Wednesday, February 21, 2007

FOC Firing Squads?

A Federal District Court Judge ruled that it is against the law for an officer to shoot a father in the back for a misdemeanor child support charge. More evidence of a program that is lacking sufficient administrative and legal controls, where even the officers have become the executioners of the corrupted legal system.

Judge: Officer violates suspect's civil rights, must pay $558,026
By The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- A Kensett police officer violated a suspect's rights during a 2005 attempt to arrest the man on misdemeanor charges and the officer should pay more than a half-million dollars, a federal judge says. U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes ruled against Officer Mark Wages in a lawsuit filed by Jerry Lee Cooperwood after Cooperwood was shot in the back and side by the officer almost two years ago. The judge noted Cooperwood was unarmed and did not have a history of violence.

"It is undisputed that Cooperwood never hit Wages," the judge said in his order Friday. "A reasonable officer in Wages' position would have known that shooting Cooperwood as he was running away violated the law."The judge said the officer violated Cooperwood's freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and his rights to due process. Holmes awarded Cooperwood $558,026.91 to cover his pain, suffering and mental anguish, plus medical bills.

Ok. I know that the FOC in Arkansas does not have a set policy of shooting deadbeat parents, at least not literally. This case probably shows the lack of control and professionalism on an individual officer's part more than it does on FOC procedures, but this officer's conduct does reflect the overall attitude of law enforcement and child support collection agencies. More and more, overwhelming force is being applied to warrants and arrests of parents past due on support payments, regardless of circumstances. This overkill is also seen in other places as well i.e. traffic warrant, delinquent tax bills, and for failure to appear in court. That discussion is a larger issue, perhaps better suited for another post.

I am more than willing to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. It is not an easy job trying to keep human beings under control and in line with the law. There are a lot of non-custodial parents, and yes, mostly fathers, (because so few are ever considered for custody-another problem) who often deliberately decide not to support their children. Those men need to be held accountable, yet their neglect, rotten as it is, does not warrant a blitzkreig attack endangering the lives of both violator and police or court officer. It makes no sense and certainly, no Constitutional sense, to treat misdemeanor violations with the same severity as one would rapists or bank robbers. Clearly, there are cases where well-meaning police officers step way over the line when doing what they believe is a good thing. I know that police have to use caution at all times, but they appear to 'protect and serve' each other more now than they ever have done for common citizens.

Being as active as I have been on FOC issues, I can relate dozens of stories of men arrested in the dead of night by police tactical units kicking in doors in order to serve misdemeanor warrants for non or overdue child support payments. In one instance, a West Highland terrier was beaten with a baton when the police forced their way into a man's home. (The man, after 30 days in jail, came home to find the decomposed corpse of his beloved companion.) One would think that this fellow was an armed serial killer raising pit bulls, but he was just an unlucky guy who suffered a work-related injury and was waiting for his compensation benefits to kick in. In the meantime, the FOC, at the behest of his ex-wife, issued an immediate warrant for his arrest. We have no idea what she told the officers to expect, but they could have knocked on his door at lunchtime to ask a few questions before springing a midnight ninja attack expecting mortal combat. At least give the guy a chance to go peaceably. The vast majority already do.

I still want to be fair to the police. There are cases where retaliation should be expected i.e. the delinquent parent has a history of violence. No one sane would suggest that a historically violent suspect should have to be gently coaxed into a waiting squad car by unarmed officers. Let the force be available if necessary. Yet, the blatant and premeptive use of force, excessive or otherwise, seems to be creating more problems than it solves. If a suspect imagines that he will be more than likely facing a physical threat from the officers, he will be more inclined to prepare himself for what he believes will be an inevitable confrontation.

The police and courts operate in small professional bubble and because of this subculture mentality, they commonly fall prey to the 'fallacy of vividness' which, in plain English, means that whatever happens anywhere in any courtroom, crime scene, or lock-up becomes that standard by which all agencies gauge their future behavior. It is a tunnel-vision of sorts. Due to this phenomenon, ALL suspects, no matter how docile, are treated as 'potentially' dangerous and, as instances of courthouse shootings escalate, so do the attitude toward even non-violent, honest citizens. I understand the worries of police and judges, but their culture doesn't concern itself with my safety, only my unquestioning obedience to their authority. Most of the time that isn't a problem.

Now, I don't think that Mr. Cooperwood is a nice guy, model citizen, or even a sympathetic victim, but the officer had no business shooting this man (in the back no less) who didn't threaten that officer's life or that of any other civilian. They could have reissued another warrant and picked him up another time. This is a good decision though that will hopefully put a little restraint on police violence against non-violent offenders and common citizens suspected of criminal acts. Similar suits were needed to curb police chases through populated areas. The overuse of police force is a huge problem everywhere, especially during protests and demonstrations, where tactical teams of militarized units routinely bully peaceful marchers. My hope is that such awards will curb this use of force. Likely, however, the police agencies will simply cry 'victim' and their aforementioned attitude problem will just get worse.

Mr. Cooperwood may be savoring his victory in federal court, but I'm sure that the Friend of the Court in his locale is already waiting for the check to clear so his children can get that which they rightfully deserve. I just hope he stops being an dumb asshole. We know the system is broken and that the odds of repairing it are slim to none. However, his being a deadbeat jackass will only make matters worse.

I also find it ironic that the officer's last name was "Wages".


(This case concerned 'misdemeanor' child support, which varies from state to state and is based upon the amount of support owed and length of delinquency. Felony child support, which carries a greater penalty, along with possible Federal charges, does not appear to be addressed in this decision.

The question remains: Should the police have the right to shoot a non-violent suspect/criminal for failure to pay a debt, should he choose to flee? Even if the charges are within the limits of a felony? Do we want law enforcement agencies to shoot people for being in debt? Arrest makes sense, incarceration makes sense, but shooting?)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yeah, I know. I'm Twisted

These are just a few 'graphics' I scooped up from some rant-n-rave sites on the internet. They made me laugh. They are all rather tasteless, I must admit, but still funny. Unless, of course, your sense of humor is rather limited.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Trotsky on Anti-Semitism

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(White Army poster of Trotsky as a 'Jewish Devil' circa 1919)

Anti-Semitism means not only hatred of the Jews but also cowardice in relation to them. Cowardice has big eyes, and it endows its enemy with extraordinary qualities which are not at all inherent in him. The socio-legal conditions of life of the Jews are quite sufficient to account for their role in the revolutionary movement. But it has certainly not been proved, nor can it be proved, that Jews are more talented than Great Russians or Ukrainians.

