Confirmation Bias and Voting in OH

I knew that the liberal/conservative divide in this country was bad, but never this bad.

I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but a recent episode involving the reporting by a certain right-leaning reporter of a mundane, although likely political, lawsuit filed by the Obama campaign and certain local Democratic groups against the OH Secretary of State opened my eyes pretty wide.

You can read the text of the lawsuit here. Really, it’s not very difficult. The story goes like this. OH has instituted early voting; people can vote up to a month early. There is a restriction, however: only members of the military can vote the last three days of the early voting period. While this restriction has basis in law, the plaintiffs of the lawsuit contend that not allowing non-military folks to vote on these three days has “no rational basis in law.” The lawsuit seekd to open the three days to all voters, military and non.

This is a statement of fact, obvious to anyone that has read the lawsuit, or any of the news articles reporting the lawsuit. If you are not comfortable looking for those articles, or reading the text linked here, I will supply a relevant passage from the lawsuit (Page 4, Paragraph 7, emphasis added):

For these reasons and those specifically alleged herein, Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants from implementing or enforcing the HB 224 and SB 295 changes to Ohio Rev. Code § 3509.03, thereby restoring in-person absentee voting on the three days immediately preceding Election Day for all Ohio voters.

Now, I am not about to defend this lawsuit. It is likely a political gambit: recent polling results have pointed to a tendency of poor, single mothers who use these three days to vote. Such voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, so it would seem on the face of it that this lawsuit is an effort to get those voters to the booths. But it is an enabling lawsuit.

I found out, however, how easy it is for facts to be distorted, twisted, and in some cases, thrown away completely. I found out about an article for Big Government on, written by one Mike Flynn, when two of my Republican friends posted the article on Facebook. The headline says it all:

Obama Campaign Sues to Restrict Military Voting

Whatever the lawsuit aimed to do, it was not looking to touch military voting. In fact, how would such an alleged gambit by the Obama campaign make any sense? Even if you buy that the military is overwhelmingly anti-Obama (which may have merit), Obama still gets no points for such petty behavior toward our fighting men and women. Not knowing anything about the lawsuit when my friends posted the article on Facebook, I decided to investigate.

It took me about 30 seconds on Google to find local articles – many of them – that say nothing about restricting anyone’s vote, and only mention expanding the vote to everyone. To the first person who posted, I put these observations into the comments. It took about 24 rounds of postings to get an acknowledgement of the facts in the case.  And I got word that my foils read the facts and understood them, then I knew that a sane discussion could take place.  Which it did.

It wasn’t long, however, before a second Republican friend posted this article with more snide comments.  It was occurring to me that a plausible lie (that is, plausible to someone already biased) was going to make its way into the discussion.  It was then that I decided to look into that discussion, in the comments for the article.

And, lo and behold, I saw not merely confirmation bias, but a complete disregard for the facts that was so total.  How to describe?  It was a totalitarian mindset in the comments, where the few misguided souls that pointed out the error in the article were roundly abused, threatened, insulted, and otherwise harassed.  I did, however, see some similar patterns where in some cases, a few posters were convinced to actually read the case and were driven to admit their error.

But how did Big Government react?   With irrelevant distraction (“It would not be the first time Democrats…have tried to stop the military’s votes from counting.”), useless non-facts (“Since Flynn’s story broke, the Romney campaign weighed in to support those facing down the Obama campaign’s army of lawyers. ‘I stand with the fifteen military groups that are defending the rights of military voters, and if I’m entrusted to be the commander-in-chief, I’ll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them,’ Mitt Romney said. “), and doubling down of the lie (“Regardless of the remedy they seek, Flynn points out, they are suing to end an exemption for military voters.”).  And of course, the right-wing sheep bought it.

