Saturday, December 06, 2008

My Idea! Pardon Prevention

I see from the TPM that Cong. Nadler has put in legislative words and idea I hafd for some time:
Nadler, who two weeks ago introduced a resolution demanding President Bush not issue 'pre-emptive' pardons of officials in his administration, said his amendment would bar presidents from pardoning members of their own administration for official acts. The president would retain the power to pardon the secretary of state for, say, beating his wife, Nadler said, but not for actions taken in an official capacity.
The presidential pardoning is a scary thing and especially for a criminal like Bush. Considering that his father was able to exonerate all his Iran-Contra co-conspirators is proof enough that we should be worried.

[Update from 11-11-2009 - I am still shocked, til this day, that Bush didn't actually cheese out and pardon everybody. My main theory why he didn't was to contrast with Clinton; i.e. people are still angry - from the Left, nukh - over Clinton's pardons, which tainted an otherwise remarkable presidency. Bush knew he was in trouble with the critics and craven pardons probably would have unleashed a vindictive backlash. As we see, he's has managed to avoid a lot of the opprobrium in the past few months, because he has lain low. Not so for Cheney...]

Backpost, finished Nov 11, 2009. Pic from here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Onion and Lame Duck Bush

I am not a fan of George Bush, as you may have surmised, but I guess I'm an amateur compared to the Onion staff writers who have had a series of "news" stories of brutal maimings of the lame duck President: here, here, here, and here.

The concept is brilliant, as usual for the onion: it's probably criminal to describe fantasies of the president being killed. That'll get the Secret Service up (or down?) your wazoo in a heartbeat. But it's no crime to want the president to be maimed by outside events, is it?

Anyway, some are so brutal, they are hard to read. Yet, I am a fair blogger (much like Fox News), so I'll report, and you decide:
Bush Dragged Behind Presidential Motorcade For 26 Blocks
DECEMBER 4, 2008 | ISSUE 44•49

KANSAS CITY, MO—President Bush sustained serious head injuries, massive internal bleeding, and a broken left leg Monday morning after being accidentally dragged behind the presidential motorcade for a period of 15 minutes. According to Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, Bush's necktie became caught in the trunk of the motorcade's second vehicle at 4:13 p.m., shortly before the driver accelerated. The president was dragged down 175th Street for 26 blocks and through four stoplights, leaving a trail of blood more than a mile long. Upon hearing shouts emanating from behind his vehicle, the driver abruptly applied the brakes, causing the third car in the motorcade to run over the president's left leg at a speed of approximately 25 miles per hour. President Bush is resting comfortably in Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Bush Passes Three-Pound Kidney Stone
NOVEMBER 28, 2008 | ISSUE 44•48

WASHINGTON—President Bush collapsed in the Oval Office after spontaneously expelling a 3-pound kidney stone from his bladder, sources reported Tuesday. According to witnesses, the president was attending his daily Iraq War briefing when he suddenly began shrieking loudly and clutching his abdomen, a mixture of blood and urine pooling rapidly around his feet. Bush was able to maintain consciousness through more than 20 minutes of excruciating pain, even after the jagged, grapefruit-sized crystal aggregation shredded his urethra and dropped from his left pant leg, finally rolling to a stop on the presidential seal in the middle of the Oval Office carpet. Bush is resting comfortably at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Crocodile Bites Off Bush's Arm
NOVEMBER 19, 2008 | ISSUE 44•47

HOMESTEAD, FL— A 14-foot crocodile bit off President Bush's left arm at the shoulder Monday, a White House memo reported. Bush, who was reportedly standing waist-deep in a swamp at Everglades National Park when the crocodile struck, also sustained severe puncture wounds and torn flesh in his hip and upper thigh. According to witnesses, Bush attempted to fend off the large reptile with his left arm, but the crocodile latched onto it above the elbow, dragged the president underwater, and ripped his arm from its socket. Bush's severed arm was unable to be recovered. Doctors confirmed that he will be fitted with a prosthetic limb in a procedure Friday, and that he is currently being treated for sepsis. Bush is resting comfortably in Annapolis Naval Hospital.

Bush Tumbles Wildly Down Washington Monument Staircase
NOVEMBER 12, 2008 | ISSUE 44•46

WASHINGTON—President George W. Bush sustained 24 broken bones, massive internal hemorrhaging, and a severe concussion Monday after falling down the entire staircase of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument. According to White House press secretary Dana Perino, Bush was making his weekly climb to the monument's observation floor when he lost his footing on the top step, slipped, and struck each of the obelisk's 897 stairs with the back of his skull during an uncontrolled descent to the base of the structure. President Bush is resting comfortably in Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tags; Misanthropic Entertainment

When Blogger first introduced 'tags' I went nuts and started labeling posts with single-use tags. I thought it was fun. Even though I was only 3 years younger than I currently am, I am embarrassed by my doofusness (doofosity?). Making one use labels was cutesy for the writer (me) but not for a reader. Especially since each blog on Blogger(tm) has a search window in the upper-left corner that allows the reader to search for odd phrases, rendering such single-use tags as unnecessary clutter.

One reason I'm back in grad-school, and in the social sciences, is because I'm a deep lexicographer at heart. I instinctively divide and analyze experience and knowledge into categories. I do it as part of how I understand the world but also to teach others how to understand the world.

The blogger-tags are like subject headings in a library. And I need to treat them as such. So I clearing them up; cleaning up single-use tags and introducing big categories. There were some before (e.g. "Our Broken Press") but now I'm trying to make that the norm.

An example is the last two posts which are part of a new category: misanthropic entertainment. Even though this post contains those words, the topic isn't about that subject... a lexicographic nightmare.

Myths of Good Criminals

Based on my outrage from the misanthropic "Law and Order" I will bring up another potential case - that of the heavily advertised TV program of rainbow-coalition gentlemen thieves "Leverage". The tagline: "Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys."

I have to emphasize here: Bad guys can make the best good guys? No, no they can't.

While I like "Ocean's Eleven" as much as the next guy, criminals are not foppish gentlemen thieves. Notice how the "Ocean" movies always have the victims be criminals (or casinos, same diff). So yes when "bad guys" attack other bad guys, we can cheer because in the end, bad guys are being schmeitzed. But the "Ocean" team were not actually bad people in almost any decent definition. They were thieves, but only from other thieves. Uh, boo? But "Ocean" guys were loving friends, loyal to each other, generous to the needy, righting wrongs and generally well-dressed and courteous. Why then are they "bad guys"? Show me them doing something bad.

Well, they break the laws. And I guess implicitly there's a belief in the writers that The Man will believe that laws are 'good' even when unjust. So to fight for justice, you need to break laws, which means being Just is bad.

There may actually be pea-brains who believe that. Southern Jim-Crow enforcing sheriffs circa 1955, or the members of the Bush administration, but generally this is a perversion of morality. And people instinctively know it. Which is why the story/archetype of Robin Hood requires a good governor (Richard) being replaced by a bad government (John, Sheriff of Nottingham). Robin is considered 'bad' because the sheriff is in fact the bad one. Were a righteous government in place, and Robin were still mugging strangers at the crossroads, then we'd no longer want to read about him favorably.

I have no problem, though with Robin Hood stories as long as they make the 'evil government' distinction clear. They lap into misanthropy when they refuse to distinguish between "bad" guy and bad-guy.

The lack of distinction can be a result of simple laziness. TNT can't be faulted for calling the group of Mission Ocean's Impossible dudes in "Leverage" a bunch of "bad" guys because they are most likely being lazy lazy lazy. And while laziness ain't good, it also ain't truly bad (maybe not even "bad.")

