Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This Year's Boston Celtics

I have never been a Boston Celtics fan, but this past off-season, in a gutsy move to make fans everywhere but Boston green with envy, they went and got themselves two superstars (and two of my favorite players) Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Kevin Garnett is arguably the best player in the world and has been for about five years. Most people don't know this (in fact, I bet most of my readers who don't follow the NBA have never even heard of him) because for twelve years -- his entire professional career as well as his whole adult life (he was 19 when drafted) -- KG has been stranded in Minnesota, which has never been able to give him good teammates. He seems like a good guy and he brings an intensity and a desire to win that epitomize professional sports at their best. In a moving interview with John Thompson a couple of years ago, he broke down crying in frustration with the 'Wolves.

Ray Allen, meanwhile, is probably the best pure shooter in the game and I've always had a soft spot for guys who could make the J look so easy. (I was a huge fan of Reggie Miller.) Besides, how many NBA players not only starred in a movie, but starred in a pretty good movie?

Garnett and Allen join Paul Pierce (who is almost as good as Kobe Bryant, statistically speaking) and a decent supporting cast to form the most exciting Celtics team since the Bird years. It's sure going to be fun to watch.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Which Biblical Character are You?

Chana's got a fun post up, which I'm going to steal:
  • Which biblical character do you feel you are most like?
  • Which biblical character would you marry?
  • Which biblical character would you want on your team (or on your side, during a war?)
  • Which biblical character would you want to be close friends with?
  • Which biblical character do you think would make an excellent Disney villain?

Here are my answers, simulposted from her place:

Which biblical character do you feel you are most like?

Abraham. Although I wasn't quite so rude as to literally smash my father's idols, I did come to disbelieve in his religion and left the (metaphorical) land of my father.

Which biblical character would you marry?

Eve. I couldn't have resisted the Tree of Knowledge, either. Also, I hear she was a looker. ;-)

Which biblical character would you want on your team (or on your side, during a war?)

Joshua, if I'm not worried about war crimes or genocide. That guy was brutal.

Which biblical character would you want to be close friends with?

It'd sure be fun to have deep conversations with David. Also, I bet he threw some great parties.

Which biblical character do you think would make an excellent Disney villain?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More on Noah and Orthodox Apologetics

Last week, I asked What Do Orthodox People Really Believe? Several commenters argued that many Orthodox people believe that Noah's flood was merely a regional flood and not a global one and that certain Orthodox authorities have stated that this belief is acceptable within Orthodox Judaism.

This is what drives me nuts. The story is obviously mythological, so obvious that it's hard to believe anyone who has read it wouldn't immediately see that. It's also pretty obvious that the story comes from sources alien to Judaism. Let's look at some other parts of the story, all directly from the Torah:

  1. Noah was 600 years old.
  2. Beings called "the sons of gods" (בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙) married "the daughters of men."
  3. God decides that from now on people would live only to a hundred and twenty.
  4. By the way, there were giants in those days.
  5. Also, there were giants later, when the "daughters of men" bore children to "the sons of gods."
  6. God became sorry and grieved that he had created men.
  7. So he decided to kill all of them except Noah -- and to kill all the land animals and birds, too.
  8. He tells Noah to build an ark, 300 x 50 x 30 cubits, with three levels.
  9. He declares that everything on Earth and under heaven shall die.
  10. He tells Noah to bring two of every kind (מִינָ֔הּ) of land animal and bird and enough food to feed them.
  11. He tells Noah to bring seven of every kind of pure animal and of all birds and two of the rest.
  12. The fountains of the deep and the "windows of heaven" (אֲרֻבֹּ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם) opened.
  13. All the high hills under the entire heaven were covered. Then all the mountains.
  14. The water began to recede after 150 days.
  15. Noah opened the ark after 40 days.
  16. God promises never to do that again.
  17. Noah just happened to father the ancestor of all Canaanites, who he later cursed along with all of his descendents for "uncovering his nakedness."
  18. Noah died at 900.
  19. Noah's sons have sons who all formed their own peoples as well!
  20. Then we enter the story of the Tower of Babel.
What a story! In a single narrative, we have impossible claims about humans' lifespans, a God who isn't happy with his work and kills virtually every living thing on earth, actual giants, indications of some sort of polytheistic/demigod mythology, hints at multiple authorship, hints of a flat-earth cosmology, just-so stories about how all the nations came to be, all leading up to a just-so story about how different languages came to be!

