Monday, September 29, 2008
"Nothing Will Hurt Me"
In my free and unstructured translation, the words of the song go more or less like this:
Nothing will hurt me, nothing,
Not a woman, nor a terrorist's bullet, nothing,
Because that's what I swore to my brother, my sister, my parents
And I cried by night and took care by day
Because I was afraid something would damage my parents
My father's voice echoes in my head
If anything happens to you
I have no reason for tomorrow
No reason for life
No reason for tomorrow
If you're standing above me now
I must not have kept my word
If anything happens to you....
Nothing will hurt me
Not a woman, nor a terrorist's bullet
Erez was killed in action a few years ago, a young lieutenant.
May the coming year be better than the previous ones.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Why was Judea Destroyed?
Page 55b of the Gitin tractate launches a long discussion of the catastrophe, its causes, its outlines, and its results. These 4-5 pages deserve a book-length analysis, which I'm not about to undertake. Still, here's the first story, that launches the discussion; it's very well known by many educated Jews, whether they've studied Gitin or not. I find it fascinating on many levels, one of which is the total lack of the feeling of victimization the powerless or weak are so supposed to revel in these days, as if weakness is a moral trophy. Well, those Jews sure proved to be the weaker side, and they sure were persecuted, but for the next few thousand years they told themselves stories about all the things they did wrong to bring their suffering upon themselves. So here's perhaps the single most important story of all, the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza, because of whom Jerusalem was destroyed:
There were once in Jerusalem two men, one named Kamza and the other named Bar Kamza. And there was a third man who's name has mercifully been lost, who was a friend of Kamza and an enemy of Bar Kamza. This man hosted an important social event, and told his servant to invite Kamza. The servant mistakenly invited Bar Kamza. When Bar Kamza arrived, the host threw him out. Bar Kamza, publicly mortified, begged to be allowed to stay, offering to pay the cost of his board, or even the entire cost of the event, but the host refused. Bar Kamza was especially furious that the high society of the time, the scholars, watched this happen and didn't do anything to save him from humiliation, and so he went to the Romans and told them the Jews were plotting a revolt, and this set the whole story in motion.
The moral of the story, the Talmud tells us, is that Jerusalem was destroyed because of sin'at hinam, unnecessary animosity between people. Not, say, occupation, or the heavy weight of Roman rule, or a wish for freedom or liberty or any sort of noble action one could attribute to the Jews or ignoble policy to attribute to the Roman. The Jews were punished, according to their own version, because they deserved it.
Philip Mendes on Benny Morris on 1948
Friday, September 26, 2008
The other day I got a phone call from a pollster, who grilled me on my opinions and positions (in Israel. She never asked me about Palin). Part of the interview included a long series of questions where I was to rate the aptitude of Bibi, Barak and Tsipi to do this that and the other. Graded between 1-10. I consistently gave Bibi 2 out of 10 (been there, done that) except for as minister of the treasury, which he did extraordinarily well. Barak got a consistent 4 out of 10 (been there, no need to go back). Tsipi? I gave her a consistent 6 out of 10. As I said to the pollster, who groaned her agreement, what do we know about Livni? Almost nothing, but we hope for the best.
The Americans wonder what they know about Obama, and almost all have made up their mind (this way or that) about Palin. Well, Livni has been near the center of our limelight for a decade already, in various ministerial positions, thus trouncing all four American candidates combined, but no-one has the faintest idea if she's up to the job. With the possible exception of the 70-year-olds who ascended to the job between 1994-2001 (there were three of them), the only way we know if someone is up to the job is by letting them have it, and watching them fail.
Livni has the tremendous advantage that she's apparently not corrupt, and not even all that dirtied as a political hack. Exactly a set of abilities that are irrelevant to success at the job she seems likely soon to have. So we hope for the best.
By the way: if and once she gets the job, which seems rather likely, Israel will be the only country in the world with women at the head of all three executive branches: Dorit Beinish is the head of the supreme court, Dalia Itzik is the head of the knesset, and Tsipi. It's nice to be so much more progressive than all those liberals.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
An Antisemitic Speech (Yawn)
He's the president of a largish country, not a blogger from San Francisco or an anonymous comment writer from the Guardian's CIF. He made the speech in the full glare of a United Nations General Assembly session. Many media outlets were there, and each chose to report on the section of the speech they felt most interesting.
Very very few of them put the man's primitive antisemitism at the center of the report; actually, many didn't seem to have noticed it. Although at NRO the did - but then, NRO is hardly a mainstream outlet, is it.
The lives, properties and rights of the people of Georgia and Ossetia and Abkhazia are victims of the tendencies and provocations of NATO and certain western powers, and the underhanded actions of the Zionists...
