Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Compassion and Leadership

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 07, 2017 @ 11:39 am PDT

I’ve been increasingly dismayed by the hatred I’m seeing in political arenas these days, especially from those who profess to be Christians. Now, admittedly I’m Jewish and not an expert on Christianity, but my understanding is that Christ preached love, understanding, and compassion for people, and rallied against the moneychangers and those who accumulated wealth for wealth’s sake.

What brought this to the fore of late was reading the proposed GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The proposal, according to the LA Times summary, would ensure that no federal funding can be made, either directly or indirectly, by Medicaid to a healthcare organization that “provides for abortions,” other than those done in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. That not only defunds Planned Parenthood, but any hospital that performs abortion. Further, According to a House Ways and Means Committee digest, the measure forbids spending federal tax subsidies on health plans that include coverage of abortion, even if the customer doesn’t get an abortion. This denies women the right to a safe abortion guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, under those timelines — and that in many cases has the government interfering with the practice of the mother’s religion (which might permit abortion). Further, you would think that a group so concerned with the life of a child would ensure it is born healthy, if they are going to prevent abortion. But no. According to the summary, as of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted at the federal level. So not only is abortion prohibited, but there would be no requirement to provide maternity care. This isn’t compassion, this is hatred towards women.

Further, studies are showing that the new proposal will cost 6 to 10 million people their health insurance. It will raise premiums on older people. It will cost Obamacare enrollees about $1500 more each year. It slashes funding for vaccines and public health. The plan will be really bad for the sickest Americans due to the continuous coverage requirement. Oh, and it encourages health insurers to pay their top executives more.

This is just an example. Hatred from the Conservative side is rampant, and has been for many years. I’ve had conservative friends wish all liberals dead. I’ve seen hatred towards immigrant groups. I’ve seen hatred towards the poor. Yet these are from people who profess to be Christian, who profess to want to have Christian values throughout society. They are using Christianity as an excuse for their hatred, and that’s wrong. I know that’s not what Christianity teaches, as I have seen numerous compassionate Christians who are living that compassion every day.

In a VCStar interview with Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, he was asked about his passion and liberalism. I found his response quite interesting:

I also think for the liberal, it’s the willingness to take a chance, to share and to reach out and to find new ways to interact. I think the conservative mold is essentially to protect your resources or to protect what’s yours; and I don’t know if I should say this to a tape recorder because I don’t know when it’s gonna return to bite me in the ass, but I would say organized religion is very much the same way. When Luther nailed that note to the door complaining about the abuses of the church, he was also in a sense talking about the strict format that had to be obeyed, when really, his feeling was — and I think it’s gaining contemporary recognition — that spiritually, matters of the heart, are for us to decide individually, and that’s scary for the church because that means that essentially everyone is an angel. Everyone is essentially creating their own religion, and that’s scary for people who have put their faith in dogma and in routine. That’s not to say that I don’t have routines that I find comforting – and I’m sure that you do too – but when they exclude other people, create difficulties or lack of respect for other people, then I think we need to re-address obeying forms and start obeying the compassion in our hearts.

Compassion in our hearts. Our political system here in America is one that permits many spiritual paths, and explicitly recognizes that one group cannot impose a spiritual path on another. The Supreme Court recognized that when it found a compromise position on abortion: a point before which it was legal, and a point after which it was not. This is a clear middle ground between those who believe life starts at conception (a Christian view) and those who believe it starts when the infant takes its first breath (a Jewish view). Ultimately, however, it is not an outside party’s choice to make: it is the woman’s choice, in consultation with her spiritual advisors.

If our society is going to show compassion, it can’t be Dickensian, putting the poor in workhouses and letting people die if they can’t afford healthcare. That appears to be the goal of the GOP proposal — and this administration as a whole: benefit the wealthy, let those who have the privilege take advantage of everyone and everything that does not. That’s not Compassionate Conservatism — that’s “I’ve got mine, I’ll take yours”.

Some argue that compassion shouldn’t come from the government; it should come from the churches helping the people directly. Obviously, these people are not familiar with the teachings of the RamBam, Moses Maimonides, and his levels of charity:

  1. The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support someone by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
  2. A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
  3. A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
  4. A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
  5. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
  6. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
  7. A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
  8. A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.

Support from the government is at the first two: we know not to whom we give, and they do not know who gave it. Helping provide medical care and job training is above that — we help find them employment and strengthen their hands. The GOP proposal is at the bottom — inadequate giving and unwilling giving.

Our political leaders have a responsibility not only to represent their major donors — the people with the money. They have the responsibility to represent and protect the people with no voice, the people who don’t have the funds for PACs. When their compassion is only for the wealthy who look like them and who were raised like them, this isn’t a government of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people.

