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Archive for July 2010




Via the Daily Telegraph, a story that is fascinating on quite a number of levels. Here’s the key extract:

Israeli rabbis are to clamp down on the growing number of devout Jewish women wearing the burka by declaring the garment an item of sexual deviancy. At the insistence of the husbands of some burka-wearing women, a leading rabbinical authority is to issue an edict declaring burka wearing a sexual fetish that is as promiscuous as wearing too little.

A small group of ultra-orthodox Jews in the town of Beit Shemesh chose to don the burka, usually associated with women in repressive Islamist regimes, three years ago in a bid to protect their modesty.

Since then, the habit has spread to five other Israeli towns causing alarm among ultra-orthodox religious leaders who once saw it as a relatively harmless eccentricity – even though the number of Jewish burka wearers is not thought to be more than a few hundred.

“There is a real danger that by exaggerating, you are doing the opposite of what is intended [resulting in] severe transgressions in sexual matters,” Shlomo Pappenheim, a member of the rabbinical authority preparing to make the edict, was quoted as saying.

Ultra-Orthodox women are required to dress conservatively and keep their heads covered with a scarf, hat or wig when in public.

But even that was not enough for some, who insisted that only by covering their faces and wearing multiple layers of clothes to hide the shape of their bodies can they really be chaste.

“At first, I just wore a wig,” one burka-wearing woman told the Haaretz newspaper. “Now when I see a woman with a wig, I pray to God to forgive her for wearing that thing on her head.”


Liberals in the United States love to laud European ways as a cudgel against American conservative exceptionalism. But they don’t admire all European ways, Ezra Klein on Lindsey Graham’s possible floating of a constitutional amendment to repeal birthright citizenship:

How then to explain Graham’s announcement — on Fox News, no less — that he’s stepping into the immigration issue with a proposal that’s much more divisive, and much more dangerous? “I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here,” he said. “Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake. … We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child’s automatically not a citizen.”

Putting aside the cruelty of the position, which penalizes children for the sins of their parents, this is certainly “bringing up immigration.” And indeed, it’s trying to use birthright citizenship as a wedge issue against the Democrats. Worse, it centers the conversation on illegal immigration rather than the immigration system. That’s a much more toxic, and much less productive, conversation.

Many European states have restricted birthright citizenship within the last generation. It’s probably a corollary to a welfare state. I happen to agree with Will Wilkinson that birthright citizenship is probably a major impediment to any resolution of immigration flows where there has to be compromise, because the stakes are just too high for everyone involved.



Democralatry strikes again!

Jeff Jarvis:

There are those in the press and government who don’t like or trust the public they serve. It is an unliberal attitude–which can come from Liberals, by the way–for it doesn’t buy the core belief of liberal democracy that the people properly rule….

This ignores the 2,000 year suspicion of democracy which the norm up to, and including, the American Founding. We were founded a republic, and universal white male suffrage did not become the norm until the first decades of the 19th century. Today we elide the distinction between the liberal and democratic aspects of the dominant form of government in the West, but it is a real one. With widespread suffrage, a full realization of democracy, there is, and was, often a curtailment of liberalism, and a decline in Liberal parties. This is because sectors of society in the 19th century which were disenfranchised, such as the lower classes and women, were often socially conservative and suspicious of freedom which they may have perceived as libertine. There was a close connection between the push for suffrage in the United States, and the perception that women would support Prohibition.

Of course in our Panglossian world the tension between liberty, equality, and populism, do not exist. Reality is what we make it, and the people are always right.

Note: This does not mean that I favor top-down public policy. Rather, I oppose rejection of top-down policies on the grounds that such policies are undemocratic (quite often they’re not, as voters often delegate to technocrats willingly), illiberal (there is no identity between liberalism and majoritarianism), or elitist (there is no shame in graded orders and distinctions between the few and the many in a variety of domains).





In a country now marked by exaggerated, exquisite and often bogus “sensitivity” to the faith (or, rather less frequently, lack of faith) of others, a new restaurant in Brooklyn comes as a welcome source of light relief – and good eating.

It’s called Traif (the word, which comes in various spellings, basically means non-kosher). The Atlantic takes up the story here. Here’s the introduction.

Chef Jason Marcus superstitiously believes in patterns, and in his view the fates conspired for him to open his new restaurant in Brooklyn, where he serves the shellfish and pork that he unabashedly loves. “It’s probably because I’m Jewish,” Marcus says about his obsession with synchronicity, and about his love for pork, shellfish, and even Seinfeld.

