look like they are playing politics?

Instead, though, the Dems. are so afraid to look too political that even the bare minimum of political gamesmanship they end up playing, looks too political, because it's obviously political and stands out. Which, of course, makes the Dems. even more afraid of looking political.

It's time we break this vicious cycle. Before we turn into the party of that cream-puff eclair plutocrat McKinley and the media insist on referring to the Congress as "embattled" ...

See, this is one post! I did bring it all together in the end! And y'all wondered where this was going ...


B'midbar Blogging

The readings from Torah during festivals naturally correspond somehow to the festival at hand. On some weeks, the Prophetic reading even corresponds to the season rather than the cycle of Torah readings. However, the cycle of Torah readings, except for renewing itself right after the High Holidays in the fall, allowing us to celebrate the New Year, the harvest and the renewal of Torah in the same season, is not designed to necessarily correspond to the calendar in a meaningful way.

And yet, in the Book of Numbers, it does. E.g., in the summer months, whilst we complain about the heat, we read of the Israelites complaining about their sojourn in desert wilderness. And we begin reading the Book of Numbers the Shabbos before Shavuos, the significance of which the Etz Chaim Chumash goes into in some detail. Do read it, if you have a chance.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Is It Really True that 73.5% of All Statistics are Made up on the Spot?

... (and reported to too many significant figures), or does the following statistic mean something that Mr. Moore of the WSJ Editorial Page and the Hair Club for Men, er, the Club for Growth, doesn't really care to ponder.

According to Mr. Moore, the percentage of (income? or all individual?) US tax revenues coming from the top 1% of all Americans (in terms of wealth? or income? I don't remember -- I heard this on the radio on my way back to lab from a Mickey-Ds run -- I'm with the late, great Julia Child regarding Mickey-Ds' french fries ... even if they are traif) is the highest ever. This is odd, considering that (unmentioned by Moore) the top marginal tax rate is extremely low, in the history of when we in the US had an income tax.

Is this because, as Moore is wont to claim, Reaganomics was correct about federal revenue? Or is something else going on?

And, is the statistic cited by Moore on Markplace today even corect?


An Odd Thing for a Bible Believer to Say

Sorry to jump on the insult a person when he's dead bandwagon, which is, like so much nowadays, somewhat distastefull, but this quotation jumped out at me: "The whole (global warming) thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability"

But isn't the whole point of the environmentally protecting Levitical laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years to destroy economic stability? To redemonstrate the lesson of the Exodus -- that man does not live by bread alone? To show the rich what the poor see every day: life is precarious? And, since Falwell at least claimed to be Christian, let us consider whether Jesus interested in preserving economic stability and free enterprise when he overturned the tables of the money-changers?

From a Biblical perspective, Falwell's paranoia wasn't that far off -- it's just that from a Biblical perspective, this is not a bug but a feature.

Not to get all commie on y'all -- but is an unfettered free market such a good thing? Is economic stability the end-all and be all of everything? After all, an economically stable system is one which isn't adapting, one which isn't evolving (is that why the neo-feudalists hate evolution), one which isn't growing. Feudalism, in which the serfs remained serfs and the gentry remained gentry was an economically stable system -- until it catastrophically collapsed.

And feudalism is exactly what the laws of Jubilee prevented for Israel, nu? You can't keep a family in serfdom if they get their land back every 50 years ...

Yet, in the name of preserving Biblical morality, people like Falwell insulted Biblical morality when it was placed right in front of them?

Oy ... What a world!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Are We Really Serious about the War on Terror?

Since Eric Rudolph is not in Gitmo, we must, by the logic of the Bush "the only good terrorist suspect is a tortured terrorist suspect" administration and all those who have proclaimed themselves "serious about national defense", presume that those responsible for not shipping this terrorist off to Gitmo are "objectively pro-terrorist". After all, terrorists are "bad people" and we must protect our homeland from them, right? After all, we can't distinguish among terrorists in our global fight against terrorism, right?

Or maybe some terrorists, even if they've not actually, um, killed anybody, are worse than other terrorists who actually have on the basis of religion and/or skin color?

