Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hey Hipsters: Take off that Godamn Keffiyah

I'm sorry, I can't take it anymore. The keffiyah-controversy is rearing its infuriating head yet again, and I've finally decided to throw my 2 cents in.

While realizing that this makes me a right-wing sellout imperialist Zionist pig, I am going to try to explain why I want to set every person I see walking around Berkeley and SF in a keffiyah on fire. My apologies in advance.

To start with, the keffiyah, nowadays, is not so much a geographically-specific article of clothing (like when it served a purely utiliarian purpose to keep sand out of folk's faces) as it is a cultural and political symbol of Arab nationalism, made iconic by Yasser Arafat and since more or less appropriated across the board by all the Palestinian movements (certainly when worn as a scarf). In the West, the keffiyah has become particularly associated with Palestinian fighters during the First and Second Intifada. Given some of the brutality and frankly, downright scary ideology of some of those groups, specifically Hamas and Islamic Jihad (and some groups within the larger Fatah movement), I do not think it is entirely unfair that some people feel an uneasiness to see the keffiyah becoming increasingly popular as a fashion symbol.

Ironically, I am not bothered as much when I see Arabs wearing the keffiyah. Partially this is because they have a legitimate cultural, and even political, reason to wear it. When a symbol comes from your own culture, I feel it has the potential to be a lot more nuanced. I am unconvinced that the many white, black, and Asian young people I have seen walking around with these scarves understand how complex and symbol-laden they are. Incidentally, some people who are getting tired of the "Fashion Keffiyah" phenomenon are Arabs. Funny how people on opposite sides of the political issue can agree they have a problem with someone trying to claim a piece of clothing has nothing to do with politics. I guess this is how die-hard Communists and anti-Communists feel about those stupid Che shirts.

Here's the issue. I hope and expect that Palestinians (and to an extent, fellow Arabs or Arab-Americans) understand the Middle East conflict, at least from their perspective, and know why they wear the keffiyah and what symbol they are trying to send. When I see a bleach-blond college age white girl wearing one, I have no clue what the message is. If they support the Palestinian cause, to what end? What are their views on Israel? On Jews in general? Or do they just like scarves? I don't know any of that, and absent clarification, all I know is that they dig "Palestine", whatever they think that means. The increased dumbing-down of the Middle East conflict- across the board, but particularly among the pro-Palestinian youth- makes me nervous about the half-formulated ideas of the masses being encouraged in one direction or another by equally clueless manufacturers who are producing and marketing pseudo-keffiyahs because they look cool. Describing a keffiyah as merely a "peace" or "anti-war scarf" is a deliberate political act and decision, and claiming ignorance does not improve it.

Incidentally, even if folks like Hamas weren't wearing keffiyahs, cultural appropriation is not nearly as cool as people seem to think it is. Even if you agree with the Palestinian struggle, warts and all, wearing a keffiyah rip-off in magenta does not help the Palestinians. At least if some of the profits went to a charity or something, you might be able to justify the smug attitude of some of the keffiyah wearers. As it is, these people seem to be supporting major corporations stealing a culture's most powerful symbol for the purpose of rebranding it as a-political, and a-historical, fashion. That makes you an asshole regardless of your politics.

Some people don't get (or buy) the Jewish discomfort of keffiyahs. Some folks on the left side of the blogosphere are rallying around the keffiyah in response to some righties screeching about a Dunkin' Donuts ad:

Look, right there! In the middle of the picture. No, above the “artificial sweeteners and skim milk are better for you” latte she’s hawking… she’s wearing a black and white scarf! Or more precisely, what the froth squad are calling a keffiyah — the traditional Arab headscarf that, in a particular black-and-white pattern, became a symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggles for sovereignty. Sadly, they’re not joking. Although I have to say I laughed out loud at the phrase “hate couture.” The thing is, if you look at the scarf Rachael Ray is wearing in that picture, it doesn’t even remotely resemble the pattern traditionally associated with the keffiyeh, which resembles an interlocking net or a chain-link fence.

What’s next… is Santa Claus a Communist again because of the red suit? You know, we really shouldn’t stop at black and white scarves; even more radical Palestinian groups than Arafat’s (such as Hamas) have been known to adopt checkered scarves in red or other colors. We better check the whole Urban Outfitters catalog and boycott suspect neckwear — especially that one called “Desert Scarf,” that’s very suspicious.

This link was useful; it's interesting to see how many permutations Urban Outfitters has come up with (quite a few of which I think just look silly). But while they certainly aren't identical, I think that you have to be trying really hard to not see that they're all based off of the original keffiyah design, confirmed by their original marketing campaign (on what basis is a random fringed black and white scarf any more"anti-war" than another, UNLESS you're talking about a keffiyah?)

After some thought, here is the best comparison I have been able to come up with. I realize it may not satisfy some of the die-hards, but this is my best articulation of why I get such a cringe when I see it:

Think of Skinheads. Skinheads are a visibly recognizable group given their hair and clothing. Additionally, among some skinhead groups, different colors or details in clothing communicate different political information- racist skinheads indicate affiliations or beliefs through the color of their suspenders and shoelaces, for instance.

Skinheads are a far-ranging group, whose politics vary all over the spectrum. Some skinheads are racist, though many are not. And some of those racist skinheads are violent. Even though these racist skins are not representative of the group as a whole, and are repudiated by their fellow skinheads, the image of the skinhead as a racist thug has persisted- to the extreme frustration of non-racist skins, including the younger brother of a friend of mine, who once described the dynamic as, "I don't judge you based on how you dress, don't judge me based on how I dress."

I am not saying it is right to judge people based on their clothes. But clothing does communicate, sometimes deliberately, and some clothing is used, by some groups, for very specific political messages. I react to seeing people wearing a keffiyah similarly to how I imagine I (and many other people) would react if I suddenly started seeing a rash of rich college students- white, black, and Filipino- decked out in skinhead wear. Part of it is low-level forms of fear and intimidation, due in part to stereotyping but also of not knowing what code is being transmitted, of what message this choice signifies. But even more than the intimidation is the IRRITATION of seeing people taking a complicated symbol of another community (which includes some people who are downright nasty and violent) and who, in all likelihood, are nothing more than fashion sheep, have no idea of the significance of what they're wearing and don't know WHY they put it on in the first place.

