Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Other Thoughts for the Day

Here are some other thoughts for the day:

1. Hasselbeck 'really upset'. Elisabeth is thinking of leaving the View. She doesn't like being ganged-up on. Come on! Here's another disappointment. I wish more people on my side had guts. Sean Hannity's not afraid of Joy and Barbara. You're needed on the View, Elisabeth, not on your own Fox show. I don't watch the View that often, but you do fine when I do get to see it.

2. I'm thinking of one of AA's traditions: we place principles before personalities. You know, it would help me considerably in my Christian life if I did just that. Often, I view God through how others have portrayed him to me. And how that plays out is that I see him as someone who's overly focused on law, who demands for me to be perfect, who doesn't accept me for who I truly am. I don't hate God so much because he made me with Asperger's. I hate him because he made me with Asperger's and demands that I be a perky, happy-happy Christian extrovert.

But who knows if that's really the case? I've not seen God. Job's friends were telling Job what they had heard about God, and they turned out to be wrong.

I can hate God because of how other Christians have represented him to me--through their words and their actions. Or I can look beyond the personalities and seek God for myself. Then, I can hopefully come back and love those I hate. But it's all a process. It's not like I'm going from one stage to another. The stages may overlap.

3. I don't know what all the brouhaha is about Palin's Pakistan comments. I don't think we should take off the table the possibility of us going into Pakistan and taking out Al-Qaeda. That's not telling Pakistan or anyone else what we will do. It's talking about possibilities. And I say the same thing about Obama if that's what he meant.

Case in Point...

As I was saying, people don't always act the way I want them to.

Case in point: the current election. I had hopes for all of the candidates. Believe it or not, there have been times when I've actually liked Barack Obama. He seems like someone who wants to put aside partisanship and bring this country together. Then, he attacks John McCain with the usual liberal Democratic drivel.

I thought John McCain was above all the partisan rancor. When a speaker in Cincinnati made fun of Obama's middle name ("Hussein"), McCain said he didn't want anything to do with that kind of politics. But attack-dog politics have served Republicans in the past, so why not now? I like his attacks on Obama, but wouldn't it be nice to have a real statesman, not a politician?

I've been disappointed with Sarah Palin. I was so excited when I first read about her. She seemed like someone who would kick you-know-what and name names. (Is that how the cliche goes?) After all, she fought the powers-that-be in her own state, and she gave an awesome speech at the Republican National Convention. Now, she's afraid to take on the liberal media. That's not what I expected from Sarah Barracuda! She even had to have John McCain chaperone her at last night's interview with Katie Couric.

Things don't always turn out as I emplot them.

I was talking with this one lady today, and she said that God will put in office the person who needs to be there. To be honest, I've thought a little about what it would've been like to have Al Gore or John Kerry in the Oval Office. Would we have all these hurricanes--one after the other? Al Gore would have tried to do something about global warming, assuming the cooperation of the Republican Congress.

Would we have picked up speed on alternative energy? Probably. That was one of Al Gore's babies!

I reckon that Al Gore would have gotten us into Iraq, since the Clinton Administration also viewed Saddam Hussein as a problem. But would John Kerry have fought the war any differently? Of course, we're winning right now because of the surge, but that's only after our President tried some failed strategies.

Would the financial crisis exist under Gore or Kerry? I don't know. Bush supposedly warned about Fannie and Freddie in 2001 (see here). But Democrats have received money from these institutions. Bill Clinton tried to give homes to the poor, as well as signed Phil Gramm's deregulation bill, both of which contributed to the problem (possibly). So I'm not sure if things would have turned out differently under a Democratic Administration.

I also wonder if Rush Limbaugh would have criticized a President Gore or President Kerry for doing many of the same things that Bush has done. But knowing that would require me to be in a parallel universe, which isn't possible.

So I'm not sure if God backs up the current state of affairs. Maybe it's better than the alternative. I don't know.

Messy Relationships

I'm trying to reach ninety posts for this month, so here we go! Maybe I'll share some of my blues in the process.

I was catching up on the Waltons yesterday, and I was reminded of how messy human relationships can be. John-Boy wanted to marry this one girl, but she wasn't ready for marriage. One of Grandma's old friends was coming to court her, and Grandma didn't love him the way that he loved her.

Then, I read a friend's blog in which he discusses his recent break-up with his girlfriend. He thought things were going well, until his girlfriend dumped him. They were going to be friends, but now she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. He's wondering if he did something wrong, since his Asperger's may inhibit him from knowing when he may have offended her.

What really stinks is that our feelings do not go away. Grandma's friend was rejected, but he still loved her. I wouldn't be surprised if my friend feels his heart's been ripped out of his body. He spent a lot of time with this girl, and she helped him to grow. When you form an attachment to someone, it's hard to let that person go. How's anyone supposed to handle rejection?

It's also discouraging to me that so many attractive women fall for losers, when there are plenty of nice guys out there. The only problem is that women don't give these nice guys the time of day! I recall an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry said, "Women wonder where all the men are. We're here!"

You know, even if I had a relationship, I wouldn't know what to do next. There's so much insecurity in relationships! I could get dumped for inadvertently offending someone, or because the woman likes to play games, or because I can't come up with anything to say in the relationship.

I tried to think how I would react if I were John-Boy. "I want you to marry me NOW!" would not go too far. People are not always going to act as we want them to act. That's a truth that I have a hard time swallowing.

Feast of Trumpets 2008

Today is the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hoshanah ("head of the year"). For my comments from last year's Feast of Trumpets, see Feast of Trumpets 2007. There, I discuss the festival in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, and Armstrongism.

I'm resting today. I'm also doing my weekly quiet time on the Book of Ruth, as I do on the weekly Sabbath.

What do I want to say about the Feast of Trumpets today? I'm not in much of a mood to write a comprehensive treatise about the festival. I just want to comment on where it's meaningful to me right now.

The Feast of Trumpets has to do with hope. In Armstrongism, it foreshadows the second coming of Christ, which will occur with the blast of trumpets (I Corinthians 15:52; Revelation 8). And there is at least one Jewish interpretation that applies it to the Jews' restoration from exile, which will be signaled by a trumpet blast (Isaiah 27:3).

This world has a lot of problems. There is much economic insecurity right now. Hopefully, things will get better. But there are people who are homeless in any economic situation. I remember buying some granola bars for a homeless person who's younger than me, and I couldn't imagine not having a place to live. What would I do? Hang out at the park all day? What would I eat? Where would I sleep? What if it rained? People would look down on me and not give me money. I know I don't give money to the homeless all of the time!

We are a nation at war. Often, it seems like no option is all that good. We tried sanctions against Iraq, and that starved her people. We bombed the country, and innocent Iraqis died. How would I feel if I lost a friend or family member to a bombing? We've lost a lot of American lives too. But what was the alternative? Keeping the Iraqis subject to a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein? Is there any perfect choice? The same sorts of issues confront us whenever we weigh military intervention.

There is no perfect politician. Even those who try to do the right thing have blind spots, or they make exceptions to their otherwise scrupulous ethics. Barack Obama has been involved with sordid characters who exploit innocent people, even though he tried to serve others as a community organizer. John McCain has resisted some special interests, while cow-towing to others. Sarah Palin has received her share of gifts, even though she has fought for ethical reform. Bob Barr claims to be pro-life, but he paid for his wife's abortion. I don't agree with the Armstrongite stance of not voting, for the Bible is clear that there are better and worse rulers. But I continue to gain an appreciation of Psalm 146:3: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help" (NRSV).

