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.

W can’t make everybody happy

W has authored an op-ed in the WashPost today about something for which he should be proud: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, which aimed to make AIDS medicine available to Africans. And W should be remembered for this accomplishment:

Early in 2003, there were perhaps 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment. Today, thanks to America, other donor nations and the tireless work of Africans themselves, nearly 4 million are. Fragile nations have been stabilized, making progress possible in other areas of development.

Even die-hard liberals like Harold Pollack are generously handing out the praise. Finally, something in which left and right can agree on with respect to W, right?

Not so fast. Here’s The Derb throwing cold water on the party:

If George W. Bush, or any other wealthy American, is moved by the plight of AIDS sufferers in Africa, he is free to discharge his feelings by acts of charity. If he were to do so, no-one — no, not even I — would begrudge him the smug self-satisfaction he displays in this op-ed.

There is, however, no virtue in a government official spending your money and mine unless for some reason demonstrably connected to our national interest. AIDS relief in Africa is not so connected, not in any way visible to me.

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to. (A similar point can be made about domestic AIDS-relief funding, currently around $20 billion a year.)

A couple of things:

  • If you have never read John Derbyshire before, be assured that this is very typical.  He represents his own branch of Conservatism and is even a bad fit for The National Review.  If you click the link, note that the commenters can barely stand him.
  • Derb’s branch of Conservatism is not Neo, or Paleo [he is an Atheist], or Libertarian.  No, I have come to appreciate it as Shockleyian, after Bill Shockley, the Nobel Laureate in Physics who became an infamous eugenics proponent.  Derb, like Shockley, is thoroughly grounded in science and appeals to statistics and pure reason for his opinions.  Human foibles and needs really don’t figure much in his universe.  This is sort of how Shockley worked, and they seem to me to be peas in a pod.  Their being of English extraction makes this almost quizzical. [Derb is a better family man than Shockley was, though.]
  • Derb is no dummy and has written what is, in my experience, the best layman’s intro to the Riemann Hypothesis.

That all said for Derb, he is dead wrong about a lot of things here.  Not in his observation that it is smug to be able to claim a mantle of goodness for spending other peoples’ money on a cause.  He is right in a way.   But his line that “[t]he high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there.”  No, there are also those born with the disease, or raped, or having caught it through no fault of there own.  It is a real humanitarian issue, one in which the USA has a serious interest – and the unique ability – to make an impact.

And the impact was made, as W lays out.  So what if he is being smug and all magnanimous?  It was the right thing to do.  Derb is witty and all, but he really does live on Planet Shockley a bit too much sometimes.

On Wikileaks

There is such a massive amount to go through and I won’t have time to do it for a while. In the meantime, from what I have seen so far, this piece by James Rubin seems to resonate:

The hard left, so quick to demand that America accept other countries’ political systems, now seems blind to the fact that other governments want to have the right to say one thing in public and a different thing in private. By respecting that difference, American diplomats are doing their job. Surely the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, would prefer for Arab leaders to be as honest and open and transparent as we are in our country. Until such democratic values come to the Arab world, however, we have to work with what we’ve got. U.S. diplomacy has been damaged, not destroyed; it will recover after a time. But for now, Wikileaks is making diplomacy’s task a whole lot harder.

Some of the findings are, while not surprising, downright radical: Arab worry over an Iran nuke is even more prominent than Israeli worry. Good to see that. Further, I agree that the Americans involved in funneling these documents to Assange should be arrested for exposing state secrets and convicted like a spy of years past.

More on “Educated Jews” for Palin

Sorry to keep beating on this, but I have to admit, this one drives me to distraction. Here’s Carl In Jerusalem on his hyperactive blog Israel Matsav in response to the [deservingly] nasty comments in The Jewish Week about that idiotic JewsforSarah thingamabob:

Let’s be blunt: Any Jew to whom Israel matters more than abortion rights and gay marriage would be intellectually dishonest if they supported Barack Obama over Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee or just about any other conservative candidate for the Presidency (with the exception of Ron Paul – I’d stay run away from home if the choice was Ron Paul or Barack Obama).