It Was Bound to Happen

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 06, 2017 @ 12:32 pm PDT

userpic=trumpA few thoughts that have been rumbling around this old head:

Thought the First. You know, it was bound to happen, and we’re just lucky that it took this long. We’ve had a string of 45 employees over more than 200 years, and this is the first with obvious mental problems. We just hadn’t thought out the policy on how to handle such cases.

Thought the Second. Let’s look closely at President Trump’s charges, in a logical fashion. We begin by asking not whether Obama wiretapped him, but was he wiretapped in the first place:

  • Wasn’t Wiretapped. Than this issue is moot, and we’re just dealing with a delusion.
  • Was Wiretapped. If he was wiretapped, then the question is: who ordered it. It could have been President Obama, but there are also other possibilities:
    • President Obama ordered it. This would be direct personal order, which is against the law. Still, let’s assume he broke the law. He’s not the one installing it, so who would install it. Not Radio Shack. Most likely the FBI or the NSA — and both the FBI and DNI heads have indicated this hasn’t happened. Further, supposed this had happened. To what purpose would the information be used? Not to help Clinton — we can all see how she lost — and how she couldn’t get any traction on her claims against Trump. So she didn’t anything juicy, even if it was there. Releasing it publicly would be admitting guilt, and there is no public release. So there’s no real motive here.
    • A FISA Court ordered it. This is the legal way it would be done — recall the Patriot Act Rules for domestic surveillance. But this would require there be sufficient evidence. It is also plausible: there were two prior applications to FISA to investigate Russian interference before the election, which were turned down. A third application with sufficient evidence could have worked. It would also tie with the known facts that the FBI was investigating Russian interference.
    • Some other entity ordered it. This would be a foreign government or a business competitor looking for actionable information for an advantage. That advantage could be leaking it so as to make President Trump look bad.

So if we use Occams Razor, what is the most plausible explanation? A FISA court ordered this, meaning there was sufficient evidence to convince them. That’s not good for Trump. (PS: A joke I saw going around says that Obama didn’t order a wiretap, he ordered a baby monitor).

Thought the Third. I was thinking today about how far are we rolling back the clock. After all, all the EPA and other regulations weren’t always there: this country treated its people and the environment pretty bad in the 1800s. So if we look at all the regulations Trump is rescinding (for no laws have been passed by Congress — to my knowledge — so far), what is the earliest one? My guess, right now, is we’re back to the 1950s at least.

Thought the Fourth. Leprechauns from Ireland keep stealing me Lucky Charms. Why aren’t they subject to extreme vetting?

Thought the Fifth. There is a distinction between Un-American and Illegal. There are many things that we may believe are against the American ideas of equality and freedom, but for which out laws have not caught up. Our challenge is to enshrine our ideals in our laws, and ensure they are enforced. The problem is that our laws legislate ideas that we now feel are outmoded, dated, or discriminatory.

You Have To Be Carefully Taught

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 05, 2017 @ 11:07 am PDT

userpic=divided-nationOne of the things that has truly dismayed me about our current political atmosphere between liberals and conservatives is the pure hatred between the groups. When I see a Conservative friend write about legislators scurrying like cockroaches after the President’s speech to Congress, and wishing that all libtards would die, does he realize he’s wishing death to a cockroach like me? When I see liberal friends refer to those who voted for Trump as idiots, does he realize he is referring to friends of mine?

This was brought to mind when I read the following paragraph in a recent article:

People don’t come out of the womb hating their neighbor. Hate is taught and learned. Hate comes from the inside. It’s felt and it lingers. Hate pushes you to find revenge for what you feel is unjust and unfair.

This was not an article about politics. It was an article about a white woman who married a black man, and saw the reactions of others. But the same notion is true. It is a notion that we see, alas, in our President — who when acting “presidential” calls for unity, but then goes out of his way to make outrageous claims about anyone who does not agree with him. We see it in his desire for a homogeneous society, a society where all immigrants subsume their cultural identity to the assimilated whole. We see it in his choice of advisors, who see this country as a white Christian nation — and work to bring that about.

What makes this country strong is diversity. Science shows us that diversity makes us better thinkers. According to that article:

The most successful civilizations throughout human history have demonstrated the ability — no matter how warily — to adapt through acculturation and evolve alongside others. The benefits of diversity today are largely acknowledged and often desired, as companies strive to innovate and political parties vie for voters. But the pushback against diversification, exemplified so powerfully in political upheavals in 2016, speak to the enduring fear of change and differences, even though the latter is often a societal concept, like race.

A similar message is echoed in today’s NY Times in an article about biracial people, such as President Obama:

What President Trump doesn’t seem to have considered is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible value. Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like his cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.

What has made our political nature strong is our ability to find compromise between views. The majority does not have the ability to ramrod their choices through (or they should not). They have to find compromises — solutions that not everyone likes, but they can tolerate and live with. We have also had the ability to respect those we disagree with: to like them as people even as we dislike their politics.

