Friday, October 22, 2004

A week of politics on baynonim: Part 4 of 4

Go to: Part 1. Go to Part 2. Go to Part 3
Go to: Other things to read if politics bore you to tears.

This swing voter has thrown down the gauntlet. I've asked the blogosphere to tell me why either candidate for president deserves my vote. I'll write about an issue where the president has disapointed me. His supporters are invited to tell me why I am wrong; his detractors are welcome to add to the discussion. Make your arguments in the comment section. At the end of the week, the author of the most impressive comment will have his or her name added to the sidebar, where it will belong to the ages.

I voted for Bush in 2000, and I was among his loudest supporters immediately after 9/11. Now, I'm flirting with Kerry. When my friends ask me why I've become disillusioned with Bush, I have a two-word answer: The War. There were no weapons of mass destruction, no connection between Iraq and Osama, no happy, liberated villagers greeting us with flowers, no oil revenues to pay for it all. It was all a mistake, a mistake the president steadfastly refuses to admit, which reflects poorly on his character.

A year after the president declared "mission accomplished", our magnificently trained, equipped and motivated young soldiers are pinned down in a hostile environment, stalked by mujihadeen from other Islamic countries sneaking into the chaos of Iraq. It was not bad enough that terrorists were able to find ways to get into the United States and harm us greatly; we have now set ourselves up on their territory -- as targets.

A year later our nation's credibility and treasure - billions of dollars per month! -has been squandered on removing a petty thug who, we've discovered, never had the capacity to do us any real harm, while Osama bin Ladin was allowed to escape into the hills of eastern Afghanstan, where he is surly planning new mayhem. North Korea inches closer to a nuclear weapon, but our capacity for responding to a new threat has been greatly reduced. Our resources were wasted on the wrong enemy. We're cops who went after the pick-pocket, while the mob-boss gathered strength. We no longer have the troops, the money or credibility to face-down North Korea should it beecome necessary, as it almost certainly will.

A year later, the insurgents are not defeated, conditions are not more peaceful, the blanket of fear is spreading, cooperation is fraying, and attacks on U.S. personnel are growing bolder. Doesn't this prove Bush is failing?

Which brings me to Kerry.

The very best line uttered in three debates came from the president when he said,

"And what is he going to say to those people that show up at the summit? Join me in the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place? Risk your troops in a war you've called a mistake? Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed and with somebody who says that war where we are is a mistake."

That's an excellent question. Really superb. Mr. Kerry, how do you propose to end the war, and to restore our credibility? In three debates, you offered no plan. Nothing in your woefully undistinguished record suggests that you have the ability to solve this problem, and your comments, as the president suggested, may have made it impossible for you to succeed.

So, what to do? Do I vote to fire the incompetent, unethical war manager, the man who, on the war-front continues to embarrass us, to impoverish us, to deny reality, and to enrich his cronies via shady no-bid contracts? Or should I stay with the president, reasoning that a vote for Kerry, the cipher, tells troops and terrrorists that the United States lacks resolve and can be intimidated?

What to do?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
Hang on kids, hang on. We're almost home.

The blog's foray into real-world politics ends tomorrow. Starting Monday we make ammends. Stay tuned for a full week of shul politics.


My favorite magazine is having a baynonim moment of it's own. TNR sidled up to Bush in the months immidiately following September 11, but now the editors have seen enough.

Here is the money quote:

"The president's war on terrorism, which initially offered a striking contrast to his special interest-driven domestic agenda, has come to resemble it. The common thread is ideological certainty untroubled by empirical evidence, intellectual curiosity, or open debate. The ideology that guides this president's war on terrorism is more appealing than the corporate cronyism that guides his domestic policy. But it has been pursued with the same sectarian, thuggish, and ultimately self-defeating spirit. You cannot lead the world without listening to it. You cannot make the Middle East more democratic while making it more anti-American. You cannot make the United States more secure while using security as a partisan weapon. And you cannot demand accountable government abroad while undermining it at home. And so a president who promised to make America safer by making the Muslim world more free has failed on both counts."

I'm not sold on Kerry, yet, but Bush is running out of time. If there are any Bush-supporters in the Readership, please raise your voices in the comment section.

A week of politics on baynonim: Part 3

Go to: Part 1.
Go to Part 2.
Go to: Other things to read if politics bore you to tears.

To review: This week I'm listing some of my reasons for turning against Bush, after voting for him in 2000. If you're a Kerry fan, you may add to the argument in the comment section (Please no "right ons." I haven't yet reconciled myself to Kerry. If you're a Kerry-supporter who can argue cogently on his behalf, please do so.)

On the other hand, if you're a Bush-supporter please use the comment section to tell me why I am wrong. Though the Kerry-admirers have done a very good job arguing for their man over the last two days, I'm still in the middle, and open to good arguments from all sides.


Now for the red meat: Israel. It is an article of faith among the true believers that Bush is Israel's best friend since... since... has Israel ever had a best friend? None come to mind. Anyway, I don't buy it. Bush is not a firend. His motives are suspect, even creepy, and his actual record on Israel hardly sparkles.