This is the saddest fact of all.  I know that there are also left-wing sheep that believe anything out of Huffington Post or the like.  But in my experience, liberals tend to be more willing to admit when they are wrong, and their sheep will move along.  This is a much more worrisome phenomenon: a “news” site that plants lies and misinformation that is readily accepted by willing sheep, and refuses to budge in the fact of even the most crystal-clear evidence of its lies.  Thinking conservative supporters of should be very vocal about demanding the truth so that the rabid masses below do not make good on their threats.

Coming down to Earth

Problem: an object initially at rest some distance above the Earth begins to fall toward the Earth. Show that the time it takes for the object to fall halfway to the Earth is about 9/11 of the time it takes to fall all the way to the Earth.

Solution: use conservation of energy. Let \(R\) be the initial distance of the object above the Earth. Then the total energy of the object in its initial state is its gravitational potential energy:

\(– \frac{G M_e m}{R}\).

Note that the factors in the numerator correspond to the Universal Gravitation constant, the mass of the Earth, and the mass of the object, respectively.

At some point \(r\) between the initial distance and the Earth, the object will have a different value of the potential energy, as well as a nonzero value of kinetic energy. The statement of conservation of energy becomes

\(\frac{1}{2} m \dot{r}^2 – \frac{G M_e m}{r} = – \frac{G M_e m}{R}\).

The time \(t_0\) the object takes in falling to some position \(r_0\) is then found by solving this differential equation:

\(t_0 = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2 G M_e}} \displaystyle \int_{r_0}^{R} dr \left ( \frac{1}{r} – \frac{1}{R} \right )^{- \frac{1}{2} } = \sqrt{\frac{R^3}{2 G M_e}} \displaystyle \int_{x}^{1} du \left ( \frac{1}{u} – 1 \right )^{- \frac{1}{2} }\),

where \(x = r_0/R\). The integral on the right hand side may be evaluated through an appropriate substitution (details left to the reader):

\(\displaystyle \int_{x}^{1} du \left ( \frac{1}{u} – 1 \right )^{- \frac{1}{2} } = \arccos{ \sqrt{x} } + \sqrt{x(1-x)}\),

where the branch of the inverse cosine is the principal branch.

The fraction of time it takes for the object to fall halfway to Earth is the ratio \(p\) of the above expression at \(x = 1/2\) to the same at \(x = 0\):

\(p = \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{\pi} \approx 0.818\),

which is about 9/11.


Top Ten Twilight Zone Episodes

As I watch the annual marathon on Syfy, I figure it would be worthwhile to compile a Top Ten Twilight Zone episodes. Hardly original, I know, but having watched every episode multiple times, I feel I have some standing here. Anyway…

  1. Eye of the Beholder
  2. Number Twelve Looks Just Like You
  3. And When the Sky Was Opened
  4. On Thursday We Leave For Home
  5. The Obsolete Man
  6. Death Ship
  7. A Game of Pool
  8. The Howling Man
  9. Judgment Night
  10. The Masks

Of Burdens and Trophies; or, How I Got Here

I’m sure that everyone has someone in their family who was, at one time, at least a little famous. Maybe not a parent, child or sibling, but perhaps a cousin, or a uncle, or a great-aunt. What value does such proximity to fame hold? In most cases, about zero. So what if your second cousin, thrice removed, was in that TV commercial for Preparation-H; not only did that get you no free hemorrhoid relief, but it didn’t even garner you the additional attention you desired.

On the other hand, I’ve lucked out. No, my relative is not some actor. She’s not even very famous for that matter. But she was well-known in her day…at least in certain circles. Dairy circles, that is. But that’s not what concerns me. What is even better is that she authored an autobiography, called The Burden and the Trophy. For someone like me who is always trying to get more detail about the ancestors who came to these shores from the Old Country, this is a treasure trove.

Don’t get me wrong: the book isn’t exactly a bestseller.  That’s putting it mildly.  My Great-Aunt Maete was known for the Watertown Dairy farm and the big house in Watertown on Grove Street around which the farm was based.  Aunt Maete’s goals are pretty much summed up in the Foreword:

I trust when you turn the pages to read my story you will derive as much pleasure from it as I did writing it, and that you will be proud of your Grandma Shick. (Emphasis added.)

