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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘argument’

How Western Intellectual Values Have Gone Haywire

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

“First make sure you’re right, then go ahead.” — Davy Crockett, 1836

For almost two months I  have been talking and traveling through America trying to understand the country. Soon I will begin a dozen-part series called “Lost” about the  reminder of the Obama term in the term in the Middle East and how friendly countries and national interests can survive.

Meanwhile , though, it is adding insult to injury for defenders of the U.S. policy to claim that I or someone else would have more credibility if I didn’t write for a “right-wing site.” This is an extraordinarily important way that the debate is being narrowed and dummied up.

First, of course, I would never make a parallel argument. What matters is whether the claims have credibility. Does it make sense? Is it internally consistent? Does it correspond with otherwise known information? This is the path of logic, of the Enlightenment. Reputation of the author might be a useful factor, too.

An argument from al-Qaida can be quite correct regardless of where it comes from. Thus, this approach is part of the de-rationality of Western thought today. It is a weapon: disregard everything that comes from a source that disagrees with you on other issues.

Incidentally, while some have told me that my language is too intemperate at times in criticizing Obama, I note that they have not been any more successful in changing views or even–whenever they speak out clearly–getting their ideas (as opposed to technical expertise) to the public.

Second, if I wanted to write about the so-called demographic threat (which I can prove in five minutes is nonsense) or write that Israel must make peace right away I can publish it in the NY Times.

So first they bar certain arguments from the mass media and then they say that if you persist in making certain arguments this proves bias because of the few remaining and smaller places you are allowed to appear. In other words, first you bar people and arguments; then you say that the fact that they are barred proves that they—not you—is the biased one.

Let me tell you a story. In 1991 Senator Charles Percy, a man who was then highly regarded and considered himself something of an expert on the Middle East, said he didn’t understand why the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein didn’t withdraw from Kuwait. After all, said Percy, wouldn’t some intelligence chief or general tell him that he was going to be defeated?

This was abject ignorance. If someone had done so—told Saddam he was wrong—the man would be lucky if he were only fired, and still pretty lucky if he wasn’t thrown into prison, tortured, and had his family punished or executed.

The supposed advantage of democracy is that the media, academia, and others speak—where did I hear this before?—truth to power. If you know you are not just going to be ignored, not just that you are going to be punished, but that nobody is going to hear you that is a disincentive to doing so.

But this goes far beyond liberal or conservative, it sabotages the whole advantage of democracy. You can’t be an anti-fascist or anti-Communist in the 1930s until the elite officially accepts that? Maybe it would have been better to voice these concerns and have them heeded before December 7, 1941 or before September 11, 2001. Maybe it would have been better to have done something about it before tens of thousands of lives had been snuffed out internationally, blighted domestically, resources wasted, and society set back by decades.

Is this really the best we can do in 2013?

Personally I am a social democrat/liberal/centrist/conservative, reading from left to right. What works works; what is true is true; what is wrong is wrong. Forgetting that rather basic fact has been very bad for the West. It’s called honest pragmatism.

Admitting the Mistake of the Disengagement

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

On Sunday, Wall Street Journal editor and columnist Bret Stephens did what too many need to do: own up to the mistake of supporting the Disengagement Plan.

At the time, Stephens was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post.

In his WSJ column Stephens wrote that on each of the points he argued regarding the Disengagement plan he turned out to be wrong. He writes:

My error was to confuse a good argument with good policy; to suppose that mere self-justification is a form of strategic prudence. It isn’t. Israel is obviously within its rights to defend itself now against a swarm of rockets and mortars from Gaza. But if it had maintained a military presence in the Strip, it would not now be living under this massive barrage.

Or, to put it another way: The diplomatic and public-relations benefit Israel derives from being able to defend itself from across a “border” and without having to get into an argument about settlements isn’t worth the price Israelis have had to pay in lives and terror.

Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.

He also makes a recommendation about not accepting a ceasefire, citing Netanyahu’s analysis as opposition leader during Operation Cast Lead, but I don’t want to spoil the article, so check it out yourself.

To Inform or Not to Inform – That is the Question

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has just come out with a statement joining Agudah in opposition to the proposed NYC legislation requiring  “informed consent” before going ahead with Metzitza B’Peh (MbP). This is in spite of the fact that they do not recommend the procedure for their own constituents.

