Thursday, February 28, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging

I was thinking a bit about idolatry and Kant's distinction between heteronomic and autonomic moral systems. Isn't either a heteronomic or an autonomic system idolatrous? Isn't worshiping human handiwork kind of like saying "following my own inner light is all I need to be moral"? OTOH, don't those in heteronomic faiths often idolatrously mistake laws and customs developed by their fellow men for the word of God?

Interestingly, this morning, there was a report on NPR about the different sorts of play and their value in building the kind of character needed to be a good student. While I tend to think even the sort of "fill out your paperwork" play lauded in this story really ends up being more akin to the kind of regimented play that does nothing to develop virtue than the free play of old, the general idea is illustrative of moral discipline: free play:moral autonomy::video games, etc::moral heteronomy.

If one belongs to a faith where grace is something received and there is a canonnical code that tells you all the answers for the "tough decisions", then how does one develop self-control? Having moral rules that build a sense of discipline and character is good (c.f. my earlier posts on virtue), but when one requires an idol to focus one's religious devotion (remember the Golden Calf wasn't necessarily meant even by its devotees to be a substitute for Hashem), one really doesn't build the discipline necessary to make the right moral decisions (and character alone doesn't magically make you make the right decisions -- and it's the decisions that ultimately count, contra the aretaic turn). OTOH, does free play (moral autonomy) really always teach you anything. And, of course, making up all your own rules is also akin to idolatry.

I dunno about this "Tools of the Mind" approach to education, but it is akin to the way Jewish morality works ... study Talmud, understand how to make moral decisions, get practice through virtuous living ... but ultimately you have to choose life, as the Deuteronomist puts it. It's in your hands, so don't pretend that the idol you've made with your hands is what is deciding for you.


Authors to consider in light of last week's parsha and about what I've rambled above: Bacon, Kant, Runes, Fromm, Nietzsche ... any others?


Meanwhile, yet again, I've made soup just in time for a weather change that has left me a bit tired/allergic/generally and literally "under the weather" ... last weekend I was thinking, "I'll have bones from what I'm cooking today, so why don't I make soup on Wed." and whaddya know? I needed that soup yesterday! And this isn't the first time it's played out this way ... Maybe I can predict my being under the weather a half a week in advance and should endevour to get extra rest whenever I feel the urge to make soup?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The Forward is Sometimes Bizarre

The Forward has a mostly excellent article up about accusations of anti-Semitism and how way off and damaging they can get. Toward the end they give the example of Robert Malley, an intellectual and all around nice-Jewish boy, being tarred and feathered as a self-hating Jew because he dared call attention to some facts about Clinton-era peace talks that were not convenient for the Likudnik narrative.

But what do they conclude. Do they point out that, while there is indeed a such thing as a self-hating Jew, the eagerness of some on the Jewish right to use the stereotypical image of the self-hating Jew to criticize their Jewish political opponents whilst they cozy-up to (pro-right-wing-Zionist yet) theologically anti-Semitic fundamentalists bespeaks a certain amount of internalized anti-Semitism in and of itself? Do they conclude that those elements in the Jewish community who are constantly using accusations of anti-Semitism for their own political gain are damaging the Jewish community as a whole? Do they make reference to the fable of the "boy who cried 'wolf'"? Do they call out those who are trying to make being a Likudnik the sine qua non of being Jewish and/or friendly to Jewish interests even if many of us Jews have a bona fide belief that more right-leaning so-called Zionist stances are damaging to the Jewish community at large and even to the long term health of Israel in particular (note that the biggest "supporters" of a hard-line Israel are those who care not for Israel's long term health but rather are hoping to get Israel destroyed in a battle at Har Megiddo)?

No: they blame liberals for not having good enough messaging:

liberals need to learn how to say that in words that mean something to anxious listeners. If you’re having trouble selling your product, don’t blame the consumers.