That is, I’m not sure she envisioned anyone beside her grandchildren reading the book.  Maybe she would be delighted that her great-nephew read the book 40 years after her death.  No matter: this book is really of interest to descendants of the characters in the book.  Which means, for me, my grandfather Leo (Lajzar in the Old Country), her younger brother by 18 years. (!)

(Sidebar: Maete was born in 1885, I was born in 1970, just after she died.  Her being my great-aunt may have you scratching your head; stay with me.  Maete was 18 years the senior of Grandpa Leo, born in 1903 [and 108 next week].  Leo was pretty old when my Dad was born in 1945, my Dad being the youngest of four by a country mile.  Maete’s grandkids were older than my Dad, her nephew.)

The book itself is really two books: growing up in the Old Country, and making a life for herself here in the Boston area.  As far as giving you an objective impression of the book as an autobiography, well…OK, I’ll try.  I think the strength of the book lies in its structure; the two separate parts represent the clean break Maete had when she left her family in Europe.  Maete manages to answer the basic questions a descendant of hers has: why did she leave Europe in 1908?  Why Boston?  I wish she said more about my grandfather – he is only mentioned three times – but he gets more of a billing than other siblings (9 kids in the Gordon family) and I am able to understand a bit of his life in conjunction with what my Dad has told me.

That said, despite what the publisher, Pageant Press, says all over the jacket, this book is really only of interest to her descendants and maybe to Watertown historians.  The book itself is very hard to plow through at first.  The writing seems subpar; I identified grammatical and usage mistakes throughout.  This is likely not Aunt Maete’s fault: she wrote the book in her mother tongue, Yiddish, and Pageant had the work translated by one Mary J. Reuben.  Ms. Reuben could have used a better editor for sure.  Other things, however, lie with the original writing.  The story is difficult to follow: Maete’s mother is pregnant a lot, for sure, but one can never be sure when she is or isn’t.  Siblings are introduced and are rarely heard from again unless something happens (one dies).  Times are very difficult to track: the chapters seem to spill beyond each other.  Only the fact that this story was about me in a way made me scour the text for logical connections; without such a fundamental motivation, I wouldn’t bother.

That all said, the book is worth its weight in gold – way more than that – to me for what it is: a document of my ancestral heritage.  OK, 1/4 of my ancestral heritage, but the one with my namesake.  This is a big deal.  You may have stopped reading long ago, I don’t know; nevertheless, I am going to put down what I have learned so far about my heritage.

First of all, some perspective on a topic that has always been confusing to me.  My grandmother Lillian (Liza in the Old Country), Leo’s wife, grew up in Vilna, which is now known as Vilnius, the capital of Lithuanian.  Yet Lillian spoke, with my grandfather, Polish. (Yiddish also, of course.)  This always confused the shit out of me and I never got a decent answer to my questions until recently, when the book forced me to think hard about Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th Century.

So, Maete was born in a town called Lubyotka and her family settled in another, larger town called Vassilishok.  Now, a naive soul googles “vassilishok” and gets babkes.  Did it disappear off the map?  No, no, although, as you can imagine and I will mention below, it may as well have.  What I found via the site JewishGen is that Vassilishok was the Yiddish name for the current town Vasilishki, Belarus.  Belarus!  Leo was born here in Vasilishki, and he, as far as anyone knows, never spoke a word of Belorussian.  Not because he only spoke Yiddish; he spoke Polish, as did most Jews who, as opposed to stereotypes, did interact with the greater non-Jewish population.

The reason for the weird language thing is that, in the 19th and early 20th century, these areas (Vilnius and Vasilishki, as well as Belorussian cities like Grodno and Lida) were a part of Poland.  Poland, as some of you may know, was taken over by Germany and Russia between 1795 and 1945 more times than one cares to count.  The region we understand to make up Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine today was the land under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  It turns out that this Commonwealth was very progressive and allowed different peoples to flourish, Jews included.  Much of this area became heavily Jewish and Jewish life and culture thrived here.

