Saturday, May 31, 2008


We’re all familiar with a certain chasm that makes a mockery of organized religion. I’m referring to the chasm between the church’s ethical ideas and its real-world practices. No matter what religion you’re talking about, this chasm appears to be as wide as the Pacific. But perhaps the most commonly used example is the gulf between the pacifism, egalitarianism, anti-materialism, and tolerance of the Gospels and the hard-right ranting of the evangelists and politicians who purport to speak in Jesus’ name. That gulf alone is responsible for converting thousands, if not millions, to atheism. And I have no doubt that similar hypocrisy in the non-Christian world is responsible for setting millions of others against organized religion specifically, and spirituality generality.

Recently, though, I have come to notice a second form of religious schizophrenia. I wouldn’t exactly call it hypocrisy-based, but I find it nearly as troubling as the chasm described above.

I was reminded of this newer type of religious chasm when I attended a meeting of my new religious community – the one that formed when my old Temple decided to jettison the two clergymen who accounted for at least 90% of its spirituality. The new community has had a number of meetings to date, and at several of these meetings, we have held something akin to a “service.” The group chanted Hebrew melodies, and in many of these melodies, we gave thanks to God. In that sense, the services have been like other gatherings of religious Jews throughout the world who come together in song/prayer. Some songs praise the Shabbat. Others, praise the Land of Israel. But most commonly, we sing in praise of God and give thanks for the world that we all love so much (at least those of us who choose, morning after morning after morning, not to take our own lives; there must be some reason why we opt for life, and that stems from the manifest beauty of life itself).

At this last meeting, however, we did more than simply sing or pray. We also discussed. In particular, we discussed the draft report of the Vision Committee, which set forth ten principles of a vision for our new community. The draft report was, for the most part, a very nice set of principles that all liberal Jews should embrace. It was certainly an improvement over the de facto vision of the temple from which I fled last December. But there was one thing in the report that troubled me. Nowhere in the ten principles did the vision committee mention the word God. In fact, nowhere did the committee mention any name at all for the divine. The closest thing I saw to a relevant reference was the statement that we aspire to find “a spiritual path that connects us to the sacred.”

For some people, there’s no question that the word “sacred” evokes divinity. For others, however, it evokes any place, concept, or event that seems to transcend in beauty and majesty the normal vicissitudes of life. Thus, for example, there are plenty of atheist American Jews who find Jerusalem “sacred,” plenty of Bostonions who find Fenway Park sacred, and plenty of patriots who find the Gettysburg battleground sacred. The same could surely be said for concepts (like love, peace, or justice) or events (like funerals, weddings, or even 90th birthday parties for a beloved parent). We are allowed to hold sacred any object of beauty regardless of whether we affirm the existence of a supreme being, or “ultimate Being,” or any other conception of divinity. So, to me, I’d have to say that nowhere in the vision statement was there included a reference to God or the divine, even implicitly. And when I asked about this, the drafters of the vision acknowledged that this was no oversight; the omission was intentional. Specifically, the vision committee did not wish to offend people for whom the name “God” has become disrespectful to those who wish to honor the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust. If there were a supernatural deity, I was told, how could “He” have allowed six million to die premature and horrible deaths?

I won’t restate the entire conversation that followed, but I must mention that my suggested fix – leaving out the term “God” and inserting instead the more compound term “God-wrestling” – met with resistance as well. Even after I pointed out that my own Spinozistic deity is hardly “supernatural” and surely did not “will” the Holocaust, my suggestion that we mention God-wrestling in the vision statement continued to meet with some resistance. I had already known that merely invoking the concept of divinity has become anathema to the minds of many Jews. What I hadn’t known is that merely invoking that concept has become anathema to the minds of some religious Jews as well. Now that, my friends, is schizophrenic.

Schizophrenic, but not hypocritical. There is no hypocrisy in regularly attending services where you chant Hebrew melodies that praise a God which you yourself don’t believe in. Personally, I’ve been doing that for years; in fact, I’ve been doing that for decades. I no more worship the Cosmic Santa Claus that lies at the heart of Jewish liturgical music than I worship Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. But when I chant those melodies, at least there exists some conception of God that I can praise, “with all my heart, all my soul, and all my might.” And that’s what keeps me able to enjoy services.

What I found so notable at the community meeting was the fact that there exist members of the community who regularly attend Jewish worship services and are offended by the very use of the word God. More and more often, I encounter people who believe that all right-minded people should be engaged in a struggle to remove that word from our collective vocabulary, except as a historical anachronism. From such a perspective, “God-worshippers” will hopefully become marginalized, much like members of the “Flat-Earth Society” are today. I’ve seen this perspective expressed in such books as Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great.” But I wouldn’t expect to see Dawkins or Hitchens taking over the Vision Committee of a synagogue in which praying to God is one of the staple activities. I still can’t quite believe what I witnessed in my own “religious” community.