The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premiere nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.
This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
BBC Reports from Alternative Universe
The BBC report's title, and I quote: Jerusalem car "attack" hurts 15.
After all, maybe it wasn't an attack? Perhaps the young Arab accidentally careened into lots of pedestrians. Such things happen, don't they?
Update: I wrote this post after 1am, last night, and forgot to link to the BBC report. This morning I see that it has been replaced... by an even more pernicious report. Now the title tells about an attack on troops, while still refraining from saying anything about the attacker (a Georgian militant from Tibet, perhaps?). The article itself goes out of its way to minimize the number of casualties, giving the mistaken impression that they were all soldiers, which isn't true. The severest casualty appears to have been a civilian woman, for example.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In that post I had linked approvingly to Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic Monthly profile of McCain. So by way of explanation, here are some of the quotes in the article that I approved of:
His constancy is noteworthy. Nothing in his experience, recent or not-so-recent, has moved him away from his essential belief that the president has a duty to confront perceived threats well before they reach American shores. I asked Kissinger whether he thinks that McCain can be too inflexible on the subject of preemption. He said McCain will not change his mind if he feels that the nation’s defense is at stake. Much of this, Kissinger continued, is related to McCain’s sense of national honor, and personal honor. “He will not do the easy thing,” he said....
In my conversations with McCain, however, he never appeared greatly troubled by his shifts and reversals. It’s not difficult to understand why: tax policy, or health care, or even off-shore oil drilling are for him all matters of mere politics, and politics calls for ideological plasticity. It is only in the realm of national defense, and of American honor—two notions that for McCain are thoroughly entwined—that he becomes truly unbending...
McCain’s father, Kissinger said, saw the world the same way McCain sees it. “He was a military man, not a diplomat. Both men grasp the notion of consequences. From about 1967 on, we were experiencing a national trauma, with obsessive doubts about the fitness of government and with a yearning to just get out of Vietnam and get it over with, with a refusal to look at the consequences. Both of them understood that withdrawal without honor has costs. The son knows this from his own experience and from his father.”
I once asked Lindsey Graham to name something unusual about McCain in the context of the debate about Iraq; he said that McCain believes, among other things, that “some political problems have military solutions.” A related McCain belief that’s even more out of sync with America’s current mood: wars are quagmires only until someone figures out a way to win them...
Friday, September 19, 2008
The Big Lie
One of the people it has interviewed notes that even fact checkers can have biases. Huh. Or should I say, Humphh?
There's nothing much new about all this, of course. The Church spent most of its first 1,500 years systematically lying about the Jews and just about everyone went along with it; even once there was a growing group of, shall we call them fact checkers, the Church mostly kept at it for another few centuries; in some corners it still does. In the previous century Goebbels may have been the world's top expert at demonstrating that if you say something often enough and stridently enough millions will believe you no matter how ridiculous you're being, but he had many competitors and companions in evil. But why reach so far as Goebbels: Have you ever listened to the BBC reporting on Israel? Not too much truth there, is there, especially when you get into body language of reporters and commentators. Regular readers of this blog are regularly exposed to my ire at the Guardian, but that will never make the Guardian any more committed to truth.
Lest you think, as the NYT article subtly suggests, that susceptibility to lies is greater with less educated people or whatever: Bah! The most committed believers (and creators, and disseminators) of the Nazi lies were an identifiable social-economic group that was far more intelligent and educated than the masses of German citizenry. This is probably equally true of the Communists, though I have fewer of the facts at my fingertips. The readership of the Guardian, in any case, is definitely more educated than the average Briton, so apparently the case can be made that more education means more susceptibility to lies.
Just switch on your TV, or reach for a magazine and let your eye flit by the first advertisements you see: if they were really true you wouldn't buy their products. Me, I've had enough contact with marketers to know that telling the truth is never on their agenda, though admittedly, getting caught blatantly lying isn't either. Have you ever noticed how fundraisers never use the word 'problems', for example, always preferring the term 'challenges'? Yep. Of course, that's but a small subset of the nexus between marketing jargon on the one hand, and the pernicious phenomenon of Political Correctness, a theology of lies if ever there was one, invented, mostly, not by McCain's side of the American cultural wars, even if it is grounded by deep roots in Calvinism and Puritanism.
It's vastly better to tell and hear the truth. But don't lets pretend our side is necessarily better at it, unless we can back up this claim with.... facts.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A Non-convincing Wave
Well, it seems the story has now been turned into a German feature film.
