Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Tisha B'Av Blogging

Last night I learned that on the Hebrew Calendar, WWI began on Tisha B'Av (or something like that), which is a sign of its catastrophic nature for us Jews (and note -- the calamaties of Tisha B'Av all are "man-made").

Many have pointed out the similarities between the neo-manoralists of our modern "conservative" movement and the Prussian Junkers (although, for various reasons, the Junkers tended to be more progressive in terms of government involvement in the economy and even in certain social values). But were there the equivalent of neo-cons in WWI era Germany? If so (and pardon the casuistry here along the lines of "if you had a brother, would he like spaghetti?"*), considering the aftermath of WWI (and the legend of the Dochschloss) -- if such neo-cons existed and were Jewish, would they have been wrong to push ardently for war in the 1910s?

So what of the neo-cons, a minority amongst people of our faith, albeit a very powerful one in terms of the larger body politic of our nation, who pushed so hard for our war in Iraq? Especially considering the re-emergence of the dochschloss as an explanation for why we are loosing in Iraq ...

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about a conversation with a friend about the state of American democracy, and worked it into a too long comment here.

On a lighter note (or maybe not depending on how you feel about such things -- and yes, pun intended) -- I have the "Ode to Joy"-esque part of Brahms' 1st Symphony stuck in my head. Not very appropriate for Tisha B'Av ... but given that the Moshiach is to be born on Erev Tisha B'Av, maybe it is appropriate?

* Do I really need to tell y'all the joke to which, followed by "that was philosophy", this is the punch-line?

Friday, July 20, 2007


For Now ...

You can consider this the weekly parsha blogging unless I come up with something better after this Shabbos -- I do mention this week's Haftarah in this comment.

Update: the first Isaiah is so often misunderstood because we tend to depoliticize the Prophets, since we think of mere politics as base and quite the opposite of divine. This is a very Christian way to look at things (although Jesus himself would never have felt this way -- his mission likely was far more political than most Christians, who would rather worship him as God's son than actually follow his political agenda, would like to think ... remember, the "messiah" was/is "the annointed one", i.e. a king, a political leader), but everything is political (even religion as anyone who's ever been a member of a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or what have you can tell you), and, as James "ambition must be made to counteract ambition" Madison (more evidence we are not supposed to be a Christian nation) could tell you, politics can even be a major part of our salvation.

If we view Isaiah as addressing a geo-political situation, not only do we realize who the Messiah of whom he speaks was (not Jesus, but as the Rabbis pointed out, Hezekiah), but we also gain a lot of political insight about the issues of today. Alas, even too many Jews have a "Christian" view of the Prophets and prophesy. But by praising Isaiah as a seer of the far future, we bury him as someone who's advice is relevent to the present day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Beware the Paleo-Cons

Just an addendum ... hopefully the Dems. will give Bush & CO a nice kick (it would have been nice if they did it earlier, but kicking 'em while their down is better than not at all) in order to rid their ideology from our body politick. However, as I've said before, we shouldn't be cheering for a return of the Paleo-Cons in gloating over the downfall of Neo-Cons.

Consider this from George Will on This Week (via the letters section at Altercation):
We are in danger of having, George, a Weimar moment in our politics. German politics was embittered disastrously by the belief that they were on the cusp of victory in 1918 and were stabbed in the back by the civilian leadership that didn't understand Germany's military prowess. There is a constituency in this town that believes we're winning in Iraq, that we have at last figured it out, that the indices of success are there. And if we pull out and have the kind of disastrous consequences, telegenic disastrous consequences or could have, we're going to have people saying, "We had it won and threw it away."
in light of the historical analogy that many have made, in response to the silly GW Bush = Hitler comparisons, between the US of today and WWI Germany. Pretty frightening, ain't it?