Though I think keffiyahs look cool, they will probably always make me a little uncomfortable. It's unfair to call them terrorism or antisemitism scarves. But it's just as dishonest to pretend they mean "peace," or even worse, don't mean anything. To paraphrase something several people said the last time keffiyahs were in the news- if you're going to wear it, have a reason. I don't need or want a keffiyah ban- but making some marketing jackasses finally realize that yes, people have a problem with divorcing the keffiyah from all of its problematic significance (pro or con), is ultimately a good thing.

More keffiyah history here and here.

WorldNetDaily working hard to make itself even more irrelevant

This one is a choose your own adventure post. Take your pick, Jerome Corsi. Would you rather be riduculed as:

A: A sad old fogey?
B:An absurd literalist?
C: A desperate hack?

Or is it all of the above? You tell me.

Communist band opens for Obama

A Communist band, you say? Oh this should be good...

A hip rock band that features the Soviet national anthem and communist-inspired lyrics was on stage to open for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at his record-breaking Portland, Ore., rally that attracted 75,000.

Ok, first of all, I don't know if their use of the term "hip rock" here is supposed to indicate that WND is "like, totally fly", or if they're confusing/combining rock and hip-hop. But I am very interested to learn what constitutes a communist-inspired lyric- maybe something like, "Trotsky rocks my world except when the NEP causes a mass famine and I have to eat my hand"?

The Decemberists, a Portland-based group with a large local following, also closed the May 18 event.

Wait, you're talking about the Decembrists? As a Communist band? That's sort of like saying Garth Brooks is ga professional cowboy.

The Decemberists typically begin their concerts with a Russian-language recording of the USSR's national anthem.

Thereby indicating, of course, that they look forward to working for the global Marxist revolution. Kind of in the same way that rapper Mase's unforgettable verse, "Young, black and famous, money hanging out of the anus" served as a valuable service announcement, warning young black males about the danger of using their tuches as a wallet.

"Decemberists" refers to an uprising at Senate Square in St. Petersburg Dec. 14, 1825, when a group of Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in protest as Nicholas I assumed the throne, after Czar Alexander died without an heir.The Decemberists have posed for publicity photos in period Russian costumes with the red flag of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 waving behind them.

Check your math, WND. You do realize the Decembrist revolt precludes the Soviet Revolution by almost 100 years and had nothing to do with Communism, right? It sounds like these guys can't decide which century of Russian history they want to co-opt. And whenever I want to figure out what my favorite music artists believe, I always look to the concert costumes.

What remains undisputed is the group's pro-communist image and their open support of Obama

I'm not sure what line Corsi is trying to draw here- is it that Commies or would-be Commies like Obama? Sort of like how we heard that Al-Qaeda was rooting for Kerry?

In a YouTube video, Decemberist lead singer Colin Meloy endorsed Barack Obama in an unfinished song with communist-style lyrics that begin, "Barack Obama. Alas, Barack Obama. His prophetic luminescence, it will shatter the putrescence and complacency of the bourgeoisie. …"

A hoax, since debunked. And even if the unfinished (i.e., made up half-an-hour before the set) song had been real, this is from the same people who claim on their website that they met in a Turkish Bath and travel by Hot Air Balloons. Give me a break.

What this all boils down to is taking something as literally as possible, which is particularly absurd when looking at an indie rock band known for a weird sense of humor. You might as well accuse these guys of wanting to reestablish a Russian monarchy and/or supporting creepy mass orgies.

What kind of sad excuse for a writer tries this desperate attempt of (fictitious) guilt by association? Jerome Corsi was last in the news during the 2004 election. He co-authored the Swift Boat book "Unfit for Command." Now it seems he's trying to Swiftboat someone again.

Bible Fun on Dr. Phil

Yesterday was a fun day to watch daytime TV. I got to choose between Jerry Springer's ex-bodyguard Steve "Don't you dare call me Dude" Wilkos and Oprah's homeboy Dr. Phil, who has about as much good taste as he does hair. Both Steve and Phil were doing shows on family pedophilia, but Phil was pulling out all the stops when it came to weird twists. Check this out- you've got a grown woman whose seventy-ish father admits to molesting her as an infant ("but just that one time") and who she accuses of molesting her some more and, she suspects, her young son, too. A lie detector shows the father/grandfather is being "deceptive." As if that wasn't enough, the father/grandfather is on a major religion trip and is claiming that there is some Divine purpose in him being crucified on national television.

I don't know if Phil needed to fill time, or what, but part of the show included, for some odd reason, bringing a pastor in to talk to the grandfather about the religious quackery he's muttering about under his breath. IMO, this would be a questionable move anyway, (both in terms of taste as well as mental health/family services protocol) but what I really like is where they go with it:

Dr. Phil: Now, also joining us is a clergyman, Pastor Aaron James is with us, and I asked you to sit with us, because, Pastor, you were here last time. I invited you to be here last time because Al was quoting a lot of scripture and telling us how he was directed by God in these matters... You have been quoting Malachi, "He will restore hearts of fathers to their children and hearts of children to their fathers." What's your point?

Al: God is restoring our family and no man can stand in the way. God is doing something here and no one will stand in the way.

Dr. Phil: I don't consider myself a Bible scholar but I don't believe that's what that means. Pastor, help us out here?

Pastor: When you look at this, the study of Malachi, I am confused when I heard that verse because in no way does it relate to this situation at all. It's Malachi prefiguring John the Baptist, announcing the return of Jesus Christ. That's what it's talking about.