The Commonwealth ceased to be in 1795.  The modern borders of Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine were established after WWII.  In between, up until WWII, are details I will leave to my reading of Timothy Snyder’s The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999; let’s just say that national myths were created, and peoples and their respective languages dominated the land inside the borders.  None of this, of course, bade well for Jews living in this region; Snyder called this region of the Commonwealth the Bloodlands.

What I did learn about Vasilishki during WWII was this:

The ghetto was surrounded on May 9, 1942, and no one escaped.  On May 10 prisoners started to be taken out to the Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of town in groups of 60 people.  The graves were already prepared.  They ordered people to undress and stack their clothes in piles.  They were then pushed into ditches and shot.  This continued until May 11.  The total number of those shot over those two days was 2,159.  A total of 2,865 of all nationalities died in Vasilishki and surrounding region during the years of the occupation, and 598 were sent off to Germany.  A special group of the SS from Lida took an active role in the pogrom under the command of the headquarters officer Windish and his assistant Vasyukevich, together with the gendarmie and Gestapo of neighboring regions.

The Belarussian police, headed by commander Yezhevsky, and aided by Tubilevich, Vitold Schmigger and Nikolai Zhurun — who distinguished themselves with particular cruelty – provided significant aid to the Nazis.  The Aid Commission of the [acronym for a State Committee] of the USSR of the Vasilishki Region put together a list of 616 families from the peaceful population who were victims.  The majority were Jews.

Now, I’ve read loads of Holocaust horror stories, but when you know that your extended family was subjected to this inhuman Hell, it hits you like a gut punch.  When I found the above, I just stared at the text as a whole block, afraid to read the words for a while.  I know I lost distant family in The War, but placing a name on the town and seeing numbers like that makes my flesh crawl.  My task now is to find names; some of those doubtless will be Maete’s siblings and their kids – my cousins once removed.

Then I found this little gem:

In 1967 an obelisk to “Soviet citizens” was erected to those killed by the Fascists.

And people want to know why Jews wanted to get the flock out of Soviet Russia from the 1960’s on.

OK, back to Maete.  Her father (my great-grandfather) was a cattle trader named Mordechai Isaac Gordon; her mother was Chaye Reva der Brashkier Gordon.  Maete, as I alluded to above, was the oldest of 9 children.  (My grandfather Lajzar was the 8th.)  Anyway, the first part of the book details living conditions for Maete growing up.  They were the equivalent of middle class, which in absolute terms in America means dirt poor, but they had a house and could support an army of kids, so, as the Yiddish parable says, it could be worse.

Maete is “modern” in the sense that she knows she is a looker (although, from the blurry photo on the jacket, you’d be forgiven for wondering what happened in her old age; of course, I inherited these looks, so perhaps I should just shut up now), and wants to follow her heart.  This is, of course, the Old Country, so…never happen.  Maete is fixed up with Isaiah Shick, a native of Vassilishok just back from Buenos Aires, having worked there for a brother in his hat factory.  Maete is none too pleased at the arrangement when she learns that Isaiah is illiterate, but relents to preserve her family’s reputation.  (Actually, Maete breaks off the engagement, but her scheming parents make Maete and Isaiah godparents to my just-born grandfather; the godparent-to-my-future-grandpa-thing works its charm and the wedding is set for, like, 2 weeks after my grandpa’s bris.  Good G-d!)

