seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Hey everyone, remind me that getting into arguments on Facebook rarely gets anything productive done and is usually going to hurt people I care about.
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Posted this on facebook a couple weeks ago; I saw something the other day on Dreamwidth that made me think it probably was worth posting here too:

The secret reason I'm not okay with everyone cheering on the punching of Nazis is because lots of the leftists cheering the punching of Spencer are fond of calling Zionists Nazis. Where by Zionists they mean Jews.

So when I say "I'm worried about who gets to decide who is a Nazi and can be punched," I mean "I'm worried they're going to punch my family." When I say "I'm worried about the unforeseen consequences of mob justice," I mean "I'm worried about anti-semitic pogroms."

I'm testing out this idea of not talking in code. We'll see if it's a mistake.
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After the rally, I met [personal profile] ghost_lingering and Jon at MoMa. They had a sort of special installation in recognition of Trump's travel ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries. I say sort of because I'm not sure whether it really comprises an installation, exactly, except that it does.

The installation, such as it is, consists of seven paintings by contemporary artists installed in MoMa's fifth floor galleries, which typically host the museum's permanent collections- that amazing and confusing collection of Picassos, Matisses, Magrittes and Van Goghs that are the museum's most reliable draw for visitors. I've written before about how MoMa constitutes a canonical avant garde, a 'Revolutionary Orthodoxy'. The seven paintings installed in this gallery present a deliberate and sometimes really unsettling disruption of this paradoxical conservatism.

I commented partway through that it sort of felt like a treasure hunt, to wander through these familiar galleries and spot the painting that was out of place. Sometimes it was instantly obvious; other times the work blended until you took a closer look. A Sudanese painting set beside a Picasso guitar sculpture showed similar geometries and a similar color palette- and an utterly different sense of composition.

Each of the paintings had a note beside it noting that the artist was from a country whose travel into the US was being restricted by the executive order, making clear how such an executive order would impact our artistic and cultural exchange with the world. But the positioning of the art within the context of MoMa's permanent collection made a sort of opposite argument, namely that these works of art are not scary, they are not foreign and weird, they're perfectly recognizable as part of the normal discourse of the art world. And that cutting these seven countries out of our American lives isn't cutting out the Other, something separate- it's cutting something out of our very heart.
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Hundreds of Jewish umbrellas came out today, braving the hail and the sleet and the cold, to Battery Park, overlooking the Statue of Liberty, to say that Jews understand our moral obligation to help refugees and not deny them safety. To commit to continue fighting against Trump's hatred. To speak about our love and connection with the Muslim community. To remember the past and pray for the future. And to say that we were strangers once, in the land of Egypt, and because of that it is a mitzvah to love the stranger.

(better pictures, not taken by me)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I think the thing I want to say this morning is that Donald Trump is not scary because he is planning to round up all Muslims tomorrow or anything. He is scary because he is a compulsive liar and we wake up this morning without any clear idea at all of what a Trump Presidency will look like.

He faces a Congress that supports a broad conservative agenda, but that does not like Donald Trump very much. Paul Ryan has called Trump a racist several times, Mitch McConnell barely offered him any support, and a number of Republican Senators and Congressmen have repudiated him. It is unclear what the constraints they will impose on him will look like. It's unclear that they will be able to recover enough unity of purpose to constrain him in any significant way. But on the other hand, they have in Mike Pence a strong and cooperative conservative waiting in the wings. It's hard to believe, but one suspects that the threat of impeachment is the major power that the Republican Party holds over Trump at the moment.

On the other hand, I think even with the addition of another conservative justice, the Roberts court is capable of and likely to constrain some of the most terrifying of Trump's campaign promises. The worst of Trump's threats against immigrants are unconstitutional and there is no debate between conservative and liberal jurists on this question. Trump may have the ability to temporarily violate our decency, but the institutions of American democracy are strong enough to ultimately uphold the constitution over the whims of a would-be authoritarian leader. I believe that very strongly.

Obamacare is likely dead- the question is whether Trump attempts to destroy it in some unthoughtful way that crashes the American economy and ruins lives, or if he can actually muster the attention span to partner with Paul Ryan and unwind it in a reasonable, sane way. I cannot predict that, but I can summon a little, tempered optimism. Obamacare was deeply flawed and broken, and there is the potential for something better to replace it.

Are we going to get a wall? Of course not, there's no way in hell Paul Ryan is going to approve an appropriation that large for something that stupid. And there's no way in America as America is constructed for Trump to build the wall without Congressional approval. But as I've been saying for months, that's not exactly the point. The point is that Trump is going to threaten to do various terrible things, and he may try to carry out some of them, in order to so scare the Mexican government that they will do do more work to keep illegal immigrants out of the US. It will probably not work, but who knows, I've never been able to make sense of anything Trump does. And even if it doesn't work, the bluster will play well to the people who elected Trump, the ones who feel so powerless in the face of the changing world that they've been screaming out for someone to do something drastic to fix America's problems. It doesn't matter if we get a wall, the mere fact that he'll try for something so grand and stupid is why they voted for him.

Drastic is rarely good. That is the cornerstone principle of my conservatism. But drastic is where we live now. Welcome to Donald Trump's America.
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An NYC community venue I've gone to a number of times for the New York Review of Science Fiction book reading series, the Brooklyn Commons, hosted a 9/11 Truther for a lecture last night. That's bad enough- Trutherism is completely untethered from truth and spreading lies about an event as personally painful as 9/11 is pretty morally awful in my book. But the particular Truther they hosted is of the sort who blames a Zionist Jewish conspiracy for causing 9/11. And who may also dabble in a little Holocaust denial on the side. When confronted about this, the Commons doubled down, issuing a letter defending their decision on the grounds that they don't vet speakers, and arguing that giving a space to racists is important because it teaches people the valuable lesson that racists exist- all the while continuing to claim the Commons was a 'progressive' space.