But the Feast of Trumpets reminds me that there will be a perfect solution: Jesus Christ will return to earth and set up his kingdom. Each will sit under his own vine and fig tree (Micah 4:4). Nations will not fight one another, even as the Messiah will punish all evildoers (Isaiah 2). I remember asking one of my relatives whom he wants for President, and he replied "Jesus Christ." I disagree with his anti-voting stance, but I'm coming to appreciate the kingdom of God a whole lot more as time goes on.

Judith on Faith and Wisdom

For a rough summary of the Book of Judith's plot, see Faith and FAITH.

I got a few thoughts about faith and wisdom in my Judith quiet time, which I finished last night:

1. The Ammonite Achior tells the Assyrian general Holofernes that God will fight for the Israelites if they're good. Holofernes then exiles Achior to the besieged Israelites, angry that Achior doesn't recognize the only god to be King Nebuchadnezzar. The beautiful and pious Jewess, Judith, then decks herself out and goes to Holofernes' camp. Her goal is to find Holofernes in a state of vulnerability and to kill him.

Judith tells Holofernes that God is angry with the Israelites, since they have eaten from the tithe in their hungry desperation. (Remember that Holofernes has cut off Israel's water supply!) Judith then says that, with God's help, Holofernes can defeat the Israelites, and she will assist him in that endeavor. She just needs to seek God's guidance on what to do.

What's interesting here is that Holofernes seems to believe in Israel's God. He shipped off Achior with the claim that there is no god but Nebuchadnezzar, but that may not be how he feels deep-down. He wonders if God truly will help the Israelites. He's probably relieved to learn that Israel has sinned and that God will help him defeat her.

Of course, there's a possibility that he really does believe that Nebuchadnezzar is the only god, and he's only playing along with Judith because he wants to get her in bed. But let's assume that he actually did believe in the power of Israel's God. Do atheists think deep-down that there might be a God? I've heard evangelicals claim that homosexuals are defensive about their lifestyle because they feel that God condemns it, regardless of what they may say out loud.

Who knows? I can't read the thoughts of non-believers. I do know that one thing that hampers my own faith life is my belief that certain parts of the Bible may in fact be true. For example, Jesus says in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." That verse really troubles me, since I have a hard time letting go of grudges. Often, I don't feel as if I'm holding on to them, but rather that they're holding on to me. I can blow off the passage and focus on the "God is love" texts. But there's a question that haunts me deep-down: Maybe God will ditch me if I don't forgive others.

2. On a more positive note, Judith is an example of someone whose relationship with God leads her to have wisdom. Judith fasted throughout her widowhood, except on Sabbaths and other holy occasions. Judith 9 indicates that she was familiar with Israel's religious history, as are Christians who regularly study the Bible. Her devotion enabled her to be a fountain of wisdom to her people as well as come up with a plan to defeat Holofernes.

The people of Israel are giving God an ultimatum: they will surrender to Assyria if God does not help them in five days. But Judith tells them not to put God to the test. She states:

"Who are you to put God to the test today, and to set yourselves up in the place of God in human affairs?...You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought?...For if he does not choose to help us within these five days, he has power to protect us within any time he pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies...Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him...But we know no other god but him, and so we hope that he will not disdain us or any of our nation. For if we are captured, all Judea will be captured and our sanctuary will be plundered; and he will make us pay for its desecration with our blood. The slaughter of our kindred and the captivity of the land and the desolation of our inheritance--all this he will bring on our heads among the Gentiles, wherever we serve as slaves; and we shall be an offense and a disgrace in the eyes of those who acquire us" (Judith 8:13-22 NRSV).

Like me (and many people with Asperger's), the Israelites see the situation as a binary: either God helps them in five days, or their only option is to surrender to the Assyrians. But Judith gives them other things to think about: God can help them at the last minute, God loves them as his people, slavery to the Assyrians is not very pleasant, surrender can make things worse, etc.

Judith's words are wise. She had something to offer the Israelites because she gained wisdom through her relationship with God (Proverbs 10:11). Testing God is a sign that we do not truly entrust ourselves to his love. And God can act at the last minute any time he wishes. I often wonder why God hasn't blessed me with a job or a woman thus far. Well, the Israelites could easily ask the same sort of question: "Why hasn't God helped us so far? We might as well not even wait for him. Where's it gotten us up to now? Let's give him five days, and, if he doesn't help us, we're doing it our way." But God could help them at the last minute, within whatever time-frame he chose. Why he didn't help them until that point is a mystery known only to him.

But Judith doesn't just believe: she also acts. And she gets her plan on how to act from the Bible. In Judges 4, Jael kills the evil Canaanite general, Sisera, in her tent, after lulling him to sleep. And that's pretty much what Judith does to Holofernes! The Bible gave her a game-plan on how to help her people.

That reminds me of the movie Signs. Mel Gibson plays an Episcopal priest whose wife dies in a car accident. Her last words seem so random: "Tell your brother to swing away." Mel's brother, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is an ex-baseball player who lost out on a promising career. Well, at the end of the movie, an alien is in Mel's house and is about to hurt his family. Mel then looks at a wall, sees a baseball bat, remember's his late wife's words, and tells his brother to swing away. Joaquin then slams the bat at the alien!

A lot of ideas don't come to us automatically. They need to be prompted by something, and Mel got his strategy for how to deal with the alien from his wife's last words. Similarly, Judith gained wisdom on how to confront her situation from the word of God. She may have immersed herself in Israel's tradition, so she had an idea of what to do.

This happens for so many Christians. God can use the Bible to provide us with general guidance on how to live a righteous life. But there are also times when he uses it to give specific instructions. I'm not saying that we should see the Bible as an oracle for every situation, since that can be disastrous. But God has guided his people with his word on many occasions, and things have worked out. That's one reason I believe in God: because he has worked in other people's lives. But, in any case, whether God speaks to us or not, the Bible is still a source of ideas on what to do.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bailout Has Failed

Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives have just killed the $700 billion bailout. This is not surprising, since representatives have said that they've received two types of calls from their constituents: "no" and "hell no." On one hand, I'm happy that our leaders are listening to the American people rather than their party superiors or the rich and powerful. Ultimately, it's the people who vote. On the other hand, this problem needs to be addressed somehow.

Faith and FAITH

For my daily quiet time, I'm reading the Book of Judith. In it, the Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar sends his general Holofernes to invade Jerusalem. This occurs in 586 B.C.E, right after the Jews have returned from exile and rebuilt their temple. (I know, we have some major historical errors here! The debate among scholars is whether or not they're deliberate on the part of the author).

In Holofernes' camp, there's an Ammonite named Achior. Achior advises Holofernes not to invade Jerusalem, since God is on the Jews' side when they're behaving themselves. Holofernes gets mad, affirms that the only god is Nebuchadnezzar, and sends Achior to the Israelites. Now, Achior will be among the besieged people!

There are many things that I can say about this, but here's a lesson I want to share. The Israelites reassure Achior and praise him highly (Judith 6:20). And, after the beautiful Jewish widow Judith goes to Holofernes' camp, seduces him (while not actually sleeping with him), and cuts off his head, she shows the head to Achior. Achior then converts to Judaism and is circumcised (even though that's a no-no according to Deuteronomy 23:3).

Achior had faith when he was in Holofernes' camp, for he said that God could fight on the side of the Israelites. But head-faith can easily be tested. When Achior was among the besieged Jews, who were going thirsty because Holofernes had cut off their water supply, he may have doubted the beliefs he expounded to Holofernes. But, after he saw the general's head, he truly believed in God, and he decided to serve him. He had moved from a generic head-faith that was based on things he heard about Israel's history, onto a genuine conviction.