This is yet another interesting quote from Comrade Trotsky that I recently discovered. He wrote a series of letters on the post-Revolution Civil War and of the various White and Red factions. This comment comes from Trotsky's analysis of a paper written by an officer of the White army, who had previously defected from the Bolshevik camp. This 'general' seemed to have a preoccupation with Jews, and Trotsky, being of Jewish origins, did not miss commenting on the obvious.

He continues:
It is worthwhile saying a few words about this question. The Jewish commissars are far from constituting such a big percentage of the total as is maintained in White-Guard reports, leaflets and newspapers. But it is undoubtedly a fact that the percentage is fairly high. Kotomin, like many other anti-Semites, sees the reason for the considerable number of Jewish commissars as being due to the special abilities and talents of Jews. He twice speaks of their ‘great talent’. Such an evaluation of the Jews certainly calls for no objection. It is a fact that the Jews are a predominantly urban people, and that they form a very high proportion of the town population. The Tsarist regime, which established very harsh conditions for the Jews, impelled not only the Jewish workers, like the Russian workers, but also petty-bourgeois intelligentsia elements of the Jewish community to take the path of revolution. Among the considerable number of Jewish Communists who have joined the Party in recent times there are quite a few the source of whose Communism is not so much social, not so much a matter of class, as national.

Trotsky was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge, however, the truth in the words of his staunchest critics and enemies, as is seen from the entirety of his works. Agree or disagree with Marxism, Comrade Trotsky did show a rare capacity to engage ideas outside communist circles and integrate them with his own philosophy to make practical and, in this case, tactical improvements to the movement.

Comrade Trotsky rightfully calls such biased hatred "Cowardice", and makes no apology for being of Jewish stock. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that Bolshevism, too, being made up of formerly very anti-Semitic Russian peasants and professionals did, in practice, engage in extreme anti-Semitism. It was such a latent anti-Semitic attitude, though institutionally non-Bolshevik, that the bastard Stalin manipulated to drive Trotsky from power after Lenin's death.

I don't know if Comrade Trotsky took all this to heart or if his focus was on much wider issues than reflections on other people's mis-perceptions of his Jewish heritage. I suspect the latter. Myself, I sometimes wonder if I live in greater danger among my philosophical peers than I do my Jewish adversaries.

Kol Tuv

The 'Sin' of Wages

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Being neither a professional scientist or teacher, and having to earn a modest living, eat, sleep, and relax on rare occasion, means that I am always just a little bit behind when it comes to the latest in research and discovery. Sometimes, even current events pass me right by into history before I am even aware of their happenings. My limited mental capacity is even further dampened by intellectual and emotional laziness. In addition, the vast amount of subject-varied reading material I sift through daily often leaves me without any context of time and place, as many repetitive and monotonous activities do. As a result, I end up running around shouting "Eureka!" over something that the rest of humanity has already completely forgotten. I suppose dedication does count for something.

Forgive me here if I'm doing it again.

In the February 2007 edition of Scientific American, there is a small blurb entitled, "Think of Money, Be Less Helpful", which discusses a study done by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Here is the the abstract from the study:

Money has been said to change people's motivation (mainly for the better) and their behavior toward others (mainly for the worse). The results of nine experiments suggest that money brings about a self-sufficient orientation in which people prefer to be free of dependency and dependents. Reminders of money, relative to non-money reminders, led to reduced requests for help and reduced helpfulness toward others. Relative to participants primed with neutral concepts, participants primed with money preferred to play alone, work alone, and put more physical distance between themselves and a new acquaintance.

The most interesting thing about this study is who did it. Only one of the authors was from a psychology department, and the others were from, get this, marketing and business! In retrospect it kind of makes sense. After all, who better to study the effects of money on people than those who study marketing?

From the Scientific American:
Money is an incentive to work hard, but it also promotes selfish behavior. Those conclusion may not be surprising, but psychologists at the University of Minnesota recently found that merely thinking of money makes people less likely to give help to others. Researchers subconsciously reminded some volunteers of money by showing them lucre-related words such as 'salary'..........When money is on the brain, people become disinclined to ask for help when faced with a difficult or even impossible puzzle. And, individuals who think, even subconsciously, about money are less helpful than others, as researchers report....."

(Now if you haven't figured out where this is going yet, you either don't know me very well or haven't been reading my blog.)

One has to wonder what the defenders of Capitalism and the lovers of money have to say about this study. I can imagine the followers of Ayn Rand, author of "The Virtue of Selfishness", gathered around pile of objectivist and libertarian writings, and wondering how, how, if possible could their world view be so wrong-headed. I doubt, of course, that the results of this study will slow down the Neocons, Wall St., or Madison Ave. in any way. There are both 'bulls and bears' in the china shoppe. Good luck trying to change their attitudes with the 'science' thing. It's never had much if any effect thus far.

Being infatuated with money is like addiction to anything else. Infatuation, like blind hatred, tends to create a mental and emotional image of a desired object or result that doesn't quite match reality. Until now, the defenders of free-markets and capitalism have told us time and time again that free flow and access to profit is key to solving all the world's problems. They tell us that if people are willing to pay enough, someone would surely be willing to help them out. Conversely, these capitalist cretins argued, if someone does not sense any significant monetary reward for their actions, then inaction or non-action will be the consequent behavior.

I am a supervisor in a blue-collar industry. Over the 15 years, I have seen many types of employees and managers alike, coming, going, and remaining under many different circumstances. One thing, and this required no university psychology department to confirm in my mind, is that employees whose preoccupation is with the time clock or the salary, are just plain lousy workers. They will work just well enough to be able to say that they did their job and now they're finished. Any extras that may need doing or perhaps some finishing touches that enhance the job will not ever be performed by such people. They also shy away from helping others and often evacuate the vicinity before anyone has the chance to request their assistance. By their non-action, they inevitably will leave work behind for others. Then, at the end of the day, they complain that other workers aren't doing enough, and they imagine themselves as the only ones working! Workers with this mindset shouldn't last long, but alas, the manpower is required and training a new idiot to replace an old one is a burden on everyone, despite the inherent behavioral difficulties.

I have also had the opportunity to witness those same lousy workers outside of the work environment acting selflessly without any expectation of money or recognition, and even endangering themselves in the process. One afternoon, while out on the road (moving and storage), we happened upon a serious auto accident. The car was on fire and the passenger was trapped inside, obviously unable to get out of the car. The lousy employee that I ranted about earlier, jumped from the passenger side of the moving truck onto a busy highway, right up to that burning vehicle, smashed the back window, climbed into the car, and pulled the driver to safety. He then walked back up to truck, lit a cigarette, and climbed in without saying a word. I bought that man a beer. He never mentioned the incident again, though he did want more beer. The man who wouldn't pick up a paper clip if it wasn't specifically stated in his job description, just risked his life to save another. (We ended up firing that fellow for doing drugs while on the job.)

