Category Archives: Blogroll

Things I’ve Been Reading and Thinking About

Standard

I realize things have been slow here for the past month or more. Family life is keeping me busy, which is a blessedly good thing. No complaints here. I have been getting a lot of work done on my dissertation. Another very good thing. And, at the same time, I am trying to get my foot in the door at a few publications that will remain nameless.

While traveling overseas I read the March edition of Commentary. If you are at all concerned (or interested) about the increasing tendency of Jews to forgo affiliation with Jewish organizations, in particular synagogues and day schools, I highly recommend reading Jack Wertheimer’s “The High Cost of Jewish Living“. As is evident by the title, Wertheimer contends a major element of this is prohibitive cost. Here are a few (well, more than a few) tidbits:

Adding things up, an actively engaged Jewish family that keeps kosher and sends its three school-age children to the most intensive Jewish educational institutions can expect to spend somewhere between $50,000 and $110,000 a year at minimum just to live a Jewish life.

As the various cost lines have risen, in some cases doubling over the past 10 years, the response has been predictable. Many regard day-school education as out of the question, the cost utterly prohibitive. Even within Orthodox communities, some parents feel compelled to pull their children out of day schools. Anecdotal reports suggest that some families interested in placing their children in Jewish educational settings decide not to proceed for fear of embarrassing encounters with scholarship committees. In a reversal of earlier patterns, when Jewish religious involvement was weighted toward the poor, increasingly in our own time only the well-to-do can afford to live fully as Jews, while many in the middle class are in danger of getting priced out.

If there was cause for concern a decade ago about how, as Gerald Bubis put it, Jewish families would respond when “cost becomes a barrier,” the affordability of Jewish living should be a central issue on the Jewish communal agenda today, given the staggering surge in costs coupled with the current economic climate. With some noteworthy exceptions, it is not.

Most federations of Jewish philanthropy have neither the resources nor the will to make affordability a priority, and other types of organizations don’t even pretend to pay attention.

As if skyrocketing costs were not enough, there is also the tendency of mainstream Jewish organizations to prefer universalist and nonsectarian charitable endeavors than helping our own. The article continues:

And just at a time when Jewish communal institutions are failing to attend to the needs of Jews at home and abroad, the hot trend in Jewish philanthropic and organizational circles, incredibly, is to channel ever more of their resources to nonsectarian causes. Preachers in every corner of the Jewish community are intent on urging the faithful to drop their parochial concerns for the welfare of fellow Jews and instead think globally. How can Jews worry about their own, they ask, when so many unfortunates in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are suffering even worse afflictions? Last May, at my own institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the commencement speaker exhorted newly ordained rabbis and cantors, along with graduating educators and communal workers, to do nothing less than focus their energies on eliminating poverty and injustice from the world, even as she gave short-shrift to the impact of the economic downturn on Jewish needs.

“What is required, first,” declared Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Services, “is that we embrace those with whom we do not share a faith or a neighborhood, a country, a language, or a political structure. We must bend our minds and our voices, our energies and our material resources, to help those most in need, both at home and abroad.” In today’s American Jewish community, this kind of talk is hardly an exception: representatives of every denomination have discovered a Jewish imperative to “repair the world” (Tikkun Olam), a commandment unknown to Jews for most of their history but that now, in the view of its most outspoken advocates, is preeminent…

One could ask, of course, why this effort to repair the world cannot also extend to aiding fellow Jews? Proponents of Jewish service learning express great confidence in the sufficiency of resources in the Jewish community to address all needs—a demonstrably incorrect assessment, as we have seen. Alternatively, they will say that young Jews do not want to be bothered with their fellow Jews. If we are to attract anyone outside the committed core, they argue, programs must direct young Jews to nonsectarian causes, bearing out the truth of Cynthia Ozick’s dead-on observation that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.” And so, based on these rationalizations, an entire set of organizations under Jewish auspices now seeks to rally Jews to help everyone except their own co-religionists.

