Friday, December 21, 2012

A Response to the Newtown Tragedy -- Based In Logic, Torah, and the Mayan Calendar

Od Avi Chai – Joseph, Newtown, and the Mayans
Sermon for the End of the World – 12/21/12
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

So, we begin this evening with a riddle – what do Torah, the US Constitution, and an obscure Mayan calendric text have in common?  It is more than their convergence on this day – there is actually a message here, a message that virtually wrote itself in preparing for tonight.

I am pretty sure that we are ALL aware of the Mayan text by now – watching TV this morning with my kids, there were a shocking number of brand new commercials, unveiled for today’s “end of the world” prophecy.  I am also willing to bet that, no matter how little serious attention we all paid to this, how little credibility it had in or thinking and planning, many of us woke up this morning, and, even more than usual, asked “Am I still alive?”  And when, once again, we saw that we were, we went along with our normal routine and schedule for the day.  After all, here we are!  Not being Mayans, and not having taken it seriously, while this WAS still a moment of transition, it passed for all of us non-Mayans, relatively unnoticed.

Our Torah text, similarly, pivots on a poignant revelation, question, and transition.  Joseph, no longer able to maintain the charade of being an Egyptian prince before his brothers, reveals his true identity, and follows immediately with the question “Is my father still alive?”  This leads to the reunion, and a major transition for our ancestors, as they left the Promised land, and came to Egypt, in order to survive, starting the chain of events that led, ultimately, to the Exodus.

The Constitution is dragged into our discussion and our thoughts on this Shabbat in the aftermath of the tragic shooting rampage in Newtown, CT last Friday.  Our shock of last Shabbat has turned to profound sadness at the death of 26 innocent people, 20 of them first grade students, to anger at how such a thing could happen, and is hopefully now ready to turn to what can we learn from it and what changes can we make because of it.  Revelation of a tragedy, questions of why and what we can do, and now, the search for transition from the event to a better world.

Guiding that discussion, as it must, is the Second Amendment – so it becomes the text of focus on this issue.  We know it talks about the right to bear arms – but do we know what it REALLY says?  Do we know its interpretive history?  Do we understand how the current “gun culture” came to be what it is?  Can we get past our emotional reactions to a tragic event, and maintain context and perspective to get to appropriate and workable change?  These are the essential questions of the moment; the ones which, despite MANY political efforts at distracting us, need to stay in our view.

So let us begin with what the Second Amendment actually says:  A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  As a Rabbi, I know a little bit about writing, grammar, and syntax.  And I HATE the structure of this sentence from a grammatical perspective.  However, it IS the text we have. 

If the URJ Biennial was being asked to move this amendment today, it seems likely that the first clause would have been preceded by the word “Whereas,” and the second by “therefore, be it resolved that….”  And that is how I have always read it.  The statement about a well regulated militia is a factual truth, being used to explain why the right in the second clause is being established.

And I am not the only one who sees it this way.  As Jeffrey Toobin points out in an excellent item from The New Yorker, posted online, until relatively recently, the prevailing judicial understanding of this amendment had matched mine.  And, as a result, says Toobin: “In other words, according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.”

So, how did we get from there to Newtown, to a prevailing gun culture in which, quoting Nicholas Kristof: "More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined?"  Or, as appeared in an article in Monday’s NY Times:  "Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence."

The answer, in a word, or more exactly, in 3 letters, is the NRA.  And no, this is NOT going to be a diatribe against the NRA.  Just an attempt to understand the truth about where we are today and why.  Again, quoting Toobin: “Before the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. had been devoted mostly to non-political issues, like gun safety. But a coup d’état at the group’s annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power—as part of the leading edge of the new, more rightward-leaning Republican Party. The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms. It was an uphill struggle. At first, their views were widely scorned. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was no liberal, mocked the individual-rights theory of the amendment as “a fraud. 
“But the N.R.A. kept pushing…. Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a gun-rights enthusiast to the White House. At the same time, Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, became chairman of an important subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he commissioned a report that claimed to find ‘clear—and long lost—proof that the 2nd amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.’ The N.R.A. began commissioning academic studies aimed at proving the same conclusion. An extreme constitutional theory, rejected even by the establishment of the Republican Party, evolved, through brute political force, into the conservative conventional wisdom.”

Ironically, given the oft-invoked conservative embrace of “originalism,” the belief that the proper meaning of the words of the Constitution was fixed at the time of ratification, and their scorn for “judicial activism,” it is hard to find a more significant example of ignoring original intent for the sake of using the judicial branch to create new law than this invented right of the individual to, without limitation, own and operate arms.

I happen to agree with a lot of what the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre said today, in the organization’s first public statement on the subject, even if I reject his conclusions.  Blaming violent video games and movies, and the media is not inaccurate.  When he said that the students in Newtown might have been better protected had officials at Sandy Hook Elementary been armed, or that putting a police officer in every single school in America might make schools safer, he was expressing a speculative opinion with which I do not agree, but which is hard to refute, since it is cast in the speculative verb “might.”  I also happen to agree with his statement that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

My problem is that we can, and need to do more to keep the bad guys from getting a gun in the first place.  We need to take steps to make everyone more secure, but also need to be careful not to create a “security state,” where we are forced to be comfortable being frisked every time we enter a building.  And my problem is that, bottom line, the NRA is nothing more than an advocacy group, and a lobbying group, for gun makers and sellers, who cloaks itself in the legitimacy of claiming to protect the rights of gun owners, and the 2nd Amendment, as they have helped to redefine it.

My problem is that our current public policy utter fails to recognize the impact of guns – real and theoretical – on our society.  Because I also agree with the following statements of inconsistent reality in our lives today.  All of these were taken off the Internet this week:

1.  “One failed attempt at a shoe bomb, and we all take off our shoes at the airport.  31 school shootings since Columbine and no changes in our regulation of guns.”  John Oliver

2.  (Picture of a senior citizen):  I have to show a photo ID at the drug store to buy Sudafed, so the government can track how much I buy, so they know I am not running a drug lab…
(Picture of a smiling young man):  I just bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition for my killing spree over the Internet.  No Id needed, and no way for the authorities to be tipped off that I might be planning something bad…

3.  “If a pre-school child hits another pre-school child with a rock, the solution is NOT to give every pre-school child and teacher a rock!”