We have lost that. It has been a slow process that started with the loss of trust brought on by Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, the campaigning tactics of Ronald Reagan, and the polarization that arrived with the election of Bill Clinton. It has culminated with the election of a petulant spoiled brat, who throws a Twitter tantrum everytime he doesn’t receive 100% adulation or adoration or get his way.

We have to find a way to restore the balance, to restore the respect. We have to break the cycle of hatred. We have to look past the labels to the people inside, and remember that we can agree to disagree.

It is only in this way that we can save our country.

Building a Chain of Chum, Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 04, 2017 @ 10:22 am PDT

Observation StewOver the past few weeks, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of news chum (that is, links and articles that I found interesting) that refuse to theme or create a longer post. So let’s just clear the chum, and for fun, let’s see if we can build a chain connecting one article to the other. To start the screw, so to speak, let’s begin with…

  • High Tech Condoms. I don’t know where I’m going on this, but I know what’s coming, excuse me, cumming. I mean, this brings the Internet of Things to its logical climax. I mean, it’s thrust — what it pounds into you — is that not everything needs to be connected. I’m talking, of course, about the i.Con — the First Internet Connected Condom. I’m sure that you, like me, is asking — but why? According to the article: The i.Con tracks speed, “average thrust velocity,” duration, skin temperature, girth, calories burned (no joke) and frequency of sessions. Most importantly for many, no doubt, will be how a wearer stacks up to the average and “best” performers — though a sexual partner will likely have an insight or two about that. Statistics are tracked via an i.Con app. The i.Con is also supposed to be able to sense sexually transmitted diseases [but what if the technology gets a virus?].  The ring will come with a one-year warranty and have a micro-USB charging port to provide up to eight hours of juice after a single hour of being plugged in. Supposedly “all data will be kept anonymous, but users will have the option to share their recent data with friends, or, indeed the world.”
  • Security of Medical Data. Of course, we all know our medical data is secure, right? Right? RIGHT? Well, not really. I found an interesting article this week on Medjack, a medical trojan. The problem is that the proliferation of literally insecurable medical systems running orphaned operating systems with thousands of know, unpatchable defects provides a soft target for identity thieves looked to pillage your health records. One trojan, Medjack, enters healthcare facilities by penetrating these badly secured diagnostic and administrative systems and then fans out across the network, cracking patient record systems. These records are used for tax fraud and identity theft, and to steal narcotics prescriptions that can be filled from online pharmacies and then resold on the black market.  Security firm Trapx says that “every time” they visit a healthcare facility, they find Medjack infections running rampant on the network, using exploits designed to take over Windows 2000 systems to seize control of the creaking, non-upgradeable systems that are inevitably found in these facilities.
  • Google Maps Data. Speaking of data, have you ever wondered how Google Maps gets its accurate traffic data. Of course, the answer is from you.  The Google Maps app on Android and iOS constantly send back real-time traffic data to Google. The data received from any particular smartphone is then compared to data received from other smartphones in the same area, and the higher the number of Google Maps users in an area, the more accurate the traffic prediction. Using the historical data it has compiled over the years and traffic data from mobile devices using the Google Maps app, the company is able to create models for traffic predictions for different periods. For example, the modelling techniques would be able to predict that certain roads would experience more traffic during rains than other times of the year. Google also takes traffic reports from transportation departments, road sensors, and private data providers to keep its information up to date. The accuracy of location data is unmatched only because of its users, since the billion Google Maps users on the road act as sensors for the app, which make the service as precise as possible.
  • Bus Disposal. One way to avoid traffic is to take the bus. But have you ever wondered what happens with buses when they die? Here’s an interesting article on what happens to Muni Buses in San Francisco when they are retired. Some, of course, are scrapped. Others are reincarnated as mobile showers for the homeless, airport shuttles and odd uses all across the Bay Area — even after accruing more than 400,000 miles on the road apiece. That’s due to the ingenuity of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 300 or so mechanics. This all occurs in Muni’s Islais Creek Yard, a bus yard in San Francisco’s south side, that serves as a staging area for buses that are set to be sold, scrapped or otherwise discarded. One of the more interesting conversions, after the bus was stripped of useful parts, was for the nonprofit Lava Mae, which converted four old Muni buses into mobile showers for San Francisco’s homeless residents.
  • A Flight of Angels. Of course, talk of buses takes us to other forms of transit such as trains. One unique train that existed in Los Angeles is coming back to life, again. It appears that Angels Flight, a tiny funicular in downtown LA, will be running again by Labor Day. A nonprofit has been in charge of the attraction for more than a decade, but a new private operator, ACS Infrastructure Development, Inc., is taking over for the next 30 years.  The funicular is over 100 years old, and has been inoperative since 2013 due to an accident.
  • Clintons on Broadway. Of course, talk of trains takes us to subways, and no where are subways more popular than in New York. However, I doubt that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton take the subway when they go to Broadway. Since losing the election, Hillary has been regularly attending Broadway shows, usually to a very receptive crowd. At least four times since November. At each theater appearance, Mrs. Clinton is greeted as a vanquished hero — standing ovations, selfies, shouted adulation. Mrs. Clinton has been attending Broadway shows for years, often when she has had a personal connection to an artist, a producer, or to a show’s subject matter. As for Obama, he was seen on Broadway taking his daughter, Malia, to “The Price”. The daddy-daughter duo headed backstage after the play — a new revival of the Arthur Miller classic — and met with the cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Danny DeVito, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht.  Contrast this with Trump and Pence. Since the election, only Pence has been to Broadway — to see Hamilton, and we all know what happened there.
  • Sushi. If you’re going to a show, naturally  you have dinner first? How about sushi? Here’s an interesting history of Sushi in the United States. Although there were a few restaurants experimenting with raw fish in 1963 in New York, Los Angeles was the first American home of authentic Japanese sushi. In 1966, a Japanese businessman named Noritoshi Kanai brought a sushi chef and his wife from Japan, and opened a nigiri sushi bar with them inside a Japanese restaurant known as Kawafuku in LA’s Little Tokyo. The restaurant was popular, but only with Japanese immigrants, not with American clientele. However, as more sushi spots opened in Little Tokyo, word got back to Japan that there was money to be made in America. Young chefs, tired of the rigorous and restrictive traditional culture of sushi making in Japan, struck out on their own in LA. The first sushi bar outside of the Little Tokyo neighborhood popped up in 1970, next to the 20th Century Fox studio. And then came Shōgun, … and you can predict the rest.
  • … and Beer. If you are having sushi, you are likely having beer, wine, or saki. These beverages come in bottles of colored glass, and have you wondered how glass gets its color? Here’s an infographic explaining how different chemicals result in different glass colors.
  • … on a Table. Additionally, you are likely sitting at a table to eat that sushi and drink your beverage. Speaking of tables, here’s a collection of interesting periodic tables.
  • Plus Size Fashions. To finish off the chain, if you eat too much at that table, you get fat. We know a lot about size acceptance for women, but what about men (and us CBGs — chubby bearded guys). Here’s an interesting article on plus-size fashion… for men.

