Thursday, April 29, 2010

Conversation about Israel

The following conversation was held between myself and a Jewish friend of mine in Russia. Since English is not her native language, any spelling and/or grammar mistakes she made should be understood in that context; I, on the other hand, have no excuse.

[10:35:36 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Are you still planning on going to Israel?

[10:36:28 AM] dvoiris: of course, I cose finally the trak. I go in October, it's progressive judaism programm with a good hebrew-level in Jerusalem

[10:36:41 AM] Matthew Rozsa: For how long will you be in Israel?
[10:36:48 AM] Matthew Rozsa: What do you plan on doing (and where do you plan on going) after that?

[10:36:51 AM] dvoiris: for 5,5 months
[10:37:21 AM] dvoiris: probably moove to Israel

[10:37:36 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Isn't it dangerous to live there?

[10:37:41 AM] dvoiris: it's

[10:37:46 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Isn't it safer in Russia?

[10:37:52 AM] dvoiris: I doubt )
[10:38:10 AM] dvoiris: diffrent kinds of danger )
[10:38:28 AM] dvoiris: in Israel - it's war, in Russia - people

[10:38:52 AM] Matthew Rozsa: :(
[10:39:14 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I am lucky to live in America.

[10:39:32 AM] dvoiris: probably )
[10:39:46 AM] dvoiris: if you are happy there where you live -thats for sure

[10:39:56 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I am very happy in America.
[10:39:59 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I love this country.

[10:40:10 AM] dvoiris: I love Israel

[10:40:10 AM] Matthew Rozsa: It is my home.
[10:40:15 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I like Israel.
[10:40:19 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Israel is not my home.
[10:40:37 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Israel is a place where my ancestors lived before the ancient Roman empire expelled them nearly two thousand years ago.

[10:40:51 AM] dvoiris: well same for me

[10:41:19 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Israel has great historical significance, not just for the world at large but for me on a very personal level.
[10:41:25 AM] Matthew Rozsa: That said, I do not consider it to be my home.
[10:41:31 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I do not feel an individual connection with it.

[10:42:26 AM] dvoiris: interesting, because I do feel that personal connection, what it depends on?

[10:42:35 AM] Matthew Rozsa: It depends on a multitude of variables.

[10:42:46 AM] dvoiris: what?)

[10:42:50 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Certainly I am proud of my Jewishness, so I doubt that the lack of identification has to do with an absence of pride.
[10:43:00 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I'm sorry, I forgot that you aren't fluent in English.
[10:43:02 AM] Matthew Rozsa: :P
[10:43:04 AM] Matthew Rozsa: ;)
[10:43:47 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I guess the best way of putting it is that, although I am proud of my Jewish heritage, I view it as being a part of my larger American identity.

[10:44:16 AM] dvoiris: so, you dont consuder Israel as important spiritcenter for jewish people?

[10:44:17 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I am an American who happens to be Jewish, just like I have friends who are American but happen to be of Irish descent, or are American but happen to be of Dominican descent, or are American but happen to be of Polish descent.
[10:44:48 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Of course it is an important spiritual center for the Jewish people.
[10:45:04 AM] Matthew Rozsa: What does that have to do with my relationship to the country?

[10:46:20 AM] dvoiris: is Israel for you for the same meaning like any ather country in the world, or it's smtng special?

[10:47:03 AM] Matthew Rozsa: It is special to me because I know that my ancestors came from that nation.
[10:48:17 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Even though my great-grandparents, when they immigrated to America, came from Hungary and not Israel (which at that time didn't exist anyway), the reality is that - ethnically speaking - they are Jews, descendants of the Hebrew nation that lived in the land of Israel before the Roman diaspora.
[10:48:27 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Israel is therefore the nation to which I can trace my lineage.
[10:48:41 AM] Matthew Rozsa: But it is not the nation that I consider to be my home.
[10:48:47 AM] Matthew Rozsa: It is not a country for which I have any sense of loyalty.[10:49:03 AM] Matthew Rozsa: I am an American and a Jew.
[10:49:11 AM] Matthew Rozsa: The two are not mutually exclusive.
[10:49:18 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Does this make sense?

[10:50:27 AM] dvoiris: well maybe I would fell the same if I were burn in America, but unfortunatly I'm russian jew, and I dont love Russia like you love America
[10:51:01 AM] dvoiris: thats why Israel is my prior country for the moment

[10:51:46 AM] Matthew Rozsa: If you move to Israel, won't you have to join the Israeli army?