I also read a fairly recent copy (Winter 2010) of Dissent. I especially enjoyed Michael Walzer’s short introductory comment on internationalism:

I consider myself a left internationalist, but definitely not a world citizen. The difference is important. Internationalism connects me to leftists in other countries, who are or should be working for the well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable of their fellow citizens. I am engaged with them in what I think of as a characteristically leftist way: I support their politics, but I also criticize some (and sometimes many) of the things they do. What they do matters to me; I want them to get things right.

But I am not a world citizen because there is no organized “world,” no global state, in which citizenship is possible—certainly not democratic citizenship. The people who run the world, insofar as it is run, don’t regard me as one of their fellows, and, in turn, I don’t regard them that way either. The UN sometimes pretends to be a kind of world government, but it isn’t that, and the pretense is dangerous because it suggests that things are being taken care of when we all know that they are not.

The only political agency that can “take care of things,” that can provide security, welfare, and education, is the state. The least well-off people in the world today, the most desperately needy people, are those who live in failed or failing states, who are the prey of warlords, predatory gangs, ruthless entrepreneurs and speculators—all of them uncontrolled by any political authority. So those of us who have effective and decent states ought to be patriots, at least in this sense: that we should be committed to the common political work of sustaining and improving the states that we live in.

As a Jewish American, I have an additional reason for patriotism—for the United States is surely the best diaspora home that the Jews have ever found. That fact makes me a strong defender of American pluralism. I want this country to be as open and welcoming to other immigrant groups as it has been to the Jews (that is indeed a condition of its continuing to be a good place for the Jews).

Norm disagrees.

But I was surprised by the inclusion of James B. Rule’s “The Military State and the Democratic Left“. I realize Rule hits all the right notes for Dissent’s social democratic readership (or at least much of it) but much of the article rests on a common assertion made by liberals and progressives with little understanding of the way the world works. I know that sounds rude, but it is true. The basic argument is if the United States would dramatically reduce the cost and size of the military, we could spend the money on [insert favorite liberal program here].

One question I have for Professor Rule is, given his perspective that the United States is run by a powerful elite, why is he convinced that if the defense budget was cut to the degree he desires, the resources freed up would be allocated towards his liberal wish-list of schools, health care, etc.?

No evidence is offered to support this claim. It is simply an assertion of the author. Again, I suspect his perpective is shared by many Dissent readers, but it simply doesn’t stand up to any sort of critical scutiny. After all, if the U.S. (and other capitalist countries) are ruled by a self-interested elite, why wouldn’t those funds go towards some other presumably nefarious endeavor that benefits them at the expense of us?

To other topics:

Have you seen the video at Wikileaks that has the innacurrate title “Collateral Murder“? It is chilling to watch. But to my eye, the attack–while both tragic and sad–appears to be justified. At the start of the video (I don’t know how much has been edited) a man is identified as carrying an rocket-propelled grendade launcher (RPG). Apache helicopter pilots are given authorization by commanding officers to shoot, which they do. They also attack a van which arrives to pick up survivors. It turns out the “RPG” was actually a camera. However, military officials say and RPG and AK-47s were recovered from the scene.

Websites coming from a radical-left or progressive perspective have condemned this as an intentional targeting of civilians. I disagree. It does appear that the man with the camera was holding some sort of weapon. The Apaches were providing air support for ground forces on patrol that had been involved in recent skirmishes. The job of these Apache pilots was keeping American personnel on the ground out of harms way. When commanded by their superior officers to engage, they needed to obey. This is not due to their being cold, killing machines, as is sometimes claimed. They were trying to protect their fellow soldiers.

Pray for the twenty-nine West Virginia miners who lost their lives and their families. Then get active. Amending Joe Hill’s famous phrase, don’t only mourn, organize.