However, there are those who buy into the Robin Hood image as being necessary and good against every government, good or bad. They see the gentleman-thief as a precursor to the revolutionary. It's one reason why pea-brains have posters and T-Shirts of Che Guevara: he was a revolutionary and they're good because government is bad.

That myth is perpetuated by those who believe that bourgeois "laws" are in place by The Man to keep undesirables in place.

I'm currently suffering through one of the very worst classes I've ever taken; it's all about 'classical sociological theory' (read: stuff nobody reads or uses any more). And the professor decries the 'conservative' theories like Weber and Durkheim because they don't advocate revolution. Or something. But Marx and Foucault, lovely. Foucault is a hero to these pinheads (more on just how much I hate him later) especially because he claims laws are bourgeois inventions to keep the marginal figures in their place. Or whatever.

Let's be clear about "Che" - he killed many innocent people. He was a terrorist. A murderous scumbag. Only a schmuck can claim that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," because attacking innocent people, civilians, for the sole purpose of killing/maiming is evil no matter who does it. And no matter for what ends. The Mumbai terrorists and Che Guevara are equivalents.

But even outside of the terrorists and murdering 'revolutionaries' the Robin Hood myth wants to create a morality among thieves and con-men. Let's be clear about one thing - the gentleman thief is a kid's story, a myth. They don't exist. (I will confirm this by asking Cecil Adams... stay tuned).

Bottom line: I've met criminals and their ilk; these people are criminals not because they are rebelling against the system but often because they are stupid and selfish to a level that you probably won't recognize if you've lived your whole lives in middle class safety.

And note, similar to Weber and Durkheim, I *like* middle-class safety. The best things in the entire world have been created because there was widespread middle class safety. MCS is the cause of civilization.

Criminals are usually very stupid. And unreliable because of that. And also because to a person criminals are self-absorbed and often hateful of others. Hence why they break the law, steal things, hurt people, etc.

The concept that a bunch of 'outlaws' will be your crime-fighting force is ludicrous in a civil democracy. A real criminal will be completely unreliable and will hurt his 'teammates' and run off to get stoned.

But it's a trope of pop-fiction: that the bad guys can actually be good! That professional killers are nice folk; that they were just born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Good TV shows that show a reality in crime - the Sopranos, The Wire - emphasize my point well: criminals are selfish, petty, stupid and will hurt you. That's why they are bad and to confuse bad with good, which is what this misanthropic entertainment wants to do, is a perversion of morality. And I'm against that.
Lego Che image from here.

Law & Order

Since moving to Boston, we inherited two televisions with the house. Each is connected to cable (a necessity here). One TV is in the basement and is pretty much permanently affixed to PBS-Kids (and/or a running loop of Thomas the Tank Engine videos). The second TV is in our bedroom (remember, we inherited this setup) and is also permanently affixed to a station, in this case TNT. Why? Because my wife looooves "Law & Order." Luckily, it can be broadcast three or four times a night and since it's been on TV since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there's plenty of episodes to show.

We watched the show often, since our time in NYC. However in recent years I've found the show to be harder and harder to watch. The formula has become tiring. First of all there are the factual implausibilities: the level of murder in L&O-Land makes Manhattan look like Baghdad, the DA's staff have only two prosecutors, and the fact that the late seasons had the Manhattan DA (who has been a liberal Jewish Democrat for the past 300 years) as a cornpone Tennessee Republican cracker.

But the formula goes as such: (1) Before the opening credits is some grisly murder 'torn out of the headlines' (which is OK as a premise, I'm not criticizing this part as much as categorizing); (2) the police procedural which ALWAYS has a red-herring. Always. Jeez! The cops go after some generally skeevy dude and it's always wrong. Finally the real culprit is unearthed and it's often tendentious (it's the way cheap mystery writers create the sense of the unknown by either defying logic or by not giving you enough info). The green herring (as opposed to red), the real culprit, is usually a B-list movie star - a quick hint for the fourth wall viewer (3) The DAs are brought in and since the perpetrator is clearly guilty (sporting swastika tattoos on their forehead or what have you) the case must be made artificially suspenseful by having a major piece of the evidence thrown away on some technicality ('suspense' in L&O in the "Order" portion is as fictive and false as the 'mystery' is in the "Law").

This part generally causes me to leave the room in frustration. I just don't like being force fed images of stupidity. It's almost equivalent to the parts of late Dirty Harry style 80s films when the judge allows the serial-rapist to go free because the arresting officer read him his rights while hepped up on Twinkie filling.

The 'Suspense' is fake, false, and insulting... and the rest of the case proceeds from that handicap; the ADA needs to prove the killer shot his grandmother but the gun was ruled inadmissible because it was made out of pressed-together Korans. Whatever. The 'suspense' also violates the basic rules of narrative: a story makes sense for real reasons.

The L&O from the other night was a beaut: (1) the death is of a woman who was stoned to death (religion? maaaybe). (2) The red-herring was a set of Albanian Muslims who were known to be violent against immodesty (the victim was an art show producer who was showing pictures of Muslim violence against women). (3) The herrings are given an airtight alibi by the FBI (who have put the group under watch) but who happened to be investigating the murder victim because of NSA warrantless wiretapping; ya see, she was talking about "jihad" over the phone (and that was the theme of the art show, har har). However, lucky break! The FBI wiretap overheard that the victim was having an adulterous affair with the Muslim artist whose work she was going to show! Aha!

Now, so far, the writers have developed three very provocative plot directions but since we're in the throw away section of the show, none of these will be used again. Some people could look at this as a sign of the salubrious artistry of the screenwriters. But smart people (like you and me) will recognize that each part is salacious tabloid exaggeration - things that just don't really exist in real life and especially in close proximity to each other. No matter. It's all in the bin, for now we find out that the victim's son is the culprit.

He's discovered through another set of tendentious links. The victim's husband failed to mention to the cops that his son is a paranoid psychotic who has been brainwashed by an Evangelical pastor (played by a B-list Movie Star, Samwise Gamgee and/or Rudy depending on your age) into believing he was a messiah. The pastor convinced the killer to stone his mother to death because she committed adultery (bad) with a Muslim (badder).

OK, so basically, in the real world the killer and his pastor will be arrested and put behind bars. But not in Law & Order! Ya see, the killer claims he has visions from God and has a psychiatrist prove that his brainwaves change while he's under prophecy and the judge accepts this proof to say that the killer can't be held guilty while he's acting our prophecy.

Uh, yeah. Sure. Why is this even put on television? Well, after the regrettable few years of Fred Thompson as the Manhattan DA, the ultra-liberal writers are able to explain over and over that Americans hate Muslims so much, and love Christian wackos so much, that anything Christians do - especially violence against Muslims - will be considered acceptable to a Manhattan jury.

Maybe, maybe, if the show were set in Lubbock, Texas I'd have an easier time accepting that premise (as well as the huge yearly body count). But not in Manhattan. And you can say that I'm taking this too seriously. I am, I guess, but only because I watched it with my own eyeballs and I'm taking out vengeance for it's insult to my cranium. However, the response to people who accuse me of 'too seriously'-ism, you have to answer why fiction should be allowed to be not only stupid and incoherent (which I can basically live with) but also to teach bad moral lessons? To suggest that the world is actually much more of a hateful place THAN IT ACTUALLY IS.

I remember my reaction to the horrid little film "Wag the Dog" which indicted all Americans as credulous and easy to fool. Some even have put the proof of this movie on the Iraq war, to say that we bought those lies just as the movie predicted. NO! People bought the Iraq War's lies because (a) we had just been attacked on 9/11 and so people were jumpy about enemies, especially known psychopathic ones, (b) the government made the case using false information that Iraq was both responsible for 9/11 and that Saddam was preparing nukes against us... and the Press helped pass along these lies, (c) when the lies became clear (in 2005 or so), the nation moved firmly against the war (cf. the 2006 & 2008 elections).