Sunday, May 13, 2007


A Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions

This last Shabbos we read the last two portions of the Book of Leviticus. While we normally think of Leviticus as being irrelevent to our modern lives, in which we don't have the Temple Sacrifices, etc. (and during this time, Rabbis and lay leaders 'round the world are carefully reading the Haftoroth and the newspapers to figure out what to talk about in their sermons, 'cause they sure ain't gonna talk about the gory details -- pun intended -- of the sacrificial offerings), the close of Leviticus is most relevent (if only to our Talmud study, since we are just beginning chapter 5 of Baba Metzia which deals with interest).

While the U.S. is not the sort of Jewish theocracy that cannot even exist in the state of Israel as the Messiah is not yet come, so hence we are not subject to the laws of sh'mita and of Jubilee, we are a country that was colonized by Puritans seeking to establish a "City on a Hill", a country on whose liberty bell is written the key phrase of Jubilee (found in this last week's parsha): "proclaim liberty unto the land and all its inhabitants thereof". We are a country in which too many people feel it is their moral duty to get laws passed that regulate our most intimate relationships, based on what they feel the Hebrew Bible, especially Leviticus says.

And yet, do people actually make any effort to even capture the spirit if not the letter of Leviticus? This weekend in my fair city, the local independent cinema screened the provocative film Maxed Out. Our economy, while having clear winners, is on the brink of collapse because we have let debt strangle us. At various times, Western society has let the majority of its members fall into wage slavery and/or serfdom due to debt. Levitical law, while perhaps going too far in prohibiting any interest and in requiring loans be forgiven every 7 years, prevents this sort of stagnation by allowing the economic pot to be stirred by Jubilee's reshifting the wealth. The liberty of Jubilee isn't just spiritual or physical, it is also economic.

Yet do the self-appointed guardians of our morality even address this issue? As they push to outlaw abortion (which, in more than a few cases, is not even an aveirah and in some cases is a Mitzvah) and maintain a second class citizenship status for homosexuals -- in the name of Biblical morality -- do they also push for the proclaimation of Jubilee for which we are long overdue?

For that matter, they complain that those of us who are secular "Darwinists" want to take God out of society and out of descriptions of God's creation -- yet only now are they paying attention to the fact that when we are not proper stewards of God's creation, God punishes us? Not for issues of private "morality", but for failing to try criminals (and sticking terrorists in Gitmo rather than trying them is a failure to adjucate their cases in court), for ignoring the plight of the poor, for despoiling the environment by over-taxing the soil and for not following the laws of release of debts, etc.

As I write this, the smoke over Tallahassee is dense. There are fires of Biblical proportions. We are in a drought of Biblical proportions. Would I be too much of a fundie nut-case if I were to point out that this is how Leviticus claims we will be punished if we fail to heed God's laws?

See the movie Maxed Out. We have a terrible price to pay 'cause we've ignored Leviticus. Why don't the people trying to push their peculiar interpretations of religious morality on us pay heed to what it actually says in the Bible? Why don't we go after preditory lenders? Why are we despoiling God's creation? Why are we inviting catastrophe.

Leviticus may seem to be a severe and out-of-date book. But let's at least pay attention to the closing two parshos. Before it's too late.


I Send Letters

I have a plan -- give GW Bush what he wants (no timeline), but put a few even more (from his point of view) odious restrictions, which don't deny the troops money for a fiscal year (and in fact make sure our troops don't go into bankruptcy), but which put him on the spot.

Here's my letter to my Congresscritter and the Dem. Sen. from our state. Those of you who live in localities in which your Representatives and Senators are more likely than mine are to actually care about the Dem. party, the troops or whatever, feel free to use this or some better re-written version thereof:

I fear, either due to the failure of Democrats to stay on message or due to the fact that the media seems to report only what the President is saying (and hence his spin) and not what Democrats are actually saying, that those of us, who are concerned about indefinitely funding the war in Iraq despite a lack of progress, will be seen by too many people as not supporting the troops. Having recently seen the movie "Maxed Out" (the concerns in this movie being those we must address now!), I have an idea that I think might work for an alternate bill.