I was planning to go to a NYRSF event there tonight, with an awesome guest list including Keith DeCandido, Steven Barnes, and Emily Perrin-Asher to talk about Star Trek on the 50th anniversary of the first episode airing. I'm torn, but I've decided not to go. On the one hand, the organization that runs the NYRSF readings is not anti-semitic, not at all affiliated with the Truthers, and has condemned Brooklyn Commons for hosting this speaker. And I've been going to NYRSF events for more than a decade, they were one of my first entrypoints into organized SF fandom and I don't want that to be ruined because of decisions made by people they don't have direct control of. On the other hand, they rent the space from the Brooklyn Commons and so my money if I attended would be going ultimately to the group that has condoned and welcomed this vile anti-semite, given him this platform within my own community.

A friend of mine organized a protest at the venue last night. I wish I could have joined, but I already had plans- the whole situation came up suddenly. And the whole situation makes me sick. It's bad enough to combat anti-semitism in the general world, but when it creeps into your own communities, that's a whole additional level of difficult.

Tonight, [personal profile] freeradical42 and I are just going to watch Star Trek TOS episodes on our own instead.
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The weather hasn't calmed down, but it's cooled down- we've had a series of pretty dramatic summer thunderstorms that have dropped temperatures from the 90s into the 80s and very occasionally into the 70s. I've taken advantage of a few of the lulls in the thunderstorms to get back in the biking thing. Sunday I rode over to the river and then through a riverside park... Google maps says the total trip was about 8 miles, which is a lot for me. I sort of tricked myself into the distance- the trip out to the river is mostly downhill, and the ride along the river was mostly flat, so I kept pushing further out because I wasn't feeling winded, but I struggled on some of the uphill parts heading back. There was one hill in particular that I might've been able to climb at the beginning of the ride, but certainly couldn't at the end, and ended up walking my bike up the hill. But it was a good ride, really pleasant, and my legs were a lot less sore the day than they were after my first bike ride of the summer when I only went half the distance I did yesterday, so maybe my body's adjusting. I always found that to be the case when I was somewhat serious about frisbee in college- I'd come back after winter break of not doing any fitness stuff and the first practice would kill me, and then I'd be fine after that. But my body is not eighteen anymore and it's been a lot longer since I was in shape, so I suspect it'll take longer this time around.

Suburbia makes fitness hard. You basically have to drive everywhere to get to anything useful, so any exercise has to be unpurposeful, done just for its own sake. When I lived in New York City, I didn't need to do exercise because I got several miles of walking done every day, and more on good days. Where I was living for the past ten years, I just didn't have much interest in unpurposeful exercise. I'd get home from work after wrestling with traffic for an hour and be exhausted and grumpy and not want to move. My only exercise of the week came on Shabbos with walking to and from shul. My new town, well, the new township I've technically moved into is even more spaced out than my old one, but I'm two blocks from the border of a town that is much more tightly packed together and has interesting things to walk and bike to. And I have this extra energy that comes of the shorter commute and I'm glad I've been able to burn some of that energy by moving my body.

I also did some stuff in the kitchen Sunday. I baked challah for Vividcon, which is in less than two weeks and I'm very excited about it. I'm hosting a Shabbos dinner at the con, which should be nice. The only problem with VVC is that Saturday night into Sunday is Tisha B'Av, which is a weird semi-holiday that I'm going to have to figure out my comfort level with doing con stuff around. Going straight from Club Vivid to reading Eichah seems weird. On the other hand, I don't want to skip Club Vivid, since I'm premiering a vid there. Eh, I'll figure it out.

Notes on politics I have resisted posting on Facebook:

-My father said when I saw him on Sunday "The liberals keep falling into Trump's traps."

I think in a lot of cases he's right. The baffling case of Donald Trump, Russian agent is a perfect example. The DNC was hacked and their emails released by Wikileaks. It is not clear who the hackers were or what their motivation was. Wikileaks' motivation is general chaos by way of radical information transparency, which is to say, Wikileaks believes that no information should be secret.

The information in the emails included information that was embarrassing to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. In order to deflect attention, Clinton and her advisors suggested that the Russian government might be behind the hacks. They made this suggestion despite their being no evidence of Russian involvement beyond speculation. The FBI was asked and they said something like "Sure, it could be the Russians, we don't know." On this basis the idea that the Russians, with or without the direct collusion of Donald Trump, had hacked the DNC started to be spread by the media as a rumor.

So Donald Trump, confronted with the ridiculous and unfounded accusation that the Russian government is propping up his campaign, made the sarcastic remark that if he could control who the Russians hacked, he would have instead directed them to recover the missing emails Clinton and her legal team deleted from her private email server- emails that she claims were personal but which a lot of people suspect included sensitive political exchanges, emails which she hid using a private server to step around the Freedom of Information Act's requirements for reasonable transparency, even when it meant mishandling sensitive information.

And the Democrats took this- a clear joke, and a barbed one- and started raving about how Donald Trump had committed the treasonous act of calling for a foreign government to hack an American national's server. When Trump has done nothing wrong except suffer the unverified accusations of liberal hacks.

When conservatives- the kind of conservatives like me who fear Trump- see this kind of nonsense game, it makes it harder and harder to take Hillary Clinton seriously as an alternative to Trump. It makes it easier and easier to say "Okay, Trump is a disaster, but voting for Clinton is courting a different kind of disaster. Hillary Clinton doesn't take democracy seriously, either." Easier and easier to say "If Trump is president, he'll only be able to pass the laws that Paul Ryan sends to him, so Congress will act as all the check on his power we'll need."

And Donald Trump knows this. He knows that if he acts like Donald Trump, outrageous and sloppy and insulting, the Democrats will in their outrage and their distorted worldview fall all over themselves making ludicrous accusations against him. And every time they do, it'll bring the people who know better than to swallow these credulous media narratives more securely into his camp. Every time liberals snicker about how reality has a liberal bias, it helps Trump. Reality doesn't have a liberal bias, the media does. And every time a nonsense story like this is spread by the liberal media- and this one was immediately followed up two days later by the nonsense story of how Donald Trump had leaked information about a secret US base in Saudi Arabia from a classified security briefing he hadn't even received!!!!- every time a story like this is spread, people like me say "Well, Trump is a disaster, but I suppose he'll only be able to pass the laws that Paul Ryan sends to him. Maybe Paul Ryan will be able to act as a brake on his lunacy."

