Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There must be more to political choice than two flavors of Kool-Aid

The Religious Right is Dead, writes Damian Thompson in the London Daily Telegraph.

Sadly, it's true.  And yet if so, good riddance, and may that vampire stay buried.

Adherence, or at least pandering, to Creationism, and zero tolerance for abortion, have been an achilles heel of conservatism in the US. 

I believe it's quite possible to value, and even be moved by, the moral and philosophical framework provided by Christianity without literally believing the science-fictional embellishments by which it is accompanied.  I treasure my church-going friends, and value the irreplaceable role that a well- and benevolently-run church can play in a community.

It is possible to vote Republican in spite of that party's abovementioned pandering, but if well-meaning, intelligent people hear abhorrent, ignorant statements about women or science from the likes of Akin or Mourdock (whatever their other virtues), I think it is quite understandable that they might, in comparison, consider the Democrats the party of Carl Sagan and vote accordingly.

Needless to say, Sagan was no admirer of regimes that were hostile to free expression and open questioning, and so some who abhor those features of the current US regime may consider themselves in a quandary of choosing between relatively well-meaning flat-earthers, and relatively well-informed Soviet-style tyrants.

It should not be necessary for one's choice to be limited only to which of two flavors of Kool-Aid to drink.

What the US needs is more Deism or its equivalent, a creed expressed by a number of the US founding fathers.  People who believed in the value of a Judeo-Christian moral framework but who did not believe in divine intervention, believed in liberty, and were not afraid to open their God-given eyes, ears and brains to a rational and factual understanding of the physical world, and of political and economic principles.

Sadly, Deists these days are a bit thin on the ground in the US, and those who prefer drinks other than Kool-Aid seem destined to be parched for some time to come.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A letter to Michael Smerconish

I am a former longtime listener to Michael Smerconish's program on WPHT 1210 in Philadelphia, and as such, have remained on his mailing list even though (for reasons that will soon become apparent), I no longer listen to his program.

One of his recent emails described his "disgust" at the polarization of US politics, and, perversely in my view, placed much of the blame on political commentators (would you place the blame for a blatant fumble or foul on the ref who called it?)

In response, I sent the letter below.



Have you considered the idea that the answer may not be for the two "extremes" to meet in the middle, but that one of those extremes may be very extreme indeed while the other one represents what was at one time [and still is, by many] considered quite middle of the road?

If one mathematician asserts that 2+2=4, and another asserts that 2+2=98, is it "extreme" for the first mathematician to stick to his original assertion?  Is it "moderate" or "reasonable" for an observer to try to convince both parties (and everyone else) that 2+2=47, since that would be "meeting in the middle" ?

What happens a year or two later, when the second mathematician asserts that 2+2=200?  Well, even the position that 2+2=47 would then be considered "extreme", correct?

Rather than apologizing for those in your field who are challenging the real extremists, and suggesting they exercise self-censorship (or that they should be censored), how about using your own position to expose more of the real extremism, rather than just telling everyone they should play nice together?  Would you tell your child to "play nice" with a bully who continually beat him up, as though he, as the victim, were 50% at fault?

Back in the days when you were writing books like "Muzzled", and actually digging up the dirt on people who needed a spotlight shown on them, I was an avid listener to your program.  Unfortunately, in recent years, from what I have seen and heard, you have become a spokesman for "play nice, no matter what", without regard who to is actually behaving dishonestly or abusively.

That is one manifestation of the idea that "they're each as bad as the other", a notion that is harmful to civil discourse and civic institutions, since it gives no credit to the good while never calling out the bad.  It is a philosophy that gives the advantage to the worst actors, every time.

Shame on you for promoting it.


Michael Vitsek

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Those Israeli ads about marrying US Jews

The ads have now been pulled, and probably just as well, since some of its backers are religious figures whose behavior is comparable to some of the more conservative Mullahs out there.

However, speaking as a non-Jew (and for myself only), it does seem to me that there is a point to be made here.

The Jewish community in the US, like nearly every other, can't be categorized with a broad brush. There are wide variations in opinions on political and social matters (for instance, you have the ADL who are virulently anti-gun, and you also have the JPFO - Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership). So I would say it's inaccurate, not to mention insulting, for these ads to make a single broad judgment about all US Jews.

Having said that, there is a large bloc of the Jewish vote in the US who have, ever more puzzlingly, consistently voted for candidates with friends and policies that are not particularly friendly to Jewish interests and values(*) and are particularly hostile to Israel (realizing that not all US Jews support Israel), most prominently the election of a president known to have friends and associates, both within the US and overseas, who are not exactly shy about their anti-Semitism.

As many predicted, the actions of this president in office have been harmful not only to Israeli interests, but to the very principles and underpinnings of the type of liberal society (for which the US is a globally recognized "brand name", however tarnished) under which hateful bigotries like anti-Semitism have, for a long time now, had to retreat to the fringes and shadows.

