Friday, August 20, 2010

Direct Talks Beginning

It took some severe arm-twisting and more than a few tense moments, but the US has announced that direct talks will commence between Israel and the PA this September. The word out of Washington (and this strikes me as quite optimistic) is that all issues can be resolved within a year.

Well, good luck!

Nobody Reads Literature Anymore

The New York Times had a fascinating account over a townhall meeting designed to assuage concerns over a new mosque being built on Staten Island (which, as we know, is only 11 miles from the WTC site). The meeting was quite fiery, and tensions were running high. But then,
as Bill Finnegan stood at the microphone, came the meeting’s single moment of hushed silence. Mr. Finnegan said he was a Marine lance corporal, home from Afghanistan, where he had worked as a mediator with warring tribes.

After the sustained standing ovation that followed his introduction, he turned to the Muslims on the panel: “My question to you is, will you work to form a cohesive bond with the people of this community?” The men said yes.

Then he turned to the crowd. “And will you work to form a cohesive bond with these people — your new neighbors?”

And we all know how this story ends, right? We all know what happens next?
The crowd erupted in boos. “No!” someone shouted.


In Southern Manhattan, I am a Muslim

Early this year, I declared myself "Seismic Shock" in solidarity with a blogger faced with threats of legal retaliation for daring to expose the links between a prominent pastor and anti-Semitic thugs.

The "controversy" over the proposed Southern Manhattan Muslim community center continues to grow, and folks stretch to ever deeper contortions to justify passive-aggressions "questions must be asked" formulations about whether the Imam is a closet Islamist. In that light, we read Jeffrey Goldberg's account of that Imam's sermon at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, and bow our heads in shame:
We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

As Mr. Goldberg correctly notes:
There are those who would argue that these represent mere words, chosen carefully to appease a potentially suspicious audience. I would argue something different: That any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, "I am a Jew," is placing his life in danger. Remember, Islamists hate the people they consider apostates even more than they hate Christians and Jews. In other words, the man many commentators on the right assert is a terrorist-sympathizer placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism.

I noted very early on that the demagogues who have created this controversy were taking the oppression of Jews in the Arab world not as a violation to be condemned, but as a model to emulate. The religious bigotry and hatred they are promoting is one that threatens me too. The experience of not being able to worship freely, of being seen as a permanent outsider, of constantly having to prove one's loyalty to country and community, these are all quite familiar to me. And in that sense, just as I am a Jew, I am a Muslim -- and always have been.

Barack Obama Went to Carleton?!?!

Such a ridiculous question, is Obama a Muslim? Of course he's not. He's a Druid. But a Reform Druid. Meaning he only worships shrubbery.

(See here).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flying Back to Chicago

Going back to Chicago today. Lot's of stuff is going down right now, and my patience is very thin. Looking forward to seeing Jill.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seal the Chamber

In the wake of harsh criticism over her repeated use of the "n-word" on radio, Dr. Laura is ending her radio career:
Embattled radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced Tuesday she will not renew her contract that is up at the end of the year, telling CNN's "Larry King Live" she wants to "regain my First Amendment rights."
In announcing her decision "not to do radio anymore" after being in the business for more than 30 years, Schlessinger said, "I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry or some special-interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent."

While Dr. Laura still claims to "regret" the incident, I'm a little dubious, not the least because the "n-word" was among the least offensive elements of the tirade she went off on.

In any event, as is so often the case, "First Amendment rights" translates to the right not to be criticized by private parties. In fact, we can translate this entire whine as abject fury that Dr. Laura's professional position forced her to actually listen to Black people's "special-interest group's" opinions. Dr. Laura's real complaint here isn't about the First Amendment. It's that her echo chamber wasn't as secure as she thought it was.

Buchanan Says Gingrich Went Too Far

Pat Buchanan told off Newt Gingrich for comparing the planned Muslim community center in southern Manhattan to putting up a swastika near the Holocaust museum. Though, it being Buchanan, one can't be precisely sure if he was speaking up in defense of the Muslims, or the Nazis.

Monday, August 16, 2010

You Can Argue But You'd Be Wrong

In spite of grave misgivings, I started to read this post by Efraim Karsh, figuring that hey, it's important to educate myself on the views of others -- even if they do say ridiculous things like that Obama has "distinguished himself, in his short term in office, as the most anti-Israeli U.S. president in living memory."

And then we got here:
James Zogby himself, among others, felt compelled to attempt to rebut my article. "There are bad polls, and then there are bad interpretations of polls," he wrote in the Huffington Post. "Putting them together (i.e. a bad interpretation of a bad poll) can create a mess of misinformation."

The "bad poll" in question is a recent survey for the al-Arabiya television network, noted in my article, which found a staggering 71 percent of Arab respondents had no interest in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. And the "bad interpretation" is my presumed failure to recognize that this was not a fully scientific poll but rather an "online vote," which didn't refer to the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks but rather to the "Middle East peace process."

It is arguable of course that an "online-vote" by 8844 respondents (more than twice the size of the Brookings/Zogby poll), answering one straightforward question, might be more accurate and less susceptible to manipulation than "scientifically" crafted surveys purposively choosing their target audiences; or that ordinary Arabs, living as they do in one of the least democratic parts of the world, will be more candid in the relative obscurity of the web than in the presence of a pollster knocking on their front door or contacting them by phone.

And ... we're done here.

Because even I, B+ student in Statistics for Half-Witted Morons that I was, know that it is not, in fact, arguable that online polls (no matter how many people respond) are more accurate than a scientific poll. In fact, the entire polling industry got its start because George Gallup proved that scientific polling was far more accurate than even data drawn from a giant, non-random response pool (in his case, the Reader's Digest polls).

Anybody who is more statistically illiterate than I am really can't be trusted on any topic that involves gauging public opinion. Moving on.

Oh, I Think You'd Be Surprised

Proposing to create a new tax bracket for the ultra-rich (annual income of $1 million and above), James Surowiecki writes:
There would be political advantages, too: the reform could actually make tax hikes on top earners more popular. Critics like to describe tax hikes as hurting small business, because small-business owners make up a sizable percentage of people in the top two brackets and because small-business owners, unlike Wall Street traders, are popular on Main Street. It would be harder to mount a defense of millionaires, which may be why this year a Quinnipiac poll found overwhelming support, even among Republicans, for a millionaire tax.

I think you drastically underestimate the ability of the political classes to mount defenses of policies benefiting the hyper-rich.