Monday, March 31, 2008

Inauspicious training for ever living together in peace

In Gaza, Hamas’s Fiery Insults to Jews Complicate Peace Effort - New York Times:

"“Jews are a people who cannot be trusted,” Imam Yousif al-Zahar of Hamas told the faithful. “They have been traitors to all agreements — go back to history. Their fate is their vanishing. Look what they are doing to us.”

At Al Omari mosque, the imam cursed the Jews and the “Crusaders,” or Christians, and the Danes, for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. He referred to Jews as “the brothers of apes and pigs,” while the Hamas television station, Al Aksa, praises suicide bombing and holy war until Palestine is free of Jewish control.

Its videos praise fighters and rocket-launching teams; its broadcasts insult the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, for talking to Israel and the United States; its children’s programs praise “martyrdom,” teach what it calls the perfidy of the Jews and the need to end Israeli occupation over Palestinian land, meaning any part of the state of Israel."

The real harm Hillary Clinton inflicted on Bosnia

By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine:
"The punishment visited on Sen. Hillary Clinton for her flagrant, hysterical, repetitive, pathological lying about her visit to Bosnia should be much heavier than it has yet been and should be exacted for much more than just the lying itself. ...

"I can tell you for an absolute certainty that it would be quite impossible to imagine that one had undergone that experience at the airport if one actually had not. Yet Sen. Clinton, given repeated chances to modify her absurd claim to have operated under fire while in the company of her then-16-year-old daughter and a USO entertainment troupe, kept up a stone-faced and self-loving insistence that, yes, she had exposed herself to sniper fire in the cause of gaining moral credit and, perhaps to be banked for the future, national-security "experience." This must mean either a) that she lies without conscience or reflection; or b) that she is subject to fantasies of an illusory past; or c) both of the above. Any of the foregoing would constitute a disqualification for the presidency of the United States."

Hitchens' column is entitled "Fighting Words," and these are. Hitchens has rarely, if ever, been noted for restraint, and not much more often for good taste. I read him critically, and carefully, and with more than a grain of anti-bile. All that said, this column is worth reading.

Students apparently copied honor code

SAN ANTONIO - Their goal was an honor code that discouraged cheating and plagiarizing.

However, the wording in a draft by students at the University of Texas at San Antonio appears to match another school's code -- without proper attribution.

A Triumph of Interreligious Understanding?

Severed Ties to Pope Over Catholic Good Friday Prayer: Is Jewish Seder Meal Anti-Egyptian? |

March 30, 2008 - Today in Germany, the Central Jewish Committee announced that ties of dialogue with Benedict XVI have been severed. The restored and revived usage of the Good Friday prayer that calls for the conversion of the Jews is at the center of the controversy it seems. The Catholic Church has repeatedly indicated the prayer is not intended to offend Jewish believers, but calls for a conversion of all religious faiths to Christianity. Accordingly, the German organization that represents Jewish religious interests has decided to show its displeasure by announcing the organizations unhappiness with the Pope.

As a Catholic, one needs to raise the question of the Central Jewish Committee…do we tell you how and for whom Jewish believers should pray? The answer is obviously…NO…we do not. Why then is there a continued perception among the Jewish community that Catholic should consider the editorial opinions of another faith when it comes to our liturgical and sacred prayer. Did we ask for the education opinion of the Jewish Council? Once again, it seems there is a concentrated effort on the part of Semite followers to manipulate Catholic prayers and initiate hostilities against our Pope because he is both German and the head of the Catholic Church.

Frankly, Catholics do not seem to consider the nationality or allegiance of any of the Jewish faith’s hierarchy. The same consideration should work both ways. The revised prayer authored by Benedict XVI for the conversion of the Jewish people on Good Friday is not a Jewish concern. It should be treated that way. ...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Joan Walsh on endorsements, and the lack thereof

Joan Walsh -

...But now two months have passed since Edwards dropped out -- tempus fugit! -- and still no endorsement. Why? According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards's imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton’s plan (and by extension Edwards’s) for its insurance mandate.'...

Clearly, I favor Obama, but this is part of the picture, worthy of consideration. Hillary has her strengths--she is bright, articulate, and knows the issues well. I prefer her variant on health care with mandated coverage to Obama's current variant, although I think too much has been made of the difference by Krugman and Hillary's campaign--and I believe that both plans (and Edwards' as well) are substantially inferior to a single-payer "Medicare for All" approach (to which I hope theirs might ultimately lead, even if it sadly can't seem to gain traction in today's enfeebled politics).

I am also sympathetic to Edwards' eloquent focus on poverty and the two Americas. I think Obama gets that in his gut, and will act on it if elected--but I can understand a tactical political judgment (not equally applicable to Hillary, or to Edwards) not to give it centrality in his campaign. This may be Obama's equivalent to Hillary's stress on military toughness, somewhat undermined by her misadventures on the Bosnian (fantasy) battlefields.

Hillary's survival strategy

A Response to Joan Walsh, on Salon:

I too speak as a one-time admirer and supporter of Hillary. That stopped after the multiple fiascos of the early years of the first Clinton Administration.

The current pattern of behavior is, sadly, all too reminiscent of an earlier pattern of dissembling in order to clean up after Bill's numerous sexual escapades. Hillary was all too ready to do in other women, misused and thrown away by Bill, when they threatened the unquenchable Clinton ambition. I've never understood, after this unsisterly behavior, how self-respecting feminists can continue to support her.

I've also profoundly troubled by the way "loyalty" works in Clintonland. If anyone who has previously served the Clintons as a loyal retainer finds appeal in other campaigns, he/she is quickly labelled a "Judas." Yet for the Clintons, loyalty works up, and not down. Recall the Clintons' trashing of Lani Guinier when she became a political liability. Under the bus with her--despite a lifelong friendship.

We've seen too much of such demands for loyalty as the principal virtue in politics (in place of competence and principle, not to speak of obligations to the American people and the Constitution), going back to Nixon and continuing through W. At least W shows a modicum of loyalty back down (see Libby, Scooter).

We deserve better. I think Obama offers our best chance of getting it.--The Wise Bard

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rev. Wright to The NYT, and some thoughts on journalism (and truth?)

Daily Kos posts a copy of an unpublished letter from Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the NYT from about a year ago, with much accompanying commentary. It is worth a look.

There are aspects of Wright's letter that I find distinctly uncomfortable, and I fear these are reflective of some larger issues in his character and outlook. That does not necessarily distinguish him in kind from many other religious leaders who have had inordinate (and in my view deleterious) influence through the media and directly on public officials. American public opinion is considerably more tolerant of some of these figures than of others, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that race (along with the distinctive/minority position of certain faiths in the American context) has a not inconsiderable impact on how objectionable statements are received by the media and the public.

Wright's letter to The Times raises an additional issue worthy of discussion here. I have been a devout Times reader for more than 35 years, since my college days. It is, I think, the best we have in daily print journalism, although I have long tried to seek supplementation via numerous other sources of news--a task made much easier in this age of the "internets" (tubes, lots of tubes).

I often have occasion to reflect on the disparity in my trust in The Times (or any other news source, mainstream or otherwise--I'm picking on The Times here as exemplary of better news sources) in areas in which I am professionally or otherwise expert, and in areas I know less immediately or in depth.

Today is the 29th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. Digging into my deeply repressed past, I then worked for a law firm representing the owner of TMI, and had been involved in some relatively minor regulatory matters regarding the facility. On the morning of the accident, we were packing up for a trip to the facility, for a hearing on issues relating to--are you ready for this--the likelihood and potential consequences of a direct impact by a large airliner on a functioning nuclear facility.

I am mindful of the continuing obligations of confidentiality, but I think it is permissible to say that for the next year and a half, I attended and privately reported on virtually every Washington-based public meeting of regulatory agencies, Congressional committees, and the Presidential (Kemeny) Commission investigating the accident. I was a pretty highly informed listener, with a substantial sense of the overall context of the developing story. Needless to say to those who were alive then, the story got a lot of media attention (which I also followed closely). Suffice it to say, much of the media coverage got events, both large and small, badly wrong, and almost always in a sensationalistic context (even in the most "responsible" press and media). And I don't think this reflect any enormous skew or bias in my own perceptions--my job (and my personal temperament) was to get things right, in as unfiltered a fashion as possible. This included conveying bad news (of which there was a great deal) as accurately as I could, often directly to senior figures.