Duh! Thanks for setting us straight, Pastor. We wouldn't want to get confused and start misinterpreting the Bible for our own purposes. From there it's just a hop skip and a jump to molesting your grandchildren. Remember that the next time someone starts talking to you about Biblical Criticism. (Gateway drug!)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Just Plain Lazy

There's something that's been bugging me for a while when it comes to smearing left-wingers on TV and the net. I could talk about how making the phrase "San Francisco values" into an insult is bizarre and, from where we're all sitting, downright confusing, move. I could point out that "limousine liberal" is an increasingly meaningless phrase at a period when most politicians have to have a gigantic war-chest to even compete for advertising parity, thereby ensuring that the vast majority of people representing us, certainly at the federal level, are fairly wealthy. But the thing that really demonstrates how absurd the whole political discourse has gotten is much, much better.

Let's talk food. Specifically, food as a code, a social cue, a tactic to discredit people. For a number of years, I've been hearing the term, "wine and cheese liberal." Funny, since last I checked, neither wine nor cheese is inherently fancy, much less elitist. (Right now my fridge has a drawer full of string cheese and a couple of bottles of two-buck-chuck. Forgive me for not seeing the treason here.)

What I really don't get is the argument that suggests there's a correlation betweens someone's food habits and preferences and their politics. Maybe this was a slightly more logical assumption a hundred years ago when food choices were more closely associated with social class, ethnic group, or geographic area- so that "squirrel stew" becomes a code for "Appalachian redneck" or something. But given the melting-pot effect, several generations of trade and import-export, and the availibility of all sorts of different things all over America (yes, even in semi-rural areas), I'm sorry, this just seems silly. You might as well start prattling on about "goulash loving liberals."

One of the things people have noticed over the years is that there often seems to be a French connection:

True, the French have an annoying habit of vaunting their sense of cultural superiority to Americans. But the Italians, German, and English have exactly the same condescending attitude -- though as with the French, it's usually mixed with a genuine affection for the engaging upstarts of the New World. If there's a difference between the French and the others, it has more to do with an ambivalence about the cachet that French culture has in this country. Often you sense that the animus is directed less at the French than at francophiles -- the people the right is quick to describe as the "chablis and brie set."

Did someone say chablis and brie?

John Kasich, for one:

I know that [Obama] did pretty well in Wisconsin with her voters, but he's traditionally done well with the brie and Chablis crowd and African-Americans. And we do have African-Americans. They're divided in Ohio, but we don't have much brie and Chablis. We got a lot of nachos and beer.
Pat Buchanan, for another:

It was said behind closed doors to the chablis-and-brie set of San Francisco, in response to a question as to why he was not doing better in that benighted and barbarous land they call Pennsylvania.

It's gotten to the point that even left-leaning media are treating- and adopting- the term as a fait-accomli.

The big showdown between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could come down to California's "beer-drinking Democrats" versus its "wine and cheese" liberals - with the Bay Area playing a pivotal role in the outcome.

Pollster Mark DiCamillo, who has been taking the state's political pulse for 30 years, describes the beer vote as mostly blue-collar workers, the elderly and ethnic Democrats, especially Latinos, in the Los Angeles area and rural parts of the state.

The more liberal, more educated, wine-and-cheese crowd congregates here in the Bay Area, where more than a quarter of the ballots will be cast in the Democratic primary Feb. 5, he says.

And, the inanity that inspired today's post, some tripe from David Limbaugh:
Given his George Soros brand of extreme leftism, Obama will do his best to conceal his real policy self, except to the San Francisco environmental- and social-issues anarchists, the arts and croissants crowd of the Northeast Corridor, and the neo-Marxist professorial elite in academe.

Croissants? We're seriously using freaking BREAD ROLLS as a political demarcation point- and litmus test? How desperate and devoid of ideas can you get? Hell, Pillsbury sells their own croissant rip-offs in a damn CAN. Maybe it's my elitism talking, but bread in a can doesn't seem terribly fancy to me.

The funny thing is that if you think about it, isn't bashing liberals for (supposedly) liking wine and cheese itself a form of elitism? And I can't recall seeing the reverse very much lately, or at all. Hell, Hitler's Putsch was in a damn beer hall. Should we associate beer with Nazism? What about just doing it with German beer?

God forbid you're some kind of crazy moral relativist who likes wine AND beer.

A scary trip to Pat Buchanan's Brain

Pat Buchanan has been on a roll for the past few weeks. Rolling exactly where, I leave that to you to decide.

First, there's Pat's bitter lament for an America that seems to be fading away. Ordinarily I'd just make a a "Leave it to Beaver" joke and move on, but there's a weird racial overtone here that frankly creeps me out a bit:
In 1950, whites were 28 percent of world population and Africans 9 percent, a ratio of three-to-one. In 2060, the ratio will remain the same. But the colors will be reversed. People of African ancestry will be 25 percent of the world's population. People of European descent will have fallen to 9.8 percent.
More arresting is that the white population is shrinking not only in relative but in real terms. Two hundred million white people, one in every six on earth – a number equal to the entire population of France, Britain, Holland and Germany – will vanish by 2060.
The Caucasian race is going the way of the Mohicans.
Ok... And? Should we try to build a reservation?

Arabic peoples, 94 million at the birth of Israel in 1948, outnumbered seven to one by Europeans, will rise to 743 million in 2060, a tenfold increase, and will be 75 percent of the white population.

Wait, first you're differentiating Arabs from Whites, now you're saying they'll be statistically included? Doesn't that throw off your earlier numbers?

Fleshing out the NPI picture is the U.N. population survey of mid-2007 that points to the 21st century disappearance of Western Man.
Western Man? You make it sound like White people are their own damn genus, Pat!

By 2050, a fourth of all the people of Eastern Europe will have vanished. Ukraine will lose one-third of its population. Russia, 150 million at the breakup of the Soviet Union, 142 million today, will be down to 108 million. Such losses dwarf what Hitler and Stalin together did to these countries.

But of course, since NOT HAVING children is not the same as someone actively KILLING someone (abortion issue aside), it would take a major bonehead to conflate a decrease in birthrate and a loss of theoretical, nonexistent people with actual GENOCIDE.
CIA Director Michael Hayden said this week that Russia will have to import workers from the Caucasus, Central Asia and China, exacerbating already serious racial and religious tensions in a nation with thousands of nuclear weapons.

