I grieve with thee

It’s hard for me to know what to write in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death yesterday at the age of 83.[1] For better or for worse, Nimoy is remembered almost exclusively for his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series and in several of the Star Trek movies.

I tend not to focus on celebrity news. And I grew up in an era where to have a hero was a sign of weakness. I see, nonetheless, that many people, including several roughly my age saw Spock as just that, a hero. Read more

  1. [1]Virginia Heffernan, “Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83,” New York Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html

The ‘arc of the moral universe’ and the undefeated South

I’ve previously commented on what I see as the irreconcilable differences in the United States—in fact, that such differences exist is the premise behind the domain name, disunitedstates.org, that I publish this blog on—most recently in the wake of a rather thorough drubbing suffered by the Democratic Party. Our electoral contests, I have argued, now amount to struggles for power by each side seeking to impose its values and views on the other.[1] That people on the left, at least, don’t take this seriously enough is brought home to me by an article I found in a Daily Caller newsletter today. Consider the following photograph (figure 1) that was included at the top of the page: Read more

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Bound together in a criminal country,” Not Housebroken, November 5, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6869

Paying for money with human lives

One of the paradoxes of the present economic situation is that despite a relatively high unemployment rate—much higher when one considers the very low labor force participation rate as reflecting a very high number of discouraged workers—and relatively low economic growth, there is, in truth, no relative shortage either of supply or demand. Rather, as I have pointed out in the past, there is a shortage of available money which is the medium of exchange between supply and demand:

Simply put, the economic and political elite of this country are not putting people back to work; and for the unemployed and poor, the coexistence of homelessness and vacant homes demonstrates that while money continues to facilitate the export of jobs they could be doing, it utterly fails to facilitate the exchange of goods and services that they depend upon for survival and for a dignified existence. Money amplifies the inherent injustice of any exchange system, which can only privilege those who have the most power to decline a deal, in the present case, those who already have plenty to eat, luxurious homes, and plenty of help from the government.[1]

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  1. [1]At the time I wrote this, I had not yet encountered Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129. In that essay, Weber makes the point I made here, and goes on to point out that the privileges and disabilities that each transaction creates are cumulative. This passage is from David Benfell, “Cold buildings and hot air: the Main Street choice between empty and hateful words,” Not Housebroken, June 3, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=3713

Asking the wrong question on Bibi’s speech

People wondering about House Speaker John Boehner’s dubious invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress are, I suspect, asking the wrong question.

Even a couple anchors on Fox News came out against the invitation, with Chris Wallace noting that Secretary of State John Kerry had met with Israel’s ambassador, Ron Dermer, with Dermer failing to inform Kerry that the invitation was in the works, and Shepard Smith replying, “It seems like they think we don’t pay attention and that we’re just a bunch of complete morons — the United States citizens — as if we wouldn’t pick up on what’s happening here.”[1] And, “A large majority of Americans believe that Republican congressional leaders should not have invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress without consulting the White House, according to a new CNN/ORC survey.”[2] Read more

  1. [1]Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith, quoted in Dina Rickman, “Even Fox News thought this from Netanyahu was a bit much,” Independent, January 25, 2015, http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/even-fox-news-thought-this-from-netanyahu-was-a-bit-much–ekxCnm4vox
  2. [2]Alexandra Jaffe, “CNN/ORC poll: Majority of Americans oppose Netanyahu invite,” CNN, February 17, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/17/politics/poll-netanyahu-speech-opposition/

Mass migration and the one-state solution

Apparently it’s not enough for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to ill-advisedly accept an invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress[1] and thus to play into House Speaker John Boehner’s political poke in President Barack Obama’s eye, a poke Boehner all but admitted to on Fox News Sunday today.[2] Netanyahu has also been upsetting European politicians by beseeching Jews in France and Denmark to migrate in mass numbers to Israel following recent attacks.[3] Read more