Wag the Dog was evil back in 1997 because of the mean-spirited lies that it claimed were truths; for the accusation that people are scum. Law & Order, in its worst episodes (they're not all bad, only in the last few years when they ran out of ideas), does the same thing.

In the above episode, the court case proceeds against the pastor and - luckily enough - the police are given hours of incriminating videos of the organization which just happen to have been taped by one of the pastor's camp-counselor. Ya see, the pastor has been running a Christian-style madrassa that teaches 8-13 year old kids to fight a war against Muslims (even showing the kids in camouflage clothes and camo face-paint). And two kids went along with the killer and helped stone the mother to death. And in the full court the pastor starts screaming about how holy-war against the Muslims was necessary and that he agrees with what the killer did.

Yet he's acquitted. Why? Because Americans hate Muslims because Americans are so totally Christian. Proof? One of the jurors was caught reading the Bible for help in the deciding the case and he's dismissed as a juror!

The lessons learned are infuriating and insulting. Accept better.

Update Postscript: It's this same misanthropy that makes me also hate "slasher" horror films. The whole genre just hates people, and so do shows like this.

And I had a spare moment and found the name of the cruddy L&O episode I tore apart above: "Angelgrove." And to show you what I'm up against, here's the comment of some doofus IMDB member:
the story of a boy stoning his mother was compelling. I knew the Christofascists had Jesus camps in this country, but I never suspected that we could have Islamofascist-type Madrassas to indoctrinate the youth into killing for Christ. One would have to be completely clueless to suspect that a jury would convict in this case. Of course, the prejudices of the average juror would compel them to let this wacko go.

Four Old Styxes (Update)

I found a bunch of my old files and have been struggling to convert them from Mac to PC. Back in '99 I was unmarried, ungraduated but working as a rabbinic intern in a big shul and it's striking that many of my core ideas have remained fairly consistent. But it's also striking that I have forgotten how many issues that used to fill me with interest and emotion no longer live in my brain. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, I've decided to reprint excerpts from the original Life in the Styx (most over 10 years old), in one way to show that I was blogging before the internet was much off the ground - emphasizing my claim that The Styx is truly the Oldest Blog in the World (tm).
  1. Styx v4n29 (March 5, 1997) Topics include: domestic terrorism, spending time in the Queens Jewish Community, Atari 2600, and Rabbi Avi Weiss.
  2. Styx v4n12 (Oct 31, 1997) Excerpt topic: collecting Beanie Babies.
  3. Styx v4n40 (May 15, 1998); topics were the death of Sinatra, the end of Seinfeld, nuclear India, and Palestinian violence.
  4. Styx v6n24 (May 20, 1999) Topics: 1999 Israeli Elections and William Faulkner

Year of Flops: Where Rabin is Wrong

Nathan Rabin, the genius behind My Year of Flops, reviews of the Shadow (1994) and the Phantom (1996, I-W) are totally wrong; but even when he's wrong, he's still a great read.

Rabin and I differ on a number of fundamental film issues - for example, he likes the whole genre of 'uncomfortable humor' (e.g. What About Bob, or the oeuvre of Albert Brooks); he's sanguine (har) about horror films, and he just doesn't seem to get the fun brilliance of action-spoofs. He gives doofus reviews for City Heat, Hudson Hawk & Mystery Men - because he just cannot understand what's going on. It's weird, but after 4 such reviews, it's clear that despite his erudition, eloquence and intelligence, he may not have the necessary subtlety to get parodies. I wonder what he feels about Evil Dead II/Army of Darkness. Likely, he ain't on board.

So while he hates the Phantom (which is as fun a movie, though not quite as good, as Mystery Men, Hudson Hawk etc), the film he does like, The Shadow, is pretty terrible. Yet here's Rabin: "Where The Phantom is a second-rate film about a third-rate superhero played by a C-list actor, The Shadow is an even more frustrating proposition: a second-rate film about a first-rate superhero played by a brilliant, perfectly cast actor."

Baldwin has gotten better in his old age - mainly because he's better at comedy, especially playing a rich dork, than he was at action. The Shadow is pretty terrible, the Phantom good, and Rabin is funny but wrong. Then again, I owe Nathan for clueing me into "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." So maybe he only understands parodies if (a) the spoof is tattooed on the back of their necks, or (b) it's about music.

Backpost, finished on Nov 11, 2009.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Wiki Gestapo

Feeling guilty, I tried writing a Wiki page for Rabbi Rackman (see below) and after 20 minutes of work - trying to find all the wacky and stupid rules that Wiki requires for their articles - it was finally done. And then just as swiftly deleted by some inane monitor. Anyone who looks at the Wiki and says that it's just a pile of 15 year old authors who decide to place anything they want online... think again. I know I won't be writing a page any time soon. Frickin' gestapo.

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman a'h

Rabbi Rackman passed away today. Here's part of the message I received from my former shul in NY: "[We regret] to inform you of the passing of Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Rackman, a leader of Modern Orthodoxy, president of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and a man who held many other important posts during his long and storied life. Funeral services 12:00 noon on Tuesday, December 2nd, at Fifth Avenue Synagogue, 5 East 62nd Street (just off Fifth Avenue). The family will be receiving condolences there beginning at 11:00 a.m. The interment will be in Israel, where the first two days of shiva will be observed. The mourners will return to New York on Friday, December 5th, and observe shiva through Tuesday morning..."

I'd link to the Wiki page about him but, sadly enough, there hasn't been one made (and I'd make it, but with two 3 hour seminars to prepare for, there's no time. Maybe manana). His bio from this article from the YU newspaper shows how impressive a leader he was: (
Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, RIETS '34, earned his law degree and PhD in political science from Columbia University and was the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila of Far Rockaway and of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. In 1947 he began teaching political philosophy and jurisprudence at Yeshiva College and in 1970 was named a university professor of political science. Rabbi Rackman received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Yeshiva in 1961, and was provost of Yeshiva University from 1970-1976. Rabbi Rackman has served as the president of the New York Board of Rabbis, president of the Rabbinical Council of America. A former colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve, during World War II he was chairman of the commission on Jewish chaplaincy in the United States Armed Forces. After leaving Yeshiva, Rabbi Rackman became president (1977-1985) and Chancellor (since 1985) of Bar Ilan University
I met Rabbi Rackman many times when I was working at KJ (see below) and he was one of the best pulpit rabbis around, a great pastoral leader. He taught me many lessons of how to take care of congregants that I could only aspire to (e.g. after shul on Shabbat he would go to the houses of the home-bound in order to make kiddush for each and every one). He is probably best known to many of you for his work in recent years in the struggle to free agunas.

His passing is a great loss.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Michelle and Princeton

A recent article in the Daily Princetonian. She's exactly 10 years ahead of me in school, and she and I also share another important trait, we were both active members in the kosher kitchen:
Michelle did not join an eating club, choosing instead to take her meals at Stevenson Hall, a University-funded student-run institution on Prospect Avenue.

Michelle’s roommate Angela Acree ’85, who is African American, worked at Stevenson Hall. Since it contained a kosher kitchen, Acree’s and Obama’s social life came to include Jewish students as well.

“[We] did everything the Orthodox students did, which included going on a ski trip to Vermont with them one break,” Acree said. Stevenson Hall “became a whole life for me.”

Michelle and her friends felt welcomed by the Orthodox community but not always by the Princeton community at large, friends said.
H/t to DW.