Clearly, if there is a God, “He” had better change his Marketing Director … and fast. I have no doubt that the current marketing plan is working well with the fundamentalist communities. But like I said, those communities have their issues with an older form of religious schizophrenia – the hypocritical kind. If I had a choice, I’d choose the new split-personality in a heartbeat. Hopefully, though, we won’t have to choose either. We can all figure out a way to broaden people’s conceptions of God – in other words, to make people more tolerant of the idea that God can mean many things to many people, and not all of them are morally responsible for the Holocaust.

For me, you can live without God, but you can’t live without the sacred. And if I must reach out to “the sacred” in order to grasp her, I’d rather do it armed with an idea of divinity than without one.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


As I canvassed several middle class neighborhoods of Portland early this week, I tried to convince myself that the election that REALLY mattered was for U.S. Senate. But in truth, I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for another election. And what I noticed was an awful lot of street signs that said “Obama” on them, many fewer that said “Hillary,” and none at all that mentioned “McCain.” It was difficult not to wonder if, outside of country clubs and Orange County, there are any Republicans left in the urban areas of the West.

In the end, Obama took nearly 110,000 votes in Multnomah County, as compared to 55,000 for Clinton and 26,000 for McCain. In Lane County, which contains Eugene, McCain received as many votes as Clinton (roughly 26,000), but Obama received 17,000 more. Even if you include all the rural parts of Oregon, Obama ended up with substantially more votes, in a hotly contested primary, than McCain received running virtually unopposed. This is a pattern we’ve been seeing in so many states, and it has to be giving the GOP leadership fits. In places like Oregon, even if McCain were to win 50% of the Clinton votes, he would still lose by a significant margin. And remember, we’re not just talking blue states; Oregon was considered a purple state in the last Presidential election cycle.

For me, it is getting increasingly difficult to believe that McCain will win a single state that Gore won in 2000, and it feels increasingly likely that Obama can win at least some of the Western and Midwestern states that Gore lost. Hell, Obama would only have to win Colorado (in which he is favored) plus the Gore states to win the nomination. Despite the relentless, racist pounding that he has taken over the Reverend Wright situation in the past couple of months, Obama is currently either ahead in the polls, or at least figures to be competitive, in Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Nevada, and Missouri. Yet he could lose ALL of those states and still win the election, if he merely held on to Colorado and the Gore states. So how exactly is McCain going to win this thing?

Certainly not by trusting his instincts. That’s become apparent in the way he’s handled the debate over Jim Webb’s GI bill, which is intended to provide education benefits to the veterans who have served our nation so valiantly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here’s the way has described the bill’s features:

“[Education benefits] would be available to any member, active or reserve, who has served at least three months on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The level of benefits would be tied to length of service. … Maximum benefits, earned for 36 months' active duty, would cover tuition for up to four years at a level to match tuition at the most expensive in-state public school. The average across states is about $1900 a month… [The bill] also would pay a monthly stipend to cover living expenses. The stipend would reflect local housing costs near school and would be set to equal military Basic Allowance for Housing for married enlisted in grade E-5. … [Further, the bill] would encourage private colleges to make their schools affordable to veterans. Schools that agree to pay half of their tuition in excess of the most costly state schools would see the government cover the remaining half. Thus academically qualified veterans could attend some of the best schools in the country.”

Webb’s bill comes at a time when our army has (a) failed to provide our soldiers with state of the art equipment to protect themselves from insurgent attacks, (b) required our troops to extend their tours of duty well beyond any reasonable standards of modern military practice, and (c) provided almost laughable medical care to those who are able to survive their tours of duty and return to the states. You can therefore imagine why Webb and others might want to extend generous educational opportunities to the heroes who choose to leave the military and attend college.

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama supports the Webb Bill. And, also unsurprisingly, he challenged John McCain to explain exactly why he opposes it. Obama began his comments, the way he always does when he speaks of John McCain – by pointing out his respect for McCain, who Obama often touts as one of his heroes. “But I can't understand,” Obama continued, why he's lining up with the President to oppose this bill … There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing, but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them."

That certainly sounds reasonable to me. And I suspect it sounds reasonable to the majority of those who live in every state that Gore covered, plus Colorado (not to mention Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, etc.). John McCain could have confined his response to explaining that if we encourage veterans to go to college, we might deplete our officer corps, and we need to encourage soldiers to stay in the military as long as possible because our military is so strapped for talent. That answer would have frustrated America to hear, but at least it sounds like a substantive response. But here’s how McCain responded: "I will not accept from Sen. Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did."