The End Game

Contrary to what the bomb throwers on the left are saying, I don't think they should put Miers in jail for this. Although there have been (as I've noted on this blog and others have noted as well) some promising signs of change, the media are still carrying water for Bush & CO (consider the creative use of the term "filibuster" as described on Eschaton). If the Dem. controlled Senate places Miers in contempt, the story will be "Miers is really between a rock and a hard place: either she testifies and faces punishment for breaking privilege [and the passive voice will be used -- it'll not be the President who does the dirty deed] or she doesn't testify and the Dem. controlled Senate sends that poor woman [note the sexist patronization of her as a woman] to jail".

Fielding apparently is giving the order. The Dems. should subpeona him (a male and a higher up, so putting him in jail won't play so badly) and if he doesn't testify throw him in jail. Also, what's to stop the Dems. from subpeonaing Bush? If he refuses, the Dem. spin is easy -- "what's the President hiding?". The Dems. shouldn't waste political capital on Miers. They should keep the end-game in mind: total discrediting of Bush & CO (who are out soon anyway ... so the point is to make everything about them radio-active so that way their brand of politics is also out the door with them) -- keep the pressure on but work up the ladder to the big fish.

Hopefully the Dems. are smart enough to keep their eyes on the prize. But I wouldn't hold my breath. I'd write my Senators, but one's a GOoPer and the other will probably be one of those Dems. providing "bipartisan" cover for the GOP in this ("even Democrats such as the Sens. Nelson feel the Dems. are being overly partisan"), so they won't do anything useful. Anybody reading this in a state where your Senators might actually be inclined to make a difference?


Bush on Terrorism and National Self-Determination

I caught a statement by Bush that was based on an implicit but palpable lie even if we all wish it were true: he said something to the effect the Palestinians will get a state not through terrorism but through negotiations.

If he were to add "terrorism alone", he would have been correct. But the sad fact is that if the Palestinians have a state at this point, it'll be because terrorism has focused our attention on the area. No terrorism and the status quo would have gone on indefinitely (and to those who say without terrorism, Israel would have given the Palestinians a state earlier as it would have been less afraid -- I'll respond with the joke who's punchline is "Mr. Rothschild, as a begger and not a banker, I don't go around giving you banking advice, so please, don't give me begging advice").

And this is not true just of Palestine. Consider Ireland, India, South Africa (the ANC), Israel (the Irgun, et al) and even the good ol' US of A (what does Bush think the Sons of Liberty were?). The sad fact is that terrorism works! Otherwise people wouldn't do it. And Bush has, in doing what terrorists want, been the first to admit terrorism works by his deeds even if, in the bluster of his words, he always says the opposite.

But the difference between Ireland, India, South Africa, Israel and the USA is that the terrorists (or their political associates or, e.g. in the case of India, an entirely independent group) provided not just the stick of terrorism to drive the colonial rulers out but also a carrot of a nascient independent government that would be a potential ally and trading partner.

Gandhi, Nehru et al. could not have driven the British out of India without the British being harried as well by terrorists. But Gandhi, Nehru, et al., allowed the British to know that if they left India, India would be a stable country and an ally and a trading partner. Similarly the ANC was a terrorist group, which would not have been successful without its terror campaign. But while they harried the apartheid government, they also made it clear that, if the tables were turned in South Africa (as they eventually were), they wouldn't drive all the white South Africans into the sea.

Terrorism is a huge threat in this world. But denying its benefits to many people isn't going to make the threat go away. We need leaders that don't deny the sad reality of what it takes to get your foot in the door (leaders that understand the concept because they didn't, unlike Bush, have the world handed to them on a silver platter due to family money, would help ... or at least leaders like the Roosevelts who understood fully that they had benefits others don't have -- although in the case of FDR and TR, no doubt their health problems made them more aware of life's struggles) if we are going to try to reduce the incidence of said violent in-door-foot-sticking, but rather leaders who are honest, etc. And hence who understand the importance of carrots and sticks and can really remind others who live by sticks the importance of carrots.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Hate Crimes and Terrorism

Just a question for those who are gung-ho about the war on terror but who are against sentancing enhancement for hate crimes: what's the difference?