There are soldiers whose service has led to their bankruptcies, due to the military extending terms of service and otherwise interfering with the financial security of our fighting men and women. That soldiers, who are fighting in Iraq, are entering into bankruptcy because of their service, is deplorable. Yet, too many, including those who oppose Democratic plans to bring our troops home, who claim to be supporting our troops have done nothing about this.

Here's my plan: the Democrats send a bill to the President that funds the war for a fiscal year. No riders, no nothing non-war related. Just fund the war for a fiscal year -- with stringent requirements that the President must report on the war (written such that if the President fails in these requirements, he will be guilty of a high crime and hence y'all should impeach him) at regular intervals, which reports should (1) include a televised "Prime Minister's Questions" style opportunity for even back-benchers to get the President and his associates on the record and (2) include testimoney and or statements made UNDER OATH (thus, if these turn out to be lies, the President should be impeached due to perjury) regarding the progress of the war and answers to questions about the lead up to the war. And here's the kicker -- the bill should include a "shared sacrifice" provision taxing profits from credit card companies who are collecting on our brave fighting men and women due to debts they accrued that they wouldn't have accrued if they weren't overseas.

The President will threaten a veto. Democrats should unanimously respond -- "look we gave you what you wanted, and now you want more? I guess there is no satisfying a bully" and "why are you afraid to talk to us? if you aren't guilty, what do you have to hide? that's what y'all said about wiretapping and such, right?" Through it back in their faces using simple folksy language. And when the credit card companies and their retainers complain about the "shared sacrifice" provision -- make 'em look like evil troop-hating bastards. Don't be afraid to play politics -- that's why we pay you the big bucks ;)

Public debt is a big problem and the pushers are part of that problem. Let's give 'em all a one-two punch. The GOP has played dirty. The economic overclass has played dirty. Let's show them some good ol' fashioned heartland populism. And when they complain about us "starting a class war" -- don't listen to them and don't be cowed. They know who started it -- and the more they complain, the more frightened we know they are.

As Harry Truman could have told us, Democrats only do well when the act as Democrats. The American people gave our party a chance last November. Now we need to show them what we can do in time for the 2008 elections. Right now the President somehow is controlling the message ... so let's send him a bill which goes around his spin and puts him, and his corporate cronies, on the spot.

Thursday, May 10, 2007



I have tons of things about which I'm meaning to blog, but work is so tedious right now, it's sucking my brain out ... so feel free to read my mind (what's left of it) over these intertubes (you can do anything over the intertubes, can't you?) and comment accordingly ;)


If Chock-Full-O'Nuts had a high end line including an espresso roast ...

... it would taste like Peet's Italian (for espresso) roast: I'm currently drinking the big, fat, stinky, $20 cigar(*) of Americanos ... and lovin' it :)

* and the whole pound o' coffee cost only $10 and it won't give you cancer either ...

Monday, May 07, 2007


Emor Blogging

Emor presents the priestly code version of what's covered here: indeed, the sermon last week (not given by me) was another take on this very rich and often ignored subject.

Also, pointed out in the sermon -- consider this verse from the psalms in light of parshas Emor being a portion read during the counting of the Omer: "So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom."

Friday, May 04, 2007


A Question of the Standard of Proof

Every so often it gets asked in feminist left-blogostan: "why are men so concerned with being falsely accused of sexual crimes? what kind of misogyny leads to this paranoia". Well, it really isn't misogyny at all -- there does seem to be a lower standard of proof required for a sex crimes conviction than other convictions for crimes of similar gravity and consequences to the party found guilty, which lower standard not surprisingly makes anyone at all paranoid of being wrongly accused of anything, all the more concerned:

Consider the case of a robbery. Suppose Mr. X is accused of stealing from his aquaintance (sp?) Ms. Y. Y testifies that X stole from her. Surveillance video places X and Y in a room together when the alleged crime took place. But there is no other evidence that X took anything from Y -- no property of Y has turned up in the posession of X, etc. And Y, maybe because she was traumatized by the crime, maybe because she was high at the time (I'm a poet and I do know it), gets some key, verifiable facts about the evening wrong -- and hence, we don't know if we can even trust Y's testimony.