 

Attitudes Towards Israel

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 03, 2017 @ 4:58 am PDT

Here’s a provocative question: Does one always have to agree with what the government does if one loves the country? Did those Conservatives that hated President Obama and his policies during his administration love America any less? Do the Liberals who currently opposed President Trump and his policies hate America? I think the answer is clear: Americans can disagree with the government and their policies with loving America any less.

So why is it assumed that American Jews must agree with everything the Israeli government does if we are to support Israel?

Some discussions with my daughter have brought this question to my mind. She has gotten involved with the #IfNotNow movement. This is a movement that is putting pressure on American Jewish institutions (such as AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to end their support for the Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories (such as Israel’s construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza). They are organizing a protest against AIPAC at the end of March here in LA, and my daughter asked if I was interested. I looked at their principles, and they seem reasonable: ending support for the occupation, celebrating Jewish diversity, speaking publicly, and being non-violent. While writing this up, I found this interesting article on their protest last April. With all of this on my mind, two articles that came across my RSS feeds and news reading struck a resonating note, and prompted this discussion.

The first was an article from the Jewish Journal on a Bernie Sanders speech at J-Street: In this speech, he pointed out that one could sharply criticize the Israeli government’s policies and be pro-Israel. He also blasted President Donald Trump for retreating from a commitment to a two-state solution and not speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism and bigotry. He laced his call to urge Israel to adopt more progressive policies with appeals to progressives to embrace Israel as a Jewish homeland. As Sanders said, “We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American.  We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel. We can oppose the policies of Islamic extremism without being anti-Muslim.”

The attitude that Sanders is protesting is one I’ve seen from members of my congregation; I’m unsure if it is the leadership’s view. There are those in our congregation who are enamored of the views of Prager U (i.e., Dennis Prager’s site, which, like Trump University, isn’t a real university), and who seem to believe that every Muslim is an extremist, and every Muslim is taught from birth to hate Jews and hate Israel. I think the response to the recent vandalism attacks in St. Louis and Philadelphia have demonstrated the opposite: it is the Muslim community that has helped the Jewish community rebuild; in turn, the Jewish community has helped rebuild mosques in the US. If anything, I think the recent attitudes in the US have strengthened Jewish-Muslim relationships in a way that benefits both communities. Muslim veterans are even offering to defend Jewish sites. Yet there are many that refuse to see this.

The two communities can live together in peace, and have done so in the past when extremism and hatred is not in the picture. That’s not the case now. A subset of Palestinians and many in the Palestinian leadership are opposed to Israel’s existence in any way, shape, or form, and they are doing whatever they can to make Israel look bad in the eyes of the world, to provoke Israel to attack them, and to put civilians on both sides in danger. Israel isn’t helping them by building settlements in disputed areas, or through how they respond to attacks (although no one expects them just to sit silently). Meanwhile, misinformation is fed out to supporters around the world, inflaming attitudes as opposed to calming attitudes.