Here is the truth – the Second Amendment still has relevance.  However, it is no longer the truth of the framers anymore, as we now HAVE both a national “militia” in the form of the Armed Forces, and local militias – the National Guard – neither of which require their members to own their own weapons.  Neither is it the absolutist vision of the NRA, in which their answer to Newtown is to arm educators and guards, and increase the armed police presence in public schools – in other words – selling more weapons.

As the 3 examples I just gave demonstrate, common sense and experience indicate that some level of governmental regulation Is possible without abridging the rights of individuals to own guns, because with that right must come responsibility.  The best model I can propose is that which goes into owning and operating an automobile.  Drivers must demonstrate proficiency and understanding of the laws of the road to earn first a learner’s permit, and then, after further testing, a license to operate.  In addition, proof of insurance and purchase must be provided to register a car before it can be legally driven.  The car must be regularly inspected to insure it safety on the road.

A gun ownership policy built on this same structure would seem to make sense.  Moreso, it seems appropriate and necessary.  However, let us be clear.  Such a system, by itself, will NOT solve all of our gun related problems.  People still operate vehicles that should not be, or drive without a license, or with willful refusal to obey the laws of the road.  Unless there are also enforcement and penalties that are balanced but perceived as a serious deterrent, such actions will not make a difference.

In addition, just as driver’s licenses exist in different categories for different vehicles, different weapons should require different approvals.  There is a difference between owning a single handgun, for personal security, or a single rifle, for hunting, and being a collector, or operating more lethal weapons.

I can see NO reasonable purpose for semi-automatic or automatic weapons in the hands of the vast majority of citizens.  Likewise, the huge ammunition clips for these weapons, or the purchase of wholesale quantities of any ammunition, or so-called “cop killer” bullets serve no useful public purpose either, and should be banned by law.

As one of my elementary school friends put it this week: “When a neighborhood has a "drug" problem... we go after the drug dealers. Well our neighborhood, the U.S. of A, has a gun problem, and we ought to go after the gun dealers. It's just that simple. Let's start talking about who sold the gun, who manufactured the gun, who made the bullets. Let's name names. Let's start shaming them into a new business. Since that's what it is. It's a business. And it kills.”

I am NOT willing to go that far.  BUT, there have to be limits.  And, if we are being honest, the NRA needs to be part of the discussion, if we hope to get the best possible results.  But, the NRA needs to stop being a lobbying group for the makers and sellers, and do what it claims to do – work for the protection of gun owners and the Second Amendment.  Otherwise, these efforts will fail, and other well-meaning Americans will come to the same conclusion as my friend, Mary.  The makers and sellers need to chose to be part of the solution.

And that brings me to my last point tonight – what can we do ourselves, to help make things better, and to feel like we are working to make a difference.  Because, if we do not, as the public, make clear our revulsion at the frequency of these massacres involving guns, do not make clear that even one Newtown is too many, then nothing will change.  Silence in this case will be interpreted as acceptance of the status quo.  And if there is ANYTHING we have all come to agree upon in the last week, the status quo is NOT acceptable.  When Joe Scarborough, who received the NRA’s highest ratings when he was in Congress, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, equally lauded by the NRA, both respond to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School by saying that change is needed, then, clearly, change is needed!

But there is more.  We can, and need to continue to console ourselves and our families, and work to make sure that it can never happen in our back yard, or anywhere.  We need to remind our children, and ourselves, that we will be okay and safe, not because we wish it to be true, but because we have worked to make it true.

We need to have the other difficult conversations -- about mental health care in this country, a system gutted during the Reagan years, that still is in need of repair; about the politicization of our basic safety needs; about the glorification of guns and violence in movies, video games, and more; even about how the media handle such tragedies – how many of us know the name of the shooter last week, and how many know the name of a single victim?  These secondary issues must also be addressed as part of any effective solution.

And, we need to find little things to do to feel like we are being part of the solution.  Write letters to the editor, and lobby for common sense gun reform – in the upcoming Maryland legislative session, and from our elected national leaders.

But, and this one is so easy, and even fun, let us reach out to the victims in Connecticut.  After the vacation, the students at SHES will go back to school – in a new building, to limit the impact of being back in the place of such personal trauma and loss.  We can help to make their new, temporary home a little warmer, a place of caring and healing.

Over the break, sit down with family and friends, and make some paper snowflakes.  Send them to:

“Snowflake Project”
Bonnie Marsicano
22 Pine Tree Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

and they will become part of the fabric of their new school home.  The mailing information is available on sheets in the lobby, and will be included in this week’s news e-mail.

In this way we can take the poignant revelation of the tragedy in Connecticut, and allow the legitimate questions it raises for us become the catalyst for significant change and improvement – for ourselves, and our world.  We embrace the example of our Torah text, and allow the first days of the new Mayan world to gain dramatic significance.  Win-win.  KYR

 This is the flyer that our members received:

Ways to Help in the Wake of Last Week’s School Shootings

Looking for a way to do SOMETHING to feel like you are helping in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT tragedy?  Here is a simple – and fun – craft project that, in a small way, makes a difference, by sending a healing message of love and support.

“Snowflake Project”

The students at Sandy Hook Elementary School will return to school after the holiday, in a new physical location, to limit the trauma of returning to the scene of the shootings.  To help them be more comfortable in their new setting, the plan is to decorate the walls with snowflakes.  And we can help!

If you have the chance over the break, sit down with family – children, grandchildren, friends – and make some snowflakes!  Use our creative energies to help.  And when you have them done, send them, with a note identifying yourself as part of Temple Solel, to:

Bonnie Marsicano
22 Pine Tree Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

And they will be used to brighten the new school space.

If You Want to Make Your Voice Heard

If you want to be a part of the public discussion, or let our elected officials know how we feel, DO IT!  Our silence will only be heard as acceptance of the status quo!

Write a letter to any local paper – The Washington Jewish Week, Bowie Blade-News, Crofton Crier, Annapolis Gazette, Washington Post or others.

Contact our representatives in Annapolis or Washington – your voice will be heard!