That’s right, folks. The same McCain who supported Bush (who never served in Vietnam) over Kerry (who won medals for his service in Vietnam) is now telling Obama that non-veterans have no right to fight for benefits to veterans. It’s the old ad hominem attack. “I’m a veteran. You’re not. I have standing to talk. You don’t. That’s all there is to say.”

Obviously McCain left out the word “Whippersnapper,” at the end of the quotation, but it was all but implied. His comments sound like the words of a crusty old fool who is devoid of arguments, so he resorts to trying to pull rank. “I’m older than you, so I’m right.” “I spent more time here than you, so I’m right.” “I’ve worked in this office longer than you, so I’m right.” “I’ve devoted more volunteer hours to this organization than you, so I’m right.” I’ve heard this type of argument over and over again in my life, usually from the most mediocre of minds. It is typically another way of saying “I don’t have a response, but screw you, I still feel I’m right.” The problem is that in politics, we can’t even read that much into these comments, because McCain might be opposing the bill simply because he is pandering yet again to the hard right. After all, that’s pretty much what McCain has done lately. It’s a sad slide from where he was in 2000, but that’ the grim reality of his candidacy.

This GI bill story emerged during the same week when McCain had to sever his ties to two pastors whose support he had actively courted. One of those pastors said some unbelievably offensive things about Islam (not fanatic Islam, but Islam period). The other suggested that Hitler was an agent of God sent to hunt down the Jews, and thereby usher in the state of Israel -- which, from what I understand, is supposed to be the springboard for Christ’s hegemony over the entire planet.

Pretty sickening stuff, don’t you think? It’s at least as offensive as anything Jeremiah Wright said. McCain could have used this moment to explain why we have to stop blaming politicians for everything that has been said by those with whom they associate, and especially by the ministers they have come to like for whatever reason. But no. McCain merely invoked a distinction – Reverend Wright was Obama’s pastor for twenty years, so Obama should pay for Wright’s mistakes, whereas McCain need not be accountable for the other pastors’ problems because his relationship with them wasn’t nearly as extensive.

The more that I think about McCain’s little two-step here, the more it makes me chuckle. It’s almost like he’s saying “Obama is a sincere Christian who had an authentic, long-lasting relationship with his pastor, so he’s responsible for what the pastor says; but I’m just a phony who courted these religious buffoons for political purposes, so I shouldn’t be responsible when their idiocy is brought to light.” That can’t be McCain’s point, can it?

Just how desperate is this former-maverick to win votes that he could buy one glass house after another and then throw stones at Obama? Apparently, as the representative of the “Party of Family Values,” he feels that it is necessary to go mano-a-mano against Obama in the morality/spirituality department. OK. Well let’s just see how this plays out. From all we can see in the public domain, Obama is a church going man who continues to live in a loving, monogamous relationship with his first wife. Does McCain have a similar commitment to religious values? That’s harder to tell. “Senator Hothead,” as he is called, is said to have dropped F-bombs at more than one of his fellow senators. Also, if you can believe published reports, he committed adultery before finally leaving his ex-wife so that he could marry a much younger woman -- an heiress to a beer fortune who he later referred to as a “trollop” and a “cunt.” As for McCain’s interest in religion, we know that he calls himself a “Christian,” but I am not aware of whether he has regularly attended church and, if so, what his pastor has said about Jews, Muslims and other issues.

Given the extent to which Americans admire church goers who stick with their spouses through thick and thin, avoid cheating on them, and confine words like “cunt” to women other than their wives, exactly why is McCain playing attack-politics with Obama and his pastor? I could legitimately have asked that question before Hagee’s comments came to light. That McCain is continuing to attack Barack even after Hagee’s insanity has been revealed is an example of almost laughable chutzpah.

Finally, as for the “experience” issue, let me remind everyone that both Obama and McCain are running to be chief executive of our nation. The most direct experience they have for the job is that both have run political campaigns, which employ large numbers of people. From all reports, Obama has put together a truly great political organization. McCain, on the other hand, is presiding over an organization that, by all accounts, is in disarray. If he can’t run a campaign, how can we expect him to run a country?

In short, not being Joe Namath, I’m unwilling to guarantee a victory for Obama in November. But at this point, such a victory appears highly likely.

--Obama has the better organization (A+ versus C-),

--Obama has the better temperament (Mr. Cool versus Senator Hothead),

-- Obama seems to be far more intelligent (a former President of the Harvard Law Review who has figured out how to out-think Hillary Clinton in his first year on the national stage versus a guy who nearly dropped out of the Naval Academy, claims to know little about economics, and is constantly forgetting basic facts about his “strong suit,” foreign policy),

--Obama’s message resonates far better with the nation’s thirst for “change,” which is stronger than its desire for “experience” (Hillary is experienced, and hardly a “McSame,” but Obama kicked her but nonetheless), and

--Obama holds views that are closer to the mainstream (at least they are closer than the views McCain purports to have today, now that he spent the last year and a half locked in Vulcan Mind Melds with one troglodyte too many).