This brings us to the second article: from the NY Times on “Liberal Zionism”. For those unfamilar with Zionism, it is the desire for a Jewish Homeland — a Jewish-majority state where Jews will be safe. It was advanced by Theodor Herzl back in the early 1900s, and led to the Balfour Declaration in 1919 that artificially created many of the states in the Middle East out of former Ottoman Empire territory as British and French protectorates. Zionism and the Holocaust in WWII is what led to declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Opposition to Zionism, by some, is viewed as equivalent as opposition to Judaism; many antisemites hold the belief that Zionism is racism. Zionism is what drives much of the policies of Israel: the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority in the state of Israel so as to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. In many ways, this is similar to opposition to immigration here in America: there is fear that as the Hispanic population grows, America will lose its character as a “Caucasian” (i.e., European-based) nation. This fear has driven many to support Trump (it is not a fear that I personally have).

The opinion piece in the Times talked about the growing alliance between Zionist leadership and politicians with antisemitic tendencies (such as Trump, Bannon, and his followers). The author believed this alliance had the power to transform Jewish-American consciousness for years to come. It talked about how, in the last few decades, many of America’s Jewish communities have grown accustomed to living in a political contradiction. On one hand, a large majority of these communities could rightly take pride in a powerful liberal tradition, stretching back to such models as Louis Brandeis — a defender of social justice and the first Jew to become a Supreme Court justice — or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, the same communities have often identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics. Specifically, it is the traditional Zionist policies that have pushed down rights for the Palestinians, and has supported the Israeli government’s occupation (which ties into #IfNotNow).

Here’s an interesting quote from that opinion piece:

But despite sympathy and solidarity with Israel — or better, because of it — any Jew who remains committed to liberalism must insist that nothing in Jewish history can allow the Jews to violate the rights of other ethnic and religious minorities, and that nothing in our history suggests that it would be wise for us to do so.

This is all the more true because by denying liberal principles, Zionism immediately becomes continuous with — rather than contradictory to — the anti-Semitic politics of the sort promoted by the alt-right. The idea that Israel is the Jews’ own ethnic state implies that Jews living outside of it — say, in America or in Europe — enjoy a merely diasporic existence. That is another way of saying that they inhabit a country that is not genuinely their own. Given this logic, it is natural for Zionist and anti-Semitic politicians to find common ideas and interests. Every American who has been on a Birthright Israel tour should know that left-leaning Israelis can agree with America’s alt-right that, ideally, ”Jews should live in their own country.”

The opinion piece seems to be arguing for a different form of Zionism: a form of Zionism that preserves Israel’s character as a Jewish state without having the hatred for Muslims and Arabs; a form of Israel that is officially Jewish while still ensuring the rights of other religions to practice. Can this be done? One need look no further than many Commonwealth nations such as the UK and Canada. Officially, they are Christian nations, but they permit free practice of religion. There is no reason that Israel couldn’t remain a constitutionally Jewish state even with a population that included large numbers of Muslims and Christians. Judaism, as a religion, accepts that there are other religions in the world that are practiced; Progressive Judaism accepts that there are many valid paths to God — a believe that goes back to the Noachide laws that are the basis for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I found an even longer piece on Liberal Zionism in Tablet, but it is unclear if it is the same LZ as in the NY Times piece. In particular, the piece goes back and forth between Liberal Zionism and Liberal Nationalism, but only giving loose definitions of Liberal Nationalism. There are no definitions of LZ or clarifications of the differences. As for Liberal Nationalism, it defines that as follows: “liberal nationalism takes the natural tendency to clump together and infuses the resulting communities with democratic ideals.” But having read through the article a number of times, I can’t figure out their point, other than their form of Zionism is opposed to Trumps’ form.

The desire to maintain the Jewish character of the state of Israel is the real Zionist notion. One way to achieve that is the two-state solution: segregating Palestinians into their own state, and Jews into another. As we’ve seen, that is fraught with tension. Trump’s latest opening of an idea of a one-state solution has different tensions: how do you preserve the Jewish nature of a democratic state if you have a voting public that is equal under the constitution and Islam is in the majority. There are many untested ideas, from two-states sharing one-territory (cooperation on secular issues — roads, highways, etc.) to a constitutionally Jewish state with freedom to practice religion (the UK model), to an Islamic state. But, as with replacing Obamacare, it is a very complex issue. If it wasn’t complex, it would have been solved by now.

