Democracy, Policy Decisions, and Education

Thucydides makes for interesting reading. One of his speakers, Diodotus, sums up in a nutshell the major problem of democratic assemblies:
It has become the rule also to treat good advice honestly given as being no less under suspicion as bad, so that a man who has something rather good to say must tell lies in order to be believed, just as a man who gives terrible advice must win over the people by deception.
Leo Strauss, in his commentary, comes to a sobering conclusion:
From not entirely pure motives, democratic assemblies are more concerned with purity of a certain kind than with wisdom. Since they will not vote for a proposal unless they have trust in the proposer, and since they trust on grounds which are so little rational, not only bad men but good men as well are compelled to deceive the assembly and lie to it. Perhaps one cannot benefit any city without deceiving it, for no city is likely to consist chiefly of perfectly wise and virtuous people…
At issue is whether the largest part of the assembly is able to distinguish on its own between good advice and bad, rather than advice that is convincing or personally appealing. If it cannot tell good from bad, then all that is left is personal interest, or else the influence of skillful orators and sophists. In such a situation, the policies chosen by the city must inevitably be inferior, given that they are not chiefly motivated by concerns of right and virtue.

If it were possible to have a body of citizens able to know right and wrong on their own, and if they could not be corrupted or confused by rhetorical brilliance in the service of suspect policy, then there would be no need for lying in order to arrive at the best policy. Unfortunately for modern America, this presupposes that there are indeed such things as "right," "wrong," or a "best policy."

It used to be that we as a nation educated our children to believe in natural law and absolute good and evil. In the last sixty years or so, however, this has been supplanted in the public school system (and to a somewhat lesser degree elsewhere) by a belief in moral relativism: in short, that good and evil as such do not exist. There can be no objective standards for viewing behavior, since every culture, every community, and every individual does things differently. Therefore, the last several generaltions have been trained to be uncomfortable with the idea of right and wrong, as such. (They certainly believe that actions are proper or improper, but this is much harder to pin down; so much the better for some would-be social engineers.)

This being the case, how can the polity make decisions without reference to right and wrong? Out of naked self-interest, or else based on the rhetorical presentations that are presented to them.

Remember the bewilderment in many quarters over the large numbers of poor people who voted for President Bush in the last election. "How can they vote against their own self-interest?" was the anguished cry, on the assumption that Republicans are bad for the poor. This assumption comes from the media, of course, which has appointed itself the arbiter of all elections and the final judge between candidates (in its own mind). "Therefore," it reasons, "if we tell these poor people that Republicans will deny them services, then they should clearly vote against Republicans. Why shouldn't they?"

Why shouldn't they? Because they judged for themselves who is bad for the poor, or else because they made their decision based on other factors than self-interest; for example, the much-lamented "moral values."

Moral values, or moral absolutes, or knowledge of right and wrong, make things so much more complicated for those who seek power. It is much easier to work in a system of moral relativism. Simply offer all things to all people, and "shape the information environment" to your advantage. Victory goes to those with the slickest media machines, the most successful lies, and the most lavish bribes for the voting public, to be paid out of the public treasury. In other words, victory goes to those least concerned about the long-term health of the nation.

This may not be why moral relativism is taught to our children, but the practical result is the same. Democracy, if it is to endure, must base itself on firm principles of right and wrong, good and evil. Otherwise, we will simply flounder around in a swamp of vote-buying, mass deception, and moral ambiguity until we at last sink entirely in the mud.


Nostradamus He Isn't

Reading Doonesbury over the past several days has been most amusing. A word first about print comics. As I understand it, generally syndicated comic-strip writers submit their strips to the distribution networks as much as two weeks in advance, which makes commenting on current events a chancy business.

Apparently, Garry Trudeau heard about the recent ethics controversies surrounding Congressman Tom DeLay, and made the judgment that the Republican Party and the President would withdraw their support in short order. Therefore, his latest comic strips have been following the plotline that DeLay is on a political "deathwatch," having been made bereft of allies. The President, in this plot, is hanging DeLay out to dry, disregarding his years of loyal service to the party and callously calling him "the Leper" in today's strip.

