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.

The Meanie of Hanukkah

Howard Jacobson, whose terrific, Booker-prize-winning novel I just reviewed, has a great article up in the NY Times about Hanukkah, and why it sort of sucks:

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Hanukkah doesn’t draw on events described in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Maccabees, from which the story comes, is in the Apocrypha, the non-canonical, more esoteric books of sacred scripture. There’s a reason it never made it out of there: I won’t say it’s spurious, but it doesn’t quite feel authentic.

Isn’t there something a touch suspicious, for example, about our defeating the Syrian-Greek army? It lacks equivocation. Escaping from bondage in Egypt by dint of magic and smart talk is comprehensible: Exodus played to our strengths. Similarly, Esther — who had married out of the faith, remember — turning the tables on Haman. In our best stories, we lose a little to gain a little. We use our heads. Trouncing the Syrian-Greeks sounds worryingly like wish fulfillment, and the story of the oil that should have run out after one day actually lasting eight feels too much like parable.

I find myself every year explaining to Christian friends that Hanukkah is not really a major holiday in which I take days off from work. It is really a minor one. The reason it finds so much resonance in American culture is so that little Jewish boys and girls do not feel left out of the whole Xmas, gift-giving thing. So the quintessentially American Buy Gifts For Your Loved Ones Or Else The Economy Will Go Down The Tubes now includes Hanukkah. Hooray.

But in terms of religious value, it is way less important than Passover, The High Holy Days, Shavuos [i.e., Festival of Weeks], Sukkos [i.e., Tabernacles], and the Sabbath. For all but our Sabbath [which BTW is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar], we say Yizkor [Remembrance of the Dead] and miss work or school. Hanukkah is more like Purim or Tu B’Shvat on the Scale of Importance. Sure, we have some fun, but….meh.

Still, there is an upside, an important one, to the exaggerated importance of this minor holiday. The kids really do like Hanukkah. OK, they like it because they get bribed. Whatever. They manage to sit still and listen to some accounts of their traditions and lessons on how it all fits into who they are. Believe me, I’ll take it.

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?]

Is full-body scanning constitutional?

According to Jeffrey Rosen, no:

In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both “minimally intrusive” and “effective” – in other words, they must be “well-tailored to protect personal privacy,” and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate “in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search.”

As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.

Rosen further goes on to note:

Rejecting the “backscatter” machines used in the United States, which produce revealing images of the body and have raised concerns about radiation, the Dutch use scanners known as ProVision ATD, which employ radio waves with far lower frequencies than those used in common hand-held devices. If the software detects contraband or suspicious material under a passenger’s clothing, it projects an outline of that area of the body onto a gender-neutral, blob-like human image, instead of generating a virtually naked image of the passenger. The passenger can then be taken aside for secondary screening.

The blobs are a result of a technology to which I was introduced at American Science & Engineering several years ago. The idea is simple: security personnel need not see human tissue, but rather plastics and metals. The article quotes TSA Chief Pistole as saying that, yeah, it would be great but the technology gives a lot of false positives. So what? False negatives, that’s a problem. False positives only get people out of line more often for secondary screening.

Look, the whole thing is idiocy. None of these tools will catch the anal bomber or the vaginal bomber or the cranial cavity bomber. But if we must do this, then at the very least do it in such a way that the basic dignity of the traveling public is maintained. O wait, that’s right, this is the TSA.

Dept. of The most wonderful time of the year

A father and son team to instill a sense of togetherness:

A sweet-faced 12-year-old boy beat down an 83-year-old man Sunday in a Target parking lot in Delray Beach, with his father joining in to help finish the job, police say…

The pair drove off, and despite allegedly changing the license tag on their vehicle “to conceal their identity,” police were able to track them down to a residence in the 200 block of Northeast Fifth Avenue.

So they got arrested. Apparently, this isn’t the first time Dad got into trouble for beating up strangers.