I often feel that I just have head-faith. I believe in a set of doctrines, and they're relevant to me when I'm praying, studying the Bible, or sharing my faith on my blog. But how's my faith relate to the rough and tough reality of day-to-day life? I'll need a job, especially in these hard economic times. But I wonder if God will bless me with one, especially considering that so many people with Asperger's are unemployed or under-employed. Even when they do get jobs, they tend to mess up. Where is God in all of that? I'm like Achior: I can recite a bunch of doctrines I've heard, but when I'm sent to the besieged area, is my faith as strong? Achior needed continual encouragement, and he truly believed in God only after he saw the head of the enemy.

I can have faith on the mountain-top. It's a lot harder on the ground-level!

Paper on IV Maccabees: Other Changes in Government

Today, I read Robert Doran's "Jason's Gymnasion," Of Scribes and Scrolls, ed. Harold W. Attridge, John J. Collins, Thomas H. Tobin (Lanham: University Press of America, 1990) 99-109.

Here is a quote about a change in education impacting the politeia:

"The strong connection between education and politeia is particularly well attested for Sparta. When Solon praises Spartan practices, Anacharsis asks why the Athenians have not imitated them. Solon's reply is interesting: 'Because we are content, Anacharsis, with these exercises which are our own; we do not much care to copy foreign customs..." (Lucian, Anach. 39) In every discussion of Greek education, Sparta's system...is given a separate chapter. Sparta had its own way of forming its citizens. Awareness of this deep division between Sparta and other Greek cities is important in understanding what Philopoemen did to Sparta in 188 BCE. Besides demolishing the walls of Sparta, dispersing foreign mercenaries and scattering newly-freed slaves, the Achaeans are said by Livy to have abrogated the laws and customs...of Lycurgus and to have forced the Spartans to adopt the laws and institutions of the Achaeans: 'so that they would all become one body, and concord would be established among them...The state of Lacedaemon having, by these means, lost the sinews of its strength, remained long in subjection to the Achaeans; but nothing did so much damage as the abolition of the discipline of Lycurgus...in the practice of which they had continued during seven hundred years' (Livy 38.34)" (104).

Doran then quotes Plutarch, Phil. 16.5-6, which discusses the destruction and later reinstitution of Sparta's politeia. Doran's argument is that, by altering Sparta's notorious educational system, the Achaeans were challenging its ancestral constitution. The same thing is said about Jason's introduction of the gymnasium in Jerusalem in I Maccabees 1:13-14, II Maccabees 4:9-15, and IV Maccabees 4:19-10: that it challenged Israel's law.

Now, I wonder about Sparta the same thing that I'm wondering about Jason's reform of Jerusalem: what exactly changed?

Good Article on Coming VP Debate

This is a good AP article on the coming VP debate: Palin, Biden a lively pairing for veep debate. It says that some Democratic strategists are actually worried about Palin after seeing her 2006 gubernatorial debate, which is circulating on the web. (I haven't seen it yet.) In Alaska, she had some of the same problems that she's having now: she was considered a lightweight, and she offered banal generalities in response to questions about education and the state legislature. At the same time, she had more understanding of energy issues. But, through all of this, she managed to impress the voters with her style, conviction, wit, and charisma. These things have won the day with others, as they did with Reagan in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale.

The description of Biden actually made him somewhat likable. When Biden was running against Senator Cale Boggs in 1972, he knew the answer to a question about a genocide treaty, whereas Boggs did not. Biden pretended that he didn't know much about it either, since rattling off his knowledge would humiliate Boggs, whom many saw as the family's favorite uncle. Biden wrote later that he had a lot more political sense back then than he has today.

It will be interesting to watch.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gabrielle pulls a Wayne Arnold

The season premier for Desperate Housewives was on this evening. Remember that Wonder Years episode where Wayne Arnold told his brother Kevin to get into his car, then drove off a few feet when Kevin tried to do so? This embarrassed Kevin in front of a really pretty girl! Well, Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives tried the same trick with with her chubby 4-year-old daughter to make her get some exercise. It's amazing how shows borrow off each other!

A Startling Confession by a Democrat

On Meet the Press, there was a Senate debate between Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer and Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, both from Colorado (see Transcript). Here's something Udall said:

"I want to correct the record. Congressman Schaffer just suggested that in 2005 I didn't support reform efforts for the GSCs, Freddie and Fannie. I did, in fact. I worked with Republicans to make those changes at that time."

So Republicans were trying to solve this problem in 2005! I thought I heard a Democrat on Fox say that the Republican proposal wouldn't even have helped the situation. But it looks like Udall has a different point of view.

Paper on IV Maccabees: A Few Hengel Quotes

I'm working my way through Martin Hengel's Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (London: SCM, 1974). I stumbled on some quotes that may relate to my paper topic:

1. "A way was to be opened for the extension of Hellenistic civilization and customs, which had previously been hindered by the religious prejudices of conservative groups. The limitations which the latter placed on unrestricted economic and cultural exchanges with the non-Jewish environment were to be abolished...To this end, the 'reactionary' conservative groups had to be deprived of their political power, so that they could no longer exercise their influence to carry through limiting, legalistic, and ritual regulations, as had happened under Simon the just...

"The prerequisite for this was the repeal of the 'letter of freedom' promulgated by Antiochus III, as this grounded the internal ordering of the Jewish 'ethnos' solely on the traditional 'ancestral laws' and gave a legal basis to the defenders of the traditional theocracy. These aims could be most easily achieved by the transformation of Jerusalem--and thus of the whole Jewish ethnos in Judea--into a Greek 'polis'. As the bestowal of citizenship of the proposed polis, and admission to the gymnasium and ephebate, were under the control of Jason and his friends...True, the temple liturgy with its sacrifices continued in the usual way, and the law of Moses was by no means officially repealed, remaining valid largely as a popular custom, but the legal foundations were removed from the Jewish 'theocracy'. Political order and policy were no longer determined by the Torah and the authoritative interpretation of it by priests and soperim; in the future they were to be based on the constitutional organs of the new polis, the 'demos', i.e. the full citizens, the gerousia and the magistrates appointed by them. This inevitably resulted in a lowering of the status of the priestly nobility, and a sign of the strength of the desire within the priestly aristocracy to adopt Greek customs is the fact that this consequence was taken into account. The most powerful lay family, the Tobiads, will on the other hand have welcomed the tendency, as the fact that they were not of priestly descent had been a hindrance to them in earlier struggles for power. The considerable relaxation of the law, which was no longer a binding norm, was evidenced in the fact that individual Jewish ephebes, presumably because of the participation of foreigners in contests in the gymnasium, underwent epispasm...The unsuccessful sacrifice for the Tyrian Heracles can also be regarded as a sign of tendency towards assimilation in the development as a whole" (278).

But even Hengel says elsewhere that Jason was a Zadokite (224). Wasn't Jason a Tobiad? That's something to check out.

Hengel pretty much goes with Tcherikover here, only Hengel says that Jason's Hellenistic reform chipped away at the law. Tcherikover does not really believe this, for he says, "Any change in the manner of worship or offence to monotheistic purity would without doubt have provoked a reaction among the common people in Judea and Jerusalem, but no such reaction is heard of at the time of the Hellenistic reform." Victor Tcherikover, "The Hellenistic Movement in Jerusalem and Antiochus' Persecutions," The Hellenistic Age (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1972) 128.

The Hellenistic reform had to be bad enough to be a cause for God to punish Jerusalem (according to II Maccabees and IV Maccabees), but not bad enough to spark a revolt among pious Jews.

One thing to look into is how Jewish law inhibited interaction with foreigners, since Hellenization was the reverse of this. That could give some indication as to how Hellenization challenged the Jewish politeia.

2. "The complaints which the delegation of two hundred Pharisees brought in the spring of 63 BC to Pompey in Damascus in effect confirm the step which the Teacher of Righteousness had taken about ninety years earlier. They sound like the accusations of II Macc. against Jason and Menelaus: the Hasmonean leaders had 'done away with the ancestral laws'...and unjustly enslaved the citizens (Diod., 40 fr. 2...)" (227).

