Saturday, March 10, 2007

Common Ties (and the People who Wear Them)

As some of you may know, I have taken lately to selling my life on the installment plan. That is, I am writing short memoirs of episodes in my life for the wonderful magazine called Common Ties.

The most recent is The Kindest Cut of All, where I describe a very unusual circumcision in which I participated. Have a gander.

What set me off today was a story by author Beverly Carol Lucey. It is yet another shallow rehash of a Jewish childhood without a Jewish education, a ubiquitous genre of surpassing superficiality.

In response, I sent this letter:

Much as I hate to be critical, I really don’t get this at all.

It seems to be the story line should have been: Hi, my parents took me to an Orthodox synagogue as a kid, but they were too cheap or too short-sighted to send me to a Jewish school. Pressing, I discovered they were ignorant themselves and oddly at peace with their ignorance.

One day I woke up and asked myself: wait a second, isn’t Judaism a 3300 year old philosophical system that changed mankind? Wasn’t King David the most powerful poet who ever lived - and writing that poetry 1000 years before anyone else? Aren’t there 24 books in the Bible that have fascinated billions of people through the ages and inspired most of the great art and science in history? Aren’t there 20 volumes of Talmud explicating the laws taught briefly in the Bible, including an entire civil law system still active today in Rabbinical courts? Isn’t this a religion that prophesied its people would retake its land at the end of history despite the land being desolate and the people dirt poor, and then amazingly, astonishingly, that occurred? Aren’t there Jewish schools from k-12, followed by Jewish seminaries and colleges; they must be learning something more than what to mumble in Hebrew at which cue? Why does Hebrew feel dead to me when in fact it is the most miraculous language, the only language in history to be revived as the spoken language of a country after over 2000 years? A language that in its revival has been rich enough to breed an entire new generation of evocative poetry and beautiful songwriting, both religious and secular? Could it be possible that a religious system that sustained a nation of brilliant, talented people through 2000 years of exile and poverty is nothing more than a few Hebrew mumbles and bad trumpet blowing?

I concluded that my relatives were neglecting their heritage and stifling mine. I dropped what I was doing and went to Israel to study Judaism intensively for four years. I was amazed to discover an entire body of thought and law, a philosophy of life, a mission of great purpose. Having used energy and intelligence in this diligent investigation I am now prepared to intelligently opine that… x. Whatever x may be: I love it, I like it, I hate it, I’m indifferent to it.

Instead we get this. No one taught me why. They didn’t even know why. So I walked. And I have a vague idea that what I left was probably flawed. But for a minute there it gave me a warm feeling. And that’s kinda cool.

Hmmm.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Shot in the Dark

I have to admit I am a bit baffled by the lack of blogosphere coverage of today's groundbreaking, seriously important decision out of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the District's longstanding ban on handguns. How Appealing has some coverage, and as you would expect, that gun-lovin' wacko Instapundit gives out links but little independent analysis. He seems to have disabled the Volokh Conspiracy with a multi-pronged Instalanche, which is a damn shame. Eugene Volokh became the blawgger go-to guy on the Second Amendement by being that rarest of intellectuals: a guy who had an opinion, which he later changed on the basis of an honest look at the evidence.

The case was heard by a three judge panel, which split 2-1. It is interesting that the majority so wholeheartedly embraced the idea that the 2nd Amendment really does mean what it says, and confers an individual right that they earned an approving nod from the Cato Institute. The dissent seems to me, admittedly a non-lawyer, as just plain weird: Judge Henderson argues that the meaning of the 2nd Amendment in regards to the District of Columbia is purely academic, because the District of Columbia is not a state. I await rulings on what other constitutional provisions and amendments do not apply in the District of Columbia, with special interest in the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth. And given the eternal mouthiness of Eleanor Holmes Norton, possibly the Nineteenth.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Squandering the Art of the Clinton Legacy

Bill Clinton was perhaps the last great Democrat, as we understood "Democrat" before the left took it over at last. Although I didn't vote for him either time because I had (vindicated) doubts about his character starting with his exquisitely bald lie about not shtupping Gennifer Flowers (he did), politically I found him pretty much a centrist, not terribly different from Bush41 or Bob Dole.