On women in Physics

According to this article in Slate, women can boost test scores in Physics merely by doing a few, short creative-writing exercises. Huh? Here’s the basis of the theory:

When it comes to math and science classes, women can be subtly hampered by negative stereotypes about their gender. This is the idea of stereotype threat, advanced by psychologists Joshua Aronson and Claude Steele, and now solidly established, as I’ve written in Slate before. Stereotype threat can roar into action when members of any stereotyped group are primed to think about belonging to it—in other words, when women focus on being female or African-Americans on being black. It causes performance problems, but stereotype threat can also be countered, often in simple ways. As the Colorado writing exercises show, getting women to focus on things they care about can buck them up. The lesson is that small doses of affirmation can do a lot of good.

I think makes sense. Anyone who is told that they belong to a group that sucks will, on average, suck. Performance in anything is very psychological.

Girls, at least of my generation and before, have been constantly told that the hard sciences and math are really something at which men are better wired. This untrue and damaging stereotype has altered the career paths of countless women. Worse, we still expect girls to participate and excel at these classes, which further damages self-esteem, etc. [I know this sounds PC and corny, but it is right.] I tire of seeing all-male theoretical physics groups at companies. Believe me, I have lived them.

So, while I have nothing to say about these new studies, I find them intriguing:

Now, the Colorado researchers have shown that writing exercises can also make a difference for female science students. In a double-blind study published last week in Science, the researchers worked with 399 undergrads in a calculus-based physics class. They randomly assigned some of them to write about two or three items from a list that included “learning and gaining knowledge,” “belonging to a social group,” “athletic ability,” “relationships with family and friends,” and “sense of humor.” They were then told to reflect on why these things mattered to them. (The other students received the same list of values, but were asked to choose the ones least important to them and write about why they might be important to other people.) Students completed these exercises early in the semester, at moments when they might be expected to feel uncertain about the class: the first week of school and then the week before the first midterm.

The benefits were dramatic. Most of the women who received C’s in the class were in the group that had written on values they cared about least. Most of the women who received B’s had written on what they cared about most. (There was no effect for women who were getting A’s, or for men in general.) Women who affirmed their own values also scored higher on a standardized exam of key physics concepts, taken at the end of the term. Strikingly, women who’d said they believed the stereotype that men are better at physics were the ones who benefited from the exercises the most.

The question is, if this really is beneficial, how does this alter the teaching of physics? Do we make kids write these essays at the beginning of class? Or are there nuggets of wisdom we can extract that will help us teach physics to girls a little bit differently?

Speaker DeLeo assumes we’re as stupid as his relatives

MA House Speaker Robert DeLeo thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with his pushing his relatives onto the Probation Dept. payroll:

“We recommend folks, whether it’s for school or housing, whatever it may be,” he told reporters after emerging, with Senate President Therese Murray, from a meeting in the governor’s office in which the three leaders discussed the Probation Department’s problems.

“We make recommendations for people for jobs. It’s just that. It’s a recommendation,” DeLeo said. “What happens thereafter – whether they get the job or they don’t get the job – depends upon the folks making the decision. I can tell you I do not put any undue influence on anyone relative to the hiring or not hiring of the person.”

DeLeo sponsored 12 people for jobs in the department, seven of whom were hired, according to the report by Paul F. Ware Jr., a prosecutor who was appointed by the state’s highest court to investigate the agency following a series of reports by the Globe Spotlight Team. One of those hired was Brian Mirasolo, who at 28 is one of the youngest chief probation officers in Massachusetts history. DeLeo said Mirasolo achieved that title through his own merit.

“I wrote a letter of recommendation for him,” DeLeo said. “And that was the extent of my recommendation of Brian. Upon his getting the probation job, from there on, I had nothing to with his elevatuion from there. He must have proven it by his excellent work record.”

I have come to the conclusion that, yeah, DeLeo and his fellow lawmakers who think like this have really hit rock bottom ethically. I mean, these people control the purse strings for departments like the Probation Dept. What does he think, we’re as fucking stupid as his relatives who can’t find a frakin’ job on their own? How in G-d’s name does one not see a conflict of interest?!?

We need the Public Disclosure Law extended to cover these crooks, so that the newspapers and interested citizens can find out about correlations between department budgets and relatives who get nice state jobs. I hate to sound like Howie Carr on this issue, but I can see where a lot of his misplaced anger toward the average, hardworking state employee comes from.