Hengel quotes the Jewish historian Eupolemus. His writings may be worth looking at to see how he believed the Hasmoneans undermined the Jewish ancestral laws. But it looks like such an accusation was a standard charge. We saw that Josephus used it when he discussed Herod's openness to the Gentiles (see Paper on IV Maccabees: Some Josephus Passages).

I Hope She Has the Last Laugh

I watched Saturday Night Live last night, and Tina Fey made Sarah Palin look like a dunce (even though, surprisingly, Tina Fey was more articulate on certain occasions than Governor Palin herself). And that's pretty much how the media are portraying her. The New York Times even suggested that McCain drop her from the ticket.

Wasilla Kilkenny portrays Palin as someone who's able to bully people and get her own way on account of her popularity (see Palin the Hun?) Well, if that's how she truly is, then she's probably beginning to realize that it's a whole different ballgame on the national level.

I'm really hoping that Palin gets the last laugh and shines at the coming debate. I know that she has within her the capacity to come across as intelligent and articulate (see A Good Palin Interview and Palin on C-Span--Old Interview). Maybe McCain is hiding her and she's doing badly in the interviews because McCain wants to lower expectations, or make the Biden camp smug and complacent.

We'll see how the debate turns out...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One More Paul Newman Movie...

I forgot to mention this: Another Paul Newman movie I saw was Exodus. I liked the soundtrack, but the movie somewhat bored me. But I was young when I saw it, so I'd probably appreciate it a lot more now. One scene I remember is where Paul Newman is giving this hot blond journalist a tour of Palestine, and he asks her if she knows her Bible. He then tells her the story of Deborah on Mount Tabor, which is where they are in the scene. If memory serves me correctly, he then said something like "this land is mine." It was a powerful Zionist scene, since it illustrates that the Jews have a lot of history and heritage in that land.

Paul Newman (January 26, 1925 - September 26, 2008)

Actor Paul Newman passed away today after a long battle with cancer.

Mostly, I knew him from his food products. My family used to have Paul Newman's salad dressing on our table every night. It was kind of like caesar salad dressing, only it had more of an "herby" taste. We also ate "Fig Newmans" for snacks. He was a celebrity who actually cared about health food, which meant that he probably ate a lot of the strange stuff that we ate.

As far as his movies go, I've only seen three: The Sting, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid, and The Verdict. Oh yeah, and I also saw Paul Newman in a remake of Our Town.

I didn't care much for The Sting, but I remember that Ray Walston was on it. He didn't have his usual deep voice. But he's always looked the same.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was okay. I thought Robert Redford was moodier than he usually is. Paul Newman was more happy-go-lucky, which I didn't care for that much. He struck me as a prankster, or as the guy I'm jealous of because he always gets the girls.

But I really liked him in the Verdict. There he was, a desperate ambulance chaser who's happy to have a good day once in a while, who goes against insurmountable odds and wins. He's kind of cocky on that movie, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for him when the judge refused to give him more time for his case. I'd feel low if that happened to me!

Our Town was just Our Town, only it had Paul Newman playing an elderly, sage-like narrator, along with other roles (e.g., the soda shop man, the minister). It also had that one lady from Saturday Night Live, Kate and Allie, and Third Rock from the Sun. She's aging gracefully.

One movie that I'd like to see but haven't yet is Absence of Malice, with Paul Newman and Sally Field. I think Sally Field is hot, and Paul Newman seems to play his usual moody common-man persona in that movie. I'll have to check it out from the library sometime.

As far as Newman's politics go, he was a liberal. He supported Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman in 2006. Oh well. Nobody's perfect.

I Just Remembered...Names

I just remembered what I was going to say about the debate last night but forgot. McCain and Obama mangled people's names.

McCain said "Tom Coleman" when he meant Tom Coburn. And Obama couldn't quite identify whom he was debating with. He called McCain "Tom" and "Jim." With whom was he confusing McCain? Tom Coburn and Jim Dobson?

Barack always says that he's the one with the funny-sounding name. If that's the case, then McCain should be the one doing the mangling. But how hard is it to remember "John"?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Presidential Debate 1 (2008)--A Few More Thoughts

Here are a few more thoughts:

1. I actually liked that both candidates mentioned specific areas that they would cut from the federal budget. McCain mentioned ethanol subsidies and waste in the defense budget (which few Republicans care about). He also proposed a possible freeze in government spending, which concerns me, a recipient of federal student loans. But we'll cross that bridge when (or if) we come to it.

Obama mentioned Medicare money going to insurance companies, as well as us giving money to Iraq when it has a surplus. My response to that depends on what the money is going for. If it's necessary funding for our troops, then I'm for that spending. If it's money for things that Iraq can fund itself, then we shouldn't be shelling it out.

You don't see such honesty from a lot of candidates. Most candidates are reluctant to specify where they would cut, since they're afraid of alienating certain constituencies. And so they give a general answer of "I'll cut waste." McCain and Obama both gave that hackneyed answer, but they also listed specifics, and that's pretty refreshing!

2. McCain said that Obama voted against funding for our troops, and Obama responded that he merely opposed a bill that lacked a timetable for withdrawal. Obama pointed out that McCain also voted against funding the troops--when that provision was part of a bill that had a timetable. Good for Obama for pointing that out! But I wonder how much this applies to leftist criticisms of Republicans as well. Liberals love to say that Mitch McConnell voted against body armor for our troops, for example. Is this true, or is there more to the story (see here)?

3. Obama looked right into the camera, whereas McCain did not. I can hear Pat Buchanan saying in the other room that Obama spoke directly to the American people. That may end up being significant!

There was something in my mind not long ago, but it vanished. Maybe it will come back to me.

Presidential Debate 1 (2008)

Well, the pundits are weighing in on the first Presidential debate between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama. But the question that has most of you on the edge of your seats right now is, "What are James Pate's reactions?" (Just kidding!)

On some level, I'm not really qualified to evaluate their ideas on Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, since there's a lot I don't know. For example, I don't know offhand if John McCain's proposed alliance of democratic nations to counter Iran would work, since France and Germany were not exactly behind us on the Iraq war. What have they done on Iran over the past few years? Obama said that China and Russia could back us up, since they don't want a nuclear Iran, even if they trade with the nation. Is this true? I vaguely recall that Russia in the UN Security Council wasn't for pressuring Iran.

Both candidates did an excellent job in terms of speaking with intelligence and confidence. As I said in my last post, Obama has grown significantly over the past several months. He gave good analyses of several issues without appearing to be heavily coached. In terms of who had the edge, however, I will have to go with John McCain.

McCain conveyed that he had experience. He talked about travelling to many of the regions that we see on the news. He discussed examples in which he displayed good judgment (e.g., Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq). He demonstrated a command of history, as when he said that Pakistan was falling apart before Musharrif came on the scene, emphasizing that he observed all this before Obama even entered national politics. He said that he was tackling Obama's chief foreign policy issue--nuclear proliferation--in the 1990's, long before Obama's time. I'm not sure if McCain is right on all of these issues, but he looks like someone who can enter the Presidency prepared, since he has already interacted with a lot of the decisions a President would have to make.

Obama was weak in certain areas. He wanted to tie John McCain to George W. Bush, and he failed, since McCain has opposed the Bush Administration so many times--on climate change, on torture, on the prescription drug benefit, on the best strategy for Iraq. Even Obama had to praise Senator McCain for his stance against torture. And McCain actually gave an example of Obama voting with President Bush--on that lousy energy bill, which gave lots of goodies to big oil companies.