On the other side of the ledger, I would admit that McCain should be able to win more votes based on racism than Obama can win based on ageism. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be enough to counterbalance all of the above factors. As they say in boxing, McCain might indeed have a “puncher’s chance” to win the election, but that’s about it. If this election goes the distance – meaning if no mega-scandal should knock out either of the combatants – Obama is almost certainly going to win on points.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Truth. Beauty. And their triplet, the Good. Philosophers have attempted to understand the essence of these words since the time of the ancient Greeks. As a student of that discipline, I have not only contemplated the meaning of those concepts but have even tried to rank them. Given my love for philosophy, you might expect me to place Truth at the top of the hierarchy and Beauty at the bottom. Or you might think I’d agree with Keats that the two (and by implication, their triplet) are inseparable parts of a holy unity. In fact, though, I shall attempt in part to rank these concepts, and my conclusion may not be what you’d expect from a devotee of philosophy.

It feels odd to begin a post about Steve Novick’s race for the U.S. Senate with musings about Platonic forms. After all, Novick is no philosopher. You could call him a historian. A mathematician. A politician. An activist. An attorney. A humorist. A romantic. And quite a character. But he’s no philosopher. Novick has always been too much of a man of action to be the beard-stroking kind of guy. Like Marx, he doesn’t support sitting around interpreting the world; he prefers working tirelessly to change it.

Nevertheless, despite Novick’s proclivities away from Plato and towards Pericles, he has reminded me once again of what I take to be a philosophical truth, one that I only came to learn in the past few years. It gets back to the trichotomy of Truth, Beauty, and the Good, and my chutzpah in trying to rank them. While I haven’t fixed on their precise ranking, I am ready to suggest which of the three belongs at the top. The winner, as evidenced by my recent trip to Oregon, is Beauty.

Yes, that’s right. I went to Oregon to support a 4’9” politician who lacks fibulas and an arm … and who has devoted his entire campaign to talking-truth-to-power … and I’ve come back with an ode, not to Truth, but to Beauty. How is that possible? Because the four days that I spent in Oregon felt like four months, and gave me more than enough time to reflect on some of life’s secrets. One is that there’s no greater human faculty than the ability to appreciate Beauty.

Whenever a true aesthete is faced with profound Beauty, s/he will not only have been deeply enlightened, she will have glimpsed the meaning of the Good. Similarly, to witness ugliness is to gain the best glimpse possible of what we know as “evil.” Whether you want to be a philosopher or an activist, you will be well advised to heighten your aesthetic sensibilities. But remember – the most beautiful things may not be revealed in nature or in museums. Sometimes, the most beautiful things of all are the hearts and characters of our fellow human beings. I saw that for myself in Oregon.

My trip to the Beaver State was agonizing to be sure, but it was a blessing nonetheless. To begin, I saw very little ugliness. One guy yelled “Vote Hitler” when I was on the street yesterday morning holding a sign saying “Vote Novick,” but that was about it. Even when my dear friend lost the lead he had in ALL THREE pre-election polls, and even when he similarly lost the lead he held in the initial election-night polls ... even then there was no ugliness. Nor was it ugly to watch the lead slip away in one of the campaign’s hotel rooms while many hundreds of people massed in a ballroom downstairs, no doubt expecting to be celebrating a victory. Quickly, it became clear that even though Novick would win the city of Portland by double digits, he would lose the State of Oregon. In the end, he lost by only about four percent – or roughly 20,000 votes. Agonizing? Yes. Ugly? Strangely, no.

It has been reported by many outlets that Novick’s campaign speech was absolutely brilliant – funny, inspiring, classy, you name it. In the middle of the speech, he reminded us of how, during the campaign, his younger brother suddenly died in a horrible tragedy. Watching a man who has just suffered a gut-wrenching political defeat talk about the sudden loss of a beloved brother is about as poignant as life gets. There is nothing less ugly than watching one brother express his undying love for another.

Truth be told, the evening did provide a little glimpse of injustice. With the help of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Novick’s opponent in the election essentially spent twice what Novick did and clearly would have lost the race had the party establishment in D.C. let the Oregonian Democrats choose their own nominee. Some could call that ugly. But in spite of that injustice, I was too blinded by Beauty to see any ugliness in the ballroom last night. And that can be attributed to many factors, not the least of which was that the Novick campaign had virtually no regrets. They fought like Rocky against Apollo Creed and came razor close to pulling off a shocking upset that would have turned this “gnome” of a candidate into a national celebrity. It hurt that he wasn’t given the chance to rock the nation the way he rocked Portland. It hurt badly. But that doesn't make it ugly. No regrets, no ugliness.