-Except that's the problem. For whatever reason- and I admire Paul Ryan, and to a certain degree I admire the way he's trying to maintain his integrity while struggling to keep the Republican Party he was reluctantly entrusted with in one piece, just as I admired John Boehner's ultimately futile efforts toward the same end, Paul Ryan has not upheld his end of the bargain with his conservative base. Paul Ryan was supposed to have emerged from his meetings with Trump, after Trump had effectively become the presumptive nominee, having extracted meaningful concessions from Trump. Meaningful concessions meaning that Trump would stop acting like a racist authoritarian monster and start presenting himself as a President who could actually lead America, all of America.

Paul Ryan has been struggling hard to maintain his integrity, to draw lines in the sand and to call out Trump when Trump crosses those lines. It's astonishing to imagine that the House Majority Leader has called his own party's presidential candidate a racist, but it's happened! More than once in the past two months! That's actually happened! But it's clear that no meaningful deal was arranged. It's clear that Ryan has nothing Trump wants and no power to control what Trump does, and given that this is the case, it's hard to see the Republican Congress, the clusterfuck that has been this Republican Congress, serving as any kind of break on Trump's megalomania.

And so I'm still voting for Hillary Clinton, because it's possible- actually, the more I think on it, plausible- that the combination of Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell will result in the most legislatively productive Congress since the late Clinton/early Bush era. And that productivity could be beautifully tempered by the spirit of compromise.

Emma by Jane Austen

The third Austen novel I've read, and the first which didn't advertise its themes in its title. I enjoyed it greatly, obviously, as it is a great novel. Nobody- nobody!- drops one-liners as brilliantly as Austen. And the whole cast of characters, but particularly Emma Woodhouse herself, are so sharply and complicatedly drawn. There were moments in the later third of the book where I realized that we were still unfolding yet further layers of depth to Emma's personality, new layers that I couldn't have predicted or expected yet which I found completely integrated into my overall sense of who Emma was.

Mr. Knightley is a little hard to like and I think the romantic endgame was a little too neat for me, but I liked basically everything else. I think I particularly like the sense that even when Emma is not behaving well, Austen is rooting for her. There's a really powerful honesty in Austen's writing, and from that honesty emerges love. I am now poking at Northanger Abbey

The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald

Do people know Travis McGee? I think I first learned of McGee from Spider Robinson's Callahan books, as Robinson and Jake are both big fans of MacDonald's work. I've read three or four of them over the years- I haven't particularly been looking for them, but they don't seem to turn up that often. You never see big displays of MacDonald's writing in bookstores or libraries, you rarely turn up the books at used bookstores, but there's about twenty of them and each that I've read so far has been a brilliant mystery novel and also an epitome of that curious genre, the Florida Novel. MacDonald's characters put Hiaasen's to shame. (I also just tried to read a Hiaasen novel, but it didn't take. Sometimes I like Hiaasen, but too often he sounds like reheated Elmore Leonard, like he's trying too hard.) The Long Lavender Look starts off with a pile of cliches- McGeee in jail for a crime he didn't commit, in a secretive rural county with a sheriff who has an unclear backstory- and then MacDonald eases off them one by and the book goes in so many surprising- and moving- directions. The book is funny, but bleak, entertaining but meditative, picaresque but realistic. It's leavened with just the right amount of all the ingredients that flavor life.
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The weird cognitive dissonance thing of last night's Donald Trump convention speech was agreeing with many of Trump's criticisms of President Obama, and finding the criticisms to come from such an incomprehensible place.

By my lights, the nuclear deal with Iran was a terrible move by President Obama, selling out meaningful pressure on the regime for non-meaningful changes and non-enforceable promises of change. Selling out the security of American allies in the region like Saudi Arabia and Israel at a time when those important allies were fighting to serve American interests in the Middle East of stability, energy security, and promotion of democracy. Trump is right, I think, that this was a significant mistake by Obama, and one that potentially endangers the US and its interests, both business interests and moral interests.

But I would never describe the deal as a 'humiliation'. What does that even mean? What kind of personal investment in America's reputation for foreign policy success would you have to have for the deal to represent a humiliation?

The sort of people Trump is speaking to feel this humiliation, though. I know because I've spoken to some of them, who use this language, and because I've learned that I have no way of moving the needle and moving them off of this language of humiliation. When they perceive the world as laughing at America, they perceive the world as laughing at their personal failure. They want the world to admire America, but more, they want the world to fear America. Not as an end toward some policy goal, but as an end unto itself. I will never understand this.

I will never understand the rhetoric surrounding Obama's 'apology tour' of Hiroshima. Even if we believe that bombing Hiroshima was the 'right' moral choice and needs no apology (Which I think it might have been, though the moral calculus surrounding the choice boggles my ability to make confident moral choices), surely we can recognize that sometimes saying things we don't believe in deference to political allies is a part of diplomacy? Surely, even if we might think that acting softly is the wrong political move at a particular moment, we recognize that it is sometimes necessary and therefore not a personal humiliation?

I will never understand the rhetoric, on both sides of the aisle, about loving America and hating America. It seems disconnected from any recognition of what America means. Consequently it seems to have very little to do with my own love of America. (Which is underpinned by a lot of the stuff in Ted Cruz's speech, frankly. Sometimes Ted Cruz is a frustrating figure, but he is undeniably brilliant and his principles are radiant.)

I am not humiliated by America and I do not see how I could possibly be humiliated by America. I am fortunate to live in a country that lets me rise and fall by the merits of my own moral choices, a country where I need not tie my personal self-worth to that of my nation-state.

And I worry about a politics motivated by humiliation, because it seems destined to act against our real national interest, again and again and again.
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Liberty's First Crisis by Charles Slack

A good if sometimes slightly weirdly paced book about the passing of the Sedition Act of 1798, as I continue to stubbornly not watch or listen to Hamilton but read all sorts of interesting books about the early days of the Republic. This one was alternately bleak and terrible and hilarious...