With Russians east of the Urals outnumbered 100 to one by the Chinese, there is little doubt who will control the oil, gas, gold and timber of Siberia and be staring hungrily across the Bering Strait at Alaska.

And of course, White Americans have never had any problems with other countries populated by White people.

By 2050, Iran's population will have risen from today's 71 million to 100 million. Pakistan will add 84 million to reach almost 300 million, the U.S. population today. Afghanistan's population will triple from 27 million to 79 million. Iraq's will go from 29 million to 62 million. The destinies of these nations will be beyond the capacity of an aging, dwindling, dying West to dictate.
We can't control other countries' destinies? Noooo! How we will feel important and relevant? We can't become another Norway!

Western Europe's populations are being sustained by immigrants from the Maghreb and Middle East, Asia and Africa – and the baby boom among these black and brown peoples is lifting and changing the face of the Old Continent forever. Islam is returning to Iberia, Italy and the Balkans. The Third World is coming to colonize the mother countries.

Thereby, of course, turning the whole idea of "Third World" vs. "First World" on its head. And I'm not so sure that your "colonies coming home" model is really all that accurate, Pat. When was Turkey a colony of Germany, for instance?

According to the Pew Research Center, the Hispanic population of the United States will triple to 127 million by 2050, as Mexico's population grows to 130 million. An erasure of the U.S. border, or merger of the two countries, or the linguistic, cultural and social annexation of the American Southwest by Mexico appears fated.

Why? Why does exchange have to be synonymous with annexation?
Yet, last October, in another Pew poll of 45,000 people in 47 countries, a majority in 46 expressed fear of a loss of their traditional culture.
In which case they should proactively do something to preserve their culture and make it attractive and appealing, as opposed to only focusing on newcomers as problems. Make new immigrants want to be a part of the culture of the country, instead of making everything into a damn color war.

Hopefully, the peoples of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, who are about to inherit the earth as we pass away, will treat us better than our ancestors treated them in the five centuries that Western Man ruled the world.
Let's hope, given that we were oftentimes a bunch of bastards. Hey, you don't suppose now would be a good time to try to build some goodwill with them, do you? Nah.

But it gets better. White people's birthrates aren't the only ones that make Pat all a twitter. He's also worried about his good friends the Jews.

Israel became home to the largest Jewish population on earth in part because American Jews in the 1990s fell in number from 5.5 million to 5.2 million, a loss of 300,000, or 6 percent of the U.S. Jewish population.

According to Charles Krauthammer, by 2050, the U.S. Jewish population will have shrunk another 50 percent to 2.5 million. American Jews are slowly vanishing. How and why is this happening? 

It is the collective decision of American Jews themselves, who have led the battles for birth control and a woman's right to choose.
Those principled bastards! Stop lobbying and jump in the sack! And then visit the doctor to get some in vitro. (Actually, that could solve most of the demographic problems Pat mentions...)

Incidentally, I really like the presumption that having a political position on something all but guarantees that you will be chomping at the bit to exercise that right or privilege. Observe, if you will, the myriad of male abortions performed every year, or how every supporter of the GI Bill is about to enlist.

As Jews were roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population from Roe v. Wade to today, perhaps 2 percent of the 50 million legal abortions since Roe were likely performed on Jewish girls or women, resulting in 1 million lost members of the Jewish community in 35 years.
Among other problems, this presumes that the Jewish population numbers were consistently remaining stable, particularly tricky and dicey because you have to self-identify as Jewish in order to be counted within Jewish population studies. From a demographic perspective, a Jew having a large family and raising them Hindu is the same as a Jew having a bunch of abortions. Given that the trend of the past half-century has been a dramatic intermarriage rate, it seems downright silly to attribute a lack of growth to abortion alone. It also assumes that the women who had abortions (many of whom were likely on the liberal side of the spectrum) would otherwise have raised their children to self-identify as Jewish, and that this would have been perpetuated through at least another generation- another major gaffe.

Then again, it's really just another example that not knowing what he's talking about has never stopped Pat Buchanan from opening his mouth.

We end our trip down painful memory road with Pat's analysis of the recent court decision in California declaring that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Pat, master of the understatement, says this is proof we are living in a post-Christian era.

there may be hugging around the newsroom at the Times, where one senior writer said, a few years back, three-fourths of the folks who make up the front page are gay. But this is just another streetlight on America's darkening path to perdition as a society and republic.
To declare that homosexuals can marry is patently absurd. The very definition of marriage is the union of a man and woman, first and foremost, for the procreation of children.
REALLY now? Then how come you're married but have no kids, Pat? Should we say your marriage is absurd? What's that? Oh, you're an exception. How nice for you.

To say two men who live together and engage in sex can be married renders the idea and ideal of marriage meaningless.
Why? Where does the original meaning come from in the first place? Using whose criteria?
"What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder," Christ taught. Through the Old Testament and into the epistles of St. Paul, homosexual sodomy is an abomination leading to personal destruction and damnation, one of the five sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance. How, then, can four judges declare it to be integral to the sacrament of marriage?
Well, we don't believe all that rot, comes the reply.
Especially those of us who aren't Christian, don't have sacraments, and don't have specific sins that cry for vengeance.

Fine, but Christianity is the cornerstone of Western Civilization.

Since the fall of Rome to our own time, nations have believed and acted on the belief that marriage and traditional families are the cinderblocks on which a society must be built. When these cinderblocks crumble, the society collapses. The truth has been born out in our own time.

They believed a whole lot of other crap, too- and acted on it. Racial superiority, the divine right of kings, and the subjugation of women come to mind. (Also: "cinderblocks" of society? Ow.)
Homosexual marriage is not in the California Constitution, or someone would have discovered it in 160 years. Where, then, did the state Supreme Court find this was a right?Four of seven justices unearthed this right by consulting what Orwell called their "smelly little orthodoxies."

Check your notes, Pat. Three of the four justices who voted in favor are moderate Republicans, appointed by Republicans. Exactly which orthodoxy is that?