Apparently Trudeau meant to kill two birds with one stone. Not only would he have gotten in a few cheap shots at DeLay, but in his portrayal, any retreat by the President would not be out of any sense of morals but out of pure political calculation, and hence would be a betrayal of his close ally.

Sadly, real life did not follow Trudeau's script. The President just yesterday gave DeLay a ride on Air Force One, and though the White House spin doctors are denying that the appearance implied any political support, the messsage is obvious. DeLay is certainly in hot water, but the rest of the party is not going to abandon him to the wolves.

I have not beeen following the DeLay issue closely. More interesting to me is what this episode shows about tightening feedback cycles. Trudeau, operating with an antiquated distribution model, must make his calls weeks in advance. Normally, he would not risk such a blunder as he just committed, except that a new breed of comics has arisen on the Internet that responds to major events in real time. One popular comic, Day By Day by Chris Muir, often has quotes from major newspapers and blogs of the previous day (though at present, he is in the middle of a self-defense plotline).

Trudeau is trying to compete for relevance, with a crippling handicap. If he doesn't go to realtime distribution, he'll have to step back from the cutting edge of current events, and the internet strips will have secured a major victory.


Democracy and its Detractors

Over Passover, I read Natan Sharansky's boook, "The Case for Democracy" (appropriate, I suppose, for the holiday commemorating our freedom). One point which he returned to again and again is the skepticism which his views on democracy and peace were met with by diplomats and national leaders in America, Israel, and most of the Western world. These worthies all preferred to work with "friendly strongmen" in the interests of "stability."

This is especially troubling in the wake of the recent belligerencies out of China. For several decades, American policy has been to "engage" China in the hopes of moderating its regime, or at the least to establish a sort of regional stability. In the name of engagement, China's abysmal human-rights record and its invasion of Tibet have been more or less swept under the rug. Bill Clinton, to his modest credit, at least made noises to the effect of linking China's entry into the WTO to an improved human-rights record; yet when the chips were down, he caved.

And what has been the result? China's industrial power has grown exponentially, with Western money and investment as its fuel. On the strength of its roaring economy, China is now in the middle of a massive naval mobilization. Its object appears to be Taiwan, a staunch US ally which has been repeatedly betrayed by American diplomats in order to appease its larger cousin.

True, at the same time a large middle class has been created, which is more and more connected to the outside world. And the social strains of China's new economy are causing headaches for the Communist Party. These pressures may yet lead to a revolution, in time. Yet who is to say that such a revolution would not have come earlier, had the West not acted as China's sugar daddy? According to Natan Sharansky, the dissidents in the USSR loooked on deténte as nothing more than appeasement, that extended the life of the Soviet tyranny. And remember that Deng Xiaoping decided that China could not survive without foreign trade. Should we then have so quickly given him what he so desperately needed, without so much as a single serious concession in return with regard to human rights?

Now we are in a race to see what will happen first. Will China move against Taiwan, in the dictator's classic move to unify a restless populace? Or will the Chinese Communists fall first?

Given such a situation, we have no excuse whatsoever to avoid throwing all the means at our disposal behind the cause of Chinese democracy. As to those who protest that doing so would be a "destabilizing" influence, I scorn your stability. Your stability is but a carte blanche for murderers to continue murdering. You would turn a blind eye to tyrants with blood on their hands, for fear that a spot of it should stain your elegant suits. For the sake of Taiwan, for the sake of Japan, for the sake of the Chinese who live under oppression, we can no longer be silent.


Happy Passover

Pesach, or Passover, starts Saturday night, which means that I will not be blogging for the next several days. I would leave you with some incisive and thoughtful (or at least naively pretentious) commentary, but I've spent most of today cooking and cleaning. So I'll just leave you with a quick note:

Chametz, or leaven, is seen to symbolize arrogance. The process of cleaning leaven from the house is meant to parallel a similar process of introspection and self-improvement, and removing arrogance from your nature. As you go through the weekend, try to take the opportunity to think about yourself and your character, and see if you can't identify one area to work on. I know I've got quite a list...

Drink lots of water or have lots of prunes. You'll be much happier that way, trust me. Have fun!

