Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Books and the Lightness of Travel

August 13, 2009

8 months since last post, a repaired laptop, and returning to CT tomorrow to work at a retreat center (after the dentist).  I’ve been trying to decide what books to take with me.

I’ve settled on small ones.

  • Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy  The Christian Future and Planetary Service. I feel I need Eugen at all times and these two are focused on issues of society’s speed and the need for communion.
  • Ira Stone A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar.  Stone’s translation and commentary for Wisdom & Mussar by R. Simcha Zissel is a surprise gift as the appendix.  Mussar means “instruction” or “correction” and refers both to a literature of self-improvement throughout rabbinic Judaism and also specific activities. Stone’s encounter with Zissel’s Kelm school of mussar through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas brings the tradition to greater contemporary relevance.
  • Dalai Lama Spiritual Advice for Buddhists and Christians.  Short and quick.
  • Pirke Avot “Chapters of the Fathers”.  Olitsky brings major commentaries to his pages of both English and Aramaic. This is a major effort for the next few months to be able to teach this tractate.
  • Margaret Atwood Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.  The cover has a balloon near the top above the print and a thumb tack at the bottom facing up.  I started this in June and it was a riot.  Part of my effort see the financial bubble as a poetic invention.

Perhaps Walter Brueggeman The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant and a Daniel Elazar edited book on covenant and constitutionalism.  There’s a project in me about the federating, communing in personal and political dynamics, drawing on Jewish and Christian sources and seen in US history.   Not sure if that deserves my time now.

I’m concerned once again with the “culture wars.” Hopefully that may subside as a I depart the DC area. It forced to drop an idea of reviewing several classic studies of legislative dynamics through the lens of health care reform 1970s-1990s.  Yet there is less legislative activity now compared to the culture war of the town hall meetings which all media outlets excitedly channel to the viewer.

Was tempted to bring an Aquinas-based reading of salvation history through he lens of Torah & Temple and a book on Lonergan’s own intellectual conversion.

There are also a number of books relevant to retreat management or other activities where I’m going. They’ll have to wait here. I’m committed to easy of travel.

That’s the update. Scattered interests, as ever.

Death: A Rabbi and a Priest Walk Out of a Bar…

January 14, 2009

Today at lunch I was told that Rabbi Alan Lew, a seemingly vigorous, recently retired pulpit rabbi, died yesterday during a post-prayer walk.  January 4th, 9 days ago, I helped Alan and his wife find transportation from this retreat center to visit friends in Martha’s Vineyard.  He then traveled to Maryland to continue teaching with Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz about mindfulness, brokenness. From his website:

Rabbi Lew’s book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation was published by Little Brown and Co. in August of 2003. ” . . .Yet for Rabbi Alan Lew, the real purpose of this annual passage is for us to experience brokenheartedness and open our hearts to God. . . . Lew has marked out a journey of seven distinct stages, one that draws on these rituals to awaken the soul and wholly transform us. . .”

I like and despise the Days of Awe, an annual death preparation meant to transform our lives.  During the Yom Kippur fast, white is worn to suggest our burial outfit and bathing discouraged.  You are already rotting!  The soul must experience Tshuvah, or re-direction, turning to the ways of God and away from sin, in order to be granted life in the coming year. This is severe yet Alan know the energy can be guided toward self-revelation, the death of the old self must be embraced.

I also note Richard John Neuhaus’ passing.  His fascinating life teaches what is possible.

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Taking Sides in Gaza

January 6, 2009

I’m happily out of touch with the news most days.  I’m a bit of an addict some days and nights, parsing opinion columns and sloppy reporting.  I do all this to keep from moral sloppiness.  Here’s help for us from Jeffrey Goldberg:

It’s a strange world, but there you have it. I’ve been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information. One of my friends — if you want to know why they’re my friends, read this book — told me that one of his comrades was thrown off a high-rise building in Gaza City last year by Hamas, and so he sheds no tears for the Hamas dead. “Let the Israelis kill them,” he said. “They’ve brought only trouble for my people.”  [emphasis added]

See below for a review of Hamas’ takeover of Gaza.

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Taxicab Confessions — DC (microeconomics)

December 11, 2008

As I buckled up the car slowly began its journey.  The driver told me to ignore the extra dollar visible on the meter.  The fee to cover higher fuel costs ended last Thursday and he hasn’t figured out how to unset that feature. (Meters are a novel thing in DC proper, by the way.  2 months old?)

Conversation started about the benefit of lower gas prices to taxi drivers.  Then the driver announced suggestively, “What I want to know is how the price went up so fast and then down again.” I blogged last May on the poor reporting, each explanation pointing to different cavern ignorance. “I’m not happy with the reporting. There’s no clear explanation of these price changes. One reason for the drop, though, is the slowdown of the US economy. Less demand.”