If this is the case as the prosecution presents it, would any jury rule X guilty (beyond a reasonable doubt)?

OTOH, suppose the same level of evidence exists against X engaging in lewd and lascivious conduct with Y: i.e. X is known to have been alone with Y but the testimony of the, at the time of the alleged crime, drug addled Y is the only evidence of the crime occuring. Then juries will and do rule people in X's situation guilty. People say "well, what's X doing alone with Y? he better have a pretty good explanation ..." Which doesn't that shift the burdon of proof a bit: the jury is not instructed "you are to find guilty if X doesn't have a good explanation for being alone with Y" -- the burdon is not on the defense to provide an explanation, is it?

Of course, one could argue that, in light of the accusation by Y, given the inappropriateness of X placing himself and Y alone together, it would require quite an explanation by X to instill a reasonable doubt in the accusations made by Y. Many feminists, for example, would say "why do you not believe what Y has to say? why would Y lie? especially given the stigma that will attach to Y being a victim of a sex crime?"

However, to me, as fair as it is to say that "if X didn't wanna be accused of a sex crime, he shouldn't have placed himself in the situation in which he placed himself" (of course, the real issue, assuming X to be innocent and noble in intention is our stupid drug laws that would mean X would have caused Y to experience the harm of getting arrested by doing what should have been the right thing and leaving a person in trouble, who fears for what's happening in her home, with the police!), this leads down to some slippery slopes down which this feminist doesn't want to go:

(1) shift the burdon of proof onto the defense?: doesn't that in fact give the defense extra motivation to effectively place the alleged victim on trial, so to speak? is that the direction in which we want to go -- to say to defendants, we'll ship you to jail unless you can convince us your accuser is lying? That just provides motivation for attacking the accuser, don't it?

(2) arguing that people alleging sex crimes never lie because of the stigma attached?: do we really want to argue that such damaging stigmas have any social benefit (i.e. preventing false accusations)?

The whole notion that the burdon of proof somehow shifts or that them poor wimins never lie sounds to me like patronization and anti-feminism, not feminism.

OTOH, how can we make sure dangerous sex offenders, who do their evil often without independent witnesses around and often without leaving evidence of the crime even being committed (which evidence is otherwise generally required to prosecute a crime -- I doubt you could prosecute an assault charge without the alleged victim having bruises ... but you can prosecute a sex crime without physical evidence), are locked away where they can't harm us without weakening our standards of proof in ways that not only lead down a slippery slope eroding our Constitutional protections but also are, frankly, patronizing toward women (treating them as poor creatures incapable of any guile cause they are too innocent) and otherwise open things up for more victim blaming and justification of backwards, misogynistic social stigmas?


More Jury Duty, or, Damnit Judge! I'm a Scientist, not a Deciderer

Various people tell me "you're no scientist" (translation: "you like Times New Roman too much and Arial not enough"). Some even tell me "you think too much like a lawyer" (translation: "you watch too much Law and Order and Harvey Birdman and seem to think like the lawyers portrayed on those fine and oh-so-true-to-life shows" -- N.B. ... my girlfriend, an honest to goodness lawyer -- yes, some lawyers are honest -- never accuses me of thinking like a lawyer). But in fact, I think far more like a scientist (or more to the point, journal reviewer -- insert derogatory, embittered comment here ;) ) than anything else.

"How do you mean?", you say ...

To follow up on one of yesterday's posts -- what I really wanted to do with both the prosecutor's and defense's cases was send them back for minor revisions (after which the editor, er, judge could have the option of deciding for himself that the concerns of us reviewers, er, jury, were satisfied and issuing a judgment or referring it back to us for further deliberation).

