Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Free Speech trumps yours!

My mom sent me a link to a good essay by Peggy noonan in the Wall Sreet Journal. and asked me what I thought. My answer is below:


I agree with most of what she has to say, but it isn't that easy. There is a very real argument to be made for the free speech rights of the protestors as well. She likes to cite Jefferson as a founding father but it's best she stay away from Patrick Henry, whose tactics were in line with those of Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, and (I'm trying to think of somebody on the left as vitriolic as they. It's certainly not Franken. Hightower, maybe? Chris Mathews? Even Bill Maher is more polite than they are). Henry was the type of person to rush the stage. John Adams was often shouted down in congress by opponents of independence, and his supporters often shouted down the appeasers in the the Continental Congress. An unruly mob is also part of the history of the United States and, in fact, an unruly mob is what the United States was born out of.

(We followed the usual Marxist pattern, actually: a middle class legislative body attempts to give power to the people but fails, there is protest (broadsides against the stamp act), street protests (the Boston Massacre--our own little Intifada), followed by acts of terrorism (the Boston Tea Party was economic terrorism certainly), which escalates into insurrection and finally into revolution. But I digress.)

Read up on the Astor Place Riots.

There is also a strong argument made by Jewish scholars, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that if you give validity to te arguments of those who want to destroy you by giving them a forum you hasten your own doom. This isn't specious. It comes out of the experience of the Holocaust. There were more then enough scholars politicians and businessmen in Germany during the Weimar Republic who knew what the Nazis were up to to dispute the arguments against jews that the Nazis made--and they did dispute them, but it didn't help. The speeches made and articles published by the Nazis simply made them more popular with the vast number of displaced and discontent people in Germany and helped them to gain power. Never forget that Hitler was duly elected by a democratic process set up by us to guarantee liberty and freedom to the Germans. So the Jews have a point when you say we should never give a forum to those who would destroy us.

It is not an easy thing. I do agree with Noonan, but I'm not entirely comfortable doing so.


I should add something: the reason I agree with Noonan's premise is that I believe in and trust the American peopel over the long run. I'm not one of thsoe people who think everybody who voted for George Bush was an idiot. I believe in and trust our system (although that trust has been sorely tested in the last six years it hasn't failed). America works.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nut cases

What do you do with the President of Iran (I'm not going to try to spell his name). He's in town today for the opening of the general assembly. So are a lot of other world leaders. But from the reaction of the tabloids, you'd think it was jsut him and that he was leading an invasion. They have really gone out of their way to be ridiculous about it. Headlines like "go to Hell" and "The Evil has Landed" have graced the front of the Daily News and Post this week (interestingly, it's the News that has been the most vitriolic). I heard one cabbie interviewed saying that the President shouldnt' be allowed to go to Ground Zero because "he probably had something to do with it."

My God! How can we be surrounded by such ignorant idiots? Here in New York you'd expect people to at least know about 9/11. Iran had *nothing* to do with it. Whether you believe it was Al Queda or the CIA, there is no way that Iran could have been involved (with the earlier bombing of the WTC in the 90s, that's another story).

Yes, we know this guy is a holocaust denier, an enemy of Isreal, and critical of the U.S. There's a lot of evidence that his country is arming Shiite militias in Iraq--but complaining about that is totally the pot calling the kettle black, since us arming first (in no particular order), Isreal, Jordan, Iran, Afganistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia is a big part of why were in this mess to begin with. (did we arm Syria ever? Not sure. Probably). But as long as he's in town we should take him tot he Carnegie for a pastrami sandwich and then over to the Hustler club. Maybe he'll get laid. He looks like he could stand to relax a bit.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are you kidding me?

I really thought that if any celebrity could be convicted in California it would be Phil Specter. I mean, I have no idea if he's guilty or not, but I figured his creepy demeanor, weird personality, and bizare history would be enough. But no. The jury is hung. Te judge is considering instructing them and they can consider manslaughter instead (it won't stand on appeal, since he already said they couldn't). I think there's a good chance Phil will walk. I've said it before: there can be no such thing as celebrity justice.