Emmanuel: Modern Orthodoxy Confirmed

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, is Rahm Emmanuel's rabbi. In the three cases I know about of halakhically observant, powerful Jews, I confirmed their status by whether they asked shylas. I know about Lieberman (who asked Rabbi Barry Freundel), and Robert Wexler (a member of my parents' shul) and now I have confirmation that Emmanuel asks shylas as well:
On Rosh Hashana, Rahm Emanuel called his rabbi with a question: Could he violate the holiday to sit in on a conference call about the $700 billion bank bailout package that congressional Democrats were fiercely trying to revive?

It didn't take long for Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who heads Emanuel's modern Orthodox congregation in suburban Chicago, to give him an answer.

"I told him it was my halachic opinion that the financial system was on the point of failing and it could be a disaster, and this was a matter of life and death, to get this passed, as long as the violation was kept to a minimum," Lopatin told The Jerusalem Post.
Read the whole article, though, especially if you're still wavering about Obama's concern for Jews and Israel.

Update: Emmanuel's Talent:
Noam Schreiber of TNR says that Rahm is a superlative choice, and gives examples of his pragmatism.

Note, if Rahm does a good job, then *he* may get the coveted cement-shoe prize of being named the most probable "First Jewish President" (previous prizeholders were Joe Lieberman and Elliot Spitzer, wonderful company to join)

Post Election Thoughts, part 6

  1. Did Palin Know About Africa, NAFTA?

  2. Martin Peretz has a good post: Political Consequences Of An Obama Victory

  3. Reiterating my point about the Obama Presidency's ease: most of the current problems have been CAUSED, they didn't just "happen." True, it's easier to bomb a building than to build one, and Bush has bombed the hell out of the world (literal ones in Iraq, figurative ones on Wall Street), so Obama's toil will be in rebuilding. But here's the simple, all-points plan for the major problems: (1) Iraq, (2) Justice, (3) Healthcare, (4) Economy = once we end Iraq, and enact Healthcare, huge drains on the economy will cease.

  4. Another example of Krauthammer the Ass, from Sullivan.
Backpost finished 2009-12-07.

Single Votes Count

Even if 2000 didn't send that lesson, here's a good rundown to remind us, from 538.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Great line from Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates is on fire:
'What's the old saying? Black folks didn't object to slavery, they objected to being the slaves. "
Backpost finished 2009-12-07.

Emmanuel and Axelrod

Marc Ambinder is all over the Rahm Emmanuel selection (about a dozen posts today). But as I asked yesterday, what about David Axelrod, Obama's campaign chief of staff. Let's cut to Ambinder, already in progress:
Though David Axelrod isn't confirming it himself, friends say that Obama has asked him to be an assistant to the president and senior adviser. Assistant to the president is a very coveted post with quasi-institutional prerogatives; assistants can (if the Obama administration chooses to continue the practice) pop in on the president whenever they want, and they're given review privileges over everything that goes out in the president's name.
And, to round out the picture, here's the New Republic's description of him, and note the last line (bold mine) about Axelrod and Emmanuel's relationship:
Obama's chief of staff could be the Dick Cheney of his administration-the heavy with his hands in everything. Like Cheney, Rahmbo is respected, feared, and a formidable wonk. Emanuel might make an attractive chief of staff because of his reputation for fierce loyalty and his ability to corral the House Democrats. Those in Congress who don't owe their jobs to him are terrified of him. That pick, like so much of Obama's world, would bear Axelrod's fingerprints: Ax signed the ketubah at Emanuel's wedding.
Thanks to my brother for pointing out the story and we both agree that the comparison to Cheney is stupid (and mean): "Obama, like Hitler, was elected the head of his country."

Cabinet Rumors

According to the valley of the leaks, Marc Ambinder, from yesterday:
President-elect Barack Obama is NOT expected to name key posts BEFORE next week...even though there's been speculation that he'd name his Treasury secretary today.... the ONE exception might be his chief of staff. (Rep. Rahm Emanuel has told colleagues that he has been approached about the job, although many in the Obama world are skeptical.)

The goal is for Obama to announce some of his decisions before Thanksgiving, including whether he will keep Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for a few months -- likely -- and whether he'll keep Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson (very unlikely).

There is a sense of urgency -- but Obama wants to think through these issues carefully and does not want to rush -- or appear to be rushed.

Credible candidates for Treasury include former Fed chair Paul Volcker, whose reputation has emerged from the financial crisis relatively unscathed, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and New York federal reserve chair Tim Geithner, who Obama doesn't know.

For defense, people advising the transition say that former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig has emerged as a favorite and trusted defense adviser to Sen. Obama.

And Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is said to be the favorite for attorney general, although just who is saying that isn't clear.
For the Jewish perspective: Emmanuel (Chief of Staff), Summers (Treasury), and Danzig (Defense) are all Jewish or rumored to be so.

The Racist Belt

From Sullivan who got it from Yglesias who got it from the Times, a map of the sectors where McCain did better than Bush... I wonder why?

Jared Polis

As you know, after an election I track the numbers of added/present elected officials who are on my teams: Democrats, Princeton grads, redheads, and Jews. Yeah, even though my enemies do this as well (on all fronts, you know who you are gingy-haters!), the fact that the same action can mean different things in different contexts is the essence of social philosophy. If I stopped doing things just because someone I detest does the same thing, then I'd basically be stuck doing nothing (OK, maybe playing pong and drinking Ovaltine - those are still pristine).

Anyway, a new representative, Jared Polis, was elected on Tuesday in the Colorado 2nd who's on 3 teams: Jewish Democratic Princeton grad. Awright. Do I mind that he's actually younger than me and is already a multi-millionaire and in Congress? Nah. But, in a fun twist of fate, he's also the first openly gay person elected to Congress (the Wiki says that Barney Frank outed himself after election - that must have been some closet).

This is going to be interesting.

Pic made by me - the official symbol of Jewish Princetonians. Maybe. Backpost finished 2009-12-07.

Newsweek's Revelations

Newsweek's Special Election Project, according to their description: "...first published in an inside, behind-the-scenes account of the presidential election produced by a special team of reporters working for more than a year on an embargoed basis and detached from the weekly magazine and Everything the project team learns is kept confidential until the day after the polls close." Here are some direct quotes of revelations from this project. I present them first without comment, then add a few afterward (note, there's more on the website):
  1. "NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

  2. "McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended. Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request."

  3. "The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied. Michelle Obama was shaken by the vituperative crowds and the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. "Why would they try to make people hate us?" Michelle asked a top campaign aide."

  4. "Obama was never inclined to choose Sen. Hillary Clinton as his running mate, not so much because she had been his sometime bitter rival on the campaign trail, but because of her husband. Still, as Hillary's name came up in veep discussions, and Obama's advisers gave all the reasons why she should be kept off the ticket, Obama would stop and ask, "Are we sure?" He needed to be convinced one more time that the Clintons would do more harm than good. McCain, on the other hand, was relieved to face Sen. Joe Biden as the veep choice, and not Hillary Clinton, whom the McCain camp had truly feared."

  5. "McCain was dumbfounded when Congressman John Lewis, a civil-rights hero, issued a press release comparing the GOP nominee with former Alabama governor George Wallace, a segregationist infamous for stirring racial fears. McCain had devoted a chapter to Lewis in one of his books, "Why Courage Matters," and had so admired Lewis that he had once taken his children to meet him."

  6. "On the night she officially lost the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a long and friendly phone conversation with McCain. Clinton was actually on better terms with McCain than she was with Obama. Clinton and McCain had downed shots together on Senate junkets; they regarded each other as grizzled veterans of the political wars and shared a certain disdain for Obama as flashy and callow."