[10:52:01 AM] dvoiris: no
[10:52:38 AM] dvoiris: I;ll be too old for the obligatory joyning, and I can go there only if I have a wish

[10:52:51 AM] Matthew Rozsa: What will you do if you move to Israel?
[10:52:55 AM] Matthew Rozsa: What will your career be?

[10:53:11 AM] dvoiris: studying first, and then will see

[10:53:18 AM] Matthew Rozsa: What do you think of America?

[10:53:28 AM] dvoiris: I dont have specific plans for that point
[10:53:39 AM] dvoiris: I like Amerika
[10:53:47 AM] dvoiris: but nithing more
[10:54:11 AM] dvoiris: I could live there
[10:54:22 AM] dvoiris: and maybe I will some day ;)

[10:54:33 AM] Matthew Rozsa: :)
[10:54:40 AM] Matthew Rozsa: We could hang out if you did that.

[10:54:48 AM] dvoiris: I know that )

[10:55:14 AM] Matthew Rozsa: :)
[10:55:21 AM] Matthew Rozsa: On that note, I am going to have to sign off Skype
10:55:24 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Talk to you later?

[10:55:30 AM] dvoiris: ok

[10:55:36 AM] Matthew Rozsa: Have a good night!

[10:55:41 AM] dvoiris: you too )

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arizona's Illegal Immigration Law

The following is a transcript of a Facebook conversation I had with my good friend (known here as Schlomo).

What do you think about this Arizona law and immigration reform issue?

I'm conflicted.
I don't think the law was necessarily racist in intent.
That said, in execution, there is almost no other potential outcome.
It doesn't just legalize racial profiling; it makes it mandatory.
On what basis can a police officer "suspect" that a driver is an illegal immigrant except by seeing the color of his or her skin as he or she passes by?
I think there are more effective ways to deal with the issue of illegal immigration.


The violation of civil liberties encompassed by this statute more than outweighs any possible benefits.

Yeah. Agreed.

What do you think?

I agree with what you said.
Except I do think the law had some racist intent.
I think people down there don’t only dislike Mexicans because they are here illegally.

I think there was definitely some racist intent.

it also has to do with their culture.

I just don't lump the law's supporters with, say, the Tea Partiers, who I think are overwhelmingly racist.
To me, the key question is this:
Do they have a legitimate potential grievance, or is the entire basis of their claim manufactured?

I was watching the back in forth between their head of police last night. He seemed pretty damn racist.

Tea Partiers don't have any legitimate grievance against Obama; they hate him because they hate him. This suggests that they are secretly motivated by racism.

Tea partiers are a different lot.

Although I don't doubt that a lot of the Arizona law's supporters are secretly motivated by racism, you can't deny that there IS a legitimate grievance many of them have.
Therefore you need to view the issue as being a more complex one.

Yeah I agree about there is a real immigartion issue.
That is legitimate.
But there is also a big racial issue in many people seeing the cultural change in the country.
Tea Partiers are def not the same as these people .

Well, there probably is some overlap, but I'm not discussing group demographics so much as I am underlying motivations.

Because if they really stood for what they claim they do, like goverernment not interfering, then they would be protesting this new law right now.

I agree with you.
I'm not denying that there are many whose support of this law is due to racism.
A former Giuliani speechwriter called it "white minority syndrome".
A lot of whites, seeing that their population numbers are being overtaken by Latinos and blacks, are lashing out.

Yeah man.

In their mind, illegal immigration and the election of our first black president are all symptoms of the same problem - they are losing "their" America to non-whites, and they are angry.

Like that police chief I was telling you about.
People like him won’t be around too much longer.

That said, the key difference is that - while there are many who oppose illegal immigration because they are racist - there are also many who are legitimately worried about the issue.
That's why I point out the difference between them and the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party movement has yet to articulate a cogent, viable reason for existing.
They are there simply because they hate President Obama.
They hate President Obama because he is black and they fear that his election marks a turning point in the dominance their race has long held in American life.
Opponents of illegal immigration are often just as racist - they worry that their numbers will be overwhelmed by Latinos, and that they will thus "lose" control of their America – BUT there are just as many who worry about security issues, the dangers posed by having an unregistered population taxing social services and other resources without our being able to properly accomodate them (due to unfamiliarity with their numbers), security issues, etc.
That's why I say it's more complex.

I agree with you on that.
I mean immigration is a real issue outside of race totally.
Now with this law it might have to be dealt with sooner than later.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

South Park and Free Speech

On November 2, 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered while bicycling to work. He was shot eight times, had two knives planted into his torso (one with a five-page note threatening Western governments, Jews, and one of van Gogh's colleagues), and was decapitated.