In case you can’t tell by now, the mood in the ballroom when Novick began his speech didn’t suggest that this was the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning. We were surely witnessing the start of Novick’s career as a public figure, a career that could be described as … what is the word? Oh yeah, beautiful. When a few ladies interrupted the candidate with the words “We love you, Novick,” they were merely echoing the sentiments of everyone in attendance.

If you go to the website “Blue Oregon,” on which I have been a regular poster during the past several months, you will find in its archives plenty of statements about Novick that are anything but loving. He has been called mean, vicious, unqualified, and just the kind of polarizing force that has given politics a bad name. Well, I would concede that Novick, especially in his earlier years as a blogger and activist, has made some impolitic, critical statements, which went further than Truth would allow. But any hyperbole that emerged from his pen clearly pales in comparison to the numerous times when he insightfully and courageously called a spade a spade and would have made Plato proud. In fact, Novick is nothing less than the Platonic form of the non-sell out. That, combined with his prodigious talents, explains why his staff and volunteers believed so much in him. His huge heart and refusal to take himself (or anyone else) too seriously explain why they love him. As Beauty goes, that is a devastating combination.

Strangely enough, though, the most beautiful thing about the latter days of Novick’s campaign wasn’t really centered on the candidate. The force wasn’t centripetal, but centrifugal. It focused my attention on the entire staff and all the volunteers. I’m trying to recall another time in my 47 years when I witnessed such palpable and heartfelt affection among such a large group of people. They seemed to be working as tirelessly as Novick, and even more effortlessly, for they carried less weight on their shoulders.

It wasn’t difficult for any of us to look around in that ballroom last night and find kindred spirits among Novick's staff, family and friends; wherever we looked, there they were. Beautiful faces. Beautiful souls. They inspired me, just like they themselves were inspired by their candidate.

In conclusion, I have previously blogged about the dissolution of my former synagogue, where some of the ugliness, perpetrated in the name of “spirituality,” was enough to turn even a corpse’s stomach. Now, I am proud to announce the flip side. In the name of electoral politics – one of the most reviled domains known to man – I found transcendent Beauty (that’s “Beauty” with a capital B). Say all you want that Novick lost, but I know that isn’t true. So did the others who showed up at the ballroom in the basement of the Benson Hotel. By creating something of true Beauty – meaning that it lasts! – Steve Novick and his campaign staff will always be winners. I admire them and congratulate them – my teachers -- on their success.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Let me dispense quickly with the news from the realm of Presidential politics. Tonight, we are MUCH closer to an Obama Presidency than we were a week ago. Credit that to a combination of the following factors:

(a) the Superdelegates have obviously told Hillary that they would desert her en masse if she continued to go negative against Barack,

(b) John Edwards has proved to the world that you can be white and speak with a Red-state accent and still not think of Barack as a Muslim,

(c) some moronic Presidential speechwriter forgot one of the fundamental principles of life: thou shalt not encourage a gentile President to go before the Knesset and invoke the Holocaust in order to play partisan politics, and

(d) the candidate formerly known as “John McCain” – the same guy I had once supported over Al Gore – has decided to officially adopt the motto of “Four More Years!” It did work for Nixon in ’72 to the tune of 49 states. But if McCain keeps using heated rhetoric against Obama for taking the same positions McCain used to take before changing his name to “McSame,” and if he can’t come up with any way to distinguish himself from Dick Cheney other than opposing climate change … he’s more likely to win only one state rather than 49. (Oh, what am I saying. He won’t win only one state. There are still a number of states who would vote for ANY candidate over someone who comes across as a Muslim or a member of the “elite.” They never got the message from Jon Stewart – it’s good to be part of the elite! It’s a whole lot better, in fact, than to be so i’norant that you think Barack Obama is a Muslim.)

OK. So Barack will be our next President. And John “Mini Me” McCain will become the next President of the NRA. That’s been established. Can we take a little break from Presidential politics now? I’d rather talk about the election of the moment. The battle for the right to become the Junior Senator from the State of Oregon. It’s all going to be decided on Tuesday, folks. I’m flying out tomorrow morning to lend my hand, and I’ll be there until Wednesday morning. Obama, Schmobama. It’s Novick time!

All of my loyal readers are surely familiar with my old friend from law school, Steve Novick. If you’re new here, let me simply say that whoever you are, assuming you’re an adult, I can almost certainly tell you how to stack up against Novick in many ways.