In Memory Of:

Let us change the culture of glorification of the perpetrators, by remembering the names of the victims instead:

Charlotte Bacon, 6 
                        Daniel Barden, 7 

Olivia Engel, 6                                Josephine Gay, 7 

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6 
           Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
                        Catherine V. Hubbard, 6 

Chase Kowalski, 7                          
Jesse Lewis, 6                                    

James Mattioli, 6 
                           Grace McDonnell, 7 

Emilie Parker, 6                              
Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6 
                             Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6                             Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6                       Allison N. Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education teacher

Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist 

Victoria Soto, 27, first grade teacher

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Responding to Reckless and Inaccurate Palestinian Propaganda


 **First -- my apologies for my absence... my real job and real life have kept me fairly busy this fall, and I have been shifting my preaching style to more interactive, less texted forms.**

 **Second -- what follows is VERY long... I know. And I am sorry. But when people who should know better just pass along crap about the Middle East without checking it, or concern for the impact of the lies and inaccuracies, the "Big Lie" must be shot down... and then usually cannot be done quick and easy...**

 **Third -- I am NOT sure what is happening with the formatting here... I hope this last edit has fixed the paragraphs, but just in case, I am setting off MY paragraphs (as opposed to those from the article being critiqued) with beginning and ending "**" **

   **I have copied the “article” below, without consent, off a site called “” I have done this so that MY readers can see the bs that is being claimed as fact by this a$$clown. A note to Mr. Cole and the owner/operator(s) of -- PLEASE come and try to attack me legally for this unauthorized copying, because, I promise, if you do, you will find yourself on the receiving end of multiple suits for libel and reckless endangerment, as well as wire fraud. Not a threat, an iron clad promise.**

 **To my chagrin, this "article" was posted to facebook by my friend, John Rouse, once a respected journalist, but these days, seemingly reduced to using the internet as I suspect that Henry Fonda’s character in “On Golden Pond” would have – to generate enough discussion that the alerts that someone has commented on something he posted would give him constant feedback that he is, in fact, still alive, and in John’s case, still relevant.**

 **John Rouse the newspaper editor would NEVER have allowed an article like this to run in his newspaper – the number of factual errors and examples where unsubstantiated opinion is presented as fact is egregiously large. Yet, in his new internet ambassador role, John simply comments after posting “I just found the piece interesting. Readers can make up their own minds. There was stuff in there I never knrw. [sic]” [note: He DID ix that typo later on.]**

 **The comment shows how far John has fallen – not only could he not be bothered to correct his obvious typo, but his lack of responsibility is painfully typical of how too many REPORT the “news” on facebook – simply passing along, not bothering to fact check. A side note to John: did it ever occur to you that the reason you "learned" so much stuff from this article that you had never heard before was because most of this article was pure, opinionated b.s., with little or no basis in fact or reality???**

 **So here, as a public service to John, and to others who might easily be taken in by this a$$clown, Juan Cole, and his lies, is a BRIEF, seriatum, fact check. [yes, I KNOW it is long... trust me, if I had the time or energy to waste on schooling this moron, it would have been MUCH longer!] Please note – the wide margins are from the original, the brown represent hyper-links to Mr. Cole’s alleged sources (which sadly did not translate over to this forum), many of which are, to a trained eye, on first blush, even more spurious than his own conclusions… my insertions will be obvious, marked with ** and indented.**

Informed Comment / By Juan Cole
Top 10 Myths About Israel's Attack on Gaza

     **The classic propagandist’s trick… accuse the other side of exactly the sin you know yourself to be committing. In this case, passing off myths as truth.**

These misconceptions are spread by the American media.

     **An even more outrageous and ironic twist of the knife, as the reason many people will be taken in by this crap is because exactly the opposite of what is being claimed here is true – the Western media (American included) has been guilty of under-reporting, especially when it comes to the real origins of the current (or any) fighting from the terrorists’ side.**

November 19, 2012 |

1. Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them.

     **It is true that SOME Israeli governments, have, historically, been guilty of allowing settlers to squat on land that is not legally theirs, or even, in earlier days, allowed the building of new settlements on unowned land in the West Bank. It is also true that THIS current Israeli government, has approved similar development of unowned land, which has been, and continues to be a deterrent to getting new peace talks started with Abbas, not Hamas. In fact, no Israeli, hawk or dove, will allow Hamas, identified by most Western nations that still have any sense of a moral compass, as a terrorist organization, to come to the table, until they denounce terror, cease rocket attacks, and clearly and unequivocally accept Israel’s right to exist as a free country in peace. The stalled peace process is with Fatah, over the West Bank – Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2009. Gaza is where Hamas forces its will on the native Palestinian population. Having pulled out in 2009, Israel cannot possible be colonizing or stealing land – she is not a physical presence in Gaza until the unending rocket assaults from Gaza force her to send in troops to protect her citizens. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank.**
        **Routinely? See above. House-building? ROUTINELY, when settlers unilaterally ignore Israeli laws designed to prevent such actions, the Israeli Supreme Court rules against them, and requires them to stop and retreat. That the government is ROUTINELY incapable of forcing the settlers to abide by Israeli law simply is sad proof that ALL cultural and religious groups have their extremists who believe the law does not apply to them, usually because they claim to be doing “God’s work.” All such extremists are an impediment to peace. And, please don’t get me started on the quality of this “source,” although Reuters, unlike Mr. Cole, at least accurately limits the areas of such claims to areas completely divorced from what is happening in Gaza.**

There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).