Now, this is late 1903.  Maete and Isaiah are trying to figure out what to do; my great-grandfather Mordechai forbids them to go back to Argentina.  (A big “whew!” on my part.)  Maete and Isaiah start to plan to settle in Vilna.  But, history intervenes in the form of the Russo-Japanese War.  (Vassilishok, and Poland generally, is under the rule of the Tsar.)  Isaiah is at extreme risk of being drafted into the military to fight, so he quickly makes a plan to haul ass somewhere where he and Maete could plausibly start a life.  It turns out that Isaiah has yet another brother, Feive, who tells Isaiah that coppersmiths (which is Isaiah’s trade, I guess) are in high demand in Boston in the USA.  (A big shout out to the Russian and Japanese empires, as well as brother Feive.  Thank you all; without you, I would not be here.)  So, after an interlude in Paris, Isaiah travels to Boston, leaving his pregnant wife behind.

Maete and her new daughter stay back in Vassilishok for four years before they make the move to Boston.  (Yikes.)  Nonetheless, she comes; the reunited family settle in a shoddy apartment in the West End.  Maete is humbled by how much they will struggle even in modest circumstances on Isaiah’s pay, so she decides to go into business.  Based on her father’s trade, she decides to try dairy farming.  (!!)  After a humble beginning, Maete eventually moves the works out to Watertown, a ten-cent cab fare from the West End; the growing family moves to Watertown permanently as the business and family grow.  The book chronicles the struggles of running the farm in the face of vicious competition from the likes of Hood (who messed with her bottles) and myriad state regulations which made dairy farming an expensive business indeed.

What’s interesting to me, ultimately, is any information I can glean about my grandfather Leo/Lajzar.  (BTW my Hebrew middle name is Lazar; my grandfather was very much alive when I was born.  So what gives?)   I know that he and my grandmother essentially eloped in 1930 (Lillian’s mother had a stroke soon after, so I am told) and came to Boston, ostensibly because Maete had work for Lajzar.  I believe they arrived in 1931, but the text seems to imply that Lajzar was helping Maete’s son Hyman with milk routes in 1929 or so.  I don’t know, but this is why I found the book a little frustrating; some immigration records would help sort this out.

Anyway, Lajzar gets a third mention toward the end of the book as Maete talks about his taking on a major route in Roxbury and Dorchester because all of her customers from the West End have moved to those places.  This makes perfect sense, as my grandparents settled in Dorchester (well, “settled” is not a great word; my grandfather was somewhat ornery and moved the family a lot due to battles with landlords).

At long last, this takes me through the family history I have gleaned from reading this valuable book.  Thank you Auntie Maete for having the patience and guts to write a book that, while not exactly something to be paraded in the NYRB, is something which maintains a link between your generation and ours.  The book is a lifeline, and is your permanent imprint.


What, pray tell, will make Obama’s critics happy about his position vis-a-vis Israel?

Reading reactions from right-wing politicians and commentators to Obama’s Mideast speech yesterday, one wonders what it would take to make these guys happy.

Several of my friends yesterday immediately went ballistic. Over what? Mention of “1967 lines”, which of course became “pre-1967 borders”. Jeffrey Goldberg, as usual, clears up the confusion:

President Obama didn’t “insist” that Israel return to its 1967 borders. He said the 1967 borders should form the basis of negotiations, and that Israel and Palestine should swap land, land swaps that would bring settlement blocs and East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods into Israel proper.

BTW, Goldberg’s reaction to Romney is pitch perfect:

Obama has thrown Israel under a bus? Top officials of the Israeli defense ministry have been telling me, and other reporters, for a couple of years now that military cooperation between their country and America has never been better. Some bus. There are a lot of countries out there that would like to be thrown under simliar buses.

Perhaps this is the sort of reception Republicans expect Obama to have for Bibi:

White House Reception

[BTW I did not mean to imply that Bibi would destroy the White House on his visit.]

But seriously, what are we, as Americans, supposed to do? I love Israel and I worry for her long-term future. But it makes me sick to stand here and watch her leaders make poor decisions, time after time. I do know that the Palestinian leadership is no gift, especially as it has teamed up with the apocalyptic Jew-haters of Hamas. That said, Israel needs to draw borders and soon if it cares to be a Jewish democracy.

The Truth about Gandhi?