For those Orthodox people who take the whole thing as a sort of parable or myth, I have no real problem, other than questions about how they know when not to take something in the Torah as parable or myth. (And why the precise measurements of the ark?) I'm mystified, though, about those people who take the story as more-or-less history, even if it's "really" talking only about a regional flood.

Have they never read the story? Did they just settle on the first pat answer to a troubling question? What do they make of all the great sages of old who obviously took the story as history? Do they just try not to think about this stuff too much? Again, I'm wondering about the educated, intelligent, "modern" Orthodox people. What do they really believe?

(Cartoon via Stardust Musings.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Update: Troops donate more to Obama than to any other candidate, Democratic or Republican

In the previous post, I pointed out that people "affiliated with the military" donated most to the two leading anti-war candidates, Paul and Obama. As it turns out, when you narrow the people "affiliated with the military" to actual "uniformed service members," Obama is the clear winner, with $27,000! A distant second is Paul, with $19,250, followed closely by McCain, with $18,600.

These must be Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers." Why do the troops hate our troops so much??

What do our troops know that Bush's 30% does not?

The few people who continue to support the Iraq war and claim that we're finally turning things around ("this time we mean it!") point frequently to anecdotes from soldiers over there who are privy to more information than we are. Blog-neighbor Mark has pointed to troop reenlistment rates as a proxy for troop morale as a proxy for evidence that things are going well, presumably because less indirect evidence is difficult to find.

I wonder what they'll make of this?

From January through September, donors affiliated with the military gave more contributions to Republican antiwar candidate Ron Paul than to anyone else. Coming in second place? Democratic antiwar candidate Barack Obama. Coming in third is John McCain, defender of the status quo.

When I said "I wonder..." above, I was just kidding, of course. This isn't going to change anybody's mind. All the Bush 30% have left is ad hoc reasoning. I'm sure that they'll find evidence that the war is going well in the number of bottles of water shipped to Iraq every week or something.*

* I recognize that violence has declined somewhat, at least by certain metrics. It's whether the surge is working politically that I'm referring to, i.e. whether we are getting any closer to leaving behind a successful state.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

If America Hadn't Lost its Freaking Mind

Then this quote would be true:
By now, it's clear that "We don't torture" is going to be George Bush's equivalent to "I am not a crook" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"--an embarrassingly transparent, obviously untrue statement that the speaker never would have even made in the first place if he hadn't been obligated to deny something that everybody had already figured out was the case. - Phil Nugent

That this transparent lie has barely made the press is disgraceful. If only we could get an intern to give the man a blow-job.

The Problem with Modern Orthodoxy

XGH quotes Rabbi Horowitz:
I am getting a new wave of parents begging me to speak to their children. The profile is chillingly similar: 13-14 years old boys and girls. High achieving in school. No emotional problems; great, respectful kids from great homes. Well adjusted. They just don’t want to be frum. Period. They are eating on Yom Kippur, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping kosher; et al.

No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity. They are just not buying what we are selling. Some have decided to ‘go public’, while others are still ‘in the closet’. In some of the cases, their educators have no idea of what is really going on.


My friends, I have no other way to say this other than “we are running out of time.” The kids are finding each other via cell phones, chat groups, Facebook and My Space. They are “making their own minyan.” Many minyanim in fact.

This phenomenon is also playing itself out in a similar manner among frum adults. Just look at the response on my website to Rabbi Becher’s excellent column, Adults at Risk.

May Hashem give us the wisdom and courage to make the changes that are necessary to reverse these frightening trends.

Finally, an Orthodox rabbi admits the truth:
High achieving in school. No emotional problems; great, respectful kids from great homes. Well adjusted. They just don’t want to be frum. Period... No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity. They are just not buying what we are selling.

By any reasonable criteria, these kids are stunning successes. By the standards of Modern Orthodox Judaism? They represent trends that are "chilling" and "frightening." If a teen (or adult!) decides that being frum is not for them, it's a tragedy.

I've never seen my opposition to Orthodox Judaism summed up better.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What Do Orthodox People Really Believe?

XGH has claimed that several rabbis have admitted to him in private beliefs that they would never own up to in public. I wonder, if that's true, how many other rabbis are the same way? And how many of the rank-and-file Orthodox are as well?