The restaurant, which Marcus opened with his non-Jewish girlfriend, Heather Heuser, is a paean to foods forbidden by Jewish dietary laws. They aptly chose the Yiddish word traif, meaning non-kosher, to be their restaurant’s new name.

Over at Beliefnet, Rod Dreher disapproved. To be sure, he supported the right of the restaurant to exist, and noted, not unfairly, that a Muslim opening a restaurant called Haram might get into trouble, but then he added this:

Call me superstitious, but I have a bad feeling about a restaurant whose concept is based on defying religious law. In the same way, even though I don’t believe The Book of Mormon or the Koran are divinely inspired, I would treat those books with extra respect, just because they are sacred to somebody. Anyway, though I obviously am not Jewish and don’t keep kosher, I wouldn’t eat at Traif simply because even if I don’t believe in a particular religion, and even though I’m pleased that Jason Marcus has the liberty to open this kind of restaurant, I don’t find blasphemy, or quasi-blasphemy, cute.

And there in a nutshell we have a nice (if relatively harmless) example of the grinding, depressing etiquette of an American era in which religion has to be treated with a deference largely unthinkable a few decades ago. It’s time to lighten up, long past time.

My advice: Go to Traif and eat what I ate a weekend or so ago – crispy, braised pork belly, followed by sauteéd sweetbreads, all washed down, of course, with a glass or two of He’Brew Messiah Bold beer.


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Rowan Williams, Again

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see England’s Archbishop of Canterbury is at it again:

If religion is pushed into private spaces, as increasingly it tends to be by our public discourse, we lose one of the most emotionally and imaginatively resourceful ways of seeing human behaviour; we lose something of the sense that certain acts may be good independently of whether they are sensible or successful in the world’s terms. I suppose you could say that we lose the “contemplative” dimension to ethics, the belief that some things are worth admiring in themselves.

Most of the passage that Andrew cites is what you’d expect a clergyman to say, so, however foolish, it’s nothing to be worried about. The opening passage, however, is intriguing either as delusion or attempt to delude:

If religion is pushed into private spaces, as increasingly it tends to be by our public discourse…

Good grief. Has this poor parson not noticed that there is a religion called Islam that now has a significant presence in Britain? You can think what you want about that faith, but the one thing you cannot say is that it has been pushed into a “private space”.

Andrew, meanwhile, goes on to add this:

If you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson’s “Absence Of Mind”, it speaks powerfully to the civilizational loss that a failure to grapple with, let alone understand, religious discourse and culture can bring.

Life is probably too short for me to want to find time to read Ms. Robinson’s book, so I’m a little reluctant to comment in too much detail, but “civilizational loss” is quite some claim. While a decent working knowledge of the more important varieties of religious belief is undeniably essential for an understanding of mankind’s history, present and, let’s face it, future, “grappling with” religious discourse is a more dubious activity—something about angels and pinheads, if I recall—of interest to some, of none to others, and mainly of benefit as a brake on fanaticism within the ranks of the faithful, except, of course, that all too often it is just the opposite…




When Imperatives Collide

From the intriguing new website Big Questions Online here is a thought-provoking piece by Susan Jacoby. In this extract she sets the stage:

My mother, at 89, lives with a sound mind in a failing and frail body. She has had a living will for decades, and it specifies that no extraordinary medical measures — including artificial feeding — be used to prolong her life if there is no hope of recovery. She has explicitly told my brother and me, who have the legal power to make her health-care decisions if she is no longer able to do so, that she wants nothing done to keep her alive if her mind is gone. You can’t get much clearer than that.
In spite of the advance planning for which my mother is legendary, she might be in real trouble if she were unfortunate enough to be taken in an unconscious state to an emergency room at a Roman Catholic hospital. The moral values of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — not her own values — could dictate her care.
The bishops’ most recent health-care directives, issued near the end of 2009, make it clear that they consider it the duty of Catholic health-care providers to impose artificial nutrition and hydration on patients in persistent vegetative states. My brother and I would, of course, take immediate steps to have our mother removed from a setting where her wishes would be ignored. But what if she had no living children or, like some two-thirds of Americans, had procrastinated about putting her instructions in writing?
Here is an issue involving the separation of church and state that is, at its core, a question of whether individual liberty of conscience really means liberty for all…

Discuss among yourselves

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The Shaman of Sullivan Street

Via the New York Times:

Sometime around 9:30 a.m. on weekdays, Itzhak Beery enters a second-floor office in Greenwich Village to preside over his piece of the material world. It is an advertising agency, the latest he has owned in a 30-year career. Five computers await him, each thrumming with software for graphic design. Shelves hold the awards he has won.