In the nuts and crackpots department, I recently heard an interview with Dr. John Hall on progressive radio station WBAI. The doctor was discussing his recent book, A New Breed: Satellite Terrorism in America.  What is satellite terrorism? According to the author, a continuation of the CIA’s mind-control experiments that started with MK-Ultra. The specifics include the utilization of satellite or ground based microwaves and “particle beams” to harass hapless victims in their homes.

Moving from the kooks, here are some more substantial finds from across the Net:

I debate Shalom Libertad on the utility of the term “social filth” over at Bob’s place.

Ray Cook (you really should be checking out his blog, great stuff!) on Israel and International Humanitarian Law.

Elder of Ziyon on the Syrian scuds for Hezbollah.

Roland (But, I am a Liberal!) Dodds demands Justice for Du’a Khalil.

Adam Holland is shocked by the far-left/far-right connections with Cynthia McKinney and surprised by these same connections with journalist blowhard Chris Hedges. Not sure why any of this is news to him.

Martin in the Margins caught the first episode of David Simon’s new program, Treme. Read his assessment here.

Mod writes Of Plots and Monsignors.

Noga (Contentious Centrist) discusses “Those Far Right But Very Wealthy American Jewish Organizations“. You know the ones…

Kelli Strom (Airforce Amazons): Liberte ou la Mort.

Snoopy (Simply Jews) discusses Judith Butler and the hazards of higher learning.

Sultan Knish on Karzai’s Gambit and Obama’s Betrayal.

Michael Totten also has a piece on Syrian scuds and Hezbollah.

***Blogs no more***

I noticed some dead links (or people who have not posted for 6+ months) in my blogroll: Beer N’ Sandwiches, Encounters, LeftHawk, Iranian Freedom*, and New Zionist. All have been removed. If you are the author of any of these blogs and end up posting some new material, please let me know and I will be glad to add you to my blogroll again. If anyone happens to know if Ganselmi, the blogger behind Iranian Freedom, is OK please inform me. I hope all is well….

Snowed In

Standard

[Chillin’ in the hood…]

Well, not really snowed in the sense of being trapped. But work is closed and the baby is asleep so I finally have a chance to link to some folks who have more time to explain what is happening in the world today than I do…know what I mean?

Airforce Amazons discusses Gita Sahal and the travesty that is Amnesty International

Bob from Brockley on Marxism and Moonbattery

But, I am a Liberal! has a post on the protest by Islamist extremists against the appearence of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine.

Contentious Centrist on Manufacturing Basterds

Elder of Ziyon brings up the matter of those who claim, “Israel has the right to defend itself…BUT“. You know the type.

Flesh is Grass provides another post on Gita Shahal

Long War Journal’s Bill Rogio has lots of good news: Mullah Baradar, the deputy commander of the Afghan Taliban is captured; Sheikh Mansoor, a senior al Qaeda leader operating in North Warziristan is killed; and, “Qari Mohammad Zafar, the operational commander of the Fedayeen-i-Islam, is reported to have been killed in a US airstrike in the village of Danda Darpa Khel.”

Mod takes issue with the Scottish Socialist Party Invoking Conspiracy Theories

Poumista provides a nice roundup of some interesting material

Snoop takes a swipe lands a haymaker on the “Intifada girl“.

Colonel Gary Anderson covers the differences between counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism at Small Wars Journal.

Sultan Knish asks “Can We Defeat Terrorists Without Defeating Terrorism“? I think you know his answer…

Michael Weiss considers the New Left Review at Fifty

Check out the podcasts available via the George L. Mosse Program in History at the University of Wisconsin. I  look forward to listening to Lecture 28 on millenarian socialism, French socialism and social-democratic socialism.

ADDED:

Martin on Gita Shahal

Website Recommendation: Anti-Democracy Agenda

Standard

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.

Big Friday Roundup

Standard

[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.