If [X] murders [Y] in order to intimidate African-Americans -- a hate crime -- how is that different than [X] murdering [Y] in an act of terrorism if the latter is different that say [X] murdering [Y] for whatever other reasons people murder?

It seems to me that if you are going to say crimes committed for the purpose of terrorizing a population are worse than other crimes, such crimes are worse whether the population being terrorized is an oppressed minority (pace Tony Snow, et al -- c.f. Jena) or whether the population is "the 'Murkin people". So how can you be in favor of going nutso over terrorism (which may not be a bad strategy -- if terrorists figure they've got you, well, terrorized, then they don't need to inflict any more harm, eh?) and not be in favor of making a deal out of hate crimes?

Anyway, it stands to reason that domestic terrorism is more of a concern in a protected-by-the-oceans country like ours than international terrorism. And this, contra the right, is born out by empirical evidence. So how come we're worried about the Islamicist hordes and meanwhile Eric Rudolph is not languishing at Gitmo but has access to attorneys and the intertubes? Not that Christofascists have worse souls or intent, but by their mere being already in this country, they can do more damage. So why not worry about the more pressing problem?

It isn't just politics and bigotry though (although this phenomenon helps explain bigotry): evolution has not exactly perfected our ability to accurately assess relative risks. This is a well known phenomenon and something those who think we are Intelligently Designed (or that evolutionary systems, e.g. social-Darwinian free markets produce optimal results) ought to consider ...


Perhaps this is a tipping point?

I've been predicting tipping points in media coverage of this admin before (sometimes I feel like a pundit talking about progress in Iraq -- in 1 Friedman the media will finally abandon Bush & CO), but NPR this morning has me hopeful again (also yesterday, Harry Shearer indicated he feels the media rats are abandoning ship): they not only covered the Dem. side of the Habeas issue (they did everything but point out that something akin to the Military Commissions Act was a big part of why the Colonies rebelled in the first place), but they played what actual Dems. were saying and didn't just focus on the Pres' point of view.

Still, people can just dismiss this as "oh that liberal NPR", which they didn't do when NPR was carrying water for the Pres. but rather they said "even the liberal NPR think ...". But something is better than nothing.

Meanwhile, did y'all catch Huckleberry Graham? He even referred to the people in Gitmo as "accused terrorists". What part of the word "accused" does he not understand? I can accuse him of being copraphagous but that doesn't mean he actually eats s$%#. And nu? What's wrong with treating terrorists as common criminals? Why does he think terrorists are so special? Does he lurve them?

OTOH, friends like Colin "My Ly" Powell and Arlen "Warren Commission" Specter, we don't need. How come I just don't trust Specter supporting changes to the Military Commissions Act? There must be a trick in their somewhere.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Weekly Parsha Blogging

This came out more coherently when I gave it as a sermon: I guess I am better at speaking extemporaneously than I am at remember what it was I said when it's about 10 pm and I have a headache:

This week the Haftarah and Torah readings bookend each other: the Torah reading tells of the time when the Hebrew people were poised to enter the land of Israel while the Haftarah, from Jeremiah, tells of when the Jewish people were about to be forced out of the land of Israel.

Note the change in ethnic terminology. It is the book of Jeremiah that first mentions us as not the nation of Israel or Judah, but as the Jewish people. And it is Jeremiah and his Deuteronomic school who created Judaism as the first religion independent of a political nation and thus succeeded beyond their wildest dreams of figuring out how to keep the Hebrew cult-culture alive in foreign lands.

Both the settlement in Israel but also leaving Israel were important steps in the evolution of the Jewish people: it is in the academies of Babylon that Judaism becomes the rich source of moral instruction it is and in which it can become the light unto the nations that it ought to be. In the absence of the perfect leadership of the Messiah, how can a state, necessarily engaged in real-politick, be a light unto the nations? But a people, spread out among the nations, certainly can be such a light. As Jeremiah and the Torah both point out, we Jews must always stand for justice, otherwise we are not truly fulfilling our obligations to God.