I have always felt that money is not a primary motivator for those with healthy, well-socialized attitudes. There is something deeper, an evolutionary sense of community and interdependency that transcends the financial and monetary. It is how mankind survived in his evolutionary infancy and how mankind will continue to thrive in a world where we face mounting challenges of environment, ecology, resources, and cultural conflicts. Sure we need money to pay our bills and have some quality of life in terms of relaxation and recreation, but beyond that, is a personality or economic system that demands, or should I say craves, excessive surpluses and profits really a healthy thing?

I will quote J.M. Keynes again. Keynes knew many years ago what this study tells us today when he said,
Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

Kol Tuv

Saturday, February 17, 2007


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Jon Tasini writes:

In the summer of 2005, Goldman Sachs successfully extorted money from New York, threatening to leave the city unless it received tax breaks and low-interest bonds. It did so in a fairly ugly way. Using the specter of September 11th as a club, the company pocketed an unbelievable deal: $1.65 billion in low-interest, triple-tax-exempt Liberty Bonds, enabling the firm to save as much as $9 million a year in financing costs, which would save Goldman about $250 million over the life of the bonds. If that wasn’t enough, the city also threw $115 million in sales and utility tax breaks at the company, in return for a commitment to maintain its headquarters in Lower Manhattan and employ more than 9,000 people through 2028; those breaks could rise to as much as $150 million if Goldman adds 4,000 new jobs by 2019.

Jon continues:

So, here we are now: a company that is taking money out of my pocket and yours is setting aside $16.5 billion in cash to pay out as bonuses—an average pay day of $622,000 per worker. Of course, average really is misleading—the top dogs at the company will reap the big windfalls (CEO Lloyd Blankfein is reportedly in line to cash a check of up to $50 million), with the support staff probably getting a free Metro Card or maybe a nice holiday gift basket, at best.

Jon now brings in the punchline, tough it feels more like a punch in the gut than a laughing matter.

Why shouldn’t Goldman give some of that money back to the city, or the federal government (the low-interest Liberty Bonds are backed by the faith and credit of the feds)? Sure, some of the money will come back in tax revenues. But, why should a company that chooses to devote $16 billion to bonuses continue to be underwritten by the average person? Here’s the cruel irony: New York’s residential real estate market is out of control, with the city increasingly becoming a place for the rich. Blankfein and his high-rollers will likely spend a huge chunk of their new riches to buy multi-million digs in the city, further pushing up prices and making housing even more unaffordable for millions of people—the very people who are paying taxes that are supporting the tax-breaks Goldman Sachs is enjoying so it can rake in even larger profits.

Isn’t capitalism great?

If only Jon Tasini had been elected to the U.S. Congress rather than Hillary Clinton. Madame Hillary is up to her neck-fat in Goldman-Sachs campaign money and elbow rubbings, and neither she, nor they are part of any solution to America’s economic problems. Goldman-Sachs is typical of the problem; corrupt selfish city government in league with bullying corporations. Who pays the higher taxes? You and I. Goldman-Sachs never pays their way. I doubt they ever have.

This is another example of how the notion of ‘free markets’ are a complete myth. Goldman-Sachs, who should be competitive enough to survive without tax breaks, brokers a deal with Bloomberg and leans on the taxpayers of NYC, who will now have to make up the difference. It’s not a ‘free’ market when larger companies bully access and take corporate welfare.

I wonder if the executives at Goldman-Sachs will be thanking New Yorkers for the big fat bonus checks. Somehow, I doubt such gratitude will even cross their greedy little minds, even as they watch, from the comfort of their penthouse apartments, the average person struggle along below in order to make ends meet.


Friday, February 16, 2007

The Truth About American Automakers

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A Modern Parable

A Japanese company (Toyota) and an American company (Ford Motor Company) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River. Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action

Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.

Feeling a deeper study was in order, American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion. They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.

Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 1 person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the "Rowing Team Quality First Program", with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rower. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses and the next year's racing team was outsourced to India .

Though I am not a fan of Henry Ford (1863 - 1947) or his anti-Socialist, anti-Semitic philosophy, on occasion he did offer up some great quotes. Here is one that is apt. I hope the irony isn't lost in time.

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.

How true. How true.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Darwin on Darwin on God

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Darwin's Study (Haig)

Since I never read Darwin's autobiography (and should have!), I honestly had no idea what Darwin's specific beliefs were in relation to God and religion. Apparently, Comrade Trotsky may have misread either the words or the meaning of Darwin's account. Here are a few excerpts from his autobiography that may shed some light on the father of modern evolutionary theory.

I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard and thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I liked the thought of becoming a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with great care Pearson on the Creeds and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted...

Then Darwin, further on, writing of his later recantation of said beliefs:

But I had gradually come by this time (i.e. 1836 to 1839) to see the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rain-bow as a sign, &c., &c., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.......Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine....

Then speaking of belief in general:

At present the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomedans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God.....This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists....

It appears that Charles Darwin was, by his own admission, either a weak atheist or strong agnostic. The question of the previous post is perhaps really no question at all!

Deus sive Natura

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Trotsky on Darwin

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This is an interesting quote from Leon Trotsky that I came across while browsing through some miscellaneous reference materials. It was quite an unexpected surprise!

Darwin destroyed the last of my ideological prejudices. ... The idea of evolution and determinism ... took possession of me completely. ... Darwin stood for me like a mighty doorkeeper at the entrance to the temple of the universe. ... I was the more astonished when I read in one of the books of Darwin, his autobiography, I think, that he had preserved his belief in God. I absolutely declined to understand how a theory of the origin of species by way of natural and sexual selection, and a belief in God, could find room in one and the same head.

Well, Mr. Trotsky, you and I have the same question.

Deus sive Natura!

Labor Leadership & Bloated Salaries

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There is a sad truth about union-labor leadership that has bothered me for at least a decade and it explains why labor 'leaders' are so complacent in the face of dwindling enrollment.