There was at least one time when Obama could have thrown a punch at Senator McCain but didn't. In the discussion on spending, Obama mentioned how Medicare gives money to insurance companies. Obama should have pointed out that McCain supports that, notwithstanding all his talk about fiscal responsibility.

Obama did well to hit McCain on regulation, and I wish that McCain had responded to that--by arguing that regulation is not always the answer, by referring to government policies that encouraged risky loans, or by reciting the times when he has supported more oversight. But, as pundits all over the political spectrum are pointing out, McCain pretty much nullified Obama's attack when he turned the spotlight on Obama's support for earmarks. And Obama's answer to that was pretty weak!

McCain said that a President needs to be flexible, unlike Senator Obama, who refuses to say he was wrong about the surge. I wonder if this will come back and bite McCain in the rear-end. Can he now call Obama a flip-flopper, now that he's portrayed him as overly rigid? Giuliani tried to use this typical GOP line of attack ("flip-flopper") at the convention. Is that now out the window?

On Iraq, McCain had the edge because he said the surge was working, and Obama did not forcefully disagree with that claim. But I'm wondering how long we will have to be in Iraq. General Petreus said we can't have a timetable for withdrawal. Why not, if the surge is actually working? We can't police that country forever, can we? Maybe Iraq needs more time before it can police itself. Also, I wonder how we will have a surge in Afghanistan, while our troops remain in Iraq. Does McCain want us to send more troops?

Obama did well to point out that having so many troops in Iraq leads us to neglect Al-Qaeda in a lot of other countries. I'm not sure what Obama envisions that we do instead, since he mentioned that Al-Qaeda is even in our hemisphere. Does he want America to invade Latin America, where Al-Qaeda may have a base? I also think that Obama failed to answer one of McCain's central arguments: that losing in Iraq will hurt us in Afghanistan. Having a major haven for terror in Iraq will not help us in that entire region.

There were no major gaffes that I could see, but this is before certain things have been fact-checked. Does Dr. Kissinger support the President of the United States meeting with the President of Iran without preconditions? Did McCain vote for or against alternative energy? What exactly can Obama do on that little sub-committee he heads? Can he investigate Afghanistan, as Senator McCain asserted? These may be retroactive gaffes, and I'm not sure that they'll wreck either candidate. Both showed that they could spin their way out of a lot of tough charges. But people may make an issue of McCain looking constipated during parts of the debate. Or Obama not even cracking a smile as McCain struggled with Ahmadinejad's name.

As the analysis continues to come out of our beloved media, I'm bracing myself for the October 2 Vice-Presidential debate. In that, you'll see the reverse of what you saw today: there, you'll have an experienced Democrat and an inexperienced Republican. I can picture Biden pulling some of the tactics we saw from McCain just now: "I've met with such-and such a leader, after visiting such-and-such a country." Hopefully, Palin will do at least as well as Obama did in this last debate. I want her to be the Palin of the good Governor Palin interviews, not the Palin of the bad VP candidate Palin interviews.

The Debate Tonight

The first Presidential debate will take place tonight, and it will be about foreign policy. Or at least that's what the scheduled topic is supposed to be.

I expect Barack Obama to do pretty well, for he's grown a lot in this area. In the beginning, he really didn't have a firm grasp on the subject. He stated that he would pull out from Iraq, then send our troops back if Al-Qaeda is there. He said we should bomb Pakistan, then defended his proposition by name-dropping people who agreed with him. Hillary appeared to have a sophisticated understanding of the issues, whereas Obama spoke in generalities and talking points.

But I just watched Bill O'Reilly's interview of Obama (see Bill O'Reilly - Obama Interview pt 1, Bill O'Reilly - Obama Interview pt4), and I see that he has grown a lot over the past few months. He appreciates the difference between the Shiites and the Sunnis. He knows how Europe can have a negative economic impact on Russia. He supports a missile shield in Eastern Europe, yet he wants to make sure that it works. He seems to be able to discuss foreign policy competently and intelligently. Maybe there's hope for Sarah Palin!

McCain will do well to point out Obama's flip-flops on foreign policy issues. Obama may be able to respond effectively to that, since he can be good at regrouping himself. At the same time, explaining away a flip-flop is not always easy, especially when one isn't given much time to do so.

Will McCain bring up his POW experience? I hope not. I'm getting a little tired of his "How dare you disagree with me! I was in Vietnam" spiel. Not long ago, I watched on YouTube a 2000 debate among McCain, George W. Bush, and Alan Keyes. Keyes criticized McCain's approach to the abortion issue, and McCain shot back, "How dare you lecture me on the sanctity of life. I saw a lot of people die!" Keyes then shut up, which doesn't happen all that often. But I hope that Obama is not ruffled by the Vietnam card. He should just say that he appreciates McCain's service, but still thinks that he's wrong on a variety of issues. Or, then again, I hope Obama doesn't do that, since I want McCain to win.

In my opinion, Obama's campaign has been kind of fizzling out over the past few weeks, even though he's slightly ahead in the polls. He's defensive. He lectures people with a self-righteous tone. He attacks. He's blindly partisan. You really don't see the calm, rational Barack Obama that you saw in the primaries--the one who could be likeable and positive, who could actually put his opponents on the defensive and make them come up with answers. Right now, he's a whiner. But the debates may give him a chance to be the old Barack Obama again.

Paper on IV Maccabees: Was Jerusalem a Polis?

II Maccabees 4:22 says that Antiochus IV "was welcomed magnificently by Jason and the city, and ushered in with a blaze of torches and with shouts" (NRSV). The Greek word for city is polis.

In Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), Victor Tcherikover states about this passage: "It may well be that this mention of the 'city' (the Greek polis of Antioch) is not by chance, but possesses a deeper significance; possibly the visit of Antiochus and the festivities associated with it marked the actual juridicial foundation of the polis..." (165).

I have some thoughts/questions about this:

1. Just because I-II Maccabees call Jerusalem a polis, that doesn't mean it was a formal Greek city. Fergus Millar points out in "The Problem of Hellenistic Syria," Hellenism in the East, ed. Amelie Kuhrt and Susan Sherwin-White (University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987): "In 1 Macc. 5.26-27 a whole string of places across the Jordan, all of which have retained analogous Arabic names until modern times--'Bosora', 'Bosor', 'Alema', 'Chaspho', 'Maked', 'Karnaim'--are described as large fortified poleis. These too will have been fortified villages; it is worth noting that the author of 1 Macc. has no notion that polis ought to be restricted to self-governing cities formally recognized as such; he uses it for instance of Modein (2.15), the village from which the Maccabees came" (123).

R.J. van der Spek makes the same argument about Greek sources in his essay (58-59 of the same book): that they don't limit the term polis to Greek city-states.

2. A city could have a gymnasium without being a polis. Babylon had a gymnasium, yet it was allowed to keep its own traditions and system of government (20-65). Similarly, van der Spek asserts that "the action by the high priest Jason to hellenise Jerusalem did not affect the government structure, even though a dynastic name was introduced (2 Macc. 4.9, 12, 14)" (59).

What's my point? Maybe Jerusalem was a Greek polis, or maybe it wasn't. II Maccabees 4:9, 19 says that Jason wanted to enroll the Jerusalemites as citizens of Antioch. That may mean that Jerusalem became a polis.

But the change in the government was minor. I have a hard time thinking that this offended Jews, especially when Jerusalem got to keep its high priest and gerousia. Since challenges to the politeia can encompass sins in general (see Paper on IV Maccabees: Other Challenges to Politeia), I think that the authors of II and IV Maccabees believe that the introduction of foreign customs into their country encouraged a violation of the politeia, the law.