The experience had a lasting impact on my thinking, reinforcing perceptions dating to press coverage of student protests (including a building occupation) at Harvard in the late 1960s. I was less confident in my own perceptions as a college student, and recognized that I only had one view of the elephant on that occasion. By 1979, that had changed--I had as clear and complete a first-hand view as most anyone in one of the most covered events of its time.

The media got so much of it wrong, sometimes seriously so, with important public consequences.

This has also been an all-too-typical experience on issues in bioethics and law that I have followed closely over the past three decades. At various points, I have had significant interactions with the press, and often do not recognize myself in the published accounts of the conversations. In recent years, I have taken to imposing conditions on the circumstances in which I speak for publication--with the result that I am called for interviews considerably less frequently, which has been okay. My vanity is satisfied in other contexts, or I do without. (Or I blog.)

And here is the crucial piece. Knowing all this from personal experience, sometimes hard earned, when I read The Times (or other sources) on subjects I know less about, and from a less first-hand perspective, I still indulge a presumption that The Times gets it basically right. I do read things more critically than I once did, and am less inclined to take press accounts as any species of holy writ (a subject adverted to at the top of this posting). But there still is a degree of trust, indeed of credulousness, that I cannot fully bring myself to overcome. The problem, at least in part: what is the alternative?

I don't have any overarching theory of press bias. Over past decades, since my TMI experience, I have talked about this general phenomenon with many folks expert in a variety of fields, often with persons whose expertise is of interest to the media and results in many direct contacts. All report more or less the same story, with local variations. None of us fully trust media reporting in the areas of our own expertise. All of us let down our guard, to a greater or lesser degree, when reading the media on subjects we know less about. None of us have found a fully satisfactory alternative, and virtually all of us have other demands on our time, and cannot devote infinite hours to searching the web (or magazines, or other potential sources) on matters less central to our daily concerns.

If this is true of The Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe--how much the more so for cable news outlets (see my recent postings on that subject).

Is there a reality out there? Can we know it? On what can we base consequential decisions on important public matters beyond our first hand experience? Is meaningful democracy possible in such a complex world?

I'd be interested in your experiences, and in your opinions.

Bloggers on Obama/Bloomberg

By Michael Weiss - Slate Magazine:

"Conservative Ed Morrissey at Hot Air wonders if this means the mayor's a VP possibility: 'Obama will need a dynamic, experienced executive as his running mate to convince general-election voters of his substance and ability. Bloomberg has made no secret of his ambitions, and having put aside the presidency, may see a VP run as an entree to something bigger down the road. He could wind up being the economics guru of an Obama administration — and he could potentially keep Hillary voters from defecting to McCain.' Marc Ambinder is thinking along the same lines: '[T]he best way to look at an Obama-Bloomberg ticket is by noticing their complimentary traits. Obama isn't much of an administrator or a details guy by his own admission, while Bloomberg is so concerned about Your Health and Welfare that he studies intently the ins and outs of congestion pricing and trans-fats. He's a prime minister-type -- although he brings an outsider's sense of efficiency to the bureaucracy. Let Obama be the vision guy; Bloomberg could be the brass-tacks administrator.'"

A black and a Jew on a major national ticket together? Who'd have thunk it possible, even to speculate on, semi-seriously?
On a more somber note, it might provide Obama with some additional assassination insurance, at least from right wing hate types--hard to imagine they would go after Obama with a Jew in the wings.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Barred From Main Road, Palestinians Fear Two-Tiered System

New York Times
For Shame.

Let's focus on the issues

Barack Obama delivered a major speech on economic policy this morning. (I understand Senator Clinton also spoke this morning, but I was otherwise occupied at the time and can't speak to that here. The same analysis may well apply--this is not an anti-Hillary posting).

As is typical, the various cable news networks hyped and hyperventilated in advance of the speech, which they assured us they would cover live--stay tuned, coming soon, coming up any moment. When Obama arrived, both CNN and MSNBC were there live. (I'm told there may be a third cable network as well, but I'm fairly unbalanced on that topic.) Obama embarked on another of his efforts to talk to his Cooper Union (scene of one of Lincoln's famous speeches) audience as if they were serious and thoughtful adults, invoking Hamilton and Jefferson and debates about the proper role of government in regulating the economy and promoting the common prosperity in the early Republic. He wove together an intricate tapestry, recognizing the importance both of market incentives and of an intelligently guided, visible hand of government in promoting fair competition, transparency, and public trust. He recognized the limits of New Deal-era regulatory approaches in keeping up with a dynamic and globalizing economy and the complex instruments of contemporary finance and capital markets. Having established these themes, he began to move to the specifics...and CNN cut away. Switch to MSNBC (I may have these reversed). Another moment of speech, then another cutaway. To what? A bunch of dimwits, blathering on with insipid commentary, doubting that anything much new had been said, with an inaudible half screen of Obama moving his lips as the dolts continued their voice-overs.
These are, of course, what pass for our main sources of live information--the self-proclaimed best political teams, blah blah. The ones that devote interminable periods to highly self-important but transient and largely content- free nonsense on the horse-race and decontextualized clips from sensationalistic utterings of tertiary campaign figures. One of these networks, indeed, cut way from Obama's live speech on the American economic mess to show us--yes, can it be--yet another in the endless looping replays from the Rev. Wright's collected wit and wisdom. Unbelievable.

It has become fashionable, in these days of cant and mudslinging, to urge that candidates debate the issues. To be honest, I haven't discerned enormous differences on the wonky policy details between Obama and Clinton, and what differences there are cut in opposing directions, at least by my lights. There are differences in personality aplenty, in governing style, in political character (and I'm not referring here to sexual habits). Different Americans will reach differing conclusions on whom they would prefer to listen to over the coming four or eight years.

There has been little enough serious, substantive discussion of many of the difficult, and politically fraught and potentially perilous issues facing our nation and the world--in this campaign or in the several previous ones. Those who have chosen to address some of these issues--folks like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, for example--have been on the margins (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to assess the direction of causality in that relationship).

On those rare occasions when mainstream politicians do venture into serious discussions of real issues--as Obama (and perhaps Clinton) did today, it is a scandal that the so-called news networks cut away for drivel and pap. We as the public generally get what we deserve. It is time we demand better from our journalists, and express our dismay when we do not get it.

I'll try to drown today's sorrows in a repeat of the Daily Show, which is perhaps unique in making this point, day after day. Bravo, Jon Stewart!

Rev. Wright in a different light

By William A. Von Hoene Jr.

During the last two weeks, excerpts from sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., pastor for more than 35 years at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side, have flooded the airwaves and dominated our discourse about the presidential campaign and race. Wright has been depicted as a racial extremist, or just a plain racist. A number of political figures and news commentators have attempted to use Sen. Barack Obama's association with him to call into question Obama's judgment and the sincerity of his commitment to unity.

I have been a member of Trinity, a church with an almost entirely African-American congregation, for more than 25 years. I am, however, a white male. From a decidedly different perspective than most Trinitarians, I have heard Wright preach about racial inequality many times, in unvarnished and passionate terms.

In Obama's recent speech in Philadelphia on racial issues confronting our nation, the senator eloquently observed that Rev. Wright's sermons reflect the difficult experiences and frustrations of a generation.

It is important that we understand the dynamic Obama spoke about.

It also is important that we not let media coverage and political gamesmanship isolate selected remarks by Wright to the exclusion of anything else that might define him more accurately and completely. ...

Can computers make life-or-death medical decision?

New Scientist: by Roxanne Khamsi

A simple formula can predict how people would want to be treated in dire medical situations as accurately as their loved ones can, say researchers.

The finding suggests that computers may one day help doctors and those acting as surrogate decision-makers to better estimate the wishes of people in a coma. ...

Bioethicist David Wendler of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, US and colleagues wondered whether a formula could be used to better predict a patient’s wishes. They examined information collected by pollsters and scientists about the attitudes towards medical care held by the general US population.

The data suggested that most people want life-saving treatment if there is at least a 1% chance that following the intervention they would have the ability to reason, remember and communicate. If there is less than a 1% chance, people generally say they would choose not to have the treatment.

“The difference between zero and 1% is all the difference in the world for someone,” says Wendler.

Surprising accuracy

His team then looked at subset of the 16 studies in which the medical scenarios were judged to be easier for a member of the public to understand. In these casea, they found that surrogates predicted the patient’s wishes more accurately, 78% of the time. But surprisingly, using the formula that people only want interventions if there is a 1% chance of a good outcome had the same accuracy.