I know that some of right wing anti-union, anti-worker, pro-corporate readers will lean back in their comfy Italian leather office chairs, satisfied and smugly entertaining a thought of "See? They're crooked! All unions are communist and corrupt. Even Shlomo admits it!" First of all, the corporate leadership in the union world is unfortunately a political issue detached from the rank and file by a series of rules and regulations designed to protect leadership. That needs to changed and I have always advocated a single-tiered set of rules for all union workers, managers, and corporate affiliates. Secondly, does internal corruption or institutional income disparity warrant ending an organization? If that were the case, every major corporation on the planet would find itself dissolved at the first hint of tax fraud, tax evasion, tax sheltering, golden parachuting, insider stock trading, wrongful discharge, racial and sexual discrimination, double billing, and consumer fraud; just to name a few of the zillion laws that corporations break every day around the globe. If corruption and illegality are your issues, and I applaud you for that, then first clean up where the biggest pile of filth lies.

One of many myths circulated about rank and file union laborers concerns salary. In the most recent study, cited in the above mentioned article, union laborers earned an average of $43K per year, far below the alleged '$100s of thousands' that some anti-union people believe. That $43k is just higher than the average mean income of American families. Let's be frank here, union supporters know very well how to critique their leadership and improve working conditions, pay, and productivity. We know the truth because we live it. We don't need arm-chair free marketeers and corporate apologists to tell bold faced lies about organized labor in order to put us down and keep us down. Besides, our leadership seems to be doing that job well enough these days.

Income and economic inequity cannot be addressed without the full and unified support of a committed leadership and a motivated rank and file labor force. Until we get our own 'corporates' in line, the rank and file will remain as disillusioned and cynical as always. It's bad enough that idealistic and greedy corporatists and their 'think-tanks' already have the upper hand in this struggle, we don't need lazy fat-cats amongst our own keeping us down, too.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Stuff I'm Reading Lately

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Well, it's been two years now and I am still working my away through Daniel Dennett's "Consciousness Explained", and I might add, without much success in mastering "heterophenomenology". I do however, much appreciate that Dennett takes a completely naturalistic approach to a very mystical subject. If you have the stomach for some real thinking about awareness, experience, and time, Dennett is an awesome read. Maybe someday I might even finish it, but I have to chip away at this book in spurts when due diligence and patience are available.

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As a member of the Scientific American book club, I come accross some great deals on some incredible and interesting books from all branches of science and mathematics. Some, especially those concerned with mathematics and higher physics, are a bit beyond what I would call 'entertainment reading' and frankly, much of the material is above what I am interested in tackling at this point.

"Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" is not another one of those boring mathematical treatises requiring one to reference college texts in order to understand and enjoy the book. It is a trail through a concept turned practical and then heretical and back again, tracing the roots and tribulations of zero. I highly recommend it even for non-math people, as the author does a great job explaining even complicated equations in their context. It offers a phenomenal lesson in philosophy and history as well. (ISBN 0-670-88457-X)


In the News (or Snooze) 02-12-07

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI had more than 300 weapons and laptops lost or stolen in just under four years, and some of the computers contained sensitive or classified information, the U.S. Justice Department inspector general said on Monday in a highly critical report. Fewer had gone missing than before a 2002 report in which Inspector General Glenn Fine's office reported 354 FBI weapons and 317 laptops lost or stolen over the previous 28 months, but he said the bureau had done too little to address the problem.

Once again, how can we ever trust an agency to keep track of criminals and terrorists when they cannot even keep track of their own equipment. These bastards treat every American citizen with suspicion yet, in a very dangerous irony, it becomes they who we need to be watching. Frankly, I think all police agencies suffer from a nasty case of arrogance. Then again, maybe it's a blessing they really are as stupid as they appear. The downside of stupid government is that it becomes a horrible mix of cruelty and unchecked power. If only police agencies kept as good a handle on their weapons as they do our reading material. Fucking fascists!

CHICAGO (AP) - Office nappers now have the perfect excuse: New research shows that a little midday snooze seems to reduce the risk of fatal heart problems, especially among men.In the largest study to date on the health effects of napping, researchers tracked 23,681 healthy Greek adults for an average of about six years. Those who napped for about half an hour at least three times weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks or other heart problems than those who did not nap.

Save this article for your boss when you are caught, once again, asleep at your desk. The study also showed, though did not publicize, that people who never wasted time going to work or killing themselves for the greed of others had a 90% lower chance of heart disease. I sneak off in the summer months into the warehouse for a ten or fifteen minute nap. I simply set the alarm clock on the cell phone and doze off. That little power-nap is a lifesaver and gets me energized for the balance of the day. I suspect the boss knows and says nothing. I am not sleeping 'on' the job, I am sleeping 'for' it!

(AFP) Chimpanzees from West Africa were cracking nuts open using stone tools in prehistoric times, according to a study that suggests some chimp populations may have been using this kind of tool technology for thousands of years. Researchers have speculated that the tool-using behaviour seen in some chimp populations might stretch back to ancient times, and this study provides the first solid proof to support that theory. The evidence comes from the world's only known prehistoric chimpanzee settlement in the Tai rainforest of Ivory Coast.

Chimps have now evolved beyond hammer wielding nutcrackers and transformed into the Bush Administration. Yet, the hammer hasn't been forgotten. As Mark Twain remarked "To the man with a hammer, the whole world appears as nails." The sudden demise of this hammering chimp tool-culture apparently coincided with an increased outsourcing of hammer production and importation of low wage nutcracking labor from neighboring jungles.


יום דארווין שמח

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Darwin Day is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12, 1809.

Darwin provided the first coherent theory of evolution by means of natural selection. His theory has had far-reaching implications in almost all disciplines and has rocked the very foundation of our knowledge base. Human civilization has been deeply affected by Darwin's work, with over 150 years of evidence collected that supports his initial findings. Modification and refinement to the details of the theory continue among contemporary scientists. For his contributions to humanity and his commitment to the scientific method, Charles Darwin is celebrated globally on February 12th each year.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

We must, however, acknowledge as it seems to me, that a man with all his noble qualities...still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.

Hob A Freyliche Darwin Day!

Same Shit, Different Street

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Among the many, many things about commercialized and corporatized America that I detest is the mundane and over-hyped 'sameness' that pervades every strip mall, storefront, warehouse, gas station, and restaurant throughout the US and Canada. The uniqueness and colloquial variety of small town America is just about gone, along with the family businesses and farms that sprouted up alongside the road stops, truck stops, and greasy spoons. Prefabricated shopping malls, tech centers, and warehouses pop up everywhere and anywhere a few lonely trees dare to remain upright. Fucking greedy developers can't leave us one blade of grass!