Of course, I'm the first person to believe that liberals need to be better at messaging -- and the lack of concern about messaging by some so-called liberals indicates a real lack of desire to be constructive and solve the problems those liberals claim to be interested in solving (and the lack of empathy toward Zionism may very well indicate a buried anti-Semitism). But if you're having trouble selling your product because other people are lying about your product, while it might not be the consumers' fault, it ain't your fault either! It's the fault of the darned liers! So nu? why didn't the Forward blame the liers? ... hmmmm ...


Vaguely related and interesting: remember when being pro-Israel was a liberal position and being anti-Israel was a conservative position? I guess comments paranoiacally blaming neo-con plots would have been removed by the moderator? [ / snark ]

Monday, February 25, 2008


McCain and Lieberman, Sittin' in a Tree ...

Listening to David Keane (sp?) on NPR on my drive into work this morning reminds me that wingnuts hate McCain for the same reason that moonbats hate Lieberman. But would NPR have the liberal equivalent of David Keane on the radio explaining nicely what exactly the moonbat beef with Lieberman is?

Meanwhile they have Keane on complaining that McCain, in his victory speech for VA, had only moderate Republicans on the stage and had George Allen in the backround. George Allen? Imagine if a liberal made a similar complaint? They'd be laughed off the air followed by talk of "those liberals are stupid to associate themselves with someone disgraced like that".

OTOH, conservatives will cite this as an example of liberal bias on NPR: "NPR, being liberal, covers up liberal dirty laundry while they force rope into the hands of conservatives who hang themselves by saying positive things about George Allen ... NPR makes sure that we never hear liberals do this because they are liberally biased on make sure liberals are shown in the best of lights" ... of course, we all know how ridiculous this is, but people do, amazingly, think this way!


Windfall Tax

Does anybody know about this?

My mom is very scared of it. Evidently the media has been blaring some report of "there's gonna be a windfall tax on profits gleaned from the market so when y'all retire, you'll have to pay a big chunk o' taxes -- 50% of the capital gains/dividends -- from your retirement investments". I told my mom to find out what the actual bill involved is and to get concrete specifics and then write her Congresscritter/Senators about it. Apparently there are no details about this in the media.

Is this a media scare tactic to sell ad time for more money by increasing ratings as scared boomers about to retire (that sounds so funny, don't it?) become glued to their TeeVees to find out more info? Is the GOP behind this hoping to stir up the anti-tax vote? What's happening here?


In related news, a conservative (social conservative ... and hates paying taxes) friend of mine was complaining about how much in taxes he has to pay to the federal gummint and was wondering what he got for those taxes. And it occured to me that we Dems. should play the Rove trick of hitting your opponant in a (perceived) strength: the GOP is perceived to be better on taxes ... but my friend is happy to have his tax-dollars go to the sorts of programs the Dems. support but doesn't like that big chunks of his tax dollars are going to fight a war he doesn't fully support. So if we can get this message snappier: "John McCain supports expensive wars that'll increase your tax bill -- want lower taxes and your tax money to go to those who really do need our help, vote Democratic!" it'd help us.

But you say, a social conservative ain't ever gonna vote Dem. as long as we support the rights of gay married people to have abortions? And if we change some of our stances, e.g. on abortion, and be only economic liberals, not only will the social conservatives still not trust us (as we'll show that we're pandering and not having views based on faith like they do), but we'll lose, e.g., Nate's vote? Well, that's true. But the other part of the modern GOP strategy is to get people to say "well even the liberal X supports Y, so all those moonbat Dems. who oppose Y must really be too liberal to hold office". If we can, through proper messaging on taxes and homeland security (which is certainly big gummint and actually not well liked by the more educated of social conservatives), have people saying "well even the conservative [DAS Friend] supports Y, so all those GOoPers who oppose Y must be nuts", that'll help us immensely.

Do you think the Dems are smart enough to try this sort of thing?


Update: In discussions with "Timmy" (of Nate's WOW fame), I think we may have figured out that my mom misheard the report: they said "15%" and pointed out that, of course, tax deferred income, will have to be taxed at that time too. I guess she misheard 15 as 50 and conflated a few things and thought there was a tax increase on the table. Of course, I am paranoid enough to think that this reporting was done in such a way that people would misheard and think "them Dems. in Congress are trying to raise my taxes so I'm broke when I retire" ...