There are several claims which are (in my opinion) transparently false but Orthodox Judaism depends on. For example:
  1. 600,000 Jews literally walked out of Egypt at one time, plus "a mixed multitude" who went with them, along with flocks and herds and "very much" cattle.
  2. There was a global flood that killed all living things except those which lived peacefully together on a man-made ark for forty days and forty nights.
  3. The five books of Moses were written primarily by Moses, plus or minus a few letters here and there and maybe the last eight sentences.
I know that a lot of Orthodox Jews simply assume that these claims are true. I'm sure that some others are convinced by apologetics that they are true. What of the rest, though? Are we to believe that your average, relatively intellectual Modern Orthodox Jew believes these things? Or do they disbelieve, but keep quiet?

I don't really want to call anyone out, but do people like Chana and Ezzie believe that those things are true? Or do they just not think about them? Or do they accept the apologetics without thinking about those? Or are they literally in psychological denial? What about the rabbis? Is it all a big lie to them, albeit with good intentions, like telling children that the ghost of Elijah drinks from the cup at the seder or that the tooth fairy gives you money for teeth?

I'd really love to know. It's a shame there's no way to find out, short of kidnapping a bunch of rabbis and other Orthodox Jews and submitting them to a carefully-constructed polygraph test.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Basketball Links and a Rant about the NBA Age Limit

Two links from the TrueHoop blog:
  • Video of Wilt Chamberlain at 17 years old!
  • Damon Agnos argues that college players should make the jump as soon as they become a "consensus first-round pick" by pointing out that seriously injured NBA players are collecting enormous paychecks while seriously injured college players may never make it.

Let me take this moment to editorialize about the NBA's age limit. I think it stinks and should be repealed. It's unfairly discriminatory against kids who are ready for the league and is probably bad for the NBA as well. Why should the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James have to play in college for a year, with no salary or endorsements and no guarantee of either if they get injured? Basically, the age limit allows the NBA to outsource their coaching of 17-year-olds to college coaches at no cost. The NBA benefits from this in those (frequent) circumstances when kids are drafted on potential but need a year to develop. The colleges obviously benefit. NCAA basketball fans benefit. Television networks benefit. Everybody benefits but the kid.

Don't talk to me about how important college is, either. If you feel that way, convince the NCAA to let NBA teams draft young players and give them guaranteed contracts while still allowing them to play in college. Convince them to allow college players to receive endorsement money. It's unconscionable to let these often impoverished kids risk their entire careers for no money and no guarantees.

Besides, some of those kids have no real business even going to college. Jason Kidd, for example, is an amazing basketball player, but had to take the SATs four times to meet the NCAA minimum combined score of (if I recall correctly) 700. And he went to Berkeley. It's not like these guys are necessarily learning anything (although some do.) The whole system is a scam.

The D-League is a step in the right direction, I suppose. But an average salary of $35,000 is a far cry from the two-year, $1 million plus guaranteed contract some of those same players would get if they were allowed to enter the NBA draft.

Hillary a Neocon?

Libertarian Radley Balko makes the case that Hillary Clinton is "essentially a neocon who digs abortion:"
For seven years, the left has been up in arms about President Bush's aggressive foreign policy, his secrecy, his partisanship, and his expansive claims on executive power. It's odd, then, that they're prepared to nominate Hillary Clinton to carry the party into the 2008 elections.
Cato Institute President Ed Crane recently wrote a piece for the Financial Times pointing out that when you strip away the partisan coating, Mrs. Clinton's grandiose, big-government vision is really no different than that envisioned by the neoconservatives so loathed by the left. Clinton, remember, not only voted for the Iraq war, she still hasn't conceded she was wrong to do so, and has made no promise to end it any time soon.
Hillary Clinton voted for both the Patriot Act and its reauthorization. She voted for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. She voted to loosen restrictions limiting the federal government's ability to wiretap cell phones. In the past, she has supported a robust role for the federal government in enforcing "decency" standards in television and music. She teamed up with former Sen. Rick Santorum on a bill calling for the federal government to restrict the sale of violent video games.

Leftists concerned about the entertainment industry's increasingly imperial stand on copyright might take a cue from copyright guru Lawrence Lessig, who wrote on his blog for Wired magazine: "Of all the Dems, I would have bet she was closest to the copyright extremists. So far, she's done nothing to suggest to the contrary."