The latest trend in sameness is the growth and spreading of condominiums. Everywhere you go these days, formerly undeveloped parcels of trees and grass are turning into high priced complexes with the same landscaping, same roofing, same windows, and the same low occupancy rates. Even when you thought a city had used up all its available land to kiss the ass of some greedy developer and increase its own tax base, city planners are seeking out ways to sell off public parks and community gardens for top dollar. Usually, as in NYC, this is a direct result of major campaign donations. (That means you Rudy! You asshole!)

Sterling Heights is nothing like Detroit. I kind of feel lost here in a way. I had become accustomed to the smaller family-owned, stand-alone, restaurants of my old neighborhood where they knew my name and what I was having for breakfast. Mega-corporations aren't trying to muscle in on my old turf. Nobody wants to be there I guess. Sterling Heights, however, in spite of being well established, is still a wide open tract of commercial building frenzy and, if one travels along Hall Rd., the miles and miles of rank commercialism stretch endlessly to the 94 Fwy. and beyond, with plenty of room left for more. The problem is, there isn't much along Hall Rd. that one could not see while driving along any other major artery in any major American city. It's all the fucking same. Augh!

Many of my friends don't seem to mind it as much as I do. If we do gather for dinner or some other special event, these occasions are typically arranged to be held at one of the 50 billion chain restaurants in town. Now I have eaten in some of those, and though Red Robin makes a good burger, it's not anything so special that I would wake up drooling for it. It's just a fucking burger that costs twenty bucks when all is said and done. The Macaroni Grill has excellent food as well, but after having eaten in thirty of them in various cities and not found even one tiny bit of difference between them, the chances of me ever setting foot again inside a Macaroni Grill are slim to none, and 'Slim' left town. The Applebee's, Coney Islands, Chili's, and Friday's of the world can go straight to burning Hell. They won't get any of my money. I am sick and fucking tired of the same old shit every fucking where I go in America. If I see another damn WalMart go up I might start killing people. Don't even get me started on Walgreen's, Rite Aid, and CVS. The individual character of states, cities, towns, and villages is disappearing under the commercial might of the mega-corporations in league with tax hungry local governments and greedy developers.

One would think that the Chinese restaurants would be different, and though they are family owned, they pretty much serve the same rancid, run of the mill pseudo-Cantonese fare. There are two Chinese places I enjoy; one in Ferndale near my office, and the other in my old neighborhood. I knew that establishment was different because when Janice and I first discovered it, we turned out to be the only Anglos there. Everyone else was Chinese! And yes, the food was awesome. In Sterling Heights, we have a famous Polish restaurant called "Two Sisters" and it's fantastic. I fear that soon it will be gone, too. Ma and Pa establishments can't keep up with rising costs, corporate competition, and higher taxes. As soon as Starbuck's opens up in your neighborhood, the taxes will rise for everyone. Look at what happened in Harlem when certain sections were redeveloped; the rising rents forced out families that had lived there for generations, and the apartments were now only affordable to those who wouldn't live in Harlem to begin with. (I regret to say that my alma mater is also involved in some unethical land-dealing.)

Our local character will soon be nothing more than a stamped out, prefabricated, low quality, monotony with zero personality. America, the land of the individual (or so we are told), will be no more. Everything we see, everything we need, and everything we dream of will be commercialized, corporatized, and we will be forced to purchase the same exact things everywhere we go no matter how far away from 'home' we end up. It's just sickening.

In America, we have the right to "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Unfortunately, there are soon to only be two corporations still supplying those commodities and your personal preferred form of "Happiness" will soon be discontinued in favor of a more stream-lined and popular Chinese-made version. I used to wonder why foreigners saw Americans as one dimensional caricatures. I think now I know the reason.

Kol Tuv

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Spinoza? Shlomo? Or Memorex?

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Let's be clear about this. Spinoza managed to, dare I say, intuit, so much in his day that he could not possibly know from the science available to him. His foresight and genius are indeed remarkable and amazing qualities, but nor he or his philosophy were perfect. It was said of Freud that the biggest problem with his theories were that they were too 'perfect' and he had an answer for everything. We know today that Freud's brilliance and his perseverance in establishing psychoanalysis among the sciences is tainted with some glaring and perhaps even dangerous ideas. And yes, even the great Einstein turned out to be wrong a time or two. Infallibility is for Popes; honest knowledge is the domain of the irreverent and often leaves us feeling a little disappointed.

There exists a common danger that devout Spinozists, like myself, in an attempt to reconcile Spinoza to all circumstances, will retrofit later mathematical or scientific discoveries into his philosophy. This is a typical trait of religions and religious mind-sets that view their gods or leaders as infallible and all-knowing. When this occurs, it becomes more of a fan club that a real honest-to-goodness acceptance and analysis of ideas. I suspect that I, too, have been guilty a time or two of this mistake. If you spend enough time with an idea, it becomes sort of timeless. You forget when it started and from where it began in relation to context. One could forget that unlike the late 20th or early 21st century biology student, Darwin, Wallace, or Mendel did not have the broader scope of genetic knowledge we possess today. That they were correct as often as they were, without knowing the true depth of their observations, is still truly amazing!

It is not a brilliant bit of deduction, equation, or experiment that transforms a great thinker into a hero. Our heroes are beloved because they challenged the enforced and regulated status quo of outdated ideas and false beliefs at some danger to their lives and reputations. Men like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Descartes, Spinoza, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, etc. were not angels or divinely inspired saints, imbued each with intellectual prowess unlike any mankind has ever known previously. There were, in fact, men of greater capability that our heroes used as a foundation for their own endeavors. The distinguishing factor was a curiosity so strong that it simply overwhelmed any reservations brought about by external conditions. They, too, became caught up in the idea, so much so that they forgot their own time and place, thus transcending the existing paradigm to such an extent as to shift the totality of human knowledge from one level to the next, in spite of the danger dissemination of that idea may have posed. That later generations become infatuated with these concepts and their authors is no real dilemma at all. It testifies to the man's overall devotion to a deeper understanding and the roots of discovery. As far as a love affair goes, one could do a whole lot worse.

Yet, with ideas, as in romantic love, there may lurk a dangerous blindness caused by infatuation turned habituation. The psychological associations i.e. culture, behavior, science, etc. that I form when reading the Ethics, while having the benefit of modern neuroscience and psychology at my disposal, are not going to necessarily be the same as those of a 17th century Dutch lens grinder. I should be careful not to project what I know now onto what he knew then. As Spinoza himself would have warned, "Caute!" I can imagine (there I go again!) sitting at a greasy spoon with Benedict while chatting about 'passions and appetites', where he strongly disagrees with everything I say in reference to and on behalf of his philosophy, if for no other reason than to keep things intellectually honest. At least I hope that's what he'd do.