This all made me curious what ARZA’s attitude on all of this is. ARZA is the Association of Reform Zionists of America — basically, the Reform Movement’s Zionist arm. They are opposed to illegal settlements and the regulation bill, yet still believe in the two-state solution, stating: “However, given demographic realities in the region, one democratic state between the Mediterranean  Sea and  the Jordan River would eventually bring an end to Israel’s character  as a Jewish  State. The alternative, Israel’s rejecting democracy,  should be unthinkable.” I also found an extremely interesting piece on the ARZA blog from December by Liya Rechtman:

As a Jewish Israeli-American, I believe that the same standards apply to my American patriotism as to my Zionism. That is to say, protesting and criticizing Israel is an act of love and necessary for the continued viability of the Zionist project.

I am writing now from my favorite café in Jerusalem. I am here between meetings with my editor (about a piece I’m working on the uniqueness of Israel as a physical place) and my anti-Occupation collective. I am deeply committed to the vision of the Association of Reform Zionists of America to connect American Reform Jews to Israel and build the Reform Movement in Israel, and I stand with If Not Now when they protest Jewish institutions that refuse to stand up against the Occupation. These actions and affiliations are not in contradiction with each other but in concert.

I am not the same kind of Zionist as my parents, but I am a Zionist. I am a Zionist in that I care about the future of the Jewish people, and our future is inextricably intertwined with the Jewish State. I am a Zionist in that I am a feminist and therefore I believe in the specificity of space, and that the material, tangible world matters. I am a Zionist in that I believe in the right of all peoples, including the Jewish people, to self-determination.

Reading through all of this, whereas I had feared our approaches might be different, we seem to have come around to the same place in the end.

 

What’s The Incentive?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 02, 2017 @ 7:30 am PDT

As you may know, I vanpool to work. I’ve been doing so since the early 1990s; I’m currently the operator of the van. This means that I lease the van from the vanpool company, collect the fares monthly from my passengers, and pay the lease. We get a nice incentive from LA Metro for keeping our van at least 70% full, and my employer takes care of fueling the van for us (although we pay for the fuel and the fuel attendant). Riders who work at my employer get a tax-free credit of what they pay for the vanpool to a maximum $255 a month as an IRS credit. Combine this with lower insurance costs for driving less, and I actually save money by living further away from work and not driving my personal vehicle.

One of the downsides, however, is I periodically have to find new riders (PS: If you commute from the northern San Fernando Valley to El Segundo, (Vride Finder; on the Metro Finder, enter start 91324, end 90245 and we’re van “Tribure/Chimineas Northridge  91325” Van 1645) working 7am to 330pm M-F, 📲 call me or 📧 email me or PM me if you are on FB). So my virtual ears picked up when I read an article today about how to encourage employees to not use their personal vehicles.

The answer: eliminate the subsidy that employers get for providing parking, and make employees pay to park. Keep the subsidies for transit and car/vanpools. Quoting from the article:

Among the more galling subsidies, writes Susan Balding at Greater Greater Washington, are commuter parking benefits. Many employers provide free parking as a perk, and the federal tax code allows car commuters to write off up to $255 a month in parking expenses.

Thanks to a change in the law in 2015, transit riders can write off the same amount, but the impact is overwhelmed by the traffic-inducing effect of the parking benefit. Baldwin says if we’re going to make a dent in congestion in major cities, parking subsidies have got to go:

And this:

Parking benefits, you likely won’t be surprised to hear, also drive up congestion. And beyond that, they leave governments with even less money to repair roads and keep up public transit systems: As of 2014, the parking benefit translated into about $7 billion a year in lost tax revenue (because the money used toward the benefit is not taxed). To put that in perspective, the Federal Transit Administration’s total appropriations in 2016 came to just over $11 billion.

Now taking transit can be time consuming. One article shows that transit, unless you have a convenient route, can take twice as long as driving. But carpooling and vanpooling doesn’t have that problem (well, unless you’re like our van, and we run a surface street route to make it easier for our riders — this adds about 1/2 hr on the valley end). Quoting from that article:

For New York metro residents who take public transportation, a door-to-door commute averages about 51 minutes. That’s much longer than the 29 minutes typically spent by those who drive alone. Similar discrepancies exist around Los Angeles, where despite the region’s traffic woes, drivers arrive at work an average of 22 minutes faster than public transportation riders. In nearly every metro area, driving to work remains far quicker than using a bus or train, taking less than half as long in some places.

So, here’s my question to you: If you had to pay to park at work, with no subsidies, would that encourage you to take transit, carpool, or vanpool?

Cataloging Society

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 01, 2017 @ 11:43 am PDT

In my day, we had to walk 7 miles uphill in the snow just to get to school every July. Oh, wrong soapbox speech.

Do kids today know what catalogs are? Nowadays, catalogs are rare: you search online for anything you want. Having a thick book or magazine like item with pictures and descriptions is very rare — perhaps you might see them in office for office supplies, and perhaps you might get a Harbor Freight catalog in the mail. But even as late as the 1990s I used to get catalogs from Lands End and LL Bean and order from them; catalogs of folk CDs and needlepoint. I still get catalogs of each from Upton, and occasionally from Stash. But the days of the think “find everything” catalog are long gone. Does Sears or Montgomery Wards or JC Penny even still have their catalog departments?