You'd get scenes where Benjamin Bache, Philadelphia printer and favorite grandson of Benjamin Franklin, got thrown in prison for badmouthing the President in a newspaper, and then died of Yellow Fever before he could ever go on trial, leaving his indebted newspaper to a wife already struggling with several young children.

And then you have Luther Baldwin, proudly of Newark, NJ, even back then a bastion of true American Heroes. Baldwin was a spy for Washington during the Revolutionary War, sailing up and down various waterways sabotaging British boats and passing information to the Continental Army. After the war he went into business as a river trader. And then we get to the moment when he displayed his true American heroism. Luther Baldwin was drunk one morning, as one does, and John Adams, President of the United States of America, was travelling through on carriage to the accompaniment of a cannon salute. Irritated by the noise, and needless to say, drunk as a skunk, he observed that he wouldn't mind if someone shoved one of those cannonballs up Adams's arse. Someone overheard this comment and reported him to the US Attorney for New Jersey, who sent him to jail on Sedition charges.

Both of these stories, actually, are equally terrible. It's just that one of them is also incredibly funny. In Slack's even-handed approach to a topic where it is easy for us to kneejerk against the suppression of civil liberties, he argues that the problem was that there were no real meaningful precedents for the kind of freedom of speech the First Amendment promises. The line it draws in the sand was previously unheard of, and everyone was still trying to figure out what it meant. The Federalist's defense, flimsy to modern ears, was that they were merely imprisoning people for statements that in that day's England would have resulted in gruesome execution.

Slack sees the Sedition Act as an early experiment in the limits of American free speech, an experiment that ultimately helped to destroy the Federalist Party and create negative precedents that still serve as vital warnings for us. But he also points out that some of the 'heroes' of the fight against the Sedition Act were unlikely heroes, and some were arguably not heroes at all. Some of the targets of the Federalist crusade were irresponsible journalists heaving poisonous and untrue statements at politicians who were barely managing to hold a fragile young country together. Should they have been more responsible? Of course. Is throwing unfiltered bile at one's political enemies the most productive way to solve America's internal disagreements? Of course not. But suppression of their speech and imprisonment of their supporters is not the American solution to this problem and should never be the American solution to this problem. We are a nation founded on the idea that with as many different viewpoints as we hold, it is better for the government to protect our individual freedom as citizens than to try to protect our national freedom as a community. This is ultimately a harder idea to accept than it would seem at first. There are always temptations and reason to suppress speech one disagrees with and finds hurtful and damaging. But it is the plain truth as I see it.

Somewhere- A Master by Elie Wiesel

Like everyone I know in the Jewish community, I was deeply saddened by the death of the great Elie Wiesel. I've been listening to people share stories and remembrances for the past several weeks, and it inspired me to read another one of his books.

The truth is I've always thought Wiesel was at best a mediocre writer, and Somewhere- a Master does not change this opinion. The prose styling is awkward and repetitive, his topics jump all over the place without apparent reason. This feels like an insensitive thing to say in remembrance of a great man shortly after his death, but there's a reason I am revisiting his writing now in remembrance in spite of the fact that I don't really admire his writing. It's because I do so admire the man.

What Wiesel's books lack in storytelling knack, they make up in courage. Wiesel was one of the bravest men of the 20th century, whose unflinching honesty is apparent in every page he labors to share with his readers. He is not writing because he's good at it. He is not writing because he wants to. He's writing because he feels an obligation to risk himself by sharing of himself with the world.

Somewhere- A Master is a collection of stories about 18th century Hasidic rebbes, part of a larger project on Wiesel's part to set down an oral history of the Hasidic cultures lost in the Holocaust. I've heard all these stories before- not all these specific stories, no, but basically I've heard all these stories before. I will hear them all again, because B"H the Jewish oral tradition has started up again. B"H we tell stories of Jewish leaders in shul every week, in divrei Torah and at tisches and onegs and farbrengens. B"H Hitler didn't win, but Wiesel setting the stories down, ploddingly, earnestly, and insistently, is an act of defiance that resounds. The book is a monument, one that doesn't necessarily benefit from being read, but its mere existence matters. Elie Wiesel mattered, and his loss is a shattering one to the Jewish people, but the Jewish people will survive in part because of what he wrote and what he said, and because of the determination he made that since it had to be said, he would be the one to say it.
seekingferret: Photo of a button saying "Yes You Can Argue with Me" (argument)
Posting here because digging any deeper in the original facebook thread would not be productive, but I still need to work this out and want to hear opinions.

A Facebook friend (The best friend of someone I am actually friends with and therefore someone I have spent a considerable amount of time with, but not someone I think I would ever hang out with without her best friend. And thus someone I feel ought to know a little bit about how I think, but who I'm not sure I would actually call a friend.) posted a link on Facebook to a petition calling for the removal at his next election of Judge Aaron Persky, the judge responsible for sentencing in the case of the Stanford rapist, Brock Turner. Many people think that the sentence issued was unreasonably light, and that Judge Persky exhibited a bias toward leniency because he sympathized with the rapist rather than with the victim.

In general, I am sympathetic to the idea that we should apply pressure on various structural parts of the system that tend to enable rape culture, but for a very specific reason I wanted to be more cautious here. There is a principle in Jewish law called mesirah which holds that when the secular legal system in which Jews are living is in some ways unjust and biased against Jews, Jews should not report other Jews to the legal system. And Aaron Persky has a name that suggests that he is almost certainly a Jew (I have not found conclusive confirmation anywhere online, however). So I wondered aloud in a response to the facebook post whether it was appropriate for my facebook friend to make such a call, or whether she should have considered mesirah, if Judge Persky is Jewish. Facebook is a bad place for asking such questions- it was interpreted as me suggesting that my facebook friend definitely SHOULDN'T have shared the petition, which was not my intention, especially since I don't know for sure if he's Jewish. But I remain, nonetheless, uncertain about whether I think she should have given it further consideration.