One thing striking about this week's parsha is the concern about the manslayer and the problem of blood polluting the last. Pirke Avos 5:10 includes a statement that pestilence comes to the world (and note that all the punishments given in Pirke Avos 11:10 are either random or to everyone -- the sins of some effect all) when capital offenses are not adjudicated in a court of law and also for when the laws of the first fruits and the Sabbitical year are not followed. Thus we see not only a link between procedural justice, economic justice and environmental justice, but also the importance, highlighted in this week's Torah portion, of the due process of law.

Interestingly, we see that whenever, in Numbers, there is rebellion or transgressions that lead to people being put to death, either by God smiting them or by zealots such as Pinchas, there are plagues. One interpretation is that these plagues are just God finishing the job of smiting the sinners. But perhaps even God is wrong to kill people extra-judicially. For when people are killed outside of the due process of law, the capital case is never actually adjudicated in a court of law, thus inviting pestilence to come to the world.

Consider again what Jeremiah says about why God is angry at the people of Judah: not even the priests even bother to ask where God is. They think they know: but they are worshiping a false God. Today religious fundamentalists of all stripes think they know where God is -- but they forget to ask in order to make sure. And in so doing they sin. People who have appointed themselves guardians of morality miss the point about morality and justice -- not just procedural justice but also economic and environment justice and health -- being intertwined. Today's fundamentalists are no different than the unjust who provoked God's wrath against us all just as all but the peasants (who were, as the victims of injustice, the only truly innocent people) were exiled from Israel.

The punishments, e.g. mentioned in Pirke Avos 5:10 are not directed at the sinner as the sins of some affect us all: the punishment for an aveira is another aveira while the reward for a mitzvah is another mitzvah. We have been rewarded with many obligations. Let us actually live up to our obligation to pursue justice (and not give up and declare the whole enterprise futile and lapse into virtue ethics or even nihilism) and be rewarded with more mitzvos.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Why Bush & CO are not 100% Wrong on India's Nukes

Far be it from me to defend Bush & CO (or to accuse NPR of not giving them a fair shake when they usually carry water for them), but the gist of NPR's smarmy program I heard last night (I detect the hand of the old-style BBC "the former colonies were so much better off when we were still in charge" reportage style) against India's nuclear ambitions was slightly off. While Bush & CO should not, while claiming they are trying to keep America safe, be undermining programs that keep us safe, the fact of the matter is the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty is deeply flawed (the same argument could be made with respect to Bush & CO and Kyoto, FWIW). There is a reason why India and Israel do not sign it.

India shares an historically disputed boundary with a nuclear country. When India was pre-nuclear, if they would have been nuked, being a non-aligned country, who would have gone to bat for them? There was no mutually assured destruction for China until India went nuclear. And interestingly, since India has done so, it has been able to negotiate on more equal terms with China and the countries seem less at odds.

Similarly, Israel, for all of its flaws and to the degree to which it brings on some of its problems itself, is surrounded by hostile neighbors. Given how nobody has gone to bat for Israel when its neighbors have violated international law (and they even blame Israel for fighting back -- not that Israel has always done so wisely, fairly or morally correctly, but still, there is a hypocrisy here -- and until you get yourself concerned about other refugees, spare me the faux concern about the Palestinians. Israel has not done right by the Palestinians, but neither have the other Arab countries ... and yet Israel gets blamed for doing what others get condoned when they do? I hate to be a moral relativist, unlike those on the right who constantly condemn moral relativism then lapse into it whenever Israel is concerned ... and y'all know I'm the first to criticize Israel ... but still, some critics of Israel should spare us the double standards and the anti-Semitic lack of empathy for Israel's position!), Israel also needs weapons of deterrence.

The Nuclear Genie could be bottled in a bipolar world in which MAD was operative. But in South Asia, e.g., we see the Nuclear Domino effect in the breakdown of MAD: nuclear China leads India nuclear, which leads Pakistan nuclear. The Nuclear non-Proliferation treaty needed to offer stronger mutual defense. We need a Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and Bush & CO are wrong to undermine it. But such a treaty must come with some pledges of defense -- even for countries the UN is more typically wont to pick on than defend. Until such time, we can't be upset when certain countries make the rational decision to opt out.