Catalogs are treasured because of how they reflect, and to some sense, change, their society. Here are three recent news articles about how catalogs and magazines have influenced society:

  • Shipping and Handling. Nowadays, you think nothing of ordering something from Amazon and having it shipped to your account. But that wasn’t always the case. Whereas letters would be delivered, shipping packages was resisted by the postal service — and even when it came in, domestic package delivery lagged far behind. What changed it? Rural Free Delivery (RFD) and the Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs. Both companies’ catalogs, each debuting in the late 19th century, successfully capitalized on the expansion of the country’s mail and package delivery systems, in particular the novel service of postal delivery to rural addresses. When Wards started, as long as you could get to the closest rail station to pick it up, Montgomery Ward could help you save a few bucks and get a better selection than the nearby general store. But (according to the article), the biggest problem that mail-order catalogs faced at the turn of the 20th century was the fact that their intended audience—often rural, as that was 65 percent of the U.S. population at the time—didn’t have easy access to mail delivery. Outside of cities, the infrastructure just wasn’t there, and often people had to pay just to get someone to simply deliver their mail to them—let alone parcels, which the U.S. Postal Service didn’t handle at the time. The solution to this problem was something called rural free delivery, which was heavily pushed by farmers’ advocacy groups. Despite the growing desire to create mail delivery in rural areas, there was much pushback on the issue within Congress due to the high cost, and as a result, the idea only came about in baby steps before finally rolling out wide in 1902. This need to get mail to rural areas was a major driver behind infrastructure building, leading to the creation of roads, eventually allowing cars to drive on those roads to deliver mail. Things improved enough that, by 1913, the U.S. Post Office itself was delivering domestic post packages.
  • Jewish Catalog. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s remember the wonderful Whole Earth Catalog out of the Whole Earth store in Berkeley (Whole Earth also gave us the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL), one of the first BBS).  That catalog inspired some counter culture folks in Mass. to create the First Jewish Catalog — a wonderful hand-drawn catalog of everything Jewish. I still have my copy. There were later two additional volumes with more information, but less hand drawings.  In essence, the First Jewish Catalog and its companion volumes were the FAQ of their day — everything you needed to know about Judaism and practice, distilled down, with addresses and phone number. Tablet Magazine has a great article about how the catalog holds up today. It makes me want to go home and look at the three volumes that I’ve got, and remember. Here’s an excerpt of their description: “The book that does it all, offering sensible peer-to-peer advice, just enough halakhic wisdom (you’ll find no better synopsis of the kosher laws), and the best diagram for wrapping tefillin that was ever rendered by your friend in Hebrew school who was always sketching things under his desk. The best pictures look like Shel Silverstein’s (I won’t die from surprise if someone writes in to say they were Shel Silverstein’s). It tells you how to build a sukkah, how to affix a mezuzah, which blessings to say over what, and how to get by when hitchhiking around Israel (“Get a haircut; Israelis are wary of foreign ‘hippies’”). It offers instructions for sitting shiva, and it tells you where in all the major American cities you can rent Jewish movies. ” They conclude by noting: “Of course, all the information the catalog gives is now available online, in a multitude of places. To learn how to pray, you can find Reform sources, Conservative sources, a dozen flavors of Orthodox sources. You can find melodies by dozens of composers, you can put “Jewish” in the search-bar of your video streaming services, you can visit a website that tells you what drinks are kosher at Starbucks. But in diversity, we sometimes wish for unity. The Jewish Catalog is one of those books, like Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers, or Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar, that you could spot on the bookshelf of a certain kind of Jew and just nod, slowly, and give a look that says, “Yeah.””
  • Playboy. If you were a soldier in the 1960s and 1970s, Playboy Magazine was essentially a catalog of trends back home. So claims an opinion piece in the New York Times. According to the article, Playboy’s value extended beyond the individual soldier to the military at large; the publication became a coveted and useful morale booster, at times rivaling even the longed-for letter from home. Playboy branded the war because of its unique combination of women, gadgets, and social and political commentary, making it a surprising legacy of our involvement in Vietnam. By 1967, Ward Just of The Washington Post claimed, “If World War II was a war of Stars and Stripes and Betty Grable, the war in Vietnam is Playboy magazine’s war.” Here’s where the cataloging of society comes in: The centerfold and other visual features in the magazine served another, unintentional purpose for American troops in Vietnam. Playboy’s pictures and often-ribald cartoons conveyed changing social and sexual norms back home. The introduction of women of color in 1964 with China Lee and in 1965 with Jennifer Jackson reflected shifting attitudes regarding race.  Over time, the centerfolds pushed the boundaries of social norms and legal definitions as they featured more nudity, with the inclusion of pubic hair in 1969 and full-frontal nudity in 1972. The Washington Post reported that American prisoners of war were “taken aback” by the nudity in a smuggled Playboy found on their flight home in 1973. The nudity, sexuality and diversity portrayed in the pictorials represented more permissive attitudes about sex and beauty that the soldiers had missed during their years in captivity. The magazine provided regular features, editorials, columns and ads that focused on men’s lifestyle and entertainment, including high fashion, foreign travel, modern architecture, the latest technology and luxury cars. The publication set itself up as a how-to guide for those men hoping to achieve Mr. Hefner’s vision of the good life, regardless of whether they were in San Diego or Saigon. There’s a lot more in the article, but the basic notion is that the magazine shaped the soldier’s view of what was happening “back home”, the attitudes towards the war, and the general changes in society.