        **I almost don’t know where to start on this one. The first sentence is correct. While even I will admit that both sides bear the responsibility for this truth, there is no way that it is a 50-50 split. When virtually every third party who has attempted to bring peace agrees that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” the breakdown starts to become clear. While it would help if the Netanyahu government would make a better overture, and take fewer actions that can be interpreted negatively by Palestinians (again, all almost exclusively in the West Bank, not Gaza), it is also clear that the situation on the Israeli side is a direct result of the previous failures to achieve peace, which are virtually all at the feet of Palestinian intransigence, and the lack of desire to settle for a 2-state solution.**
       **“Talking about a peace process” is an attempt by the world to push the parties towards the table. It is NOT, nor can it be, a cover to anyone, unless the admission here is that one party has no use for peace… and let’s be clear which party is holding out for a ONE-state solution (hint – NOT Israel!).**
       **And again, can we talk about the rhetorical inconsistency and stupidity inherent in the claim that Israeli nationalists “are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have…” after a) unilaterally leaving Gaza, and b) constantly making overtures to Fatah to come to the table…**
       **And again the propaganda tricks in “reducing them (the Palestinians) to penniless refugees (again)”… who made them refugees in the first place? NOT the Israelis (at least not for MOST of them… see below). Who KEPT them in refugee camps rather than resettling them from 1948 – 1967. Not the Israelis – these people were living in Jordan and Egypt! When did the standard of living RISE for Palestinians? After 1967, when Israel’s pre-emptive and defensive war succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams! Who abdicated responsibility for return of these people to the PLO, even as they made plans to fight for the return of the lands they were on? The Arabs, not Israel – in fact, in 1970, both Jordan, and to a lesser degree, Syria, forced Palestinians OUT of their countries out of fear that they would destabilize things, which is how Arafat came to be based in Tunisia! And where has the world’s significant aid to the Palestinians disappeared since Arafat shook hands with Israel on the White House lawn? Too much of it was deflected into the pockets of Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, leaving the people Palestinian people in need. If you want to claim they are victims, I am fine with that… just blame the real villains for victimizing them…**

2. Actions such as the assault on Gaza can achieve no genuine long-term strategic purpose.

       **Sorry -- where is the "myth" here?! Mr. Cole jumps right into his Pallywood inspired propaganda shrieking on this one!**
       **Opinion, and inaccurate at that, because it precludes any possibility of military success. That is NOT the position of an unbiased reporter, but of a Hamas sympathizer, who KNOWS that weapons caches are routinely stored in the basements of hospitals and schools, launchers placed in the middle of densely populated neighborhoods, and children used as human shields by armed Hamas soldiers and their proxies… all of which make the likelihood of a total Israeli military success in completely wiping out the installation that routinely launch rockets indiscriminately into sovereign Israeli territory slim at best. But such a total success WOULD BE a “genuine long-term strategic” victory.**
       **12000 rockets from Gaza into Israel over the last decade. Indiscriminately. But Israel drops one bomb, more carefully targeted than is required (or achieved) by ANY other military, and how quick Hamas is to cry foul… **

They are being launched to ensure that Jewish-Israelis are the first to exploit key resources.**

      **Again – what resources? This is Gaza, which has virtually no natural resources to speak of, besides 1.7 potential victims for Hamas to use and exploit. And an interesting rhetorical flourish here, that links Israel and Jewish… and in the process, exposes the REAL animus and bias of the “reporter.”**

Rattling sabers at the Palestinians creates a pretext for further land-grabs and colonies on Palestinian land. That is, the military action against the people of Gaza is a diversion tactic; the real goal is Greater Israel, an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over all the territory once held by the British Mandate of Palestine.

        **OMG – if this wasn’t so damned slanderous, it would be amusing for its stupidity, its inaccuracy, and its creative selection of the LEAST reputable source available to back his point. Further land grabs? Again – Israel LEFT Gaza… the OPPOSITE of land grab. Israel built (lamentably, but understandably) a separating wall between herself and the West Bank Palestinian population, to make terroristic incursions from that territory far more difficult. “Diversion tactic”? One side of the conflict has, consistently, over the last decade, used negotiations and cease-fires as a diversion… to give themselves time to re-arm, recoup, and make new plans for attack. And again, that side has been Hamas, NOT Israel. Trust me, if the goal was a “land grab” to create a “Greater Israel,” Israel would have done so long ago, and no Hamas or Palestinian effort would have stopped them. Who gave back the Sinai in return for peace? Israel. Who unilaterally left Gaza? Israel. Who has tried repeatedly to return most of the West Bank in return for a meaningful and sustainable peace? Israel. “Land grab”? Get real! And Israel has NEVER established “colonies” – in territory won in 1967 or anywhere else – since her independence was declared.**

3. Israeli hawks represent their war of aggression as in ‘self-defense.’ But the UK Israeli [note: in Mr Cole's original, Israeli is struck thru] chief rabbi admitted on camera that that the Gaza attack actually ‘had something to do with Iran.’

       **It was launched after yet another escalation in rocket fire from Gaza. That is not only self-defense, but it is LEGITIMATE self-defense. Clever use of the cross-thru to imply a cabal between Britain and Israel… except virtually every spurious article this clown brings to support his absurd arguments has a British source, which is far closer to the current political reality, at least as applies to the British media.**
       **And it is clear that the Israeli response DOES have “something to do with Iran,” since Iran is the source of the rockets currently being fired from Gaza that have now brought Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem into range, increasing the number of Israeli citizens in target range from 1 million to almost 3 million.**

4. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinians of Gaza as “bad neighbors” who don’t accept Israel. But 40% of the people in Gaza are refugees, mostly living in refugee camps, from families in pre-1948 Palestine that had lived there for millennia.

        **Again, the skillful and deliberate blurring of history… many families have roots in what was originally called Philistia by the Romans, to punish the Jews for their rebellion in 135 CE, but was not again called Palestine, even informally, until modernity, and not formally defined until the League of Nations broke Palestine out from the former Ottoman Empire and awarded Great Britain the Mandate for its oversight in 1920. Some of the families that can make that claim are even Jewish! However, there is no indigenous people who can claim an ethnic or cultural identity called “Palestinian.” It simply did not exist as an entity, at least not until the Arab countries exacerbated the refugee problem created during Israel’s War of Independence (the ONLY such war in modern history, btw, in which the country declaring independence was attacked by neighbors intent on making her disappear), when the majority of refugees CHOSE to leave their homes at the request of the attacking Arab armies, who wanted them out of the way so they would not be impeded in their presumed march to “push Israel into the sea.” When that did not happen, the refugee “problem” was created, and the failure of the surrounding Arab countries to normalize and settle the refugees amongst their own population created what is today referred to as the “Palestinian people.”**
       **Amongst those whose families voluntarily vacated and became refugees was Mahmoud Abbas himself. In recent days, he has publicly and clearly expressed that he would like to visit Safed, the city his ancestors vacated, but he has no claim on returning there to live.**
       **Bottom line, however, whatever the origins of the people currently living in Gaza, that does not excuse their inability to elect leaders who will recognize Israel’s legitimacy, or work to bring a peace that would help citizens on both sides. Neighbors who allow rockets to be launched from their territory into the country next door can hardly be seen, credibly, as anything but poor neighbors!**

