A Cautious Man
May 19, 2008
They Made Their Choices, And They'll Never Know ...
In case it's not evident from the posts and the reading list, let me make it clear that I am a native-born resident of the Great State of New Jersey.

We have a primary coming up in June (we had the Presidential primary on "Super Tuesday", due to a [now clearly] ill-conceived attempt to be "relevant" in the Presidential selection process). Anyway, this primary includes a nomination contest between Senator Frank Lautenberg, and challenger Congressman Rob Andrews.

Would it have been better if Senator Lautenberg retired this year, and gave a chance to one of the very worthy Democratic office-holders to replace him? Yes, it would have. Was Congressman Andrews one of those "very worthy office-holders"? No, certainly not at the top of the list, imho.

Nevertheless, when Senator Lautenberg decided to run again, Congressman Andrews decided that this was his chance to jump over the rest of the pack, and claim the Senate nomination for himself. Here's one problem with that -

Rob Andrews defends his Iraq war vote as the right decision:
As a co-sponsor of the resolution, Andrews concedes he did talk to other Democrats to vote in favor of the resolution and defends the vote, saying the intelligence presented at the time made it a "responsible vote."

"I think I made the right decision" at the time, said Andrews ...

This is the problem with that reasoning. To be blunt about it -


It would not be inappropriate to add the word "doofus" to the end of that sentence.

We can't select candidates who fail to understand that the Iraq invasion decision, and even the vote that enabled that decision, was the wrong choice. Trying to pretend otherwise is the wrong road. So, we don't need to give Congressman Andrews the keys to the Senate from our state.

May 18, 2008
Sunday Night Springsteen
I have a particular fondness for the song "Thunder Road". This video turned up today on YouTube - from the 1992 MTV "Plugged" performance, back when Mr. Springsteen was away from the E Street Band. I always liked this reading of the song, since it has a sense of wistful looking back, which the lyrics always contained.

May 13, 2008
One Last Random Thought On The Post Below
Last night, someone at the New York Times was doing a web search for "Edward N. Luttwack and Daniel Pipes" (resulting in a visit to the post below, according to my Sitemeter). Seems that somebody there realized that they should find out if they were sold a bucket of recycled right-wing dung.

May 12, 2008
You’ll Try Just One More Time
Today, the New York Times published an Op-Ed which makes the unsupported and unsourced assertion that Barack Obama, as a “former Muslim”, would be viewed as an “apostate” and the target of violence in the Muslim world.

Or, in other words, “here we go again”.

This time, it’s Edward N. Luttwak, who does not appear to have any education or other background qualifying him to opine on Muslim religious law, with a column entitled “President Apostate?” The claim is familiar (or, at least should be familiar) to anyone who has been paying attention (or at least should have been paying attention, such as, oh, I don’t know, how about the Editors of the New York Times?) to right-wing smear campaigns about Senator Obama.

This was all debunked last year, when Insight Magazine and Fox news were spreading their stories about Obama in a “madrassa”. At the time, the claim was that he was secretly a Muslim - and that claim was thoroughly debunked.

Then the argument became more refined. Daniel Pipes (who has never been know for being overly concerned about anyone who was a Muslim) expressed his "concern" in two columns (this past December and in January)that some harm might befall Senator Obama, because he was an “apostate”. This is how the Politico website (which called it “The Muslim Smear, Version 2.0") described Pipes’ methodology and intentions –

The piece that follows is pretty stunning in the twists of its logic, and comes in two steps.

First, Pipes — best known for his hostility to much of Islam, and to many prominent American Muslims — decides that Obama's faith should be judged by Muslim law, and makes that case, quibbling with inconsistencies in aides' accounts of exactly how little contact with Islam Obama had as a child in Indonesia. (Options range from very little to none.)

Then, Pipes — whose hawkish wing of the conservative movement isn't exactly known for its profound concern with making Muslims love America — starts wringing his hands at the notion that Muslims won't like Obama.

"More significantly, how would more mainstream Muslims respond to him, would they be angry at what they would consider his apostasy? That reaction is a real possibility, one that could undermine his initiatives toward the Muslim world."

(He has only one precedent, Carlos Menem of Argentina, who took no flak. But that doesn't stop him.)

I don't mean to read Pipes' mind here. Perhaps his intentions are as pure as Bob Kerrey's. But if you consider anonymous e-mailers the utter fringe, Pipes is a big step toward the mainstream.

But the political impact of the piece isn't the tortured argument. It's branding Obama a Muslim, by a subtler means. And it's a way for his Republican enemies, if he's the nominee, to pretend to be in good faith.

