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Monthly Archives: December 2015

I haven’t made a gingerbread house since I was a kid. Gingerbread making in Europe, I recently learned while trying to figure out what my house should look like, dates to the tenth or eleventh century. There was a long tradition of baking gingerbread to look like things. However, it was only after the publication of Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” that gingerbread houses became popular. Apparently, we in the U.S. get the custom from German immigrants. So, I decided to make my gingerbread house resemble a half-timber cottage with a thatched roof.

I used Sketch-Up to make a little computer model of my idea.

gingerbread house 2

 

Then I drew each of the necessary pieces in a vector drawing program and printed them out. Here is an example of one page:

gingerbread house print

I used a recipe that I found online.

Here is the result:

Gingerbread-House-OFW

I cooked up the leftover dough and sampled it. It doesn’t taste too bad.

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My father was a huge Frank Sinatra fan. Since he was born 100 years ago today, I thought I might put up a portion of an interview he did with Playboy magazine in 1963. In response to the question “Do you believe in God” he replied:

I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I’m like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life — in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount.

More can be found here.

 

There was an interesting article in the Tablet, “an American Jewish general interest online magazine.” Liel Leibowitz gives examples of terrorist attacks on Jews by individuals connected to groups that later perpetrated attacks on others who were not Jewish. There is a possibility, he asserts, that had the individuals been investigated more thoroughly, the later attacks might have been prevented.

The first example he gives is the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels perpetrated by Mehdi Nemmouche. Nemmouche was part of the network that included Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is “suspected of having organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, and is known to have participated in the November 2015 Paris attacks.”

Would a more aggressive investigation of Nemmouche have led to his operator and saved the lives of all those slain in the 11th arrondisement? It’s hard to tell for certain without access to the investigation’s files, but if you’re pondering the mindset of the Belgian authorities, consider the following statement by the country’s Justice Minister Koen Geens. The Paris attacks, Geens said a few days after the massacre there, proved that terrorists were now after different targets: “It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums,” he said, “it’s mass gatherings and public places.”

You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to realize that a justice system headed by a man who doesn’t consider synagogue attendance as a gathering or Jewish museums as public places isn’t going to try especially hard to pursue justice when the victims are Jews.

As it happens, on my first trip to Europe, I visited the Jewish Museum Vienna. During my last trip, I went to an exhibit at the Institut du Monde Arabe. My very last museum visit was to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History. Most museums are public places meant for a wide variety of visitors, not only people with a genetic connection to the primary subject. Still, although I might see an attack on the Jewish museum as an attack on the general public, I’m afraid Leibowitz does have a point.

The next example he gives is the murder of Meir Kahane. Kahane was a hateful individual. He was convicted of domestic terrorism in incidents from the early seventies. He later moved to Israel and ran for office there. “Kahane was thus the first candidate in Israel to be barred from election for racism.” In 1990, he was in New York City to give a speech. After the speech, he was assassinated by El Sayyid Nosair.

Nosair, authorities soon learned, wasn’t working alone. He was part of a network run by Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the Blind Sheik. So great was the jury’s contempt for Kahane, that they acquitted Nosair of murder and convicted him only of assault and possession of an illegal firearm, a decision that the trial’s judge, Justice Alvin Schlesinger, lamented went “against the overwhelming weight of evidence and was devoid of common sense and logic.” Nosair’s legal defense was paid by a wealthy supporter of Abdel-Rahman, one Osama Bin Laden. Three years later, several of Abdel-Rahman’s other disciples were arrested for attempting to blow up the World Trade Center.

The case for antisemitism is harder to make in this incident because Kahane himself was so widely hated. However, there is a good argument to be made that murder and assassination should not be treated lightly simply because its target is someone you don’t like, or perhaps even hate. The perpetrator’s willingness to solve political arguments through violence may be far more indicative of his orientation than his choice of opponent.

Leibowitz then quotes current Secretary of State John Kerry regarding a highly disturbing statement he made after last month’s attacks in Paris. The longer quote, which I’ve taken from the Washington Post, is:

There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, “Here we are.”

Leibowitz describes Kerry’s logic as being that of “deluded men and women who are trying to organize a chaotic world into rational patterns.”

To that crowd, the murder of a Jew is deplorable but rarely surprising; real shock is expressed only when the very same terrorists, literally speaking, who have orchestrated the killing of Jews turn their guns on other Belgians or Parisians or New Yorkers.

To the many—in government, in the media, in academia—who still hold this morally repugnant worldview, to those who endanger the well-being of us all by failing to seriously investigate and prosecute attacks on Jews because these can somehow be explained away by some imaginary rationale, it’s time to say no more. Understand this: The very same people who are coming for the Jews will soon come for you, too.

Although, I agree with Leibowitz that we ignore the murders of Jews at our own peril, I don’t agree with his implication that the problem is random, “chaotic” or contains no “rational patterns.”