I assume the reason for this is that they believe this to be a church state issue. And that they believe that even signing a consent form about a religious practice is a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to practice one’s religion freely. And that it may be a slippery slope to further – more serious intervention in religious rights.

I don’t want to re-hash the whole argument here. But I have to admit being conflicted about it – because both sides have valid issues.

Every time an argument is made by one side which all seem like good arguments – the other side comes out with an equally good argument for their side. Here are the questions:

Where do you draw the line between protecting your citizens and freedom of religion?

On the other hand – how does signing a consent form interfere with religion?

On the other hand -when the risk is so low, is there really a need for a consent form?

On the other hand – why not inform even if the risk is low – if it is really there?

On the other hand – if informing the public about this is the main concern, why not simply require that parents be informed? Why require government documentation?

On the other hand –  will a policy of informing the public actually be implemented without the government requirement to document it?

On the other hand – if one segment feels that MbP is a religious requirement and the risk is so low, maybe those people should not be required to sign a consent form – since it might scare people away from it unnecessarily?

For me, preventing the mouth from coming into contact with an open wound makes a lot of sense. Even if there never was a single case of herpes ever reported – doing something like that seems like the height of folly!

With all the bacteria a mouth is known to contain – and the possibility that it might contain bacteria or viruses that are very harmful to a vulnerable 8-day-old child while an adult carrier might not even be aware of it – it is not exactly rocket science to know that putting your mouth on an open wound is not a good idea. Add to that the recent cases of Herpes that government health agencies like the CDC believe to be caused by MbP - opposition to it seems like a no brainer.

But then there are the arguments put forth by others based on different medical experts who say the statistical probability of contracting a disease from the mouth of a Mohel is so low and that reported cases of MbP infection by a Mohel remain unproven, that any regulation at all – even signing a consent form is an unnecessary infringement by the government on the religious rights of its citizens.Add to that the fear of the ‘slippery slope’ argument and all the tumult in the world about circumcision in general (e.g. the ban on it by a German court in Cologne until the age of consent) – and it seems like that is a good argument to fight that proposed legislation.

So after taking another look at it – at this point I am just not sure. I still tend to side with not opposing the legislation because I don’t think there is a slippery slope here. Nor do I think that interferes with the right of a parent to go ahead with MbP if he chooses to. All it does is inform him about the possible dangers.

Will it scare him away? If he is a Chasid, probably not. If he is not a Chasid, let it scare him away. What is lost if he does Metzitza in a more hygienic way without direct oral contact? [Note:  an overview of how metzitza b’peh is not halachically required previously on this blog].

I can actually hear both sides of the argument. But it may be a moot point. It appears the city of New York has just approved the legislation.

Metzitza B’Peh: Infant Russian Roulette

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

The most recent issue of Ami Magazine called on readers to oppose New York City’s proposed law requiring informed parental consent before performing Metzitza B’Peh.

Just when I thought there was nothing more to say on the issue of Metzitza B’Peh (MbP), the cover story in Ami Magazine compels me to comment.

The ultimate analogy to MbP is the following. Take a gun that has a 1 million bullet capacity. Place one bullet in one of the chambers leaving the rest empty. Take that gun, point it at the head of your 8 day old infant and pull the trigger.

Is there a sane person in the world that would do that? I think the answer is obvious.You would have to be literally insane to do such a thing even though the odds of killing the baby are statistically insignificant. Why would anyone do such a foolish thing? There is a loaded gun and a chance that the bullet will end up in your child’s head!

And yet that is precisely the argument being made by those who oppose the proposed New York City law requiring informed consent by parents before allowing a Mohel to do Metzitza B’Peh. The argument is that the percentage of infants found to have been infected by herpes due to MbP is statistically so insignificant that requiring parents be informed about the danger is an unwarranted governmental interference in the practice of Judaism.

The logic of this argument truly escapes me. I wonder how they would answer the question I posed? Would they tell you that you should point a loaded gun to your child and pull the trigger? Even if the chances are 1 in a million that the bullet will not be fired? I think I know what their answer would be.