Build a Fence Around the Law

Every so often you hear people claiming that our legal tradition is mostly of "Judeo-Christian" origin or that it ought to be so and then hear protests from the left that our legal tradition is and ought to remain secular. Aside from the oddness of the claim -- those making the claim often ignore the living Jewish legal tradition or even actively oppose elements of that tradition in their suggested legislative programs and what, anyway, would a (Pauline) Christian legal tradition be? -- in fact, much of our system of law is already in accord with Jewish law.

Is this because our legal tradition is indeed of Judeo-Christian origins? Is there some secret Jewish plot to take over America? No. The concordance of Jewish and secular law probably relates to the fact that there are only so many ways of constructing a legal system governing a complex, commercial society. I'm no Cartesian who thinks that all my philosophical beliefs can be deduced by pure reason, nor am I a Kantian (although I agree with Kant about much) who, while critiquing pure reason nonetheless thinks that a few basic principles are sufficient to deduce morality without recourse to some degree of heteronomy, but still, I imagine that legal systems are, at some level, relatively unique and hence (well, I'm forgetting too much of computability here, so pace Tarski, Godel and all the rest) deducible in some way from not so many first principles.

But there are, as we have discussed here previously, many points of difference between Jewish law and secular law. Jewish law assumes a certain degree of obligation of Jews to each other that we as Americans simply do not assume toward each other. Jewish law allows for a far more activist judicial system, especially in terms of asserting consumer protections, than most Americans would be comfortable with. Indeed, some of the most vocal proponents of the view that our laws ought to come from the Judeo-Christian tradition are the most upset about some of the most critical features of Jewish law.

However, one feature of Jewish law that has been the beloved by conservatives at least in the religious sphere (and which liberals have tended to find troublesome) is the concept of building a fence around the law. Within Jewish law, the idea is that by forbidding people from doing X, similar to Y, they will be less likely to sin by doing Y. However, as fences multiply are and kept by tradition they restrict the liberty of people to do most things except walk within the few cubits of Halacha.

However, the concept of a fence around the law has other, from a liberal point of view more positive, implications as well. The first implication is that by providing a fence, one also provides sign-posts as to what to do in a situation -- even if one is compelled to walk within the four cubits of Halacha that is better than being paralyzed by not knowing where it's safe to walk. The other implication is that fences around the law can provide for ad hoc reversals of the presumption of innocence where they are needed without undermining that important presumption on the whole.

In particular, sex crimes can be notoriously hard to prove in court. To hear some so-called liberal feminists talk, though, the solution is to always believe the presumed victim. But what of the presumption of innocence? Perhaps the solution is to build fences around our sex-crime laws so that, in these he said/she said cases, there is likely a fence that was transgressed.

And once it is established a fence is transgressed (for which there is still the burden of proof) then the argument could be "if he did X, how do we know he didn't do Y?" Thus, fences allow for the burden of proof to remain with the prosecution but give clear exceptions to that burden. And if you don't want to be imprisoned for a crime you didn't commit because of the lowered burden of proof once you cross a fence, well -- don't cross a fence!

So maybe we can add "build a fence around the law" to the list of Talmudic principles we liberal feminist moonbat types should incorporate into our response -- whenever religious right types say "the law should respect Judeo-Christian principles" -- of "ok ... how about incorporating these principles from a 'Judeo-Christian' tradition into our legal system?".


For those interested in my latest (un-organized) thoughts on moral legislation, see my comments to this post by Ross Douthat re. Wolfe's column on Kirk as well as my comments (to this post by Matthew Yglesias) in regards to Jonah Goldberg's (of all people) good point on liberals wanting to legislate morality.


First Shabbos of Admonition Blogging

Last week's (special) Haftarah portion ended with God telling Jeremiah "I have accounted to your favor / the devotion of your youth". And yet for the past few weeks we've been reading Parsha after Parsha describing how much, in the youthful days of the nation of Israel, we tried and tested God. Why the discrepancy?