He handled the peace and prosperity thing A-OK. He let some geopolitical threats fester, but hoping things might work themselves out on their own can be prudent, too. And he did the best thing a president can do when faced with the threat of prosperity---he didn't mess with it.

How his vice president and anointed successor Al Gore turned an election against an underqualified and subarticulate Republican challenger into a close call remains a puzzle for the ages. Gore should have won by 10 states and 20 points.

Bill Clinton was a leading light of the now-moribund Democratic Leadership Council. Friendly to economic growth, strong enough on national defense. FDR would have tolerated it, Truman and LBJ would have caught the national defense part, and John Freaking Kennedy would have been its pope.

But somewhere along the way, Al Gore lost the script. All he had to do was read from his as boringly as Bush41 read from Reagan's, and he'd be completing his second term about now.

True enough, though, he wouldn't have an Oscar. I guess it all depends on what you think is important.


Which leads us to Mistress Hillary.

Every Democrat in Washington and most every Democrat everywhere else owes Bill Clinton. The missus inherited a virtually unlimited fountain of cash and considerable karmic debts. But she seems determined to blow it. I have no idea how she could sit on stage for 30 years behind Bill Clinton's sweet political song and still remain tone-deaf.

She goes to Selma, Alabama the other day to speak on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and uses an insultingly bad black accent and prattles on about global warming. I mean, not only does she butcher the tune, she doesn't even know the words.

When Hillary compared her own struggle as a woman (women got the vote in 1920) to what black folk use capital letters to describe as The Struggle (for practical purposes and as everybody knows, blacks only universally got the franchise with the Voting Rights Act of 1965), thousands of the African American eyeballs in attendance rolled painfully back in their respective heads.

After all this time, the first black president's wife knows absolutely zip about black folk.


Bill Clinton was the last of a breed, I think, at least among Democrats for awhile. Somebody who understood not just politics, but people. Not just the words, not just the tune, but the feeling that turns them both into music. Call it art.

Artists are rare in politics and are often flawed: FDR was a master, as were JFK, Ronald Reagan and of course Bill Clinton. There are solid artisans, like Truman, Eisenhower, Bush43, and don't underestimate LBJ and Nixon, who all except for Ike were undone more by their times than their flaws.

Barack Obama is an artist, let's make no mistake, although it's probably only a matter of time until his inexperience leads him to screw up under the brutal pressure. But I don't want to cynically bet against him because I like the fact that he seems interested in governing all the American people and not just those who agree with him. He wants to be my president, too, and I appreciate that, even though I agree with him politically on virtually nothing. I mean, Bill Clinton is far to Obama's right.

The other artist in the mix is Rudy Giuliani. He winks at the political game, has a screwed-up personal life, but as an artist he lets us all in on the joke and we love him for it.

If the Democrats are determined to squander Bill Clinton's legacy, Rudy Giuliani is happy to pick it up. The suit fits.

Pardon You. Not.

I see that El Presidente W wants to stay away from any talk of a pardon for Scooter Libby, at least until the legal machinery has stopped billing by the hour. This whole mess, of course, is largely W's fault: Instead of simply confronting Joe Wilson's lies directly, the White House decided to be subtle about it, with leaks and insinuations and all the rest. And then there was the cowardly act of bringing the special prosecutor aboard because, again, W did not want to have to get up and explain in plain English that the Justice Department was/is perfectly capable of conducting such investigations. And then there is the eternal failure of W to control his administration; and so we had the Armitage leak and subsequent silence on his part, and Powell's as well, about whence the fair Valerie's name. (Armitage and Powell are the scum of the earth.)