Motivations: Bush, as we all know, is a born again Christain, and the born-againers, unfortunately, have this bizarre eschatological fantasy, in which Israel plays a staring role. Many evangelicals love Israel, but only because in their Biblical end-of-days scenario, the gathering of Jews in the Holy Land is necessary for the Second Coming. Inconveniently for the Jews, the story calls for them to either abandon their beliefs or be exterminated in time for the great rapture.

This raises a question we should ponder: What will born-againers like Bush do if Israel ever takes actions that undermine the biblical justification for its existence? Will the president's support for Israel continue if it becomes clear that Israel is not paving the way for rapture? Ultimately, if you don't love Israel for what it is, you can't be trusted to love it at all. If Bush the born-againer only supports Israel because he is looking forward to the rapture - and the eventual destruction of Judaism - we must disdain his support.

Record: I supported Bush in 2000, in part, because he promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. He hasn't delivered. Bush is also the first US president to call for the creation of a Palestinian state. He opposed Israel's security fence throughout 2003, threatening Israel's loan guarantees, and then suddenly supported it - coincidentally, at the start of the election year. For years, he refused to call Yasser Arafat a terrorist and insisted the Arafat remain the negotiating partner. And like most Americans, I am deeply concerned about Bush and Cheny's close personal relationship with Saudi Arabia.

During the second intafada, many felt that only strong American involvement would help reach a negotiated end to the misery. Bush refused. As president, George W. Bush hasn't even visited Israel. From this president we see only benign neglect, and benign neglect is not an act of friendship. His policy is an irrelevant mess of contradictions that leaves Israel in despair.

Now, will Kerry be any better? I honestly don't know. Like many in Israel, I want the US president to take a strong, and active role in Mideast politics. I want a man like Clinton, someone willing to risk his legacy trying to drag Arafat to the negotiating table, and all but force him to sign a deal. I want the president to use his bully pulpit to bring Israel's enemies into line. Benign neglect is not friendship. When a friend is in trouble, you roll up your sleeves and help. Bush hasn't.

Can Kerry do the job I want; the job I think is needed? Can he be a real friend to Israel? I don't know. Nothing in his record suggests he can, and his infatuation with the UN is troubling, even disturbing.

What to do? What to do?

Visitors to the blog are cordially invited to express their opinions in the comment section.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A week of politics on baynonim: Part 2 (Go to: Part 1. Go to: Other things to read if you hate politics.)

If you're a swing voter, like me, you're having trouble choosing between the atrocious president, and the atrocious candidate. Do I want to cast my vote for an undistinguished senator, who has no plan for ending the war, saving social security, or developing the economy? Or shall I vote for an undistinguished president who has mismanaged the war, threatened to destroy social security, and thinks the US economy exists primarily to further enrich his pals?

If you have an answer I'd like to hear it. Here, again, are the rules: Each day, I'll write about a campaign issue. If your candidate has the best solution, you are invited to argue on his behalf in the comment section. Vigorous, angry, forceful statements are welcome, but if, in my view, you needlessly disparage the other guy, I will delete your comment. I want to know why your man rocks, not why the other guy doesn't.

Today's Issue: The ownership society. (Not as boring as it sounds. Read on)

The president likes to talk about creating an ownership society in America. What's that? Largely, it means that individuals will have greater control of their savings, retirement and health-care benefits. According to Cato, "In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings." This is what the president wants.

There is just one small problem with this high-sounding idea. We've already had an ownership society, and it failed miserably.

Think "Little House on the Prairie." Laura and her family lived in an "ownership society," didn't they? There were no government handouts, no socialized medicine, no social security. Pa was in charge of his own destiny, and had to pay for everything himself. There was no outside assitance in the event that the fates, or his own bad judgment, conspired against him. If the crops failed, the family starved. If Ma got sick, the family had to work extra hours or sell some jewelry to pay the doctor. Lord, only knows what Pa's retirement was like. On the show he never seemed to have any savings. The poor man probably worked until the moment he fell over dead in the fields.

During the middle ages, we also had an "ownership society." Surfs and peasants "controlled their own health care, their own children's education, and their retirement savings" with disastrous results. One sickness, one mistake, one bit of bad luck, one plague of locusts and all was lost. People lived and died according to their own choices. If a person chose poorly, the official government reply was, "tough noogies" or, in crueler times, "happy starving!"

I read the "Grapes of Wrath." That book took place less than 100 years ago, also in an "ownership society." Left to their own devices, the Joad family was victimized by greedy bankers, unscrupulous landowners and cruel sheriffs. The family had no food, no shelter, no prospects, and the government simply shrugged, as thousands of families like them crowded into miserable migrant camps. Simply because the Joads had made the unpardonable mistake of being a farm family in the 1930s, the family suffered terribly.

People are stupid. People are unlucky. People make bad choices. People are gullible. Which is why disaster will follow, as it always has followed, if we remove the safety nets, and let people fend entirely for themselves.

But is this really hat the president wants? It sure sounds like it. If I'm wrong tell me. If I'm right, feel free to pile on.