They then decided to overturn the expressed will of the voters, declare their opinion law and order the state of California to begin recognizing homosexual unions as marriages. And they did it because they know the Times types will hail them as the newest Earl Warrens.
Um, actually, it probably has more to do with the Court's reputation as being one of the most closely-followed and influential district courts in the country, and they know that their opinion will have impacts in other places.
Not long ago, a governor of California would have laughed at the court and told the justices to go surfing, and ordered state officials not to issue the marriage licenses. The voters would have put the names of the four justices on the ballot in November and thrown them off the court, as they did Chief Justice Rose Bird a generation ago.
A regional stereotype joke, there's an old classic. But really, Surfing? That's just stupid. Here's another fact check, Pat: all three of those Republican justices have been there for at least fourteen years; one has been there for almost twenty and has been retained by the voters three times. These are hardly slack-jawed beach bums.

Thus concludes our visit to the dark continent of Pat's brain. I hope you all got your shots.

Kidding on the Square, or, Getting a Pass on Being an Ass

Around these parts, Pat Boone is not well-known for his sense of humor. What he IS known for, however, is being an ass. However, despite his tough-guy, "I'm descended from Daniel Boone" persona, Pat frequently doesn't like to actually put his money where his mouth is and explicitly say garbage that could be attributed to, well, himself.

Case in point: his "article" this week, in which he pictures newly-minted President Obama visiting with some random "jihadist dictator", presumably Ahmedinajad. One of the most striking things is how much they seem to stick to the personal insult:

We jihadists have often referred to Jews and Americans – in fact, all non-jihadists – as 'pigs and monkeys.' No offense, just a little humor.

Pause. "Well, OK. I'll pass on that, too. I do appreciate your willingness to dialogue, without any preconditions, and I guess I'm prepared for little slurs like that."

"Oh, it's not a slur. No, we do see you and all like you – who don't realize that we are holy to Allah and commissioned by Him to convert the rest of the world to our view – as subhuman and not worthy of life. Unless you give up your ignorant and blasphemous notions of Jesus and a Hebrew God and bow to Allah as we know him. Perhaps you would like some corn cobs and table scraps?"

Ok, first of all, as much as I think Ahmedinajad and the jihadis are douchebags (and I do), you DO KNOW that Muslims believe Jesus was a Prophet and that Allah and the Hebrew God are the same, RIGHT? I'm not saying they're going to start their own Muslims United for Israel (though if they tinker with it a little, they could get some good acronyms), but damn, at least get the bare-bones theology right. Next you'll be having them rant about how they won't rest until all America bows down before Buddha.

Incidentally, I'm not sure if the corn cobs and table scraps are supposed to be a reference to pigs or blacks. Careful there, Patty.

The silly thing is that all this boils down to the fact that Iran, Hamas, Syria, etc., don't like us very much. Which, of course, we all knew. No one debates this point. The question is to what degree is any of this hatred, disgust, or just dislike in any way malleable, are there really no areas of commonality where anything can be worked out. THAT's the premise of Obama's argument, not that he's going to walk in front of Ahmedinajad's desk and bend over. The fact that Boone's imagined jihadists can't get past calling Obama a pig and monkey just demonstrate how shallow his understanding of the jihadists and Obama is. You can be opposed to almost everything the jihadists believe in while still understanding that their ideology is more complex than, "everyone else is a pig." What purpose does dumbing down our enemies serve?

The other thing is that Pat's pulled this sort of crap before:
Whose voice is it that we hear exclaiming, "Daddy, that Hillary lady looks like Bill Clinton in a pant suit!" And "Mommy, is that Obama or Osama? They sound sort of alike to me." And "Look, Daddy, that little kid Johnny Edwards is trying to be president of the United States!" Who's voice?

Why, it's the conservative media, with childlike clarity, actually telling it like it is, revealing the underbellies and warped political ploys of the liberal favorites! There's Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and a host of other articulate and informed talk-show hosts...Thank God for the other voices, the honest, childlike observations of the biased reality we voters are facing in this country.

...Thank God there are spokesmen and women in the land who can see as if through a child's eyes and help us separate reality from naked ambition.

I came across a term in an Al Franken book a number of years ago called "Kidding on the Square," meaning, "kidding, but not really." Presumably, this is what's going on in this article. And that's ok. But Pat trying to put this garbage in the mouths of Ahmadinajad is also illustrative of how little he thinks of the whole process of diplomacy, and of how much he underestimates Obama as well as the jihadists.

Diplomacy does not solve every problem, but part of any successful fight against the enemy, whether at the bargaining table or on the battlefield, is good intelligence. Reducing everything wrong in the jihadist psyche and ideology to a series of animal insults isn't just stupid, it's dangerous. And all so he can sneak in some more swipes at Obama. I can't help wondering if part of the reason for this waste of keystrokes isn't just that Pat couldn't resist the opportunity to make a "Obama is a monkey" joke without getting slammed for it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Blasphemy of Theodicy

The news this week that Ted Kennedy is suffering from a malignant brain tumor hit my family very hard. Not because we love Ted Kennedy so much, although my parents do seem to have some affection for him, and his politics do match our collective ones fairly closely. But rather because we celebrated a recent milestone of our own- the 5th anniversary of my mother's diagnosis and removal of a benign brain tumor of her own.

I was traipsing along the internet and found a post by Batya not-so-subtly suggesting that Ted Kennedy's (and Ariel Sharon's) illnesses were divine punishment. She asks,
Does G-d punish non-Jews in the same way as Jews?

I can only speak for myself, but this question exemplifies all the reasons I find theodicy utterly disgusting as well as personally infuriating. (To be fair to Batya, her post was by far one of the less obscene examples floating around.)

This was my reply to Batya:

Given that our politics and religious beliefs are so different, I'm not surprised that I disagree with your take on this.

However, the fact that my mother recently "celebrated" her 5th year of surviving a brain tumor gives me an intimate perspective on this sort of thing.