And so W's eternal inability to get up and make a case verbally has yielded the inevitable return of the roosting chickens, except it is not W but instead Libby who is getting cra**ed upon. Maybe W will pardon Libby during his last day in office; it is not just with respect to North Korea and the Iranians that W is looking more and more like Slick Willy every day.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The City and Burb

I'm not a suburb guy. I mean, I grew in different suburbs and they're fine, but if given the choice, I'd rather not live in them. But I can't stand the sort of sneering, condescending, holier-than-thou attitude taken by so many a faux intellectual who deem "urban" life ever so superior, ever so much more amenable to a proper human life. So I'm always happy to come across a good beating to such preeners and here James Lileks delivers one, with a side-dish against the ubiquitous urban planners that ruined so many American cities in the 1960s. Deee-lish...

Real Violations of Religious Liberty

We spend so much time mucking about and yelling at one another about whether we can place the Ten Commandments on the South or North wall of a courthouse or whether a Santa needs to be 3 or 6 feet away from the Christmas creche, that we often fail to recognize how fortunate we are that we live in a land where religious liberty is protected to a degree really unknown in history. So when a story like this pops up, it shakes things up a bit.

It appears that there's a Christian group at Savannah State U that (according to the link above)* got "suspended" because its members engaged in "hazing" rituals. What were those? Why it was that ol' fraternity prank of "foot-washing." Now, for those unfamiliar with this "Animal House" ritual, it was that first pledge bro' Jesus who washed his own disciples' feet at the group's big annual formal, otherwise known as the Last Supper. Boy, was that a good time, except for that one dude who ran off - big party pooper he turned out to be.

Well, then the group at SSU (motto: "You Can Get Anywhere From Here") got expelled because - get this - they went to a Christian concert off campus. Well, we can't be having that, can we? With all the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll on campus, anyone that goes off campus for a concert is clearly up to no good.

* I couldn't find any independent news on the web - just copies of the complaint and the ADL press release. There might be more to the university's side, of course.

Climate Change: What You Can Do

I've been on the fence about this thing until America's most highly-paid newsman wrote this on her blog:
And all the experts agree. Well, almost every expert. (There are a handful of scientists — many of them on the payroll of big oil companies — who wonder if global warming is a reality.)

Oil companies. I should have known. They want us all dead so they can have all the oil to themselves. Still, as a Republican, the question I really have to ask is, what's in it for me??

It's another perfect day here in Southern California, a nippy 69 degrees, and the value of my house has doubled in the last 5 years. What if everybody had nice weather, the chilling thought went down my chilled spine. My obscene profit, up in smoke like from the tailpipe of a Hummer. And if it gets as warm as Mexico here, why, they sell land as cheap as dirt!

We have to do something about this. Now. Like Al Gore said while snarfing up his well-deserved Oscar, this is a moral issue. Quicker than Gore flunked out of divinity school, I came up with this helpful list. Clip and save:


---Plug in your clocks only when you absolutely have to know what time it is. If you need the alarm, get up five minutes early to set it.

---Al Gore says cigarettes are a significant cause of global warming, so quit smoking and sell him the carbon credits.

---Your kids are useless for pushing your car up to highway speeds, but they can increase your mileage considerably around town. Use your headlights only when there's no moon, and remember, your horn uses less energy than your turn signal.

---Stairs make you huff and puff and expel carbon dioxide. Use the elevator. And sports are carbon-intensive too, so do 'em on your X-box.

---Take as long as you want browsing in the fridge. Leaving the door open cools the world down.

---Down more Slurpees, or better yet, nice frosty margaritas. See, this isn't so bad.


---Lower the thermostat in your Gulfstream jet, and make the help wear sweaters.

---We need our corn for ethanol. Switch from Fritos to pork rinds.

---Do not use a television or radio unless it's bicycle powered, like Gilligan's.


---Turn your computer off right now. Turn it off, get up out of your chair, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Then sit down quietly. Moving, talking and breathing should be kept to the absolute minimum. Human life is eco-unfriendly, and should be lived as little as possible. It's only moral.