Syracuse and Imperial Overstretch

Having arrived home, I have found the time to read some of Thucydides' history of the Second Pelopennesian War (which is good, since we covered it in class some weeks ago). It is interesting that, though the Athenian invasion of Sicily is widely considered the classic case of "imperial overstretch," all told it had a very good chance of succeeding. Even given the thin support of the local Sicilians against Syracuse, Athens had sufficient resources to threaten the city with capture.

The major reason for the invasion's failure was that certain factions in Athens turned on one of its generals, Alcibiades, and unjustly charged him with crimes against the city. He then defected to Sparta rather than submit to arrest and trial, and advised the Spartans to support Syracuse against Athens. Without this support, Syracuse would almost certainly have fallen; even with it, an aggressive general like Alcibiades may well have won victory where the more cautious Nicias did not.

That civil discord within Athens was the main cause of her defeat is a recurring theme in Thucydides. On its strengths, Athens had every reason to expect victory in the war, as the Spartans acknowledged. Yet because the city could not unify for the greater good, it fell.

Still, we have learned nothing. Note how loudly the mob called for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign over the Abu Ghraib affair.


Homeward Bound (And China Too!)

Early tomorrow I'll be heading to the airport to head home for the holidays, so I'll be spending much of tonight packing. To keep you occupied, check out this truly awe-inspiring post about China's military options from Winds of Change (hat tip: Instapundit). If you have the time, read through some of the documents that it links to, they are excellent.

China is becoming more and more worrying, when you put together the recent episodes of Japan-bashing, the resolution authorizing invasion of Taiwan, and the massive military buildup of the past several years. It could be that containment was the right strategy to follow after all, and not economic engagement. Unfortunately, we are too far in to back out now. All we can do is intensify our efforts to undermine the Communist government and hope that it collapses before China starts throwing its weight around.

That's all for now. Have a happy and healthy Passover, and (more generally) a happy and healthy year. Some rumblings from Israel's mystical community indicate that ths year may end up being happier than most, but I'm not at all qualified to comment beyond that. Have fun!

Benedict XVI

The Vatican Conclave has chosen the next Pope, formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger. I do not know enough about him to comment, but Captain Ed has a quote from him that is extremely gratifying:
[Relativism] is letting oneself be "swept along by every wind of teaching." (It) looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires.
If this is the new Pope's thinking, then the world will be much benefitted by it. Here is my hope that Catholicism will be a force for good under his leadership.


Say What?

While researching a paper, I came across a piece by Michael Mandelbaum from almost two years ago regarding Saudi Arabia and our foreign policy. Most of the article is a reasonable survey of the problems with supporting the Saudis for their oil, while allowing them to export Wahhabism. Mandelbaum then lists three scenarios for dealing with the issue. This is the third:
If the world cannot live without Saudi oil but concludes that it also cannot live with the current Saudi regime, it may decide to separate the two, putting the Saudi oil fields under some sort of international control. They might be administered by the United Nations, with the proceeds going to the world's poorest countries rather than to the Saudi ruling family. This would cut off the funding for terrorism that, until now, has emanated from Saudi Arabia. It would represent a sharp departure from existing international rules and procedures. But if Saudi-funded terror continues, proposals of this kind will rise to the top of the international agenda.
Does he actually think this sort of thing will work? What could he possibly be thinking?

Off the top of my head, I can imagine all sorts of problems with this idea. First, the UN is not the kind of organization you want in control of a lot of oil. Second, this assumes that the Saudis will meekly submit to an infringement of their sovereignty and a huge loss of revenue. In reality, this would mean a full-scale invasion and occupation, which would amost certainly be done by Americans. In that case, why not just take control ourselves? Does the Third World have some sort of claim on that oil we don't know about?

From all accounts, Mandelbaum is a sharp thinker who knows his stuff. Yet his answer to everything is a fairy-dust fantasy of internationalization and global charity to those in need. Note that there is not a single reference to military force in the above paragraph, nor is there a reference to any Saudi reaction. It's as if we could create ex nihilo a solution to all of Life's problems.

I don't get it. He saw the problem clearly, but could not bring himself to identify the clearest solution. This was probably influenced by the unstable situation in Iraq at the time, but still, he should have done better than to reflexively float off into Multilateral Land.