  • You’re wealthier than he is (he’s got squadoosh for assets and never really had much)
  • You’re taller, too (he’s 4’ 9”)
  • You’ve got more arms than he does (I’m guessing one more)
  • You’re a whole lot less informed about public policy than he is (he’s always been a policy junky)
  • You’re a whole lot dumber than he is (he started at the University of Oregon at 14, where he majored in math, and matriculated at Harvard Law School four years later; at 21, when most Harvard students were finishing up college, he was graduating from the Law School with honors)
  • You’re more politically conservative than he is (yeah, he’s not going to campaign as a “moderate” any time soon, though the dude does break rank with me in his support of capital punishment)
  • You’re less outspoken than he is (in truth, he’s said a few stupid things, such as when he used the word “traitress” for Hillary and “hypocrite” for Bono; in fairness to him, that was before he started running for Senate … but still …)
  • You don’t have as many beers that were created in your honor (“Left Hook Lager” was created for Novick’s campaign; the name is based on his prosthetic left hand)
  • You’re not nearly as funny as he is (just check out his commercials if you don’t believe me).
  • And even though you’re taller and less “disabled” than Novick, you’re a hell of a lot less comfortable than he is in his own skin.

Exactly how comfortable is Novick in his own skin? The word from Oregon is that he laughed hysterically at all the reader comments that were written in response to the Wonkette blogpost about him. Check out these beauties:

My personal favorite is: “Did anyone else here read the whole wikipedia article? This guy f***ing went to college in his teens because his Jr. high shut down, then graduated Harvard law at 21. Also, he has the rare gift among democrats of calling a spade a spade in very few words. Can we please have Novick for president in 2016? After 8 years of smart black dude, I think we'll be ready for a badass child prodigy gnome who happens to have a couple of half-formed limbs.” Though I’m also partial to: “Oh my God. He's adorable. I want one for my very own.”

Yeah, those lines are classic. But Novick isn’t just an object of humor; he can create it too. Some of his lines from the time he practiced law at the Department of Justice are immortal. I once attended a party given by his old DOJ section in Novick's honor where the entertainment consisted largely of reading uproarious snippets from his old briefs and internal memos. I could repeat them all to you, but then I'd have to kill you.

My personal favorite Novickism, though, had nothing to do with his experiences at DOJ. It came about in 1989, when the University of Michigan was playing a little college from northern Jersey, Seton Hall, for the national championship in men’s basketball. Novick was raised in Oregon but was born in Newark. That was enough of a reason, apparently, for him to leave this message on my answering machine the night before the game:

Toxic waste, Garden State,
We are the Hall!
Hoyas, Hoosiers, they’re all losers,
We are the Hall!
Seton, Seton, can’t be beaten,
We are the Hall!
Goooooo Pirates!

Truth be told, as you might have expected, “the Pirates” lost to the Big School from Ann Arbor. But it doesn’t always have to work out that way. It doesn’t in Hollywood movies. And it didn’t always work that way in the Bible either.

Here’s hopin’ that Novick, the tiny man with the massive helping of brains, heart and courage, will slay two Goliaths -- the first next Tuesday, and the second on the first Tuesday of November.

(P.S. – Don’t expect me to be able to publish your comments while I’m gone. Sorry about that.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008


The Democratic Convention isn’t happening until late August. That means that if Hillary and her minions can just shut up, the rest of us will have a lot of time to sit back and enjoy life post-civil war. We can call it the “Reconstruction Era,” and use the time to get to know each other again and reconstruct our old alliances. I’m looking forward to being just another Democrat, not one who is characterized by my race, age, or income level. But candidly, I’m looking forward even more to taking time away from Presidential politics. Call it taking time to enjoy a Sabbath day – or in this case, a Sabbath season. Call it taking time to enjoy some fresh air.

While the Party elders will be knee deep in reconstruction, I plan on returning to my own pursuits. My second novel is coming out shortly before the Convention. It is entitled “Moses the Heretic” and it deals primarily with religion generally and Judaism in particular. But it also relates a lot to politics, including issues of contemporary political significance. Perhaps, then, if I wish to enjoy some truly fresh air, I need to put my own writing aside and read the thoughts of someone else – a person who wrote in a distant time and place, where the political disputes had little to do with our own. I think I have found just the person. Lately, I’ve been ruminating about the ideas of Confucius. He may have been one of the first Empathic Rationalists in recorded history and in many ways reminds me of modern Reconstructionist Jews. Confucius, you see, combined an ethic based on compassion for one’s fellow human beings and the silent awe of the transcendent, with the appreciation for the value of traditional rituals. He was humanistic without being affirmatively “atheistic.” He was, from all indications, a mensch.