Faculty Are Liberal -- Who Cares?

From Inside Higher Ed :

One of the key arguments made by David Horowitz and his supporters in recent years is that a left-wing orientation among faculty members results in a lack of curricular balance, which in turn leads to students being indoctrinated rather than educated. The argument is probably made most directly in a film much plugged by Horowitz: “Indoctrinate U."

A study that will appear soon in the journal PS: Political Science & Politics accepts the first part of the critique of academe and says that it’s true that the professoriate leans left. But the study — notably by one Republican professor and one Democratic professor— finds no evidence of indoctrination. Despite students being educated by liberal professors, their politics change only marginally in their undergraduate years, and that deflates the idea that cadres of tenured radicals are somehow corrupting America’s youth — or scaring them into adopting new political views.

In a calmer and less disputatious environment, some might well wonder, "What are we doing wrong?"

Slightly more seriously, if exposure to the wider world of ideas inherent in a good liberal arts education does little to affect students' political thinking and attitudes (in whatever direction), we must be doing something wrong--or more likely (I hope), the measures employed in these studies are grossly inadequate, reflecting insipid oversimplifications of mature political thought reflected in one-dimensional bumper sticker labels.

Lest I be misunderstood, I think it is perfectly appropriate for students to be exposed to the thought of figures from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman (discussed in the quoted article and comments thereon). Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom stimulated some of the more lively and usefully provocative discussion and debate in my freshman year introductory economics course in 1967 at liberal Harvard. While I do not agree with most of Friedman's public policy conclusions (especially those more characteristic of his later years as a highly ideological, anti-government policy adviser), serious education requires fair engagement with a broad range of perspectives on contentious political ideas.

Nobel Nobility

Nobel winner gives winnings to 4 schools :
UNC's Nobel Prize-winning professor has decided to give part of his award back to the institutions where he worked and studied.

Oliver Smithies, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UNC, and his colleagues, Mario Capecchi of the University of Utah and Sir Martin Evans of Cardiff University, were awarded a prize of about $1.6 million. The award was given in Swedish krona.

The three scientists were recognized in the field of medicine for their work with genetic targeting that began in the early 1980s.

Their research focused on genetic targeting, in which mice genes are modified to determine the effect this alteration will have.

Smithies has since split his part of the award, about $530,000, among the four universities where he has worked or studied. Each will receive about $130,000.

The universities that received money were Oxford University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Toronto and UNC.

'All four places had something to do with it,' Smithies said. 'Each in different ways have been part of my going to Stockholm, and this is a nice way to recognize them.'

Smithies received his master's and Ph.D. from Oxford, then did some postdoctoral work at Wisconsin.
He began his research for the work he received his Nobel Prize for at the University of Toronto, then returned to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 25 years and finally settled at UNC for the past 20 years.

The Nobel Prize money is given with no specific stipulations, and each university that Smithies is giving to, he said, will ultimately decide how the money will be used.

"It's for the benefit of the universities, not for my benefit or anyone else's," Smithies said.

Is society ready for this pregnant husband? By Thomas Beatie
To our neighbors, my wife, Nancy, and I don’t appear in the least unusual. To those in the quiet Oregon community where we live, we are viewed just as we are -- a happy couple deeply in love. Our desire to work hard, buy our first home, and start a family was nothing out of the ordinary. That is, until we decided that I would carry our child.

I am transgender, legally male, and legally married to Nancy. Unlike those in same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, or civil unions, Nancy and I are afforded the more than 1,100 federal rights of marriage. Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights. Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire, but a human desire. ...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Measures of success, Hillary style

Daily Kos: State of the Nation:

Five Ways Clinton Leads Obama

Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 09:39:37 PM PDT

Over the weekend, Senator Evan Bayh suggested we measure the success of the candidates not by delegates earned, but by the electoral votes of the states they’ve won. In the spirit of Senator Bayh, I present you with five additional metrics that I pulled out of my ass. As you’ll see, Hillary Clinton is either winning or tied with Obama in every case....

"Total number of 'New' States



Hilllary Clinton has won New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York. By contrast, Obama has failed to win a single state with the word 'New' in its name. Obama’s failure among self-proclaimed new states, raises serious questions about his supposed strength among young voters (new people) and his supposed message of change (new policies).

Average Highest Elevation

CLINTON: 6135 Feet

OBAMA: 6097 Feet

Frankly, I’m surprised that more attention hasn’t been drawn to this. Obama claims to want to elevate the level of discourse, but he has failed in states with the highest elevations. Clinton has won on Mount Whitney (California), Humphreys Peak (Arizona), Boundary Peak (Nevada), and Wheeler Peak (New Mexico). Perhaps more significantly, there are so few peaks left that despite the close margins, Obama has no hope of regaining the altitude vote. Clinton also leads among states with the highest average mean elevation: (Clinton: 1908.8 feet Obama: 1457.7 feet)."...


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sex, drugs &...

Comment on NYT Blog:

[New NY Gov] Paterson has confessed to sex. He has now also confessed to drugs. Once he confesses to rock and roll, can we be done with this and get on with the business of running this state?

— Posted by dyinglikeflies

The Return of Obama Girl (PG-13)

Gary Hart on "the Democratic party (at its best)"

From Gary hart on Huff Post

... the Democratic party (at its best) is the progressive party, the party of the future, and the Republican party is the party that wishes to hold onto the past. When the Democratic party is truly the party of the future, for change, for experimentation, for adaptation, we win. When we "triangulate," we may create enough confusion to get ourselves elected, but we have no mandate to govern and we sacrifice our identity.

The best Democratic leaders, those who succeed as national leaders, are those who define the future and show us how to get there. It shouldn't surprise anyone that those rare leaders, like Barack Obama, also have a "liberal" voting record, especially when, as Senator Obama accurately points out, right-wing ideologues make sure the voting deck is stacked to reflect the old divisive agenda they've perfected. But, as he also points out, "as president, I would be setting the agenda."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Obsessing on rejecting, denouncing, repudiating

The Huffington Post has learned that Bill O'Reilly -- who claims to love America -- spent Sunday at a "church" run by a former Hitler Youth named Joseph Alois Ratzinger. Ratzinger has gone to elaborate ends to hide this connection, including taking on the absurd pseudonym "Pope Benedict XVI." Which, even if it doesn't prove anything, certainly makes you think.

This shocking revelation comes only a week after Barack Obama admitted he attends a church formerly run by Jeremiah Wright, who talks smack about America, although probably less than Goebbels did.

This would all be holy water under the bridge, except for one disturbing and undeniable fact: Bill O'Reilly is a Roman Catholic, and Benedict "Joey Ratz" XVI worked for Hitler, as did Unity Mitford, whose baby sister was Jessica Mitford, who knew Maya Angelou, who knew Betty Shabazz, who was married to Malcolm X, who knew Louis Farrakhan.

Is there any place in our public discourse for men like Bill O'Reilly, who won't even repudiate their links to Louis Farrakhan? I'll give you the last word, and then cut you off in the middle of it: No there isn't. ...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What must you always remember to do?

Be good, and do good.

From HBO's John Adams

An unanticipated endorsement

Doug Kmiec is a very prominent --and quite conservative--law professor, who has served in senior legal positions in Republican administrations and is a frequent "talking head" representing Republican and conservative positions. This is one of the more surprising endorsements of this topsy-turvy political season. The question, I suppose, is whether this will result in any sober second thoughts in the progressive community. I rather doubt it. I do wonder if this is an unanticipated fruit of Obama's speech on race in America.

Today I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States. I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence and genuine good will. I take him at his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and to return United States to that company of nations committed to human rights. I do not know if his earlier life experience is sufficient for the challenges of the presidency that lie ahead. I doubt we know this about any of the men or women we might select. It likely depends upon the serendipity of the events that cannot be foreseen. I do have confidence that the Senator will cast his net widely in search of men and women of diverse, open-minded views and of superior intellectual qualities to assist him in the wide range of responsibilities that he must superintend.

This endorsement may be of little note or consequence, except perhaps that it comes from an unlikely source: namely, a former constitutional legal counsel to two Republican presidents. The endorsement will likely supply no strategic advantage equivalent to that represented by the very helpful accolades the Senator has received from many of high stature and accomplishment, including most recently, from Governor Bill Richardson. Nevertheless, it is important to be said publicly in a public forum in order that it be understood. It is not arrived at without careful thought and some difficulty.