Another argument they make is that there is no absolute incontrovertible evidence connecting the herpes contracted by the infant to the Mohel. This is true. Furthermore they say that in any case the Mohel washes his mouth out with an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine.

The problem with these arguments is that they lack any common sense. Is there any question that it is possible that a Mohel with an active herpes virus (unbeknownst to him) can transmit it to a child via oral contact with an open wound? Even people with the most rudimentary knowledge of medical science know that it is possible.The fact that there is no conclusive proof that this was the case in the cases cited above doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. The circumstantial evidence that they did pass it on to the infant was very persuasive to the CDC. Furthermore washing a mouth out with a strong mouthwash like Listerine has no effect on viruses. Antiseptics only work on bacteria.

My friends, performing MbP is playing Russian roulette with your child’s life! Are you willing to pull that trigger?

And yet there is a religious argument to be made in favor of it. This is what is really at stake here. Chasidim are adamant that MbP is an absolute religious requirement! If I understand correctly – they view a Bris done without MbP to be invalid! Leaving out the fact that that is certainly not the universal view in Judaism – including the view of many Gedolim of the past and present, let us grant them their right to believe that. They therefore argue that this is a church-state issue.

The problem with this argument is that the constitutional right to freedom of religion is not absolute. When there is a compelling interest of society that contradicts a religious ritual, the government has a right to interfere. To put this point in stark relief I will use an extreme example. If there was a religion that required human sacrifice, the government would certainly be within its rights to legislate against it. While MbP is nowhere near human sacrifice, the principle is the same. Where to draw the line of “compelling interest” is beyond my pay-scale and I will leave it to constitutional scholars to sort out.

That said, I would be opposed to the government legislating against doing MbP. That it is considered so vital by so large a segment of Jewry combined by the low probability of a child ever contracting herpes moves me to oppose it. In this case I do feel that banning the procedure would be an unconstitutional impediment to freedom of religion.

The Peace Business

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/the-peace-business.html

Anyone who has watched enough monster movies knows how hard it is to kill the monster. You can set Frankenstein on fire, stab Dracula through the chest with a wooden stake and take the Wolfman to the vet; but sooner or later they come roaring back twice as angry as ever.

The Israel Policy Forum, a left-wing group, which mated a few years ago with the Center for American Progress, has split away again to corner that booming market in Jewish organizations that hate Israel; but try to pretend not to when people are watching.

With J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Open Zion, Uri L’Tzedek and Americans for Peace Now, just to name a few, all boasting more column inches in the media than members, the revival of IPF is about as timely as opening up a bank dedicated to subprime loans. The market for Israel-bashing, like the market for underwater homes, is falling as fast as Obama’s approval ratings.

In 2008, shortly before IPF merged with CAP, it sent out a letter urging Condoleezza Rice to find a way to bring Hamas into the peace process. So far, the Israel Policy Forum has had no luck with Hamas, but it has dragged in the usual left-wing Jewish millionaires and billionaires looking to ride roughshod over Israel and the Jewish community.

Israel Policy Forum, like Peter Beinart’s Open Zion, is funded in part by Peter A. Joseph, who also serves as IPF’s president. Joseph presides over Palladium Equity Partners, the kind of private equity firm that liberals pretend to bash when it’s associated with Romney, but which they welcome when it’s associated with a lefty. Like so many other lefties with big pockets and bigger egos, Joseph’s money causes him to believe that he can hijack the Jewish community by spending money to create organizations full of fellow lefty millionaires and a few famous names with business ties to them.

The new IPF features David Avital, of the MTP Investment Group who founded Seeds of Peace. There’s hedge fund billionaire Donald Sussman, Neil Barsky of Alson Capital Partners, Lawrence Zicklin, formerly of Neuberger Berman Financial Services, and James E. Walker III, who isn’t actually Jewish, but is also an Obama donor and in the money management business. Finally there’s Marcia Riklis, the daughter of corporate raider Meshulam Riklis, and another Obama donor.

Naturally all the financial guys brought along their lawyers and Israel Policy Forum is full of them, the slimiest of whom may be Melvyn Weiss who specialized in securities class action lawsuits, pleaded guilty to kickback charges and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Weiss also had ties to Blagojevich and has been disbarred, but he’s back out of prison and back at IPF..

