The Decline and Fall of John McCain

I think David Foster Wallace is turning over in his grave. What has become of John McCain since that late August day he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate is just too horrifying for words. So, we;re now stuck with an image of an out-of-touch old man who is hanging onto senatorial power by submitting to his electorate’s worst instincts. Watch and weep:

One wonders if he really believes this bullshit:

As for their superiors, McCain casually mentions the commander in chief and defense secretary, “neither of which I view as a military leader.”

Is this all about his being a sore loser? Anyway, it gets worse:

We send these young people into combat, we think they’re mature enough to fight and die. I think they’re mature enough to make a judgment on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness.

One wonders if Harry Truman pondered this as he integrated the Army in 1948.

Andrew Sullivan has been following this debate, well, most of his adult life. He has read the Pentagon Report on DADT whose findings McCain is working very hard to dismiss, and…well, from the horse’s mouth:

Anyone who doubts the professionalism of today’s military would do well to read the Pentagon Report on DADT. First, it’s a massive undertaking, involving hundreds of thousands of responses, 95 face-to-face meetings, and a range of views from everyone who might be affected. It’s one of the most impressive reports I’ve ever read from a government agency.

It’s also extremely calm and fair. If you’ve been in the thick of this debate as long as I have, you’ll know how rare that is. The tone is empirical, and judicious. It does not gloss over some serious objections – such as moral and religious ones – and grapples directly with some of the more emotive issues, such as sharing showers or sleeping quarters. It feels in no way skewed or prejudged.

And the report is absolutely clear that straight servicemembers by large majorities have few problems with openly gay servicemembers. 69 percent of them acknowledge they have fought or worked alongside gay men and women already. A staggering 92 percent of those were fine with lifting the ban. Again: when you know someone is gay, all the fears and stereotypes tend to evaporate. This is not a surprise. The men and women of the US military are among the finest in the land; they want to do the job at hand, not deepen social division or posture politically. They are not bigots.

I remember once – this is in 2004 I think – when I started working at one of my jobs, I was on an Advanced Technology Project [ATP] within the National Institute for Standards and Technology [NIST]. I was on a treadmill watching ABC News when I saw the figure of McCain attacking the ATP as Corporate Welfare. I knew right there that our project would be the last ATP project any of us would ever see. If I saw the McCain of today attacking it, I would just have a chuckle. A feeble old guy and his mouth. The world has moved on without him.

The Best Hanukkah Song Ever

Ocho Kandelikas, as performed by The LeeVees:

Is it me, or does this sound like it belongs in a Tarantino movie?

The song is in Ladino, a dying Judeo-Spanish language still spoken by 100,000 elderly Jews in Israel and not very many other places. The song is only 25 years old; you can get the background on the composer here.

Of course, there’s an even more hardcore version by Hip Hop Hoodios that makes for a better video experience and, while the song is very cool, I still like the one by The LeeVees better. But make up your own mind:

Close the Washington Monument!

Bruce Schneier explains why:

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.

Conflicts everywhere in Massachusetts

As a response to the galactically stupid attitude taken by our State House and Senate leaders toward the practice of recommending relatives and friends and campaign contributers for state jobs, the Globe has an editorial stating the obvious:

But the two top legislative leaders deeply undercut any pro-reform message Monday, when they insisted that recommending people for state jobs is part of what lawmakers do. “We get thousands of requests a year,’’ Murray said. DeLeo, who recommended his godson for a probation job, insisted that he does not “put any undue influence on anyone.’’

But any administrator would have trouble ignoring a recommendation by someone who, in his legislative role, controls the state budget. That’s why innocuous-sounding recommendations can be so insidious. Lawmakers see them as an extension of their perks and power. But they result in a culture of favoritism that betrays taxpayers and undermines the legitimate goals of government. Murray and DeLeo shouldn’t pretend to be unfamiliar with the history of legislators protecting underperforming employees and treating state jobs as giveaways.

I should mention that the Ware report itself, while extremely valuable, only takes care of the Executive side of things. Legislators are still free to do what they do until Massachusetts citizens vote them out of office. Because we do not take their elections seriously enough [being overshadowed by the Big Elections, like President or Governor], these guys manage to stay in the system until they die or get arrested.

Dave Wedge of the Boston Herald [and fellow member of Brockton High School Class of 1988] explored another avenue of conflict: the fact that Ware’s firm, Goodwin Procter, gave loads of money to State politicians:

Goodwin Procter employees have donated a total of $207,000 to Bay State politicians since 2002, including contributions to key players named in the scathing Probation patronage investigation led by Paul F. Ware Jr. a partner in the Hub firm: former Senate President Robert Travaglini, former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) and outgoing Treasurer Tim Cahill.

Wedge is right to question the connection between what is essentially a contractor and the donations made by the contractor. But I think there is a more insidious problem here which sort of cancels things out: every big law firm in Massachusetts, especially those in Boston, give loads of money to politicians at every level. Further, when the politicians with law degrees are voted out of office, these firms provide very nice jobs.

Besides, one other quibble I have with this otherwise insightful piece is, while Ware did not directly attack Montigny, Cahill, etc., it did implicate them. So much so that these guys will have indelible stains on their records. [Can you imagine Gov. Cahill now? Seriously?!?] I do not see how money could have influenced the report. Then again, it was noted to me that perhaps these politicians could, at the very least, return the money donated to them from Big Law. This could also help in reducing conflict throughout the Commonwealth.

The Meanie of Hanukkah, Cont’d

So our Governor and Mayor of Boston, like many dignitaries across the country and perhaps the world, lit the Hanukkiah last night:

Governor Deval Patrick and other dignitaries attended a menorah lighting ceremony at the State House this afternoon to mark the beginning of Hanukah, the eight-day celebration that commemorates the victory of a small army of Jews, known as the Maccabees, over the much larger Syrian Greek army in 139 B.C.

State Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman of the Congregation Lubavitch Jewish Educational Center participated in the event.

Of course I like to see such symbolic events. Lord knows Jewish people could use some acceptance these days. [That is, unless some protesters were bussed in from Somerville excoriating the crowd not to buy Tribe hummus, but the article doesn’t mention any of that.]

But here I go again. Such symbolism has a price, and the price is the impression to everyone that Hanukkah is our most important holiday. I mean, for what other holiday does a sitting Governor make such a symbolic gesture?

I guess, if there is to be some gesture towards the Jewish citizens, then Hanukkah offers something easy. The Governor just has to stand above one of these gigantic Hanukkiot and symbolically “light” the first candle. No muss no fuss and very visible.

But I mentioned already other holidays which are way more important than Hanukkah. Maybe instead of lighting the candles, the Governor can do something else:

  • Blow the shofar at Rosh Hashana [takes practice, risk of making idiot of self]
  • Shake a lulav and esrog in a sukkah [has to be shown, risk of doing it wrong]
  • Dance the hora holding a torah during Simchat Torah [risk of slippage, dropping torah which would be hugely bad in so many ways, risk of getting shittied on bad scotch]
  • Ask the four questions at a seder [English OK, accompanied by sufficiently cute little kid who asks them in Hebrew]

Look, I don’t mean to be ungrateful.  I am so thankful for the extraordinary accomplishment of not only Jews in America but America itself in producing a society in which Jewish people can thrive without losing their identity.  And I do smile whenever I see the spectacle of a figurehead lighting the Hanukkiah.  But if we are ever going to have our neighbors learn anything about our religion [just as we Jews could use a bit of learning about our neighbors’ religions], perhaps we should begin by dispelling the myth that Hanukkah is really so fundamentally important in the first place.