Friday, September 14, 2007


This is my chance to say "I told you so." This is my chance to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude. I was really mad when Ty Willingham was canned by Notre Dame after his third year. I thought it was a disgrace to a university that was supposed to value integrity. And I pointed out that all of Charlie Weiss's success came with player recruited by Willingham. Now in his third season (his seniors were still recruited by Willingham), Weiss is winless. They have no offensive touchdowns. The great genius is faltering and, I'll give you a hint, after this weekend at equally winless Michigan, the Irish are going to be 0-3. Gloat Gloat Gloat Gloat Gloat.

I'm happy that ESPN is putting this Patriots thing in perspective. They did a great report the other day on how cheating is as much a part of sports as sweat and cheerleaders. Let's face it: as Levit points out in "Freakenomics," when there is great financial incentive to cheat lots of people will do so (in super high paying endeavors like sports, it's safe to say most people will do so). Regular readers of this page will know that I've been saying this for years, and that in the great scheme of things it makes good copy but is not that big a deal (because if everybody is cheating then nobody is). ESPN even brought up hall of fame cheater Gaylord Perry and future hall of fame cheater Sammy Sosa. Good coverage.

Not that cheaters shouldn't be punished. They should. If cheating is part of the game then getting caught is part too. I think Bill Belichick should have been suspended, especially considering the commissioner's high profile crusade to clean up sports through the suspension of players. But his half million dollar fine and the draft pick or picks they will loose is still pretty stiff (the $250,000 the team was fined is a joke).

But get this: this week McClaren was assessed a Dr. Evil fine amount of $100,000,000--that's ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS!!!!!!!--for spying on rival Ferrari and obtaining one of their technical manuals. That's more than the GDP of many third world nations. As a fine!!!!!!!! We're in Microsoft territory now. F-1 understands the nature of incentives. I'm not sure McClaren (whose drivers are 1-2 in the standings and were not docked any points) can survive that sort of thing. Of course it is F-1, where they spend as much on a single car as on a whole team in NASCAR.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tower envy?

According to, a jury has recommended that a tower and terminal design by Pelli Clarke Pelli over designs by Rogers-Forest City and Skidmore Owings Merrill. It's a good solid design, a simple tapering tower that will be the tallest building on the west Coast (taller than the Empire State Building). But in spite of the height it was really the safe design. At least they had a competition, and it's certainly better than the Freedom Tower, but man, it is sad! the Skidmore Owings Merril building (and leave us not forget that they are a local firm) was beautiful! It is one of the best tower designs I've seen outside of Asia. I mean, beautiful. Ther terminal section evoked both gothic gathedrals and Grand Central Station (at least to this untrained eye), while the curving girders of the exterior from one angle recall gotic arches and from another the trees of some tolkinean forest. Check out the renderings of all three designs. I mean, the tower they chose won't be bad but, like th new bay bridge, they passed up something so much better (and why a foot bridge in Chico should be the best new bridge in California in fifty years is another story).

I think I'll write a letter. You should too.

Monday, September 10, 2007


An addendum to my last post: having read the "Croxton Play of the Sacrament," and most of the Medieval passion plays, it occurs to me that Jews know that the war against them has always been a war of propaganda, and I suppose they feel they have to fight it with the same.

John 18, 38

And Pilate asked Jesus "What is Truth?"

An interesting question. When we swear in court "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," are we searing to what is, to what we know, or to what we believe? The dictionary says truth is "the actual state of the matter." What in the hell does that mean?

Philosophers have long argued over whether or not truth was changing. Clearly when Jesus said that he came to bear witness to the truth he saw truth as something that was concrete and could never change. But that's not the way we use truth today. Some have argued that truth changes as we gather facts. Joe Friday asked for "just the facts, mam," not caring at all what people thought or believed. Had people told him the truth as they knew it it would have confused the issue.

