Monthly Archives: January 2010

Michael Knox Beran: Obama’s Schizophrenic Politics

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The semester has started and I have been too busy assisting students to write anything. So enjoy this brief piece by Michael Knox Beran in the City Journal (online edition). Here is an excerpt:

When, on Wednesday night, the president ascended the rostrum of the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union Address, some believed that he would, if only from desperation, renounce the utopist within. Certainly his tone and style suggested that the conciliatory pragmatist was back in the saddle. “Let’s try common sense,” he said. Health care was no longer the main thing: jobs were. The president even made light of his inner messiah: “Now, I’m not naive. I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony and some post-partisan era.”

But the fingerprints of the passionate prophet were all over the actual proposals. If America needed jobs, the social state would take the lead in creating them. Health care might no longer be the top priority, but Congress should pass the health-care bill anyway, and while it was at it, should get cap-and-trade done, too. Of course there would be a spending freeze—but not for another year. Until then, spend away. Much as Edward Hyde makes a mockery of Henry Jekyll’s pretensions to rectitude in Robert Louis Stevenson’s fable, so the hairy imp who struggles for supremacy in Obama’s soul makes a mockery of the president’s protestations of common sense and fiscal restraint.

No politician can hope to get away with so wild an incoherency, right? Wrong. The president knows that he has gotten away with it. His double personality has been evident since he published his campaign manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, in 2006. The tone of the book is as mild and unthreatening as the most soothing of Obama’s orations. But its call to revive a politics of “social solidarity” ought to have put the reader on notice of the deeper tensions in the candidate’s soul.

Modernity Blog: Reverend Stephen Sizer Uses British Police Against A Blogger

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[h/t to Mod for bringing this to my attention]

Mod writes:

A British blogger has been intimidated by the police. The Reverend Stephen Sizer didn’t like comments and criticism made on the Seismic Shock blog, so got the police to physically intimidate the blogger, to take down that mild criticism.

This is a clear freedom of speech issue, the police should not …be used to intimidate bloggers.

I urge you to publicise this issue and support Seismic Shock, as “I too am Seismic Shock”.

Click here to voice your support.

Website Recommendation: Anti-Democracy Agenda

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From the website:

The Anti-Democracy Agenda is run by the Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society (SCIS) in order to serve as a focal point and the premier resource on the net for the study of anti-democratic thought and practice as well as old and new alternatives to democracy. It wishes to facilitate the exchange on anti-democratic thought and practice across boundaries, be they disciplinary, ideological, national, cultural, generational, philosophical, religious (or non-religious), etc. By disseminating information on research, publications, and events, it hopes to increase awareness of the various traditions and current trends, and raise the academic and public profile of anti-democratic thought and practice worldwide.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Every year around this time I read articles and op-eds about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) that generally fall into two categories. On the one hand, you have leftists and revolutionaries who generally argue MLK was moving in an anti-capitalist direction before he was assassinated. The more extreme leftists claim this is precisely why he was assassinated. They also note if he was alive today, he would be siding with them in their various struggles whether environmental, economic or political. On the other hand, you have conservatives who contend that they are the rightful heirs to MLK’s legacy. They contend if King was alive today, he would take their side, especially in regards to “right to life” and other social issues.

I find most of these discussions to be less than useful. Who knows what MLK’s politics would be like if he were alive today? Yes, he was outspoken in support of the poor and labor issues but I doubt he would share the contemporary Left’s position on abortion. And what would he have thought of the increasing radicalization and fetishism of violence of the New Left? In any event, these sorts of discussions involve extreme speculation on both sides of the political spectrum.

Instead, I think it is illustrative to examine the social and political legacy of MLK. Have the changes he wanted to see in American society become reality? In many cases, they have. De jure discrimination based on race is illegal. Federal legislation was passed providing legal protection and access in the areas of transportation (thanks Irene Morgan and Rosa Parks!), voting rights, public facilities, and education. A good friend reminded me of MLK’s influence in the case of Loving v. Virginia which ended race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. And of course we have a black president. These are incredibly positive developments for a country as riven by race as the U.S.