Robert Spencer, a reliable source for crazy talk, was pushing this same argument over a year ago. Interestingly, he seemed to downplay the “apostate” part –

So is Obama under a death sentence? Probably not – particularly if he left Islam while still a child. This is a crucial point, for according to Islamic law an apostate male is not to be put to death if he has not reached puberty (cf. ‘Umdat al-Salik o8.2; Hidayah vol. II p. 246). Some, however, hold that he should be imprisoned until he is of age and then “invited” to accept Islam, but officially the death penalty for youthful apostates is ruled out.

Now, the New York Times turns over a sizable chunk of its Op-Ed page today to Mr. Luttwak, who recycles the whole story again. It’s just that he’s concerned, you see, and simply is noting that somehow Muslim governments couldn’t protect him from someone who wanted to kill him as an “apostate” –

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

I have a problem with the fact that the New York Times decides to run this piece, given the background of this “argument”. They shouldn’t have accepted something which recycles old arguments that are just meant to make people think, “Hey, he’s a Muslim!” At least, they should not have run it without some context, information on the earlier debunkings, or at least a companion column pointing out the erroneous assumptions.

Instead, we can look forward to lesser lights of the right-wing using the phrase, “As was pointed out in the New York Times, Obama used to be a Muslim.” You can email complaints to the Times’ public editor at public@nytimes.com.

[Edited at 8:00 p.m. to add] Just because it's nice to see so many people coming down hard on the New York Times on this one, these are two of the better comments.

Matthew Yglesias says:

I'm no expert on Islamic law, but if this were any kind of real issue, shouldn't The New York Times be able to locate an actual Muslim who sees things this way?

Which, of course, says in one sentence what I wasted many more words on.

And Mr. Yglesias then directs us to Ali Eteraz, who has a more informed and more devastating comment on Mr. Luttwak's bloviations -

Luttwack and the other fake experts promoting this new smear do not understand Islam. Religion is not hereditary as it is in Judaism. Islam is not a race. Just because a child has a Muslim father -- which, again, Obama didn't -- doesn't mean anything unless the child is being raised as a Muslim. At the time of birth, Muslims engage in a symbolic act -- of saying the Call to Prayer in the child's ear -- that renders a child Muslim. If Obama's father was agnostic/atheist, then he wouldn't have done such a thing.

No call to prayer in the ear, not raised as a Muslim, born to an atheist father, and then abandoned to a Christian mother both by father and his family, equals not Muslim. Obama is right to say he had no religion until he became a Christian.

Those who actually study Muslims see that there are millions of inter-religious marriages -- between Muslim men and Hindu women for example -- in which the children are being raised as pantheists, or even, Hindu. When these children grow up, they aren't killed for being apostates (though some Muslims do thumb their noses at the father for "allowing" his children to be raised non-Muslim).

By the way, Boris Johnson, the new mayor of London, who has a Turkish grandfather, is often smeared the same way Obama is in Luttwack's article ... . In the case of the UK, the smears come from the ultra-right BNP party. Great to see that the New York Times has followed suit. I recommend that we begin calling the Islam smear what it really is: smearing immigrants.

And, finally, a succinct summary of exactly what's wrong with the New York Times' decision to present this Op-Ed (courtesy of Jason Linkins at Huffington Post), we have this observation (please click and read the whole thing) -

So we have Obama's Muslim-by-birth-atheist-in-practice father giving birth, by an American Christian, to a son who is in every sense a Christian, but Luttwak is sure that to real Muslims, Obama remains forever a Muslim.

I wonder if it would have been too much to have an actual Muslim cleric opine on the status of Barack Obama's soul in Muslim eyes. But, as I keep telling my serially outraged mother: get used to it, we've got several months like this, and much worse, to go.


May 11, 2008
Sunday Night Springsteen
It's Mothers Day, again. We visited the my Mom and Dad today. About a month ago, Mom executed a spectacular fall on an escalator at one of our finer shopping malls. She managed to break her shoulder; however, like the Bionic Woman, the doctor was able to rebuild her with a new one. My Dad is learning new skills, such a the laundry. He's not up to the cooking, yet, so we went over this Mothers Day and brought the full Sunday Dinner.

And for this Mothers Day edition, a repeat from last year - "The Wish", in which our hero does something that no self-respecting rock 'n roller is supposed to do - sing a tribute to his mom.

A Time Comes When Two People Should Think Of These Things ...
Apparently, people are wondering why President Bush's daughter decided to get married at the Bush ranch, instead of at the White House. I think the reason is a simple one, and one that shows some forethought on the part of Ms. Bush and her new husband.

Years from now, their wedding pictures won't be a reminder of what a miserable failure her father was as president.

May 08, 2008
You Got To Understand The Rules
My goodness, Senator Clinton said something that, well, rather than characterize it -

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

"There’s a pattern emerging here," she said.

And you can listen to it -

Links courtesy of Oliver Willis.