Considering the prosecution's case as a paper entitled "The Defendant Did the Crime: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt", as a reviewer, I'd have to say "please resubmit for re-review following minor revisions". Considering the defense as a paper entitled "The Doubts You Have as to the Defendant's Guilt are Reasonable", again, I'd have to send the paper back with "please resubmit for re-review following minor revisions".

Unfortunately, as a juror, you have no such option. You can rule innocent (reject the prosecution's paper as an insufficiently complete study), you can rule guilty (accept the paper), you can rule guilty on a lessor included charge (the closest academic analogy would be "please resubmit this paper to a more germane journal such as [X]" -- but unlike in academia where the paper would be reviewed again -- by you and your colleagues who also would review it there -- you're skipping that step and just accepting it in the other journal, so to speak, which would have been a forgone conclusion anyway), you can even have a hung jury resulting in a mistrial ("please resubmit this paper following major revisions", by which time the paper would need to have an entirely separate review). But you have no option of referring the case back to the attorneys for minor revisions -- additional evidence and argument -- and then picking up where you left off, without the case having to go to another trial.

Fortunately, I dodged the bullet on the responsibility of having to contribute to a decision where the desired option AFAIC was not in the instructions. But why don't we have this option in the instructions? I talked with an academic friend of mine in another field (whose opinion of the notion of law in general, though, is less sanguine than mine, due to differing religious beliefs), and he agreed with me -- jurors need this option to be able to say "this is what we need from the attorney: if she cannot give that to us, we'll have to rule the other way, but if she can, she's won the case".

Do y'all agree with this? If so, how do we impliment this? Does only law need to change, or is a Constitutional ammendment required?

If not, maybe the fact that yesterday evening I discovered I had accidently worn my undershirt inside out that day -- something not very lawyerlike, but very scientist-like -- is a sign of something?

Thursday, May 03, 2007


If Mordred Had a Point, Why is He so Silent Now?

Read "Mordred Had a Point" by P.J. O'Rourke, especially his conclusion: dontcha think it applies as much to Bush & CO as it does to the Kennedy family? Remember when conservatives were most eager to point out that this country was a republic and we were the bosses of our leaders rather than it being the other way around? So where are these voices when it comes to Bush & CO?


Of course the upshot is that the Dems. have an easy opening to make people understand why what the President's asking for in terms of the war funding is so unreasonable -- would you give a contractor a blank check without a timeline to finish building your house if the project, in spite of the contractor's hiring the best workers in the business, is running over budget and behind schedule (with continual promises that it's almost done?)? Obviously not. The President is not some king -- he's a person we've hired to do a job: a contractor. So what is wrong with those whom we've hired to represent us (Congress) doing what we'd do with a contractor who's not quite doing his job?

So why haven't the Dems. got someone folksy-sounding on the air to frame it exactly that way? Is it because the Dems. still haven't learned how to frame issues? Or is it 'cause the Dems. are saying things like this but the media's reporting only the GOP spin? Either way, we're screwed ...


Jury Duty

I've been on jury duty these past two days. I don't want to go into detail here (*), but the notion of "reasonable doubt" has got to be one of the toughest in criminal law.

Consider your typical she said/he said case. What he says is typically some cockamamie variation on the oldest excuse in the book: "it was consensual" or "I didn't touch her beyond giving her a friendly hug" or whatever depending on what she says and what physical evidence there is of something untoward happening. And of course, what she says is typically chock full of inconsistencies, after all, even assuming the alleged crime happened, she's then a victim under considerable duress. So certainly that he manages to excuse away all the hard evidence and his lawyer manages to pick-apart her testimony and sworn statements cannot mean that the doubts one naturally has are "reasonable".

OTOH, at some point, what "she said" becomes so riddled with inconsistencies and misstatements that you cannot trust her accusations anymore. At some point, the doubts as to her testimony become reasonable and maybe what "he said", even if it seems a bit far-fetched, did happen. After all, the oldest excuses in the book might sometimes be more than mere excuses but might be the factually the case, nu? The truth is sometimes as cockamamie, if not more so, than fiction, nu?

