Monday, September 29, 2008

Please Call Your Congressperson and...

... thank them/yell at them for voting for/against the federal package to infuse liquidity in the market.
Who is my congressperson?

I know what I will be praying for during the next two days. A re-vote will likely come up on Thursday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Swing Demographic-Jewish Grandmothers

So I post this because it is kind of my weekly pre-shabbes phone call with my grandmother. We talk for thirty seconds or so, you know how're things? Judy? Gabby? Grandkids? Who comes to visit, who has already called, who she's still waiting on. That's all warm up these days, a cacophony before the concert. Then we get down to business. McCain will be better for Israel. He will be stronger in Iran. But hasn't the no negotiation policy failed (well, actually I believe it has run its course, neither here nor there)? What about McCain's tax policy, do you really think the middle class does not deserve tax breaks? Foreign dictators will try and test Obama, McCain is a greater deterrent. And so forth.

The point it, while Silverman is funny, I actually think she's wrong. We are on different sides of the issues. My grandmother favors hard power over soft power (having seen it work during the Holocaust) and I prefer soft power, and military engagement somewhere way down the line (but on that line, nonetheless). It's not just a matter of correcting the erroneous emails that she does not receive.

Oh yeah, and the fact that Fox News is her source for election coverage does not make the challenge any easier.

Who in the Clinton years

would have thunk that George Bush's legacy would be increased nation-building in Asia and the nationalization of American Banks?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Parable

A rich Jewish businessman was once contemplating the davenning for the yammim noraim. He thought to himself, "I understand how God gives life and takes it away, but I am a rich man, how could God possibly relieve me of all my wealth in one fell swoop?" When he arrived at his house a Polish noble was waiting at his kitchen table demanding all the businessman's assets. Times were tight for the Polish government and it needed his capital to stay afloat. Mocked and despondent the businessman now understood how God could relieve one of all his assets, but he was still incredulous about God's capacity to granted wealth so easily. Later that day the businessman found that the Polish noble died in a house fire--the contract was never delivered to the town clerk for endorsement.

It is a simplistic story which I probably heard in seventh grade from a rabbi around this time of year. That being said, I am amazed how I find myself with the same incredulity about the market. My faith in volatility is continually restored.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Problem of the Haredim

Haredim do not join the army, do not become policemen, and do not have any kind of liberal education, not to mention advanced study of civics or politics. Yet as soon as they feel threatened, they form gangs and try to intimidate and attack random Arabs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

So as the age old question goes, what does "sabachthani" mean? There is some perseption out there that the word is related to the line from Tehilim (Psalms) "lama azavtani?" (why have you left me?). The note in my NRSV Bible on this verse claims that the word, "is a citation from Ps 22:1, which the writers quote in Aramaic," but there doesn't seem to be a clear relationship between azavtani and sabachtani at all. Sokoloff does not list an entry for the word in his in Palestinian Aramaic dictionary, aside from an entry meaning "hair net" which advances the imagery of a network or lattice.

So Adam and I were bothered by this today during kiddush and took it up with one of the professors in shul. Benji's answer, which I like, is that the word is related to סבך (s.b.h) or entangled, complicated, interwoven (all alternate forms of the word with the same root). Benji thought that the word is related to the modern Hebrew מסובך (complicated) which can also indicate a sense of, "why did you get me caught up in this mess?" (or "on account of what," depending on the lema/lama transliteration) which is where the translation in Matthew "forsaken" may have come from. The coolest part of this is that in the episode of the Binding of Isaac the thicket in which the ram is caught is called a סבך (Gn 22:13). I am not going to say that Matthew was a bad translator (even though Benji's interpretation is way better), maybe it just didn't come over so well from the original Greek. Who knows?

And with that, I am off to slichot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Fates Align

The market is in freefall and the Gulf has been assaulted with two bad hurricanes. If the Dems can't take it this election season they should just hang up their spikes and call it quits.

Bret Farve quits.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

So what you're saying is that you were wrong

NYT reported this on 9/9 and this on 9/14. The might want to acknowledge that the earlier analysis was rather off base. (Same byline, btw.)

This is part of a larger problem I have with media outlets throwing everything at the proverbial wall and seeing what sticks, while never redressing that which did not.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thoughts on Palin Interview

You can find the series of Palin interviews with Charlie Gibson here.

The first segment was certainly her weakest. She was clearly in unfamiliar territory and was speaking from talking-points as opposed to engaging in a conversation. The following three segments showed her to be more comfortable, which (in my partisan opinion) was due to a familiarity with the discourse, as opposed to the substance of the issues. When Gibson asked her where a McCain administration would find money for programs she talked about "efficiencies" but refused to go into specifics. It is clear that the federal budget shortfall will not come from nickel and diming social security and welfare, but from major realignments of the US tax code and possibly consolidating programs. A mayor or governor can fill shortfalls with tightening the reigns of government, but I don't think the federal budget works quite the same way. I see no reason to believe that Palin has any grasp on macro-economic matters in the least.

Gibson asked good questions and Palin gave good answers (after the first segment). By good I mean that they were convincing, though they often did not actually address the issues. Why did she keep the earmark money from the bridge to nowhere? So she was for the bridge in her role as governor-cum-advocate. While opposed to lobbyists in general, she did not seem to have any problem with commissioning a lobbyist herself. I think it can easily be explained by saying that once the lobbyist culture in Washington exists she is not going to fight it from Wasilla, but compromises her image as a reformer at all costs.

