Sago Boulevard

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Self-Defeating Relative Value System

Although the argument has been made countless times before, it's useful to review every once in a while. Maverick Philosopher nails it on the head.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blankey: Destroy Western Civilization Before Arabs Do

Rebecca Hagelin quotes Washington Times' editor Tony Blankley:
"It is increasingly likely that such a threat cannot be defeated while the West continues to adhere to its deeply held values -- as it currently understands them -- of tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition and the right to equal protection under the law," Blankley writes. "The day is upon us when the West will have to decide which it values more: granting these rights and tolerance to those who wish to destroy us, or the survival of Western civilization."

Translation: Let's not give those Arab Islamo-fascist terroists the chance to end our great way of life. Let's do it ourselves.

(via Jill)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ethnicity, Gender, and Supreme Court Nominations

There's a clear value to a diversified Supreme Court (and any major public institution for that matter). Truth be told, I like the fact that two Jews sit on the Court. It serves as a public demonstration of the Jewish contribution to American government. I feel no shame in being proud of that and there's no reason to believe that anybody should feel differently about seeing own of their own (be it by gender, race, or religion) appointed to such a prestigious office.

But it's a dangerous precedent. As I mentioned in a comment to Lauren's post, really good candidates - the kind of jurists who, by the sheer strength of their pen, will move American jurisprudence in the direction it needs to go - will fall through the cracks because they don’t fit the gender, race, or religion requirements. On this point, the politics surrounding Bush's next nominee don't look promising. Washington Post reports:
With Bush poised to make another nomination as soon as this week, he is hearing growing demands to name a woman or minority to the vacancy created by the pending retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Republican political and legal strategists said.

Laura Bush twice has said that she would like to see a woman succeed O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court. A number of Latino group officials have publicly urged the president to name the first Hispanic to the high court.

Choosing a justice by any criteria other than judicial ideology and sharpness of mind will hurt the Court in the long run. We needs the country's best jurists not our most congenial ones to shape the law. It's important to remember that when Justice Brandeis is cited, it isn't as the first Jewish Justice, but as a phenomenal jurist. I suppose that when Justice O'Connor is cited by the Court 50 years from now, it'll be her ideology that matters, not her gender.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"Interfaith Coalition Unveils Public School Bible Course"

I'm actually optimistic about this. I realize that even the most well-meaning and neutral-sounding Bible curriculum can be distorted by a teacher bent on hammering a singular ideology into his students' heads. But, first of all, the same can be said for any subject. More importantly, though, any good general education - religious or secular - warrants some familiarity with the most important work of the Western Canon. Too much of understanding the world around us depends on it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Christians And "People of Faith"

Diane Glass and Shaunti Feldhahn debate "Should aid be allowed to promote religious messages during disaster relief?" Feldhahn gives the standard Christian line: In a disaster situation, people need both material and spiritual aid. Most people of faith are responding out of "a heart of love and compassion for those who are hurting," not merely to "push religion". I'm willing to grant that for the majority of missionary groups, what Feldhahn says is true. I don't think every priest or minister who goes to New Orleans is only trying to attract converts. I believe many of them, being genuinely religious people, really do want to help in whatever way they can. Having said that, Glass, in her rebuttal, makes an incredibly important point:
Shaunti deflects who is really responsible because what we’re talking about are Christian aid relief organizations, not all “religious-based” groups.

When Feldhahn says "people of faith" what she means is "Christian". I'm fully sympathetic to the claim that confining religion to inside the home and places of worship is a slap in the face to anybody who takes God seriously. As far as that goes, I'm happy to see Christian missionary groups bring their religious convictions to the disaster-stricken New Orleans. They certainly have a right to. But the rhetoric of "faith-based" or "religion-based" aid groups is highly misleading. Call a spade a spade. We're talking about Christian missionary groups whose ideology includes spreading the Gospel. You have a right to missionize - it's protected by the First Amendment. Just stop lying about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"A Painful Absence of Balance"

I posted last week on the proposal in England "to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims." What could possibly be offensive about such a memorial, you ask? Alan Dershowitz explains:
The double bigotry reflected in this proposal should be evident to all people of good will. First, I can understand why commemoration of the Holocaust should be offensive to those Muslims and others who supported Nazi victory over Britain and Nazi genocide against the Jews and others.

And there were many such Muslims, led by the leader then of the Palestinian people Haj Amin al-Husseini, who urged Hitler to extend the final solution beyond Europe’s borders to Jewish refugees who had reached Palestine.