  7. "At the GOP convention in St. Paul, Palin was completely unfazed by the boys' club fraternity she had just joined. One night, Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter went to her hotel room to brief her. After a minute, Palin sailed into the room wearing nothing but a towel, with another on her wet hair. She told them to chat with her laconic husband, Todd. "I'll be just a minute," she said."
OK, some quick comments:
  1. The towel story is the most revealing (har) about Palin's character, even more than the incredible spending/theft (which can be explained as a combo of pure Republican greed and the Beverly Hillbillies). Palin knowingly used sex as a weapon and that above anything else was why she was hated by moderate & liberal women.

  2. The McCain campaign "truly feared" Hillary Clinton. What rubes. But it gives more context for the insane choice of Palin.

  3. The John Lewis story highlights a growing impression about John McCain's cluelessness and ambivalence in this campaign. McCain comes across as a sheltered, half-dead candidate who had no idea what his operatives were doing in his name. I'm not exonerating him, but it does explain why his speeches (most notably his concession) was in a vastly different tone from his campaign. The GOP Machine never liked him and never trusted him... for the very same reasons that McCain was popular and liked by everyone else in America. McCain's joking accessability and his reasonableness were anathema to the Bush/Rove Party. And with the same short-sightedness that destroyed Iraq and spoiled the bipartisan patriotism after 9/11 was the same toxic stupidity that destroyed McCain's reputation and chose Sarah Palin.

  4. A sign of the toxicity of the GOP, and especially Palin, is the bit about the threats to the Obamas as a direct result of Palin's rhetoric. We can not forget, nor forgive, the GOP for that.

  5. "Clinton and McCain had downed shots together on Senate junkets;" Ugh

  6. "Clinton was actually on better terms with McCain than she was with Obama. ... [Clinton and McCain] regarded each other as grizzled veterans of the political wars and shared a certain disdain for Obama as flashy and callow." Ya know, that didn't come across at all. Heh heh heh. Losers.

Top 3 Cartoons

The Win goes to Tom Toles (who has consistently done awesome work):

to David Horsey (also consistently good):

And the Bronze to newcomer Clay Bennett:

Honorable mentions:
Ben Sargent (whose art and politics are excellent):

And Paul Szep (whose art is terrible, but politics on the money):

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Thoughts, part 5

  1. Reid & Lieberman- "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will likely meet later this week with Joe Lieberman to discuss whether the Democrat-turned-Independent will be stripped of his Senate committee chairmanship, a senior Democratic leadership aide tells CNN."

  2. TPM links to this story about Sy Hersh: "Rachel Cooke meets the most-feared investigative reporter in Washington"

  3. TPM: Threats To Obama Rose As Palin's Crowds Grew More Frenzied - does this surprise anybody?

  4. Good post-election summary

  5. Good line from Sullivan's page: "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults," - Alexis de Tocqueville.

  6. And whoa, Palin didn't know Africa was a continent (again, are you surprised?)
Backpost finished 2009-12-07.

Jewish Vote, Jews in Congress

According to JTA:

"For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival."

"The Chosen: Jewish members in the 111th U.S. Congress" By Ami Eden · November 5, 2008

The following is a list of the 44 Jewish members -13 senators and 31 representatives - who will serve in the 111th U.S. Congress that convenes in January:

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)
Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) or Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.)
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.)
Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)**
Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)
Carl Levin (D-Mich.)**
Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.)
Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)
Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.)
John Adler (D-N.J.)*
Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.)
Howard Berman (D-Calif.)
Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.)
Susan Davis (D-Calif.)
Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)
Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)
Bob Filner (D-Calif.)
Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)
Jane Harman (D-Calif.)
Paul Hodes (D-N.H.)
Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
Steve Kagen (D-Wisc.)
Ron Klein (D-Fla.)
Sander Levin (D-Mich.)
Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)
Jared Polis (D-Colo.)*
Steve Rothman (D-N.J.)
Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.)
Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)
Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)
Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)
Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)
Robert Wexler (D-Fla.)
John Yarmuth (D-Ky.)

* Elected to Congress for the first time
** Senators who were re-elected

Chief of Staff: Emmanuel

Well, according to the Times, Obama has tapped Rahm Emmanuel to be his chief of staff (which I talked about here). As many have noticed, for example the Times only a few days ago, the 2008 election seems to be a weird fiction-nonfiction mirror of the last season of the West Wing. There's a *lot* in common (and a lot not), and this is just one more. The character of Josh Lyman - who becomes the Chief of Staff for the first non-White president (who was based on Barack Obama) was supposedly based on Rahm Emmanuel.

But, in a non-West Wing analysis, if Rahm accepts the job then it should put to rest some of the anti-Obama grumbling in the Jewish community. Rahm is an Israeli-American (his father, who the Wiki says was a member of the Irgun; cool), a member of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, and extremely pro-Israel (the wiki says he volunteered in Israel during the first Gulf War).

To sum up: Obama has asked, and will likely have, a very pro-Israel, Israeli-American (secular) orthodox Jew run his administration.

Update: See this 2005 Rolling Stone story about Emmanuel and the legends surrounding his intensity.

More Thoughts, Part 4

Continuing in a string of observations:
  1. Seeing Jesse Jackson weeping had a big effect on me. I always thought of him as an opportunistic blowhard (the fathering a child out of wedlock while employed as a Protestant minister rubbed me the wrong way)... but his weeping, which is hard to simulate for cameras, showed me that he at his core was genuine about race relations and history. Bravo to him.

  2. If McCain had won, it would have meant that 3 out of the past 4 presidents were fighter pilots (HW Bush, W Bush, McCain) and that would have implications for that profession. Generally it appears to be a way that those with military obligations - and who have family influence (as all three did, Preston Bush's son, HW Bush's son, Admiral McCain's son) manage to be in as little of the organized military as possible. Fighter pilots, often in single seat planes, have missions but aren't at the mercy of a superior, possibly. In any case, it didn't happen and I hope we can put the role-identity to rest.

  3. What we do have is an establishment of a new presidential paradigm of *youth*. Clinton was 46, Bush was 54, and Obama is 47. 54 is on the young-end (most presidents were between 50-60), and it emphasizes the paradigm that between 1992 and (at least) 2012 the presidency is held by a young person.

  4. I don't feel equipped to describe the full implications of having a black first lady, either. As we know, having a black male president doesn't mean he'll be wed to a black woman. I am a fan of Michelle, and not only because she's a Princetonian (but that's a big boost). It can be argued that Obama's upbringing, and even his ethnicity, makes him a different category from what we consider to be typically "African-American." That label is a bit of a misnomer, as shown in Barack's case, because for other ethnic groups, the term refers to the origin country vis-a-vis voluntary immigration, while the population we usually label as African-American were "involuntary immigrants," a.k.a. Slaves.

    When you are in America because your forebears were kidnapped, beaten, raped, and bought-and-sold as property, then you will treat America with a set of unique attitudes that are specific to a hostile environment. Note, this singularity is different from, yet shared with, Native Americans (and to some extend native Hispanics), and those relationships will be excepted from my analysis). Yet we have other hyphenates - Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, etc - who were voluntary immigrants, and while they are ethnically different, they share some basic, similar characteristics with each other: they wanted to be in America, and they see America usually as a place of promise, opportunity, and greatness.

    Obama is the child of a voluntary immigrant. Like Colin Powell, an important fellow-traveler, who is a child of Jamaican immigrants, Obama's attitude towards America will be much more like mine (or my parents) than the attitude of the vast majority of "African-Americans" (the involuntary immigrants). Obama's father and Powell's parents were presumably like American Jews: they perforce saw America as a place of opportunity, and purposefully came here to avoid the home country.