They were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign. Israelis are now living in their homes and farming their land, and they were never paid any reparations for the crimes done to them.[pdf] “Israel’s failure to provide reparations to Palestinian refugees over the past six decades is in blatant violation of international law.” Israel does not accept Palestine’s right to exist, even though it is constantly demanding that everyone, including the displaced and occupied Palestinians, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

      **On top of the clear evidence above, the opinions sited in these articles are, at best, minority opinions. Every framework towards a permanent peace agreement has made clear that the final resolution to the return question must be negotiated by the parties. Any serious attempt at reaching a negotiated agreement will require compromise and creativity from both sides – for the Palestinians to expect Israel to accept a stipulation that would, on demographic grounds, obliterate her character as a “Jewish state” is the logical equivalent of admitting that they really don’t seek a meaningful peace agreement. And again, see Abbas’ statement about his own personal “claim” to return as evidence that those who refuse to compromise on this issue are creating an invented excuse, designed to be used as a tool against Israel rather than a negotiating position.**

5. Israeli hawks and their American clones depict Gaza as a foreign, hostile state with which Israel is at war. In fact, the Gaza strip is a small territory of 1.7 million people militarily occupied by Israel (something in which the UN and other international bodies concur). Israelis do not allow it to have a port or airport, nor to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of its land, which is reserved by Israel as a security buffer. As an occupied territory, it is covered by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by their military occupier. Indiscriminate bombing of occupied territories by the occupier is clearly illegal in international law.

     **Now Mr. Cole has gone off the deep end, and is REALLY becoming offensive to anyone. “Israeli hawks and their American clones”?? Seriously? In fact, the US, and much of Europe, define Gaza as a disputed territory, whose ultimate resolution is still to be defined in negotiations, currently being ruled by Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization, with a clearly stated agenda to utterly destroy her neighbor, Israel. It is certainly foreign to Israel. It is clearly in a continuing state of belligerence towards Israel, defined by over 12000 rockets sent from Gaza into Israel at civilian targets – a clear violation of international law and every meaningful morality of western civilization.**
       **Whatever its size or population is irrelevant to the state of belligerence its government continues to foster, whether the UN and other international bodies concur or not.**
       **Militarily occupied? Again, do I have to repeat the argument? Israel unilaterally withdrew all forces. THERE IS NO MILITARY OCCUPATION!! Bring as many “witnesses” as you want - water will still be wet, the sky will still be up, and the sun will still “rise” in the east no matter what witnesses may claim to the contrary. Israel has NOT prevented the current elected leadership of Gaza from creating port or airport. I WOULD expect that, if Hamas had attempted such an effort, Israel would have done everything legally possible to blockade the effort, as there is already a steady stream of weapons entering the territory illegally, and to allow more would be a legitimate threat to her security. There is no credible evidence for the claim about preventing exports. Exporting products would add to Gaza’s economy, increasing her stability, which would be to Israel’s benefit, which is why, despite the continued state of belligerence a) Israel has encouraged foreign economic help for Gaza, and b) Israel is the leading conduit for humanitarian aid entering Gaza (NOT Egypt, as would be otherwise expected. In fact, when Israel pulled out, significant amounts of agricultural equipment were left behind, to assist the Gazan economy. That equipment has all been destroyed and repurposed to military usage by the Hamas regime.**
       **The claims about Israel’s incursion into “a third of [Gaza’s] land” for a “security buffer” are pure fabrication and antilogical, given that final borders of Gaza remain to be negotiated, if a legitimate leadership ever fulfills the necessary prerequisites to negotiations listed above (beginning with recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and cessation of rocket fire).**
       **And, since Israel has withdrawn troops from the area, the claims of Geneva convention violations must no longer be relevant, but that doesn’t stop Mr. Cole and other propagandists from repeating them as part of their “Big Lie.” As has been demonstrated, here, and elsewhere, multiple times, Israel's carefully targeted, multi-fail-safed targeting of strictly military targets in Gaza is hardly “Indiscriminate,” as Mr. Cole claims in raising his false Geneva Conventions claim. This moves from farcical propaganda to offensive irony in light of the completely indiscriminate and premeditated rocket fire that provoked Israel’s response.**

6. Israeli hawks see themselves as innocent victims of bewildering Palestinian rage from Gaza. But Israel not only has kept Palestinians of Gaza in the world’s largest outdoor penitentiary, they have them under an illegal blockade that for some years aimed at limiting their nutrition without altogether starving them to death. I wrote earlier: “The food blockade had real effects. About ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. A recent report [pdf] by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians found that, in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers. “ If any foreign power surrounded Israel, destroyed Haifa port and Tel Aviv airport, and prevented Israeli exports from being exported, what do you think Israelis would do? Oh, that’s right, it is rude to see both Palestinians and Israelis as equal human beings.

     **Most of the blame for any accuracy in these claims (which is suspect at best), must go far more to the Hamas oppressors in Gaza than to any perceived continued oppression at the hands of a withdrawn Israel. The fact that the (fiction) author here quotes something he himself wrote earlier as “evidence” can hardly inspire confidence in either factuality or accuracy to his claims.**
       **Despite the totally gratuitous closing statement of this point, which, to any rhetoretician or anyone seeking truth about this subject, would disqualify the entire content as the biased opinion it is, allow me to answer his rhetorical question which precedes it… when that actual scenario DID play out in spring of 1967, Israel first appealed, through proper diplomacy, to the United Nations, to end the blockade peacefully. When that failed, Israel took the legal and moral step of launching a defensive and pre-emptive strike, which became the victory of the 6 Day War. In other words, instead of launching immediately into attack, or whining and claiming victim status, Israel, at all stages, acted responsibly, and took military action only as a last resort. So, thanks for asking!

7. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinian residents of Gaza as followers of Hamas, a party-militia of the Muslim religious right. But half of Palestinians in Gaza are minors, who never voted for Hamas and cannot be held collectively responsible for that party.