I have always rejected theodicy, while recognizing that this places me at odds with many people who need to attribute all suffering to God to make the world make sense, who need to make God a punisher as well as a healer. I understand that, but I cannot accept it. I could not accept it before. I certainly cannot after spending long evenings with my mother in the hospital, helping her in the years after her recovery, when she had forgotten the most rudimentary basics of her life, such as her times tables, or how to read.

My mother was never religious, and still seems confused or uncomfortable when she sees me doing things like baking challah, making kiddush, or hosting a seder. Repeatedly, however, the one question she does seem interested is, "Do you think I am being punished?" "Do you think I did something to deserve this?"

And as always, my answer is no. Just as there was no sin that justified the Holocaust, there was no crime that my mother committed that would have justified being cursed with a growth the size of an orange squeezing against her brain, nothing she could have done to deserve a series of seizures and internal bleeding that wiped out her ability to multi-task, engage in rapid memory recall, or any of the other activities she formerly excelled at. The fact that deep down, she thinks that maybe, just maybe, she considers her permanent disability something she earned makes me both furious and sick.

Keeping this in mind, while there are plenty of groups and politicians I find distasteful, I cannot support people imagining themselves in the role of God, trying to sort out why this punishment is appropriate for this person, or that group.

I do not consider myself a religious person. But I call this blasphemy. Just as I would if the "target" of the theodicy were someone I intensely disagreed with, such as Ronald Reagan or Mordechai Eliyahu. I do not believe that THEIR medical problems are divine retribution anymore than Sharon's, Kennedy's, or my mother's were. Furthermore, I find it hypocritical that some people are so quick to guess at what Sharon or Kennedy are being punished for while they seem a lot less eager to theorize what past "sins" might have landed the esteemed Rav in the hospital.

I believe that anyone who has lived with or cared for someone with a brain tumor, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, or a myriad of other illnesses would be hard-pressed to find a theology that neatly lines up these heart-breaking episodes with a convenient or appropriate "sin." And frankly, I feel that any God who visits such punishments on average Joe schmoes (or even morally questionable politicians) while allowing some of the greatest murderers of our age to die in their sleep (Stalin and Pol Pot) or take their own lives (Hitler) is not worth believing in.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fun with Republicans

It's always amusing to get my election pamphlet in the mail. I often wind up reading the pamphlet several times before the election. It's not so much that I find city politics so fascinating; rather, it's the entertainment factor in seeing decades-old political grudges being re-displayed in public. The last two elections have seen ballot measures explicitly targeting the mayor (last election) and a city supervisor (this election), who, not coincidentally, was the author of the previous ballot measure. Funny how that happens.

Invariably, the same groups and people wind up squaring off in the pamphlet's hallowed pages. Anything the San Francisco Democrats support, the Republicans oppose. If the Sierra Club likes it, the Citizens against Waste hate it. If the Mayor likes it, there are sure to be at least a few Supervisors that want it dead. And so on. (To be fair, at least some of these groups are shell games, which you can recognize when you see the same names repeating over and over.)

Anyway, my favorite part is reading the arguments from the city's Republican party. Not that I always disagree with them. In fact, these days, and this is a scary admission, I actually find myself agreeing with them on a few points, at least at the local level- a lot of the things on the ballot these days are stupid, self-serving and pointless, city management sucks, and I'm becoming increasingly suspicious and annoyed with all the politicians who talk a lot and don't seem to get anywhere (this, incidentally, also applies to the federal level). But the funny part is that, for whatever reason, the Republicans seem to have the most emotional, out of left right-field, just-plain-hysterical, arguments in the election pamphlet.

You want examples, of course. Here is one from a Republican opposing a 2005 proposition to ban military recruiters in public schools:

Unfortunately, our city and neighborhoods are saturated with American citizens and ungrateful non-citizens intent on sabotaging Democracy [sic] as defined in the U.S. Constitution.

It is apparent they are determined to re-write democracy ala anarchy style. It is interesting, however, that these traitors disguised as Americans are the first to invoke the rights protected by U.S. Constitution to dismantle our nation's security. Ironic!

Anarchy style? Is that like kosher style?

My favorites all come from the same guy, a fellow named Terrence Faulkner. Dr. Faulkner, who insists on being called a Dr. though he should technically just be called Esq., has a great love of hyperbole and a mild obsession with Abraham Lincoln. Join me, won't you, in a little retrospective?

Faulkner in 2007, writing against re-opening horse stables in Golden Gate Park:

Golden Gate Park was designed by a great American, supporter of Abraham Lincoln, writer and abolitionist Republican... Frederick Law Olmstead... Well-designed landscape, he argued, had a civilizing effect on human beings...Olmstead disliked European metropolitan parklands, often aristocratic racetracks. He would have hated Golden Gate Park's Horse Stables.

...John McLaren, who dominated Golden Gate Park until 1942, fought to keep the Park rural. He disliked the Horse Stables and the SF Board of Supervisors' frequent "gifting" of monuments, which he quickly surrounded with hedges. Many SF Park and Rec executives loathed the politically-imposed Park Stables, including the late General Manager Jack Spring (our family's nextdoor neighbor), and my father, Charles Faulkner.

So... Olmstead didn't like horse tracks, and previous park managers didn't like statues. And who would know better than Dr. F, since he lived next door to one. Brilliant.

Even better was Faulkner's response to a 2006 proposal for the city to pass a nonbinding resolution (sound familiar) to impeach Bush and Cheney. See if you can spot the point where Dr. F's brain takes a holiday:

Islamic Terrorists know weakness and appeasement when they see them. Bush is not the first wartime President to be insulted and mocked. Lincoln got worse, admits [historian] Shelby Foote: "The inadequate, inept... bumpkin Abraham Lincoln was called not only a fool but a coward."

Cartoonists had fun with Honest Abe during the Civil War. They drew "fugitive sketches of Lincoln with his hair on end, the elongated figure surrounded by squiggles to show how he quaked" as he ran from the threats of the (eventually successful) pro-Confederate assassins.

Take-away message: Dr. F likes Civil War histories, and will skew any discussion so it involves Abraham Lincoln. He must be a lot of fun at parties.