This much I know: the truth for a sixty year old white man living in six bedroom house in the Hamptons is not the same as the truth for a fifteen year old black girl living in the Marcy projects, and their truths would make no sense at all to a ten year old boy living in Faluja.

But why am I interested in truth? Well, truth has come up a number of times for me in the last few days. Sander works on something called "the 9/11 Truth Movement," which is a collection of people trying to prove that the September 11th attacks were an inside job. We published his book on the subject, "Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistle-Blowers, and the Coverup." On Bill Maher last night Mos Deaf proclaimed, loudly, that he doesn't believe in Osama Bin Laden, the Boogie Man, 9/11, Al Queda, terrorism, or anything else the Bush administration tries to scare us with. He also doesn't' believe we went to the moon. (though apparently he does believe in Big Foot). He is sure, absolutely sure, that all of it has been a creation of the conservatives to create panic in America so that the Bush administration could suspend civil liberties and fight a war in Iraq that pours huge profits into the pockets of Bush's big business cronies--especially Haliburton. That is his truth. And Sander would agree with him. He'd cite the report from the Project for the New American Century from the year 2000 titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century." This report argues for American military dominance throughout the world and especially in Iraq. In a section titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses" it stated that "the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor." (page 51) Because several members of the Bush administration were also members of the PNAC, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, and because the PNAC is one of the primary sources for the Bush policy of regime change in Iraq (they were arguing for it as early as 1998), this statement has been used by 9/11 conspiracy theorists to suggest that the PNAC planned 9/11 as way to jump-start the new American dominance. And it certainly gives one pause--although the statement in question was actually part of a section about changing over from old to new paradigm weapon systems (Rumsfeld's new, fast, flexible army that did so well in Iraq), and not about regime change in Iraq. But the parallel is clear: America was unwilling to go on a wartime footing and invest in new military technologies until Pearl Harbor (the state of the Ameircan Military in 1941 was pretty pathetic), and 9/11 provided exactly what the report calls for. Why shouldn't Mos Deaf find a "truth" in there?

But what really has my hackles up--as usual--is a tenure fight. It was covered in today's New York Times. There's a Palestinian-American Anthro professor at Barnard named Nadia Abu El-Haj who's been recommended for tenure, partially based upon a book she wrote titled “Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society.” Apparently, she argues that Israel uses archeology to justify its claim to the the state of Israel, ignoring evidence of other cultures in the area and promoting the Jewish state as the rightful holders of the land. This is, of course a hot topic, and I haven't read her book. It sounds to me like she's got an ax to grind. But the book has won a lot of awards and she is highly regarded in her field. But that didn't stop a bunch of pro-Israel scholars and Barnard grads from circulating a petition labeling her work as "shoddy" and fighting her promotion--nor a bunch of pro-Palestinian scholars and journalists from adopting her as a cause celebre and circulating a counter petition.

Last week the public tenure fight surrounding DePaul professor Norman G. Finkelstein ended with a settlement between him and the university. This fight, which didn't receive much coverage in press (though I remember seeing it in the Times about a year ago), was pretty similar. Finkelstein argued that some Jews abused the history of the Holocaust to justify their own "oppression" of Palestinians. This incurred the wrath of no less a personage than Alan Dershowitz, who waged a furious fight against Finkelstein's promotion, which was played out on blogs throughout the ether, supporting either one side or the other.

Both of these cases illustrate just how hot button a topic Israel is. I live in New York City, which has seven boroughs: Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Florida and Israel. Israeli politics is deeply intertwined with politics in NYC, as there is a constant movement back and forth between citizens. I live in a place where anti-Israeli sentiment is both common and widely condemned. A recent book review in the New York Sun, a conservative and pro-Israel daily, is a case in point. Criticizing the new book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, Ira Stoll of the Sun does exactly what he accuses Walt and Mearsheimer of doing: he writes a piece of propaganda. He accuses the professors of Anti-semitism in their book,w hich criticizes the influence Israel has over American foreign policy. In today's Sun, Seth Geittel heaps praise upon a book by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control," which disputes the premise of Walt and Mearsheimer's book--or rather what Geitell calls "allegations and claims, errors and hyperbole of 'the Israel Lobby' set." According to the Sun, the point of Foxman's book, which also Takes on President Jimmy Carter for his "Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid," is that all of this criticism of the "Israel Lobby" is an old anti-semetic "canard" about Jews having too much influence and only caring about themselves. But the Sun reviews of both these books (not to mention Sun editorials) add fuel to the fire by being not only pro Israel but so strident in their attacks upon those who are not.