     **A big, ironic LOL!! Again with the meaningless phrase “Israel (sic) hawks.” Clearly, the intent of the repeated, undefined refrain is to cast Israelis as hawks, or at least a portion of them.  However, the propaganda effect is a) to keep undefined what portion of Israelis are being blamed -- is it just hawks, the government, the entire population?  and b) to blur the lines.  Compare this to my VERY deliberate distinction between Hamas actions and impact on Palestinians in Gaza.  THIS is the difference between spouting propaganda and hiding behind rhetorical tricks to avoid acknowledging a lack of factual evidence, and reporting facts and data.**
     **Some in Israel do, in fact, demonize. Most, however simply call what they see. In the last elections, more Palestinians living in Gaza voted for Hamas leadership. No demonizing, simple and accurate reporting. Some even recognize the possibility that most Palestinians are every bit Hamas’ victims as Hamas hopes to make Israelis. NO Israeli defines Hamas as above – that is actually closer to Hamas' fatuous self-definition. Recognizing that he has failed to make any of his preceding 6 points effectively, the author now seeks to exempt the majority of the population from responsibility from Hamas – not by accurately blaming Hamas and distancing themselves, but rather, by spurious legal technicalities. Unlike Hamas, Israelis would never seek to blame minors for anything to begin with. Collective responsibility is a Hamas tactic, not an Israeli one.**

8. Israeli hawks justify their aggression on the Palestinians on grounds of self-defense. But Israel is a country of 7.5 million people with tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16s and F-18s, plus 400 nuclear warheads. Gaza is a small occupied territory of 1.7 million which has no heavy weaponry, just some old guns and some largely ineffectual rockets. (Israelis cite hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012; but until Israel’s recent attack they had killed not a single Israeli, though they did wound a few last March when fighting between Palestinians and Israelis escalated.) Gaza is a threat to Israel the way the Transkei Bantustan was a threat to Apartheid South Africa. As for genuine asymmetrical threats from Gaza to Israel, they could be dealt with by giving the Palestinians a state and ceasing the blockade imposed on them, or in the worst case scenario counter-terrorism targeted at terrorists rather than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

     **Aww – once again the world’s smallest, and most hypocritical, violin plays the martyr song for Palestinians in the absence of legitimate debate. The idea that the rockets fired on Israel are inaccurate enough to have killed anyone in Israel until the recent escalation is here used as PROOF that Hamas innocent of any provocation? What have they done to prevent their towns and cities and homes from being used as military sites to target (however ineffectually) Israeli civilians? Nothing – either because they themselves have been bullied by Hamas, or because they support the actions. At this point, no matter how much I WISH the former to be the case, the evidence does not support a firm conclusion either way.**
      **And then the truly offensive slander begins. The comparison to apartheid era South Africa, no matter how attractive to some, or how useful as propaganda, simply fails the test of accuracy and fact. 12000 rockets killed that analogy! The claim of asymmetrical threats is another deliberate inversion of reality – admittedly indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians responded to by carefully limited and targeted singling out of military personnel and installations is truly asymmetry. The Israeli withdrawal was designed to allow Gaza to demonstrate its readiness and willingness to achieve peace and statehood – her failure to do so must lie 100% at the feet of Hamas exclusively. To claim that what is Israel is ACTUALLY DOING would be sufficient if only Israel did it is the height of sophistry.**

9. Israeli hawks maintain that they were provoked into the attack. But actually Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated earlier this week, had been engaged in talks with the Israelis about a truce. Assassinations achieved by the ruse of openness to peace talks are guarantees of no further peace talks.

     **The world is still waiting for the definitive evidence on this claim about Jabari. Mr. Cole cites the ONLY article making this claim that has been published to date. The Ha’aretz author had ample reason to self-promote and fabricate his claims in the article for his own advancement and self-aggrandisement. In addition, if such negotiations WERE going on, Israel’s military censor almost assuredly would have shut the story down, at least until after the cessation of hostilities. The overwhelming body of multiply proven and confirmed facts on the man is that he was responsible for Gilad Shalit’s abduction, he was the leader of Hamas’ military arm, and he was the architect of the rocket strategy. The fact that he was targeted and killed in his car makes unlikely that the Israelis used a “pretext” of negotiation as a ruse to expose him to the attack.**

10. Although most American media is a cheering section for the Likud Party,in fact the world is increasingly done out with Israel’s aggressiveness. Boycotts and sanctions will likely grow over time, leaving Israeli hawks with a deficit…

       **Again, where is the myth here? The only one that I see is the one HE has invented about the leanings of the American media, one which flies in the face of the empirical evidence.**
       **Huh? Has this moron actually read American media coverage of Israel, before and during this conflict? And what myth is he exposing here (or for that matter, in most of his screed?)?**

       **Bottom line, refuting the “Big Lie” takes far more effort and ink than making it, and this case is no exception to that truth. If the author has any sincere desire to bring peace, he would do better to shut up, or at least learn the difference between fact and fiction.**

Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the blog Informed Comment.

        **If this is accurate, it is truly a blot on academia. I certainly hope his efforts in areas he has actually studied or knows anything about are presented to students more professionally and without bias than is demonstrated here.**

        **Please -- do NOT give this idiot any more credibility that he does not deserve on his own. I have written this blog SOLELY for the purpose of being to post the link on Mr. Rouse's wall, to serve as an antidote to the real damage such reckless reposting of such foolish propaganda spouting can create. Please do NOT send your friends her to "learn the truth." We who support Israel, peace, and the truth are far better served by simply continuing to get the real facts out there, not by reposting crap like this and risking giving it traction by our attention.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