If you're keeping score. Baynonim readers, at least as reflected in the comment section, are supporting Kerry. Bush voters are strongly encouraged to raise their voices! The best argument so far, in my humble, arbitrary, but ultimately binding opinion, belongs to The Town Crier. You may reply to him in the comment section of Part 1.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Politics and another bayonim challenge

Note: I am going to write about politics for a few days. If this causes you displeasure, I apologize, and hope that you will please take this opportunity to enjoy some of my previous posts, posts I am sure you will enjoy. We'll go back to blogging about the Jewish condition next Sunday.

I am a swing voter. (Yes, even in politics I am a man in the middle) I voted for Bush in 2000, but I've turned against him. Back in 2000, Bush seemed like a decent enough fellow, and there was something about him that seemed grounded and trustworthy.

Now, four years later, I am alarmed by his administration's attacks on civil liberties, by the poorly planned and poorly executed war, by the gleeful disregard for the environment, and by the the tax cuts, which so nakedly benefit the very few to the detriment of almost everybody else. I'm also particularly repelled by Bush's professed "Christianity," even as his administration repudiates almost every value that the great religions represented.

But I have a problem. Even though I think Bush has been an atrocious president, I can't ignore that Kerry is an atrocious candidate. What does Kerry stand for? His record in the Senate offers no clue. His statements on the campaign trail aren't helpful either. Will Kerry be like Clinton and offer sound fiscal policies, shrink the government and bring Israel and her enemies to the brink of peace? Or will he live up to the very worst GOP caricatures of a namby-pamby, tax and spend liberal? I just don't know.

I don't like Bush. The president has given me dozens of reasons to vote for a replacement, but Kerry hasn't won my support. I'm in the middle.

So, Readership, here is my proposal: Do what the president and his challenger have not done. Convince me.

Over the next few days I'll list my problems with Bush one by one. If you favor Bush, tell me why I'm wrong to worry. If you favor Kerry, tell me your man is better on that particular issue. Argue forcefully. Argue vehemently. Pretend that I live in Ohio, and that my one vote might decide the entire election, and with it the fate of the free world. Take no prisoners. Fight for your man.

For today, we'll start with a wildcard: All visitors to the blog are invited, and strongly encouraged to answer this question: Why does either candidate deserve my vote?

Comments that disparage the other candidate will be deleted. I want to know why your candidate is better, so please don't waste my time telling why the other guy is no damn good. Outstanding comments will be posted on the blog itself, and at the end of the week, the commenter who's done the best job (to be determined arbitrarily) will be listed on the sidebar among the ranks of honored bloggers and contributors who have won baynonin challenges. (If you choose to post anonymously, please use a pseudonym)

Monday, October 18, 2004

As if further evidence was needed

I hate to change the subject, but this was too funny to ignore. It is proof that drugs and bible study don't mix

Tomorrow: Baynonim Gets Political!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The idea that the practices and rituals we call minhag constitute an essential part of Judaism which, at all costs must be maintained, is untenable. Even a cursory reading of Jewish history militates against this way of thinking.

This subversive thought came to me on Simchas Torah soon after my brother-in-law told me the Jews, Jewish boys anyway, once had the minhag of burning sukkahs on Shmini Atzeres. You read that correctly. The minhag was to burn sukkahs. The Maharil records it, adding "my father forbade me to do it."

One can only imagine the uproar in the Maharil's neighborhood. "Oh that man," the pious neighbors would have intoned, referring to the Maharil's father. "He is so modern, keeping his son from participating in our venebale custom of sukkah burning."

The custom, of course, no longer belongs to Judaism, yet Judaism survives. In fact, the list of lost minahgum goes on for pages, yet Judaism survives.

The reason for this, I must insist, is that Judaism is larger than the sum of its customs. The customs add color. They warm the heart. They invoke nostalgia. Otherwise, they are meaningless. Say "bonu" is you like, or say "bunee." During Ellul, blow the shofar at the end of davening or in the middle. Shake the lulal like the Rama, or shake it like the Ari. All the matters is that you shake it; the manner of the shaking matters only to the Lilliputians (and yes, I've been guilty of this.)

When I offered this idea to a fellow congregagnt, he gave me a witty reply that neatly summed up the minhag fallacy. He said, "If it was minhag in our shul to sit quietly during davening it would be followed without argument. Unfortunately it is Jewish law, and not minhag, that requires silence, and therefore people talk."

That's it in a nutshell. Minhag, in our day, matters more than law. And to our detriment: As PsychoToddler has observed, the small, insignificant details of custom divide us, when instead, our many more, and many more important simmilarities should be a source of untiy. My neighborhood has two shuls, simply because silly customs prevent the RNs and the OMJs from praying together. Wouldn't it be better for us all, in countless ways, if the two shuls were to merge?

NB: As Yisroel Salant is said to have remarked at the end of one of his famous lectures on morality, "If what I've just said has an impact on even one person, it was worth saying... even if that one person is me."

Attention: Please feel free to comment. I've received too many emails from people who say that "don't feel comfortable" adding their thoughts. Please, get over it. If you have something to say, say it. There is no reason to be silent. If you disagree with me, I want you to tell me why.

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