Archive for January, 2008

(M)orality in Text Age: Wring Hands or Shrug?

January 25, 2008

Michael Gerson’s WashPost column today,”Don’t Let Texting Get U : -(,” explores anxiety for the phenomenon of text messaging. I first thought he would bring out the typical complaint, “Kids these days…”

[this inspired tangential thoughts excised here that I’ll included in a subsequent post]

I was ready to respond that Boomers, of all people, should realize that a few changes in style isn’t the end of the world. Then I wondered if there are criteria for evaluating such changes so that we can even speak of better or worse. Am I such a relativist that I can dismiss all criticism to youth culture by saying simply “Civilization survived Elvis, so _____ is no big deal.” Perhaps the world will end not with a bang but that sound we make with a dismissive shrug, “Eh.”

I calmed down enough to reread the piece and found, as the title suggests, Gerson offers more balance than judgment. Here’s Gerson’s stodgy introduction:



Greek Democracy and Ours: On Reason and Religion

January 25, 2008

Bill Maher is often the most insightful and hilarious comedian to address political life. His strong stances expressed with clever quips can also be the most infuriating. What irks me most is Maher’s insistence that religion is the source of all evil and that Reason is the only Way. Last week on Maher’s HBO show, he and Dan Savage agreed that religion has no place in politics because our democracy is not at all religious, it is the inheritance of the Greeks, the founders of Reason.

I will refrain from blaming these men for what they do not yet know. While I am not yet capable of giving the subject justice, but I’ll point out a few relevant points.


Ten Books

January 21, 2008

Via Peter Leithart

Pamuk again: “to read well is not to pass one’s eyes and one’s mind slowly and carefully over a text: it is to immerse oneself utterly in its soul. This is why we fall in love with only a few books in a lifetime. Even the most finely honed personal library is made up of a number of books that are all in competition with one another. The jealousies among these books endows the creative writer with a certain gloom. Flaubert was right to say that if a man were to read ten books with sufficient care, he would become a sage. As a rule, most people have not even done that, and that is why they collect books and show off their libraries.”


Attended a Lecture…

January 17, 2008

Heard several inspiring contributors to this recent collection. Editor Or Rose, Associate Dean of Hebrew College, introduced the larger activist project with co-founder Margie Klein. Rose noted that the language of Torah to protect the stranger, the widow, and the orphan, forms today’s lingo of “at-risk populations.” One goal of Righteous Indignation is to influence the role of religious talk in political discourse, opening space for “progressive religious voices.”

Mark Hanis of the Genocide Information Network spoke of his Jewish identity deriving from growing up in Equador’s only synagogue populated by survivors and their descendants. He then demonstrated how voters, based on their zip code, can call 1-800-GENOCIDE and connect immediately with their representatives offices while given the current talking point appropriate to that decision maker.


“Speak With Authority”

January 14, 2008

This slam poet, if I remember correctly, is a high school English teacher. The spoken word genre today often employs only one trope, angry self-definition. As a white guy who can’t readily adopt those norms, he finds his own style. I’ve seen him perform several times successfully by inviting collective reflection while speaking with the cadences the genre expects.

Reminds me of a discussion with an interfaith high school group. “…[B]ecause we Christians believe Jesus Christ is the messiah, or whatever,” a student expressed. I implored her not to qualify that, of all, statements.

James at Postmodern Conservative (where I found the above link) suggests with his post title that our “epistemological” confusion is not personal choice of diction but a larger societal reality.

Gas Tank Activism

January 8, 2008

Watching my friend fill her SUV gas tank last August (@ $60) made me think about the power of pocketbook anger. I imagined alternative energy and mass transit activists along with anti-Oil Autocrat folks (pro- democracy, anti- Islamist, etc) informing and organizing drivers as they fill their tanks.

Here’s another image from a presidential candidation:

“None of us would write a check to Osama bin Laden, slip it in a Hallmark card and send it off to him. But that’s what we’re doing every time we pull into a gas station,” – Mike Huckabee.

Perhaps activists can ask each driver filling their tank to sign one of those Hallmark cards to Bin Laden. Get Well? And offer 3 things the driver can do to reduce our dependence, attend a forum next month, etc.

Politics Can be Ugly

January 7, 2008

See commentary here. It is conceivable McCain people pretend to be Romney people taking McCain signs.

I don’t despair at the messiness of politics.

First, I’ve learned not to look to politics, especially national affairs, to save the world. That’s right my fellow liberals and Tikkun readers. Especially in democracies requiring compromises between interests and composed of individuals with short horizons (sense of past and future) and attention spans, I don’t expect intelligent policy. Crises are the engine of history in the liberal age. Gandhi, King and any good labor organizer know that a movement has to create a crisis and then offer a solution. The very same solution will rarely garner interest on its own.


Wave of Sorrow

January 7, 2008

Bono recently finishes a song from the Joshua Tree sessions. It reflects his effort to comprehend his 1984 visit to Ethiopia during the famine in the context of Biblical history and Ethiopia’s majestic past.  Appreciate the reworking of the Beatitudes (Blessed Are…) at the end.

Lyrics below the fold.  Hat tip: Nothing New Under the Sun


What Americans Really Don’t Want to Hear

January 5, 2008

The public generally wants Iraq to go the way of Vietnam; US involvement ends with few clear repercussions. McCain’s analogies to South Korea and Japan suggest a different model. He proudly claims US interests are served by our prolonged military presence in the region. This has little resonance in a nation wary (not WEARY) of war.

Subsidizing McMansions

January 3, 2008

From Robert Samuelson yesterday:

[G]overnment subsidizes these supersize homes along with suburban sprawl and, just incidentally, global warming. In 2008, the tax deduction for mortgage interest payments will cost the federal government $89 billion. The savings go heavily to the upper-middle class and the wealthy — the least needy people — and encourage ever-larger homes. Even with energy-saving appliances, those homes are likely to generate more greenhouse gases than their smaller predecessors. As individuals and a society, we’ve overinvested in housing; we’d be better off if more of our savings went into productive investments elsewhere.

Like subsidies for the original suburbs — new highways, schools and sewers — and under-investment in cities, the tragectory of our growth orientation is deep but within our reach. The age of petroleum and anti-civic land use policies is far from over, as we’ve just spent 10 years in another national explosion of development in that vein. When peak oil hits, it will take quite a while before we adjust our development from this pattern.