Personally, I never found much in this story to be of real significance. The thing about Nazi Germany was that it wasn't the act of a class of teenagers, but rather of millions of adults; it didn't last a week, but rather many years; and the Germans never snapped out of it until the Allies had bombed them back into the Middle Ages, abolished all levels of their state from mayors to the national government, and then slowly started putting it all together again.
Thinking in Politics
And no, I don't think either Vice Presidential candidate is the issue. Nor are the campaign tactics either side uses or doesn't use.
Still, those torrents are lots of fun. I've become an addict of RealClearPolitics, a website - evenly balanced, so far as I can see - that links to lots of stuff that's being written. One of the more interesting things I've noticed is the degree to which almost all pundits, on all sides of the debate, can't be trusted to tell it as it is. Try as they may, their personal preferences color what they see. The upshot is to emphasize the large extent to which these elections are about cultural issues, not political ones, and most people's likes and dislikes stem from these cultural differences.
Somewhere in my reading I came across this, an article by Jonathan Haidt, a young professor of Psychology from Virginia. He's an avowed Democrat and liberal (in the American use of the term - never forget that the Europeans use the same word for something almost opposite), and he desperately wants "his side" to win elections - but he has managed to go beyond that need and try to be empiric and rational. Although his title, "What makes people vote Republican" literally oozes of left-wing arrogance, his answer is that ultimately, it's the Republicans who have richer thought capacities, and Democrats need to understand this.
Given what it is, a professional article by a young academic, there is more jargon and academic affectation than necessary. Too many of his definitions (or those of his teachers) are not convincing. Still, eventually he gets around to this:
A Durkheimian ethos can't be supported by the two moral foundations that hold up a Millian society (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity). My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever "lost" him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.
In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at www.YourMorals.org.) We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.
If you have the time, read the whole thing and ponder it. There is much in there that is diametrically opposed to most people's pat assumptions (and pet one, too). It need not be read only in the context of American politics, and it fits much of the Left-Right discussion in many democracies, certainly including Israel.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Despicable Jewish Thugs
In future posts I'll go back to facing down our detractors for their indefensible depictions of us, but for today I'm setting aside whatever they may make of this story, and telling it as it is.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
As a dissident feminist, I have been arguing since my arrival on the scene nearly 20 years ago that young American women aspiring to political power should be studying military history rather than taking women's studies courses, with their rote agenda of never-ending grievances...
The gun-toting Sarah Palin is like Annie Oakley, a brash ambassador from America's pioneer past. She immediately reminded me of the frontier women of the Western states, which first granted women the right to vote after the Civil War -- long before the federal amendment guaranteeing universal woman suffrage was passed in 1919. Frontier women faced the same harsh challenges and had to tackle the same chores as men did -- which is why men could regard them as equals, unlike the genteel, corseted ladies of the Eastern seaboard, which fought granting women the vote right to the bitter end...
It is certainly premature to predict how the Palin saga will go. I may not agree a jot with her about basic principles, but I have immensely enjoyed Palin's boffo performances at her debut and at the Republican convention, where she astonishingly dealt with multiple technical malfunctions without missing a beat. A feminism that cannot admire the bravura under high pressure of the first woman governor of a frontier state isn't worth a warm bucket of spit...
The witch-trial hysteria of the past two incendiary weeks unfortunately reveals a disturbing trend in the Democratic Party, which has worsened over the past decade. Democrats are quick to attack the religiosity of Republicans, but Democratic ideology itself seems to have become a secular substitute religion. Since when did Democrats become so judgmental and intolerant? Conservatives are demonized, with the universe polarized into a Manichaean battle of us versus them, good versus evil. Democrats are clinging to pat group opinions as if they were inflexible moral absolutes. The party is in peril if it cannot observe and listen and adapt to changing social circumstances...
But the pro-life position, whether or not it is based on religious orthodoxy, is more ethically highly evolved than my own tenet of unconstrained access to abortion on demand. My argument (as in my first book, "Sexual Personae,") has always been that nature has a master plan pushing every species toward procreation and that it is our right and even obligation as rational human beings to defy nature's fascism. Nature herself is a mass murderer, making casual, cruel experiments and condemning 10,000 to die so that one more fit will live and thrive.
Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to intervene in the biological processes of any woman's body, which nature has implanted there before birth and hence before that woman's entrance into society and citizenship.On the other hand, I support the death penalty for atrocious crimes (such as rape-murder or the murder of children). I have never understood the standard Democratic combo of support for abortion and yet opposition to the death penalty. Surely it is the guilty rather than the innocent who deserve execution?
So far, so fun. She's an iconoclast, this lady. Then, at the end, she spoils the whole effect with this strange statement:
But the one fundamental precept that Democrats must stand for is independent thought and speech.