These people may be Jewish and they may be intellectual but they’re not Jewish intellectuals because they don’t give primacy to Jewish concerns. They should drop ‘Jewish’ from their titles.

This, I have to admit, is a bit nuanced and deserves a similar reply. It is nuanced because he is not advocating specifically for Palin, but for someone who holds Palin’s idea of Zionism and what CIJ deems is good for The Jews.

First of all, CIJ, who is an American-born Orthodox Jew who made Aliyah and now lives in Jerusalem, sees things explicitly in terms of What Is Good For Israel = What Is Good For America. This is what I will denote as the Axiom of CIJ. Further, What Is Good For Israel = What Is Good For Israel Right Now, meaning that CIJ takes the view that all the settlements should be kept, forever. Further, Arab Muslim subjects of Israel in the West Bank are not Israel’s problem, but rather are Jordanian citizens and should go back there. Further, these Arab Muslims are solely interested in destroying Israel rather than taking the opportunity to build their own state.

CIJ will not stand for any American politician who deviates from these lines. And, clearly, Barack Obama is The Enemy.

In CIJ’s defense, he is not unlike many Israeli citizens. One of Obama’s failings has been to properly engage Israeli citizens as President. Not necessarily to go there, but at least to make his intentions better understood. Thus, the Fox News Narrative has defined him there. As Obama tends to take the long view of things and is trying to succeed where others have failed miserably, he is going to ruffle feathers. Thus, the speech in Cairo and the subsequent [and unfair] view that he is on Islam’s Side.

CIJ advocates very strongly from an Israeli point of view. And this is fine. I actually quite enjoy his blog and am amazed at his output, as he carries quite valuable news from around Israel which even now can be difficult to get over here.

That said, CIJ is no longer in America and clearly does not have the best interests of the USA at heart. That is, the Axiom of CIJ is false. Israel and America have interests which sometimes do not align. And these interests are mostly more complicated than the few spying affairs or military accidents which have colored the Special relationship. So, consider again the musings of CIJ:

Any Jew to whom Israel matters more than abortion rights and gay marriage…

OK, that’s enough. CIJ has clear right-wing views on social issues and that’s fine. But what exactly does this blurb mean? Israel means different things to different American Jews, but even so, let’s assume that I am a typical American Jew [sure, why not?]. I am an unapologetic Zionist right now, have been since I understood the concept. But is this The Most Important Issue In America for me? For me, the most important thing is that the USA remains a place where you can be who you want to be and say what you want to say. I want this to be a place where I can be a Jew and a Zionist and publish a blog saying so. I also want this to be a place where I can be a Jew and an anti-Zionist and scream it to the heavens. In both cases, so long as I do not interfere with the rights of anyone else to do similar things.

So what does this have to do with Israel? Pretty close to nothing, which is my point. But what I hope for the USA is a pretty fuzzy wuzzy vision thing and requires attention to certain issues. For example, I believe that this country has some serious defects whilst gays cannot marry or openly serve in the armed forces.  So, as CIJ puts it rather unfairly, this means that, yeah, gay marriage is more important to me than propping up a bunch of Jewish outlaws who would in any case hate my guts if I lived near them.  [Read this devastating article from Jeffrey Goldberg back in 2004 to understand why.]

But what of Israel’s survival and Iran policy and the such?  Of course it is important to me!  But I also pray for avoidance of war, as our two previous adventures in The East have been foolhardy and ultimately pointless.  I cannot follow this line of “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran.”  The short and long-term damage to world Jewry will be incalculable, something else CIJ tends to ignore.

I want Israel to be there, free and Jewish.  But America is my home and that of my children and family.  I have to vote in its interests and when they clash with those of Israel, then America comes first.

The politicians that CIJ supports – the “Pro-Israel” ones – have a fantastic sense of what is Good For America.  Their policy toward Israel which CIJ just loves is in fact Good For Neither.  [As for Ron Paul, while he has guts, I distrust him because of his antisemitic and bigoted associations.]  I hate to inform CIJ, but Barack Obama still, as much as he is disliked, has the best long term view for both the USA and Israel.