With all these Wall Street guys and layers, IPF looks a lot like a hostile takeover and that’s just what it is. It’s one more attempt by the Anti-Israel left to stage a hostile takeover of the Jewish community and swing the agenda their way. But it didn’t work with J Street and it won’t work with IPF.

The tycoons and lawyers have brought along some of their clients and pet “rabbis” to make the IPF look like something other than a group of left-wing millionaires and billionaires trying to forcibly set the agenda for the Jewish community. And they’re going about it in the usual way, by authoring letters to heads of state telling them what to do, because when you’re playing at that level, that’s just the sort of thing you do.

The IPF has relaunched its bid for policymaking power with a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu telling him to ignore the Levy Report, which found that Israel is not an Occupying Power, and that there is no reason to discriminate against Jewish homes in any part of Israel. The letter claims to represent a larger consensus, which it does not, despite being chock full of presidents and former presidents of Jewish organizations, who were not elected by any Jewish community, but whose paths to power were paid for, either by them or by those wealthy donors who truly control them.

Then there are a few others, like Deborah Lipstadt who occupies the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History chair at Emory U. Dorot is partnered with the far-left New Israel Fund and a number of other Anti-Israel groups. Dorot has given grants to J Street, and its assets are partly managed by Neuberger Berman Financial Services, mentioned above.

Rubin Reports: Does Power Moderate Radicals? Where’s the Proof?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

http://rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/

Julius Caesar: “Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights: Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

Marc Antony: “Fear him not, Caesar; he’s not dangerous; He is a noble Roman and well given.”

–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Caesar, of course, was right in being suspicious and Marc Antony was wrong. Result: Caesar murdered; civil war; tens of thousands killed; Marc Antony dead. Makes you think. Or at least it should.

An interesting and important question about the Middle East (and one can treat it on a global level, too) is whether being in power or running in an election inevitably moderates those who are radicals. It is automatically accepted by many people that this is so. Yet an examination of evidence makes such behavior more rare than common.

Let’s begin by pointing out that some of the problem is the unthinking transference of things that might be true in private and personal life into the political sphere. As individuals mature and have experience, they often become more moderate. There are many cases of individual politicians “selling out” and abandoning more militant ideas to become corrupt. Neither case necessarily applies to systems, movements, or ideologies.

Even more questionable is the view that the difficulties of having to make decisions in government forces leaders to become more responsible. For example, they learn that money is not unlimited and therefore priorities must be set.  Supposedly, they say to themselves: Hey, collecting the garbage and fixing the potholes is what’s important, forget about all this silly stuff about fundamentally transforming society, imposing the Sharia, destroying Israel, or chasing America out of the Middle East!

A problem with this argument is that it leaves out the political advantages for rulers of using demagoguery, incitement, and populism. To stay in power a politician—particularly in a non-democratic country—gains advantage from militancy, real or feigned.

Another simplistic argument is that anyone who runs in elections and wins is automatically moderate because they participated in a legalistic, democratic process. This argument is quite full of holes. One should not confuse tactical caution with moderation. For example, President Hafiz al-Assad of Syria knew after 1973 that a direct confrontation with Israel was a losing proposition so instead he backed terrorist groups and used Lebanon as a launching pad for the attacks. Being radical does not necessarily mean being suicidal.

Clearly, the most famous ideological dictatorships did not become more moderate. These include the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Communist Cuba, among many others.

But wait, there is an escape clause of sorts. The USSR arguably became more moderate but only with three caveats. That process took place only after 70 years in power. Structural changes were involved but there was an equally or larger accidental factor, that is the coming to power of one or two specific individuals. And after the start of a cautious moderation policy, the regime quickly collapsed, sending a warning to others who might have similar thoughts of loosening the reins. Indeed, the collapse of the Soviet bloc was taken as a lesson by Middle Eastern dictators to hang tough lest they simply hang.

One might make a stronger case with China having moderated. But again it took a very long time indeed, roughly a half-century and of course some old features remain. Waiting for 50 years, however, is not what people are talking about when they speak of the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt and quickly becoming teddy bears.

Turning to the Middle East, power does not bring about moderation. The Ba’thist regime in Syria remains radical after a half-century in power and the same would be true of Iraq if not for the U.S.-led invasion. What about the PLO? It did sign the Oslo accords after one-third of a century of terrorism but it did not keep the agreement as a result. The movement’s basic doctrine and strategy remains the same while its tactical shifts could be reversed in future.