Admittedly, Walt and Mearsheimer leave themselves open to such criticism because they going out of their way to try and prove that they are *not* anti-semetic, setting themselves up for rebuttals to the contrary. Also we can't ignore that Israel is a nation that is at a constant state of war and is surrounded by countries who have sworn to see it destroyed. American citizens have the right to petition their government for anything, including support of Israel. And with all due respect to Mr. Finkelstein, the truth of the Hollocaust *should* weigh heavy over Israel as the reason the state was founded in the first place. It is possible that Finkelstein, Walt, Mearsheimer, Abu El-Haj, and President Carter really are Anti Israel. They may even be anti-semitic. I don't know.

What I do know is this: anyone who comes out against the state of Israel in a public forum risks being labeled an anti-Semite. Any scholarship that is critical of Israel is automatically lumped in with the writings of holocaust deniers and racialists. There is no room for debate on these topics. The conflict is ongoing, the wounds too raw, the passions to high for anything resembling discussion to take place--and historians will correctly observe that dispassionate discussion and scholarly debate took place all over Germany alongside the hate speech of Hitler and the Nazis, which produced scholarly works that helps to justify the holocaust. This is what gives people the belief that they have not only the right but the duty to shout down people who disagree with them.

Those who have different truths.

I don't have any answer to all of this. Hitler spoke the truth as he saw it too. It just pisses me off.

Maybe it's not truth we should look for but fact-just as some have suggested that thought is less important than deed. The holocaust is a fact. Good. That millions of Palestinians live in refugee camps is also a fact. With you there. The state of Israel is a fact too. The towers came down on 9/11 and 3000 people died. Fact. But what any of it means is where we get into the questions of truth. Truth is untrustworthy. I give up.

But here is a truth of my own: tenure is based on scholarship, not on politics. Outside lobbying on questions of tenure is just plain wrong--which is why I'm not signing either petition. But I'd happily sign one telling all those people on all sides of the tenure debate to shut the fuck up.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Hsu caught in Colorado

My mom says that her first reaction to the news of Hsu's was the same as mine: "Oh boy! It's Vince Foster all over again." She never assigned any sinister motives to Karl Rove (Mom: How can you be living int he same country as the rest of us?) so that never occured to her.

Now that Hsu has been caught I noticed two things in the chronicle article covering his bust: first, in the 90s, he was kidnapped by one of the San Frncisco tong and held for repayment of a debt he owed them. Admittedly, that's kind of cool, and gives him a bit of action movie street cred he didn't have before. The other thing is that he gave $750 to Gavin Newsome's mayoral campaign. This is a guy who gave thousands to other democrats in New York, Pennsylvania and California. He gave $50,000 to the New York State democratic party. He gave $23,000 to Clinton and $62,000 to Elliot Spitzer. $750??? At first that seemed like spitting in Newsome's face and smiling about it. To me it says "Gavin, Norman doens't like you very mich." In truth it's because San Francisco has some of the strictest campaing finance laws in the country: $500 per individual to any candidate per calendar year, and $3,000 total to all candidates per individual per year. Which means Gavin doesn't have to give back near as much money as Elliot does.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hsu Are You?