But wait - anti-Zionism doesn't equal antisemitism, does it? It does in this case, when Israeli injustices are taken way out of proportion to the point of being compared to Nazism. Despite the many Palestinian civilians killed in the Intifada, the number is pale in comparison to the number of Palestinians and Arabs killed by Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran during the same period. So when Israel is singled out as a perpetrator of genocide, I'm pretty sure antisemitism is lurking somewhere in the background. It's as simple as this:

The Israeli occupation is not a genocide, and those who would conflate the two are more interested in demonising the Jewish state than in achieving Palestinian statehood and a just peace, based on compromise, between the two nations.

(via Shragie)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

May His Memory Be For Blessing

Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal Dies at 96
Simon Wiesenthal, 96, the controversial Nazi hunter who pursued hundreds of war criminals after World War II and was central to preserving the memory of the Holocaust for more than half a century, died early today at his home in Vienna, Austria. He had a kidney ailment.

Called the "deputy for the dead" and "avenging archangel" of the Holocaust, Wiesenthal after the war created a repository of concentration camp testimonials and dossiers on Nazis at his Jewish Documentation Center. The information was used to help lawyers prosecute those responsible for some of the 20th century's most abominable crimes.

Wiesenthal spoke of the horrors first-hand, having spent the war hovering near death in a series of labor and extermination camps. Nearly 90 members of his family perished.

After the Nuremberg Trials of the late 1940s, Wiesenthal remained a persistent and lonely voice calling for war crimes trials of former Nazis.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival XIX

Visit the most recent Philosophers' Carnival.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Evolution Meets Judaism"

A brief discussion of the Jewish approach to advances in evolution theory and science in general, à la Rabbi Natan Slifkin.

(via Sefer ha-Hayim Blog)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is Prager a Jewish Thinker?

Or just a conservative one who tacks on the annoying phrase "Judeo-Christian" to give himself credibility? I've already ranted about how much I hate the phrase "Judeo-Christian" so I'll let you read it for yourself. Aside from that, though, I'm genuinely curiously: Is there a particular Jewish constituency that believes Prager to be speaking for them? I certainly don't see the left-leaning Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist groups singing his praises. As a conservative, he may appeal to some Orthodox Jews (although not me) but can hardly be compared to the heavy-weights of the Orthodox world in yeshivot and universities. Anybody familiar with rabbinic writing from any time period should notice this immediately: Prager doesn't cite sources. Just search Prager's articles for words like "talmud," "midrash," "halakhah," "rambam," "mitsvah".

If you want to argue that your position represents a normative (or even minority) Jewish view, don't you think you should provide at least one or two sources? Instead, Prager just says "Judeo-Christian" and then tells you what he thinks, as if the two have anything to do with each other.
"Poor" in biblical nomenclature were truly destitute, not at all analogous to those classified as "poor" in America. (source)

A verse? A mishnah? Just give me something that indicates that "poor" is absolute rather than relative. Because the poor in the Bible didn't have indoor plumbing either. I guess that makes us all filthy rich.
The biblical view is that man and woman are entirely distinct beings, and human order in large part rests on preserving that distinctiveness. (source)

Oh, so that's why the Torah tell us that God created Woman from Man's "side" (or "rib"). It's because men and women are "entirely distinct". Thank you, Rabbi Prager, for enlightening me. I think this is the kicker, though:
Jews opposed to capital punishment cite the Talmud (the second most important religious text to Jews), which is largely opposed to capital punishment... Yet, the notion that a murderer must give up his life is one of the central values in the Old Testament. Indeed, taking the life of a murderer is the only law that is found in all Five Books of Moses. (source)

So the rabbis, the most significant and authoritative interpreters of the Bible, oppose capital punishment. Prager admits this much. But, he argues, the rabbis must have glossed over all those biblical passages that seem to support it. How silly of the rabbis.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Holocaust Memorial Day is Offensive to Muslims

I'm fuming over this:
Advisors appointed by Tony Blair after the London bombings are proposing to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims.
A member of one of the committees, made up of Muslims, said it gave the impression that "western lives have more value than non-western lives". That perception needed to be changed. “One way of doing that is if the government were to sponsor a national Genocide Memorial Day.

"The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims..."

I think Seth put it well:

The opponents of Holocaust Day wish it to be replaced by a "Genocide Day" that would also remember dead Palestinians. Because no Jewish suffering is to be recognized without implying that Jews are mass murderers who deserve it.