On Sunday mornings, though, Mr. Beery returns to cover all the practical apparatus with sheets. From a cabinet, he withdraws volcanic stones, candles, finger cymbals, bottles of rum and cologne, each with symbolic value. He arranges these on a red cloth, and lays beside them a carton of eggs and bunches of red and white carnations.

Such are the instruments of the shaman of Sullivan Street….

Oh dear.

Read the whole thing.



When liberals pray

Opponents of Arizona’s new immigration law have been praying for its reversal in court.  The Wall Street Journal today has a photo of parishioners sitting outdoors on folding chairs at a prayer session for the demise of the law, which asks local police officers to verify the immigration status of individuals they have lawfully stopped if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is in the country illegally.  Church coalitions throughout the country have been urging God as well as politicians for help in dismantling SB 1070. 

If the federal judge now hearing challenges to SB 1070 from the federal government and various advocacy groups overturns key portions of it, all those who have been praying for judicial nullification will claim divine vindication.   How will Glenn Beck, who regularly advises his radio listeners to pray, Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, Newt Gingrich, and every other conservative figurehead or foot soldier who views belief in God as a central component of conservative identity and who supports stronger immigration enforcement respond?  Did God in fact answer the prayers of SB 1070 opponents?  And if so, why?  Because the opponents were more organized in sending their prayer packets to the great pollster in the sky or because God agreed with them on the merits? 

Or will the conservative believers suddenly incline towards skepticism?  Might they ask such questions as: How do we know that God influenced the judge’s ruling and that it wouldn’t have happened anyway?  Where is the control group of judges whose decisions were not prayed about–how did they rule?  And what about those other judicial rulings that have upheld Arizona’s other  immigration laws—requiring verification of citizenship status to vote, for example, or requiring employers to verify the legal immigration status of their workers—why did God allow those laws to stand and not this one? 

More likely, however, religion-promoting immigration restrictionists will not allow such potential complications to cross their minds at all, and will simply go on to the next issue. 

Of course, if U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton upholds SB 1070, the conservative prayer advocates will appreciate God’s understanding of illegal immigration while the law’s religious opponents will, in theory only, face their own theological conundrums.


Jim Webb has returned to his populist roots in an op-ed in The Wall Street JournalDiversity and the Myth of White Privilege. Webb is the author of Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Of Scots-Irish descent himself he is explicitly conscious of the diverse streams within Anglo-America, outlined in more scholarly works such as Albion’s Seed and The Cousins’ Wars. An underlying superstructure to the sectional conflicts which have erupted over the arc of American history, with the Civil War an exemplar, has been the divisions across the Anglo-American folkways. Most modern Americans, schooled only in the value of racial diversity, or vaguely aware of the massive wave of Southern and Eastern European immigration between ~1900 and 1924, remain totally ignorant of this ethnic “dark matter.”




Sarah Palin 2012

Noah Millman mulls the chances. Noah is not a fan, to be sure. I’ve increased my probability that Palin will be the nominee in 2012 a fair amount since I last thought about this. Also, since we’re midway through 2010, closer to the point where the nomination will be de facto secured, my uncertainty window has decreased. I assumed that the Republican establishment would simply screw her at some point before 2012, but my assessment of that establishment’s strength has diminished (e.g., their candidate did not win in the Kentucky or Nevada primaries). Additionally, I think the passage of the spring health care bill reduces Romney’s chances, who is probably ideally positioned to catch the backing of the establishment.

So if I had to guess I would say a 25% probability of securing nomination in 2012 for Sarah Palin. This underestimates my new evaluation of Palin because I don’t know for sure whether she’s running. I’d guess a 60% chance she runs seriously, so that means a 42% probability of winning if she ran.

I judge that Mitt Romney’s chances are not very high right now, mostly because it’s just too easy to depict him as a milquetoast moderate flip-flopper with no real charisma. It’s too easy because there’s a lot of validity to those charges. I wouldn’t say 0%. There were times when John McCain looked dead in late 2007. But I’d probably pin Romney at 5% at most as his current ceiling.

Let me end by saying that I don’t follow politics closely, so the numbers above are more to give you a good precise sense of my vague impressions, than anything I have real confidence in. My uncertainty is probably +/- 10% standard deviation for the Palin probabilities.


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