I would say it's arguable that recent developments in Israel, where medieval rabbinical troglodytes have increasingly been, say, pushing women to the back of the bus (literally) among other illiberal measures, are in part a response to the betrayal of US allies and supporters worldwide, including Israel (one imagines, as in a scene from a zombie film, the horror as someone who was once a friend and protector is transformed into a dangerous enemy). One can well imagine some in Israel thinking, "Well, so much for global democracy and freedom. I guess we'll need to dig our heels in now and clamp down for a long siege." Or even (as may be the case in some other countries as well) "Those pesky pro-freedom guys are on the retreat, so it's safe for us troglodytes to come out again."

One can well imagine some Israelis contemplating with horror that subset of Jews in the US who voted for Obama and his friends. What is an Israeli to think of people who, in a country where they are free, have voluntarily adopted the attitude of submission, of dhimmism, of the Judenrat collaborators, and effectively voted to stab in the back a nation and people who have been among those on the front lines struggling to make sure that people (Jewish of any political persuasion, or anyone else for that matter) are never again FORCED to submit to such choices?

I think that disgust is not too strong a word to use in this case (disgust either with cluelessness, or with a deliberate willingness to go down the road in question). And I don't think that one has to be Jewish or Israeli to sympathize with, and experience, that same disgust.

The fundamental question is how much in common two people, or groups of people, can truly have, if one is willing to stand up for freedom, dignity, and a recognized right to exist (as a person, or a nation) while the other is willing to quietly (even enthusiastically) submit to the path of slavery.

And perhaps that is the real basis of the political divide in some other cultures, and countries, I can think of.

(*) Some might hope that the recent upset election result for Anthony Weiner's former Congressional seat is an early indicator of a change in direction.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Death of a College

Upsala College was successful and stable for a century, then, in the space of a few years, declined and then finally closed. What happened?

Hmm, let's see. They remained committed to the town in which they were located, and made a principled decision not to "selfishly flee" (a phrase others have often used) to a new site out in the country that had been offered as a donation. They offered fully-funded places to needy students in the local community who would not otherwise have been able to qualify for admission academically (even though such programs typically have a high drop-out rate).

They did all the correct "progressive", "sensitive" things. In theory, the college, and town, should now be peaceful, happy utopias.

Oops. The college developed financial problems and, after 100 mostly successful and stable years, went bust. The financial problems had been building for years, as had problems with crime in the surrounding area which had begun affecting the campus. New Jersey's notoriously punitive tax regime, particularly property taxes, almost certainly played a significant part as well.

After closure, the college property fell into ruin, a grateful city that now owned the buildings failing to care for them properly or, for the most part, put them to effective new use. The town in which the college is located is economically depressed and has become known as a haven for crime.

Some colleges and universities that have been absorbed by growing cities have thrived following that, becoming treasured beacons and havens in their communities. The university I attended is just one example.

But this one failed. I wonder why. I wonder if there are differing political philosophies under which different cities are governed, which have noticeably different outcomes.

Guess which major US party has governed in that locality, and much of that state, for decades?

Hint: It doesn't start with an 'R'.

I wonder what would happen to an entire country that was governed in the same manner as New Jersey and the town of East Orange, and where education and other productive enterprises (and people) were treated with a similar level of predatory disrespect?

More photos of the former Upsala campus (now mostly gone) can be seen here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords and Anna Lindh

I sense certain similarities between the Gabrielle Giffords attack and the murder of Swedish/EU politician Anna Lindh, murdered in 2003 (also by someone who was "mentally disturbed but had no political motive"). ... obituaries

Both principled, both center-leaning members of a left-wing party, both members of political organizations (the US Democrats and the EU, respectively) known for taking a dim view of principled dissidents in their ranks.

The EU takes such a dim view, in fact, that in one case one of their own went into hiding in fear of his life, after receiving death threats for refusing to ignore huge financial audit issues in the EU government.

One big difference: When Giffords was attacked, in a crowded public location, people piled onto the attacker and disarmed him.

When Lindh was attacked, also in a crowded public area, no one intervened, as she ran screaming from the knife-wielding attacker who ended up murdering her as the crowd looked on.

I wonder what could explain the notoriously cruel and barbaric Americans leaping to the defense of a woman under attack, while kindly and civilized Swedes stood by and watched a woman get stabbed to death, then allowed the perpetrator to run away? ... abbed.html

Rather than seeking an answer in DNA, I wonder if there is a systematic explanation. Perhaps it's due to the fact that in most of the US (including Arizona), people are permitted the legal right and means to self defense, and the use of force in defense of others, whereas in Sweden, people are to a great extent denied any legal means to self-defense, and legally Sweden shares with the UK (notoriously hostile to self-defense of any kind) the notion of allowable levels of "proportional response" to an attack.

As in such "gun-free paradises" like New York, where people are famous for "not getting involved", perhaps those onlookers, realizing they might not only get hurt trying to stop Lindh's attacker, but that they or their families might (as in the UK) get a "visit" later from friends of his, decided "better her than me".