Snow Day Roundup

Standard

We had our first snowstorm of the 09-10 season this weekend. Here in Brooklyn there was close to a foot of snow. I didn’t get out early enough to snap some photos before much of it was plowed. Next time…

In recognition of the seasonal change I switched over to my winter header. The photo was taken last year. I hope to get a new one up in the next few weeks.

I have not linked to my regular reads for a couple of weeks so here is an overdue roundup:

Kellie (Airforce Amazons) posts on the death of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and the idiocy of Code Pink activists

Bob and I continue our debate on the election and other events in Honduras

Contentious Centrist makes some “Depressing Observations about the State of the World

Flesh is Grass on the UCU’s boycott of Israel

Disagreements with Martin in the Margins on Lieberman

Mod on “Sinophobia or Legitimate Political Criticism?

Snoop (Simply Jews) on Chavez and Obama

Sultan Knish on Chanukah

Michael Totten “The Eclipsing of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Sunday Roundup

Standard

[Roundup, western style.]

I can’t believe it’s going to be close to 60 degrees today (Fahrenheit, not Celsius). While that may not seem warm to my west coast readers, it is positively balmy for the end of November here in NYC. I can think back to years past when it had already snowed a few times by now.

Since it’s so pleasant outside I am thinking about busting out the bbq and grilling some ahi tuna steaks. Some pineapple and bell peppers with a little jasmine rice on the side…makes me hungry just thinking about it. Get out and enjoy the day before it gets to cold. But read these posts first:

Kellie (Airforce Amazons) on Afghanistan

Bob from Brockley debates anti-Zionist numbskulls here.

Contentious Centrist on “Jew Flu

Elder of Ziyon debunks the myth of the starving Gazans.

Flesh is Grass on bloggers and the comments we leave.

Congratulations to Roland (But, I am a Liberal!) Dodds for getting a Normblog profile.

Martin in the Margins discusses education

Mod remembers the Mumai Attacks

Poumista on Kronstadt

Snoopy (Simply Jews) on Hugo Chavez’ Support for Carlos the Jackal

Sultan Knish critiques the dead-end quest for peace

Added Safed-Tzfat, a nice mixture of arts and politics, to my blogroll. If you can read Spanish–or even if you cannot–definitely check this blog out.

I’ll post something on the elections in Honduras soon, in the meantime here are some reports from around the web:

The U.S., Peru, Panama and Costa Rica and Israel have announced they will recognize the results of the election. At this time, Porifirio Lobo of the conservative National Party holds the lead in most polls. The Liberal Party candidate, Elvin Santos, trails by double-digits.  Santos resigned his post as vice president in protest of Manuel Zelaya’s policies. When asked if a coup had occured in Honduras he replied, “It can’t be qualified that way.”

Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela remain behind Zelaya whose supporters have called for a boycott of the elections. The Miami Herald reports, “members of what has been dubbed the ‘Resistance Movement’ have taken to placing small explosive devices at courthouses and media outlets to menace voters, but not injure them.” But what happens after the elections? Will they increase the frequency of their attacks and the potency of their devices?

One can find a fairly predictable “liberal” perspective on the elections from George Vickers (Open Society Institute) who gets taken to task in the comments section of his post at Foreign Policy. Unfortunately, I have many friends and even more associates who agree with Vickers.

Regardless of who wins, I hope things improve for Hondurans and they do not find themselves as isolated as they have been since the end of June.

Cuban Bloggers Attacked by State Security Agents and Pro-Government Mob

Standard

Last Friday, November 13, Cuban bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo were on their way to a march in downtown Havana when they were forced into an unmarked car by plainclothes police agents and beaten up. Juan O. Tamayo of the Miami Herald notes:

Blogger Claudia Cadelo and another woman were detained in the incident, but without violence.

“The U.S. government strongly deplores the assault,” said a State Department statement issued late Monday. “We have expressed to the Cuban government our deep concern . . . and we are following up with inquiries to [the three bloggers] . . . regarding their personal well-being and access to medical care.”

