Thursday, November 25, 2004

Review of Leo Strauss' Persecution and the Art of Writing

Sometimes one has a learning experience that really changes one's perspective. Reading Leo Strauss' Persecution and the Art of Writing is such an experience. I remember once reading a volume of David Halivni's Mekorot u' Mesorot and coming away transformed. The Talmud took on a whole new meaning. Each line of text was a different story than you originally suppose. It is right there in front of you waiting to be uncovered. Reading early biblical criticism, while not as easily convincing, is similar.

Persecution's goal is to teach us how to read in between the lines of certain texts. Those of us who study contemporary philosophy occasionally get a bit condescending when it comes to the medievals. (Unless he is reading too much in to them, which I doubt) Strauss reminds us that the medievals might have been backward, but they were not stupid. The medieval philosophers had to do their best work under the most adverse of conditions. Freedoms, such as we have now did not exist for most of recorded human history. To write and live one had to be careful. Censorship was ubiquitous. The geniuses who knew that they were writing for posterity needed to get certain messages out. Many of the subjects they needed to publicize might sound trivial now. But keep in mind that in the 16th century the soul's immortality was a VERY important topic of discussion for some of the top minds of the age.

Spinoza, Yehuda Halevi, and Maimonides all had things that they were trying desperately to say, but could not. Strauss shows us the secret to deciphering these authors. Strauss really reveals the genius of the authors he speaks about and renews my respect for their brilliance, and Strauss' too. Hume could not publish his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion in his lifetime as what he said was too controversial. It was controversial despite the fact that Hume never really tips his hand and tells us what he is really thinking. With Hume we see the first light of free thought. Before that we have secret messages embedded in texts which we have to uncover. The methodology varies from author to author, and Strauss doesn't give away too many secrets, but he definitely give us a new way to look at old philosophers.

This book was published some 50 years ago, but it is still as relevant today as it was then. Strauss, is by the way, taken to be one of the godfathers of the neocon movement. I suppose if one were to read between some lines here, one can see in the essay on Yehuda Halevi, why.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Post-election "analysis": They're just not that in to you

I have seen now countless hours of c-span, colloquia, and discussion, zillions of pages of blogging, op-eding, and punditry - all on the analysis of why Kerry lost the election. Countless theories have been put forth. I am pretty sick of them. By now we all know them by heart: no clear message, not sufficient youth vote, gays, irrational fear of terror, . . . The whole thing bores me to tears.

The Democrats just need to face reality: The country is just not in to you. Move on.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Yet another backlash has begun

I recently complained about the lack of real diversity on my campus after an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education did the same for the average US campus. I have since discovered that the Columbia Spectator has complained about this two days before me, the New York Times did it a week later, and so has today's Wall Street Journal. Now there's diversity for you.

But the story gets worse. To democrats and liberals this lack of diversity is either a good thing or simply a joke. (See the famous Brandom quotes about liberals just being smarter. . .) However, it is the same kind of joke that got Bush elected, and will start coming back to bite these people in the butt pretty soon. Using the American university as a large liberal indoctrination center will encourage lots of blowback (unintended consequences). How so? Well, today's NY Times has a piece on Liberty School of Law. The school's founder the Rev. Jerry Falwell said that "If our graduates wind up in the government, they'll be social and political conservatives. If they wind up as judges, they'll be presiding under the Bible." This, frankly, scared the hell out of me. But they are attracting students and justifying their existence on the grounds that there are not two sides presented on campuses in any discussion on any issue. There is no liberal and conservative view, but rather just a liberal view, and they are providing the conservative one. So we will end up with two types, liberals and conservatives, and this country will get locked in to ever murkier battles about some fundamental issues and we will be so polarized that half the country will be essentially democratically disenfranchised.

Liberals would do well to realize what is going on and not react by becoming even more liberal. That has been the strategy till now, and all it got them is a very conservative Executive branch, a very conservative legislative branch, a soon-to-be very conservative judicial branch, and a very large chip on their shoulder. It is time for liberals to take stock of themselves and their causes.

Here is some advice:
1) As many of my friends would say: "Stop hatin'". Get over the fact that you lost and stop hating Bush and conservatives. Stop patronizing them as if you know better. Most likely you don't. If you do, you certainly aren't smart enough to convince conservatives of it.