State of the Cheetoh

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 01, 2017 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=trumpGiven all my posts of last week, you’re probably wondering what I thought of the speech last night. I heard most of it while I was editing the MoTAS newsletter until the Internet decided to slow down and cut it off near the end.

First impression: Aliens replaced Donald Trump. As some commentators noted, this was the Presidential Trump who read from a teleprompter, not the Tweeting Trump who is off the cuff. Thus we had words from a speechwriter with a bit of Trump interspersed. This meant it was actually intelligible and parsed, which made for a much pleasant (although less humorous and painful) speech.

Second impression: There were actually some parts of the speech I agreed with. Some of what he said about his ideas for an ACA replacement superficially sound like good ideas. Some of his goals for improving infrastructure and our highways are great. I was surprised when he talked about clean air and clean water — those are good goals. His ideas about reaching out and trying to work together are good. The problem is: are they achievable? Is he budgeting for them, and will that budgeting work? So far, I see no evidence of that. He’s cutting the EPA. He wants to cut the funds for healthcare, which he thinks is complex. He’s talking a trillion for infrastructure, yet cutting taxes. He talks about working with the Democrats, yet continues to insult and belittle them. Right now, his good ideas are just words — I’ll believe them when I see the specifics. The LA Times headline said it best: His speech offered optimism, but little clarity.

But in other areas, he expressed policies and ideas that were abhorrent. I disagree completely with the notion and cost of a wall. I disagree with the statement that we aren’t vetting immigrants sufficiently, or that immigrants are the cause of all terrorist incidents. I disagree with a voucher approach that sends Federal dollars to religious institutions, or that takes funds away from public schools. Just like we pay for lighthouses and roads and similar services for all, we must pay for public schools even if we choose to send our children elsewhere. Educating the country isn’t “fee for service”, it is our responsibility to ensure a knowledgeable electorate so that we don’t up with elected officials like, well, the person giving the speech.

I disagree with his views on trade: making it more expensive for foreign countries to sell stuff in America doesn’t bring jobs to America, it just makes things more expensive for Americans. Similarly, penalizing companies for moving production out of America only is significant if that production is for America. Making things in foreign countries for consumption in foreign countries is good business, for the same reason that making stuff in America for Americans is good business. You would think he would be a good enough businessman to know that, but his experience is in real estate and marketing his name, not manufacturing.

I agree with removing the Defense Sequester, but hesitate on the military spending until I see where it is going. I don’t believe we necessarily need more hardware except as replacement and modernization. We do need more funds for cybersecurity. Note that I view the Defense Budget unlike most: to me, it is a white-collar welfare jobs program, putting highly skilled people to work in the interest of the Nation — either directly or through contractors. I am on that welfare.

I disagreed with his characterization of the previous administration and the state of the country when he took office, although I recognize that one can find statistics that support almost any interpretation of the views. There was a significant portion that viewed the previous administration as successful. As President, his job is not to place blame, but to make things better and fix problems.

He talked about cutting back government. He seems to forget that cutting back means putting people out of work. Government jobs are, first and foremost, well paying jobs. Government cutbacks are layoffs. If he is talking about saving American Jobs, he needs to remember that Government Jobs are American Jobs. Keep them, just make sure they are working for the American people effectively.

With respect to his Supreme Court nominee, I agree that he is a skilled jurist. But so was President Obama’s nominee. If you want to demonstrate that you want unity, either withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination and replace it with Garland, indicating you will nominate Gorsuch for the next vacancy, or make a commitment to nominate Garland for the next vacancy. That is how you will assure swift confirmation of your nominee.

I appreciated that he opened with condemnation of the recent hate crimes against JCCs and Jewish Cemeteries, although I wish he had explicitly called it antisemitism, and said that he explicitly repudiated any of his supporters who held such antisemitic views. In an ideal world, he would have said he would purge his administration of anyone who hated another citizen just because of their religion. Then again, that would mean that Bannon would have to go, and he and possibly Pence might have to quit. I could live with that.