I don't know. I just don't know. You say the magic words "military conflict," and otherwise rational people curl up in the corner and start whimpering. That is not a great way to engage in intellectual speculation.


Artistic Atrophy?

Many people on my campus, most of all the fine-arts faculty, have been reduced to a state of numb horror as year after year, fewer and fewer students take any interest at all in the fine arts. There are no dance programs on campus, and most students have absolutely no rhythm or coordination. Almost nobody plays any instrument besides electric guitar, and most of those people are terrible. (Living across the hall from several guitarists is no fun.) Almost nobody can sing with any skill. Writing and poetry classes routinely have fewer than ten students, perhaps half of whom have a tin ear for language.

Granted, there is a degree of selection going on. Anyone who wants to actually develop his talent will not go to this college. But even among the general student body, there is less and less interest in watching the fine arts. Our theater productions have thinner and thinner audiences every semester, and the college jazz ensemble (which is mostly made up of faculty now) can barely fill a small room. A night of poetry and short fiction that I attended a while ago had maybe two people in the audience of ten who were not presenting their own work (and this was even with the free pizza!).

This stems partly from a sick attitude that has taken root in some communities, that "non-religious" art and music are a waste of time that could better be spent learning Torah. I wonder, according to this twisted worldview, what an ideal society would look like. It would probably be extremely boring; most of the "Jewish" music I have heard is awful. I can say with confidence that most of these "musicians" have never heard a piece by Bach or Mozart in their lives.

Aside from the loss to art that this represents, I worry that this trend indicates a larger lack of any sort of intellectual creativity. A serious criticism of the traditional Jewish education system is that it produces well-educated drones, not leaders. I see this in action all the time. A small core of students are actually engaging in intellectual discourse; the rest are simply "grinding" their studies, and they shut down in befuddlement when confronted by a challenging idea.

I think a significant cause might be the difference between associative learning and formalistic learning. Art is primarily associative, while most of these students have been trained their whole lives in a sort of mechanical rote learning, or if they are lucky, in a rigorous logical process. Associative learning has very little place in the typical Talmud class (which is a mistake, I think). Unfortunately, a critical trait of the most original thinkers has always been the ability to associate seemingly unconnected ideas and create new concepts. This process is in large part missing among Orthodox Jewish youth, and it is worrying.

Granted, an associative mind is an exceptional trait. But these sorts of traits can be cultivated, and art and music have historically been the most profound ways to cultivate societies. We are cutting ourselves off from that influence. Now, I can understand rejecting modern music, much of which is crude, unoriginal, and just not very good. But Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy? The great works of the past, that have withstood the test of time, what of them?

On the other hand, this could be the means by which the pathologies of Jewish life get starved out of the intellectual gene pool. One can hope.

(I'm getting a little depressed, blogging about Jewish communal issues. I'm going back to blogging about people killing each other, that oughta cheer me up...)


Anticipating the Messiah

(The first part of this post is condensed from a d'var Torah given by R' Dani Rapp a few hours ago.)

Jews are obligated to expect the coming of the Moshiach (Messiah) at any time, even today. This is true to the extent that the rabbis of the Talmud stated that any Jew who denied the possibility of the Moshiach coming would lose his share in the World to Come.

Yet we find that in practice, almost everybody does the exact opposite. Indeed, "when Moshiach comes" has become a near synonym for "never," as in: "The Cubs winning the World Series? When Moshiach comes!" This is understandible after three thousand years, but that is still no excuse. We need to take our intellectual acceptance of the Moshiach and infuse it into our daily lives, and thus perhaps bring about the Messianic Age more quickly.

But there is a passage from the Talmud that seems to dispute this idea. (If I remember correctly, it is in Tractate Chullin.) It more or less reads as follows: "The son of David will not arrive until the whole world has despaired of his coming."

How can such a thing be? Could we really be prolonging the Exile by hoping that it will end? Can this really be telling us that we should accept the Exile and give up hope?