On January 2, 2010, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was attacked in his home by a man wielding an axe and knife. Although he managed to emerge from the ordeal unharmed (thanks to quick thinking and a conveniently located panic room), it was only the most recent in a long series of attempts on his life.

What did van Gogh and Westergaard do to deserve such brutal treatment? Simple: They'd both criticized Islam.

To be more specific, van Gogh made a short documentary named Submission, which focused on portions of the Quran (Islam's holiest book) that advocated misogynistic ideas and justified the mistreatment of women. Westergaard, on the other hand, drew a cartoon that depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed with a bomb attached to his turban, apparently in an effort to skewer that religion's alleged propensity toward violence. Since Islam prohibits any depiction of the image of Mohammad, that cartoon - combined with its offensive message - was used as grist to fuel hundreds of violent protests, including the aforementioned attacks against Westergaard himself.

Now two more Western artists may find themselves under attack for daring to disparage the Muslim faith - none other than Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the wildly popular profane animated sitcom, "South Park".

It all began last week, when - to celebrate their 200th episode - Parker and Stone decided to pay tribute to all of the celebrities and prominent historical figures they had mocked during their past thirteen years on the air. Since, back in 2005, they had attempted to support Westergaard during the initial furor that erupted around his Mohammad cartoon by showing the image of the Muslim prophet in one of their own episodes (a decision that was ultimately censored by their superiors at Comedy Central), it only seemed logical for them to make a second stab at free speech. Hence their 200th episode contained, among a wide number of other deliberately offensive images, that of the prophet Mohammad donning a bear costume.

For that silly image, Parker and Stone may wind up paying with their lives.

We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.

Such was the "warning" that appeared on the popular jihadist website Revolution Muslim. Accompanying the message was a picture of Theo van Gogh shortly after his murder (complete with stab wounds and severed head) and a listing of the home addresses of Parker and Stone, as well as the location of the studio in which they animate "South Park" episodes and the headquarters of Comedy Central.

Now let me make one thing clear - I do not always agree with the views espoused by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. While I don't find them "offensive" (at least in the traditional sense of that word), I often feel that their political views are surprisingly reactionary for a show as risque and controversial as their own. From their remarkably uncharitable characterization of Al Gore to their oversimplification of the origins of our economic crisis (although that episode at least contained a remarkably shrewd skewering of anti-Semitism), there have been repeated instances where I have watched an episode of "South Park" and walked away shaking my head at the message they've attempted to send. If nothing else, though, Parker and Stone are extraordinarily courageous in their willingness to step on toes - and push the boundaries of good taste - in the names of both comedy and, yes, meaningful satire.

Characteristically, Parker and Stone decided to react to the death threats with comic defiance. Since the 200th episode was only the first installment in a two-part series, they decided to go ahead with the second installment exactly as they had originally planned it, threats and intimidation be damned.

Comedy Central had other ideas. In a recent public statement, Parker and Stone explained:

In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it.

Four months ago, when the most recent attempt on Westergaard's life was made, I quoted a challenge that Westergaard posed to Muslims living in Western democracies:

Many of the immigrants who came to Denmark, they had nothing. We gave them everything - money, apartments, their own schools, free university, health care. In return, we asked one thing - respect for democratic values, including free speech. Do they agree? This is my simple test.

There is another test that exists today, one which the executives at Comedy Central failed. It exists in the form of a simple statement, issued almost three centuries ago, by the French philosopher Voltaire, whose principles established the foundation of that right to free speech which is so essential to liberty:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

I don't know whether the executives at Comedy Central agree or disagree with the position espoused by Parker and Stone on this issue. What I do know is that they have, for more than a decade, reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in financial rewards as a direct result of the things Parker and Stone were willing to say. Comedy Central is the direct beneficiary of the Voltairean maxim articulated above, owing their very existence to the fact that we live in a society which prizes the right to free expression as not only practically necessary, but morally right. It does not reflect well upon them that, when the stakes were raised, they were unwilling to go the distance in defending the principles on which they have built their corporate empire.

I deeply hope that, when the history of our era is written, this particular chapter does not prove to be a tragic one, particularly for the creators of "South Park". Regardless of what winds up happening, though, of this much I can be certain - Trey Parker and Matt Stone behaved, for better or for worse, bravely stood by the most important values of the free world. Comedy Central did not.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Platitudinous Mitt Romney

I recently picked up a copy of No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, a new book by Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Flipping it over so that I could read the description on the back of the jacket, I found that the publishers had printed the following excerpt from the text:

It is time for America to pursue the difficult course ahead, to confront the looming problems, to strengthen the foundations of our prosperity, and to secure the sources of our liberty and safety. The sacrifice and hard work will not sap our national energy; they will restore it. I'm one of those who believe that America is destined to remain as it has been since the birth of the republic - the brightest hope of the world. And for that belief, I do not apologize.