What about secrecy and executive power? It's difficult to see Hillary Clinton voluntarily handing back all of those extra-constitutional executive powers claimed by President Bush. Her husband's administration, for example, copiously invoked dubious "executive privilege" claims to keep from complying with congressional subpoenas and open records requests — claims the left now (correctly, in my view) regularly criticizes the Bush administration for invoking.

Hillary Clinton herself went to court to keep meetings of her Health Care Task Force secret from the public, something conservatives were quick to point out when leftists criticize Vice President Cheney's similar efforts to keep meetings of his Energy Task Force secret.

"I'm a strong believer in executive authority," Clinton said in a 2003 speech, recently quoted in The New Republic. "I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority."
Activists on the left need to recognize that Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic primary is the GOP's last best hope to elect a Republican to continue pursuing President Bush's pursuit of these unfortunate policies. And judging by her political career and recent voting record, they should also realize that even if they succeed in electing Hillary Clinton to the White House, it's likely that the only real resulting change in Washington will be that come 2009, we'll merely have a Democrat pursuing the same misguided policies.

Balko's claim that Senator Clinton is a neocon is certainly closer to the truth than the hysterical right's belief that she's a liberal commie. Everybody on the left seems to recognize that she's the right-most candidate running on the Democratic ticket, but exactly how far to the right is she? Is Balko right that she would simply continue Bush's policies? It's a scary thought.

I don't put too much stock in that much-ballyhooed moment when the top three Dems said they couldn't guarantee that no American troops would remain in Iraq by the end of their first term. It was a bad question, making no distinction between maintaining a few thousand troops in advisory roles and continuing a full-scale occupation. Nobody can predict the future and asking candidates to make those sorts of pledges is asinine*.

There continues to be no doubt in my mind that any of the first-tier Democrats would be better than any of the Republicans. Hillary might be a neocon in spirit, but I believe that she would follow her husband's model of "triangulation" and not support those policies that a majority of Americans disapprove of. That would mean that she doesn't accomplish any of the left's unpopular objectives like gay marriage or scaling back the war on drugs, but it would also mean that she doesn't accomplish any of the neocons' unpopular objectives like invading Iran or, as Mitt Romney idiotically proposed, "doubling Guantanamo." And on the plus side, she probably would improve the United States's image abroad, get universal (not single-payer!) health care through, and have fiscally AND socially responsible economic policies similar to her husband's. She would also install left-leaning Supreme Court justices, which is as important as ever, considering the "conservative" (i.e. authoritarian) direction the Court has taken lately.

I continue to support Obama and the clean break with the neocons that he (or Edwards) would represent, but I wouldn't see a Hillary presidency as a tragedy and I would certainly vote for her over any Republican now running. My biggest fear about her remains the effect the right's irrational hatred for her would have on the country. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Hillary haters got Obama or Edwards elected instead and ended up with a "real" Democratic president? One can only hope.

* Incidentally, Giuliani had the best answer I've ever heard to that kind of request at the GOP debate in New Hampshire when asked to make the same mistake George H.W. Bush made when he pledged "no new taxes" -- "I only think a man or woman running for president ought to take one pledge and that is a pledge to uphold the United States Constitution." Ironic, coming from Giuliani, who I suspect would revoke the entire Bill of Rights if he could, but a great response.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Evolution of my Blog

New atheist blogger PhillyChief of You Made Me Say It has tagged me with the Evolutionary Meme. The idea is to pick five posts which reflect the evolution of one's blog and then to pass the meme on to five others.

Going back through the archives, I find that while my blog has evolved over the years (!) that I've run it, most of the themes were present nearly from the beginning. In other words, I, the Creator, created, in the beginning, several "kinds" from which all current posts descend. Macroevolution of this blog's posts is a lie perpetrated by the atheist liberal elite. The only evolution that exists at Jewish Atheist is microevolution, or evolution within "kinds."

Accordingly, all five posts that I will discuss are from 2005, my first year blogging. Each is the first post of it's "kind."

1) My first real post was on May 20, 2005. It was titled Common Questions I - The Cosmological Argument. This introduced the first major theme of my blog: arguments for atheism and/or against theism. This theme has become less prevalent as my break with Orthodox Judaism recedes into my past.