“So how do they actually set prices,” he inquired.

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Appreciating Christian Zionists

October 28, 2008

I’ve historically been cool the idea that the Jewish community would ally with groups seeking our conversion or who eagerly view Middle East conflict as leading to the End of Days. It feels like we’re being used for someone elses salvation.  Plus, we probably don’t agree on most of our domestic agenda, I once thought.  Didn’t Jewish social progress in the US emerge through limiting the influence of evangelical and other “public” Christians. Or at least conservative ones.  As I relax my grip on my noble and enlightened sense of self, these issues have receded and I recently found space to appreciate Christian Zionists.

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Radio Silence

October 18, 2008

About 2 weeks ago the campaign left me cold.  I decided I really wanted to figure out a compelling explanation of the Palin phenomenon (why she inspires) to the liberals.  Overcoming such a longstanding rift is no easy task and has brought about a period of silence as I’ve experienced the chasm which separates us.

Strategy and Tactics

October 3, 2008

The near elimination of military history from college catalogs (often in exchange for social history) is one of the reason our public conversation about war is so limited.  Besides the market among older men for WWII or ancient battles, there’s one counter-trend  — the vast number of popular computer games in which the player reenacts historical battles.  For the rest of us, here’s some help from Augean Stables:

Many people do not properly understand the difference between the two, and it is a crucial difference.

There are four levels of warfighting- Policy, Strategy, Operations, and Tactics. Strategy is the marriage between the political ends and the military means. Tactics, to give a boiled-down definition, is what is done when in combative contact with the enemy- the manuevers, attacks, timing, etc. To elucidate with an historical example – In WWII, the policy was the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. One of the strategies to achieve that policy was to knock out the German industrial capacity through aerial bombing runs. There were many operations, or organized collections of missions, meant to ensure that the bombing strategy was successful. The tactics involved in the operations include the decision to bomb at night, non-evasive flying to increase the accuracy of the bombing, and dogfighting manuevers by the fighter escorts.

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The Truth that Dare Not Speak Its Name

September 27, 2008

Patrick Deneen and others at Culture 11, that lively, new conservative-ish blog I mentioned a few weeks ago, suggest what candidates should say in the debates. Deneen would have McCain transfer his cache of military virtue to address our own complicity in the economic and ” devote a McCain presidency to restoring virtues of frugality and self-governance.”  To address Obama’s Red State weakness, he should “call for an economy that rewards the lower and middle class, not the wealthiest, and an effort to paint these commitments as the most fundamental form of traditional values.”

Deneen declares Americans must be taught about limits and let go of the corrosive growth ideology shared by both parties. He knows, too, that none of this will happen.

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Brothers-in-Arms? Secular Humanism and Religious Faith

September 26, 2008

I have a favorite recent First Things post. Edward Oakes explores a mostly unknown T.S. Eliot essay which he recently stumbled upon.  Eliot, writing in 1930 in an anthology on the modern condition, suggests secular humanism, even aggressive anti-Christian skepticism, challenges the religious person to clarify and refine their faith, thereby serving as an ally for truth.

[V]ery little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body. . . . If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without.

Eliot then demands more original secular critiques!

Oakes adds:

Even a passing glance at what I have earlier in these pages called “pop atheism” is enough to show how pathetically mediocre are the recent apologetes for atheism. Going from Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins and ending with Sam Harris is quite a declension.

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Do Human Rights Monitors Increase Violence?

September 25, 2008

From Richard Landes at Augean Stables:

B’tselem’s Cognitive Egocentrism Increases Palestinian Violence

The Elder of Ziyon blog has an insightful post up about B’tselem’s [A Jewish Israeli Human Rights monitor in the West Bank] decision to provide West Bank Palestinians with cameras so that they can document settler violence. B’tselem, through a shallow understanding of Arab culture, or through wanton desire to demonize Israeli soldiers and citizens, has likely caused an increase in violence through their move. Their cognitive egocentrism keeps them from understanding it, the cameras do not inhibit “Israeli aggression”. Instead, since they benefit from scenes of Israeli violence, Palestinians are actually encouraged to do whatever they can to cause Israelis to react so that they can be captured on film.

This is hard for me to fully integrate. Part of me is proud that a Jewish NGO seeks to reform abusive practices by Israeli soldiers in the territories. Aren’t such left-peaceniks simply holding Israel to its founding liberal, democratic and Jewish standards?  We should not become a monster to fight a monster.

However, there has been solid evidence of Hezbullah’s and Hamas’ manipulation of visual footage to garner  international support and create “martyrs” for the war against Israel.  Richard Landes covers this well at Second Draft and has coined the term “Pollywood” for this practice.  Still, I refuse to declare from now on all footage of Israeli army abuses are staged.

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