As a Republican, I strongly wish to preserve traditional marriage not as a suspicion or denigration of my homosexual friends, but as recognition of the significance of the procreative family as a building block of society. As a Republican, and as a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception, and it is important for every life to be given sustenance and encouragement. As a Republican, I strongly believe that the Supreme Court of the United States must be fully dedicated to the rule of law, and to the employ of a consistent method of interpretation that keeps the Court within its limited judicial role. As a Republican, I believe problems are best resolved closest to their source and that we should never arrogate to a higher level of government that which can be more effectively and efficiently resolved below. As a Republican, and the constitutional lawyer, I believe religious freedom does not mean religious separation or mindless exclusion from the public square.

In various ways, Senator Barack Obama and I may disagree on aspects of these important fundamentals, but I am convinced based upon his public pronouncements and his personal writing that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of view, and as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.

No doubt some of my friends will see this as a matter of party or intellectual treachery. I regret that and I respect their disagreement. But they will readily agree that as Republicans, we are first Americans. As Americans, we must voice our concerns for the well-being of our nation without partisanship when decisions that have been made endanger the body politic. Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment. Today, I do no more than raise the defense of that important office anew, but as private citizen.

9/11 and the radical Islamic ideology that it represents is a continuing threat to our safety and the next president must have the honesty to recognize that it, as author Paul Berman has written, "draws on totalitarian inspirations from 20th-century Europe and with its double roots, religious and modern, perversely intertwined. . . .wields a lot more power, intellectually speaking, then naïve observers might suppose." Senator Obama needs to address this extremist movement with the same clarity and honesty with which he has addressed the topic of race in America. Effective criticism of the incumbent for diverting us from this task is a good start, but it is incomplete without a forthright outline of a commitment to undertake, with international partners, the formation of a world-wide entity that will track, detain, prosecute, convict, punish, and thereby, stem radical Islam's threat to civil order. I await Senator Obama's more extended thinking upon this vital subject, as he accepts the nomination of his party and engages Senator McCain in the general campaign discussion to come.

by Doug Kmiec

I Like to Watch, TV:

Salon Arts & Entertainment:

"Why awake each morning with a to-do list? When we're old and gray, will we measure our lives in laundry, errands and e-mails? It's time we finally emancipated ourselves from the oppressive, ever-looming burden of productivity. Life is too short to waste time inventing even more supposedly important, time-sensitive tasks. Let's float free of goal-oriented living and drift aimlessly through the world like idle aristocrats or retirees or stray dogs! Let's spend our time wandering and sniffing around and relaxing in the sunshine and sipping coffee and reading the paper and musing on the meaning of it all!"

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Third of Patients On Transplant List Are Not Eligible -

A Third of Patients On Transplant List Are Not Eligible -

"The list of patients waiting for organ transplants, which is widely used to promote organ donations, includes thousands who are ineligible for the operations, according to statistics kept by the national network that manages the allocation of organs.

More than a third of the nearly 98,000 patients on the list at any one time are classified as 'inactive,' meaning they could not be given an organ if it became available because they are too sick, or not sick enough, or for some other, often unexplained, reason." ...

[C]ritics note that a significant number of patients have been inactive for more than two years and may never become eligible.

"The wait list is dishonest," said Donna L. Luebke, a nurse who said she was rebuked by UNOS officials when she complained about the list near the end of the three years she served on the organization's board of directors. "The public deserves to know the true numbers."

The revelation comes at a time when advocates of organ donation have come under fire for using increasingly aggressive strategies to obtain organs, justifying their efforts by citing the long and steadily growing waiting list. ..."If the number is not accurate, that's giving people the false impression that the situation is more serious than it is. It's deceptive."...

"It does help the political cause to push for legislation and policies to increase donor rates to use the bigger numbers," [Bioethicist Arthur] Caplan said. "It's not the accurate and truthful thing to be doing."

Advocates are also pushing a controversial strategy for obtaining organs from patients who are not yet brain-dead, known as donation after cardiac death, or DCD.

"The push for DCD is based solely on the idea that we have a huge disparity of organs," said Gail Van Norman, an anesthesiologist and bioethicist at the University of Washington.

"But if 30 percent of the names are the list are inactive, the data isn't a true reflection."

James Carville: Happy Easter, Bill

First a Tense Talk With Clinton, Then Richardson Backs Obama - New York Times:

"The reaction of some of Mr. Clinton’s allies suggests that might have been a wise decision. “An act of betrayal,” said James Carville, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton and a friend of Mr. Clinton.

“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week."

And folks think Obama's friends are objectionable?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Responding to Michael Crowley: Wright AIDS

In response to Michael Crowley, The New Republic

A Nagging Wright Question

As a scholar of bioethics and law, I am sorry to report that notions of a "white conspiracy" to unleash AIDS on the black community are extremely widespread among African-Americans (and some Africans as well). Such accusations find a ready audience in light of the awful history of abuse of black subjects and patients by medical researchers and physicians. Tuskegee is, of course, the most well-known instance, but it is far from the only one. Rev. Wright's image of "chickens coming home to roost" is all too appropriate in this context; African-Americans have abundant historical reason to be suspicious of the medical establishment.

There are a number of variants of the AIDS conspiracy in circulation. . Some of them--including use of African primates for testing polio vaccines decades ago--have a certain surface plausibility, although the scientific community finds little evidence to support them. . But it is not clear to me that these theories are more lacking in evidence than assertions that autism results from mercury-based compounds in various vaccines--which is not race-related and is far less subject to popular ridicule. And blacks have a lot more reason to be suspicious than middle class parents of children with autism.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that HIV and AIDS are the result of a racist conspiracy, and I have nothing positive to say about the perpetuation of this idea by Rev. Wright, or by anyone else. It feeds suspicion and hatred, and makes no contribution to efforts to control this epidemic. (I understand that Rev. Wright and his Church have been extremely active in responding more positively to the challenges of AIDS in the black community and beyond. I am personally "challenged" to understand how these pieces fit together.)

I do believe that this episode more generally illuminates the vast gulf in understanding between white and minority communities, and the ignorance among many whites as to the mores of many black churches. This AIDS business is perhaps the least understandable element overall.

There has been no better effort to understand and explain the complexities of these issues to a broad public than Obama's speech on race in America. The continuing pounding he is taking on his relation with Rev Wright bespeaks bad faith and an unwillingness to engage in civilized adult discourse.

March 22, 2008

Discouraging news on AIDS vaccines

Vaccine Failure Is Setback in AIDS Fight:
"The two-decade search for an AIDS vaccine is in crisis after two field tests of the most promising contender not only did not protect people from the virus but may actually have put them at increased risk of becoming infected.

The results of the trials, which enrolled volunteers on four continents, have spurred intense scientific inquiry and unprecedented soul-searching as researchers try to make sense of what happened and assess whether they should have seen it coming. ...

Numerous experts are questioning both the scientific premises and the overall strategy of the nearly $500 million in AIDS vaccine research funded annually by the U.S. government."

What kind of America do you want?

Do we want more of this kind of politics?

Happy Purim!

For Jews, it is Purim -- a festival of pun and paradox, in which the central text is a parody of history, telling the story of how a courageous woman and her uncle chose civil disobedience to save their people from a genocide -- and won. How a pompous, stupid king is bamboozled by an ambitious, arrogant , and genocidal Prime Minister -- one might almost say, Vice-President. How everything is turned topsy-turvy, so that the gallows where a Jewish leader was to be hanged becomes the death-place of their tormentor. How God never appears in this story that might seem miraculous.

And, the ancient rabbis taught, on this day Jews are to get so far beyond normal categories as to be unable to distinguish "Blessed Mordechai" (one of the saving team) from "Accursed Haman" (the genocidal minister).

On the surface, the two festivals might seem utterly different: one focused on solemnity, the other on a joke. Yet they have this in common: They pluck delight from disaster, they see the deep oddity of a universe, God's universe, in which God's Presence is achieved through God's absence, in which the fullest life comes from the most degrading death, in which arrogance is brought low by laughter. And they see this oddity not as absurd -- but fully meaningful.

From Arthur Waskow.

Of gaffes and "wha'?"

If, as Michael Kinsley has said, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth, what are we to call a lie about a lie about an accidentally-told falsehood?