2) Prioritize. Find out what is important and pursue it. Do not pursue every single cause you think goes with the liberal package. If you think the environment is really the most important thing on the national agenda, pursue it. Tell us clearly why it is so important and how you will fix it. Do not blame anyone for not doing it, just pursue those issues. Do not think you will win every battle though. Do not then go for the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the FCC, tort reform, gay marriage, socialized medicine, more money for everything, bigger government, smaller military, more museums, abortion promotion, feeding the whales, helping the Palestinians, ignoring the Sudanese, supporting the UN, ending globalization, and whatever else liberals are vigorously pursuing these days.

3) Compromise. Realize that if you have any long-term interests, there will be short term compromises that you will have to make. Moreover, you are already making them because you have no choice, so you might as well look magnanimous doing it. Pretend to talk about how silly the gay marriage idea was. Agree that the Patriot act might help prevent some terrorism. Realize that Saddam was not a good guy and should have been removed regardless of whether he actually was in bed with bin Laden, or he just gave large sums of money to suicide bombers.

4) Listen. In a non-patronizing way, take a conservative to lunch. Find out what he or she cares about. Do not read a pamphlet called something like "How to win a debate with a conservative" beforehand. Do not try to be right. You will just end up realizing you are right, and the person you had lunch with will realize why he hates you and wants to screw over everything you hold dear. You will come off as sanctimonious and arrogant, like you usually do. This time, really listen. Realize that you two share the same country, and right now, he is on top. One day you might be, but now he is. Even if you disagree, you must learn to respect his point of view. This is what we have been teaching liberals since J. S. Mill. It is about time liberals take their own advice.

5) Think. Think about a) why you are a liberal and b) what that means to you. You might just find that you have accepted a whole package of ideas just because they were bundled together by Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, or the Village Voice. How many people out there really believe in every last one of the liberal dogmas? I certainly do not. Nor could I possible believe in every conservative dogma, nor could any sane human. Allow yourself the freedom to have your own opinions about everything. Assume that there are some things you might agree to if you can make a conservative friend. It won't hurt, I promise.

All of these will win you points with conservatives, will not change much anyway in "their" favor, and might get you a concession or two on something important. Moreover it might stem the flow of people leaving liberal and Democratic camps in droves.

Universities like Falwell's thrive on being the "alternative viewpoint". If liberals wire a bit less to the left there would be no need for such strong alternatives, and they would loose momentum.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

As if you needed more reasons not to trust the UN

While I am sure the UN is doing important work in such important places as Namibia, it becomes clearer and clearer that when it come to real problems, it has an interest only in making gestures and sits around hoping that no one notices what it is really doing.

Three things in the news lately.

First, oil for food money (which was being embezzled left and right by the higher ups at the UN was going from Saddam Hussein to the families of suicide bombers. I wonder if anyone at the UN knew about this, or was it like everything else there - shrouded in secrecy and official cover-up?

Second, they have apparently asked anti-Semites to write the official UN report on anti-Semitism. I hear a literary version of Durban here. (For those of you who remember, Durban was where a major UN conference on racism pretty much turned in to a Jew-hating fest.) The UN might want to consider asking people who are familiar with the being a victim of anti-semitism, not a perpetrator, to write the report. I am sure they would never ask Sharon to write the report of the Palestinian problem.

Lastly, there is the month-old issue that the UN is knowingly employing Hamas members to help with various routine relief projects.

I want to talk about this last thing. We all know that the UN has been complicit in aiding Palestinian gunmen (famous ambulance video here.). But this is far more insidious. Why? Because Hamas in the territories, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, derives some of its street credibility from their suicide bombings and other terrorist operations. However, most of their popularity comes from the fact that they are a social institution. Hamas (and Hezbollah) operate schools, Mosques, and welfare programs of all sorts. It is THIS that makes them popular, and feeds their campaigns for "votes", funds, and probably most significantly, "martyrs" for the cause. Employing members of Hamas to do welfare activities puts them in higher profile places where Hamas can take partial credit for the work that the UN is doing. Thus the Hamas membership rises, and the UN can claim that they are politically neutral.

It is this sort of activity that perpetuates terrorist popularity. Classic bait-and-switch. They lure you in with free food and education, and then get you to blow yourself up "for the cause". The UN is providing much of the bait.