She continues to look like a well spoken politician, with no substantive grasp on federal politics. Biden's job will be to engage her as an equal and direct the conversation outside of her talking points, demonstrating a feeble understanding of economic and foreign policy issues. If he can't do it the Sophists might seize the day from the Socratics yet again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Obama's Ace

It is really concerning (to me) that McCain appears ahead in both national popular polls and electoral polls for the first time since April. I have only one thought of consolation at this juncture. Obama's big strength is not messaging (although he is a good speaker), but organizing. He was a far better speaker than Clinton, but that is not what won him the primary; he was able to out-hustle her on the ground. When there were a handful of primaries every week in February Obama's campaign had an opportunity to shine in the media spotlight with each successive win. Now that there is only one day at the polls organizing is not going to get that much press until the show is over. The hustle should manifest itself in a vast turn out of Obama supporters on election day, but otherwise it will be rather silent. Here's hoping.

One other thought: McCain's bounce has certainly been pronounced, but will the momentum fall off? I suspect that McCain has gotten about all he can get from the RNC+Palin so those states that are still solidly blue in the polling will stay so until election day (including non-trivial ones such as WI, IA and CO). If Palin has not picked them up, she ain't gonna get 'em (I can't imagine there are many Palin fence sitters). The polls will undoubtedly shift from here on in, but not with the same volatility as in the last two weeks.

Friday, September 05, 2008

1.4 Million Views Can't Be Wrong

Because it has gone viral and it is funny.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Palin's Speech

She did what she needed to do. She gave a convincing performance with a good delivery. The only time I noticed her waiver was when referring to global energy concerns in Venezuela. Her youngest daughter was also very cute.

The Republicans seem to be much more ad hominem than the Dems were (although the Dems did use the 7 houses line quite a bit). She introduced her family at length and then went into how America likes small town leaders. It is a story which makes sense, but it still remains to be seen if she does. The speech did not focus heavily on policy and did not really give the sense that policy intricacies are her forte. She did not talk about housing at all, for instance. Equally absent was a strong conservative social message--she did not mention abortion or activist judges in her speech. Her message was as a reformer, and she delivered it convincingly. That the Republicans can sell an anti-insider platform is really amazing, considering it was they who created the current explosion of lobbying in Washington.

What's this business of referring to Obama as "our opponent"? He is not Voldemort. Poor form.

Her job was not to lay out detailed policy, but look competent behind a podium. I was fairly impressed with her delivery given her relative new-comer status on the national stage. I don't know if she is really going to affect the campaigns beyond tonight. She will not craft policy and her aims in the VP debate will not be that high. She gives the impression of a ticket that is willing to change the order in Washington, but I think it will be mostly up to McCain and Obama to sell their visions.

Something that really bothers me though is that it really seems as if people are willing to equate Palin's lack of experience with Obama's. The frustrating part is that there is a trump card that cannot be played--Obama is brilliant. No one wants to hear that Obama was editor of Harvard Law Review or offered a professorship at one of the country's best law schools, it does not play well in Nebraska or Coal Country. But he is deeply immersed in policy debates and understands the complexities. When he does not he has others do the scut work like Cass Sunstein and Rob Rubin. Would you pick any CEO to run the country? Is that all it takes?

[Cleaned up from earlier] Now that I think of it, Palin's presentation is rather similar G.W. Bush in 2000. Then Gov. Bush packaged himself as a compassionate conservative who had reached across the aisle to get things done in TX. The role of the governor is not especially large in TX, but he offered a return to American morals (as a born-again Christian) in the wake of the schism relating to Pres. Clinton's sexual improprieties. Bush did not run on his father's coattails and it is still largely forgotten that Bush 43 was born in CT and not TX. It was not perceived as the extension of a legacy, but a new direction for the country. Palin similarly sets herself up as an outsider (which she truly is) who can come into Washington and restore decency. My frustration is that Palin sets the stage for precisely the same failures for which the Bush administration has been responsible. His Manichaean understanding of policy options and lack of comfort justifying his decisions seem, at present, to have done the country ill. But Palin sets up those very concerns all over again. Electing a president who is both articulate and bright may actually be a good thing. No one likes an armchair academic ('cept me, of course) but surely there is *some* value to carefully thought-through policies. Though Palin is only filling the VP slot the same arguments that will advance the Republican ticket with her on it are exactly those that placed us in many of the messes we find ourselves in today. I fear that people will make the same misjudgment with Palin that was made with Bush because of this discomfort with expertise. Maybe JS Mill was right, just a little.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Family Values

I read a tight exposition of the difference between political and moral philosophy yesterday in David Estlund's "Democratic Authority." Estlund claims that while moral philosophy is only concerned with outlining personal responsibility political philosophy is also concerned that people as a whole have the capacity to meet those expectations. This is what frustrates me about Republican Family Values.

No one ought to condemn the Palin family for hypocrisy or neglect, I am sure Gov. Palin is a fine parent. The problem is that the conservative Republicans confuse moral and political philosophy. They advance abstinence only sexual education programs and whip over the Mexico City Policy when these in initiatives actually harm the causes they advance. When nearly 65% of unwed teenagers are sexually active advancing these policies confuse moral and political philosophies. The fact that these issues arise in our own homes should make us sensitive to that.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Will McCain get more press for not having the convention than Obama got for having one?