So think on this for a minute: Norman Hsu, the democratic fundraiser tied to Hillary Clinton and facing fellony grand theft charges, was a no show in court the other day and is apparently on the lam. But what if he is found dead in Alamo Park, a revolver near his right hand and no suicide note? What then? Sander still believes Hillary had Vince Foster killed. So do lots of Republicans. Would it surprise you if she had Norman Hsu rubbed out? Might he not know something that necesitates his being terminated? Or not. Sander's also convinced that the Bush's have had a dozen people assassinated, including Paul Welstone and others. Would you put it past Carl Rove to knock Hsu off and then try to pin it on Hillary by staging it to be errilly reminiscent of Foster's death? And what if Norman Hsu actually commits suicide?! A worst case scenario. Hardly anybody would belive it. They'd try to pin it on Hillary, while Hillary would float the suggestion that it was Rove, and none of us would ever know. Let me tell you: she better hope he turns up looking for assylum in Shanghai within the next week.

George Murphy Lives

Having finally sealed the long coming merger between politics and entertainment (or politics as entertainment) begun by Ronaly Regan and before him George Murphy, Fred Thompson has officially entered the presidential race. Will USA be forced to stop running episodes of Law and Order that he is in or give all the other candidates equal time?

I must admit: I'm a big fan of Thompson the actor, and have been so at least since he played Knox Pooley on "Wise Guy" back in the 80s. And Arthur Branch is probably my favorite conservative after Denney Crane. My gut reaction is to vote for him because I have such a fondness for all the fake people he pretends to be. Stupid, no?

But really, in our post modern world, is there any difference anymore betwen politics and entertainment? I noted before how John Kerry hired writers off the West Wing to write speaches for him. It's all the same in the end.

Hollywood is supposed to be so liberal, and yet all those actors who get elected to office seem to live on the right somewhere. There has been no one in the White House who was more of a Hollywood insider than Regan, and the other politicians of note Hollywood has produced--Murphy and Schwarzenegger--are also republicans. Thompson is an actor that DC produced, which is not quite the same thing, but he's also a Republican. Just how conservative is liberal Hollywood really? Even Sonny Bono and Clint Eastwood were Republicans. And Fred Grandy? Republican! (for those who don't know, former four term congressman Fred Grandy of Iowa played Gopher on "The Love Boat.")

Shaky times for gun owners

The New York Sun reported yesterday on the court case surrounding DC's handgun ban, one of the strictest in the nation (essentially the same as the San Francisco Ban, which is to say total). They note that the supreme court is likely to take the case because only two circuit courts, DC's and the one in New Orleans, have held that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right and not a collective right governing militias (in this case the National Guard). This is what I've always maintained: that the 2nd amendment refers to an individual right.

But the DC case interests me not only because it may be possible for this court to finally acknowledge that the 2nd amendment protects individual rights, thereby correcting a long history of misinterpretation, but because of DC's secondary position. DC insists that even if the 2nd amendment is an individual right they still have the right to regulate handguns because only long guns are protected under the 2nd amendment. I believe their argument is that the word "militia" in the 2nd amendment means that it only protects military small arms. Handguns, while they are carried by officers in the military, are not militia weapons. This is the position that I've always held. Although I wish the 2nd amendment protected handgun ownership it really doesn't in my view. However, it does protect ownership of military assault weapons. I'm not sure DC really wants to go there.


It may sound weird coming from a punk rocker like me, but Luciano Pavaroti died yesterday, and it leaves a great hole in my life. Check this out:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Staying the course by tacking hard right

So on todays Op-ed page the New York Times published a frank editorial stating that it is clear that the military situation in Iraq is getting better and that pulling out American troops would lead to a destabilization just when the ship seemed to be righting itself. They note that the political situation is still in a shambles, but that attacks and deaths are both down over last year. Looking at a number of benchmarks they reported that the situation had definitely improved.

This is a big deal, for the Times to essentially back President Bush's position regarding Iraq and "staying the course." I think they're laying the groundword to support Hillary in the primary next spring.

The Simsons Take Hollywood

So I saw the Simpsons movie yesterday for the holiday. Aside from a shot of Bart's penis it was really not as out there and daring as I'd been led to believe. I mean, I laughed a lot, and I didn't want my money back. It was a lot of fun. But it wasn't what it was hyped to be by my friends who saw it the weekend it oppened. However, i can certainly reccomend it.