My interest in Confucius involves trying to tease out a coherent philosophy that ties together the various strands of his thought. But to most of us, Confucius is known primarily though a series of seemingly unrelated quotations. These quotations have come to be seen as the pinnacle of wisdom for literally thousands of years; their relevance never dims, let alone ceases.

Accordingly, I would like to share one of these quotations. It has special relevance for those Democrats who are supporting the losing candidate in any of the primary elections, Presidential, Senatorial, or Congressional. I am thinking in particular about the 20 to 30 percent of the Clinton voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana who claim that they would consider voting for McCain instead of Obama. You’ve probably heard this adage before, but it bears repeating, because time and time again, human beings refuse to heed this advice:

Confucius says, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


…the butter’s getting hard, and the jello’s jiggling.

Those are the immortal words of Chick Hearn, arguably the greatest basketball announcer who ever lived. What am I saying? Forget the “arguably.” He was DEFINITELY the greatest basketball announcer who ever lived. And whenever his beloved Lakers sealed a victory, he announced it with the above words.

Well, the great Chick Hearn is no longer with us. But if he were, and if he were paying attention to the Democratic Presidential nomination, I think he’d be warming up his classic line.

As I type this – 10:00 in Indianapolis and Raleigh – Barack Obama is poised to win roughly 128,000 more popular votes than Hillary Clinton. Obviously, that number can change, but what is clear is that Obama will win the popular vote tonight by a substantial margin. Given that he was starting with a 500,000 vote lead, Hillary couldn’t afford to lose tonight by ANY margin. In fact, she couldn’t afford anything but a big victory.

Over the next few weeks, it will be very interesting to see how the Clintons handle this. Will they try to insult our intelligence once again? Their last fiasco was the pathetic gas tax pander. Talk about a gift to Obama! The next fiasco could be the attempt to count the elections in Michigan and Florida – the same elections that they previously said wouldn’t count before she realized that they needed them to count, because they keep getting their butts kicked. The Michigan/Florida maneuver won’t work, of course, but it might have an impact on who runs this country during the next eight years.

I meant that last statement in two ways. First, if the Clintons continue to make fools of themselves and battle Obama like rabid dogs, they could give John McCain the life line he needs to “stay the course” from 2009-2012. Given that Bill’s escapades with Monica were crucial in electing President Bush in the first place, it would be quite ironic if the Clintons were responsible for electing Bush’s heir apparent for term number three.

My second point, however, is more subtle. If Hillary wants to help run this country during the next eight years, it isn’t going to be as President. And I don’t think Barack is dumb enough to let her serve as Vice President either. But … there is still a chance for Hillary to assume control over the U.S. Senate.

In my opinion, a deal could easily be struck to give Hillary Clinton the job currently held – and not exactly in triumphant fashion -- by Harry Reid. That could be an EXTREMELY powerful position if a truly gifted legislator holds it. And I have often maintained that Hillary Clinton, while she would make a poor President, is a much more natural legislator. If she gives up soon AND works like hell for Barack (as Mitt Romney has worked for McCain), the Democrats in the Senate might make the following proposition: “Barack, you get one branch of the Government, Hillary, you get another, and because of this deal, our party will assume control over the third. How ‘bout it?”

Well, Hillary. It’s your choice. Are you ready to serve your country, or are you really just a megalomaniac? America would like to know, because we’re interested in you as a personality.

But as far as this nomination is concerned, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, and the jello’s jiggling. And most likely, however sanely or crazily you behave from this point on, you’ve just been defeated by the first African American President in your nation’s history.

From a white man who visited Resurrection City when I was seven (40 years ago), let me just say that it’s about time!

Saturday, May 03, 2008


As you’ve probably noted, it’s been a little while since I last posted. I spent some time away from home, and while I was gone, I also tried to take some time away from the Presidential campaign. Now having been back for a few days, it’s clear what I missed. You can summarize it in two words – Jeremiah Wright.

This is what our campaign season has come down to – a referendum on what it says about a candidate when he has a loopy pastor.

Obama’s relationship with his wild and crazy preacher is getting all the publicity because his opponents are content to let him implode in peace, and in part because few are especially excited about those candidates. John McCain is especially underwhelming. He doesn’t seem to have a particularly good command of foreign policy issues, he appears to be a hopeless warmonger, and his economic guru is Marie “Let ‘em eat cake” Antoinette. As for Hillary, she is knowledgeable and feisty, but she has also proven herself to lie gratuitously about her experience (how’s that sniper fire going?), and to be willing to gut her party’s chances of winning by 33% if it would help increase her own chances of winning by 3%. Is there another way to explain why she said that her Republican opponent passes the Commander and Chief test but not her Democratic primary opponent?

Under the circumstances, Barack Obama should be way ahead in the polls, just like he was a couple of months ago. So … what happened? He sat his fanny in the wrong church, that’s what.