The Maverick Makes It Up

This week during a trip to the Middle East, McCain severely undermined his frequent claims to be "the one best to address a national security crisis" by repeatedly stating that Iran was supporting al Qaeda in Iraq. McCain claimed that Iranian operatives were "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back." He insisted that it was "common knowledge...that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and coming back into Iraq from Iran." McCain's confusion over Iran and al Qaeda puts him in lockstep with the rest of the Bush administration. As the Washington Post notes, "The last five years have produced ample evidence that American leaders were woefully ill-informed about the country they came to rescue." ... At first, the McCain campaign claimed the senator simply "misspoke." Now the campaign is embracing the remarks, leaving voters all the more unsure about McCain's understanding of foreign policy. ...

WHERE'S THE STRAIGHT TALK?: After press coverage of McCain's gaffe, his campaign issued a statement claiming the senator "misspoke and immediately corrected himself." In an interview, McCain himself insisted that he "corrected it immediately," and that he "just simply misspoke." However, as video proves, it was not until Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) whispered a correction in his ear that McCain corrected his mistake. Moreover, McCain conflated Iran and al Qaeda at least three times, not including another time last month -- hardly a case of "misspeaking." By Thursday the McCain campaign had reversed course, insisting McCain did not misspeak at all. McCain advisor Max Boot asked Thursday, "[W]hat gaffe?" and insisted, "There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central)."

From "The Progress Report" of the Center for American Progress

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama's faith in the reasoning abilities of the American public

Glenn Greenwald -

"The entire premise of Barack Obama's candidacy is built upon the opposite assumption -- that Americans are not only able, but eager, to participate in a more elevated and reasoned political discourse, one that moves beyond the boisterous, screeching, simple-minded, ugly, vapid attack-based distractions and patronizing manipulation ... that has dominated our political debates for the last two decades at least.

Nobody actually knows which of these views are right because there hasn't been a serious national campaign in a very long time that has attempted to elevate itself above the Drudgian muck by relying (not entirely, but mostly) upon reasoned discourse and substantive discussions ... Obama's insistence that Americans are hungry for that sort of elevated debate and are able to engage it -- and his willingness to stake his campaign on his being right about that -- has been, in my view, one of the most admirable aspects of his candidacy.

But in Obama's faith in the average American voter lies one of the greatest weaknesses of his campaign. His faith in the ability and willingness of Americans to rise above manipulative political tactics seems drastically to understate both the efficacy of such tactics and the deafening amplification they receive from our establishment press. Even Americans who authentically believe that they want a "new, better politics" may be swayed by the same old Drudgian sewerage because it is powerful and ubiquitous. ...

Will it ever end? Can't we at least pretend to be grown-ups?

Obama and Race

New York Times: Nick Kristof:

"Many well-meaning Americans perceive Mr. Wright as fundamentally a hate-monger who preaches antagonism toward whites. But those who know his church say that is an unrecognizable caricature: He is a complex figure and sometimes a reckless speaker, but one of his central messages is not anti-white hostility but black self-reliance.

“The big thing for Wright is hope,” said Martin Marty, one of America’s foremost theologians, who has known the Rev. Wright for 35 years and attended many of his services. “You hear ‘hope, hope, hope.’ Lots of ordinary people are there, and they’re there not to blast the whites. They’re there to get hope.”

Professor Marty said that as a white person, he sticks out in the largely black congregation but is always greeted with warmth and hospitality. “It’s not anti-white,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who’s white who walks out of there not feeling affirmed.”"

Cartoonish political discourse

Talking Points Memo |: From Greg Sargent

"Obama's speech, throughout, asks its listeners to transcend themselves -- it asks them to choose nuance over cartoonish political controversy; it asks them to acknowledge stuff about race they don't want to acknowledge; it asks them to think big instead of small."...

"Obama is basically demanding here that the practitioners of our political discourse do better. It's a challenge to the commentators and to the rival campaigns, of course. But the Ferraro reference suggests that it's also a challenge that some of his own supporters should take as directed at them, too. To not do this would be at odds with the true spirit of his remarks."

Interesting perspective to juxtapose with other remarks on Ferraro, including my own, found below.

Yesterday's Daily Show did a great job lampooning how the mainstream broadcasters responded (that is, failed to respond) to Obama's invitation to serious adult conversation about the subject of race in America--or to serious adult conversation on virtually any matter of substantive consequence.

It is certainly clear that lots of our fellow citizens much prefer "cartoonish political controversy." Jon Stewart looked, ever so briefly, like he might be close to tears.

Lets Talk About Race

New York Times Blog: From Andrew Sullivan:

"I have never felt more convinced that this man’s candidacy - not this man, his candidacy - and what he can bring us to achieve - is an historic opportunity. This was a testing; and he did not merely pass it by uttering safe bromides. He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man’s faults and pain as well as his promise. This is what my faith is about. It is what the Gospels are about. This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian."

Sounds right for my team as well.

Althouse, Ferraro, Race, and Obama

My colleague Ann Althouse is mostly down on Obama's speech, and her very active blog has been widely quoted on the subject. That is not the first time Ann and I have disagreed, sometimes profoundly. She has just posted a response to Obama from Geraldine Ferraro (much offended by the implicit comparison of her to Jeremiah Wright, which I kind of thought served her right).

Many of Ann's fans (from what I can tell, mostly pretty right-wing, at least by my standards) commenting on her blog post go even further in their often tasteless and ill-informed critiques of both Wright (who isn't finding many fans outside the African-American community these days) and Obama (including, but not limited to, his speech on racism in America).

At risk of ruining my reputation among some feminist friends and allies (my long-suffering wife is long familiar with my views on Ms Ferraro), I'll cross-post my comment (with very slight editing, and in more telegraphic and less fully developed form than most of my postings here) from Ann's blog:

Geraldine Ferraro is in deep denial.

I'm not sure she has much of a reputation left, except as a gimmicky footnote to history. Clearly there was little to recommend her, beyond her gender, for the Vice Presidential nomination in 1984 (and can one imagine her as qualified for the Presidency/Commander-in-Chiefdom? What might she come out with at 3am?)

Ms Ferraro would do well to shut up post-haste. (When you are stuck in a deep hole, at least stop digging.)

More generally, I fear that many of the comments on the Rev. Wright show little or no appreciation for the realities of black life in America, or the historic functioning and role of black churches. While I would not choose to defend all of Wright's statements, and they are certainly problematic in the context of a political campaign (where, as Michael Kinsley reminds us, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth), the nature and extent of the right wing reaction (especially given Obama's own sharply different political and oratorical style, temperament, and clear repudiation of many of Wright's most obnoxious remarks) betrays a willful ignorance of the realities of prejudice and discrimination in American history, including that of our own time.

Obama stated that racism is America's original sin. Those tempted to deny that truth refuse to confront the hard realities of our history.

I would add here that Rev. Wright provides a form of succor for his suffering community. I, and most whites, are not his intended audience, and, I strongly suspect, are ill-prepared to understand the meaning his followers take from his fiery sermons, which may well be more emotive than literal.

As statements from preachers go (I would include some ultra-Orthodox, and ultra-chauvinistic rabbis in their company), I'm not sure the Rev. Wright's are among the most offensive. My G!d does not inflict 9/11 on America in response to gay rights or reproductive freedom, or visit the Holocaust on European Jewry for defects in their mezuzahs or tefillin (or their acceptance of the European Enlightenment). If anything, I, with Lincoln, am more inclined to recognize a G!d whose justice would entail suffering for America's sins of slavery and racism, and for our neglect of the poor.

Obama offers what may be a way out and beyond, toward possible racial healing and reconciliation, and the continued perfection of our imperfect union.

What could be more important?

Who could do it better?

Prosecuting a transplant surgeon for an excess of zeal--and some dubious practices

An interesting case is currently unfolding in California, involving the prosecution of a transplant surgeon for inappropriate treatment of the patient from whom the desired organs were to be procured. I've been asked for comment. One never knows in these circumstances what will or will not be included in a journalistic piece, so let me set forth my comment in full here:

While organ transplantation currently enjoys a very good press, it was not always so. The field has been shadowed by a number of public suspicions and concerns since its inception (and even before, reflected in works of science fiction and horror--back to Frankenstein). A particularly salient concern, even today, is that physicians eager to "harvest" organs to save lives will disregard the interests of potential donors (really, organ "sources", since relatively few give personal permission) and/or exert inappropriate pressure on family members. There has been a particular horror that organs will be taken from the bodies of still living patients, causing their death, to serve the "superior" interests of potential recipients. The criminal law regards the removal (with or without permission) of a vital organ from a still living patient, causing that patient's death, as a homicide, and various procedures have been established to protect against the reality, and the perception, that transplant surgeons, and other medical personnel, "operate" with a conflict of interest of this sort. For precisely this reason, transplantation protocols, and many state laws and regulations governing them, insist that one team perform the transplantation, and another team, devoted solely to the interests of the patient from whom the organs are to be removed, attend to that patient, oversee the dying patient's care, and declare that patient's death. These procedures, if meticulously followed, serve to protect the entire transplantation enterprise from suspicions of abuse.