Like a good piece of literature that catches your deepest interests and emotional sensitivity, an idea that takes hold doesn't easily let go, and those which convey a 'common sense' or innovative theory that suits our understanding, can easily transcend time, space, and the accurate, well-placed critique of others. I have to careful to maintain an objectivity and detachment from what Spinoza's philosophy does for me, as me, from what Spinoza actually said as Spinoza. The question to ask becomes "Is it Spinoza talking here? Or is it Shlomo?" Sometimes we must remind ourselves that heroes can still be heroes and be dead wrong about something very important. We should not instinctively rush to their rescue by changing their meaning or context to suit modern mentalities. That is a job better suited for theologians and fanatical groupies.

Deus sive Natura!

"Authenticity matters little, though our willingness to accept legends depends far more upon their expression of concepts we want to believe than upon their plausibility." (David P. Mikkelson)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Speaking of Spinoza (Psychology)

Questions from the Ethics and Spinoza's psychological theory:
“…everyone has the power of clearly and distinctly understanding himself and his emotions, if not absolutely, at any rate in part, and consequently of bringing it about, that he should become less subject to them.”

Unproven assertion that understanding emotions means one is less subject to them. What’s Spinoza’s proof?

There is an old saying that goes "Knowing is half the cure." This is what self awareness offers, the ability to ACT differently after knowing how much influence the emotions held before that awareness. For those of us who have overcome serious depression, Spinoza is telling what seems to be an obvious truth, but still requires a bit more than just my anecdotal advocacy. Let me put it another way. Spinoza sees mind and emotion (much as he does mind and body) as two languages describing the same event. What if one doesn't speak the language of the other, or perhaps doesn't even hear the other at all?

What if we were able to have any level of emotion we wanted at any given time? How about anger? What if every time you felt angry you acted out? You would probably lose your job, spouse, and most of your friends pretty fast. Now what if you never realized that you became angry? Or never knew the source of the anger? Or what changes anger creates in your biochemistry that exacerbates the rage? Or how acting out, even if it achieves short term goals i.e. control or manipulation, truly destroys long-term happiness? Now even Spinoza admits that it will likely come down to matter of degrees as to how successful one would be in reigning in the emotions, but at least he is not asking anyone to deny or change them. Be angry, just be reasonable about it. There is another old saying that goes "Do not teach your children not to anger; teach them rather how to be angry."

“. . . hence it will come to pass, not only that love, hatred, &c. will be destroyed (V. ii.), but also that the appetites or desires, which are wont to arise from such emotion, will become incapable of being excessive (IV. lxi.).”

If love, hatred, etc. are destroyed, how can the appetites or desires, arising from such emotions, simply become incapable of being excessive. Logically, they should likewise be destroyed, their foundation having been eradicated.

Spinoza just says that with constant application of reason and the habituation of reasoned emotional reaction, little by little the behavior modification becomes second nature. The emotion isn't dead, just sedated. For example, in my recovery from Depression, I discovered that as time went on and I would slowly apply self-awareness (admitting to and knowing my moods) that certain situations that would have, in the past, triggered an almost autonomic and heightened emotional response, suddenly did not effect me in the same way. This is, by the way, how many of us living with depression gauge our emotional progress. Not only did I not act out as I was prone to do, but the level of emotion was mitigated to almost naught.

I will agree that the last part about 'eradication' is unrealistic and a mistaken assumption on Spinoza's part.

“For it must be especially remarked, that the appetite through which a man is said to be active, and that through which he is said to be passive is one and the same.”

One cause produces two diametrically contradictory effects? So what’s the impinging variable (switch) that turns one on and the other off?

To demand that one is turned off or turned on is a misnomer. If it's on. It's on. Emotion is a chemical reaction triggered by thoughts of pain or pleasure. The question is where will it go once it starts or who will stop it if necessary? Reason gives me the tools to stop and think before I do something stupid. Myself, when I get manic and a little too 'Esther', a condition nicknamed for my grandmother, I run, skip rope, and hit the heavy bag rather than just sit around and stew. There were any number of other avenues I could have taken to self medicate or escape. Even now, years later, I still have to re-mind myself sometimes to get my sorry ass to the gym. That is reason overcoming the inertia of depression. (I'm in really good shape by the way.)

We are still living under the false assumption that intellect and emotion are two very separate functions. They are not at all. Read Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence". His work confirms much of what Spinoza's psychology is saying here. In addition, one could say that Spinoza is all along only speaking in short-term remediation and not toward eradication.

“In like manner all appetites or desires are only passions, in so far as they spring from inadequate ideas; the same results are accredited to virtue, when they are aroused or generated by adequate ideas.”

(1) What makes an idea adequate? Adequate for what? Adequate implies a goal.
(2) Are appetites generated by ideas? I am hungry, not because I’m thinking about food, but because of physiological processes having nothing to do with thoughts.
(3) Isn’t saying all appetites and desires are only passions simply a tautology? Are all passions likewise just appetites and desires?

I'll answer them in order:

1) By example. Your teacher is giving an exam on cell biology. You master the knowledge of cell structure, cell division, cell function, etc. You show mastery of the knowledge required to understand the cell. Your teacher gives you an 'A'. You now have an adequate idea. The goal, if there is one, is to know what the 'f' is going on around you. A non-adequate idea would be an opinion or statement about cells not based in fact i.e. created by an Omnipotent Transcendental Deity who takes personal interest in my choice of reading material and condemns my soul to Eternal damnation for studying Spinoza.

2) Ask Pavlov. If I even just smell someone else smoking weed, I get the munchies. Seriously though, hunger is a desire based in our physiology. Have you ever tried not to be hungry when your body demanded food? Yet, the thought of pleasure that comes from the good memories of a tasty dish (or woman) will induce an 'appetite' for that thing. As Bill Cosby says "There's always room for Jello."

3) Good question and you're right for asking it. Many philosophers think Spinoza uses a 'perfectionist' language that tries to make distinctions without any real differences. I'll give it a shot here. Desire (conatus) is part of our natural being, whereas pain and pleasure are derivatives of that desire which determine what 'appetites' we will mentally form images of being drawn to or repelled from. This 'desire' could be homeostasis (striving), 'passion' the unchecked or unaware physical wanting (determined), and 'appetite' the psycho-mental imagery that connects them (imagined). Do not think of passion as an active, but as a passive; determined solely by non-conscious influences. In other words, passion is the opposite, sort of speak, of an adequate idea.
re: “For all desires, whereby we are determined to any given action, may arise as much from adequate as from inadequate ideas (IV. lix.).”