R' Yaakov Kaminetzky interprets the passage in the following way. He believes that it parallels the experience of the first Redemtion, the exodus from Egypt (which is said to be the prototype for all subsequent persecutions and redemptions). Remember that God appeared to Moses and commanded him to approach Pharoh and ask for the Bnei Yisrael's (Children of Israel's) freedom. Yet when Moses did so, not only did Pharoh refuse to free the Bnei Yisrael, he increased the labor to which they were subjected. The leaders complained to Moses and asked why he had come at all, since all he did was to make the situation worse.

R' Yaakov asks: why did God need for this to happen? Why not simply begin the Plagues immediately and force Pharoh to acquiesce? Why did God need for the Bnei Yisrael to suffer more?

He answers that before this happened, some among the Bnei Yisrael felt that it was possible to end the period of slavery through normal political means. If someone could approach Pharoh and explain to him the ways in which freeing the Bnei Yisrael would be beneficial to him, then Pharoh would see reason and the situation would be resolved. God needed to demonstrate that such a "normal" approach would not work, that there was no hope for freedom within the normal way of doing things. The only way that Israel could possibly be saved was through the intervention of God Himself.

Similarly, many people believe that the world can be perfected through normal human means: through philanthropy, or universal brotherhood, or whatever. R' Yaakov says that so long as people believe this, then the Redemption will not take place. It is only once the whole world realizes that true perfection is beyond the ability of humanity, and can only come about through God's hand, that the Moshiach will indeed come.

(Thus far the words of R' Dani Rapp.)

Many people today try to implement Utopian systems in the hopes of bringing about universal happiness. The United Nations was meant to end all war, Communism was meant to end all class conflict and poverty, and so on. Yet people do not realize that we cannot create a perfect system, and that any attempt will have intrinsic flaws which may be worse than what is being replaced. Even capitalism, which I continue to believe is far and away the best we can come up with for now, brings with it the suffering of the poor; and it exacts from the rest of us a constant mental strain that focuses our thoughts on the material, to the detriment of the spiritual.

And yet people persist in trying to find the perfect system. Granted, it is clearly possible to improve the world, and the world today is much better than it was in centuries past. But true perfection is beyond us. Defenders of capitalism too have fallen into the trap, by belittling the valid concerns of their adversaries that the poor are being neglected, and that the culture is being degraded.

But "Man cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Eternal One." We must, as a culture, truly accept that materialism will only take us so far. One cannot be a complete person, and a society cannot become a healthy society, unless attention is paid to the spiritual as well. If we accept that we cannot become perfect on our own, and instead try to become better, than the world will truly be ready for the Messianic Age.


Those Wascally MIT Students

Via Tim Blair, a group of MIT students were tired of getting spam solicitations for submissions to the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), and wrote a program to generate a faux research paper complete with nonsensical jargon and meaningless diagrams.

It was accepted.

Excerpts: "the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning" and "We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions".

Check out the article, it just gets better.


She Gets PAID For This Stuff?

The proprietors of the Hatemongers' Quarterly blog posted an invitation they received for a lecture at the University of Nottingham, which reads in part as follows:
Invitation to the Seminar of Luce Irigaray

Luce Irigaray is Special Professor at the School of Modern Languages of the University of Nottingham for three years.…The programme of the week was established according to the wishes of the students themselves. Generally, in the morning, Luce Irigaray explained some key words or key thoughts of her thinking, from a list drawn up by students:

[S]exual difference; becoming, and especially feminine becoming; femininity – feminine – woman – female; sensible transcendental; feminine imaginary in relation to the symbolic order; maternal order; invisibility; desire; placental economy; exchange; the breath; energy; elements; angel; the East, etc.
I've always thought radical feminist philosophers were a bit off their rockers (granted, most philosophers are a bit off their rockers), but this has to take the cake. The primary problem with feminist thought, in my view, is that men supposedly go around constructing vast intellectual edifices in order to fetishize our genitals, or else to suppress women out of some sort of insecurity. Now, I'm willing to grant a certain degree of such behavior, depending on the era and the culture. But most of the time we're too busy hunting, gathering, and killing each other to worry about such things. Seriously, our lives are not spent scheming about how to oppress women!