Recent protocols for so-called "donation after cardiac death" draw a very fine line between orchestrating the removal of life-sustaining measures and superintending the donor's dying process and the removal of organs for transplantation purposes. In this setting, it is especially important that the medical institution and professional teams be well prepared and trained to follow carefully worked-out protocols, both for the protection and proper care of the donor and to assure public confidence in the integrity of the process. Some experts (including myself and fellow bioethicists Renee Fox and Judith Swazey) have been wary of moving in this direction, fearing that the zealousness to procure organs (understandable, given their life-saving potential) will cause physicians and procurement teams to overstep appropriate boundaries intended to protect patient and process. Donation after cardiac death leaves a very narrow margin of error in this domain, and it is rather clear in this case that relevant lines were crossed. Whether that is best regarded as a matter for criminal prosecution or for civil penalties and professional discipline will depend on particular facts of the individual case, and I am in no position to speak to the facts of this particular case. From what has been written, though, it would appear that this is a textbook case of how not to do things, and a potent reminder of the powerful temptations to stretch, and perhaps break, the rules in the quest for life-saving organs. Ironically, in this case, no useful organs were procured, and public confidence in the integrity of organ procurement methods was significantly undermined.

Some bioethicists have argued that society should become even more zealous in its pursuit of organs, lessening requirements for consent, providing monetary incentives for donation, and even doing away with the so-called "dead donor rule", which prohibits harvesting vital organs from still-living patients, thus directly causing their deaths. I think this case provides a sobering reminder of some of the risks of ever more aggressive means of procuring organs for transplantation purposes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

From Andy Borowitz

“As far as the war is concerned, the facts speak for themselves,” Mr. Bush said. “So I won’t mention any of them.”

Mr. Bush acknowledged that the war still presented certain challenges, but concluded on an upbeat note: “Iraq today is in better shape than Bear Stearns.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wish fulfillment

I guess it is only fair to spill the beans.
Perhaps some of my enthusiasm for Obama's speech is understandable in light of this message I sent to my son on March 16:

Hi son.
Here's something that maybe we could work on together.
Basic idea: a speech by Barack on identity politics.
In the speech, Barack should address, very candidly, the issues of identity politics going on in the race and the need to move beyond them.
(This would be analogous to JFK on Catholics and much better than Romney on religion).
He should reject all the anti-woman, misogynistic crap that has been aimed at Hillary (iron my shirt) and insist that his supporters reject and oppose any such stuff.
He should acknowledge the complexity of his own makeup. He should explain the anger and resentment in much of the black community and the historical reasons for it, talk about progress that has been made and is yet to be made, and argue that we go forth best by trying to recognize the complex and painful history of race (and perhaps gender) in America and work together to heal and to progress.
He should acknowledge the many strands in his own personal history, including the influence of his experience in the Muslim world and his belief that in both policy and in his person, he would embody a different approach to the world, a willingness to meet and talk and listen, and for America to provide moral leadership (in a respectful way) in tackling the problems of environment, of poverty, of resentment, that lead to hostility against the United States and fuel recruitment of terrorists...Reject the culture of death, create realistic hopes that feed the desire to live, build, create a better world ...
It is difficult to be the target of racist assaults and personal attacks, but he is determined not to give in to temptation to strike back in kind, but to commit to tackling big issues facing America and the world, to include the American people in a deeper consideration of the challenges facing us and how, with some particulars, we can work together to address these challenges.

What do you think?
Love you, abba

Hillary's Opportunity

It is the bad fortune of Hillary Clinton to seek the Presidency in a year in which she is in the presence of a competitor with the potential for true greatness, displayed in his speech earlier today. In other years, she might have merited the nomination, and election.

This is the moment in which she might rise above her personal ambitions for the good of her party, nation and world, and pledge her support to Barack Obama. There will not be a finer opportunity.

Somehow, from what I have seen of her campaign, I am not holding my breath. Perhaps there is a nobility in her character (or political astuteness in her husband's) that I have not yet perceived. I hope so.

Further Reflections on Obama's Speech

The speech is over, and I am now back from a medical appointment.

By my lights, the speech may have gone on a tad too long, and the middle portion descended from the oratorical heights of the prologue. Maybe a necessary compromise to address some grungy political realities. The end was strong.

The immediate commentaries were idiotic. Wolf Blitzer on how the speech will "play" with this constituency or that, and whether it will solve Obama's Jeremiah Wright problem. Some others calling this an excellent speech, but wondering whether it will make white audiences uncomfortable. The broadcast punditocracy is predictably pedestrian.

But a few voices, mainly from black commentators, recognizing the historic importance of the speech, and of the moment--this speech transcends Pennsylvania, the nomination, politics. Someone has finally talked to America with truth and candor and hope about the realities of our history and our lives

If America does not rally to Obama after this speech, we deserve what we get. This nation twice elected (more or less, sort of) George W. Bush to the Presidency. Are we capable of better?

To Move a Nation: Live Blogging Obama in Philadelphia

Barack Obama is still speaking.

I don't know what others will have to say.

For me, this is, simply speaking, a transcendent moment in the history of American democracy.

No one in my lifetime offers Obama's potential to bring Americans together to heal America's most profound ills and narrow the gap between the deeply flawed realities of our time and our most profound ideals and aspirations.

With this speech, Obama takes his place with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King among the most resonant and enduring voices of America. This is the most important speech since "I Have a Dream." It far exceeds, in both depth and truth, candidate JFK's celebrated 1960 speech on his Catholicism.

Monday, March 17, 2008

On Michigan, Florida, and an online vote

I think we should be testing out new technologies allowing for ever greater and more inclusive participation in our political process. However, I am skeptical that adequate preparations can be made in time for Florida and Michigan in this cycle, and I don’t think testing in such a highly consequential set of elections is the best idea with untested technology. I am also concerned whether certain parts of the electorate (seniors, minority populations, and some others) will have adequate access and savvy to make fair and effective use of the technology.

— Posted by The Wise Bard (#319, March 17)

It looks like folks are addressing a wider range of issues than specifically invited, so I’ll spew my own as well.
I have no principled objection to allowing a re-vote (following opportunity for meaningful campaigning)in Michigan and Florida, assuming it can be paid for and administered fairly. These states are important to a Democratic victory in the Fall, and even a small level of resentment toward the party could be decisive in a close general election.

If this is not feasible, or cannot be paid for (and there are other good uses for the money, in both Presidential and down ballot races), then seat evenly split delegations from one or both states, which will not skew the balance achieved in jurisdictions that did follow the rules agreed to in advance by all the candidates.

I have no abiding commitment to the current ordering of primaries, and believe a system of regional primaries (perhaps following a rotating set of single states where retail politics is possible) has much to recommend it. But if we are to move to a fairer and more rational primary system –as I hope we will–there must be meaningful and credible incentives for states to follow the rules, whatever they may be. Senator Clinton’s after-the-fact attempt to game the system is unworthy, to say the least.

— Posted by The Wise Bard (#328, March 17)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Debate with Richard Landes (latest installment)

To the Editor (SPME):

My undergraduate classmate Richard Landes and I had a civil and generally constructive private exchange on the important issues raised by the SPME Statement on the murders at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. His lengthy published piece in the latest (March 16) SPME Faculty Forum, quoting my initial letter and parts of our subsequent correspondence, makes an eloquent presentation of one important point of view in a difficult and painful debate. His ultimate call for frank and candid dialogue is one I generally share. However, I am disappointed that in his otherwise respectful treatment of my remarks, he chose not to quote some important sections of my private communication with him. These elisions result in a misleading presentation of my own perspective, making it easier for him to (mis-) characterize the position that I hold (albeit somewhat indirectly) as "profoundly misguided", mak[ing] us “useful idiots” in ignoring the dangers that threaten not only us, but every person on the planet...", and to assert further that "... it is based on a profoundly condescending view of Muslims in which we hold them to no standards... "

I wonder if your readers might find these characterizations somewhat less persuasive if they read the excerpts Richard selected from my letter in the full context in which they were made (emphasis added for those passages edited out of my original remarks):

"These presentations also tend to gloss over the consequences of such approaches [annihilation, expulsion, brutal suppression, etc.] on the souls of their perpetrators. I agree that mainstream Israeli and Jewish reactions to the Jewish murderer in Hebron, or the Jewish assassin of Prime Minister Rabin, differ from the widespread celebration in Arab streets after terrorist attacks targeting Israelis or other Jews, or in some cases, Americans. But that stops too soon. Jewish perpetrators of such acts also come out of a particular culture (or subculture), and have, disgustingly, been celebrated by them. And on the other side, there are Arabs, and Muslims, equally disgusted with terror and the obscene waste of human life and human opportunities inherent in the current Middle Eastern morass.