Listen, I am not naive. I understand that the writing of politicians - regardless of party, ideological faction, gender, race, creed, or country - tends to suck. As a rule of thumb, one can expect the literature churned out by humanity's would-be leaders to be shackled by slavish adherence to social convention, asphyxiated in anemic and turgid prose, and hopelessly contaminated with platitudes and lesser cliches (after all, anything more stimulating might scare off potential voters). I understand this and, to the greatest extent that I can, have made my peace with it.

That doesn't mean I won't ridicule the hell out of it.

What kind of person does Romney think would actually be inspired by this rhetoric? More disturbingly, to what set of opinions do supporters of the erstwhile governor believe he is acting as a foil? Does anyone really believe that Romney is rebutting the back of some other hypothetical book jacket?

It is time for America to retreat from the difficult course ahead, to ignore the looming problems, to weaken the foundations of our prosperity, and to needlessly imperil our liberty and safety. National energy be damned, we should settle into a culture of self-absorption and laziness. I'm one of those who believe America is doomed to never recapture its early glory - and am convinced that the rest of the world will mock us, and possibly post sticky notes on our backs when we aren't looking. But you shouldn't listen to me anyway, because I don't really have confidence in my own convictions.

Mitt Romney is the kind of man who proves that we need the likes of Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, and Jon Stewart to mock our public servants. There can be little doubt that if our national brain subsisted on nothing but the flaccid words of politicians, it would shrivel up and die.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why It Might Be Ron Paul

In light of several polls showing Ron Paul doing surprisingly well among contenders for the Republican presidential nomination - including the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference's straw poll - I felt it appropriate to reprint part of an addendum I added, on March 19, 2010, to my last post about the 2012 election.

For what it's worth, if the economy recovers before the 2012 election (and, of course, no other significant issues arise to tarnish the Obama Administration in the eyes of the American people), the chances are that:

i. The Republican Party will nominate a right-wing All Star - someone who, like Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern (for the Democrats) in 1972, is able to coast to the nomination on the enthusiasm of the GOP's grassroots base of right-wing ideological purists. This will happen because, in the absence of a climate in which defeating President Obama appears likely, the pragmatism that would normally compel Republicans to nominate a Mitt Romney will go by the wayside, leaving in its wake the vociferousness and zeal of the Tea Partiers and their ilk.

ii. Conventional wisdom among pundits dictates that the candidate of choice among these voters would be either former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee or former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The former can be ruled out of contention for the reasons I've already discussed (see; the latter, though admittedly popular among certain segments of the GOP base, is nevertheless reviled by libertarian purists, who are turned off by her lack of intellectual heft, close ties with the Christian right, and reputation for cronyism during her gubernatorial tenure. What's more, despite their passionate followings, a Republican party that is desperate to depose Obama may avoid both of them because they have been branded with the worst letter in American politics - a scarlet 'U' for 'unelectable'.

Besides, no matter how enthusiastic the supporters of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee may be, only one candidate has inspired the type of devoted following that conjures up memories of the Goldwater and McGovern revolutions - Congressman Ronald Ernest "Ron" Paul of Texas.

iii. Should the economy have recovered by 2012, I believe that Ron Paul's devoted and surprisngly widespread band of acolytes and well-organized grassroots campaign, combined with his cerebral mien, admirably consistent voting record, and novel ideological message, will make him the surprise victor of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

That said, the nomination won't come easily to Ron Paul. He will first emerge as a major contender after placing a surprisingly strong performance (either a flat-out victory or a higly-ranked runner-up slot) in one of the early Republican primaries, thus giving him momentum as the "upset" winner (the media has loved dark horses who defy low expectations since the days of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter). That said, although Huckabee and Palin would likely split establishment conservative votes between themselves, thereby permitting him to monopolize the right-wing base of the party, Mitt Romney will soon thereafter emerge as Paul's key adversary for the nomination. What Paul will have in the support of libertarian and right-wing ideologues, Romney will counter with the backing of the big business interests that control Republican party fortunes (which, despite Paul's laissez-faire policy proposals, remain deeply distrustful of his positions on foreign policy and the Federal Reserve), ideological moderates (especially in the Northeast and other blue states), Mormons who will want to produce their faith's first president, and establishment conservatives who will be frightened away from Paul by the perceived radicalism of his agenda. I suspect that a showdown would erupt, comparable to the Ford-Reagan nomination contest in 1976. However, while the moderate (Gerald Ford) ultimately defeated the radical (Ronald Reagan) in 1976, three factors will cause the radical (Paul) to defeat the moderate (Romney) this time around:
- Unlike Gerald Ford, Mitt Romney does not have the benefit of incumbency.
- The Reagan revolution of 1980 significantly altered the ideological composition of the Republican party from what it had been in Gerald Ford's day; while Ford had many moderates whose support he could tap, Romney will find that the supply has significantly dwindled over the past thirty-six years.
- The latent racism that permeates the extreme right has caused an intense backlash against Barack Obama that will add extra fuel to their desire to nominate one of their own. This hatred did not exist against any of the potential Democratic presidential candidates in 1976, including their eventual nominee, Jimmy Carter.