    Note, I came across this difference in attitude following the Amadou Diallo tragedy. After he was killed by the NYPD, perennial bottom-dweller Al Sharpton tried to hijack Diallo's family into his cause of racial grievance. And I remember (I need to find the exact source) Diallo's family protesting Sharpton's characterization of America as a land of permanent racism and danger. They responded that they wanted to be in America because it was a land of opportunity: i.e. they were talking like immigrants.

    In any case, all of this is to come around to Michelle Obama. She is a descendant of slaves. And now first lady. That's big.

More Thoughts, Part 3

See the first two parts below (and/or above):
  1. Last night, before the 8pm returns, I spoke with my old college roommate (who I had once expected would be the first Black president) about what was happening. It also was his first wedding anniversary, so it was a nice occasion all around. Anyway, the conversation turned to why he (and I) would probably never be president: because we couldn't sit quiet at all the insane crap that Obama just took in stride. However, in deference to we mere mortals, Obama's absolute greatest skill is his supernaturally cool temperament. It is the very definition of 'cool.' That slang term has been around for a long time and hasn't fallen out of use for a good reason: there's a recognition that a valued quality of leadership is the ability to keep one's emotions under control. Passion is great, and I have it in excess, but for real leadership you need to be cool.

    And some people are cool because they are naturally so, and some just need to train themselves. In either case, it's a remarkably physical-mental skill and that's what sets Obama apart from the rest of us.

    Note, this quality is what got him tarred as 'arrogant.' The reason why the attitude didn't stick (as it did to Dukakis and Kerry) was that Obama's coolness seemed to come from deliberation. It reminds me of my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Ahron Lichtenstein. One reason why I consider Rav Ahron a gadol is because he appears to deliberate and think about everything he says and does. I feel we can judge any so-called gadol by this ability: does he say things in anger or without thinking through the implications? By this I include utterances of prejudice and willful ignorance.

    Obama has this level of deliberation and I consider it to thus be even more than the mental-physical skill described above but also a moral skill. And no, I'm not saying Obama is on the level of a Gadol (for some craziness in this regard see this piece of idiocy.)

    This is seen also in Obama's ability to speak about complicated issues in accessible terms. His communication ability - denigrated by Goopers, Freepers and other crypto-racists - is more than a good speaking voice, or a trained actors ability. It comes from a thinking deeply about issues and trained skills in education. As I've said before: I am a professional public speaker, and I am praised for the same abilities that Obama demonstrates, except he is orders of magnitude better. But because we are similar, I can describe with confidence why he is great.

  2. Many commentators are repeating the idea (which, because its so popular, tells us just how boneheaded it is... I should really create a rule for this, I can do that, I'm in sociology!) that we shouldn't think that race relations are going to change immediately and irrevocably because of Obama's win. Well, no, it just has changed and the change is huge. The implications are for (a) how Blacks as individuals are thought about in America, (b) how America considers its own identity and history vis-a-vis race, (c) how America considers etc itself vis-a-vis insiders and outsiders in power/politics, (d) how the World sees America in the contemporary world, (e) how the World sees America's place in world history, (f) how the world sees Blacks (and/or other persecuted minorities) in their own countries, (g) and how Blacks (and/or other minorities) see themselves in their own countries.

    And all these implications have been called under scrutiny because of last night. And, to contradict those who want to downplay the implications, all it takes is one person to become a potent and permanent symbol. And, even if it sounds like I'm overstating this, it's actually hard to overstate this.

    Obama as the new American president is on the level of the moon landing: a fundamental change in how we understand our capabilities as humans. OK, that sounds overstated, but here's why it's not: Obama is the child of a single mother, a foreign father from a persecuted race, who through the opportunities of the American system of ideals and structure of society has just been elevated to the most powerful person on Earth. A man who could destroy the world with the touch of a button, who can impoverish or feed nations with a verbal command.

    I don't think this has happened before (others will write about this and I will check the historical knowledge) and even if there is a person somewhere (Napoleon? Genghis Khan?) the power Obama has acquired came peacefully and is more total.

    Because I am a born-American, I have learned about American exceptionalism and I believe it. In my classes in history and in philosophy, which is still largely Eurocentric, I get frustrated when the French Revolution is considered a milestone of human history. Sure, it was important to Europeans, and that's all nice if you happen to be a White Christian living in Europe (and the right Christian in the right country, at that) but in terms of World History the French Revolution is useless! For two big reasons: (1) the American Revolution was first, and (2) ours lasted! No reign of terror in the US; no return to Empire; a consistent land of freedom and opportunity. The Russian Revolution was pretty important too but, again, (1) no freedom, (2) it didn't last, (3) it was centuries late.

    America has a lesson to teach the world and world history. And it has long been incomplete. We made a great leap forward last night.

  3. I can see disagreement with my point if you deny that symbols matter that much. I insist, though, that symbols matter because they affect cognition. Our comparisons for the "man as symbol" are Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Thurgood Marshall, etc: men, and so far it's been men, who are superlative in their quality while breaking the race barrier. We see it more with sports than with other areas of leadership, but sports are important because it's an arena of quantitative verification and because the rules are manufactured and arbitrary. When these men succeeded (and it does require success, else we'll end up with Marion Barry) it permanently changed the status of African Americans. Blacks couldn't be considered inferior if there's even one notable proof otherwise (hence why Marshall is better than Robinson). If Obama is as decent a president as Clinton, and not a Carter-Bush disaster, then it will have massive long-lasting effect.

More Thoughts

Continued from below (read that first):
  1. More people who deserve rewards: Howard Dean, Tim Kaine, Bob Casey. I assume Dean will want to leave the DNC (leave on top, ya know), but will he want a cabinet post? Ambassadorship? I don't know how these guys think, so I don't know what's considered a 'reward.' Kaine (Gov. VA) helped carry Virgina, and he's young and needs to get a new job because of term limits (and since VA now has 2 Democratic senators, he won't get those slots for a long while). I've heard he wants Sec of Education, so OK. Casey (D-Sen. PA) was an early and solid supporter. PA is now reliably blue, with a Democratic governor (the irritating Rendell) so it's safe to move on up. Then again, I've long felt that being Senator is the best, cushiest sinecure in America, so maybe he wants to stay put.

  2. Will John Lewis want to leave Congress to join the cabinet? Like I said above, I have no idea what a politician likes as their reward. Maybe the election of Obama is the biggest most amazing dreamlike award he cold have wanted.

  3. There's debate as to who will be Obama's chief of staff. I always looked at that role - while it's cabinet "like" and stature - to be a real job and not something to be filled as a reward for a deserving politician. So while people have mentioned Rahm Emmanuel or Tom Daschle, I don't understand why either would take it. Emmanuel is great in the House and I want to see him as Majority Leader soon. He's way better than Pelosi - whose been door-matted too often these past 2 years - and better than Hoyer. And Daschle deserves to be rewarded, not overworked. My assumption is that if David Axelrod wants the job, he needs to get it.

  4. Other big posts: CIA chief? FBI chief? Do politicians want to be rewarded by being appointed as Federal judges?

  5. Will Obama need to 'tokenize' the cabinet or his other appointments?

  6. What about the proper respect and repayment for Al Gore? I'd love to see him get the next open slot on the Supreme Court. He deserves some kind of restoration for the scandal of 2000.

  7. Oh, and while others may, I still don't forgive Bill and Hillary for the crap they did during the primaries. I don't think Obama owes them anything.

More Thoughts on the Victory

Some points on the incredible victory:
  1. We just elected a black guy with a Muslim name president. Just gotta say that, over and over, until I fully understand how incredible this all is.