It becomes especially troubling when you know all the inconsistencies in her testimony but, due to sloppy police work, you don't know whether his story has changed (because those alleging it has, have no proof of what he actually said other than what they say he said -- and somehow neither the prosecution nor the defense have deigned to call as witnesses those who could explain why the police work was so sloppy: I sure wish they would have given us jurors subpoena power) -- knowing more about what he's been saying all along would certainly have helped us in determining whether the doubts his story casts are reasonable!

I'm sure that people have thoroughly researched all these issues. Social scientists are bound to have studied how many details a person under duress gets wrong even if she still remembers the incident causing the duress. They must have explored which inconsistencies indicate a story is merely misremembered in the details due duress but of which the key events are recalled properly, which inconsistencies indicate that someone doesn't even remember properly the events which caused her duress to the point where it is reasonable to doubt accusations she makes and which inconsistencies indicate she's lying.

Yet they don't tell us jurors this sort of thing. So when the case boils down to she said/he said, the defense is using the Chewbacca defense, the prosecutor is using the Chewbacca prosecution ("what's a wookie doing on the planet Endor anyway, unless he's trying to do inappropriate things with Ewoks?"), and the whole thing reminds me of a trial my brother and I had as kids (with our stuffed animals as witnesses and our grandfather roped in to be the judge) where who "ate the skunk in the barnyard and who stole the cookies from the cookie jar" depended somehow on who ordered what kind of fish when our parents took us out to a fancy fish restaurant, how do you know whether your doubts about what she's saying are reasonable? How do you know whether his cockamamie story -- which if true would indicate, for an ex-soldier presumably trained to make snap judgments in the heat of battle and for someone who considers himself as good with troubled youth, he's rather dim about how to handle crises (as if I'd do better) -- is believable enough to cast doubts on the prosecution's claims?

You don't wanna set guilty people free, and you don't want to put innocent people in jail. So whaddya gonna do if you lack the evidence to determine whether your doubts are reasonable?

* it turned out that I was the alternate, so I'm not privy to the jury's actual deliberation, but they did come up with a guilty verdict that I am not sure I would have been prepared to make. I think I would have gunned for a lesser charge that there is no doubt happened even if such a verdict smacks of a "compromise" of the sort our system is not supposed to allow.


NPR's up to Its Old Tricks

Why does NPR feel the need to subtly spin the whole issue of the timeline the President's way? They are doing it very subtly, though: they report what the Pres. says. And then what the Dems. say -- so see? It's perfectly balanced!

But it's not: as they make it seem as if the Dems. want to remove the troops right now with no time for the current "strategy" to "work". There is no mention of what should be obvious (but what is likely not so obvious as it should be) -- that if things do start working well in Iraq, the Pres. can ask for a new funding law. No mention of the "Friedman unit" phenomenon. And no mention of the very obvious Dem. talking point of "the President expects a blank check? Who ever actually gets a blank check? I don't. You don't. Why does the President think he's so special?" (if the Dems. aren't saying this sort of thing, then it's their bad, obviously -- they need to frame what the President is asking for as something ridiculous, rather than let it be framed as something par for the course). And no mention of the hypocrisy of Republicans who were all in favor of putting timelines on Somalia.

Meanwhile, Ted Koppel is ever the helpful concern troll, saying the Dems. are being politically stupid. Of course, he's just re-iterating GOP talking points, but he's doing so in a way that establishes him as a liberal who just wants to "help". Which, kills to birds for the GOP with one stone: not only does it get their talking points out there, but it also maintains the impression that NPR is liberal so if they ever do criticize the GOP/President, people will dismiss it as "oh, the NPR is just too liberal".

It's getting again to the point where I can't listen to NPR anymore. But alas, they are the best game in town. And this town is, even if a kinda purple blue, a blue town never-the-less. I'm still not at all hopeful that those who've ruined our political discourse and are eating away at our republic have learned their lessons. All I can say now is "oy vey".


Kedoshim Blogging

This Torah portion, one of the double portion read last week, is the central portion delineating the Jewish concept of holiness as separateness and also as godliness. Much has been written about godliness, so instead, I'll make a few, quasi-random, almost Andy Rooney-esque, comments about separateness and similar Jewish concepts.