As we have seen repeatedly during the past century, there's nothing like a "compassionate and humane" regime to create conditions that are dangerous and unjust, which force people into making despicable, cruel, even fatal, decisions, in order to save their own skins.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A 15-year listener to WPHT sadly changes his 1210 radio button

The following is an email I sent earlier today to The Big Talker, WPHT 1210AM Philadelphia.

Dear 1210 Staff,

As a longtime listener to Michael Smerconish and 1210, it's with sadness that tomorrow I will be changing the 1210 button on my car radio dial to a different station, due to your station dropping Beck and Hannity.

While I agree with Mr Smerconish that most citizens don't see political issues purely from a "conservative" or "liberal" viewpoint, that is an entirely different matter than the unquestioning acceptance of such views, from either side, by someone in the role of a radio host.

Some years ago I was an announcer, and later host of my own local program, on an NPR affiliate. Having said that (and as the person who downloaded and listened to the nightly NPR satellite news feed) it has long been clear to me that there is far more open-mindedness on most "conservative" talk radio shows, including a willingness to let the other side speak, than on shows leaning in the other direction.

As an example, while Bush was still president, both Hannity and Beck became essentially persona non grata with the White House press office, for their constant drumbeat regarding the financial irresponsibility of the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans. When has Mr Smerconish shown such a willingness to question the actions of Mr Obama and his friends?

Instead, what I have too often heard is Michael passing along their version of various stories without comment or question. And, very surprisingly from the man who wrote books like "Muzzled!" (of which I have a copy), I hear very little about the erosion of civil liberties under this administration -- including their unabashed contempt for allowing commentators to speak with whom they do not agree.

There are other things about 1210's broadcast philosophy which have long troubled me. One has been the station's willingness to give free airtime to Philadelphia city officials on a regular basis. An occasional interview is fine and appropriate, but not a weekly 30 or 60 minute soapbox. And I could not help noticing that more often than not, these officials have expressed disagreement if not downright contempt for people who (I believe) make up a good portion of your listening audience, and principles they have considered important. I have sometimes heard such callers to those programs (when calls are being taken at all, which is not always the case) shouted down by these people, or their questions not engaged with. While 1210 has no control over the behavior of these guests, once again I think the appropriateness of their frequent appearance on the station should be revisited.

For what it's worth, I think the station started to go downhill after CBS took it over. Considering that CBS also employs the likes of Katie Couric, I am not surprised at this decline. In fact, I have been pleased the decline has proceeded as slowly as it has (other than Mr Smerconish's rapid and obvious shift, around that time, to views that just happen to be more palatable to folks like those who run CBS).

Between the sort of pressure to change content that I can imagine might have come down from CBS, and from various leading citizens in the Philadelphia city government who are most certainly not aligned with the views of much of your listenership, I would think 1210 might be in a pretty tough spot, perhaps without much choice to do otherwise.

Whatever the reason, I think it's a sad come-down for what I once thought was one of the finest big-city radio stations anywhere.

And since you are now cutting way back on the informative and thought-provoking content for which I have long turned to 1210, in favor of the pablum Mr Smerconish has increasingly been giving us (which is one reason I have more and more often been tuning to Imus), I will be changing my current 1210 radio button to another station where this content is available.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Airport Scanners and Groping and Equal Protection Under the Law

I've been waiting for this shoe to drop, and now here it is.

While most of us are going to be presented with the unsavory choice of being scanned or groped, some people will be exempted from either, because the searches are “invasive” and “humiliating”.

Well, sure they are, but if that stops ONE group from being searched, shouldn't it stop ALL of us from being searched?

Here's a wild thought. How about equal protection under the law? If we are going to have this insane system in place, then EVERYONE uses it. No exceptions.

Alternatively, if exceptions are going to be made because women in burquas are getting their naughties squeezed by the TSA, then EVERYONE is exempted and this silliness is brought to a complete halt.

One way or another. Equal protection under the law is a liberal principle which is at the foundation of our legal system and society.

What kind of principle is its deliberate absence?

Here's another wild thought. What if all passengers claimed they were Muslim, to avoid both the scanners and the groping?

How would the TSA know one way or another? Would they ask for a Muslim identification card?

Would they say, "oh, you can't be Muslim, you don't look like one"? Oh my, that sounds racist. Against the rules for government employees and contractors like the TSA to engage in such discriminatory conduct, surely.

Of course, I suppose our wise government could require people to wear some insignia on their clothes to indicate religious affiliation. If they did, would they have Jewish folks wear little yellow stars on their lapels?

Here is a link to the
We Won't Fly site.

I am not sure I want to give up flying, but there are some good recommendations here.

Rather than give up flying, I'd like to see these regulations rolled back, and the trolls who created them fired or reassigned (if bureaucrats) or removed from office (if politicians).

Otherwise they'll just move on to the next set of transport methods, and try to make those miserable too.

But for now, yes -- Protest is appropriate and required.