A new book about Gandhi has made some waves this week, not least because it exposes Gandhi as a bisexual, even as, as reactionary historian Andrew Roberts put it, a “sexual wierdo”. [For a classic exposé on Roberts, see this piece by Johann Hari.] Apparently, this book is already banned in Gujarat [Gandhi’s home state] and may be banned in the whole of India.

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Yes, I know I have very liberal beliefs regarding this subject. But still, what exactly does it change? To me, it seems like Gandhi and his wife Kasturba become like FDR and Eleanor: a powerful couple but for all intents, not physically bonded.

Then again, my views on Gandhi are very complicated and still in flux. I loved the 1982 movie and who could not see it and want to learn more about this Great Soul? He absolutely was a leader of men and a great man of his time, and deserves to be hallowed by the people of India.

But, in my view, his achievements are way exaggerated. I do not want to minimize the achievement of being able to get the message out to all of the Indian people about the wrongs of the British. But the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, worked only in his special case, where there were 3000 Indians for every British in India during Gandhi’s time. The British further had no interest in exterminating the natives, just controlling them enough to get at the jewels of the land. Gandhi knew that if enough people were willing to take the blows and the bullets, then the British were in a no-win situation.

But even with those odds, Gandhi did not succeed in his mission. He was only able to seem like he drove the British out where, in fact, the British treasury and strength were completely sapped due to WWII. WWII permanently changed the political face of the earth and, although the British were on the winning side, they ultimately became amongst the long-term losers. Colonies in the Levant, Singapore and South Africa were breaking away. India was going as well, Gandhi or no Gandhi.

It’s not to say that Gandhi played no role in this. Gandhi helped define India as a secular, socialist state for the first 45 or so years of its existence. [Nehru would have much more of a role in hardening the clay formed by Gandhi.] That is, Gandhi helped India down the path of a terribly poor, third-world nation, unable to keep its most talented citizens from leaving to enrich nations like the US and the UK. Only recently has India begun to make use of its considerable manpower, although it still houses 1/3 of the world’s poor.

Worse, Gandhi was so blinded by ahimsa principle that he thought it could solve problems everywhere. Gandhi’s answer to the tragedy of the slaughter of Europe’s Jews was, of course, nonviolence. But did he not understand that the Nazis were bent on annihilation, not subjugation? They did care a bit for world opinion, but only in peacetime; the real killings took place during the war, and they were convinced that they were in the right. And, further, Jews made up, at most, 10% of any country – and even that is an anomoly, a typical figure was 2%. Greatly outnumbered, only wanted dead by a ruthless state, how was ahmisa to work in the face of incredible himsa? At some point, the whole thing is just silly.

Ahimsa further had no role to play in the controversy in Kashmir, a conflict that is active to this very day and could have greater consequences to the world than anything in the Middle East. I know little about the role Gandhi played in Kashmir, although it could not have been very great given its history. The only thing I could imagine Gandhi doing at this point is fasting, only nobody would care now.

That said, Gandhi remains a fascinating figure of 19th and 20th century history and I look forward to reading this new book.

Thomas Pakenham’s The Boer War

I have this odd fascination with England and her Empire. I also have this odd fascination with Germanic peoples and languages) Of course South Africa and her Afrikaners then are a natural subject toward which I tend to gravitate. Plus, I am a sucker for war and various other misery, so hell, why not learn about the Tweede Vryheidsoorlog, or the Boer War [actually, the Second Boer War].

I first learned about the Boer War from watching Breaker Morant. [NB One is not allowed to live freely in Australia without watching Breaker Morant, period. I think it is a condition for obtaining a visa.] Breaker Morant, of course, takes place during the Boer War in 1902, rather late in the game. The Boers have gone guerrilla on the British, who in desperation get their colonial subjects to pick up the slack. Breaker Morant his his chum Handcock [am I the only one to notice that this is a rather unfortunate name?] are part of an Australian regiment, the Bushveldt Carbineers. They get into a battle with some Boers who kill their leader, Captain Hunt. Morant and Handcock, as vengeance, kill a bunch of Boer prisoners and a German missionary. Morant and Handcock are arrested, tried and found guilty of murder, for which they are put to death by firing squad. Bloody evil Poms!