2) Only five days later, on May 25, 2005, I introduced the second major theme of this blog: the downsides of Orthodox Judaism as a culture and a lifestyle. In a post called How Orthodoxy Causes Good Men to do Evil, I used the example of homosexuality to argue that being Orthodox causes... well, you read the title.

3) A few weeks later, on June 15, 2005, I segued neatly into the field of politics with my post Orthodox Jews and the GOP. As my blog has (micro!) evolved and questions of theism and Orthodoxy have become less immediate for me, politics has taken on a bigger and bigger role.

4) Two days after that, on June 17, 2005, I wrote about Malkie Schwartz and the Footsteps organization in the egregiously-long-titled Support for People From Ultra-Orthodox or Chassidic Communities Seeking to Enter or Explore the World Beyond Their Communities. This theme of reaching out to and attempting to help other people leaving Orthodox Judaism has continued to this day.

5) On October 16, 2005, I posted Letter to Dad, which was written by a lesbian to her intolerant, religious father. This was the first post of many about the intersection of homosexuality, religion, and politics, which has become something of a pet cause of mine.


I hereby tag XGH, because whose blog has evolved more entertainingly?; Andrew Sullivan, because his views have evolved so interestingly; Chana at The Curious Jew, because her blog has tracked her maturation from floundering teen to sophisticated college student; Mark at Pseudo-Polymath, because I missed his first couple of years; and the fellas at 2blowhards, because their blog has evolved so well.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Obama and Religion

I'm an atheist. Obama is very religious, perhaps the most religious of all the first-tier presidential candidates, perhaps the most religious since Jimmy Carter. Yet I continue to support him. Last night, blog-neighbor and longtime (in blog-years) correspondent Mark at Pseudo-Polymath asked how I could support Obama, given quotes like the following:
Sometimes this is a difficult road being in politics. Sometimes you can become fearful, sometimes you can become vain, sometimes you can seek power just for power’s sake instead of because you want to do service to God. I just want all of you to pray that I can be an instrument of God in the same way that Pastor Ron and all of you are instruments of God . . . We’re going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.

The remarks were made at the Redemption World Outreach Center in South Carolina, an evangelical church.

Mark insinuates that I would have sharply criticized Bush for making similar statements and I think that's true. So how can I continue to support Obama? The short answer is that religion isn't everything. For the longer answer, keep reading.

I think there are two distinct but important prongs to the question of how Obama's religion affects his potential presidency. First, how does his religion inform his character? Second, how would it directly affect his policy choices if he were elected?

How does Obama's religion inform his character?

Religion can be a positive or negative influence on one's character. On the one hand, it can lead to humility, compassion, and selflessness, but on the other, it can lead to intellectual dishonesty, intolerance, and inflexibility.

Obama does not seem to suffer from the kind of intellectual dishonesty that plagues many religious people; nor is he afraid of doubt. Here's an enlightening exchange from an interview he did with Andrew Sullivan:
AS: This is I think one of the more (to me at least), the most interesting part of your candidacy. Because we live in a world in which atheism - militant, contemptuous atheism - is on the rise. Religious fundamentalism is clearly the strongest force. Your faith - this thought-through intellectual faith, in many ways, but also a communal faith – is beleaguered, isn’t it?

BO: You know, it doesn't get a lot of play these days. But, you know, reading Niebuhr, or Tillich or folks like that—those are the people that sustain me. What I believe in is overcoming - but not eliminating - doubt and questioning. I don't believe in an easy path to salvation. For myself or for the world. I think that it’s hard work, being moral. It's hard work being ethical. And I think that it requires a series of judgments and choices that we make every single day. And part of what I want to do as president is open up a conversation in which we are honestly considering our obligations - towards each other. And obligations towards the world.

Hard to imagine Bush reading Niebuhr or Tillich.

Although it's inconceivable to me that a presidential candidate would be extremely humble, Obama's faith does not seem to have given him the same lack of humility that I've mocked Bush for.

Here is Obama on gay marriage, for example, which I posted about here:
It is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights. I must admit that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus' call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I might be seen on the wrong side of history.

"I must admit that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God." Wow. Could you imagine George Bush doing that kind of introspection? "... that Jesus' call to love one another might demand a different conclusion." Wouldn't our country be better off if that sentiment were more common?