Bill Maher said all you need to say about Jeremiah Wright. The man is a “dick.” Obama went out of his way in his speech last month to avoid throwing Wright under the bus, and how does Jeremeiah repay him? By acting like Richard Pryor during his crack days. The problem, of course, is that Pryor was a comedian, whereas Wright is participating in what many believe to be a Greek tragedy. Clintonistas are spreading the word that “Obama is done” because his loopy pastor simply won’t be fenced in. Every week, we’re told to fear, Wright will give us a new quote. I’m expecting to hear something like “Now don’t take this out of context, but America can go fuck itself.” And then the conservatives would start questioning whether it’s such a leap from Michelle Obama’s statement about only now being “proud to be an American,” to “America can go fuck itself.” Cell by cell, Barack’s skin is being torn apart in full public view. And day by day, John McCain, he of the 100 years war and the permanent tax relief for the rich, is actually beginning to think he can win this thing.

The conventional wisdom is indeed that Obama is in trouble. But I don’t buy it. Barack will be our next President. He may not get elected with a huge margin of victory, but he’ll be the first one to cross the finish line. I feel more strongly about that than ever.

Barack can thank his lucky stars that Wright was just wrong enough this week to allow Barack to jettison the guy once and for all. To be sure, Barack still has some ‘splainin’ to do about his relationship with the pastor, but that’s why Barack is going on Meet the Press tomorrow. Russert will ask him some tough questions (“Why did you choose that church? How often did you go? What offensive things to you hear from your pastor?” etc.) and Barack will seize yet another opportunity to come clean. He is too smart to believe that he can continue to dodge these issues. Just as Bill Clinton came clean about “that woman, Miss Lewinsky” and survived the scandal politically, Barack will survive as well, once he answers the difficult questions. Maybe some of the answers will be postponed until after the primaries are over, but they’ll all be out by the end of June. And when we hear more of the truth, I’ve got to believe that we’ll forgive him with open arms. After all, who among us hasn’t known some jackasses in our life? And who among us hasn’t befriended some of them?

Ah, you say, but no matter what Barack does at this point, I must admit that Wright will continue to be a big distraction for him, whereas Hillary is allowed to get on TV and be given a free pass by virtually everyone now. Barack answers questions about his pastor and his other shady friend, the former Weatherman, whereas Hillary gets questioned about her foreign policy ideas, her health plan, and her gas tax relief proposal. Sure, she might be accused of “pandering” but at least she’s accused of pandering about public policy ideas, and not continually treated like a scandal magnet. You sometimes wonder whether it was Obama who was caught patronizing hookers and Spitzer who was “caught” listening to the wrong preacher.

To those who think the sky is falling for Barack, just play out the string a bit further, OK? He will surely do little worse than a dead heat on Tuesday, after which he will have won many, many more primaries and caucuses than Hillary, 150-160 more pledged delegates than Hillary, and 500,000-600,000 more votes than Hillary in states where both were permitted to campaign. More to the point, in each of those categories, Hillary no longer has the ability to catch Barack. Her only chance will be to convince two thirds of the undeclared superdelegates – a 33% landslide, more than she has won in any state in a long, long time – that she is somehow “more electable” than Barack. Electability is an amorphous word, and surely impossible to verify many months before an election. Polls in June are, after all, little better predictors of what would happen in November than polls in February. In short, for Hillary to win, she will have to hope that the superdelegates overwhelmingly ignore Barack’s lead in all the traditional, objective measures of performance. Does anyone seriously think the Democratic superdelegates have the yarblockies to do such a thing?

Let me suggest a little exercise. Posit Barack winning 14 more contests than Hillary, 140 more pledged delegates, and 200,000 more popular votes. Those numbers assume that Hillary will DRUB Barack from this point out. Then picture the Democratic superdelegates giving Hillary the nod.

Just what do you think would happen in Watts? And Houston? And Atlanta? And South East D.C.? And Detroit? And the Southside of Chicago?

I can only imagine that if the shoes were on the other feet, Hillary would be running advertisements every night showing pictures of fires and explosions in one city after another should her opponent win the nomination. At least Barack has the class to spare us that sort of sensationalism. But the superdelegates don’t need to watch sensationalist videos to know the consequences of stealing the election from the first serious black candidate in our nation’s history. They know the way this nation has treated black America for so many centuries. If, in light of that history, a black man can soundly defeat his opponent in pledged delegates, numbers of states, and legitimate popular vote and still lose the nomination, the Democrats might as well adopt “Darkies, Go Back to Africa!” as its official motto.

Relax. Won’t happen. But the fact that so many of you fear it might says volumes about how little confidence any of us has in today’s Democratic Party.