Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How ancient is Judaism?

At some risk to my "Goy" self, I occasionally write something about Jews and Judaism. So far, however, I have escaped unscathed (I think) so here goes another foray:

It is a common and proud claim among Israelis that they are still living in the same place and speaking the same language and (sort of) following the same religion as they did 3,000 years ago. That thought gives them great pride and helps make up in some way for the horrendous travail Jews have had to go through to get to today.

But, to be blunt, it is nonsense. After the Roman triumph and the expulsion of most Jews from Israel, Jews had to change their religion radically. Judaism had been a temple-focused religion -- so once the temple was gone, huge changes in thinking and custom were needed.

And the changes took two forms: Those who accepted the ideas of the greatest rabbi (Jesus Christ) and those who laboured to stick more closely to traditional ideas. Even among the latter group, however, the surrounding pagan culture took over to a degree. The modern form of the seder, for instance, is said to be strongly influenced by the form of the Hellenistic symposium.

So Judaism as we know it today is in fact no older than Christianity. They are two branches that had to put out fresh growth after the original tree was cut down. And just as Christian thinking underwent all sorts of disputes in its development (e.g. the Arian/Athanasian controversy) so Jews waited a long while for their new ideas to coalesce -- in the form of teachings by great rabbis such as Rashi and Maimonides.

Christian thought in fact probably coalesced more rapidly that did post-temple Jewish thought. Rashi and Maimonides both wrote over 1,000 years after the fall of the temple but have been immensely influential. And by the time they wrote, they lived in a Christian world so were undoubtedly influenced in various ways by Christian ideas -- and Christianity had itself taken on a pretty heavy load of pagan ideas by that time. So I am sure that the Christian/Egyptian concept of the triune God was the subject of much private hilarity among Jews.

So we in fact have two religions of ancient Jewish origins that are quite contemporaneous -- with the Christian variant more successful in most ways. And while Christianity/Judaism precede Islam, Sikhism and Bahai, they are themselves preceded by Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto. And I'm inclined to think that Shinto has the best hats -- despite formidable competition from the gold crowns of Russian Orthodoxy and the shtreimel of orthodox Judaism.

I guess I'll get a few zingers over all that! I'll hear about the Talmud and the Midrash and so on. As an atheist who is sympathetic to religion, however, I may be in a position to be more impartial than most.


The Paranoid Style in Liberal Politics: The Left’s obsession with the Koch brothers

In case anybody misses it, the title above is an allusion to "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", a supercilious 1964 essay by Richard J. Hofstadter that attacked conservatism as psychologically deranged. It was pure projection, claiming that it was conservatives who had angry minds! Paranoia is an irrational and obsessive feeling of being persecuted or under attack, often accompanied by conspiracy theories

David Koch’s secretary told him the news. This was in February, during the rowdy standoff between Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and demonstrators backing 14 Democratic legislators who’d fled to Illinois rather than vote on a bill weakening public employee unions. Koch’s secretary said that an editor for a left-wing website, the Buffalo Beast, had telephoned the governor posing as David Koch and recorded the conversation. And Walker had fallen for it! He’d had a 20-minute conversation with this bozo, not once questioning the caller’s identity. But then how could Walker have known? Sure, David Koch was a billionaire whose company had donated to his campaign. But Koch (pronounced “Coke”) had never talked to Walker in his life.

Yet here were the media reporting that he and his brother Charles were behind Walker’s push against public employees. Anger washed over David like a red tide. He’d been victimized by some punk with a political agenda. “It’s really identity theft,” he told me a month later, during an interview at Koch Industries’ headquarters. “And I think it’s extremely dishonest to misrepresent yourself. I think there’s a question of integrity. And the person who would do that has got to be an incredibly dishonest person.” Up until Walker’s showdown with the Democratic state senators, Koch had never seen a photograph of the governor. He didn’t know him at all. But now the protesters occupying the Wisconsin state capitol were calling Walker a “Koch Whore.”

Why? Because the Koch Industries PAC had given $43,000 to Walker’s campaign. That was less than one half of one percent of Walker’s total haul—but still enough for the left to tie Koch Industries to the battle royal in Wisconsin. David found the whole affair disturbing. “One additional thing that really bothered me,” he said, “was that the press attacked me rather than the guy who impersonated me! And I was criticized as someone who’s got a death grip on the governor and his policies. And that I control him—I mean, that’s insane!”

Ah, but such is life when you and your brother are suddenly two of the most demonized men in American politics. For decades David and Charles have run Koch Industries, an energy and manufacturing conglomerate that employs around 50,000 people in the United States and another 20,000 in 59 other countries. Depending on the year, Koch Industries is either the first- or second-largest privately held company in America—it alternates in the top spot with Cargill, the agricultural giant—with about $100 billion in revenues. David and Charles are worth around $22 billion each. Combine their wealth and you have the third-largest fortune in America after Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Like most billionaires, the brothers spend a lot of time giving their money away: to medical and scientific research, to educational programs, to cultural institutions, and to public policy research and activism.