Obama appears to see faith as something that compels him towards compassion and social justice. From the CNN story above:
Obama said he was pleased that leaders in the evangelical community such as T.D. Jakes and Rick Warren were beginning to discuss social justice issues like AIDS and poverty in ways evangelicals were not doing before.

It's true that George Bush ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism," but compassion and social justice do not appear to have played much role in his presidency, to say the least. Obama, like many or most liberal religious thinkers, appears to see social justice as a preeminent focus of religion. (Indeed "social justice" might be said to be the core value of Reform Judaism, something which is mocked by many Orthodox Jews.)

In the past few decades, politicians have invoked religion almost exclusively as a way of denying other peoples' rights (gay rights, abortion rights) or as part of the rhetoric of war (evildoers, etc.) I think that Obama sees himself as having the potential of undoing that disservice to both religion and our country:
"I think that what you're seeing is a breaking down of the sharp divisions that existed maybe during the '90s," said Obama. "At least in politics, the perception was that the Democrats were fearful of talking about faith, and on the other hand you had the Republicans who had a particular brand of faith that oftentimes seemed intolerant or pushed people away..."

"I think that's a healthy thing, that we're not putting people in boxes, that everybody is out there trying to figure out how do we live right and how do we create a stronger America," Obama said.

As I see it, Obama's faith has given him (or, more precisely, Obama has identified faith for giving him) a strong drive for social justice without the arrogance that the faithful sometimes have. He also indicates that he would stop the use of religion as a wedge issue in America and I think there's reason to believe that an Obama presidency could end much of the divisiveness in America and strip the religious right of some of its power.

How would Obama's religion directly affect his policy choices if he were elected?

I've already addressed the role Obama could play in re-balancing religion's influence on controversial issues like gay rights, abortion, and social justice. What about the separation of church and state? Well, here's the big man himself:
For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn't want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.

Whatever we once were, we're no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we're formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we've got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

In summary, I believe Obama to be the best kind of religious person: authentic, humble in his beliefs, compassionate, and driven towards social justice. He and I differ on the question of God's existence, but I believe that we share the same values. I post about atheism a lot because it's an important issue in my own life, having grown up in a community I had to leave, but I don't see being an atheist as more important than being a good person and I certainly don't think that people should vote for a candidate solely because he or she is more or less religious than another one.


  • Mark at Pseudo-Polymath asks how I can support Obama despite some disturbing religious statements he's made. It's a good question and although I replied at his place, I'll have to write a post about it.

  • John Cole, former Republican, tears into his old party for going horribly, horribly wrong.

  • Paul Krugman, on the other hand, argues that Bush is no departure for the GOP, but "the very model of a modern movement conservative." He does not mean that as a compliment.

  • Ben Avuyah wonders if outsourcing one's moral decisions to a rabbi leads to the atrophy of "moral musculature."

  • Some people are supporting Hillary just to make Rush Limbaugh's head explode.

  • New blogger Orthoprax Anonymous shares about a difficult conversation with his wife regarding his shift away from the religious beliefs he held when they got married.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Obama as Outsider

Every election we are inundated with candidates who attempt to portray themselves as Washington outsiders. Most of them are just play-acting. Obama is not. He has the facts behind him. Obviously, he's not a complete outsider -- he is a Senator, after all and a member of a major political party -- but compared to all other major candidates, he's a breath of fresh air. Four years after we invaded Iraq -- four years -- the Democrats have only managed to field a single candidate who both has the potential to be elected and was correct to oppose the war?

You didn't have to be a genius to see what was coming in 2003. I saw it. My family saw it and most of my friends saw it as well. The talk of the mushroom cloud was bullshit. The switch to "weapons of mass destruction" was ridiculous -- Saddam had chemical weapons in the 80s with our blessing. They weren't a threat to us then and they weren't a threat to us in 2003 -- even if he'd had them.

Even now, supporters of the president like to point out that the Democratic establishment was also wrong about the war. As if that's an excuse. The Democrats were spineless and feckless. I can't believe more than 10 of the Democratic senators who voted to give Bush the authorization believed Saddam was a legitimate threat to us.

The knock on Obama that he is "inexperienced" is laughable. If you're the general manager of an NBA team on draft day, given the choice between a star high-school player with an NBA body and an NBA mind or a four-year NCAA veteran of smaller stature and questionable judgment who has done nothing but lose, who are you going to go with? The one with "experience?" Or the one who can ball?