It's important to recognize where the principle of mesirah came from and what its limits are. Mesirah developed because often in the long history of Jewish coexistence with non-Jewish nations, the secular legal systems have been unjust and unfairly biased against Jewish participants. And in particular, in many nations at many points in history (some times in Tsarist Russia, some times in the Ottoman empire, some times in the Babylonian empire, many others), the ruling class has tried to assert control over the Jews by rewarding Jews who informed against other Jews. Recognizing that participating in unjust legal systems would only bring about further injustice, the Rabbis sought to limit participation to minimize injustice, and in particular to minimize the sorts of injustice that turn Jew against Jew in service to those with anti-semitic agendas, and create the false sense that Jews are disproportionately responsible for criminal behavior.

There are those in modern times who have used mesirah to shield criminals from the American legal system, and in general I think that's inappropriate. We've seen cases where Jewish groups shielded communal authority figures who abused children from the secular authorities, and I strongly feel that this was a violation of Torah ethics. And I think most in the Modern orthodox world today agree- we feel that the Barry Freundels ( of the world should face the American legal system, which is a flawed legal system but which is generally fair and generally based on just principles. But I do have the sense that there are times when the American legal system treats Jews unjustly, and in which therefore mesirah might apply. And elections, subject to the whims and biases of the general public, might be one of them. Two years ago, the highest ranking Jewish official in Congress, Eric Cantor, lost a primary challenge against a Christian minister whose campaign included accusations that Cantor spent too much time talking to Wall Street bankers. Elections can clearly be subject to anti-Semitic influences.

[I should also say that the conclusion that mesirah applies does not necessarily mean that for a non-Jew to take the same action would be anti-semitic. Mesirah is about Jewish circumspection, it's about us saying that we judge there may be a risk of injustice toward a fellow Jew if we publicize the Jew's actions, but it doesn't mean we're denying those actions were wrong. Mesirah also makes more sense in the context of a Jewish community with its own robust internal regulatory systems that is capable of enforcing its own punishments on members, for this reason.]

Mesirah is a dangerous principle that needs to be carefully limited. It would be just as damaging to Jewish safety if non-Jews got the sense that Jews were hiding our crimes from them, and furthermore it would be far more damaging to the Jewish community if Jews felt that they could get away with crimes because other Jews wouldn't report them. But it's worth worrying about because anti-semitism is real and dangerous. If you're Jewish, odds are you get access to a Jewish weekly with its cheerful delivery of the anti-semitic hate crime of the week- a stabbing, a shooting, a synagogue burning, many of them far too close to home. We are intensely aware of how precarious our existence always is. In the past few weeks we've been hearing about something which seems relevant to my concern about blaming Judge Persky, the alt-right's new "Coincidence Detector" app ( ) which highlights Jewish names on webpages to suggest that Jews have been somehow responsible for any bad news in the article. Jewish safety is closely tied to the ebb and flow of anti-semitism and we have enough trouble without making it worse ourselves.

So I think a balancing act needs to take place. American culture is pretty badly broken when it comes to sexual violence and particularly sexual violence directed at women. My facebook friend accused me of failing to empathize with Brock Turner's victim because I do not have a daughter. I do not have a daughter, but I do have a sister and a mother and other women I care about. And perhaps more importantly, I have friends who have been sexually assaulted, and ex-friends who have committed sexual assault. I try to be aware of the shape of the problem, that sexual violence is an omnipresent pattern in our social discourse. I recognize that the system is often skewed against victims and that this is a problem that demands our attention as a society to fix, urgently. I'm aware that there are narratives about the type of people who are rapists and that these popular narratives can poison justice, and that a large part of the reason why this case has been so publicized is because of our sense that the reason the unjust result emerged is because the rapist didn't look like the popular image of a rapist. I recognize the importance of sending the message that using these popular images of a rapist to guide our judicial process leads to injustice. I recognize the importance of making it clear that being drunk is not an excuse for sexual assault, and making it clear that the person convicted of rape should not be considered the one paying an unjustly higher price than their victim.

But I worry about presenting the message that it is Jews who are responsible for this crisis in American culture. This petition against Judge Persky is the first time I have seen a targeted campaign against a specific, named judge for ruling leniently in a sexual assault case, and a part of me suspects that this is because of his name. [There are other reasons, assuredly. Judge Persky's personal biography shares significant overlaps with Brock Turner, and I think it's also true that a lot of the reason he's been personally targeted is because of the sense that it was this personal, specific empathy for the defendant that led to the lenient sentence. That there is a specific, if not proveable, at least arguable narrative case to be made that Judge Persky showed preferential treatment because he recognized himself in Brock Turner, and that we find this an unsettling display from our legal system to see our judges favor people who are like themselves. And perhaps, too, it's just a matter of a cultural tipping point being reached for this tactic, and Judge Persky just happened to be the judge overseeing the first case of this type to hit the news in this era of new awareness about the problems our legal system faces in dealing with sexual assault cases.]

So I don't know where I stand, other than that it was wrong for me to try to weigh this question on Facebook, which is a terrible venue for serious debate. Probably I don't think my Facebook friend did anything wrong, though I could wish for evidence she'd at least struggled with the question. And I'm curious to hear what others think of the question. [BTW, totally fine if your answer is, "Nope, you're wrong and this whole post is just rape apologetics." If that's what you think, I'm open to hearing it and considering it.]
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
The thing that scares me most about Donald Trump is that his ideas actually make sense. Not as, you know, good ideas, but as things that could happen.

Like, for the first six months after his I'm going to get Mexico to build the Wall comment, it struck me as ridiculous, a joke. How would he get Mexico to build the wall, committing so much money to something that's not particularly in their national interest?

And then he gave an answer: He said he would threaten to cut off remittances by Mexican immigrants to the US through US banks to Mexican banks if they didn't. And the liberal media devoted a day or so to just how evil a plan this was, to all the immigrants, many of them legal and some of them US citizens, who were dependent on remittances to support their families. And then they went back to snickering at the ridiculousness of the idea.