All desires MAY arise from etc, etc? How can one test the hypothesis if it is hedged with the qualification MAY? (I’ll pass on how one distinguishes an adequate idea from an inadequate idea.)

Spinoza says "may" arise because human beings also have genetic predispositions or physical conditions that already mitigate or exacerbate desires. One may be a complete nincompoop when it comes to an 'adequate idea' of emotions, but he might also be the kind of person who just never gets angry. even when we think he should!

Kol Tuv

Of Women & Bitches

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Arora writes:

"Shlomo, It is definitely heartening that you try not to objectify women/people in your own life. To be honest, though, in reading some of your posts, I find some paragraphs to be laced with subtle misogony."

Well Arora, there are two sorts of women. There are those who display a general sense of decency, compassion, or integrity throughout their lives, seeking the better in themselves and others, while trying to establish identity in an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. There is yet another group of women who, if you may have noticed from earlier posts, we can refer to as 'lying-ass, no-good, scheming opportunistic bitches' who use the very systems society established in order to protect a woman's interest as a weapon for personal gain or revenge.

You know who I am talking about here. I know exactly how to treat a woman. I also have learned, the hard way mind you, exactly what to do when confronted with a 'bitch', and never fear to point out those predators among the 'fairer sex' who use victimhood (or womanhood) as a shield or smokescreen for greed or personal vendetta. I am always wary of the damsel in distress and wonder what it was exactly that led her to be locked up. I much prefer women who wear armor and ride alongside me into battle. I have a feeling this man-woman thing was always meant to be more or less an equality-based venture.

Stupid metaphor maybe, but you get the idea.

You'd be right to assume that I look down upon women who try to 'play' the victim or manipulate typical male attitudes for their benefit. That's because I imagine the possibility of what could be to be less likely than the probability of what will be. I think we can both do better than relying on old stereotypes and outdated social norms. There are real victims out there whose causes are hurt every time a bad woman does something awful using their good name.


Feeling Right At Home

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Cherem? No Hard Feelings

We have to clarify the excommunication issue by putting it in proper context. Some place guilt upon the Amsterdam Jewish community for their actions taken against Spinoza, but I find it justified, if not unavoidable on their part. Jewish excommunication, called Cherem, is a rabbinical decree that cuts off the community from the one being excommunicated, and not the other way around, although it may have the same effect. It means that no one can have contact, offer aid, do business, mourn, or engage in any contract with the excommunicated. He becomes a persona non grata. This institutional and ritual form of 'shunning' has been very rarely used in Jewish history. Jews are very much community oriented and have a saying that goes "Kol Yisrael areyvim zeh bazeh" which, loosely translated, means that Jews stand as collateral for each other and the debt of one becomes the debt of all. It is statement of communal responsibility. To actively cast out a member of the community in such a way is the antithesis of Jewish living, and is a very serious matter.

In Biblical times, a Spinoza, and there were many dissenters, would have been dragged out into the town square and put to death. In Rabbinic times, he would have had a trial and would likely have reached a similar verdict, especially considering Spinoza's irreverent and caustic responses to the suppression of his ideas. Though the Amsterdam community had no power to execute him, they did have the power to order others not to have contact with him. The Talmud says that four types of people are considered good as dead, and if you dissect the rabbis statement you find that at the core of each case is loneliness and abandonment. The excommunication was tantamount to this sort of 'death' sentence. In a world of Inquisitions and Calvinists, a Spinoza might have nowhere to turn for help, and that door was now closed to him. They were hoping the threat alone would shut him up, but they underestimated his resolve. He begged them to 'just do it'.

The community is exempt from judgment on my part because of their time and place. Had this excommunication went off in 1998 at the Temple Beth El of Teaneck N.J., it would really concern me that a modern American Jewish community would feel so threatened by the presence of a Spinoza and go to such great and horrific lengths to distance themselves from him. However, 17th century Amsterdam was still living in the shadow of the Inquisition and most of that community came from Spain or Portugal, having already endured the worst of "Christian Love" and the Inquisitor's wrath. How many of them lost their fortunes, their loved ones, and their lives? How much fear did this refugee Jewish community still feel while living within the long and powerful reach of Rome? In their recent past, any all pretexts were used to attack and impoverish the Jewish nation, and the Amsterdam Jews had plenty good reason to fear that a Spinoza, with his atheism, would bring the wrath of both Catholic and Protestant down upon them. I would have been more surprised had they not tried, by whatever means necessary, to shut him up.

The community tried to buy him off with a stipend of florins per annum. They hired a local scoundrel to murder him. They repeatedly tried reasoning with him and he persisted. In a way, Spinoza, no matter how true to his ideals and principles he remained, though admirable, was in fact putting the entire Jewish community in a certain degree of danger, and for that, even I would have asked him to "Please, shut the hell up already!"

Kol Tuv

Israel & the 'Ex Wife' Effect

As a political and philosophical junkie, I frequent a few of the hundred or so online chat rooms and message boards dedicated to international politics. I cannot say how much of what we argue over causes any major shift in the real world politique, but I can tell you that a certain portion of the debate is bothering me a great deal. Ever since the onset of the American Invasion of Iraq for Oil, anti-Israel sentiment has steadily increased. Failure in Iraq and Lebanon has the Israelis, once again, looking the stooges of an imperialist American regime. I happen to agree that a vigorous critique of the Sharon and Olmert governments is in order, and I would be the first to say that taking sides with the American Neocons was a blunder of international and historic proportions. I do not see the State of Israel rebounding any time soon from the public policy and publicity nightmare that the Olmert government has created. I don't want Israel to go away, however. I wish for it to improve its relationships with its neighbors.

Most disturbing is who makes the most vicious and exaggerated remarks. These comments are not coming from toothless, backwoods, uneducated, beer-guzzling right-wing Neanderthals, nor from radical Moslem college students, as one might expect. The authors of this ridiculous anti-Israel vitriol are highly educated Manhattan liberals, Ivy league Boston progressives, and well-to-do California Democrats. They are people who know Jews, probably know a few Israelis and, as their education suggests, should know how to define the parameters of a discussion, avoid hyperbole, and establish those distinctions necessary to form a cogent analysis of the situation. I find that many of these people, some whom I have known for some time, have turned to generalizing statements about Israel and Jews. They should know better and I cannot, for this life of me, figure out what it is that impels this sudden loss of rationality.