Well, in reality the generation of the Exodus really did show much devotion to God. They left the admitted horrors of slavery but to a completely uncertain future. While at the time, they seemed to have been testy and faithless, they, more than any generation, demonstrated great faith in God.

So why all the criticism and punishment? Well, just as a parent must punish a child and, even when the child does well, push the child to do ever better, so God had to discipline Israel in its youth. But just as a parent tells an adult offspring "ya know, you were a good kid and I miss you", so to does God remember fondly the youthful period of the nation of Israel even as, at the time, it was quite a period of trial and tribulation.

There is another lesson here as well. Some would say that during a period of trial and tribulation, we should not engage in criticism, which can be deferred until later. But it is praise that can be deferred. Constructive criticism is most needed during times of crisis. Sometimes it seems that those who would say they most love Israel or America or are most religious miss the message of the Prophets regarding national self-criticism in times of crisis: "if not now, when?"

Alas, by the standards of some today, the Prophets would be considered un-patriotic, anti-Semitic moonbats.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


It Only Took Them One Day

It only took NPR one day after our Independence Day to descend into sheer wankery. This morning, they were reporting on the UK terror situation and the implications for us. After first acting as if breaking open terrorism cells before they could do anything other than make a quarter-assed attempt to send a burning car into an airport (in which no-one got hurt ... anti-abortion groups have done worse here and NPR, et al., aren't crapping their pants about that ... I wonder why?) was a failure of Britain's anti-terror efforts rather than a success, they then proceeded to blame democratic power transfers for terror threats (I knew J. Gorelick was a Reaganaut, but I never knew she was that much of a wanker ... during the 9/11 Comish. days, she came off so well) -- as if the instability of power transfers after dictators die or get coup'ed in their e'tat is mere chopped liver.

Anyway, before they could manage to point out that Bush couldn't even hand over power to himself in 2004 (e.g. Katrina), they suggested that the problem was that Congress didn't approve Bush's political appointees fast enough (how much ya wanna bet they'll change their tune on that as soon as there is a GOP congress and a Dem. president? liberal media my posterior!) ... so the reason why a power vacuum helped 9/11 along was not that Bush & CO ignored Clinton's outgoing people, but because Congress didn't approve Bush & CO's new people?

Oh yes ... this discussion was prompted by events in Britain where this sort of thing works entirely differently anyway (a system, we rejected, FWIW? are the media wankers just mad that we're no longer ruled by King George? is that why they go to bat for our King George so much? they don't want to loose him like those dirty hippy Founding Fathers lost the last one?)? And the kicker? NPR said political appointees might need less stringent background checks ... only the segment after pointing out the need for better background checks for Britain's NHS employees!

How long before the media starts blaming socialized medicine for terrorism?

$%@#! What did our Founding Fathers call Tory Wanker Bedwetter Elitist Wannabes again? I'm sure they had quite a colorful phrase for them ... oh wait a minute ... according to Broderella, back in the day, people were not so overly partisan and mean etc. ... yeah ... right!

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Espresso Notes

Sweetwater Dark, Souther Italian Espresso Roast: very fruity, nice espresso

Newman's Own (speaking of salad dressing ;) ): has the wonderful chalkiness of Equator Estates' Jaguar blend (and a nice nutty aroma and flavor -- why don't they call this "Chalk Full O' Nuts"? since "Chock Full O' Nuts", while beyond a heavenly coffee, isn't that nutty ... they should call the latter Chock Full O' Full-smokey-heavenly-brew :) ), but not nearly the depth.

So I guess I still stand by my old favorites?


Balak Blogging

Sorry about the lack of "inspiration" last week. And howd'y'all like the alliteration of this week's title?

Anyway ...

Coming up this week is the beginning of the "3 Weeks" leading up to Lag B'Omer -- the day on which all sorts of bad things have happened to the Jewish people. It certainly is a cursed day. But this last Shabbos -- the Shabbos often coming before the Fast of Tammuz, we read Parshas Balak, in which Balaam wishes to curse the Israelites but instead blesses us.