There's Got to be a Morning After -- my response to Paul Ryan

I know, it happened again, despite my promises and my best efforts... I slacked off... But the Holy Days are coming, time to gear up again... and after last night, I just needed to work some things through, and get clear on what was really concerning me. On the off chance you just might actually read this AND agree, I share with you now... The “Truthiness” Problem A Moderate Rabbi’s Response to Paul Ryan Those of you who know me, (I hope) know that, while I can (over)react when provoked, as a rule, I try really hard to be measured and careful in my responses and in my use of language. We live in a time in which too many are too careless with their words, and in the process, remove meaning, or cause harm, and make it harder for us to effectively communicate with each other. I also try to be sensitive to the use of hyperbole, to make sure that my choices -- of words and examples -- are not only accurate in content, but do not inadvertently raise the argument to a level that it could not attain on its own, and does not deserve. Such careless rhetoric not only fails to effectively make the case the (mis)user is attempting to make, it weakens the status of the example for future usage. Babe Ruth was a unique phenomenon of a physical specimen and athlete; every misguided attempt to call the new phenom “the next Babe Ruth” weakened his historical standing. But what I try to be most careful about is telling the truth. Call me old-fashioned. Call me a fuddy-duddy. I don’t care. As a Rabbi, a Jew, and a human being, I see what the Nazis were able to do in their propaganda war, with what they themselves referred to as “The Big Lie,” and I am not allowed to forget. The sacredness of the memory and lesson of the Holocaust is profound. It is not something to be taken lightly, or for granted. So when political campaigns become so separated from the truth as to take one’s thoughts in the direction of comparison to the Nazi propaganda machine, by even the smallest baby-step, it is clear that we have an issue. One which can no longer be allowed to continue to slide by, unacknowledged. And it is nothing new. In the very first episode of his “news show,” Stephen Colbert felt the need to coin a new word to describe the phenomenon. But don’t take my word for it… here is the beginning of the entry on that word from Wikipedia (I know, I know, but note the refreshingly less-than-positive self-reference in the piece!): “Truthiness is a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.[1] “American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word in this meaning[2] as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd" during the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. By using this as part of his routine, Colbert satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and "gut feeling" as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse.[3] He particularly applied it to U.S. President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.[4] Colbert later ascribed truthiness to other institutions and organizations, including Wikipedia.[5] Colbert has sometimes used a Dog Latin version of the term, "Veritasiness".[6] For example, in Colbert's "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando" the word "Veritasiness" can be seen on the banner above the eagle on the operation's seal. “Truthiness, although a "stunt word", was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.[7][8] Linguist and OED consultant Benjamin Zimmer[2][9] pointed out that the word truthiness[10] already had a history in literature and appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), as a derivation of truthy, and The Century Dictionary, both of which indicate it as rare or dialectal, and to be defined more straightforwardly as "truthfulness, faithfulness".[2] Responding to claims, Colbert explained the origin of his word as, "Truthiness is a word I pulled right out of my keister …." The fact that both the American Dialect Society AND Merriam Webster BOTH recognized it as “Word of the Year” speaks volumes to me. What it says is that, no matter how much the coinage may have been meant to be satirical, it struck a chord of truth and accuracy in the ears of the listening public in a way that no other effort had previously succeeded in doing. Fast forward to Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech last night. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a registered Democrat. I registered, so that I could vote in primary elections. A more honest evaluation of my political philosophy is that I am, and strive to be, a true moderate. I have voted for candidates of both parties, because I believed in them. I have no problem calling either side out when I believe they have crossed the line. I voted for Obama in 2012, and proudly announced that it was the first time I was voting FOR a presidential candidate in my life, and not against his opponent. Although I have not been impressed by what he has been able to achieve in his first term of office, I am not blind to the fact that he has done far more than he is generally given credit for, nor to the truth that a deliberate effort by a totally ineffectual Congress bears the bulk of the blame for the failures. As a moderate, I honestly believe he has been neither as good or successful as his campaign is claiming, nor as bad as his opponents would have us believe him to be. He will most likely receive my vote again in this election (although I do not make public endorsements as a rule, and reserve my right up until the moment I pull the computer card out of the machine to change my mind). But this time, it will be as much or more a vote against his opponent as it will be a vote of confidence in him. And, in large part, that inability to consider supporting the Romney/ Ryan ticket is rooted in the severe truthiness problem that appears almost every time someone from that campaign opens their mouth. Sure, the Republican platform is loaded with extremist stances that turn my stomach. I respect the right of any citizen to disagree with my opinion – THAT is democracy. I also respect their right to make their opinion known, to work for it, and to act upon it. They are doing so. What I cannot, and will not abide, however, are words spoken with a deliberate attempt to convey one message, while either their actions, or the historical record clearly say something different. I am not concerned that Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on issues throughout his political career. So has every other good politician. Times change. So do circumstances. Therefore, I question someone who stays tied to a position that has already grown obsolete. I AM concerned that in this election cycle, neither party has shied away from making statements that they either do or should know to be factually untrue. And I am particularly concerned about one party’s seemingly clear choice to choose truthiness over truth, without much, if any, subtlety. I share the following from a reposting by a friend of mine, Abbie Banks, on Facebook earlier today: “Audrey O'Dea said --->>> "Normally I wouldn't be posting Fox News' take on anything. But this time I am, as a display of how badly Paul Ryan lied in his speech. The fact that Fox is calling out the GOP VP pick for his untruths, shows how bad it must be. "Greatest number of blatant lies slipped into a single speech.””” That pretty much sums up my disgust by midday the morning after. And here is the ironic part – it didn’t need to be this way. As this post from my friend, Julie Silver, also on Facebook earlier today so eloquently makes clear: “"Late last night, after the speeches were finished, David Axelrod went into his bedroom closet, closed the door and to a bunch of clothes on hangers, delivered the perfect GOP keynote that could topple President Obama. His speech hit all the incumbent's weaknesses, all the stress points with jujitsu accuracy. He offered tough criticisms and thoughtful solutions. And it was all based on the President's record. He did it without a single lie. Then when he concluded, he breathed a sigh of relief that wasn't the speech that Ryan gave. Not even close. Then he stepped out of the closet, leaving behind a rack of pressed suits who could turn the tide of history if only they could speak." -- Nell Scovell” The bottom line is that Paul Ryan, like so many others on the Tea Party, right-extreme of the Republican Party have foolishly done before him, took his eyes off the prize. They are so busy attacking Obama, demonizing him, vilifying him, attempting to drive him from office, that they forgot to look at what might be the best strategy to actually get their candidate elected!! Stretching the truth, at times outright breaking it, in the era of the Internet and instantaneous fact-checking, is a losing strategy. By the end of Ryan’s speech, all the television pundits and the cyber community were buzzing, astonished at the number of demonstrably false statements Ryan gave in a single speech. At best, it was an example of lazy hubris which ought to render the man and his support staff ineligible, in the eyes of a thinking electorate, of surviving as a serious candidate. At worst, it was the Big Lie. There. I said it. Didn’t claim for sure that this was the intent, because I do not know that for sure. But I am willing to go there today, because I have no better way of expressing how outrageous this speech was. Quibble if you want over whether $716 billion dollars that Ryan lists as savings in his own Medicare Reform Plan are or aren’t “raiding” of Medicare when Obama does it (to pay for “Obamacare,” which is not yet a 4-letter word, despite far too much venom and effort spent to make it so). I am not sure whether that rises to the level of outright lie, or is just a hideous, if all-too-familiar, shading of language. Accuse your opponent, the incumbent, of walking away from the findings of a congressional committee trying to resolve budget issues. That makes good sense as a campaign strategy if you want to label him as weak in this area. However, when you were a member of that very same committee, and voted against its findings, you kind of lose the moral high ground when the rest of the story comes out, and you should. So maybe you should have picked a different argument. Again, not sure this reaches a level of deliberate truth avoidance, any more than the last example. Which, if nothing else, demonstrates how far we have already sunk away from honest debate. However, when you accuse the President of being responsible for the closing of an auto plant in the Midwest, and make a personal statement to attach yourself to that community, you really need to make sure that the President was in office at the time the plant closed. And last night, Paul Ryan gave us a flat out lie on this one. The plant he was describing closed in 2008. Obama took office in 2009! Honest mistake? Possibly, but if it is, it is a huge and bad one. The type for which multiple heads should roll. The type which makes you look foolish enough that reasonable people might reconsider their support for you. However, given the context of the man and the campaign, it stretches disbelief to see it as anything but a deliberate lie. This is all highly troubling on its own. Coming as it does in the midst of a moment in history in which the richest 1% in our country are both being demonized as never before, but also appear to be making the most blatant power grab in American history, coming from the party whose platform makes clear their support for and from that 1% at the expense of the middle class, it becomes far more troubling. I will not go into how I come to the rather paranoid sounding conclusion I am about to draw in this blog (if I continue to see it happening, I will in a subsequent one, I promise), but, if allowed to continue unchecked, this growing outright class warfare will eventually force an American confrontation between democracy on the one hand and capitalism on the other. Reread that statement as many times as you need to for its significance to sink in. And then try to refute it. Please! I want to be wrong about this. I just don’t believe any longer that I am. And there is one more troubling element in all of this. There appears to be a deliberately growing “information gap” being displayed and expoited here as it is in many other elements of our daily life. Sure, the talking heads on television, during and immediately after Ryan’s speech, were falling all over each other trying to come up with the greatest volume of truthiness gaffes. They were talking to the same remarkably small, self-selecting portion of the population that chose to watch the speech themselves, and heard the same lies and half-truths with their own ears. And yes, the internet has been abuzz last night and all day today with new and old tidbits (and isn’t it eerily silent from the camp that one would expect should be supporting Mr. Ryan’s words?). But again, this is material that all but the same political junkies are generally ignoring. However, in the “mainstream” commercial media – the morning television news shows, the all-news radio formats, most of the nation’s newspapers, the places where most of America still get their "news," there was a glaring omission in much of the coverage. Many talked about how the speech “energized” the convention. Precious few talked about the problems of honesty the speech had. And therefore, those who blissfully ignored the speech itself, who won’t bother to read a transcript or follow on-line discussions about it, may never know that a candidate for Vice President outright LIED to the American public in a brazen attempt to make his opponent look bad, and to get himself elected. And therefore, some of these folks, who, if they did know, might be moved to change their mind about his fitness as their candidate, may never be given the opportunity to do so. THAT failing of the mainstream media is just as dangerous, just as glaring as the either unwillingness or inability of Paul Ryan to give a speech last night that was honest and truthful. In the words of the folk song from the 60’s, “There’s battle lines being drawn… nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong…” If we cannot rely on candidates to care about the truth, cannot count on the mainstream media to raise the red flag and report such breeches clearly to us, then we have little choice but to see them as on a side not our own. We cannot afford to all be wrong, especially in a battle in which there will be no winners....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A "Social Experiment"