What I may get into Sunday is the idea that a polis could exist alongside traditional Jerusalem. That could work, but what would happen when the authorities of traditional Jerusalem were the participants in the polis? Could that result in the polis undermining traditional Jerusalem?

Palin on C-Span--Old Interview

This is an old interview of Sarah Palin from February 2008, before she became McCain's VP candidate. It was on C-Span.

She sounds like an engaged governor! She knows how many doctors are in Alaska, and she says she's working to make the number higher. She gives an intelligent answer to a caller's question on taxes, saying that the cost of living in Alaska is quite high and so a person making $80,000 a year can use a tax cut. When a caller says that the sailor of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill was exonerated, she offers additional information that demonstrates his culpability. She didn't have that deer-in-the-headlights look, but she responded with facts to an unexpected question. Even when she uses cliches and talking points, she does so glibly and intelligently--it's not like she's resorting to them because she doesn't know what to say. She even knows how Juneau became the state's capitol!

I wish we saw this Sarah Palin more in her interviews as a VP candidate!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Good Palin Interview

Many people don't believe me when I say that Governor Sarah Palin can give a good interview. Here's an example of one she gave on CNBC, before she was tapped as McCain's VP candidate. She speaks about energy, addressing how drilling in ANWR will not hurt the environment, since drilling in Alaska hasn't hurt the caribou thus far. She also talks about Joe Biden. She's quick. She's glib. She's clear and articulate. She's armed with facts. She knows candidates' records on energy issues.

I hope this is the Sarah Palin we see in the October 4 debate. Why don't we see her that often? BryanL may be right when he says that she doesn't want to misspeak and hurt the McCain campaign. I wonder if we're seeing a repeat of 1988, when people on Bush's staff were keeping Dan Quayle on a tight leash, treating him like he was a little kid. That's why he was so robotic in the 1988 debate! But when he got to be himself in 1992, he was an attack-dog! Maybe McCain's aides need to let Sarah be herself.


Sarah Palin Interview on Energy, Drilling, Joe Biden...

Paper on IV Maccabees: Leads--Homosexuality

Someone suggested to me that the Jewish objection to Jason's gymnasium in the second century B.C.E. might have related to homosexuality that was occurring there. I found an Internet site that claims this: First Maccabees - Marriage and Giving in Marriage. The site itself is ideologically charged, but it refers to other articles. It sites Johansson and Percy:34, but it doesn't tell me what book. But these guys have written about homosexuality in encyclopedias, so maybe they're worth checking out. The other article is Patrick G.D. Riley, Homosexuality & the Maccabean Revolt, New Oxford Review (September 1997). He teaches classical civilization at Concordia University of Wisconsin, so perhaps he offers some evidence.

I may look more into this tomorrow, or some time thereafter. Tomorrow, I'll be picking up more books at the library about Israel and Hellenism. I'm beat right now. I'll read through some French and German, watch an episode of Lost, and go to bed.

Couric Interview of Palin, Part II

Here's the transcript of Part II of Katie Couric's interview with Governor Sarah Palin (see here). Here are some of my reactions:

1. Couric: In preparing for this conversation, a lot of our viewers … and Internet users wanted to know why you did not get a passport until last year. And they wondered if that indicated a lack of interest and curiosity in the world.

Palin: I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world. No, I've worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.

My comments: This was probably the best part of the interview. She was certainly the most articulate in this part. It pretty much went downhill from there! I love it when she plays the anti-elitism card! Not everyone has the time or the money to travel overseas. It has little to do with a lack of curiosity. I only went overseas once (to Israel), and that was when someone else paid for it.

At the same time, going overseas gave me a perspective that I otherwise would not have had. I got to meet Palestinians and Israelis. I actually saw the poverty of certain Arab areas. I heard different points of view about Israel's relationship with the Palestinians. Sure, a person can learn more by reading, but travelling put a human face on what I saw on the news and read in the newspaper.

2. Couric: Gov. Palin, you've had a very busy week. And you're meeting with many world leaders. You met with President Karzai of Afghanistan. I know the McCain campaign has called for a surge in Afghanistan. But that country is, as you know, dramatically different than Iraq. Why do you believe additional troops, U.S. troops, will solve the problem there?

Palin: Because we can't afford to lose in Afghanistan, as we cannot afford to lose in Iraq, either, these central fronts on the war on terror. And I asked President Karzai, "Is that what you are seeking, also? That strategy that has worked in Iraq that John McCain had pushed for, more troops? A counterinsurgency strategy?" And he said, "yes." And he also showed great appreciation for what America and American troops are providing in his country.

My comments: This is actually a pretty decent answer. Sure, Afghanistan is different from Iraq, but I think the President of Afghanistan knows a little more than Katie Couric does about his own country. And he said a surge would work there. So there, Katie!

3. Couric: The United States is deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Do you think the Pakistani government is protecting al Qaeda within its borders?

Palin: I don't believe that new President Zardari has that mission at all. But no, the Pakistani people also, they want freedom. They want democratic values to be allowed in their country, also. They understand the dangers of terrorists having a stronghold in regions of their country, also. And I believe that they, too, want to rid not only their country, but the world, of violent Islamic terrorists.

My comments: This is kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sort of situation. Personally, I wonder why Pakistan isn't going after Al-Qaeda itself. We shouldn't have to cross into Pakistan and get shot at by Pakistanis: Pakistan herself should go to Al-Qaeda's haven and take it out. But Palin would make the front page if she said that, and it wouldn't be pretty. The media would say she alienated an ally. You just can't win!

I'm glad that the President of Pakistan thinks Sarah Palin is gorgeous. I do too! Maybe that will make him receptive to what she has to say. But I hope she doesn't just take the word of every leader she encounters. She should ask them tough questions.

4. Couric: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

Sarah Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It's funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don't know, you know … reporters.

Couric: Mocked?

Palin: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

My comments: I can kind of understand what Sarah Palin is saying. It's like I was saying above about travelling to foreign countries: there's something special about being there. And Sarah Palin feels that her state's proximity to and interaction with Russia gives her some level of knowledge about the country. It would be like me going to school with George W. Bush. (Actually, I think my mom said her family lived near the Gores in Tennessee). But has Putin ever come into the air space of the United States of America? Apparently, something happened in March, according to the Anchorage Daily News:

"Russia’s resurgent military is again making sporadic, unannounced bomber runs toward Alaska’s airspace, leading the Air Force to scramble jets to intercept and identify them, according to the commander of the Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Howie Chandler" (see here).

Looks like Alaska can experience some pretty serious action!

5. Couric: When President Bush ran for office, he opposed nation-building. But he has spent, as you know, much of his presidency promoting democracy around the world. What lessons have you learned from Iraq? And how specifically will you try to spread democracy throughout the world?

Palin: Specifically, we will make every effort possible to help spread democracy for those who desire freedom, independence, tolerance, respect for equality. That is the whole goal here in fighting terrorism also. It's not just to keep the people safe, but to be able to usher in democratic values and ideals around this, around the world.

My comments: She didn't really answer the question here, but CBS News' video showed a little bit more of this part (see here). Palin said that the U.S. shouldn't just go at it alone but should build coalitions with other countries. Perhaps. Bush actually tried to do that, but France didn't back us up. Maybe we need a President who can be more persuasive.

Katie then asked about situations in which democracy does not work, citing the example of the Palestinians voting for Hamas. Palin appeared a bit stumped by this question, and then rambled something that I can't remember right now. But Katie's question was good. We like to talk about democracy, but what if a radical fundamentalist Muslim is elected to head one of these Middle Eastern countries? Will we accept the outcome of that election, even if he proceeds to undermine freedom?

6. Couric: You met yesterday with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is for direct diplomacy with both Iran and Syria. Do you believe the U.S. should negotiate with leaders like President Assad and Ahmadinejad?