For all the rage this incident caused in Australia, it is but a single paragraph of the 700-page history weaved together by Thomas Pakenham, one of the finest popular works of history I have ever read. There are 3 reasons why Pakenham’s account stands out from so much of the other fine works I have read. First, his timing is impeccable. This book was written over 10 years in the 1970s, a period in which Pakenham was able to track down over 50 surviving veterans of the war. [The youngest veteran was 86 years old!] By getting access to these men and so much first-hand material, Pakenham is able to provide incredible detail in every facet of the agonizing story, especially in describing many of the battles.

Second, Pakenham does more than simply recite the facts and weave them into a narrative. Pakenham is able to make a case that the previous histories were biased and faulty. For example, Pakenham works hard throughout the work to resurrect the reputation of Sir Redvers Buller, who was blamed for the sorry state of the early part of the war and left South Africa with his reputation in tatters, despite a long string of victories. Pakenham details the infighting in the War Office and the Army and concludes that, in many cases, the British were their own worst enemy. Pakenham is also able to present the Boer perspective based on his primary sources.

Finally, Pakenham can bloody well write. This work of history reads like a novel. Because Pakenham takes a stand on certain topics, there are clear heroes and villains and this makes for a terrific popular history. Further, Pakenham provides just the right level of detail in his maps: every feature marked in the maps represent a significant point of discussion. Despite the length, this is a lean work presented with efficiency.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.  That is, unless you are Australian and believe Breaker Morant was sacrificed by Lord Kitchener on the altar of international intrigue.

Sarah Palin, Literary Maven

OK, I’m gonna jump into the snakepit. I am a fan of CS Lewis. I read the entire Narnia series to my son when he was 6. I also read The Screwtape Letters and found it very enjoyable and well-written.

So Sarah Palin finds Lewis an inspiration. Her defenders, like this slob in the WSJ, jump on Palin critics like the execrable Joy Behar, who shows off her vapidity by stating that Lewis is a children’s author:

In both interviews Mrs. Palin cited C.S. Lewis as a favorite author she looks to for inspiration. This prompted talk-show host and comedienne Joy Behar of “The View” to deride Mrs. Palin and her choice of reading, asking: “Aren’t those children’s books?”

O the horror!  Of course Behar should be exposed as the imbecile she is, the sort of knee-jerk lefty incapable of any brain activity except those incurred by pure impulse.

But seriously, is Behar a cause by which to defend the at least equally vapid Palin?  I mean, the article makes for a nice promotion of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a, um…children’s book whose movie version is currently in theaters [and in my humble opinion, rather disappointing].  Yes, a children’s book!  It may have very religious themes that adults can appreciate but the book is written for children.

This Flaherty guy seems to be stretching to make Palin a natural heir to Lewis, while lobbing bombs at the crash-test dummy persona of Behar:

Lewis would likely have appreciated making Mrs. Palin’s reading list. But he probably would have appreciated the questions about it even more. For Lewis, one of the best ways to know a person was to know what they read…

Mrs. Palin is on the right track by giving C.S. Lewis a prominent place on her reading list. Yet Ms. Behar and other Palin critics have dismissed Lewis’s work, forgetting that Lewis was a medieval and renaissance scholar at Oxford and the author of several brilliant Christian apologetics. Ms. Behar’s dismissal of children’s books as less than important makes her a modern-day Eustace, the type of bully who mocks readers of fairy tales as simpletons

Who are these Other Palin Critics who have dismissed Lewis’s work?  Lewis absolutely had his share of critics [for instance, this guy], but I can’t imagine them being put into the same intellectual camp as, um, Joy Behar.  [Or maybe that’s what Flaherty is trying to do.]  Nor can I recall any of them specifically speaking out against Palin and Lewis simultaneously, although I guess if you hate Lewis for his non-PC themes, I guess you won’t be such a Palin fan.  But let’s get Flaherty to provide specific examples, which of course he can’t.