Sánchez’ husband, Reynaldo Escobar, told El Nuevo Herald she’s walking with a crutch and taking medicines for a backache, the result of being thrown head-first into a car and punched in the back by the three men in plainclothes who detained her for 20 minutes. There was no word on Pardo’s health.

Cuba’s government-controlled mass media has made no mention of the incident, which received wide coverage abroad because of Sanchez’s fame as the prize-winning author of the blog Generación Y, which regularly criticizes the ruling system.

“The Cuban authorities are using brute force to try to silence Yoani Sanchez’s only weapon: her ideas,” said José Miguel Vivanco, head of the New York-based Americas section of Human Rights Watch. “The international community must send a firm message to Raúl Castro that such attacks on independent voices are completely unacceptable.

“This brazen attack makes clear that no one in Cuba who voices dissent is safe from violent reprisals,” Vivanco added.

The Human Rights Foundation, an independent group also based in New York, decried the “blatant attempt by the Cuban government to silence independent thought and speech” and added: “Does the Cuban government realize the preposterous irony of violently assaulting citizens who were on their way to protest violence?”

Seven U.S. senators from both parties, meanwhile, issued statements Tuesday condemning the incident, with New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez calling it “yet another indication that despite all the hoped-for change on the island, the regime continues to rule with an iron fist that crushes any seed of free speech or human rights.”

The Cato Institute’s Ian Vasquez opines:

It’s the 490th anniversary of Havana today and the Cuban government has arranged for celebratory activities. Ordinary residents of Havana and all Cubans who cherish their civil and human rights have less to celebrate, however, as Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez regularly reminds us. Sanchez has become a major irritant of the regime because of her penetrating posts about the absurdities and injustices of everyday life in communist Cuba. You can see her blog in Spanish here, and in English here.

Just over a week ago, in an incident that was widely reported in the international press and that reveals the threat to the Cuban regime of the growing Cuban blogger movement, Sanchez was assaulted in Havana by plain-clothed government agents. Though she was forcefully beaten, she and her friends managed to fight back and get away. More than that, they took pictures of their assailants and of the incident for posting on the blog, prompting the government thugs to leave the scene. One photo of an agent features the caption “She is covering her face…Perhaps afraid of the future.” Another photo features Sanchez pursuing her assailants with the caption: “They have watched us for decades. Now we are watching them.” Very smart.

Now her husband has been attacked. Reuters reports:

The husband of Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said he was attacked by government supporters as he waited on Friday to confront state security agents accused of detaining and beating his wife two weeks ago.

Sanchez, whose writing about the hardships of Cuban life were praised this week by President Barack Obama, said men believed to be government agents forced her into a car and hit her repeatedly in a brief detention on November 6.

Reinaldo Escobar, also a blogger, said he had gone to a Havana intersection hoping that state security agents would respond to a challenge he issued earlier to meet there for a “verbal duel” about his wife’s incident.

He said he was speaking to reporters when, in what appeared to be an orchestrated event, several hundred people gathered and began shouting “Viva Fidel” and “Viva la Revolucion.”

About 20 of his supporters began shouting back and the situation turned violent, he said.

“They pulled my hair, hit me with a shoe, tore my shirt, pulled away my bag of books. I lost my glasses,” Escobar, aged 62, told Reuters.

His wife, who was not with him at the attack, wrote on Twitter: “Until when will the language of force, of intolerance and disrespect for the opinion of others be the one that prevails in my country?”

The Cuban government responded quickly to Escobar’s accusations, emailing to foreign journalists a story published in the website laRepublica.es with the headline “The Cuban people are tired of Yoani Sanchez.”

“Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely,” Obama wrote.

“The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals,” Obama said.

Sanchez, 34, has won several international awards and was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Obama’s response added to her international stature as Cuba’s leading dissident voice, but she is little known on the island where Internet access is limited.

The Cuban government has made no secret of its distaste for her, but she is among a growing group of young Cubans who have taken to the Internet to express their desire for change on the island.