iv. Given the (generally well-founded) accusations of bigotry surrounding the Tea Party Movement, the chances are that Ron Paul would want to add some ethnic and/or religious diversity to his ticket. He'll also want to pick someone who is close enough to Paul's own ideology so as to not alienate his supporters, while at the same time capable of dispeling popular concerns about Paul's radicalism. Finally, he'll want someone who can bring balance to the ticket in age (Paul will be 77 in 2012) and geography (Paul hails from Texas). The most likely selections for Ron Paul include Jeff Flake (Congressman from Arizona), the Mormon and tax-hating libertarian; Peter Schiff, a Connecticut economist who was among the few perceptive and brave enough to diagnose the underlying problems behind our economic crash before they occurred, and who attempted to warn the public before it happened (he is also Jewish); and Marco Rubio, the young and handsome rising star who is likely going to become Florida's next senator (and is Cuban-American).

v. Barack Obama would defeat Ron Paul by one of the greatest popular vote landslides in American presidential history. This would be in no small part due to the success of his first term as president; however, the media will no doubt focus on Ron Paul's radicalism as a central issue of the campaign, much as they did for Goldwater in 1964 and McGovern in 1972, causing a knee-jerk reaction against it among the independent voters who are so critical in deciding elections. In addition, the lukewarm support Paul will receive from the well-moneyed interests that so often make-or-break GOP candidacies will significantly hinder his fortunes (despite what will probably be overwhelming financial support from grassroots constituencies). Finally, Ron Paul - unlike John McCain in 2008 - has made questionable comments on racial topics in the past, the significance of which will be accentuated by the fact that he will be running against our first black president. All of this will no doubt combine to put Ron Paul on the wrong end of the most one-sided popular vote margin in American presidential politics since the Johnson-Goldwater and Nixon-McGovern contests. His electoral vote tally will probably be somewhat better than those of his predecessors (he'll likely claim the entire South, Plains, and Rocky Mountain states), but not by much.

vi. What will the ultimate legacy of a Ron Paul campaign be? There is a temptation to claim that, like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, he will cause an influx of new voters into the fold of one of America's two major parties, significantly altering its ideological composition and the future course of American politics and thereby turning a landslide defeat into a historical victory. The problem with this, in Ron Paul's case, is that he would merely be repeating a revolution that has already happened; Barry Goldwater already brought the Paulesque elements into the Republican Party back in 1964, and Ronald Reagan handed them the reins of government in 1980. Arguments over whether the Reaganites were ultimately loyal to their own principles notwithstanding, the reality is that Paul wouldn't be forging a new coalition so much as he would be infusing energy into an old one. While many of the Republican Party's power-brokers will be leery of him, the chances are that his resounding defeat will enable them to find ways to win over his supporters in future elections while luring back those elements who defected during his campaign. In short, it is doubtful that Ron Paul will leave the Republican Party looking that much different than it had been before his brief time at its helm.

That said, there is one significant impact Ron Paul will have on the American political landscape. Since its creation during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, the Federal Reserve has been considered an untouchable institution - pundits and citizens may question its practices and policies, but rarely if ever has it been deemed acceptable to openly oppose its very existence. Although Paul's war against the Federal Reserve will be depicted at the time as radical, the very fact that his voice will at last be heard will end the long-standing taboo against challenging its existence. Considering that America does have a historical precedent for destroying national banks that control its economy (see Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, and American politics in the 1830s), people who begin to mull over Paul's opposition to the Federal Reserve and find that opposing its ilk is NOT un-American will gradually become emboldened to challenge it on their own. When you combine that with the growing populism caused by our recent economic calamity, what you get is a climate where the Federal Reserve may be in dear trouble in the near future.