Anyway, I do think capital gains, etc., should be taxed at the same rate as income: income is income is income, right? I do, pace "Timmy", wish for three modifications (for both political reasons and for basic fairness):

(1) capital gains are taxed based on gains from the inflation adjusted original investment (if this is not already the case)

(2) the amount of capital gains, etc., you can earn without having to pay taxes is high enough that retirees don't get hit with huge tax bills on their otherwise fixed incomes

(3) there is a grandfather clause to insulate retirees and near retirees from having to pay taxes they didn't figure on paying

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Obama vs. Clinton, from the GOoPer Perspective:

or, Why We Dems, Shan't Pick a Candidate Based on whom we Think will Also Appeal to GOoPers

I know I've been more than guilty of trying to engage in electoral calculus, but ya know, it just don't work.

I would have thought that Obama would have more cross-over appeal to a certain kind of conservative:

(1) religious, socially conservative, yet rather moderate on economic issues and liberal/libertarian on "security" issues
(2) highly educated
(3) yet low information (e.g. thinks McCain has a moderate and balanced view on ME issues)
(4) in part because s/he finds politics distasteful

I thought that Obama's pitch would appeal to the religious and disaffected with politics, while lower information voters would be poisoned against HRC by the right wing noise machine and also that people who are social conservatives/economic moderates/security libertarians would say "HRC has all the 'bad' social liberal stances of Democrats and none of the redeeming qualities" (i.e. due to her pro-war stances and big-business ties).

And yet, now, suddenly, these voters have decided that HRC, being more moderate (how have they just came to this conclusion now? isn't that, as the Church Lady would say, convenient?) would be better than Obama who is oh-so-left-wing and now "has all the 'bad' social liberal stances of Democrats and none of the redeeming qualities".

So what exactly is it that is sooooo bad about Obama, besides he is "inexperienced" (and yet these people voted for GW Bush over Gore and over Kerry), lurves him some gay married people having abortions and wants to get out of Iraq (and when did these people start supporting the Iraq war?)?

I suspect that, if HRC were the front runner, these same people would magically be saying "Obama would have been ok, but HRC is teh evil left-winger".

Of course, this is why Dems. can't try to have an "electable" candidate, because even all those people who tell pollers "I'm a lifelong Republican, but I'm so fed up that I'd vote for a Democrat over a Republican" will, when faced with the actual Democratic candidate, suddenly decide, "oh Sen. X is way tooooo liberal [no matter which Democrat it is, the response will be the same] while, even though I thought McCain was the devil, I am now warming up to him".

Meanwhile, c.f. the NH results, McCain wins Obama in the race for independents (pace what others have said, it is really McCain and Obama, not McCain and HRC that are using the same book of talking poitns) while HRC is a deeply flawed candidate. Unlike others, I am not excited about the Dem. candidates. Isn't there someone better who could run? To the extent that a lot of people think that way, an independent run could gain a lot of support from low information voters ...


In other news, I still have Raffi songs stuck in my head from my last visit to see my new family!

Update: the music's been purged! The Wagoner's Lad (a good feminist song) has replaced it ...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I know I'm late to this ...

... but while Obama ought to have performed the Mitzvah of citing his source, how can you call a big ticket politician using someone else's words without citing them plagiarizing and make such a big deal out of it? Don't certain politicians use, e.g., speechwriters' words without citing them? Nu? Why not just say D. Patrick was being Obama's speech writer?

... I had a better post with a better title, but I ended up having my brain sucked out by yet another time in the airport. Please ... people with useful Congresscritters (as opposed to my local, useless blue-dog): start writing them to urge them to stop putting any money into the airlines until the airlines stop playing with us! This time 'round I had called the airline (twice because the weather looked like it would be delay inducing) and they said "no delays". But my flight was delayed, I missed my connection (even though they assured me I would make it) and had to spend the night in Atlanta, and all they did was give me a "discounted" voucher for a hotel. WTF?!? It wasn't as if the weather changed from the last time I called ... why didn't they realize they would have a delay?