Not me. I listened to Trump's plan and to my horror I said "That might actually work." Not to my horror because I thought the plan was immoral, though it is. My horror is because a lot of Trump's rhetoric becomes clear in the light of that plan. Trump doesn't want to do most of the horrible things he says he's going to do, I realized. He's not a politician offering policy positions. They're just bargaining positions.

If a President Trump went to Mexico and said "If you don't build a wall, if you don't take responsibility for making sure your citizens don't cross our border illegally, we will cut off access to part of our financial system to you," well, the Mexican government might actually say "He's Donald Trump, he might not be bluffing. We'd better do what he says, because if he actually carries through on this threat, our people will suffer and they'll blame us." It's clear that this is true, because as soon as Trump revealed his plan to threaten remittances, the Mexican government fired its US ambassador- as if to say, we recognize the seriousness of this threat and we need someone more effective to oppose it.

This doesn't scare me because I think it's immoral, because when Trump threatens to do something like this it's not because he wants to hurt all those immigrants. He's threatening it because he knows it's a threat that will scare the Mexican government. It scares me because it's only one half of the scenario.

The other half is this: Mexico calls Trump's bluff, Trump is forced to actually pull the trigger on cutting off remittances, and Mexico retaliates by nationalizing all US industry in Mexico.

All of Trump's most outlandish campaign promises look like this if you know how to look. He's not promising the impossible. He's not pandering to peoples' base instincts. He's promising to risk the country's security on a series of high-risk/high-reward negotiating ploys. Which specific negotiating ploys he would actually undertake is less important.

This is Donald Trump's general MO. It's how he worked as a businessman, and you can look at how it turned out: For the first decade or so of his business career, he had a series of phenomenal successes, bigger and bolder and more massive than anyone thought was possible. And then the market fell and some of his projects failed and since the early 1990s no lender will lend Donald Trump money to build a building. Because that's how high-risk/high-reward strategies tend to play out, in the long run.

So what scares me about Donald Trump is not that he's making ridiculous promises with no chance of happening. What scares me is that he's declaring a willingness to do risky things that might actually have a chance of working, and he's claiming willing to pay the costs of those things not working.

But this time he's not betting with his own company money. This time he's proposing to bet the country.

That's why Donald Trump is so dangerous. Not because he's a potential fascist. Not because he's a preposterous incompetent. Because he's a gambler riding an inexplicable winning streak. We know how this story turns out.

Cruz/Fiorina '16!

or, hell, I'll settle for

Clinton/O'Malley '16
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Here, at [personal profile] ghost_lingering's request, some thoughts on the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.

After Justice Roberts (obviously), Justice Scalia was the justice on the Supreme Court I most admired. (Kagan is third. My feelings about Justice Kagan are weird and ideologically inconsistent and probably have something to do with her vocal identification as a Jew and something to do with her sense of humor.)

I admired Scalia's rigorous and unorthodox conservatism, which was not my own conservatism in many respects, but which was often not the kind of conservatism liberals love to hate. I've heard many of my liberal friends, over the past fifteen years (the age of my consciousness of judicial matters), say that they were surprised to find that they didn't disagree with a particular Scalia opinion. I've never heard them say that of Alito. Scalia thought before he made a decision, and he thought hard and he held himself to as high a standard as he held litigants.

I admired his writing ability, his gift for distilling an argument in an opinion to its meat, to making the complex seem straightforward without hiding its complexity. He was unquestionably the best writer on the court (Kagan now takes his place, I think, perhaps another reason I admire her in spite of our ideological differences), though I'm told that his effort to explain his writing techniques to the public in a massive tome on legal writing were at best a mixed success. And I especially appreciated that Scalia's writing gifts pushed the other justices to do better. There was often a special section in recent opinions from the left-leaning justices dedicated just to responding to Scalia's dissent, and in cases where I didn't care enough to read all of the court's paperwork, I found that just reading this was enough to get to the heart of the legal question.

It is true that there are culture war issues that I strongly disagree with where he came down, and agree with those who feel he caused harm by his stances. But I also feel an appreciation for his struggle, for the difficulty posed by the tension between a love of freedom and an aspiration to live a godly life as one sees it. I don't think he always balanced that tension as well as he could have, but I think his life's work dwelled in that balance.

And I admired his love for the law and the Constitution and the passion with which he served those causes. Scalia was a giant on the court and his presence will be deeply missed, I believe, by thoughtful people on both sides of the aisle.
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As we draw closer to a decision on nominees, some thoughts. My mother is going to vote for Hillary even though I don't think she loves her. My father is enthusiastically in favor of Cruz, to the point of trying to become a Cruz delegate to the RNC. I can no longer read my brother's thoughts on politics. My sister generally leans moderately rightward, but I think is in favor of Hillary because she supports the idea of a female president and doesn't like the Republican field.

I like Rubio the best of the candidates, but I don't like Rubio all that much. To suggest how much I dislike the rest of the field, I think I consider Clinton the second best option, and I don't trust her at all to govern the country.

The things I most value in a president are flexibility, openness to new ideas, pragmatism about working within the constraints of the political process combined with an idealism about the power of that process, and suspicion of the tyranny of the majority. The first several ideas are the reasons I'm a moderate, the latter idea is the primary reason I'm a moderate Republican. Rubio best exemplifies these traits out of all the candidates; Clinton doesn't exemplify any of them except the pragmatism about actually governing. None of the other candidates seem to exemplify any of these traits, and Trump is the slow motion national disaster that won't go away.

So I will participate in the electoral process as I always do, but I don't expect to find it particularly satisfying. There have to be people out there in this country who are better than this slate of candidates, there really do. I would like to know how we convince them to run.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I just want to say...

Well, first, I want to say that there have been a number of horrific terrorist attacks recently- Paris, Beirut, and others. And they all sadden me deeply, and leave me feeling powerless and frustrated with the world, and I pray for peace to settle on us all.

But I wanted to say that I've seen in a variety of contexts different claims along the lines of, "ISIS wants us to respond by doing X, therefore we should not do X." Whatever X might be, I want to say that I think this is a really stupid argument to make.