  2. I see the Obama election as a type of 'virtual impeachment' of Bush. We won't get the chance to do the real thing - we still may be able to put the SOB behind bars - but the election of a brilliant, articulate, African-American, Muslim-named, liberal intellectual Constitutional scholar is a point-by-point repudiation of the stupid, mush-mouthed, pampered patrician rich-boy Texas oil-millionaire, white-bread legacy Christian conservative incurious human rights abuser.

  3. Democrats haven't had a win like this since 1964. And as a result of that election, we received Civil Rights and the Great Society. And even if you think the latter was bad or flawed, you have to take into account how bad it was to be in America *before* those programs were enacted. 1964 ushered in a state of civility and greatness - as the names declare - to America. And that's great change. And that's what we can do in 2008.

  4. For my fellow Hebrew brethren who are worried that Obama's win will bring about the destruction of Israel, or whatever: There is no support or proof for your fears. The fears are based on innuendo, ignorance and in some cases racism. The worst thing to happen to Israel in the past few years wasn't Oslo (which was a mitigated disaster), nor the Clinton Camp David Accords (whose blame can be laid on Ehud "the Other" Barak's feet), rather the worst has been the legitimizing election of Hamas to the Palestinian leadership and the subsequent creation of a pure terrorist state in Gaza. And that was all Bush, baby. Bush also created a terrible threat to Israel vis-a-vis the Iraq war - which has strengthen Iran (taking away it's biggest foe, replacing it with a sympathetic Shiite regime) and emboldened Tehran to pursue nukes. All Bush. And McCain would have continued this insanity. Even if Obama turns out to be like Carter - which isn't borne out by evidence - Carter was better for Israel than Bush!

  5. It's a press axiom - which naturally means its boneheaded - that Obama's toughest job now begins: the cleaning up of the nation. Blah blah blah. No. That was not the toughest job. Becoming the first black president, as a first term Senator with a Muslim name, defeating both the Clinton machine and the Republican party, was the toughest job. Cleaning up the country will be not be as tough. Why? Well, first of all because it's just an obvious point. But second of all, because most of our problems were CAUSED, they didn't just 'happen.' Bush created this fate. All Obama needs to do is not be a horrible person/executive and it's already an epic win.

  6. I'm disheartened by the possibility that Coleman and Smith may have been re-elected. While the landslide for president is a nice thing, if Obama's coattails weren't enough to defeat Republicans in blue states, then its a bad sign.

  7. It's so sweet that Elizabeth Dole was spanked by her opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan. Dole ran a disgusting race and deserves to have lost. It's ironic: her husband ran for president in 1996 and conducted a comparatively clean and honorable race. Yeah, he lost, (159-379, see map to the left) but he kept his dignity, soul, and the good graces of history. I've long said that 1996 was one the only years where both major tickets had great candidates such that a victory either way would have been palatable for the country (as opposed to, lets say, 1988 which was wretched either way). So Bob Dole ran with respect and his name can be seen as a watchword for how to lose with grace. Then came Dole's doppelganger, John McCain. Another war-hero, Senate lion, known for bipartisanship and moderate views (note: McCain's rep was largely myth while Bobdole's was true)... and McCain ran a shameless, horrid campaign (see more below). And "Liddy" Dole chose, for her defeat, to be like McCain instead of Bob. And her name is mud.

  8. The great victory for America, and the world, has a the concomitant benefit of validating the clean, respectful style of Obama and repudiating the sewer methods of McCain-Palin. That will have far-reaching consequences and all for the best. After Bush-Rove won dirty in 2000, and dirtier in 2004, it seemed we were doomed to a future of sleaze and fear every election cycle. Not anymore. True, many unregenerate Goopers will believe that were it not for the cratering economy etc. the slash-burn tactics would have worked. I disagree (for the billion reasons I've written about before), and the Goopers may not learn from their mistakes (considering they are now the party against science, evidence, and expertise), but I trust cooler brains will prevail.

  9. Related to the horrible Republican tactics, and the paradox of the McCain campaign, was the McCain concession speech. So odd. Just like how John Kerry and Al Gore spoke with fire and talent at the Democratic convention - and many of us asked where these people were when they ran their national campaigns! - so too with McCain last night. What a gracious and honorable speech. And it was delivered so well! With clarity, confidence and decency. We should ask "where was this guy on the campaign trail?" but also note that any person who sounds better when no longer campaigning (Gore, Kerry, McCain) obviously has mental reservations, and a fundamental problem as a politician. Does this 'mental game' automatically presage defeat? Not sure; which successful politician sounded better when out of office than in? I can think of a number, successful pols, who were better while running than not. Something to inspect.

  10. And, of course, at that same concession speech we heard the base of the Republicans booing Obama's name, shouting and bellowing out who-can-imagine-what craziness. The crowd was the embodiment of the McCain campaign, the speech was the embodiment of the mythical McCain that the press apotheosized and who I had liked back at the beginning of the millennium.

  11. Let's not forget Joe Biden. I am very happy for him; I genuinely like the guy. And - speaking as a rabbi and a budding scholar of the sociology of religion - the president-elect is just another Protestant, but we just elected our first Catholic VP, and only the second non-Protestant in the White House. Wow.
More later.


More thoughts on the Obama victory soon (and, note, his name is no longer considered to be misspelled in the blogger spell-check... small victories as well as large). But I'll tell you, as a Democrat, it feels like the sweet thrill of 1992: when after 12 years of Bloody Reagan, and the humiliations of 1984's landslide defeat and 1988's insane map, we had a clear Democratic victory. 2008 feels that wonderful; as a Democrat.

But as an American? I feel like we just won World War II; it's an incredible day in American history, in world history!

Picture from the Newseum front-page group.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Click on the map, print it out, and use for 'scoring' tonight!

My predictions here are based on the following categories:
  1. (8) Solid Blue: CA, HI, IL, DE, DC, NY, VT, MA (132)
  2. (5) Very Blue: MD, NJ, CT, ME, RI (39)
  3. (5) Recently Blue: WA, OR, MN, WI, MI (55)
  4. (3) Big Swing: PA, OH, FL (68)
  5. (4) Small Swing: NM, NH, IA, NV (21)
  6. (3) Recently Swing: CO, MO, VA (35)
  7. (5) Swing only in 2008: MT, ND, IN, NC, GA (47)
  8. (4) Clinton Republican: WV, AR, LA, TN, KY (39)
  9. (5) Solid South: TX, SC, AL, MS, (57)
  10. (9) Solid Red: ID, UT, AZ, WY, SD, NE, KS, OK, AK (46)
Legend:# before the title = how many states in the bloc, # after the title = electoral count for the bloc. The list is in descending order, more likely to go Obama to least likely. It'll be odd to see the 'redder' category states going to Obama before the 'bluer.' The prediction variation I had earlier is based on recent polling that show the 'recently' swinging actually being a possibility.

The "Clinton Republican" category was originally called "the Racist Democrat" category... these are states that went for Clinton in 1992 or 1996 but are blood red today. The "Solid Red" used to be called "Libertarian or Christian States," for obvious reasons.

In 2012, when Obama runs for re-election, the deeper red categories may actually be in play. But first, lets see what happens tonight!

Update:Here's another good 'scorecard' from 538:


Wow, this is an exciting day. The closest experience I have for the feeling I have now is the 1992 election. After 2 terms of Nixon and 3 terms of Reagan (with a blip of the disaster-on-a-stick Carter), we faced down a serious, nearly overwhelming Democratic victory. It was exhilirating and sweet.

This year the stakes are higher, so there's a consequentialness to the impact of the victory. And it will be over 50% (unlike both of Clintons) and probably as much a blowout for the Dems that is possible in our current climate. So that will be sweet too.