Palin: I think, with Ahmadinejad, personally, he is not one to negotiate with. You can't just sit down with him with no preconditions being met. Barack Obama is so off-base in his proclamation that he would meet with some of these leaders around our world who would seek to destroy America and that, and without preconditions being met. That's beyond naïve. And it's beyond bad judgment.

Couric: Are you saying Henry Kissinger …

Palin: It's dangerous.

Couric: … is naïve for supporting that?

Palin: I've never heard Henry Kissinger say, "Yeah, I'll meet with these leaders without preconditions being met." Diplomacy is about doing a lot of background work first and shoring up allies and positions and figuring out what sanctions perhaps could be implemented if things weren't gonna go right. That's part of diplomacy.

My comments: Katie said at the end of the newscast that Kissinger believes in meeting with Iran without preconditions. And, as can be expected, critics are toasting Palin like she's the town dunce.

Personally, I'm not sure what a "precondition" is. Do we have to require Iran to dismantle its nuclear program before we meet with it? Is that the precondition under discussion?

As far as Kissinger goes, he does support talks with Iran without preconditions, but he's also for following some of what Palin defines as "diplomacy." Here's what he told CNN on December 14, 2006 (see here):

"I'm in favor--first of all, the problem of Syria and Iran are two separate problems. Syria is primarily concerned with Lebanon and Palestine. The Syrian contribution in Iraq, one way or the other, is essentially marginal. Iran represents a sort of an ideological religious wave that has a major role in Iraq. I have favored negotiations with Iran. But I do not think focusing it on Iraq is the happiest way to do it, because that's the region where they may think--and I actually think exaggeratedly--that they hold all the cards and that they're doing us a favor. We need to talk to them about the nuclear problem. We need to talk to them about their role in the region and about the need to avoid what would head into a confrontation if present trends continue. That would be an important subject for a conversation with Iran. But not when they--when they feel so arrogant and self-confident. Then to focus it on Iraq is not the happiest subject."

And here's a quote from Kissinger in a March 2008 story (see here):

"It's not really the willingness to talk, it's so far the inability to define what we are trying to accomplish...The negotiations depend on a balance of incentives and penalties. Have we got those right at every point? Not at every point."

And so Kissinger supports a thoughtful, informed diplomacy that takes into consideration where Iran is in its attitude, along with possible incentives and penalties. That's pretty much what Sarah Palin defined as his position.

But what she should have said was, "Kissinger? You mean Mr. Detente, who wanted America to be second place to the Soviet Union? His ideas were discredited when Reagan came along!"

7. Couric: You recently said three times that you would never, quote, "second guess" Israel if that country decided to attack Iran. Why not?

Palin: We shouldn't second guess Israel's security efforts because we cannot ever afford to send a message that we would allow a second Holocaust, for one. Israel has got to have the opportunity and the ability to protect itself. They are our closest ally in the Mideast. We need them. They need us. And we shouldn't second guess their efforts.

Couric: You don't think the United States is within its rights to express its position to Israel? And if that means second-guessing or discussing an option? Palin: No, abso … we need to express our rights and our concerns and …

Couric: But you said never second guess them.

Palin: We don't have to second-guess what their efforts would be if they believe … that it is in their country and their allies, including us, all of our best interests to fight against a regime, especially Iran, who would seek to wipe them off the face of the earth. It is obvious to me who the good guys are in this one and who the bad guys are. The bad guys are the ones who say Israel is a stinking corpse and should be wiped off the face of the earth. That's not a good guy who is saying that. Now, one who would seek to protect the good guys in this, the leaders of Israel and her friends, her allies, including the United States, in my world, those are the good guys.

My comments: I'm not sure what Palin means by "second-guess." She should have just said that Israel has a right to defend itself, as it did in the 1980's when it bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor.

Some ridicule her for saying "good guys" and "bad guys." Perhaps that's a little unsophisticated, but some may argue that it's good to recognize clear bad guys. It would have been nice had Neville Chamberlain done so in the 1930's!

Supposedly, there's more of the interview to come, so I'll keep you all posted!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Katie Couric Interview of Palin, Part I

Here is the transcript of Katie Couric's first interview with Sarah Palin. Couric was really tough, let me tell you! Here are some quotes, along with my reaction:

1. Katie asked Palin about Rick Jones, McCain's campaign manager whose lobbying firm received payments from Freddie Mac until last month. Palin replied: "My understanding is that Rick Davis recused himself from the dealings of the firm. I don't know how long ago, a year or two ago that he's not benefiting from that. And you know, I was--I would hope that's not the case."

Katie then asked: "But he still has a stake in the company so isn't that a conflict of interest?"

And Palin responded: "Again, my understanding is that he recused himself from the dealings with Freddie and Fannie, any lobbying efforts on his part there."

She's not afraid to say that she does not know. Maybe that's a safe answer. Or perhaps it shows she's out-of-touch with her own campaign. But should we expect her to have encyclopedic knowledge of everyone in the McCain campaign? Maybe not. But I hope a President McCain will run a good background check on those he appoints. We don't want another FEMA hack! Also, did Obama know about the Fannie and Freddie connections of Jim Johnson and Franklin Raines?

At first, I was disappointed when Palin simply repeated the same answer after Katie asked her follow-up question, but the answer may actually address what Katie is asking. If Rick Jones did not deal personally with Fannie and Freddie, then is it his fault that his firm received money from them? But, of course, the facts are currently under dispute.

2. Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin if there is a risk of another Great Depression. Couric was the first to mention a depression in that interview. And Palin's answer was "yes," assuming we do nothing. McCain said on CBS News (with a befuddled look) that he wouldn't go so far as to say we're headed for a depression, but we should acknowledge that there are potentially serious problems ahead. Doesn't everyone agree on that--Republican and Democrat? (The exception would be those who think the government should stay out of the whole situation and let the market correct things.) Yet, Katie acts like Sarah Palin is undermining economic confidence by saying we should prevent a financial problem.

3. Note this exchange:

Couric: Would you support a moratorium on foreclosures to help average Americans keep their homes?

Palin: That's something that John McCain and I have both been discussing--whether that ... is part of the solution or not. You know, it's going to be a multi-faceted solution that has to be found here.

Couric: So you haven't decided whether you'll support it or not?

Palin: I have not.

Couric: What are the pros and cons of it do you think?

Palin: Oh, well, some decisions that have been made poorly should not be rewarded, of course.

Couric: By consumers, you're saying?

Palin: Consumers--and those who were predator lenders also. That's, you know, that has to be considered also. But again, it's got to be a comprehensive, long-term solution found ... for this problem that America is facing today. As I say, we are getting into crisis mode here.

My comments: Palin usually shows a grasp on nuances when she's talking about energy or Alaska or polar bears or earmarks. I wish she'd show such a grasp in this case, so as to list the pros and cons of a moratorium on foreclosures (or any policy proposal). Her response was something I could have come up with. Bill Clinton would have given a learned answer to Katie's question.

4. Here's another exchange:

Couric: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?

Palin: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie - that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.

Couric: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more. Palin: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you've said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?

Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.

Couric: I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.

My comments: On some level, it's not easy to walk into an interview with encyclopedic knowledge that prepares one for any question a reporter might ask. But the Washington Post's article, "Always for Less Regulation?," has been on John McCain's web site for a while (see here), and it discusses where McCain has supported more regulation. Shouldn't Sarah Palin be familiar with what's on her campaign web site?

More tomorrow!

Paper on IV Maccabees: Hellenism and Local Culture

What follows are some quotes on the impact of Hellenism on local cultures. I may touch on this subject again in the future.