UNRWA is largely supported by American and Canadian tax dollars (40 percent). The US has supported many bad causes in its day. Some because there was a higher political goal, some out of bad judgment, and some out of ignorance. What is our excuse for this one, and where are the big complainers?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Arafat Legacy

Lately one reads a lot about the Arafat Legacy. To some he is a Hero, to others a murderous butcher. I am assuming that those who view him as a hero cannot understand those who view him as a terrorist, and vise versa.

I think that the reason for the divergence of attitudes is obvious. It is not that one side likes terrorism, and the other does not. It is also not that one side likes the keeping the Palestinians in the quandary that they are in and the other does not. (If you fall in to one of those categories, I probably do not like you, and this does not apply to you.)

It goes back to a difference that is the foundation of the theory of Just War, one that I have mentioned many times before.

Arafat is a terrorist. He is a murderer of school children. He violated every internationally agreed-upon norm of civility and human decency. He inspired the last 40 years of depraved anti-civilian barbarism, including the Sept 11 attacks. There are few words (in English, Arabic has some that come close) to describe the inhumanity of Arafat.

Arafat also has goals that one should be able to sympathize with. He wants to liberate his people from foreign rule. He wants political autonomy and national self-determination and independence.

Let us make believe that there were absolutely no political options that Arafat had for negotiating with Israel. Let us also pretend that Israel was mistreating and politically disenfranchising the Palestinians. And let us further stipulate that the Palestinians had a central negotiating body, and a whole bunch of other reasonable conditions were met. . . It would seem to me that he is then (under our hypothetical scenario)fighting something resembling a just war.

However, regardless of the justice of his cause, he is fighting the war unjustly.

Those who praise Arafat forget this distinction. They seem to think that if the cause is just then all means to achieve it are Ok. But it is not. If your cause is just, then you can still be a vile terrorist. All you need to do is to deliberately target one school bus. You still have a just cause, but you are a murderer.

One must not praise a man and forget how despicable he was, but of course one must not let the actions of terrorism make us forget that despite the abhorence of their ways, there is still a legitimate problem, and they have a grievance that needs to be resolved.

Arafat's legacy was that he managed to blur this distinction. He blurred it so bad that he got a Noble Prize from an organization that could not see past what they saw was his just cause, and his merely temporary decision to use just means to attempt to resolve it.

So the propaganda goes back and forth. One side recalls the oppression of the Palestinian people. The other side recalls Arafat's strategy: target the innocent.

Arafat was the wrong leader for the Palestinian people. Had there been someone else 40 years ago, to lead the Palestinians, who understood that one does not take a just cause and fight it unjustly, there likely would be a lot of messes that the world is not in today.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Stickers for all - a proposed compromise

In the latest set of battles between the religiously zealous and the scientifically zealous, we find the new sticker war. Creationists want a sticker on school textbooks claiming that evolution is not a fact but merely a theory. The scientists (and ACLU, et al) claim that 1) it is a fact, and 2) the stickers would violate the separation between church and state.

Now, everyone knows that evolution is not a fact, though it is about as close as scientists get to one. There is a LOT of evidence for it, though there are a lot of internal disputes about many details. And 2, it is clear that the only real challenge to the scientific story comes from religion, or religiously motivated thinkers.

(In some sense this is reminiscient of our last election.)

In the spirit of ecumenical harmony, I would like to propose a compromise that I suspect would make both sides upset. We allow the stickers to be put on every science book in Georgia. In exchange, the scientists get to put a corresponding sticker on each bible in Georgia that says “This Bible contains material on many topics, both scientific, historical and ethical. All of this is mythology, not a fact, regarding the origin of the cosmos, humanity, civilization, and ethics. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

Thus we have some Church in the State and some State in the Church. Good idea, no?

Saturday Night in Cuba?

On Saturday night I went with a friend and his wife to a Cuban club in Union City/West New York, NJ. I had a lot of fun. It took me forever (and lots of drinks) to get up the courage to actually dance, but the food was good, and I had no idea what was going on, being the only person there who did not speak any Spanish. It was really interesting how friendly everyone was was. Strangers were trying really hard and being really tolerant in the process of teaching me salsa and merengue. I frankly suck. But everyone was great. I had a great time.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Lubavitchers in my life

On Friday night I went to the local synagogue in my neighborhood. I did this because I need to use a synagogues facilities on Wednesday for something my parents requested, and when I met the Rabbi he told me to come by on Friday night. So I thought the polite thing to do would be to show up. I did. The Rabbi was a Lubavitch rabbi, and the synagogue itself was a very mixed crowd of all sorts of people.