It's stupid because it's an elementary school way of viewing the world, the most rudimentary kind of tit for tat. But it's particularly stupid because it acts like ISIS has tactical superiority over us, that their supposition of how they want us to respond to their attacks for their maximum tactical advantage is actually correct, and that therefore our only valid response is to try to deny them their goals. There are some intelligent people involved with planning for ISIS, that is clear, but they're hardly psychic mindreaders. They may believe that a bold attack on Paris will help to radicalize recruits and continue to foster their expansion, but that doesn't mean that they're right. It could be that it will backfire, making potential recruits realize the intellectual bankruptcy of the ISIS endeavor. Or it could be that it will serve as the recruiting bonanza they expect, but sufficiently incense the West that the West will finally assemble a coherent military strategy to defeat them anyway.

And in the meantime, it's on us to respond to ISIS according to the tactical assessment of our own best experts in combating terrorism, regardless of whether or not ISIS believes that we are playing into their hands. And what they believe, tactically, only matters inasmuch as it is a tool for us to predict how they will respond to our moves against them.

Of course, some of the Xes in "therefore we should not do X" are pretty transparently things we ought not to do anyway. "ISIS wants the West to explode in Islamophobic hatred, therefore we shouldn't explode in Islamophobic hatred," is dumb, but "We shouldn't explode in Islamophobic hatred because it's immoral and evil" is not dumb.
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I got a begging letter from the national RNC last week and have been mulling it over. I've been a registered Republican my whole voting life, have voted twice for George W. Bush, once for John McCain (though that was a close one), and once for Mitt Romney. Locally, I threw my vote to Democrat Rush Holt a few times for Congress, but switched back to voting Republicans after he became a vocal critic of Israel on the floor of Congress.

I'm extremely mistrustful of the economic theories of the Democratic party. I'm even more mistrustful of their approaches to foreign policy. I think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton represent a really dangerous kind of liberal internationalism, whose consequences are playing out in the mostly unchecked nuclear proliferation of North Korea and Iran, as well as in Russian expansionism.

With that being said, there's a hell of a lot of ugly in the Republican Party right now. The worst economic move either party has made in the past decade was the Republican-led government shut-down, and there isn't even a close runner up. There's explicit homophobia in the party ranks, there's explicit anti-semitism in the party ranks, there's explicit racism in the party ranks, and those are problems I don't see a way to resolve. I get nervous throwing my support to a party when its highest ranking Jew was primaried out for 'spending too much time with Wall Street types'. It is ugly out there.

And the Republicans I admire most- people like Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Michael Steele- can't seem to get any consistent traction on the national stage. The Republicans with influence may praise them, may praise their ideas, but they don't hesitate to call them out as party traitors and RINOs any time any of those ideas stray from the ludicrous amalgam of nonsense that is our present party Orthodoxy.

If there were any particularly prominent local or national Republican (or even moderate Democrat) figures who I admired and thought had a chance of being elected, I would see throwing money their way as a viable alternative to sending money to the RNC, but at the moment there aren't any I know of. And I see the RNC as a strong partisan of that great moderator of idealism, 'electability'. For that pragmatic reason, I'd much rather a Republican Party dependent on a strong RNC than a Republican Party dependent on the Tea Party and/or individual SuperPACs.

So I think I am leaning toward making a donation to the RNC, and encouraging right-thinking Republicans to hold their noses and do likewise. But it's frustrating to see where the party I've always supported has drifted.
seekingferret: Wide angle shot of Don Eppes walking into a synagogue (doubt)
I have not been posting much for two reasons. The first is that I cracked my laptop's screen a couple weeks ago and am waiting for it to be repaired.

The other is that it feels like I have two choices about what to post about right now: Israel or Anything Else. If I wrote about Anything Else, I would feel guilty for not posting about Israel. If I wrote about Israel, I'd be inviting response, and I'm not sure that's something I'm comfortable doing.

I have friends and family right now who are living with rockets flying at them every day, living with the reality that all it takes is for one rocket to slip past the Iron Dome for tragedy to strike. Cousins, high school classmates, college classmates, internet friends... My Facebook wall is filled with terrible reports of people I care deeply about who are making the best of the situation, dealing with all sorts of monstrously reasonable fears for their own safety and the safety of those that they care about.

And my Facebook wall is also filled with American friends, Jewish and Arab and neither, waging the propaganda war about which side is most at fault for the terrible violence. I have stayed entirely out of that fight, which is uncharacteristic for me. I was, from a very early age, trained to be a fighter in that fight against the anti-semite. I know all the arguments, all the counterarguments. I can argue for Israel's existence and right of self-defense in my sleep, but I feel hesitant to do so this time. Not because I question it, but I think because I question what comes next. I read about the anti-semitic attacks in Europe, I read about the terror and bloodshed in Gaza and Israel, and I feel a deep sense of dread.

It is the Three Weeks right now, the period between the Fast of Tammuz marking the breach of Jerusalem's walls and the Fast of Tisha B'Av marking the destruction of the Temple. It is considered an unfortunate period for Jews, a time when God's protection of the Chosen People is minimal and God punishes Israel for its sins.

I study the tea leaves of the political Situation. I try to make sense of Hamas's plans, and of Netanyahu's plans, and I cannot find the reason in either. I do not see a happy endgame, and I continue to pray for the safety of my friends and family.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Not sure how to phrase this post properly, so I am asking that those of you who know and trust me try to read it in the most charitable light possible, if you can. If I hurt anyone with this post, I am deeply sorry.

Gay marriage is legal in my home state of New Jersey today. I am immensely pleased about two things. I am pleased that my queer friends who live, have lived, or may live in New Jersey have this new opportunity for joy in their lives. And I am pleased that I never had to vote on the question (as Governor Christie proposed), because I am still not sure how I would have voted, but it would more likely have been a no or an abstention than a yes.