We'll Miss You

Two-time MVP and second only to Gretzky on the all-time scoring list, New York Ranger's Captain Mark Messier retires.

Anybody Else Feeling Less Optimistic About the Gaza Pull-out?

Some Palestinians have learned an important lesson from the Gaza pull-out.
The lesson I've learned, and I will pass it on to my sons, is that no matter how long it takes, the occupiers will leave because of resistance.

Translation: If we keep blowing up buses in major Israeli cities and kill lots of innocent people, we'll get what we want. Sounds a bit like a kid having a temper tantrum, but with bombs.

Other Palestinians are more tempered with their enthusiasm:
He was happy today, Mr. Kurd said, but his happiness was also tempered "because of the continuing occupation of Jenin and Nablus and Jerusalem, which are also part of Palestine," he said. And until Israel resolved the question of how to allow Palestinians and their goods to enter and exit freely from Gaza, to Egypt and to the West Bank, he said, "Israel remains an occupier," a position supported by the Palestinian Authority.

"If there is no freedom of movement, don't consider the Palestinians free," Mr. Kurdi said. "We will not accept Gaza as a big prison."

So Israel now has to open its borders to an openly hostile population and surrender its capital city? And then, of course, they'll love us, right? Or as this slogan written on the wall of an abandoned synagogue says: "Yes for freedom! No for Jews! Hamas."

The celebrations were also orchestrated in part by the rival factions within Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah, the mainspring of the Palestinian Authority. Their flags of black, green and yellow were more numerous than the Palestinian flag, and were prominent on abandoned Israeli military outposts and public buildings.

Well, who would've guess that! The terrorist groups are more popular now. To quote Elie Weisel, "I will perhaps be told that when the Palestinians cried at the loss of their homes, few Israelis were moved. That's possible. But how many Israelis rejoiced?" When Israel won the '48 war, how many Israelis tempered their enthusiasm, proclaiming: "We will not rest until all of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem is restored to Jewish hands"? And despite not being allowed to the holy sites of Jerusalem until '67, how many blew up Palestinian school buses to get them back? The contrast is just unbelievable. Why these groups continue to pledge more violence immediately following a major concession for peace is beyond me. But what really gets to me is how a people that claim to want peace continue to hold them up as heros.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Intuition, Experience, and Theism

Last week, Godol Hador wrote about the role of intuition in justifying theistic arguments. I responded:
In daily life, we don't demand logical certainly. We believe certain things, and act accordingly, based on a combination of logic, observation, and intuition. For example, I just sat down on a chair. I assumed, justifiably, that the chair was secure enough to hold my weight. Although I would openly admit that from a purely logical perspective I had no good reason to believe that the chair would support, I maintain it was a perfectly reasonable assumption. It is unfair (and intellectually dishonest) to demand a higher level of evidence than the one we rely on so casually everyday.

Now the question is this: is the claim of God's existence so extraordinary that it indeed requires greater evidence than other claims? Orthoprax claims (in the comments to GH's post and on his blog) that "extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence":
You see chairs every day. You sit in them all the time. They almost always support you. It doesn't conflict with anything you regularly know about the world to assume this one will support you as well. It looks like it will and that's all the ordinary evidence you need for such an ordinary belief. For claims that we know are possible, you need less evidence because all you need to prove is that it happened at a certain time and place. Claim: "There's an asian elephant in the Bronx Zoo." Very possible, very believable. Show me a recent advertisement of that and I have no real reason to doubt it.
And then still there are other claims which we don't think are possible, but hey, you never know. Claim: "The mansion down the block is haunted." Wow, haunted, that's incredible. I've never even seen a ghost or seen any reliable documentation of ghost sightings ever. Are ghosts even real? For this one claim, they claimant not only needs to prove that it is possible but that it did indeed happen.
The claim of God fits somewhere along the lines of the haunted mansion claim and is far removed from "this chair will support my weight" claim.

Let's say I grant Orthoprax's point that I need "extraordinary evidence" to support the claim of God. I think I have it. I've never encountered a haunted house and don't personally know anybody who has. But three times day I pour my heart out to God, I address Him before and after eating meals, when I lay down at night and when I arise in the morning. Furthermore, I have available to me a tradition that tells me in great detail how to approach Him, how to learn from Him. My teachers, whom I trust, reinforce this by pointing out nuances and insights in the texts of the rabbis.