  1. [1]Zack Beauchamp, “Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress is already backfiring,” Vox, February 5, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/2/5/7978375/netanyahu-speech-congress; Edward-Isaac Dovere and Lauren French, “Don’t disrespect our president, black lawmakers tell Netanyahu,” Politico, February 10, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/benjamin-netanyahu-congressional-black-caucus-115103.html; Kevin Drum, “John Boehner’s Big Triumph Is Now Just a Big Shit Sandwich,” Mother Jones, February 6, 2015, http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/john-boehners-big-triumph-now-just-big-shit-sandwich; Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Netanyahu Disaster,” Atlantic, January 27, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/01/Netanyahu-vs-Obama-on-Iran/384849/; Joel Greenberg, “Criticism of Netanyahu’s planned U.S. speech mounts in Israel,” McClatchy, January 26, 2015, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/01/26/254443/criticism-of-netanyahus-planned.html?rh=1; Dina Rickman, “Even Fox News thought this from Netanyahu was a bit much,” Independent, January 25, 2015, http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/even-fox-news-thought-this-from-netanyahu-was-a-bit-much–ekxCnm4vox; Eugene Robinson, “Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu backfires on them both,” Washington Post, January 29, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-boehners-invitation-to-netanyahu-backfires-on-them-both/2015/01/29/4636fbf0-a7f4-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html; Yishai Schwartz, “Netanyahu’s Foolish Speech,” Lawfare, January 22, 2015, http://www.lawfareblog.com/2015/01/netanyahus-foolish-speech/; Rick Ungar, “Bibi Netanyahu — aka ‘The Republican Senator From Israel’ — May Have Made A Fatal Political Mistake,” Forbes, January 25, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2015/01/25/bibi-netanyahu-aka-the-republican-senator-from-israel-may-have-made-a-fatal-political-mistake/;
  2. [2]Caitlin MacNeal, “Boehner: I Didn’t Want ‘Interference’ From Obama In Netanyahu Speech,” Talking Points Memo, February 15, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/boehner-netanyahu-speech-white-house
  3. [3]Josef Federman, “Netanyahu Calls For ‘Massive Immigration’ Of Jews To Israel,” Talking Points Memo, February 15, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/world-news/netanyahu-copenhagen-jews-israel

I am a terrorist

“The folks in favor of air-tight encryption also want to be protected from terrorists,” President Obama told Re/code’s Kara Swisher.[1] Actually, in a very odd way, and speaking for myself, that’s true.

Because the U.S. government, with its intrusions into my privacy, with its policy of helping the rich while hurting the poor, with its drone attacks, with its relentless wars, with its war crimes, with its crimes against humanity, may well be the world’s largest terrorist organization. And if you think I’m being hyperbolic, perhaps stretching the definition of terrorism too far, consider that nearly all of my beliefs—and the mere fact that I express those beliefs—mark me as a terrorist. Read more

  1. [1]Amy Schatz, “Obama acknowledges strains with Silicon Valley,” SFGate, February 14, 2015, http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2015/02/14/obama-acknowledges-strains-with-silicon-valley/

In elites we trust

What, borrowing the tone of Morpheus in The Matrix, if I were to tell you that it is an extremely rare government that ever actually pays its debts?

“If one looks at the history of public debt, almost all public debt that’s ever been issued has been, in the end, inflated away or had its real value reduced through restructuring,” said Felix Martin, a macroeconomist and bond investor, who took part in the [London School of Economics] discussion.[1]

That comes to me from Matt Phillips in a critique of the finger-wagging being waged against Greece about its debt. He points to a number of finger-wagging countries as hypocrites: Germany, saddled with reparations following World War I; Britain, by going off the gold standard; and the U.S., with inflation.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Matt Phillips, “Let’s just admit it: Governments never really pay off their debts,” Quartz, February 9, 2015, http://qz.com/339657/lets-just-admit-it-governments-never-really-pay-off-their-debts/
  2. [2]Matt Phillips, “Let’s just admit it: Governments never really pay off their debts,” Quartz, February 9, 2015, http://qz.com/339657/lets-just-admit-it-governments-never-really-pay-off-their-debts/

Human dignity and self-righteousness: Charlie Hebdo one month later

It’s been about a month since the Charlie Hebdo attack,[1] and partisans on each side of the free speech debate have largely maintained their positions. Read more

  1. [1]Dan Bilefsky and Maïa de la Baume, “Terrorists Strike Charlie Hebdo Newspaper in Paris, Leaving 12 Dead,” New York Times, January 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/europe/charlie-hebdo-paris-shooting.html

Answers for carnivores

Into each vegan’s life, a little of this must, I guess, fall. Inevitably, people around a vegan insist that they cannot go vegan or seem oblivious to the ethical considerations of blithely eating animal flesh.

The first thing to understand is that humans evolved from primates who were mostly vegetarians. We are able to digest meat because we have evolved gut bacteria that do this work.[1] These gut bacteria, by the way, also produce “a little-studied chemical . . . after people eat red meat. It is quickly converted by the liver into yet another little-studied chemical called TMAO that gets into the blood and increases the risk of heart disease.” TMAO may be more dangerous than saturated fat or cholesterol.[2] But as a dietary requirement, there are an awful lot of vegans who are alive, healthy, and who prove that humans do not require animal products for good nutrition. Read more

  1. [1]Rob Dunn, “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians,” Scientific American, July 23, 2012, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/
  2. [2]Gina Kolata, “Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat,” New York Times, April 7, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/health/study-points-to-new-culprit-in-heart-disease.html