My feelings on gay marriage are complicated and probably completely contradictory, as I struggle to reconcile my faith and my friendships, and I know in the past that sharing those feelings has hurt people I care deeply about. Ultimately, today I am choosing to be happy. At the same time, I will continue to struggle, and I will continue to welcome everyone in my life to struggle along with me.

But congratulations to those who have felt marginalized and who today have one more channel of recognition of equality.
seekingferret: Wide angle shot of Don Eppes walking into a synagogue (faith)
I've seen my facebook page blow up with people talking about the 'women in binders' remark, but nobody actually seems to be talking about what Romney said.

Recall, Obama led off by talking about the Ledbetter Act. He said look at that, we have a concrete legislative accomplishment that I promise you made women's lives in the workplace better by obligating pay equity.

And then Romney steps up with actual real experience with hiring people, and he says you're missing the point, Obama. It's easy for companies to meet the letter of the statute and still do better for men than women. It was so easy for my staffers to come to me with a list of people to hire and tell me with sincere conviction that the men on the list were there because they were the only qualified candidates. It was easy for them to tell me that the majority of the applicants were male. They weren't actively trying to be misogynistic, they weren't actively trying to break the law, they were just doing their job in the easiest way possible for them. If I had just followed the letter of the anti-discrimination laws I would have had no problem discriminating against women and making it look like I had made a good-faith effort to hire without consideration of gender, because I had. We simply hadn't thought about gender.

But, Romney said, that's not good enough! As soon as I actually reached out affirmatively and looked for women to hire, I found plenty. Binders full. There are competent and qualified women out there, but no statute is ever going to force companies to hire them. That requires leadership from the people doing the hiring. What we need isn't government enforcement. What we need is a culture change, so that people realize that doing that extra work will create a better workforce. And I'm standing on this stage in front of millions of viewers committing to taking a leadership role in changing the culture.

I have not always liked Romney, and I didn't always like him in this debate. But I thought this moment was a great contrast between Republican ideology and Democratic ideology, and it showed why I will always be more skeptical of Democratic ideology. Passing a regulation doesn't fix things automatically. Sometimes regulations make things more complicated and more expensive for business and they still don't fix things, because they can't. Some problems are not problems for government.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Per NPR's transcript of the RNC chairman debate:

Mr. REINCE PRIEBUS (Candidate for Chairman of Republican National Committee): If you're pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-GM bailout, pro-AIG, well, you know, guess what? You might not be a Republican.

Uh... guess it's confirmed. I'm probably not a Republican. But wait, there's more.

Mr. STEELE: But we cannot be a party that sits back with a litmus test and excludes. And the national chairman cannot go into a state and say, you're less Republican than you are; therefore, I will not talk with you and only talk with you.

Mr. STEELE: That is not the Republican Party I joined at 17 years old.

Oh wait... It seems I am a Republican. But not, as previously claimed, a Rudy Giuliani Republican. I appear to be a Michael Steele Republican. Whodathunk?

Uh... I don't know how to influence the vote for RNC chair, but I find myself really wishing there were more voices like Mr. Steele in my party.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Have I shared my dad's theory with you? The way he figures, Elena Kagan's the top Jewish figure in America at the moment. If she says that Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas, it's no longer just a joke. It's now possibly an obligation. This is a fairly twisty read on Dina d'malchuta dina, obviously, but I kind of appreciate what he's saying. The real point, I think, is that if you're a senior American government figure and you're a Jew, you have to be really careful about how you represent Judaism. You may not have signed up for the job, but you're a constant ambassador to non-Jewish America anyway.

One of the great parts of the El Madmo album that I neglected to mention is that it features a song "Vampire Guy" that is an instant addition to the Monster Ballads playlist I created a few months ago. As with most of the times I label music, the name is intentionally imprecise. Not all of the songs are ballads, I just chose the playlist name so I could use Josh Ritter's "Monster Ballads" as the playlist's anthem. Rather the playlist is a collection of songs about monsters. There are true monster ballads like Ritter's "The Curse" (Mummy angst) and Coulton's "Bright Sunny Day" (Vampire angst). There are goofy romps like "Monster Mash" and the Rockapella cover of "Zombie Jamboree". I put in Lady Gaga's "Show Me Your Teeth", and of course Sufjan Stevens's "They are Night Zombies! They Are Neighbors! They Have Come Back from the Dead! Ahhhhhhh!" has a prominent place. And there's snmnmnm's "Your Girlfriend is a Zombie".

Anyway, you can download that playlist here. (Uh... I'm going to update it with the link later) HERE Monster Ballads

Last night we saw Strauss's "Intermezzo", which is an opera sitcom, or more pretentiously, an "opera domestica". It was very funny, very fast, and very clever. I've never seen an opera with that many rapid scene changes. NYCO handled them extremely well, using Strauss's orchestral interludes to full effect.

There was a waltz on rollerblades during one scene change. It was fantastic, designed to conjure images of ice skaters on a charming German winter day.

The choreography was simple but perfectly precise. There was nothing you could call gratuitous. This was an opera without fat. Most of the other scene changes were handled by characters in costume as the main couple's servants, a move that not only turned the crew into characters but kept the awareness in the audience's head constantly that this domestic drama is built on assumptions about class that are quite antimodern- an awareness that I feel sure Strauss built into the show, given the way he handles the servants in Der Rosenkavalier and given that the earliest scenes in Intermezzo build the tension on the class differences that exist even between Robert and Christine.

I really loved the whole production design. Nothing was overly complicated but everything just worked smoothly, both on a technical and artistic level. There were so many "Oooh" moments and so many small laughs squeezed out of nothing.

All in all, it was an extremely pleasant evening. Next opera on the subscription isn't 'til Spring- [personal profile] starlady, I'm still waiting to hear if you can come to The Elixir of Love. And I have no fucking clue how I'm going to persuade anyone to go to see the three one act monodramas. Somehow I don't know anyone else who hears John Zorn opera or Arnold Schoenberg opera and explodes with excitement.

I still owe you folk a review of Bernstein's "A Quiet Place", but it's going to be more time. I haven't figured out how I feel about it yet. The word I keep coming back to is "difficult".


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