After the prayer, the rabbi insisted I stay for a meal afterward. Apparently there was a shabbaton of sorts. So before I could say no, I was already seated in front of a wrapped up chala and piece of gifelte fish at a table with about a half a dozen complete strangers. This was all fine. Everyone was pretty friendly.

There was a speaker there at dinner. She was a conservative woman who had written a bit about the Lubavitch community worldwide. She spoke really well. Her job was not to fawn over the community, but to talk about her experiences, which she did wonderfully. She obviously did not feel compelled to toe any line or hold back from saying anything, and yet the whole speech was full of praise, not the kind of praise you get from a fan, but rather from one who really has been well treated by the community, despite her status as an outsider. Her stories were fun and entertaining, talking about the different Chabad communities she visited and places she saw.

That got me to thinking about the various times in my life I have experiences the Chabad community. They have been actively doing outreach all my life. They started just after Israel's Six Day War, when there was 1) a strong pro-Israel feeling on the planet as a response to the war, and 2) when the counterculture zeitgeist was taking off, and Chabad was as counterculture as any hippy commune.

I remember two things from my childhood. The first was their "Army of Hashem" thing that they sent out. Everyone got their little newsletter, and I think everyone was able to get higher rank if they sent something in or did something. I forget what it was, but I do not think I was too involved, but I am pretty sure we all got their weekly or monthly newsletters.

The second thing I recall was their campaigns to have people purchase letters in torah scrolls. They had individuals go from door to door selling letters in torah scrolls. IT must have cost a dollar or a few dollars to sponsor the writing in a scroll, and you got to choose which letter you would be sponsoring. I remember my when one of these people came to my grandparents' home he bought letters for all of us. I think it was the first letter of our names.

As I grew up this all faded. Both of these things fell off my radar and I think fell off the radar of much of mainstream orthodoxy.

When I was in college Chabad took on other connotations. Chabad became rather obsessed with the Messiah. They were always rather obsessed with it, but then it took on a face, ie, the Rebbe, Schneerson. When he died, it looked for a moment like Chabad was going to become the new Christianity. At the time I had been taking a class with David Berger, the academic who wrote fiercely against the sect cautioning that they were breaking off from mainstream Judaism. I had a chat or two with him about it. He took this very seriously.

Ten years later this seems to have died down. One does not hear too many people too openly insist that the Rebbe never died, or is divine, or will be resurrected. . . Chabad has resumed, albeit without traditional leadership. There was never a new Rebbe appointed. One hopes that they do that soon.

I also remember rather fondly ending up in Gam Gam in Venice one Friday night. I had a quite pleasant meal there right on the water. Gam Gam is a Kosher restaurant operated by the Chabad community there. Again, I am not sure how I got there, but I it was fun.

I also recall the civilian rabbi who came in to Fort Knox for a little while each Sunday. He too was Lubavitch. He was not, to be hones, the most charismatic fellow, but he was nice, and he was there. This meant a lot to us there in Basic Combat Training. Basic Combat Training is brutal. The rabbi's presence each Sunday was comforting and reassuring, even if you are like me, one who is not too interested in God or religion or any such stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

My very diverse school [sic]

The last issue of my university newpaper had the reports of a poll askingthe faculty members who they plan on voting for. There were not many respondents and I have no idea how representative the answers were, but here is what basically happened. Every respondednt wrote almost the same thing. They all were planning to vote for Kerry. They of course all offered the same disclaimer: They would rather vote for Nader, but given the way the 2000 election went, they were going to stick with Kerry.

I remember marvelling to myself two weeks ago when I read it that I am in the most diverse city on the planet, most likely in one of the most diverse educational institutions in the world, and still the faculty all manages to have the same opinion. I mean there were blacks who gave that answer, whites, hispanics, women, gays, you name it. What the hell is the point of diversity if everyone ends up with the same opinion at the end? Isn't diversity supposed to be about the clas of opinions. Isn't it supposed to force us to question our dogmas, instead of reenforcing them? According to Professor Bauerlein things are no different anywhere else, and moreover he thinks it is a bad idea. I, of course, could not agree more. Why tout diversity if you are not really diverse, but merely colorful. Walpaper can be colorful, but that does not make for a good university.

