Archive for November, 2008

Anguished Rant

November 28, 2008

The Jewish hostages in Mumbai are dead. They include a young rabbi and his wife, who are the parents of a two-year-old who got out safely and is now with his grandparents. It seems to be clear that the murders have been done by a group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen. Can we finally stop dodging the fact that Islamic terrorists are not merely anti-Zionist but anti-Jewish? I mean, when they’re willing to go all the way to Mumbai to find Jews….? I find it annoying that the US media keeps referring to the Chabad group that sponsored the rabbi as “ultra-orthodox,” partly because anybody who actually knows anything about orthodox Judaism knows that Chabad is pretty much in the middle, as orthodoxy goes, but mostly because that seems to be a way to trivialize or even excuse their victimization—they’re not real Jews, or for that matter real people, just a bunch of fanatics getting knocked off by another bunch of fanatics.BBC seems to be implying that a counter-attack against the D. M. by Mossad advisers to the Indian army can be expected any minute now, as if to suggest that India is getting what it deserves by having treated Israel pretty much the way it treats any other nation. At the moment, I hope the Indian army is getting help from the Israelis—this is the kind of stuff the Israelis are highly competent at dealing with, and anybody in this kind of mess would have to be crazy not to consult them. Aside from which, if the terrorists are going to blame India for having normal relations with Israel, the Indians might as well at least get the benefits of what they’ve already paid for.

A couple of centuries ago, more or less, the first Zionists envisioned a Jewish state as the solution to the problem of anti-Semitism. Now, apparently, the state has become a focus of anti-Semitism, and a justification for it. Of course the Middle East has always been one of the most volatile pieces of real estate on the globe, and maybe the first Zionists should have looked elsewhere to set up their state—I dunno, maybe the Falkland Islands, site of the world’s worst weather? But even if they had gone to Antarctica, I am willing to be that the Penguin Liberation Front would be parading out in front of some Israeli consulate somewhere even as we speak.

Maybe they should just pave over the whole Middle East and turn it into a parking lot for Cyprus? Or move the Dalai Lama in to run the place—oh, I forgot, he’s thinking of retiring or dying or whatever, and besides, that would just pull the Chinese into the picture, G-d forbid.

Normally, I very strongly disbelieve in devils and demons and possession and all that stuff. But sometimes I think demonic possession is the only explanation for the extraordinary evil people occasionally do. Ruanda. The Congo. Darfur. The former Yugoslavia. The Middle East. On one hand, I am thankful that the US seems to have transcended its racial history in this year’s election. That’s my major Thanksgiving thank-You. But on the other hand….



Strangers in Egypt, Prop. 8, and Reynolds vs. U.S.

November 18, 2008

Okay, this is going to be esoteric. Reynolds vs. US was a Supreme Court case, decided in 1878, in which the justices (including John Marshall Harlan, whom I generally admire because later on, he dissented from the majority in Plessy vs. Ferguson) held that the religiously promulgated duty of male members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints to marry multiple wives did not exempt them from compliance with anti-bigamy laws, despite the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. I personally believe this decision was wrongly decided, and ought to be revisited. It probably won’t be, because the beneficiaries of any such review would be some fringy cult with very few votes behind it.

The official hierarchy of the Latter-Day Saints accepted this decision and were divinely inspired to scrap plural marriage, and most Mormons followed this ruling. As a result, Utah was declared a state in 1890, and we all sort of lived happily ever after. Well, sort of. Mitt Romney’s grandfather was one of a group of schismatic polygamist Mormons who moved to Mexico to avoid the law. (As a result, Mitt’s father George was born in Mexico, but the constitutionality of his candidacy for president was never ruled on.) There are still a fair number of polygamist Mormon groups out there, in varying degrees of closetedness.

The reason the Mormons ended up in Utah in the first place was that they had already been forcibly dislocated from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. They decided to try their luck in a territory where the locals might be less intolerant. This strategy worked well enough to establish them as the predominant social institution of Utah, but it delayed the admission of Utah as a state until the polygamy issue was resolved to the satisfaction of the federal government.

So it strikes me as ironic that, having endured so much harassment and persecution for the oddities of their family life, they now feel entitled, or even obliged, to subject other people to similar strictures.

I should, I suppose, not be surprised by this. After all, the ancestors of the white settlers in the Carolinas who encouraged Andrew Jackson to evict the Cherokees onto the Trail of Tears in the early 1800s had themselves been exiled from Scotland for participating in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. There are undoubtedly lots of other equally esoteric and equally ironic instances lurking in human history, of the victims of persecution becoming persecutors in their turn.

Amazingly, this is something the Bible actually does say something about. Yes, gentle reader, Biblical morality actually forbids the victims of persecution to victimize others. Exodus 22:21 says “you shall not wrong a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt.”

But we are all accustomed to hearing the Bible thumped more often than it is read. I just thought it was time for a history refresher.

Jane Grey

Buy It While You Can: Rapture Memorabilia in Advance

November 17, 2008

Once the Rapture happens, nobody will be in any position to sell or buy any memorabilia. So now is the time to buy. Order now: your “My Buddies All Went to Heaven and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” T-shirt; your “If You Didn’t Get Raptured, You Need More Coffee” mug; your “God is My Travel Agent” bumper sticker; all $9.95 apiece.

Red Emma

The Search for the Promised Landslide

November 9, 2008

We’re hearing a lot these days about Obama’s “landslide victory.” We need to be more cautious in using the term. Yes, in terms of the Electoral College, Obama’s victory really was a landslide—338 votes, versus 127 for McCain. But in terms of the popular vote, it was only slightly better than a squeaker—51% for Obama, versus 47%for McCain.

History provides us with some real popular vote landslides: Theodore Roosevelt‘s 56.4% to Alton B. Parker‘s 37.6% in 1904; Warren Harding‘s 60.3% to James Cox‘s 34.1% in 1920 ; Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s 60.8% to Alf Landon‘s 36.5% in 1936; Lyndon Johnson‘s 61.1% to Barry Goldwater‘s 38.5% in 1964 ; Richard Nixon‘s 60.7% to George McGovern‘s 37.5% in 1972; and Ronald Reagan‘s 58.8% to Walter Mondale‘s 40.6% in 1984.

No election since 1984 has been anywhere near that lopsided. Since then, both parties have shaped their campaign strategies by the Electoral College vote, with varying degrees of success, and the popular votes have been really close. This time, the Democrats succeeded big time in getting an Electoral College landslide and a popular vote squeaker. I will be really disappointed in them if they merely rest on this somewhat dubious victory, instead of attacking its premise.

We need to face the fact that we have been, for several decades now, a closely divided nation. Those of us who take our politics seriously may also need to accept the fact that our fondest dream may be the worst nightmare of nearly half of our compatriots. Regardless of the Electoral College numbers, this election was no landslide. Obama’s repeated theme of creating unity had better be more serious than the rhetoric of Nixon’s “bring us together again” in 1972. Our party will rule by a narrow margin, just as the other party has for the last 8 years. Neither can afford to throw its weight around, and, given our current economic and international disarray, our country cannot afford to spend the next four years in internecine bickering.

I would like to see the Democrats do two very important things: not brag about this election as a Dem landslide (which will only falsify the history that matters, exacerbate the GOP’s sense of grievance, and make political coexistence impossible), and advocate a bipartisan campaign to improve our electoral system and get rid of the Electoral College. We can’t afford not to, given the mess we’re all in right now.

Jane Grey