But wait, there's more! Dr. F actually wrote ANOTHER rebuttal to the same proposition. Just in case you weren't convinced by his first one.

On its merits, this impeachment resolution is unjustified. An impeachment resolution against Democrat James Buchanin [sic]- generally rated as our worst U.S. President (1857-1861) would have been more justified... far more.

Buchanin's mistakes helped bring about the American Civil War. His ardently pro-slavery Vice-President- John C. Breckenridge- later became a Confederate General. Next to Buchanin and Breckenridge, Bush and Cheney are innocent lambs.

The best part of Dr. F's totally off-topic rant about yet another President that lived and died over a century ago? The guy he's talking about- and presumably looked up to get the details of his years in office- spelled his name BUCHANAN. Though I do like the idea of retroactively impeaching dead Presidents many decades after the fact. (Sort of like a mock trial?)

So this brings us to this season's election pamphlet. I eagerly opened it and flipped until I spied Dr. F's latest and greatest. How could he top random references to the Civil War and recommendations to impeach dead politicians? As expected, the good Doctor Lawyer did not disappoint. For your consideration, enjoy these two bits of nuttiness against the city changing its charter to specify it really, really wants to get women and minorities on city boards and commissions, and collecting semi-annual reports to see how they're doing:

The Attic Highwayman Procrustes would have loved Prop D.

In Ancient Greek mythology there was a legendary highwayman of Attica named Procrustes. He tied his victims to an iron bed. Procrustes stretched or cut off the legs of his victims to make them conform to the length of the Procrustean Bed. The hero Theseus... slew Procrustes by attaching him to his own Procrustean Bed.

...Prop D would have the Commission on the Status of Women prepare regular reports on "bean counting" the ethnic, religious and sexual orientation of City board and commission appointees. At best, these reports would just be a waste of time and money. At worst, because of the influence of "bean counting", many inferior appointees might well be chosen to create artificial statsistical models that almost never occur in nature.

Vote against bean counting.

Wow. First, apparently the Doc has been reading Greek mythology lately. Second, what's with the "never occur in nature" line? What definition of nature is he using? It sounds like he's saying that blacks, asians, white people and gays almost never cluster together in "the wild." And I like that the newest version of poisoning the well involves classic villains of antiquity. It sure is a nice change from, "You know who you're like? Hitler."

Anyway, it gets better. Faulkner's second argument repeats most of the same stuff (snipped for, well, repetitiveness), but has a few more choice bits.

Endless reports and investigations don't promote "diversity"- that only costs money and promotes "tokenism"- the only answer is to make top quality appointments from all communities... Prop D is bad government and "tokenism" walking around the City of SF- insulting just about every community.

...Prop D just calls for endless "bean counting" and for individuals to be appointed without regard to their personal qualifications.

The ill-fated General Custer, if he were to come back from the dead, might meet a number of demographic categories: Would we want to put him in charge of a high-risk Police or Fire Dept unit? Think carefully about all those textbook military mistakes made at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Got that? A commitment to diversity (which I do think is silly) automatically leads to tokenism (wrong) which is disproved by the fact that it would require us to resurrect the ghosts of dead Indian Fighters to run the Fire Department. (Hilarious.) Incidentally, Shiksa Girlfriend wants to know exactly which under-represented demographics General Custer fulfills. Is it dead white men? The military? Long-haired hippies? We're just curious.

They really need to have more elections around here. Can't the SF Republicans just start a blog so I can be entertained by their rants all the time?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You're Kidding, Right?

I read this a few days ago and it made me want to blow something up:

The sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products at drug stores would be illegal in San Francisco if an ordinance introduced this week by Mayor Gavin Newsom wins approval.
The proposed law is designed to curb tobacco sales at stores where pharmacists work, but would not apply to big box businesses such as Costco or to grocery stores. The ordinance is just one of a series of measures supported by the mayor intended to promote healthy living among San Francisco residents, said Newsom spokeswoman Giselle Barry.
"The spirit of this is that pharmacies are places people go to get better," she said. "They shouldn't be selling products that cause cancer."
Clearly this woman hasn't stepped inside a Walgreens or Rite-Aid anytime soon. Drug stores are NOT where you to go get healthy; in many areas, they are a substitute convenience store. A quick perusal of one this morning showed, in addition to a pharmacy (which is only open about 2/3rds of the daily operating hours), toys, greeting cards, shampoo, toothbrushes, makeup, a photo-printer, small household electronics (anyone need a rice cooker?), and even a small grocery section- chips, candy, cookies, eggs, milk, soda, sandwiches, and so on. If the standard is now, "where you go to get better", they had better start pulling that beef jerky. Last I checked that stuff had no nutritional value whatsoever.

It gets better, I mean worse:
The legislation says that “through the sale of tobacco products, pharmacies convey tacit approval of the purchase and use of tobacco products.”

Yeah, they also tacitly approve of subtly making you feel ugly by selling you overpriced crap to cover your pimples, and of course eggs, which may or may not play havoc with your cholesterol. Run for the hills!
Public Health Department Director Mitch Katz, who would oversee the enforcement, said it is a “conflict of interest” for pharmacies to sell tobacco products. In some cases, he said, people go to the stores to buy medication to treat health complications brought on by smoking.

So the hell what? Should we ban stores from selling food "just in case" someone with a food addiction happens to walk through the doors?

Luckily, some people recognize this for the plain old foolishness that it is. Unfortunately, they're identified as smokers, so you've been pre-trained to dismiss anything they have to say.

Shamilla Jensen, who had purchased a pack of cigarettes from a Walgreens on Market Street, called the proposed law “silly.”
“Isn’t this a country that touts our freedom?” she said. “Why can’t someone be free to go to Walgreens and buy a pack of cigarettes or not buy a pack of cigarettes?”
Good point. We should really ban our troops from smoking while overseas. Not only is it contrary to their mission (stay alive), I'm pretty sure we're also obligated to "liberate" those poor Iraqis from their cultural addiction to tobacco. Let's start by destroying any hookah we can find. I'm sure that will build goodwill.