Man, I just wish I really believed all these academic, intellectual, cultural and religious dogmas that get thrown out. Life would be so much easier if I just hated Bush, loved Nader, believed in the labor theory of value, read Harry Potter and the Da Vinchy Code, watched football, ate in McDonalds, wore whatever happens to be fashionable at the moment, and was very superficial. But I do none of those things. So life just sucks for me, doesn't it?

Veterans Day Parade

Today I got to March in the Veteran's Day Parade. I hope I did not get on TV or anything. It was weird watching all these people videotape you and take pictures of you though. It was not a bad event and we even had some fun.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Review of Penelope Maddy's Realism in Mathematics

Maddy's Realism in Mathematics is a spirited defense of the position she calls “compromise Platonism” and “set theoretic realism” in the philosophy of mathematics. The position is that Mathematical objects, sets in particular, exist, just like ordinary medium size objects exist.

The book is really good, and I won’t really summarize it here. But basically what happens is that she defend this position on epistemological grounds. Maddy claims that we have the same epistemic access to mathematical objects as we do for any other. (This is a way of handling one of the famous Benacerraf problems.) That is we form beliefs about sets, from a psychological perspective, the same way we do about ordinary objects. We also perceive sets in the same way we perceive ordinary objects. There is also a section on defending the axioms of set theory. We need some intuitive grounds for choosing the axioms that set theory uses, as they are the other part of the problem. The sets are one thing, and the axioms for set theory another.

I have some problems with the book which I will outline below, however, despite the length of the critiques, the book was a good, and important read. It is definitely going to stay an important book in the philosophy of mathematics for a while.

Much of what follows are just random points that I wanted to make about the book.

My first problem with the book is that I really do not see the similarity between forming beliefs about objects and sets. They just seem way too different. The similarities are apparent, and I can’t help thinking that a question is being begged somewhere. We form beliefs about set, but that is if the sets exist. If not the beliefs we form are merely a convenient fiction, or a convenient way of talking.

What if all the sets disappeared and only their elements were left? What would the world look like? Maddy often jumps from elements to elements of a set. I find that jump a bit unintuitive.

Maddy often talks as if number supervenes on objects. (see for example on p 158.) As long as there are objects, there is number. I find that kind of talk odd.

On p 89 the following claim is made: “Knowledge of numbers is knowledge of sets because numbers are properties of sets.” Is that a valid inference? I do not see how that follows.

Axioms are not really all that intuitive. Their usefulness in math is not, contrary to Maddy’s claim, akin to indispensability arguments in physics. We would not loose arithmetic if the axiom of choice were forbidden. Mathematics would just be somewhat more impoverished. But we could still do much of it. There is nothing wrong with that. No one ever complained that there were too few fundamental forces or things that follow from them. The more axioms we have, the more robust our mathematics is. But adding an axiom because it is somewhat useful is not the same as adding something that fundamental that it is indispensable to the discipline.

Along with that, Maddy makes use of a notion of “intrinsic support” which seemed unclear. I thought the analogy with science was misleading too.

The sixth problem I had was that when talking about “extrinsic support” for axioms the phrase “verifiable consequences” is used in a very strange way. Maddy is using it to mean that an axiom can be said to have verifiable consequences if we show that the axiom that the theorem relies on can be proved without it. But as far the theorems that do not need the axiom, it shows us nothing, ie, at best the axiom is unnecessary, and at worst it is false. And what about the theorems that can’t be proved without the axiom? Are those the unverifiable ones? The existence of those theorems tells us that there are cases for which the axiom is “unverifiable.” And the verifiable ones tell us that the axiom is superfluous. Thus it seems that the condition is, at the very least, odd. So, in looking for “extrinsic conditions” for supporting a given axiom, being verifiable, is unhelpful. (And keep in mind that the way it appears, “verifiable” is only used as a partial analogy with science.)

“Natural” is also not used in the same way when assessing extrinsic support. Some mathematical consequences are considered “natural”. It is hard to say what that means though. The given example is the “zigzag pattern of separation properties in the projective hierarchy generated by projective determinacy (and hence SC) is considered more natural than the Pi-side pattern of V=L.” Without explaining what this means a pattern like: /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\. . . . seems more natural than /\__________. . . . I personally do not see this. Certainly there is a sense in which the former has a certain appeal, but I am not sure if it is a mathematically significant appeal. Here is why. There is a very simple analogue to our “unnatural” pattern. That is the distribution of primes among the even versus odd numbers. That pattern is /\___________, where the first (and only) “peak” is the number 2, the only even number. The rest lie with the odds. So I am not sure what to make of the “natural” criterion and why it is valuable as a guide to valuable intuitions.