For somebody who has that primal experience on a regular basis, God is very familiar. As R. Soloveitchik asks (paraphrasing Kierkegaard), "Does the loving bride in the embrace of her beloved ask for proof that he is alive and real? Must the prayerful soul clinging in passionate love and ecstasy to her Beloved demonstrate that He exists?"

Orthoprax responded:
Have you seen God? Spoken to him (meaning that he actually returned a response)? Has anyone shared your experiences with you? Have you sensed him in any way but the emotional? If not, then how can you know that you've actually experienced something real and external to yourself?

I suppose the same way I know that I ever experience something "real and external" to myself. But I think something else is going on here in his argument. By demanding empirical or repeatable evidence, he disregards a major theological claim out of hand. The fundamental experience that a religious person has with God is a real one. I have just as much cause to trust it as I do any other experience, if not more.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Not News

I wonder how the media would react if hundreds Jewish Israeli attacked a Muslim village, torching houses and vehicles. My guess is that it would be front-page news. But I didn't see anything on the homepages of news websites about 500 Muslim Palestinians ransacking a Christian Palestinian village. The attack was triggered by the murder of a 30-year-old Muslim woman, who was killed by members of her own family for "having had a romance with a Christian man".

Is this just an example of the Man Bites Dog rule of journalism? Maybe Palestinians kill each other so often that it's just not news anymore. Or is it possible that the media singles out Israel for scrutiny for isolated incidents while failing to show how good Israel looks when compared to her neighbors?

(via Seth Chalmer)

"Sick Minds Use Katrina to Justify Hatred"

But as Leonard Pitts writes, "Does it really matter?" Of course it's important to look back at the events leading up to and immediately following the hurricane. It's important to figure out what could have been prevented and what mistakes were made. And it's important not to overlook that fact that many of those hit hardest by Katrina were black and poor. But can't all this wait until everyone at least has something to eat and drink?
The city is flooded, people are homeless and hungry and scared and dead. Shouldn't this be a time for giving money and saying prayers? Should we really care about the color of the people looting in the hurricane zone? Or that Louisiana is a red state? Or that some of the dead are gay?
Death toll rising like floodwaters, probably heading into the thousands, corpses floating down the street, and some liberal twit is joking--God, I hope he was joking--that the blue states should let the red one suffer? People clinging to rooftops, a great city turned into a steaming, stinking primordial swamp, and some alleged Christians think it's a victory for heterosexuality?

How can you be concerned about the skin color or the bank accout or the sexual preference of anybody when thounsands are already dead and the death toll is rising rapidly. A police officer commited suicide, apparently after losing hope of ever restoring order in New Orleans. E. Coli bateria has just been detected in the floodwater. How about we talk about race, homosexuality, and politics another time.

Note New Address

Same blog, new address.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Liberal Hoping for Judicial Restraint

What kind of conservative is John Roberts? That's the question on the minds of Senate leaders anticipating the confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nominee. Kurt Andersen, a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat, argues that liberals should be hoping for genuine judicial restraint from Roberts. In the '60s and '70s, Andersen writes, liberal jurists set a dangerous precedent by their activism that has come back to haunt them. The merits of judicial restraint, of checks and balances are often most profoundly understood once power has changed hands. He offers an insightful analysis of the jurisprudential consequences of the liberal courts of the previous generation. I recommend reading the wrote article. Some highlights:
Now that the era of activist liberal judicial hegemony is over, we liberals have to hope that Roberts and Bush’s other appointees really are devoted to judicial restraint—the way liberals were not, back in the day. It’s chastening to see the right, now ascendant, behaving in ways our side used to behave. So many shoes are on the other foot. I grew up understanding the filibuster as a last-ditch means for segregationists to veto civil-rights legislation; now liberals cling to it as a last-ditch means to veto judges antagonistic to civil rights. “States’ rights” was cynical code for southern segregationism, yet now we beleaguered liberals sincerely insist on any state’s right to legalize physician-assisted suicide, gay marriage, medical marijuana—and, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, abortion.
As far as jurisprudence goes, however, it turns out that consistency and adherence to precedent are the things that protect us from being tyrannized by our opponents when they’re in power. Maybe Roberts is still more of a Daniel Webster pragmatist than a Thoreau-Emerson Utopian, and considers himself—as he wrote in his prize-winning Harvard paper on Webster—“a disinterested . . . man of wisdom who continually worked with others of his sort to resolve any controversy which threatened national harmony.”

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Google is Taking Over the Internet

As part of the company's promise to "organize the world's information", Google introduces "a far-reaching plan to destroy all the information it is unable to index." The project is dubbed Google Purge.