Even as we Jews are more and more accepted into gentile society, it is odd how Judaism, except as an "exotic" religion or a quaint set of folkways to which some people stubbornly cling, is ignored (c.f. Nietzsche's, if I may use the term in this context and about this subject and person, crusade against anti-Semitism even as he tended to remain ignorant of Jewish sources raising the same critiques of "Western culture" as he raised). Discussions about late term abortion and especially religion vs. science make this eminently clear.

The standard "religion and science" on separate spheres argument is dismissed, to some extent correctly, by contrarian, "serious thinkers" types as being too glib -- yet this distinction can be defended, in a quite un-glib and theologically sophisticated manner by turning to Jewish ideas of holiness as separateness. Turning to Jewish, rather than Hellenistic sources, also obviates the whole overblown mind/body distinction that seems to muddy a lot of thought on the science/religion distinction. It would detract from the aimlessness of this post and from my laziness to work this out in detail here, but people in the comments may wish to explore how Jewish thought makes the correct distinctions needed to deal with the whole science/religion split while obviating certain "Hellenistic" distinctions that serve to cause this split.

In general, in discussions of science/religion as well as abortion, it sometimes seems as if religions other than (in the case of the science/religion discussion, specifically Protestant, unless there is some Catholic-bashing, vis-a-vis that whole Galileo incident, to stoke up certain prejudices among the American populace) Christianity don't exist outside of some vague form of spirituality to which even atheists are told they should subscribe whether they want to or not. Oddly, the phrase "Judeo-Christian tradition" is bandied about to provide some form of ecumenical cover even as the Jewish point of view on the subject at hand is often quite the opposite of the so-called "Judeo-Christian" (really Hellenistic) tradition being discussed. The idea that some religions have long allowed or even mandated abortion under certain circumstances seems completely alien to today's discussions of abortion and morality even as that idea obviously ought to be very important in considering this subject.

Why aren't today's lefty moonbats more empathetic to Zionists? Over the same weekend in which it was made abundantly obvious that even people who ought to know better in discussion issues of spirituality completely ignore non-Christian religions, I heard The Weavers' version of "Tzena, Tzena". As Arte Johnson might say, it was "very interestink" ... but would a group like The Weavers sing an Israeli song today? Or would that be politically incorrect?

IMHO, one reason why I'm a leftist is because I not only believe in the strategic value of empathy (ok, multiple reasons -- I can't count, so sue me ...) but I also accept the left wing critique of privilege and normality: the idea that a lot of power and privilege is bound up and evidenced by the default assumption that a person is a white/male/straight/Christian and that any other person needs a qualifier (which qualifiers multiculturalism embraces by way of empowerment which occurs when one takes what would otherwise be oppressive and reclaims it), e.g. a lawyer vs. a female lawyer, an actor vs. a Black actor, etc. While I personally have issues with both how Israel acts on the regional stage and with Zionism itself, which issues it would not surprise me that my fellow moonbats would have as well, I find it odd that so many liberals cannot see how Zionism, even if it may be misguided, really follows from the same critique as the left-wing critique of the "default assumption".

Zionism (well, pre-revionist Zionism, at least) isn't only in a sense left-wing because of its socialist leanings, but also because it is a critique of the idea that the normative identity must include "Christian": Zionism built a state (and is attempting to keep a state) where the default identity is not Christian but rather Jewish. However misguided Zionism may be in theory or reactionary it may be in practice, there is a moonbat core to Zionism with which all moonbats you'd think would sympathize at some level. And once you buy into Zionism, Israel's actions are quite reasonable if not entirely defensible. So why do so many moonbat lefties refuse to see things that way? Is it any wonder some think the moonbats are anti-Semitic?

Or at least they, like those who ignore Jewish thinking on abortion and religion vs. science, are ignorant of Judaism as something more than just an "exotic" religion and set of folkways, as a vital and distinct way of viewing the world and finding a path through life?

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