Based on a few minutes of Googling, it seems that much of Dr. Irigaray's thought is a justification for anti-Westernism, and especially anti-capitalism. Granted that competition seems to be a more male way of doing things, as opposed to cooperation. But it also tends to get better results when used as a basis for an economy. To oppose a system that works, and mitigates a great deal of suffering, just because it is male-centric seems to me to be the worst sort of narcissism. Once you show me that your "placental economy" actually gets results, then we can talk.


Quote of the Day

Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword.
—Edward Bulwer-Lytton

(I find it most interesting that the first part of the sentence is usually ignored. It completely undercuts the way in which the quote is generally used, that is, to discount the utility of violence. In fact, the pen can only be mightier than the sword "beneath the rule of men entirely great," meaning under a just and stable society. In a time of turmoil, the writer must take refuge behind the swordsman, or else take up the sword himself.)

The Economics of Pesach Food

Soccer Dad has been trying to defend the high price of Kosher for Passover food over at his blog, in the face of apparent chest-beating by the New York Office of Consumer Affairs. He asked me to contribute my two cents, so here they are.

Soccer Dad actually touched on most of the high points already, but here are a few more points:

With normal Kosher food, a large chunk of the market is actually non-Jews who are looking for a higher standard of sanitary supervision thn they can get with normal government oversight, or who are trying to avoid "mystery ingredients." Healthy eaters especially like Kosher food. With Kosher for Passover food, this market disappears. Nobody would eat this stuff if they didn't have to. That means a much smaller potential market, hence a need for higher margins.

Moreover, companies have a very short window to sell their merchandise. Again, if it isn't eaten during the holiday, it probably never will be eaten. That means that companies can't simply inventory their surplus stock. It has to go out now or never. Hence, additional risk and the need for higher margins.

Finally, there are a lot more producers of standard Kosher items than there are of Kosher for Passover items. And many Kosher items are mass marketed, for example Hershey bars which have a global consumer base.

But in any event, if you believe that the price of Pesach food is too high, you should see it as an opportunity to make some money. If you can sell food yourself and undercut the prices of the big boys, go for it! You will be rewarded by the cheering multitudes, and with a fattened pocketbook. That's the beauty of a free market. And that is also the test of market prices.


Government Bailouts and Moral Hazard

My uncle just wrote a column for the Free-Market News Network, Smaller Government Could Undermine Terrorists, in which he notes three instances in which large government has impeded effective airline security: preventing pilots from carrying firearms, preventing private security on flights, and bailing out the insurance companies who underwrote the airlines and the WTC. I would like to expand on the last point.

In a free market, insurance agencies are a powerful regulating force. In order for an agency to assume part of your risk, you generally have to prove that you are running your operation safely and effectively. If you are being slipshod and taking unnecessary risks, insurance companies will demand a higher premium, giving you a powerful incentive to improve.

One would assume that the same principle would apply to government regulations that actually make situations more dangerous; insurance companies would increase premiums in response, and the companies affected would lobby government to have the rules relaxed. But with the advent of the government bailout, the insurance companies no longer have an incentive to raise their premiums and risk losing clients. They simply continue with business as usual, and if the government regulations actually contribute to a disaster (as they did on 9/11), the insurance companies can stick government with the tab.

(One would imagine that airlines would rather pay more in premiums than risk having a plane hijacked. Unfortunately, this sort of shortsighted thinking is a constant feature of the American worldview, whether it be business, politics, or society. I don't know why it is, and I'm not sure how it could be changed without a massive cultural shift.)

In essence, by bailing out the insurance companies, the government is bribing them not to react to stupid government policies, which would in turn provoke calls for the policies to be changed. And they're doing it with our money! Pretty smooth, huh?

And they wonder why we're always complaining about taxes.


Yet Another Reason Why We Need Tax Reform

The annual exercise in masochism, aggravation, and seething fury known as "doing your taxes" is upon us again. Death by a thousand paper cuts...

Blogging will be slow until I get my taxes in. On a better note, the play production is going very well.


The Double-Edged Sword

Techology continues to promise near-miraculous benefits, while threatening unimaginable abuses. Sony has just been granted a patent for a technique to beam sensory information directly into the brain.