So why sometimes the curse and sometimes the blessing? Is it that it ought to be only God's power to curse? Is a blessing or a curse something we bring on ourselves (c.f. the various interpretations of "God hardening Pharoah's heart) -- maybe karma misses the mark and the bad deeds of some result in bad occurances for others and sometime things snowball (one aveirah begats many more ... one mitzvah begats many more) -- but ultimately we have a choice before us? (c.f. Deuteronomy ... associated via hypothetical authorship with Lamentations read on Tisha B'av).

Or is being blessed vs. being cursed what we hear for ourselves. I seem to remember some Midrash that Balaam did utter curses but blessings were what was heard. This reminds me of that old Chinese allegorical painting, "The Vinegar Tasters": to a Buddhist, life, like vinegar, is bitterness; to a Confucianist, sourness, to a Taoist, sweet. Perhaps to make life a blessing and not a curse, we should follow Halacha (a direct translation of Tao, nu?) and thus life will appear sweet?

But, c.f., my previous post: purposefully deluding oneself that everything is ok is a disastrous form of conservatism -- not everything is unbroke and somethings do need fixing. Perhaps what "The Vinegar Tasters" is missing is a Jewish vinegar taster ... the Jewish vinegar taster, like the Confucianist one, does not deny that vinegar is sour, but rather embraces the sour reality of vinegar -- and maybe adds some oil and some seasoning and makes some good salad dressing! Life may be sour, but sourness has its place and we can always work to make life sweeter and engage in Tikuun Olam.

Turning vinegar into salad dressing ... making lemonade from lemons (to reference the more conventional saw) that is how we can make a curse into a blessing, isn't it?


Suburban (Im-)Materialism

This American Life (IIRC a re-run) today made an interesting point about suburbia: the bourgeois suburbanite is hardly "materialistic" but rather is seeking, in the comforts and also the isolation (and paradoxical community of those seeking isolation) of the suburbs and now the exurbs (which are like suburbia was when suburbia first boomed post-WWII), a sort of spiritual substance. But this point is part of something more general: "materialism" is hardly Materialism at all (and hedonism is not Epicurianism) -- if you seek money or that which money can buy to fill a void, you de facto are placing value on something other than the material world -- at the very least you value the idea of value behind money, which is hardly part of the material world.

Meanwhile, as deutero (or is it tritero?) Isaiah asks us "why do we spend our money on that which does not satisfy?" Why are we materialists, as the term is commonly used? We should at least be Materialists (c.f. Antigonos of Socho on heavenly rewards and the importance of not seeking them).

Interestingly the idea of suburban (im-)materialism is one of optimism. Part of the problem we Dems. are having attracting exurban voters is that we are seen as negative nellies. And not without reason: last week, the Dem. candidates (following the lead of Sen. Dodd) were quick to talk about America loosing its moral authority. Important words, but not a way to win an election.

People want to be told they are good people ... and the right, from the John Wayne rap played at the end of the aforementioned episode of This American Life through Ronald Reagan's campagn to the resurgence of the Gospel of Prosperity taps into this want. Meanwhile the left, made fun of by the right in a fit of projection for our concern about "self-esteem" has forgotten how to be optimistic. We are still Walter Mondale's factory whistle to Ronald Reagan's "Miller time". The country may need the factory whistle, but we'll always want "Miller Time" (says the guy blogging instead of working): the left (back when it also knew from political theatre and it was the right which was clueless about such things) used to understand this. Heck -- the best practitioner of "happy days are here again" was FDR -- maybe no lefty but a reasoonabley liberal Dem. Alas, today's Democrats, to the extent that they "get it" in terms of what's wrong with America, will never be in a position to fix it, 'cause they've forgotten, as my dad puts it, "you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar".

So how do we tell people what they need to hear in a way that they would still want to hear it? Maybe deutero-Isaiah knew how?

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