These individuals are not painting similarly same wide brush strokes over the Palestinians, Iranians, Saudis, or anyone else. Some of my fellow 'lefties' are well aware the various political, economic and religious factions at work in those countries yet, when it comes to Israel, they fail to account for Chiloni, Peacenik, or Charedi, etc. All they see are the evil 'fascist Zionists' "Jewish Apartheid", and their 'illegal settlements'. If one were to know by asking them, Israel would appear to be the most unified nation on the planet, having just one opinion shared and acted upon universally by all Israeli Jews. The faults of Medinat Yisrael, many as they are, are not exclusive to Israel or Jews yet, to hear them say it, Israel invented the issues! Their selectivity in assessing guilts, blames, faults, and even offer credit where credit is due is a skill honed almost to perfection.

I am also a vocal critic of Israeli policy, right and left, but I am not an enemy of the state. I take the time to know the crucial differences because they are important to understanding how we arrived at this juncture and will provide information as to how both Israel and her neighbors can move past the problems at hand. I would never speak of the Saudis or Palestinians as 'they' or 'them' but define each group or ideal for itself in relation to the whole. Fatah and Hamas, for example, have some disturbing similarities, but also some glaring differences. The PNAC and the Bush administration failed to account for any differences between Shia and Sunni and look at the results in Iraq. Failure to grasp the intricacies leads to a failure in judgment and in problem solving. Success in Iraq, or Lebanon for that matter, was not dependent upon moral rectitude, but on whether or not the Americans or Israelis knew what they were doing and with whom they were engaging.

Another careful distinction that many decide not to make is who they are rooting for and why. Otherwise Pro-Choice, Pro Gay Marriage, Pro Women's Rights, and anti-death penalty persons choose to defend Islamic regimes over Israeli secularism. Now, I have no problem with extending the olive branch of love and understanding to the Moslem world, but let's be real. In their worldview, almost universally, homosexuals are executed, abortions are prosecuted, and women are still persecuted. This is not the case in Israel, whose domestic social policies look more like Holland or Denmark than anywhere else in the Mideast, certainly nothing like the repressive exploits attributed to the 'fascist Zionists'. To blindly take sides with religious ideals that oppose personal freedoms or human rights and only exist as nationalistic or religious entities over a nation that is fundamentally socialist and liberal to its core, simply boggles the mind. It reveals the depth of their anti-Semitism. I would not expect Israel to get a free pass because they are more western than other nations, but that the careful and important distinctions be considered before forming opinions of right, wrong, and redress.

These seemingly otherwise understanding and contemplative individuals cannot see Israel as a liberal western society imbued by higher education and European values and yet, caught between the 'rock' of survival and the 'hard place' of a world opinion that has never warmed up to a Jewish presence in the Mideast. This fervor doesn't permit them to see chilonim, discotheques, physics professors, Arab universities, Druze, Buddhists, atheists, Christian, Israeli Arab, or charedi kindergartens. The inherent diversity and tolerance within Israeli society means nothing in their eyes. That the Arab or Palestinian underdog they so ardently support possesses a value system diametrically opposed to leftism, human rights, and social justice matters not, but should. Consider that there have never been gay pride marches in the West Bank, Gaza, or through downtown Cairo is not for lack of homosexuals. They simply would never be permitted to gather and if they did, they would be met with horrific violence. As one gay Palestinian man told me "I hate Israel for what they have done to my people, but it is the only place for a 1000 miles that I can go out on Saturday night and be myself."

Similarly, the same arguments used to defend Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians does not carry over to Israelis defending their person or property. Any defense of AIPAC, the IDF, or Israeli policy is answered with "Zionist! Zionist! Imperialist! Fascist!" I dislike the stench of the corporate Israel lobby as much as I would any other, but to throw around jingoisms and slogans rather than rationally discuss the merits of the argument is childish, and for these seemingly educated Americans, of all people, to resort to such a low level of rhetoric tells me that this dislike of Israel is not about policy, but of Israel and Jews overall. The failure to make distinctions and recognize realities is what defines prejudice and racism. I am watching the best and brightest among us reveal their true anti-Semitism. They are beginning to sound like spokespersons for Fatah and Hamas rather than people who, like myself, are anxious to see peace and cooperation despite the stark differences in philosophy. Were I to make the same sort of comments regarding blacks, natives, or Mexicans, I would quickly be stripped of my ACLU membership.

These same individuals do not claim to be anti-Jewish. In fact, some of them are married to Jews, have Jewish friends and business associates. They say they love Chomsky and 'those chasidim who hate Zionism' and call them "real Jews" or the "good Jews", because they happen to also take an irrational and misguided opinion to its most illogical extreme without considering the important in-betweens. They are anti-Semites not because they say bad things about Israel, rather because they simply cannot find anything good or reasonable to say about it either, which shows the to extent and tenor of what appears to me a latent and pervasive prejudice. It is the same destructive approach that the Bush administration and its corporate cronies took in Iraq, and to see those who should know better behave in the same manner is telling.

I prefer to call this syndrome the "Ex-wife effect." In my divorce, for example, to hear my ex-wife tell it, I was the most vile, evil, angry, vicious, mean-spirited, lazy, good-for-nothing, raving lunatic on the planet without exception or equal. Twenty years later, her opinion of me hasn't softened one bit. It is impossible for her say a good thing about me, even though we all must know there must have been something, as she married me, bore children, and stayed with me for six years when she could have left anytime she felt like it. (In fact, it was I who left her.) Truth be told, I was not a great husband and I said and did many things that I wish now I hadn't. To garner the sympathies and the support of friends, the courts, and relatives would not have required her to be anything other than perfectly and plainly honest, but she couldn't do that without evoking some sympathy for her estranged husband. She had to 'pile it on' sort of speak and I became not merely an ex-husband with whom she could not agree, but legendary if not epic in the proportions of my nefariousness and deeds of evil. Oh. I smell bad, too. Attributing any decency to me whatsoever would have shaken her own delicate position and possibly threaten her support system. One should not have to lie where the truth is sufficient enough.

Same here goes with the critique of Israel. If someone has one thing bad to say about Israel, don't worry, because I have several they haven't thought of yet. However, if they cannot even manage to find or offer one positive or even-handed thought on Israel's behalf, then I have to wonder just how rational they really are and if it is even possible for them to make sound judgments in her regard. And since, as with my ex-wife, the 'truth' must correlate with an emotional predisposition, falsehoods must also be offered as justification. This is why you will hear anti-Israel rhetoric peppered with phrases like "World Bank", "Imperialism", "Fascism", and other 'isms' that have no relation to Israel or her neighbors, and a blatant disregard for the double standard that judges Israel with a very different moral meter than is used on her Arab neighbors or the rest of the planet.

"The worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism." (Ezra Pound)