But are there any negative elements of his legacy? I realize to even suggest this runs the risk of being labeled an apostate by liberals and conservatives alike. Yet when I examine some of the individuals and groups who claim to extend the progressive vision of MLK to the present I am incredibly disappointed.

To be absolutely clear I do not place any blame for the buffoonery of these clowns on MLK. I suspect and hope he would be disappointed by their antics as well. And I recognize there are plenty of folks who continue King’s legacy in a positive and uplifting fashion.

Enjoy this brief clip of MLK responding to the criticisms leveled against him by Malcolm X:

Big Friday Roundup

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[Why is Scott Ritter's picture here? Read more below.]

You know how it is when you come back from a little vacation. Work piles up, people need to meet with you, your place is a mess from unpacking. Loads of fun.

Matt Smith’s article in the SF Weekly on NATLFED is really good. I thought it was going to be a standard snarky hit-piece on nutty Bay Area radicals but he does a nice job covering the shady history and current activities of the organization. I promise to post something about my experiences on the inside soon. Here is an excerpt from Smith’s article:

NatlFed doesn’t fit most people’s idea of a cult. There’s no religious dogma. Instead, it’s best known for preaching leftist revolution. Yet, during its 40 years of existence, it doesn’t seem to have performed a single terrorist act. Decade after decade, its members have merely gone about preparing themselves for the possibility of an eventual day of insurrection — like Pentecostals awaiting the rapture.

In the meantime, the group has undertaken charitable works that Palo Alto‘s Jeff Whitnack, who volunteered for the group in the 1980s until he became disillusioned, refers to as “flypaper” designed to lure young idealists. They maintain what NatlFed insiders refer to as “entities” or “mutual-benefit associations” to do food drives, recruit doctors and attorneys to provide services for low-income people, and give lectures about the need for mental health services in the Mission.

For anyone living in the Bay Area, these apparent front groups are simultaneously invisible and ubiquitous. At a recent Thanksgiving dinner I attended at a San Francisco friend’s house, five of the 10 adults present had volunteered for, donated to, or been contacted by NatlFed fronts.

These groups, which the FBI has linked to NatlFed, have names that make them sound like labor unions or professional associations, among them the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals, the Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals, the California Homemakers Association, and the Western Farm Workers Association.

None of the groups enter into collective bargaining agreements or are registered with the IRS as nonprofits. They do not publicly disclose their finances. They don’t form close public alliances with community groups that have similar aims. They do not publish their regular activities, have Web sites, or create any public documentation of how they function. They keep themselves all but invisible — except to those they choose to contact.

In the “I knew he was a scumbag” department, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter was busted in a sex sting. The Pocono Record notes, a “police affidavit gives the following account”:

Officer Ryan Venneman was posing as 15-year-old “Emily” in an online chat room when he was contacted by someone using the name “Delmarm4fun.” This person, later identified as Ritter, told “Emily” he was a 44-year-old male from Albany, N.Y.

“Emily” told Ritter she was a 15-year-old girl from the Poconos, at which point Ritter asked for a picture other than the one “Emily” had posted on her account. Ritter then sent her a link to his Web camera and began to masturbate on camera.

“Emily” asked Ritter for his cell phone number, which he provided.

Ritter again asked “Emily” how old she was. Told she was 15, Ritter said he didn’t realize she was 15 and turned off his webcam, saying he didn’t want to get in trouble…

What a guy…

Now some links:

Bob from Brockley skewers Iran’s Press TV and the extremists of Islam4UK.

Roland “But, I am a Liberal” Dodds proclaims Ron Paul “Useful Idiot of the Year“.

Flesh is Grass discusses anti-Zionist malice.

Modernity Blog on Sri Lanka’s Tamils.

Noga (Contentious Centrist) takes a stroll in the Arab Street.

Poumista on the great Carlo Tresca.

Snoopy (Simply Jews) wades into the cesspool of the Guardian. So does Mod.

Kellie (Airforce Amazons) Strøm on the Iranian opposition.

Martin in the Margins on civil liberties for all, even those you disagree with.

Sultan Knish takes on Zinn, Moore and Stone.