And just in case some of you think that this nuttiness is a purely West Coast phenomenon...
Others are on the same track. Bills are pending in New Hampshire, Illinois and Tennessee to bar pharmacies with walk-in clinics from selling tobacco, and a bill in New York would apply to all pharmacies, including those in big stores such as Wal-Mart.
"Pharmacies are places we go to get healthy," says Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, author of the New York proposal. "It just seems inappropriate that on the other hand, they sell something that kills."

Hey, they're even using the same talking points. How cute.

On the plus side, though, we get to hear funny alarmist talk from smoking advocates:

"We're seeing a real trend in which fewer and fewer stores want to be associated with the harm caused by cigarettes," says Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. As fewer stores sell cigarettes, he says, "the cultural norm becomes not smoking."
That doesn't necessarily happen, says Gary Nolan, national spokesman for Citizens Freedom Alliance, a group that defends smokers rights and the free market.
Smokers won't stop but will be driven to a black market run by smugglers, he says.
I smell a new movie in the works- The Hardy Boys and (Cigarette) Smuggler's Cove.

Coming this summer.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Just plain silly

Of all the groups of people I wouldn't want pissed off at me, Greeks and Lesbians definitely top the list. So you can be sure that this will be a fight to the finish.

Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian".

The islanders say that if they are successful they may then start to fight the word lesbian internationally.

The issue boils down to who has the right to call themselves Lesbians.

Is it gay women, or the 100,000 people living on Greece's third biggest island - plus another 250,000 expatriates who originate from Lesbos?

Snicker. I can just picture a male BBC reporter inflecting that question- "Yes, who DOES have the right?"

The man spearheading the case, publisher Dimitris Lambrou, claims that international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders, and disgraces them around the world.

No, Dimitri, human rights are things like a fair trial and not getting your hands chopped off because you voted for the wrong guy. Awkward moments when you proudly proclaim "I'm a Lesbian!" might be annoying, but that's about it.

He says it causes daily problems to the social life of Lesbos's inhabitants.

Really? Why? Presumably the islanders know what they mean when they use it.

In court papers, the plaintiffs allege that the Greek government is so embarrassed by the term Lesbian that it has been forced to rename the island after its capital, Mytilini.

This from the civilization that taught us all the joys of catamitism? What happened to you, Greece, you used to be cool.

Shoah Thoughts

I missed blogging about Yom HaShoah yesterday. But there are a few old posts that were decent:

As a jumping off point, there is Who is a Real Survivor, a series of reflections on Holocaust history and its divisive politics, which is sort of a microcosm of the various issues with Jewish collective memory in general.

Then there is In Loving Memory, the list of lists. Sixty-two relatives and counting. It is a list that never gets easier to read. But every once in a while, good news does happen, even if you were 100 years late in hearing about it.

And this leads me to a final thought: in a book by late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, he mentioned meeting with the previous Rebbe of Belz in Jerusalem years after the Holocaust. Hertzberg had been eagerly anticipating the meeting because his parents' families had been members of the Belz court and close to the Rebbe in Poland. Hertzberg wanted to learn more about them, but was disappointed:
"[The rebbe] talked willingly of [my] grandfather, remembering that... [he] had been his teacher when he was young, but he was totally silent when I mentioned my mother's father and her brothers, who had been his disciples until they were murdered during the war. I was upset. This strange behavior was later explained to me by his principal assistant: the rebbe had not once said any of the prescribed prayers (Yizkor, Kaddish) for his wife and children because those who had been killed by the Nazis for being Jews were of transcendent holiness; they were beyond our comprehension. Any words about them that we might utter were irrelevant and perhaps even a desecration of their memory."

I do not think that words about the Shoah or its victims are irrelevant. I think words are important. As a writer, I believe that language has transformative properties, that communication has incredibly significant potential. Writing about the Shoah, rather than sullying the Holocaust, can help us honor its heroes, mourn its losses, appreciate its lessons, and, hopefully, prevent its recurrence.

But I do believe in desecration. And I take it very seriously. As tolerant and understanding as I try to be, I too have my red lines, and I object strongly to the co-option of the Holocaust to score political or religious points. I object when left-wingers do it, when right-wingers do it, when Gentiles do it, and when Jews do it. It's cheap, it's demeaning, and it's degrading. To everyone involved.

The Holocaust should not be unapproachable. But I do wish it were untouchable. In my mind, NO ONE should be compared to the Nazis. Not because there aren't bad people in the world. But instead for two reasons. First, because the comparisons invariably come up short, which backfires on the person making the claim. And second, because the Nazis and the Shoah were an incredibly specific group of people and events. As much as I am glad people know about their crimes, I resent them becoming incorporated into the universal standard of evil for the past half-century. As that happens, the specificity of things the REAL Nazis ACTUALLY did becomes diminished.

No, the Bush Administration is NOT a bunch of Nazis. No, Planned Parenthood are NOT a bunch of Nazis. Neither Michael Moore nor Bill O'Reilly are Nazis. Louis Farakhan is not a Nazi, the Palestinians are not Nazis, Ariel Sharon was not a Nazi. Random military groups doing things you don't like aren't Nazis, politicians doing things you don't like aren't Nazis. People walking around wearing knee-high boots aren't Nazis, and, let's be honest, those idiot skinheads aren't Nazis, either.

The Nazis were a specific group in a specific time and place. For twelve years, they were a scourge on Europe and the world, who ravaged a continent and murdered my family for the crime of being who they were. Period. That's who the Nazis were. If you have someone you dislike, whom you hate, whom you even think qualifies as evil, fine. They are evil enough without you bringing the Nazis into it. If you dislike abortion, go ahead. You don't need to show the Auschwitz bodies side-by-side with fetuses to make your point. Intelligent Design proponents don't need to invoke the Nazis. PETA doesn't need to invoke the Nazis. Media demagogues have no right to throw around terms like "Goebells," "Nazi" and "Hitler" as if they mean nothing.

For the sake of basic decency, the media, and all of us, should stop. The Nazis are not our pet comparisons to use whenever we want. Some words still mean something. Some history still matters.

And I wish more people understood that.