1. Elias Bickerman, The God of the Maccabees (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979).

"The 'gymnasium,' i.e., the sports-stadium, during the Hellenistic period formed the symbol and basis for the Greek way of life. Physical education was something alien to the Oriental, but a natural thing for the Greeks. Wherever Greeks came together, or people who wanted to be counted as Greeks, they started athletic exercises...That meant that when native people participated in the athletic contests, they were accepted into the ruling class, and they acknowledged the hegemony of the Greek way of life. The native language of the Sidonians was still Phoenician, and their organization still patriarchic, when in the year 200 B.C. the city in a Greek poem publicly honored the citizen who was the first to win the Nemeian chariot race and thus to prove that Sidon excelled not only through her ships, but also through a successful team of horses" (39).

2. Robert Doran, "The High Cost of a Jewish Education," Hellenism in the Land of Israel, ed. John J. Collins and Gregory E. Sterling (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) 94-115.

"This sense of local pride in the culture and history of its city is what we need to keep in mind when looking at the gymnasium in Jerusalem. Unfortunately we do not have the curriculum followed at different cities. Clearly Homer was taught in many. But what of a city which already had a long and unique literary and legal history? What would happen there when an educational institution like the gymnasium was introduced? Would it abandon its ancestral heritage? One small piece of evidence to suggest otherwise is the number of local histories written for specific cities. E. Bickerman showed how Sidon maintained its own local institutions when hellenized. In the gymnasium library at Halicarnassus, copies were kept of the works of its two famous authors, Herodotus and the obscure C. Julius Longianus. At Lamia the poetess Aristodama was given citizenship in gratitude for the epic poem she had composed and performed on the history of Lamia (IG 9.2.62). Beyond that, Stanley Bonner has shown how, at Rome, young Romans were taught their own language, laws, and literature alongside being given an entree to Greek literature and rhetoric" (96-97).

3. Fergus Millar, "The Background to the Maccabean Revolution: Reflections on Martin Hengel's 'Judaism and Hellenism,'" Journal of Jewish Studies 29 (1978) 1-21 (see here).

"In Syria proper, notably at Hierapolis-Bambyce and at Heliopolis-Baalbek, it is notorious that there survived within Greek cities temples and cults which both were, and were perceived at the time to be, entirely non-Greek in origin and character" (4).

"...we have a considerable body of evidence, admittedly from varying regions of Syria and varying dates, which clearly shows that indigenous cults could be preserved and integrated with their now Hellenised environment without losing their identity or continuity. What is more, a recent study of the Semitic cults of the Syrian regision, and in particular of private dedications, whether in Greek or dialects of Aramaic, argues that the evidence reflects the growth of the conception of a single supreme god, addressed in various names" (6).

"Though it is possible to find parallels, in Syria and Egypt, for circumcision and the avoidance of pork, the existence of a complex set of observances binding (in principle) on the whole population has no parallel; nor do we yet know of any other Near Eastern people speaking a Semitic language who in a Hellenistic period generated a whole range of works in different genres in their own language (or languages, Hebrew and Aramaic). Finally, if slight traces reveal...that the Phoenicians still possessed a historical tradition of their own, nothing parallels the existence of a sacred book which was at the same time a national history, and which, as Ben Sira, Maccabees and the Qumran documents all show, was in active circulation among the people and was the primary agent in forming their consciousness" (12).

Tomorrow, I'll be reading through A. Kuhrt and S. Sherwin White's Hellenism in the East: The Interaction of Greek and Non-Greek Civilizations from Syria to Central Asia after Alexander (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987). I want to see what affect Hellenism had on local customs.

The above quotes say that Hellenism didn't exactly abolish local customs. But I wonder if the areas were converted into official Greek cities. In any case, gymnasia could hold on to the ancestral traditions of a non-Greek area.

Also, Israel's uniqueness is worth pointing out. If Israel was unique in institutionalizing customs that were contrary to Greek culture, then many Jews would perceive dramatic Hellenization to undermine their politeia.

Job and Tobit

In my opinion, Job and Tobit are figures whose suffering made them care about other people.

What do I mean by that? Didn't they already care for others? Wasn't Job an advocate for the poor and oppressed (Job 30-31)? Did not Tobit go out of his way to bury his fellow Israelites and to give alms (Tobit 1-2; 4:6-11)?

Yes, but why did they do those good deeds? I think it was because they wanted to earn God's favor by doing the right thing. Job offered sacrifices to God on behalf of his children because they might have cursed God in their hearts (Job 1:4-5). He was trying to stay on God's good side so that nothing bad would happen to his family. Not surprisingly, there was a rabbinic view that Job only served God out of fear, not love (Mishnah Sotah 5:5). And Job also had a deep-down contempt for the poor people he was trying to help, seeing them as riffraff (Job 30). He probably helped them because he was paternalistic, or out of a desire to get God's goodies by obeying the rules.

Tobit brags a lot about his righteous deeds. His very first words in the book are: "I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I performed many acts of charity for my kindred and my people who had gone with me in exile to Nineveh in the land of the Assyrians" (Tobit 1:3 NRSV). And he tells about how God gave him favor in the eyes of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser because he was mindful of God with all of his heart: unlike most Jews in Assyria, Tobit avoided the unclean food of the Gentiles (Tobit 1:10-13). Tobit never really says why he was so religiously scrupulous. But he seems to mention divine rewards every time he talks about his actions (see Tobit 4:6-11).

Both were floored when they got hit with hard times. Job initially refused to curse God, but he came to the point where he expressed a lot of bitter disappointment with him, to the consternation of his self-righteous friends. Regarding Tobit, after he was blinded in his attempt to do the right thing, he tried his best to believe that God was fair--that God was someone who rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked. But he struggled with despair and wanted to die (Tobit 3:1-6; 4:6-11; 5:10).

You see a lot of "Why me?" in the speeches of Job and Tobit. They wonder why they're suffering, especially after they had diligently obeyed God's rules. Eventually, however, they come to think about people other than themselves. There are times when Job stops thinking about his own suffering and asks God why he allows pain for anyone, not just him. He discusses rich people who throw folks off their land, making them homeless and hungry in the desert (Job 24). Job wonders why such oppressors die in a state of happiness and prosperity (Job 21). Why doesn't God punish them? Job probably never asked these questions while he was prosperous. He just focused on obeying the rules and reaping the benefits of his good deeds. Prior to his suffering, he never stopped to ask why the world was so unfair.

And Tobit is rather self-centered until he finally gets his sight back. Tobit sends his son Tobiah on a mission, and God works it out so that Tobiah helps (and marries) a woman who's troubled by a demon, and returns with material that can heal his father's blindness. God had a plan for Tobit's blindness, which helped not just Tobit but others as well. In Tobit 13, we see that Tobit comes to think beyond himself, for he looks to the day when God will restore and bless Israel and convert the Gentiles. Tobit's experience of God in his suffering leads him to have a universal vision.

Job and Tobit arrive at a deeper understanding of God as a result of their suffering. Job says that he always heard things about God, but now he sees God face-to-face (Job 42:5). And Tobit probably was familiar with the writings of the prophets prior to his blindness, since he quotes Amos 8:10 in Tobit 2:6. But he arrived at a genuine appreciation for God's activity in the world as a result of his suffering. The prophets came alive for him after that experience. He was no longer just thinking about God and Tobit--he was praising God for what he was doing in the world.

My purpose in this post is not to say, "Okay, you need to arrive at a level of authentic obedience from the heart, rather than acting like Job and Tobit before their suffering." We do what we do, with the motivations that we have. Rules will not change that fact. I personally can't wave a magic wand and make myself suddenly have the right motivation. What I am saying is that God can use our experiences to give us a different outlook on things, one that transcends our usual focus on self (see Character, McCain's "Inaccuracies").

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