That last part has caught the attention of the left’s scouring eye. For unlike many billionaires, the Koch brothers espouse classical liberal economics: They advocate lower taxes, less government spending, fewer regulations, and limited government. “Society as a whole benefits from greater economic freedom,” Charles wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. Judging by the results of the 2010 elections, there are millions of Americans who agree with him.

Over the years the Kochs have flown beneath the radar, not seeking publicity and receiving little. But then the crash of 2008 arrived, and the bailouts, and the election of Barack Obama, and pretty soon the whole country was engaged in one loud, colossal, rollicking, emotional argument over the size, scope, and solvency of the federal government. Without warning, folks were springing up, dressing in colonial garb, talking about the Constitution, calling for a Tea Party. Some of them even joined a group called Americans for Prosperity—which the Kochs helped found and partly fund.

For progressives confused at the heated opposition to their do-gooder agenda, the Kochs became convenient scapegoats. Invoking their name was a way to write off opposition to Obama as the false consciousness of racist rubes stoked by greedy businessmen. In the liberal imagination the Kochs ascended from obscurity to infamy in record time. Starting in the spring of 2009, whenever you turned on MSNBC or clicked on the Huffington Post you’d see the Kochs described in terms more applicable to Lex Luthor and General Zod.

As last year’s midterm elections approached, the White House singled out the Kochs for attack. President Obama relied on innuendo: “They don’t have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are,” he said in August. “You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation. You don’t know if it’s a big oil company, or a big bank.” Obama’s lieutenants were more direct. Also in August, an administration official, later identified as the economist Austan Goolsbee, delivered a background briefing to reporters in which he falsely alleged that Koch Industries paid no corporate income tax. (An inspector general is now investigating whether anyone in the Obama administration accessed confidential tax information prior to the attack.) The Kochs, former White House adviser David Axelrod wrote last September, are “billionaire oilmen secretly underwriting what the public has been told is a grass-roots movement for change in Washington.”

But that was just for starters. Liberals in the media turned into Koch addicts. They ascribed every bad thing under the sun to the brothers and their checkbooks. Pollution, the Tea Party, global warming denial—the Kochs were responsible. The liberals kneaded the facts like clay until the Kochs resembled a Lovecraftian monster: the Kochtopus! Its tentacles stretched everywhere. “Their private agenda is really the eradication of the federal government in almost all of its forms, other than the parts of it that protect personal rights,” New Yorker writer Jane Mayer told NPR’s Terry Gross. Anonymous, the hackers’ collective, accused the Kochs of attempting to “usurp American Democracy.” The Koch brothers manipulated the Tea Partiers, according to Keith Olbermann, by “telling them what to say and which causes to take on and also giving them lots of money to do it with.”



Federalism gives options -- and the Texas option is the most attractive

The Census Bureau last week released county and city populations for the last of the 50 states from the 2010 Census last week, ahead of schedule. Behind the columns of numbers are many vivid stories of how our nation has been changing -- and some lessons for public policy, as well.

Geographically, our population is moving to the south and west, to the point that the center of the nation's population has moved to Texas County, Missouri.

That sounds like the familiar story of people moving from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt, but that's not exactly what's happening. Instead, the fastest growth rates in the 2000-10 decade have been in Texas, the Rocky Mountain states and the South Atlantic states.

We're familiar with the phenomenon of people moving to the West Coast. But the three Pacific Coast states -- California, Oregon and Washington -- grew by 11 percent in the last decade, just 1 percent above the national average, while the South Atlantic states from Virginia through the Carolinas and Georgia to Florida grew by 17 percent.

In 2000, the South Atlantic states had 121,000 more people than the Pacific Coast states. In 2010 they had 2.8 million more.

What's been happening is that people from the Northeast and the Midwest have been flocking to the South Atlantic states, not to retirement communities but to Tampa and Jacksonville, Atlanta and Charlotte and Raleigh, which are among the nation's fastest-growing metro areas. The South Atlantic has been attracting smaller numbers of immigrants, as well.

Coastal California, in contrast, has had a vast inflow of immigrants and a similarly vast outflow of Americans. High housing costs, exacerbated by no-growth policies and environmental restrictions, have made modest homes unaffordable to middle class families who don't want to live in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods or commute 50 miles to work.

California for the first time in its history grew only microscopically faster than the nation as a whole (10 percent to 9.7 percent). Metro Los Angeles and San Francisco increasingly resemble Mexico City and Sao Paulo, with a large affluent upper class, a vast proletariat and a huge income gap in between.

Public policy plays an important role here -- one that's especially relevant as state governments seek to cut spending and reduce the power of the public employee unions that seek to raise spending and prevent accountability.