The founding premise of this blog was that, while it would primarily serve as a posting outlet for my sermons and other written materials, it would also, from time to time, be a source for other material that I found thought provoking or significant.

Today, I ask you, my friends and readers, to join me in a "social experiment." And, I admit, up front, this is not up to the laboratory standards for such an undertaking, and in many ways it is contrary to Jewish teachings that I hold dear. But, in the afterglow of yet another powerful MLK celebration yesterday (thank you County Executive Baker and my fabulous clergy colleagues), and in the middle of an even more rhetorically divisive presidential campaign, I think I need the reality check I am seeking with this effort.

The experiment seeks to do two things, simultaneously. First, I am seeking to get as bias-neutral a response as possible to the quote below. Secondarily, I am trying to judge how pervasive the bias of labels, names, and organizations can be in a world in which we are still far from the dream of judging "by the content of character" and merit. It is for these reasons that I am NOT sharing either the original source of the comment, or the source from which I received it -- yet.

Here are the rules:

1. Read the quote below. If you recognize either the speaker, or any organization that has been spreading the quote on-line, please disqualify yourself from public comment either here or on my facebook page, but feel free to send me your private reaction to .
2. Without doing any research at all, simply decide whether you agree or disagree, and post a response either here or on my facebook page (since I have over 1000 contacts there, and probably under 50 here directly, I am running this through both places to increase traffic -- I will coordinate the response from both places), that simply says "agree" or "disagree."
3. Please do NOT (yet) broaden the responses on either discussion stream beyond a simple "agree" or "disagree."
4. If you cannot wait until next week for me to post both the results, and the sources, feel free, only after responding as above, to search out the speaker and the spreader of the quote. If you do, and are willing to share honestly how, if at all, that additional knowledge changes your opinion of the quote, I would be most curious to receive your thoughts -- again, for the sake of the experiment, privately, via e-mail.
5. After I post the results of the experiment, we can then have the fully contextualized debate on the merits.

Thanking you in advance, and hoping for a fascinating response :) Here is the quote:

“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values… it requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.

“Now, I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons., to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church, or invoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”