Next, a problem I had with chapter 2 is that just because for some reason we form set in our head, and we can generate a coherent epistemology, that does not show we have a coherent metaphysics. Isn’t the whole epistemological discussion contingent on the metaphysics being correct? If not it is like having an epistemology about unicorns. I can tell you how we see them, but only if they are really there. I can even tell you how to see them if they are not, and that is a problem.

Finally, and this is no fault of Maddy’s, and to her credit she deals with a nascent theory, the penultimate section deals with issues of structuralism. The section seems like it would benefit from more work on structuralism. What may stem from Shapiro, and the promising work emerging from Koslow’s logic were not available when she wrote the book, though it might be worth rewriting the section given new developments.

Sorry these were really schetchy notes on the book. But it was definitely worth the effort reading it.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Day the Enlightenment Went Out?

The NY Times has a piece by some Professor, Gary Wills whose main point seems to be that the reason Bush got elected was because people are fairly uncritical and Faith, or misinformation triumphed over fact. Naturally he is wrong. That article was pathetic. The election does not symbolize a triumph of belief over fact. I would be willing to bet anything that your average redneck, if told by Bush himself that there was no connection between Quaida and Iraq would still vote for Bush. Could you see him going to church on Sunday in his pick-up truck saying that he no longer can vote for Bush because he found out this interesting fact, that Iraq and Qaida are not really connected? Or he is going hunting with his friend and he just shoots a deer, and in their quiet moment when they just got finishing gutting their kill, he tells his friend that he is not too sure about how much he actually believes in the BS that the good reverend Billy Bob spouts every Sunday. You think he will then decide, well, as long as I am having religious doubts, I will go back to standard working class values like socialized health care, legalization of weed, and gay marriage, and then go vote Democrat? These people do not vote for Bush because they believe in some nutty things. They believe in those nutty things because they are they type to vote for Bush.

This was a very pathetic article spouting the standard crappy lines that let the left keep feeling good about itself. It allows the left to retain its self-righteousness by saying that everyone who doesn't agree with them is a medieval, backward, racist, and that the reason why their country did not win is not because people evaluated the merits of the candidates and more people liked their opponents. But rather because there are more nuts out there than sane people. That happens to be true, but they forget that they are just as nutty for believing these political dogmas, as these other types are believeing academic dogmas. If you tell a Kerry supporter that Iraq did sponser terrorism to the tune of $25,000 per suicide bomber, thus make Saadam Heussain a major sponsor of terrorism he will simply counter that there was one terrorist group that we have no evidence that he supported, namely Quaid. Thus it is bad to want him ousted, because we have no evidence he supported our particular terrorist group. . . . The economic dogmas that lefties believe make even less sense.

I hate these fucking NY Times writers who have a mandate to write whatever sounds good to their lefty audience regardless of how little sense it makes, and what is even worse is that smart people read it and get suckered in to thinking it makes sense. This guy probably told the same thing to his history class back at Northwestern, and they all probably wrote it down, and it will probably be on their final exam, and we will see the rise of another stupid and uncritical generation of students.

However, and we see this in the end of Professor Wills' piece, I do suspect that now we will start seeing a lot of begging for favors. They will all take the same form: Bush is a miserable fanatic. BUT, to prove he is a uniter and not a divider, and to heal this country, he should really do what the democrats want him to do. Naturally he can't do that because he got elected precisely because he said he would not do those things.

So as much as I want Bush to change his backward ways about many things, the democrats put him in a corner where he had to appeal to those who would never let him change. I do take solace in the fact that it is usually the right who takes the bold and often unpopular steps toward Justice, and conciliation. (eg, Nixon going to China, signing Title IX, getting out of Vietnam. Reagan making MLK day a federal holiday, Begin making peace with Egypt. Sharon Pulling out of Gaza. . . ) The left never has a mandate to do these things. They are generally supported by the fanatics and strongly opposed by the right and the moderates. The right is generally unopposed except by people farther to the right than them, and NOONE will ever care what they think.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Let the healing begin

This whole election is really over. Finished. It is now time to heal and rebuild. The media tends to tell us that we are a divided nation. If that is true (and I am skeptical) then we must start to rebuild, with the Republicans toning down on their retrogressive religious agenda, and the Democrats getting rid of some of their rabid hate of anyone different then them.