This could end up being the cure for blindness, deafness, and a host of other maladies. On the other hand, such things could also be used maliciously. Imagine if a dictator were to use a large-scale device of this kind to produce rapturous experiences in his citizens when he addresses them, creating a whole new cult of the god-king. Or it could just as easily be used to inflict pain on his enemies.

On another note, it seems inevitable that such devices could take pornographic materials to a whole new level. I can't remember where I read it, but there was a statement going around to the effect that once antisocial men can have a better time locked in their rooms than they can have with real women, we are going to see a demographic implosion unlike any other.

It's things like this that make it so important to have a societal value system. The libertarian credo is breaking down, just because people are more and more likely to act in ways that, though they do not cause direct harm to another, will be ruinous to society. In order for a society to survive in a world of effectively infinite technology, we must have a social framework to guide our actions. Otherwise, society will simply break apart, and is already in the process of doing so.


Last Gasp for the Iraqi Insurgency?

I apologize for the light posting lately, but we just finished dress rehearsal. The show runs for most of next week, so I'll be a little tied up in all probability.

In the meanwhile, check out this excellent post over at Belmont Club (hat tip: Instapundit), where Wretchard considers the latest futile attempts by the terror groups in Iraq to defeat the Americans in a head-to-head battle. Don't miss the comments section, there's a lot of good stuff there too.


Forcing the Redemption

I just finished watching a Flash animation series called "Broken Saints." It was essentially a comic-book series on steroids. Very well done technically, but I can't say I like the underlying philosophy. A lot of people seem to equate the Messianic Age with people being forced to do good. Ergo, if people put together what is essentially a global mind-control network, they can use it to bring about a rough equivalent to the Messianic Age. Simple, right?

In Judaism, there have always been two ways that the Messianic Age could be brought about. Either we could merit it through our deeds, or else it can be imposed by God to prevent a total destruction. But in either event, the purpose of the Messianic Age is to provide people an ideal environment in which to do good. But we would still be left with free will, and the choice to do good or evil remains. It will just be easier to do good.

The drive among some people to deny others their free will is unsettling. They don't seem to realize that it is our freedom of action that makes us human. Not some intrinsic lifeforce, not some collective organism in which we all share. Free will. Remove that, and we are no longer human.

Although this mindset goes a long way towards explaining the attitudes of specific groups of people. The politics of the series were rather distinctive, to say the least. One of the protagonists was an Iraqi terrorist (and this series was begun in 2001!).


Oh, Canada...

I haven't been paying very close attention to the Canadian corruption investigations, but Captain Ed has. In fact, his expose provoked the Canadian government to threaten prosecution of any Canadian webmaster who so much as links to his site.

Isn't this the sort of thing that totalitarian regimes do?

I think it high time for such an autocratic government to get the boot from voters. Fortunately, it seems that the Canadians are just as disgusted as the rest of us, and the Liberal Party is about to get a wake-up call the likes of which could change the course of Canadian politics.

Last word comes from one of Captain Ed's commenters, Corrie: "Yet another demonstration of 'Tucker's Theorem': The Internet was originally designed to survive a nuclear war. It treats censorship as battle damage and routes around it."


Hevel Havalim #16!

Welcome to Hevel Havalim, or "Vanity of Vanities," the Jewish blogosphere's blog carnival. The name comes from the beginning of the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), so I figure that it is only appropriate to begin with a quote from that book:
Of all the things that come, a man is not able to speak; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled from hearing (1:8)
That's certainly how I feel now! There's a lot of good stuff out there, and the articles linked here are only a small sampling of them. Be sure to check out the main pages of the blogs I link to, if you can.

Now to begin with some sobering reading. Terri Schiavo passed away this week, having been starved to death by court order. Naturally, the Jewish world has some strong opinions on the issue. Here are a few, many of which draw parallels with other issues.