I can't perceive a total domination like 1964 or 1984 for a Democrat in the political climate now. Rove v. Wade has rendered Democrats verboten for many states, and since there are no more "Southern Democrats," a 1976 southern sweep is a distant memory.

But it will awesome tonight (or truly horrifying if the Gooper voter suppression and intimidation wins, but since 2006 was victorious, I think we'll be in good shape tonight).

To remember the sweetness of 2006, here's a rerun of Steve Sack:

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama's Grandmother Dies

Is this some freaky Hollywood story, or what. 24 Hours from his victory, Obama loses the woman who raised him (after already losing his father & mother). Poignant. Sad.

Update: It turns out that Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, cast an absentee ballot... which has already been tallied and counted. So at least she got to vote for her (grand)son.

Barack Hussein & Karl Christian

Right wing freaks, in an attempt to scare voters away from Obama, make sure to include his middle name in descriptions: Barack Hussein Obama. Of course, this is logical and even defensible (to those who have no concept of nuance or non-literal thought). But I think it's thus appropriate to use Karl Rove's full name: Karl Christian Rove. Is Rove the essence of being Christian the way that the loony-right wants to say Obama is for Husseinism? You be the judge.

Late Update: See this great Onion story: "Barack Obama Defeats Barack Hussein Obama"

Pic made by me using the Wiki image. Backpost finished 2009-12-07.

The Styx Endorsement

Ya know, I've been so busy, I completely overlooked my sworn blogger duty to actually endorse a candidate for president! This is probably the toughest part of blogging - because my words are so consequential, millions (or posssibly dozens) of people are hanging onto my pixelized words, in suspense for whom I will endorse.

To clarify my thinking, I will list the pros and cons of each candidate. That should make it easier to decide in this election season where - like I was told repeatedly in 2000 - there's really not much difference between the two candidates. And, as people remember from the ho-hum results of 2000, a Gore presidency would have been indistinguishable from the subsequent Bush presidency. So too with McCain v. Obama.

McCain - Pro & Con
  • Pro: He is "experienced". Which is short-hand for "old." He's a war hero, and that's always a good predictor for executive ability. He is a maverick. He's physically ill and may die at any time, so if we don't elect him now, we won't get another chance. Moreover, if he loses, we run the further risk that he will hawk Viagra, and I don't think I can stand that. His running mate fills me with glee and expectation of a wonderful future filled with sports stadiums, no state colleges, and children with hilarious first names. Most importantly, he promises to do everything George W. Bush has been doing without the slightest change, except maybe more tax cuts; but clearly there will be more wars. And wars are fun.

  • Con: I'm not sure the world will survive 4 years of a McCain presidency. When I said a similar sentiment about Bush back in 2004 ("I feel as if a great worldwide tragedy has occurred. It's like 9/11 - but instead of seeing the mass murder, I have the nightmares of all that this criminal government can perpetrate. ... I am sick, scared, and devastated. God help us.") it turns out that we only have barely survived the second term (unless you lived in New Orleans, good luck with that). The cratering economy, the debilitating mindless war in Iraq, the warrant-less wiretaps, the destruction of habeas corpus, Hurricane Katria, the dissolution of the Justice Department... all because of the Bush re-election. So, if we elect McCain, I have a feeling things will possibly be worse.

    Oh, and to elect McCain will also give support for his despicable, scorched earth campaign of lies and sleaze. Not good.

    Barack "Huggably Hussein" Obama, Pro & Con
  • Pro: Not Bush. Not McCain. Not Palin. Not Hillary Clinton. Once in a generation mind and temperament at a critical time in World history.

  • Con: Young. Black. Funny name. Democrat. According to many in the Orthodox community, Obama is actually Louis Farrakhan and Saddam Hussein.

    After considering all the pros and cons, I feel undecided. This decision is too big, and it has come upon us too quickly. If only there was more time to get to know these candidates. Especially McCain... I mean, gadzooks, where has this guy been for all these years?

    If forced, I will say vote more my youngest child (pictured below). And if he's not on the ballot, then vote Obama.
  • Sunday, November 02, 2008

    This is also not me: Some Online Music Mix

    Is the band's name "Mix" or "Life In the Styx"?. If the latter, then I'd best fire up the lawyers.

    Note, this is Not Me

    New Zealand surely now has everything: Histories of life in the Styx

    The Onion and the Jews

    Wondeful: Thursday, September 18, 2008 Jewish voters in two states have reported they were asked leading questions during a phone survey intended to discredit Barack Obama and sway their opinion. What do you think?

  • Ryan Keegan, Machinist: "And right in the middle of Elul, too, when Jews are at their most suggestible."

  • Ron Gust, Housekeeper: "I'm more concerned by the implication that Republicans carry around a list of Jews."

  • Amy Powell, Human Resources Manager: "I always forget: What are the two states that have Jews again?"
  • My new favorite Cartoon: Basic Instructions

    So, so good. Since most of the great comedy - Daily Show, Onion, Simpsons - are being written by males of my age group (30-40 yrs old), I can find many things that fit my humor wheelhouse. Basic Instructions by Scott Meyer is such a house. One example, to munch on, and then go to the blog for the whole series. {click to enlarge)

    Don't Try to Be Funny

    As I've mentioned before, I read dozens of daily poltiical cartoons (they come to my e-mailbox as a paid service from There's a trend I've noticed where political cartoonists basically use their space to write a joke. Which is entirely not what their job description demands. There are 'funny' cartoons and then political cartoons. To mix the two basically makes for a waste of space. Poltiical cartoonists have a serious, and consequential job (only slightly taken over by the late night talk show hosts, no kidding).

    Anyway, this is an example from Bruce Beattie from a few weeks ago that just broke the camels back [click to enlarge]

    What is his point? It's not even funny. It's stupid. And considering the dire situation the US is in, and the need to galvanize the electorate, why choose a stale joke-like-substance?

    Backpost: Obama's "Luck"

    From September 1, 2008; I sent this email to Mark Kleiman of Background: many people have asked why Obama seems to have luck that all his opponents, from the Senate on down to the primary and now general, seem to self-destruct. It sounds like luck! As Kleiman wrote:
    Apropos the many developing Palin scandals, an observer of the Chicago political scene reminds me of Obama's "noted eerie knack for finding self-destructing opponents."

    There was Alice Palmer, the incumbent State Senator who didn't submit enough valid signatures. There was Blair Hull, the apparent frontrunner in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, accused of wife-beating. There was Jack Ryan, the Republican Senate nominee, whose kinkily erotic side spilled out into the newspapers through his divorce proceedings. And then there was the comic carpetbagger Alan Keyes.

    I try to keep theology separate from politics, but it's hard to escape the thought: If Obama didn't make a pact with Satan he must be on a special mission from God.
    So my response:
    re: Obama's Luck

    Dear Prof. Kleiman,

    While I agree with you that supernatural forces should never be discounted in any scientific inquiry, I think the reason Obama's opponents self-destruct is a combination of (a) the old adage that "fortune benefits the well-prepared", and (b) his ability to maintain his cool, which drives his opponents batty, to the point they self destruct.

    Hillary self-destructed (Bill started first, though), then even Edwards (and he had already dropped out!), and now McCain.

    all the best,
    And, true to his gentlemanly nature, Kleiman quotes me in an update: "Update: Or perhaps, a reader suggests, this may merely be a case where 'Fortune favors the prepared mind.'"

    Now this analysis of mine has become conventional reason. But I was an early advocate of the theory that Obama's opponents self destruct because they can't handle his skill. Basically, because Obama is unflappable, his increasingly desperate opponents up the volume of their attacks, trying to rattle him, and all they succeed in doing is self-destruction.