But that is not the real healing I am talking about. The real healing we need in this country is not on a political party scale, but rather on a personal and individual one.

You may recall a scene toward the end of Orwell's 1984, after he was tortured and he finally loved big brother. There was a point when he could hold out no longer and he just gave in, despite what he really believed, and what he really felt.

I too remember that I was on the verge of caving, and I had many sane friends who actually did. In New York there was tremendous pressure to hate Big Brother. People expressing support for Bush were socially ostracized, talked about, vilified, isolated, condemned, shamed, and otherwise invited to feel like they were mediaeval simpletons. I personally experienced all of this. I was censured, insulted, yelled at, and made fun of.

In response I had to stop communicating with some of my more rabid friends. I spoke with exactly zero of my academic colleagues, as they were all flaming Nader-is-a-bit-too-far-to-the-Right types. I took to lashing out on my students for their poor and sloppy thinking about this, even though they were all just repeating what they had heard in their sociology classes. I had no meaningful discussions about this election, because those who stayed my friends tended to agree with me, and those who did not agree were impossible to talk to.

I became very close with those who agreed with me. We hunkered down and came to feel like it was us against the world - and that really built up a sense of camaraderie.

But it is over. Perhaps in a few days when the flow of Bush-really-stole-the-elections-again-.-.-.-I-saw-them-burning-Kerry-ballots!!!!!! emails dies down, we can start to rebuild our friendships.

I know it is easy to say this when you are the " winner". I like to think that I would have said this regardless of who won the election. But I really do want my New York back. I really want us to go back to the way things were. Bush got the votes of 40% of the state, and 25% of my county. That makes 1 in every 4 Brooklynites who probably feel like they won the election but lost their friends.

I am grateful to have had many friends who place friendship before politics, though few of them could stand to mix friendship with politics. I thank them.

I would like to make a public appeal to the good citizens (and visitors) of my beloved city: Can't we all just get along?

The time has come to make these next four years one of progress and coexistence. We can be bitter and hate each other and sit in wait for the next election so we can get another chance, we can continue to feel resentment, OR, we can work toward making New York a better place now. I think that it is time New York had a Take Your Formal Political Rival To Lunch week. Become friends again. Hook up. Forget politics for a bit. Talk about the future. We have three and a half years before we have to see another political campaign add that we care about. Relish it. Because, come 2008, you will not be on speaking terms.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Why this election sucks

I am so glad that the election season is over, and we can stop listening to all this election crap. Now I predict the courts will be doing battle for another few days and there will be fodder enough for countless books and angry Americans to complain to their grandchildren.

This has been a crappy campaign, and whoever wins should not be too proud of himself. Whoever the winner is, he failed to unite the American people. The electorate will be angry for the next four yeas.

This campaign saw the rewriting of all the election rules. Thanks to the internet, campaign donations were transparent, a very annoying fact. Second, all sort of loopholes were found to evade every campaing finance law and we saw the financing of campaigns by billionarires with juvenile agendas. Third, campaign propoganda hit an all time low with the likes of Michael Moore's junk, and all the partisian follow-up. Fourth, the debates made any sane person want to cry about the fact that one of the two debators will be the next president. Fifth, the number of lawyers involved in this election threatens to rewrite the nature of democracy itself, where elections are not decided by the people, and they are won by the side who can disqualify the most of their opponents votes. Sixth, third party candidates are increasingly marginalized. After the last election where it looked like there was a shot, now it will be a long time for a third part candidate to get any respect. Finally, thanks to the entertainment industry, we will most likely have the highest politically-illiterate number of people voting ever. The election can normally rely on the fact that people who know absolutely NOTHING about the candidates are just not all that interested in voting, so that the actual electorate is somewhat informed. This year, we all suspect that there will be a high number of people voting just for the sake of pressing the shiny buttons in the secret box. MTV did a great disservice in getting out the stoner vote. These people are neiter informed nor concerned about the fate of the nation. There is no need for them to vote .

Knowing that the winner will not change the face of this countryvery much, many Americans will look back on this elecetion and ask themselves "What was I thinking?" To them I answer "absolutely nothing".