Huh? Democrats think, Republicans don't? That's the fundamental truth?
In modern terms, Barak's army was a militia of infantry, while Sisra had 900 tanks, so Barak convened his men at the top of Mount Tabor, a steep hill, unaccessible to the tanks; once he went down to do battle he was assisted by a fierce rainstorm that turned the valley below into a sea of mud which immobilized the iron chariots. The Daat Mikra interpreter helpfully points out that precisely such a heavy rainstorm occurred at the same place and same time of year in 1953. Josephus wrote the same thing about a thousand years after the event, and two thousand years ago.
While I read I occasionally raised my eyes from the book and glanced at the vista below me; Mount Tabor was the 5th ridge to the south, standing out clearly because of its unusual outline: steep slopes on all sides, cut off from any neighboring ridge.
Such an experience is of course quite standard when you read the Bible in Jerusalem, but I was on vacation, getting away from it all. There is an endless supply of fools who talk about how this is all an artificial construct of cynical Zionists et.al, but at the end of the day, that's all they are: fools.
The Guardian Warns America
It's not clear what the actual implications will be, but apparently they're dire.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
On the Passage of Time
At the checkpoint she unloaded them and assisted them up to the barrier, where she handed them over to the young Israeli security person; this was a dark skinned young woman with whom the elderly man briefly flirted, in a grandfatherly way. “And from where in Czechoslovakia do you come?” she asked him, referring to a country that exists still in his memory but no-where else. Behind the young woman stood a uniformed young German policeman wearing body armor and a sub-machine gun. As the elderly folks passed through he smiled at them, and gave a ghost of a salute.
Do Holocaust survivors think through all the ironies of such moments? Probably not, I expect. This won’t have been their first trip through a German airport, and the novelty will probably have worn off. They seemed mostly interested in getting through the process so as to find a seat in the lounge beyond. But the ironies are there, even if no-one dwells upon them.
Postscript: Someday Israeli air passengers won’t have to be screened through four layers of security more than anyone else. When that happens you’ll know that peace may be a reality. No speech by any politician of any nationality at any venue will do the trick, unless it manages to carry off that one. Putative peace arrangements that leave the need for those special airport precautions are perhaps better than nothing, but they won’t be peace arrangements.
Only Two Americas?
The conviction by the left that the right is stupid is one of the defining and least attractive characteristics of contemporary politics. Assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is too dim to get your point is not itself a particularly brainy way to win others over to the essential correctness of your views. But it is true that to small-town Republicans the world is not a complicated place, because they have seen so little of it.
Translation to English: it's not nice to be snotty about Republicans and their voters, but it's inevitable.
I'm not going to parse this piece, merely to link for future use.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Ghosts - and the World that Moved on
In previous posts I've mentioned the Stalinist monstrosity that stands at the very center of Warsaw, straddling the line of the Warsaw ghetto at its south-eastern corner. Here's a picture of it, followed by some ruminations.
First, when it was built it wasn't intended to have all those glass-and-steel capitalist skyscrapers behind it. Nor was it supposed to have that red-and-white roofed structure in front of it, that contains a supermarket and dozens of small stalls that sell perfume, sports shoes and fired chicken. The parking lot in front of the supermarket also wasn't envisaged by the architect. Come to think of it, the advertisement placards hanging on the facade were not foreseen, either.
The Nazis who invaded 69 years ago today also foresaw none of this, although they were the ones who razed all the previous structures and created the large empty expanse Stalin then used. To their real credit, the Poles are busy overcoming their nightmares and are getting on with life.
If you focus on the street to the south of the monstrosity, there's also an interesting story. It's called Jerozolimskie Avenue, and you can't get any more central in Warsaw than that. But back in the 18th century it was a few miles to the south of the city. Jews had been banned from the city for about 250 years, but in the mid-1770s, just as the English colonists in Massachusetts were throwing teabags into the port of Boston, someone allowed Jews to settle in the fields to the south of town. A few years later he changed his mind and threw them out, but in the meantime their nickname for the road leading east from their settlement had stuck, and remains to this day Jerusalem Avenue.
You cannot tell the story of Poland without telling about its Jews. You can't even go to the central train station.
A few minutes walk to the north, not more than one block away from the Stalinist billboard for beer, the ghosts still reside.
On the left, a bland residential building. In the top right hand corner, a new high rise going up, with a crane above it. And wedged between them is a ghost from the past.
Two buildings that somehow were still standing after the ghetto was destroyed, and are standing still, to this very day. Too fragile for anyone to live in, of course, so the windows are blocked. The ghosts, however, are still there, and haunt us from the dead windows and the bare brick walls.