Michael J. Totten interviews Christopher Hitchens: Part 1. Part 2.

ZWord on Tony Judt.

Haiti: How to Help

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If you are looking for places to donate a contribution to the relief effort, here are some links:

The Haitian League and Yele Haiti have direct connections on the island.

Partners in Health does a lot of good work in Haiti and around the world. Dr. Paul Farmer is one of the founders of the organization.

If you want to contribute to faith-based groups, you can donate to the American Jewish World Service Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, Jewish Federations of North America Haiti Relief Fund, Catholic Relief Services, and Medical Teams International.

For the secularists there is always Doctors Without Borders and the International Medical Corps.

Feel free to send suggestions and I will add them to the list. I figure most readers already know about the American Red Cross. I am particularly interested in providing links to Haitian groups.

Southern Cal Trip: Food Report

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[Just a generic pic of SoCal]

Here is a day-by-day report. I only left off a couple of places because they were below average.

Thursday: Had a coctel de camaron and ceviche toastada at Karina’s. Also had to order six rolled tacos with guacamole to go. There are better places for fish tacos but the cevice and coctels are always great. Pics from my last visit are here.

Friday night we left our son with the in-laws and hit my wife’s old spot, Casa Alvarez. They serve the sort of Mexican fare that used to be commonplace–big combo plates with beans and rice–before taquerias became ubiquitous across the southland. I had the shredded beef tacos with guacamole and she had a cheese enchilada and chile relleno. Nothing out of the ordinary but good, solid grub.

A friend of mine, C, had a bbq on Saturday but since it did not start until late in the afternoon we decided to go to his favorite taco truck for lunch. Unfortunately it was not around so we went to his local carnicería to pick up some meat for the grill and noticed they had some nice looking ceviche. We picked up a pound of the ceviche de camarones (only $5 a pound!) and a few avocados and it was delicious. For the bbq we grilled up some carne asada and chicken tika as well as some corn and cebollitas. With some guacamole and tortillas on the side it added up to a great meal.

My father-in-law recently retired so we went out for a celebratory lunch on Sunday in Artesia which is L.A.’s little India. There are a lot of places that serve South Indian food down there but they decided on Woodlands this time. They are known for the best South Indian vegetarian buffet in L.A. I usually don’t go for the buffet, but this one was really good. Medhu vadai, masala dosa, vege makhani, samosa, sambar, paratha, and some other things I am forgetting. Seriously slammin’.

Another good friend of mine, J, recently moved down to L.A. from the Bay Area and he wanted to see the baby so he came by the in-laws place for some chai and then we tried to find a nice pub in the area. Unfortunately, most of the bars in the neighborhood are in chain restaurants.

We made a solid attempt to locate some smaller spots in the hood but the first place was a depressing dive and the second was a bar attached to bowling alley. They both totally sucked. We ended up at a place called Joe’s Crab Shack where the bartenders and clientelle were much more friendly but it was still not our style.

On the positive side, my in-laws life in an area that used to be pretty white-bread but has developed into a significant East Asian enclave. I really wanted to go to a Chinese seafood restaurant and after a little research discovered Tan Cang aka Newport Seafood Restaurant. I asked J if he was down to check it out and we ended up driving around trying to find it.

There are a lot of malls in the area and the signage is all in Chinese (Mandarin, I think) but we eventually found the place and were not disappointed. It was packed with families gorging themselves on huge plates of seafood. We ordered the Newport Special Lobster and the Chili Crab but when the waiter told us the minimum weight on the lobster was four pounds and that it cost $14 per pound (crab was three pound minimum at $12 per pound) we decided to just get the lobster and some rice noodles with beef. It was the best Chinese food I have ever had in my life. The sauce for the lobster was flavored with ginger and garlic, a ton of scallions, and some extremely hot chiles (but not too many of those).

On Monday, mom-in-law made chapati and some green tomato curry. She’s a really good cook. Thanks, Amma!

All in all, it was a great trip. Good food, very relaxing and the weather could not have been more perfect. It was in the mid 70s the entire time. Now I’m back in NY and the high may get to the mid 40s…