Also, I forget what exactly caught my eye, but looking at my wife's old Sunday Timeseses' Book Review sections, there did seem to be a preponderance of reviews that I'm surprised haven't received a bunch o' discussion on these here internets. Maybe that I've already forgotten which reviews they were is somehow correlated to why they've not been discussed? Still, if anyone of y'all (and don't all speak up at once ... ;) ) has anything to say, feel free to post some meta-reviews in the comments!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


A Man's Home is His Castle ...

... but is the yard by his apartment also?

Last night I was at a BBQ. We weren't really being loud or anything, but the cops happened to have not enough to do or something, so they were swarming around my (largely African-American) neighborhood.

At some point a cop polls up to where we are having our BBQ, gives a good look (to check for underaged drinking or who knows what) and then tells us to move our dominoes game inside. For various reasons, we didn't make any challenge.

But my question to y'all is: can a cop do that? What about rights to free assembly? And it isn't as if we weren't residents of the complex or guests thereof ...


Nu? What's Wrong with Helen? She's Good People ...

In spite of my relative secularism and liberal religiosity, I tend, as y'all no doubt have notice, to come down on the Jerusalem side of the Jerusalem vs. Athens debate. Indeed, I am wont to point out how a lot of what we think of as being part and parcel of the "Jerusalem side" is really the Athens side.

But Athens really is good enough for Jerusalem, so to speak. In last week's parsha, note, for example, what the word used to describe the calyx-type decorative motif on the M'norah is "caftor". Is it indeed the same root as "Crete"? Is this an example of Japheth (or is it even, in Biblical geneology, Ham?) dwelling in the tents of Shem?

C.f., theories about the tribe of Dan.

Friday, February 08, 2008


I Really Should be Writing a Paper ...

... but I'm posting on this here blog thingy instead ...

... just to tell you that my lovely wife has what it takes to be a big-time pundit (except she's way too smart for that job). Pondering the favorite characters of Lil' Miss, my wife has figured out the 2008 Dem. primary race: Obama is Elmo and Clinton is Dora the Explorer.

Sounds about right to me!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Some Commentwhoring

I know it's a little late for Super Tuesday, but here are some thoughts on the race from comments I've made elsewhere:

On McCain, Romney, et al. (let me add -- at least, from McCain to Obama, all the candidates do seem to at least have gotten good evaluations on "works well with others" in kindergarden, unlike our current pResident) -- I wish I could have voted in the GOP primary: I much more care about that race (I'd rather have Romney than McCain as the GOP nominee -- as Romney I think would be easier to defeat, but if the GOoPer should alas win, I'd rather have Romney as Pres. than McCain contra my earlier support of a McCain VeePdom -- I guess I'd prefer Romney 'cause I'm a flip-flopper?).

On HRC, Obama and the smear machine

On my plan we should have implimented.

Monday, February 04, 2008


I Can't Help It, I Live in Tally

Was there a football game yesterday?

I think some people used it as an excuse to have fireworks displays (and I heard rumors of people having stupendous bowl parties). But I guess an NFL game between two Yankee teams ain't gonna stir up much excitement 'round these heah parts. OTOH, college football ... ya better be careful about what statement you make with what colors you wear!

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Mishpatim Blogging

Standard sermon fare: what is the prelude to receiving the Law at Sinai? setting up a system of courts to administer/interpret it. What immediately follows? the brass tacks of Mishpatim.

Note some interesting things, though:

* of first concern is improving the lot of slaves -- we were slaves, so we should be just even to slaves (also even, according to this parsha, contra what the Christian Bible says about Jewish teach, to our enemies)
* Yitro may be the revelation of Torah (see previous post(s) for discussion) but it is with Mishpatim that guide us in how to live a just life that Judaism begins
* Interestingly, in this regard, the Haftarah portion contains the first mention of "Jew" in the Biblical chronology.

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