The lesson is that high taxes and strong public employee unions tend to stifle growth and produce a two-tier society like coastal California's.

The eight states with no state income tax grew 18 percent in the last decade. The other states (including the District of Columbia) grew just 8 percent. The 22 states with right-to-work laws grew 15 percent in the last decade. The other states grew just 6 percent. The 16 states where collective bargaining with public employees is not required grew 15 percent in the last decade. The other states grew 7 percent.

Now some people say that low population growth is desirable. The argument goes that it reduces environmental damage and prevents the visual blight of sprawl.

But states and nations with slow growth end up with aging populations and not enough people of working age to generate an economy capable of supporting them in the style to which they've grown accustomed. Slow growth is nice if you've got a good-sized trust fund and some nice acreage in a place like Aspen. But it reduces opportunity for those who don't start off with such advantages to move upward on the economic ladder.

The most rapid growth in 2000-10, 21 percent, was in the Rocky Mountain states and in Texas. The Rocky Mountain states tend to have low taxes, weak unions and light regulation. Texas has no state income tax, no public employee union bargaining and light regulation.

Texas' economy has diversified far beyond petroleum, with booming high-tech centers, major corporate headquarters and thriving small businesses. It has attracted hundreds of thousands of Americans and immigrants, high-skill as well as low-skill. Its wide open spaces made for low housing costs, which protected it against the housing bubble and bust that has slowed growth in Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The states, said Justice Brandeis, are laboratories of reform. The 2010 Census tells us whose experiment worked best. It's the state with the same name as the county that's the center of the nation's population: Texas.




SCOTUS to consider Arizona’s Incumbent Protection Act: "The state's Citizens Clean Elections Act, which provides candidates with public campaign funds as long as they don't accept private donations, is being challenged. Legal experts say its chances of survival aren't good. ... On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a constitutional challenge to the Arizona law brought by the conservative Goldwater Institute and the libertarian Institute for Justice."

Innovation requires economic freedom: "A civilization is the product of a definite worldview, and its philosophy manifests itself in each of its accomplishments. The artifacts produced by men may be called material. But the methods resorted to in the arrangement of production activities are mental, the outcome of ideas that determine what should be done and how. All the branches of a civilization are animated by the spirit that permeates its ideology."

A sample of government at work: "Where I live there’s no mail delivery. All USPS mail has to be picked up at the post office. And at the post office the address is, well, a P.O. Box with its number. If one sends a piece of mail to the house address, the zip code must contain the post office box number at the end of the regular five digit number. And it is usually no problem to do this! Except, of course, with some government bureaus."

Why we really, really, don’t want planning of the food market: "It isn't just that planners will, as we've seen, fail to recognise efficiencies in what is already produced. It's also that they can have absolutely no idea whatsoever of what we might start to produce. Chocolate covered pickles are always going to be a minority taste of course (although they sound worth trying: choccie and salt, or if vinegar pickled, sweet and sour, worth a nibble at least) but take a step up to pickles themselves. You can draw a line through Europe. To the east and north, they are normally salt pickles, in brine. To the west and south in vinegar. With the new movements of people of the past decade, those hundreds of thousands from the east moving west, how should production of pickles change?"

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)



Zoro said...

I'm pretty sure most people in most religions know that what they follow now wasn't what they followed n hundreds of years ago. Half of Israelis aren't religious anyway.

Montreal Canadian said...

Your assertion that the Jews radically changed their religion after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, is simply conjecture, and untrue. Certainly the Torah, and its fundamental principles are unchanged. You ignore the fact that even during the Second Temple Period, Jews were largely a Diaspora nation, and had already begun to adapt to situations where they were too far to frequently visit the Temple in Jerusalem. Synagogues and communal prayer existed during the Second Temple period, inside and outside the land of Israel. Much of Judaism was preserved by the Jewish community of Babylon, which had been there since the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. The Passover Seder may superficially appear to be a Hellenistic style dinner, but it's a night (two outside of Israel) to retell the story of Exodus and partake in foods relating to the holiday. It's in perfect continuity with the Passover meal shared by pilgrims to a standing Temple in Jerusalem. Leavened foods are abstained from throughout the week of Passover, exactly as it has been throughout Jewish history.

JR said...

So Jews still stone homosexuals to death?

Montreal Canadian said...

Judaism is a lot more than the written Torah. Along with the written Torah came an Oral Torah, which explained the laws in depth. These oral explanations were eventually recorded in the Talmud. So many conditions (e.g. valid witnesses; warnings, etc) are required in a capital case judged by a Jewish court, that it was exceedingly rare for a sentence of death to be imposed. I don't believe there is a single recorded case of a Jewish court having sentenced a man to death for having committed a homosexual act. Mainly, the possibility of a death penalty is used as an indicator of the severity of a sin.