"My own conclusion, in a situation in which every potential course of action carries grave risks, is to accept those risks associated with the quest for a two-state solution, in which both Jews and Arab Palestinians can seek to realize their national aspirations consistent with the security needs of the other. The only hope I see is that living together with a modicum of mutual forbearance and respect may yield positive change over time. I believe we saw some harbingers of such change in the brief period between Oslo and Rabin's assassination, and my own conclusion is that Israeli recognition of the Palestinians' national aspirations and statehood, under terms consistent with Israel's core security needs (which do not entail a large settlement presence in most of the West Bank), may rekindle such progress. It will, for reasons you articulate, be slow going, and not free from setbacks. But I do not see a tolerable alternative. "

I am somewhat at a loss to understand Richard's selective use of my comments (I did not grant permission for them to be quoted in selective fashion), except as a device to undermine the balance and sophistication of the views he chooses to attack, and to shift attention from some of the painful realities from which Jews supportive of Israel's flourishing as a Jewish and democratic state might prefer to avert their eyes. Some part of Arab hatred--not all of it, but an important part--is responsive to hateful acts committed by Jews, who find support and sustenance within parts of the Jewish and Israeli worlds.
If we are to proceed toward a more candid and truthful dialogue, these are among the truths we must recognize.

I would appreciate your prompt publication of this response as submitted, without editing or selective presentation.

Sincerely, Alan J. Weisbard
Associate Professor of Law, Medical History and Bioethics, Jewish Studies, and Religious Studies
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI.

Black Rabbi Reaches Out to Mainstream of His Faith - New York Times

Black Rabbi Reaches Out to Mainstream of His Faith - New York Times:
"“I am a Jew,” said Rabbi Funnye, “and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers.”

As a teenager, Rabbi Funnye said he felt disconnected and dissatisfied with his Methodist faith. He embarked on a spiritual journey, investigating other religions, including Islam, before turning to Judaism. He said he found a sense of intellectual and spiritual liberation in Judaism because it encourages constant examination. “The Jew has always questioned,” he said.

Like their rabbi, a majority of Beth Shalom’s members came to Judaism later in life, after wrestling with contradictions and questions that they found in their own earlier beliefs. Many refer to their religious experience as reversion, rather than conversion, and feel a cultural connection to the lost tribes of Israel. They say that Judaism has renewed their sense of personal identity."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A musical commentary on state of the Supreme Court

Around the U.S., High Courts Follow California’s Lead - New York Times

Around the U.S., High Courts Follow California’s Lead - New York Times: "“Not to be too petty about it,” one wrote in a detailed critique when asked by a reporter, “but a report by the chief supervising attorney of the Supreme Court of California and the reporter of decisions of California that concludes — voilà! — that California is the most ‘followed’ jurisdiction in the nation is presumptively suspect.” The justice was granted anonymity to allow him to be petty."

On Democratic nomination rules

I am generally an appreciative reader of John Dickinson's reports on the campaign.In this instance, however, I think he badly misstates the relevant question(s). For me, and I think for many others, the question is not whether the superdelegates may, under the rules, favor Sen. Clinton, even if she is trailing in pledged delegates, popular votes, states won, and prospects of building the party and attracting voters who might favor progressive candidates in other races to the polls (and to work for their election). The question is whether they should.

My own view is that if the superdelegates succeed in wresting the nomination from Sen. Obama under conditions like those suggested above, they will demoralize the coming generation of potential progressive activists and deal a body blow to the Democratic Party for the coming generation .

Sadly, Senator Clinton, with her increasingly desperate and divisive campaign tactics, is well on the way to achieving this result. I have tried to believe that the Democrats were blessed with a multiplicity of excellent candidates; as the race has narrowed to two, and Senator Clinton has revealed some of her less admirable qualities, I am increasingly uncertain that I could support her in the general election.

---The Wise Bard

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I can't help myself...

Sinbad Refutes Clinton Foreign Policy Cred

One of the few episodes Hillary Clinton's campaign has cited as evidence of her superior ability to serve as commander-in-chief was a trip she took to Bosnia in 1996. The trip included Sheryl Crow, a Clinton supporter, and comedian Sinbad. In an interview today with the Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers, Sinbad says that the trip was hardly the harrowing experience Clinton has made it out to be:

"I think the only 'red-phone' moment was: 'Do we eat here or at the next place.'"

Clinton, during a late December campaign appearance in Iowa, described a hair-raising corkscrew landing in war-torn Bosnia, a trip she took with her then-teenage daughter, Chelsea. "They said there might be sniper fire," Clinton said.

Threat of bullets? Sinbad doesn't remember that, either.

"I never felt that I was in a dangerous position. I never felt being in a sense of peril, or 'Oh, God, I hope I'm going to be OK when I get out of this helicopter or when I get out of his tank.'"

Sinbad (who is supporting Barack Obama) twists the knife further:

In her Iowa stump speech, Clinton also said, "We used to say in the White House that if a place is too dangerous, too small or too poor, send the First Lady."

Say what? As Sinbad put it: "What kind of president would say, 'Hey, man, I can't go 'cause I might get shot so I'm going to send my wife...oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.'"

When your main campaign theme is foreign policy experience, and that experience is persuasively refuted by a comedian, it's time to find a new theme.

--Jonathan Chait

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Grim forebodings

Rocket Endangers Palestinian-Israeli Respite - New York Times:
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah faction, criticized the use of rockets by the rival Hamas in a meeting with Jordanian newspaper editors, contending that they cause more harm to the Palestinians than to the Israelis. In remarks published in the Jordanian papers on Tuesday, he said “What resistance are we talking about? Are rockets and suicide attacks considered as resistance?”

In late February, Mr. Abbas recalled his own role in the early Palestinian resistance, and raised questions about his future commitment to peaceful negotiations. “At this time, I object to the armed struggle, since we are unable to conduct it; however, in future stages things may change,” he was quoted as saying in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour."

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Response to a Statement on "Genocidal Acts"

Scholars for Peace In the Middle East Condemns Genocidal Acts At Yeshivas Mercaz Harav and Calls For War Crimes Trials For Genocidal Acts
By Edward S. Beck, President, SPME
March 6, 2008 For Immediate Release

In response to the cold-blooded murders at the Yeshiva Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem, the Board of Directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, on behalf of its nearly 20,000 participant faculty network at over 1500 colleges and universities around the world, wishes to express its condolences to the mourners of the victims and to the community of educators in which we are all bound together in the common goals to to both educate and enlighten.

The deliberate attack on this venerable institution of Jewish learning, a sacred seminary, cannot be interpreted as anything but an over act of premeditated, genocidal anti-Semitism not dissimilar from the acts of pogroms in Eastern Europe and Nazi SS raids on Jewish communities in Western Europe. Jews were killed simply because they were Jewish.

In no way can this be interpreted as an act of political liberation or of Palestinian self-determination and if the Palestinians insist that it is, then it must be interpreted as nothing less than an act of war against Jews and not just Israel.

Seminaries, synagogues and schools are meant to be solemn sanctuaries where scholarship, knowledge and learning is conducted in a safe and secure environment. When any school is violated with violence, there can be no justification for such actions and when those who attend a house of spiritual learning are violently violated in their sanctuary, such an action must be condemned in the strongest of terms.

We urge those who read this statement to urge their governments, especially those who are members states of the United Nations Security Council to call for an immediate pressing of war crimes charges of genocide against those who continue to perpetuate these genocidal acts upon innocent civilians.

Furthermore, we support the efforts of the Israeli and Palestinian Authority to work harder and more productively to bring an end to the long-standing conflict, but understand that Israel continues to maintain the right protect its civilians from genocidal attacks.