I doubt CIJ will ever see eye-to-eye with me, but he must understand that American Jews are going to vote for whom they view as best for America.  And yes, those that do not do as they told realize that they will not always make CIJ happy.

Morons claiming to be “Educated Jews”, Palin Edition

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves why Jews generally speaking hate Sarah Palin:

Jews…are swayed by the notion that the presidency is a knowledge-based position requiring a background in the examination of detailed data and sophisticated analysis. They assume that such knowledge is the special preserve of a certain type of credentialed thinker (the better the university, the more unquestioned the credential) and that possessing this knowledge is the key to a successful presidency…The argument that such knowledge might be acquired or accessed when necessary by a person who has demonstrated a more instinctual skill set—the capacity to make decisions and to lead people—does not resonate with those for whom intellectual rigor has been a defining characteristic and a pathway to success.

That shot of brilliance comes from the mind of Jennifer Rubin, who today leaves Commentary for the Washington Post. Lucky them.

But never mind that. Here we have the Four Horses Arses of The Apocalypse:

Lieberman, Kristol, Lipsky, and the Podhoretz’s are sophisticated, educated, thinking Jews who appreciate Palin’s heartfelt support for Israel, her forceful and informed advocacy for energy independence, her strong stance on national security, and her fealty to traditional moral values (sometimes we forget these are Jewish values, too!). All are bellwethers of the increasing respect for Sarah Palin amongst us – the educated and affluent American Jews.

This of course was written by Binyamin Korn, he of JewsforSarah.com. [Sorry, I can’t bring myself to link to that.] So make that Five horses arses.

Seriously, what in G-d’s name do they think makes Sarah Palin good for American Jews? Or Israeli Jews, except in supporting their right to binge drink before they slip into an occupation coma?

I love this quote the best:

Palin’s Constitutional conservatism, in Lipsky’s view, “is unifying, uplifting, and inclusive.”

Let’s analyze this a bit. I’ll let them have Uplifting, as long as it makes them feel good. Unifying? Is he nuts? Sarah Palin is the most polarizing figure in American politics today. Inclusive? As long as you are white, rich, Christian and live in a rural area, then sure. Otherwise, fuck you and die, un-American scum.

Remember, Jews hate Palin because…O screw it. We hate Palin for every reason why most countries have found Jews an annoying lot. They ask too many questions. They sometimes express doubt. They are intellectually curious. Jennifer Rubin had this nailed ages ago. And now here comes Korn and his [sorry, I can’t help it] Korny JewsForSarah claiming the mantle for “sophisticated, educated, thinking Jews”. How is this even remotely possible?

Reader challenge: can we find other incredibly stupid propaganda fronts involving Jewish mobilization? I am reading When they come for us, we’ll be gone, and that book mentions a newspaper called Sovietisch Heimland [Soviet Homeland in Yiddish], which tried to pass off the severely anti-Semitic Soviet system as fun and exciting for Jews. Let’s see to what else we can compare JewsforSarah.com.

Time to trash DADT

Nate Silver has the goods on public attitudes toward gays in the military:

When the policy was established, none of the three positions had majority support among Americans. Forty-four percent supported open service, 37 opposed any service, and 19 percent supported allowing gay men and lesbians to serve only if they did not reveal their sexual orientation. Today, one position has emerged as the clear preference of the majority of Americans. Seventy-five percent of Americans support open service, 17 oppose any service, and only 8 percent support the compromise position of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

This finding comes right at a time when the Secretary of Defense urged Congress to allow gays to serve in the military:

The review, ordered by Gates, found that most troops don’t care if they serve alongside homosexual colleagues. Some 70 percent of troops overall said repealing the law would have positive, mixed or no effects. And a whopping 92 percent, according to the AP, of troops who’ve worked with a gay service member said the experience was either good or neutral.

DADT, while making some sense at a time when gays could not even dream of being out in the open, has become a relic over 17 years. [Which should give us pause as to how much ground we have gained as a society in acceptance of gays as an integral part.] With evidence this overwhelming, why is John McCain, of all people, so steadfast in getting in the way? [BTW is McCain’s definition of a “military leader” one who agrees with John McCain at this point?]