At Crossing the Rubicon 2, Gail gives an exceptionally comprehensive look at the Terri Schiavo case from all angles: moral, religious, legal, ethical, and a personal note as a survivor of cancer. It’s all good, but one quote in particular jumped out at me:
Those who see her as a vegetable want her dead because they can't bear to think of what life would be like under those conditions, but one who is living under those conditions is not aware of the factors that we find unbearable.  We want her dead to ease our own suffering - not hers.
The Schiavo Case

(I actually explored a similar theme in a post a few days ago, before this one was submitted. The two pieces compliment each other very well, I think. Murder by Judge)

Batya at Shiloh Musings relates the Terri Schiavo case to the present culture of abortion on demand, and then extrapolates outward into America’s foreign policy. (Though I’m not sure I understand her reference to the Yom Kippur War, given Nixon’s massive arms airlift.) Terri Schiavo and Modern Morality

In another piece, Batya draws a parallel between the death of Terri Schiavo and Israel’s disengagement plan. Selection

Judith at Kesher Talk links to several fiskings of a terrible article by the Jewish Week on the Schiavo case, which manages to cover several angles of the issue without consulting a single eminent bioethicist (certainly not because we have such a shortage of them, either). Poskening

On to other topics...Soccer Dad, Hevel Havalim’s esteemed founder, asks the question: What Jewish holy text is most like a blog?

Shanna of Devarim.com rants about “Shomer Negiah,” the prohibition against physical contact between unmarried men and women, and about the profound sociological distortions that it causes. From where I sit at YU, I have to agree that things have been taken to an unhealthy level. The more clearsighted rabbis are extremely worried. Natural, Chemical, Logical, Habitual

She then takes issue with the “Fuzzy December” holiday season in Rejoice!

Back at Shiloh Musings, Batya considers the implications for Israeli society of the proliferation of Shabak agents and agent-provocatuers who spy on Israeli Jews, and comes to a disheartening conclusion: Trust and Insecurity

Fred at Israelpundit takes note of a Canadian Muslim who refused to tolerate anti-Semetism at his children’s private school. How do you say “mensch” in Arabic?

Fred's post makes for particularly interesting reading in light of this piece by Daniel Pipes.

Winds of Change features a post by Zorkmidden of Discarded Lies, where he interviews an old Salonikan Jew who survived Bergen-Belsen. What was it that seperated the Jews from their tormenters? Terra Nostra: "We were from a different level"

David at Israelly Cool tells of the drive back from a Jerusalem wedding party, and the hijinks that ensue. Only in Israel will people not feel nervous about accepting help from confessed criminals! One Night in Jerusalem

The Elder of Ziyon brings our attention to a statement by leading Papal candidate Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, calling for Christians to recognize Zionism as a “Biblical imperative.” Zionist Cardinal.

On Batya’s other blog, Me-ander, Baile Rochel writes a post described as “A true life story about ladies in YESHA. There's only one, maybe two exaggerations. Send me your guesses.” All I can say is, the more sixty-year-old women who can belly-dance, the better! Got That Rhythm!

At Multiple Mentality, Jewish contributer Sethual Chocolate and non-Jewish co-founder Lowcommotion discuss How to Become an Honorary Jew

And I'll close with a piece of my own, containing some rough thoughts on the historical Parallels Between Early America and Early Israel

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy all the great submissions, and be sure to check back with Soccer Dad to see who's hosting next week.

I'm Late! I'm Late! For a Very Important Date!

Apologies for not having Hevel Havalim posted yet. I just got back, so it should be up within a half hour or so. See you then!


Invasion of the Column Snatchers!

I'm being considered for a position as opinion-page editor for the student newspaper, the Commentator. I don't know whether I'll be chosen, of course, but it would be nice. I'm not sure if the poor guys at the Commie know what they'd be in for if I do get in...

Top Ten list of new topics for the opinion section:

10. Suggestion box for countries whose currencies need manipulating.

9. A continuing column on how public schools are secretly fronts for the International Communist Party.

8. Monthly shidduch candidates for Condi Rice.

7. Analyses of cool names like "Krauthammer."

6. The dollar should be pegged to the price of Prozac.

5. "Evil Dictator of the Week," with suggestions on how to assassinate him.

4. We need to invade Mexico to secure vital supplies of oil, cheap workers, and tequila.

3. Why everyone less religious than me is wrong.

2. Why everyone more religious than me is wrong.

1. Guns!! Guns!! Guns!!


And remember to check back on Sunday for this week's installment of Hevel Havalim. It's not too late to submit your own pieces, so let me know if you have written anything particularly good in the past week. Shabbat shalom!