Now, some may argue that it's unfair, to assume that Senator Clinton actually meant to imply that the white voters (the ones for her) are the ones who are the "hard-working Americans" (making the others the, I guess, "lazy and shiftless Americans"). However, as we all know, it's emminently fair to read every statement in the most negative manner possible, if we're using "Clinton Rules". That's how Senator Clinton won Ohio, and arguably how she won in Pennsylvania. So, if anyone complains about the criticism, tell them that we have the Clinton campaign's Imprimatur.

The corollary to Senator Clinton's assertion, of course, is that her voters are the kind of Democrats who won't vote for a Democrat who is not 100% Caucasian. In other words (to repeat something used before), she is saying that her voters should be viewed as being people like this -

May 06, 2008
Glory Days
First of all, I wasn't paying attention to the fact that there is now a New Jersey Hall of Fame. It's not a building yet, just a website. The first class of inductees were honored the other day. They include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Clara Barton, Buzz Aldrin, Frank Sinatra, Toni Morrison, Yogi Berra, Vince Lombardi, and that guy, from down the shore - Bruce Springsteen.

Video link courtesy of Backstreets.com. Text of his speech is below, courtesy of the Star-Ledger -

You know, when I first got the letter, I was a little suspicious because . . . a New Jersey Hall of Fame? I don't know. Does New York have a hall of fame? Does Connecticut have a hall of fame? I mean, maybe they think they don't need one. But then I thought like, 'Well, let me see. All right, Albert Einstein, Bruce Springsteen . . . my mother's really gonna like that part.' So . . . she's here tonight, it's her birthday . . . it's the only time those two names are gonna be mentioned in the same sentence, is right now, so I'm gonna enjoy it.

But when I was recording my first album, the record company spent a lot of money taking a lot of pictures of me in New York City. And . . . something didn't quite feel right. I was walking down the boardwalk one day. And I stopped at a souvenir stand and bought a postcard, saying 'Greetings From Asbury Park.' I remember thinking, 'Yeah, that's me.' I mean, down south there was Patti Smith. And up north, right here in Newark, was George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, great musicians.

With the exception of, I guess, a few half-years in California, my family and I, we've raised our kids here. We got a big Italian-Irish family, and I found my own Jersey girl here . . . And in the end, I just found something that grew deeply resonant, like holding the hands of my kids on the same streets where my mom held my hand and swimming in the same ocean and visiting the same beaches I did as a child.

It was a place, also, that really protected me. It's been very nurturing. I could take my kids down to Freehold, throw 'em up on my shoulders and walk along the street, with thousands of other people on Cruise Nights, with everybody just going, 'Hey Bruce' . . . that was something that meant a lot to me, the ability to just go about my life. I was protected here, by the people here. And I really appreciated that.

So anyway . . . you get a little older now, you get those crisp fall days that come in September and the beginning of October. My friends and I, we slip into that cold water of that Atlantic Ocean. These days, you take note that there's a few less of your friends swimming alongside of you as each year passes. But something about being in one place your whole life, they're all still around you, in the water. And I look towards the shore, and I see my son and my daughter, pushing their way through the waves, and on the beach there's a whole batch of new little kids running away from the crashing surf. Like time itself.

That's what New Jersey is for me. It's a repository, now, of just my time on earth. My memory, the music I've made, friendships, my life, it's all buried here, at this point, in a box, somewhere in the sand, down on the Jersey Shore. And I can't imagine having it any other way.

But let me finish with a Garden State benediction.

Rise up, my fellow New Jerseyans, for we are all members of a confused but noble race. We of the state that will never get any respect, we who bear the cruelness of the forever uncool. A chip on the shoulders of those with forever something to prove. And even with this wonderful hall of fame, we know that there's another bad Jersey joke just around the corner.

But fear not, fear not! This is not our curse. It is our blessing. For this is what infused us with our fighting spirit, that we may salute the world forever with the fabulous Jersey state bird (raises middle finger). And that the fumes from our great northern industrial area, to the ocean breezes of Cape May, fill us with the raw hunger, the naked ambition and the desire not just to do our best, but to stick it in your face.

Theory of relativity, anybody? How about some electric light with your day? Or maybe a spin to the moon and back? That's right. And that is why our fellow Americans in those other 49 states know that when the announcer says, 'And now, in this corner, from New Jersey . . . ,' they'd better keep their hands up and their heads down, 'cause when that bell ings, we always come out swinging.

God bless the Garden State.

One last note - in 1969, my Dad took us to the parade in Montclair, New Jersey, when Buzz Aldrin came back to his home town after being the second man to walk on the moon. I didn't realize it at the time, but "second man on the moon" sounds like something that would happen to a guy from New Jersey. Hey, he went through everything that the "first" man on the moon did, but he gets less of the glory.

God Bless all you Jersey folk.

May 04, 2008
Sunday Night Springsteen
Okay, so another week has gone by without any posts here. We'll keep trying.

In the meantime, this is a great guest appearance by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, on Tom Joad -


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