For more information on Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, visit or contact

Edward S. Beck Ed.D., CCMHC, NCC, LPC
Walden University; President, SPME

My response:

To signers of this statement:

Words have meaning.

It is important that words associated with extremes of human
conduct be used judiciously so that they retain their distinctive meanings, and so that proper uses of those words (and the experiences properly described by them) are not diminished through gratuitous overuse and dilution of meaning.

One such word is "genocide."

A second such word, one less extreme but nonetheless powerful and distinctive, particularly in Jewish historical context, is "pogrom."

My own view is that the invocation of these terms to describe the
clearly wanton and evil murder of religious students and scholars at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav by a single individual (perhaps--it is not known at this point-- supported by one or another terrorist gang) is inexact and unhelpful. So are invocations of these terms (and of the term "holocaust") employed by enemies of the State of Israel to describe deaths (including those of civilian women and children, so-called "collateral damage") caused by targeted Israeli attacks on Palestinian militants/terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank.

I am making no claims regarding moral equivalence here, except to say that none of these acts, in my view, constitutes activity meaningfully or usefully described as genocidal. Certainly, if one applies such labels to the murders at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, one must do so equally for the slaughter at the Cave of Machpelah by a deranged co-religionist, whose name I decline to mention, at Purim time some years back.

Further, given the current and foreseeable composition and
proclivities of most international institutions in a position to apply such terminology with legal force, I do not think it serves the
interests of Israel, or of the worldwide Jewish community, to encourage the indiscriminate use of these incendiary terms in the context of today's Middle East—at least short of the use (or threat) of weapons of mass destruction.

The attack on the Yeshiva merits moral condemnation in strong terms. I also join your expression of sympathy and condolences to its victims, their families and communities. But the rhetorical escalation of language serves little good purpose here, and I would urge you to reconsider how best to express your justifiable outrage at this heinous act.

Sincerely, (Prof.) Alan J. Weisbard, University of Wisconsin

On torture, waterboarding, and international law

This is from a posting on one of my bioethics listservs. It is difficult to provide the full context without extensive quotations from others, which might be a violation of listserv ethics. Suffice it to say that I am responding to competing arguments on the definition of torture under the Geneva conventions and whether waterboarding constitutes torture under international and domestic law. Perhaps that is enough to render my posting somewhat intelligible:

Erich wrote:"... Is the US some sort of noble creation? Are we the beacon which leads to ever greater virtue? Nonsense. We advertise already in NY Harbor "give me your hungry and your poor, the seizing masses aiming to be free" (the seizing is wrong but I can't think of the correct word)--and then we blatantly violate and have always violated them. ..."

The correct line from Emma Lazarus' The New Colossus is as follows:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Note that the "huddled masses" are "yearning to breathe free"--not to be choked by water forced up their nostrils.

Re: Larry's argument about the second line on torture qualifying (in fact, swallowing) the first:
While not a specialist on international human rights law, I am a lawyer, and I too read the reference to sanctions in this context as referring to "collateral" consequences of legally imposed punishments for criminal offenses (which, for purposes of US law and under our Eighth Amendment, may not be "cruel and unusual"). It would be peculiar indeed for an international convention to give signatory states the right to negate the central purpose of the convention by an ipse dixit redefining the core term at the heart of the convention--and particularly to do so via a classified administrative decision rather than national legislation or judicial decision. Indeed, it would take the peculiar combination of unmoored legal "creativity", moral bankruptcy, and shamelessness characteristic of the Bush Justice Department (and John Yoo in particular) to offer up such an interpretation.

On a related matter, my recollection is that Alan Dershowitz argued for a "torture warrant", which presumably would require a legal showing acceptable to a judicial officer or tribunal of some sort, insuring at least a modicum of quasi-independent third party review. I wouldn't overstate the independence or civil liberties commitment of the existing FISA court, whose record of compliance with administration requests is nearly complete, but presumably it offers something a tad more objective/disinterested than the judgment of a CIA operative in the field.

Alan Jay Weisbard
University of Wisconsin (Law, Medical History and Bioethics, and Jewish and Religious Studies)

More on Catholic Prayer

Here is a somewhat edited version forwarded to the Jewish Forward, where Prof. Neusner's article was originally published. (Issue of March 6)

I read with some distress Martin Marty's recent piece in Sightings, headlined "Jacob Neusner on Catholic Prayer," based on Jacob Neusner's contribution to the Forward Forum of March 6.

Jacob Neusner is a serious (and certainly prolific) scholar, and one with an unusual and distinctive history among Jews in relation to Catholic thought. He is certainly entitled to express his views, which should stand or fall on their intellectual merits, and not on his authority as a spokesperson for American Jews, many of whom consider Prof. Neusner an idiosyncratic and not a representative figure.

To present American Jews as having a mixed or "ambiguous" reception to the Vatican's recent actions on the Good Friday prayers (as Professor Marty does) is grossly misleading. Opinion is strong and virtually unanimous in opposition to Pope Benedict's marked backsliding from the considerable progress in Jewish-Catholic relations since Vatican II. Such disagreement as does exist reflects honest differences in perception as to the extent of the harm done and its long term consequences, not to the fact of harm. Differing formulations may also reflect, at least in part, tactical considerations by some of those engaged in long-term interfaith efforts (perhaps including Prof. Neusner himself).

The Hebrew prayer being referred to, the "Aleynu" (or "Aleinu"), does not call for conversion of all gentiles to Judaism; it does clearly privilege monotheistic faiths, reject what Judaism regards as idolatry, and express the eschatological hope (as Neusner correctly states) that all will come to acknowledge the one God. Normative Judaism has never viewed Islam as idolatrous. There have been varying interpretations over time on whether Christian worship before images or representations of Jesus constitute idolatrous practice, and whether Catholic concepts of the Trinity are consistent with, or violative of, Jewish notions of monotheism. For the most part, normative Jewish views in recent centuries have come to regard Christian faith as monotheistic.

The Aleynu prayer has a checkered history, and certain offensive passages have been--in my view, quite properly-- excised from the currently normative version of the text--much as Jews would prefer in the Good Friday Latin liturgy. Even in its current form, many liberal Jews (and some Jewish denominations), contra Neusner, choose to further modify the written or spoken text in a number of respects, rejecting some (but, for the most part, not all) of the passages cited by Professor Neusner, and reinterpreting others. The direction of change in the text and interpretation of this ancient prayer has, for the great majority of Jews, been toward a more ecumenical interpretation.

To the degree that Jews, Christians and Muslims (in my view properly) understand themselves as worshiping the same God (in the Christian case, God the Father), the current "Aleynu" text, calling on all humankind to invoke, worship, and give honor to God's glorious name, is, contra Neusner (and apparently Marty), far from fully parallel to the revised language in the Latin prayer, "Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men…grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved…" It is revealing that Professor Neusner declines even to cite the "that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men" in his mistaken missive. Jewish concern does not focus on the Catholic prayer's language that "God ...may illuminate their hearts" (which Neusner stresses, correctly, as a parallel theme to the Jewish prayer language), but on the explicit rejection of the validity of Jewish belief in favor of acceptance of Jesus' divinity and the exclusivity of the Christian path to salvation. One of the distinctive changes in Catholic theology in recent decades has been toward greater recognition of the permanence of God's covenant with the Jewish people; this recognition is a key pre-condition for educational efforts to instill greater respect for Jews and Judaism by contemporary Catholics, and it is hard to reconcile the language and implicit theology of the revised Good Friday Latin liturgy with these efforts.

Professor Neusner's theological musings are shockingly insensitive to the historical dimension of Good Friday prayers, and the significance of post-Holocaust (and particularly post Vatican II) efforts to chart a new, less destructive, and more mutually respectful course. Judaism does not have much of a recent (say, the past couple of thousand years) history of oppressing, proselytizing or forcing conversions to Judaism on Catholics, other Christians, Muslims, or members of other (non-Abrahamic) faiths. These deep historical patterns provide an essential context for evaluating the parallels, and non-parallels, in the respective prayers, and for assessing the impact of this distressing retreat from the post-Vatican II commitment to healing the rifts between Catholics and Jews. At best, with the Vatican's deletion of the adjective "perfidious" as applied to Jews, this is an instance of one step forward, two steps back.

Professor Marty's essay ends, "It is our duty to praise...". I would fill in his ellipsis as follows: "...that which is worthy of praise." Whatever the "right" of Catholics to pray as they wish, which I do not dispute, this latest development is unworthy of Jewish praise.

Alan Jay Weisbard