Flaherty can’t because the article is an A Number One example of Shit-For-Brains-Ultra-Right-Wing writing.  It is bits of meat for the alligators in the pit.  No facts required.  Or logic.  Consider that Flaherty defends Palin from the charge of being inspired by a writer of children’s books by citing…a children’s book.  [Why not cite Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters?]

Nor can Flaherty provide an example of Palin citing why Lewis as an inspiration in her own words?  Why not?  Likely Palin hasn’t read much Lewis beyond The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Of course, how would I know?  But seriously, for someone who seems to want to appear like she, uh, reads, she does a lousy job of it.  [And of course, it is obvious that reading is not a part of her family tradition.  How many of her kids have gone or are going to college?]

So, if this is what Palin defense looks like, please let’s have more of it.

Helen Thomas, Jew-Hating Dirtbag

I assume you remember this little gem:

A debate ensued: anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism? My opinion is that when someone tells The Jews to go back to Germany or Poland, at the very least they are demonstrating galactic levels of ignorance, if not anti-Semitism. One can be opposed to the Zionist idea, it happens. [Not without being wrong, but that’s for another time…] But usually a sign of “moderation” is, say, a bi-national state or something. Mass expulsion of Jews back to countries which annihilated them 60 years previously demonstrates an insane level of insensitivity.

So, she got canned. And we have been hearing thankfully little of her as of late. But she still lurks. And she is really erasing any doubts about her opinions of Jews:

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank,” Thomas said. “No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”…

“I paid the price for that,” said Thomas, a longtime White House correspondent. “But it was worth it, to speak the truth.”

“The Zionists have to understand that’s their country, too. Palestinians were there long before any European Zionists.”

Thomas claimed that “You can not say anything (critical) about Israel in this country.”

Thomas, of Lebanese descent, followed up with this crock only those completely ignorant of Jewish history like to use:

Asked by the Free Press how she would respond to those who say she’s anti-Semitic, Thomas said:

“I’d say I’m a Semite, What are you talking about? Who are you?”

I don’t blame Thomas for being upset at her humiliating exit. But one would think it time to look inward and find out what they have done to bring it on. Instead, she becomes the oldest cliche in the book: The Jews did it to me. Anti-Semite me? But I am a Semite!

In case anyone is wondering at this point, the term anti-Semitism was cooked up by a notorious Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr. The idea was that Jews were the Semites [and the only ones they thought about] and Semites were inferior to Aryans. The term stuck. That’s it. Not very hard to understand.

Thomas is a prime example of how antipathy toward Israel creeps into Jew-hatred. It is done through complete ignorance of Jewish people and Jewish history.

John Derbyshire gets left behind

My thoughts about John Derbyshire are complex because I am such a fool for math. But his argument concerning PEPFAR had to be addressed. Pete Wehner, with whom I usually have serious problems, has written one of the most eloquent defenses of PEPFAR and, consequently, a comprehensive slap at Derb and his Shockleyian attitude:

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

Because Wehner has written this better than I could ever have, you really must read the whole thing.

One thing Wehner addresses which is something I remember seeing in The Corner some years back is a reference to a sinking of an overcrowded Egyptian ferry in the Nile. In response, Wehner notes this passage from the Derb:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

The point is not that what Derb is saying is what many of us sort of feel anyway. [I recall Jonah Goldberg defending Derb some time later with this.] The point is, as Wehner so elegantly puts it:

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

Sorry Derb, you deserve this. Maybe you wear it as a badge of honor. But we must all venture into this world containing all people, each of whom is as stupid and repulsive as you. What you seem to lack, on paper anyway, is an appreciation that we are all human. The treatment that Bill Shockley got at the hands of the public was sad, but right. He was a genius operating as an Asperger’s kid. Someday, we may write the same about you.