Of course, it seems to be a stretch to say there has been no moderation in the PLO and Fatah. Yet let’s remember the original moderation thesis here. The argument made in the 1990s was that the responsibility of power (collecting garbage; fixing roads, educating the kiddies) would so moderate the group as to lead it into a compromise peace treaty with Israel and the end of the conflict.  That certainly did not happen and the moderation thesis was a failure regarding Yasir Arafat. As for education, radical movements in power tend to train the children to be radicals, preaching the horror of compromise and the glories of aggressive war.

Why The Newsroom is Good News for Republicans

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/why-newsroom-is-good-news-for.html

The last time Aaron Sorkin had a high-profile political television show, liberals used it to cope with the decline and fall of the Clinton Presidency and the long winter of the Bush Years. The West Wing was a coping mechanism for the death of a liberal dream, and so is The Newsroom. Both are an escape into fantasy to avoid dealing with the harsh reality.

On an episode of Seinfeld, George is stung by an insult but is unable to think of a retort, so he spends days trying to come up with the perfect comeback, until he finally thinks of it and travels around the country to get the chance to deliver it. The Newsroom, set in the past, and jumping in right before the political balance tilted toward the Republicans in the mid-term elections, is the same thing.

The Newsroom is Sorkin’s sad attempt to win an argument by rewriting history and coming up with all the comebacks that his side couldn’t think of two years ago. It’s the sad and pathetic spectacle of an ideology creating its own fantasy version of its reality in which it won the argument.

Unlike The West Wing, The Newsroom isn’t set in an alternate world in which the universe innately favors liberals. Instead it’s set in an alternate version of the past, in which liberals were smarter and won all the arguments that they ended up losing here. And the existence of The Newsroom is the greatest possible concession that the argument was lost.

There’s no reason for Republicans to look down on The Newsroom. It’s a safer outlet for liberal anger than Occupy Wall Street. It’s a miniature universe in which they are smarter, nobler and better than everyone else. Children have fantasy worlds like that. There’s no reason that liberals shouldn’t. Not only does it give them the security of believing that they really were superior, but it prevents them from learning any useful lessons from their defeat.

It’s never a bad thing when your enemies escape into a delusional state, to a world of their making in which they are in complete control of everything. It makes it more likely that they will cede at least some control over the real world. And it’s not only an admission of defeat, but of emotional and mental fragility. Adults don’t need to build fantasy worlds to escape the effects of their failures on their precious self-esteem. That’s for overgrown children who are used to getting trophies for just showing up.

The Newsroom is the kid that everyone hated losing his race for class president and creating a fantasy world in which he won the election and everyone cheered his obnoxious tantrums. It may not be good for him, but it’s good for us because it means he hasn’t learned to win. All that he’s learned to do is manage the emotional experience of defeat through delusional tantrums of superiority.

Propaganda that tells you that you won, when you actually lost, is corrosive; it inhibits any serious self-evaluation. And without some soul-searching and error-checking, the same mistakes are bound to be repeated over and over again. Seventeen years after the Clinton Presidency was nearly torpedoed by universal health care, his party’s successor, who defeated the woman who shaped the initiative, went down the same road, but with much less caution.

That kind of stupidity would not have been possible if the winners had learned any lessons from the past. But the winners had been living on The West Wing, in which liberal speeches and principles are all it takes to win. Where the good guys never lose, because the scripts are written that way. Rather than living in the real Clinton Years, many of them had been living in the imaginary version. Now, rather than remembering the actual Obama Years, they will remember The Newsroom‘s fictional version of them. And they will make the same mistakes all over again.

HBO, which has invested big in liberal propaganda, knows exactly what it’s doing. At a time when customers are dropping cable, particularly the high-priced packages, it is insulating itself with a built-in audience. Forget MSNBC or Comedy Central with their tantrums against real-life Republicans, on HBO, liberal audiences can go on safe safaris to see experienced liberal great hunters taking potshots at imaginary Republicans.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/sultan-knish/why-the-newsroom-is-good-news-for-republicans/2012/06/26/

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