Excerpt from his speech at DePaul:
Five years ago today, I was asked to speak at a rally against going to war in Iraq. The vote to authorize the war in Congress was less than ten days away and I was a candidate for the United States Senate. Some friends of mine advised me to keep quiet. Going to war in Iraq, they pointed out, was popular. All the other major candidates were supporting the war at the time. If the war goes well, they said, you'll have thrown your political career away.

But I didn't see how Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat. I was convinced that a war would distract us from Afghanistan and the real threat from al Qaeda. I worried that Iraq's history of sectarian rivalry could leave us bogged down in a bloody conflict. And I believed the war would fan the flames of extremism and lead to new terrorism. So I went to the rally. And I argued against a "rash war" - a "war based not on reason, but on politics" - "an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences."

I was not alone. Though not a majority, millions of Americans opposed giving the President the authority to wage war in Iraq. Twenty-three Senators, including the leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, shared my concerns and resisted the march to war. For us, the war defied common sense. After all, the people who hit us on 9/11 were in Afghanistan, not Iraq.

But the conventional thinking in Washington has a way of buying into stories that make political sense even if they don't make practical sense. We were told that the only way to prevent Iraq from getting nuclear weapons was with military force. Some leading Democrats echoed the Administration's erroneous line that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We were counseled by some of the most experienced voices in Washington that the only way for Democrats to look tough was to talk, act and vote like a Republican.

As Ted Sorensen's old boss President Kennedy once said "the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war" and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears." In the fall of 2002, those deaf ears were in Washington. They belonged to a President who didn't tell the whole truth to the American people; who disdained diplomacy and bullied allies; and who squandered our unity and the support of the world after 9/11.

But it doesn't end there. Because the American people weren't just failed by a President - they were failed by much of Washington. By a media that too often reported spin instead of facts. By a foreign policy elite that largely boarded the bandwagon for war. And most of all by the majority of a Congress - "a coequal branch of government" - that voted to give the President the open-ended authority to wage war that he uses to this day. Let's be clear: without that vote, there would be no war.

Some seek to rewrite history. They argue that they weren't really voting for war, they were voting for inspectors, or for diplomacy. But the Congress, the Administration, the media, and the American people all understood what we were debating in the fall of 2002. This was a vote about whether or not to go to war. That's the truth as we all understood it then, and as we need to understand it now. And we need to ask those who voted for the war: how can you give the President a blank check and then act surprised when he cashes it?

With all that we know about what's gone wrong in Iraq, even today's debate is divorced from reality. We've got a surge that is somehow declared a success even though it has failed to enable the political reconciliation that was its stated purpose. The fact that violence today is only as horrific as in 2006 is held up as progress. Washington politicians and pundits trip over each other to debate a newspaper advertisement while our troops fight and die in Iraq.

And the conventional thinking today is just as entrenched as it was in 2002. This is the conventional thinking that measures experience only by the years you've been in Washington, not by your time spent serving in the wider world. This is the conventional thinking that has turned against the war, but not against the habits that got us into the war in the first place -- the outdated assumptions and the refusal to talk openly to the American people.

Oh, and by the way, Obama isn't too shabby with a basketball, either.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Short Movie Reviews


Superbad A+

Three unattractive high-schoolers try to get laid before the end of senior year. Hilarious and unbelievably crude. Much better than Knocked Up, which I gave an A.

The Bourne Ultimatum B+

Solid movie in the mold of the first two. I was a little disappointed, but only because the reviews were so great.

The Simpsons Movie B-

It was fun because it's The Simpsons and it's a movie, but it wasn't better than your average episode during the show's heyday.

Transformers B+

Entertaining popcorn movie. Good action, hot girl. Dragged a little towards the end.

The Kingdom B

Kept my attention. Most of the movie was quite good, but some parts were too unrealistic. Great, gritty fight scene with Jennifer Garner and a man twice her size. Nice to see Chris Cooper playing a good guy, even if it's almost the same character he always plays. He was even a little funny.

Good Luck Chuck C-

Dane Cook is kind of charming, but not particularly funny. Jessica Alba is extremely hot, but not a good actress. A few chuckle-worthy moments, but that's about it.

Van Wilder B

Finally got around to watching this on cable. Solid comedy.