Going back to the Washington Post opinion piece in which I found the Kerry quote, Sonny Bunch

Even if you leave that aside, however, his comments reside somewhere between inane and idiotic. First off, the idea that these attacks were “absolutely indiscriminate” is foolishness: As Alyssa Rosenberg has noted, the targets — a sporting event, a concert, a series of restaurants — and the comments released by the Islamic State in the aftermath of the attack make it quite clear that the attack was very “discriminate.” It was an assault on culture, a stab at the heart of Western “prostitution and obscenity.”

However, I find the idea that this sort of attack is worse than the Charlie Hebdo attack on anything other than a numerical scale to be totally baffling. The Paris attack is, sadly, not that out of the ordinary as far as these things go: It strikes me as no more indiscriminate than the Madrid attacks or the London bombings. The Charlie Hebdo attack, on the other hand, was a rather chilling exercise in political power. It was an attack that was explicitly aimed at our freedoms: the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom of press, the freedom from the tyranny of medieval theocracy. It was an attack designed to silence, to intimidate.

I think here we get to the heart of the matter. We don’t want to acknowledge that the terrorists are opposed to Western liberal values and culture. We don’t want to face the fact that we may be targets. We think we can somehow buy our safety by selling out our neighbors.

Today I read an article by Douglas Murray in The Spectator which echoed thoughts I have had myself recently.

The other night my mother mentioned that she would be coming over. I said something about tidying up. She responded with “Don’t worry.” Quickly, she corrected herself. “As a social worker, I know you’re never supposed to say ‘Don’t worry.’” Indeed, saying don’t worry often makes people worry more. Then, I found myself explaining to my mother, who happens to hate Donald Trump, that some of his appeal is probably driven by just that dynamic.

It’s an idea that had crossed my mind sometime before, but has been at the forefront since the San Bernardino shooting. Although I would never turn to Trump for answers, every time someone on the left starts pooh-poohing the Islamic State or terrorism I feel like I want to jump up and down and start yelling, “What part of ‘We’re going to kill you,’ don’t you get?” I would much prefer to have liberal politicians who can be honest about the existence of a militant Islamist ideology deal with the matter in a measured way. However, if we can’t have a proper response, an over response is preferable to an under response. I wish our ruling class could recognize that the appeal of Donald Trump comes from desperation.

In “The left is to blame for the creation of Donald Trump” by Murray, starts by pointing out that “the great problem of our time does not have to be a partisan issue.” But, as he goes on to explain, “in response to the political left failing to identify the problem, the political right has started going off.”

“The American left has a huge problem in the form of a President who refuses to name Islamist terrorism or identify where it comes from. His likely successor, Hillary Clinton, has the same issue. Of course the word-play this leads to may be perfectly well-meaning…. But when you have 14 people being gunned down in America again apparently in the name of a specific extremist ideology, not identifying where it comes from becomes part of the problem, driving people on all sides mad with rage and making them wonder what else is being kept from them.

“Which brings us onto Donald Trump. Last night Donald Trump announced a new ‘policy’ idea which would be to stop any more Muslims going to America. He would even, it seems, prevent Muslim Americans who are currently out of the country on their holidays, from returning home. This is – it need hardly be said – a back of the envelope policy. And it has already had the desired effect. The social justice warriors who mistake Twitter for real life, have been busily signalling their utter outrage at Trump’s remarks. Journalists have seized the opportunity (which the New York Times and others have been trying all along) to insinuate that Trump is in fact the new Hitler. The reaction is as ill-tempered as the original comment. But we should know how we got here.”

He goes on to say:

“But what people seem slow to realise is that suppressing legitimate concerns and decent discussion inevitably leads to people addressing the same things indecently. We can thank the American left for the creation of Donald Trump and we can thank them for his comments last night. For years the left made the cost of entering this discussion too high, so too few people were left willing to discuss the finer points of immigration, asylum or counter-terrorism policy and eventually the only release valve for peoples’ legitimate concerns is someone saying – wrongly in my view – ‘keep them all out.’”

Large parts of the left will simply ignore this warning. They look at Donald Trump and say, “Americans are stupid,” seemingly unaware that this is more or less the same electorate that elected a Democratic president, a Democratic senate, and a Democratic house back in 2008. “Americans are stupid,” has always been a weak cop-out that flatters the self-importance of the speaker while excusing failure and justifying inaction. They never seem to ask exactly what is making Americans so “stupid.” (“They just are,” is not a good answer.)

In an interesting, related subject, the Spectator has another article about the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, a feminist who brought up the subject of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women.

“Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’ — standards so rich and varied, apparently, they include the flogging of bloggers and encouragement of paedophiles. Meanwhile, the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’….”

The writer, Nick Cohen, continues:

“It is a sign of how upside-down modern politics has become that one assumes that a politician who defends freedom of speech and women’s rights in the Arab world must be some kind of muscular liberal, or neocon, or perhaps a supporter of one of Scandinavia’s new populist right-wing parties whose commitment to human rights is merely a cover for anti-Muslim hatred. But Margot Wallström is that modern rarity: a left-wing politician who goes where her principles take her.”

At least in the United States, this is a very recent development, and one I find more than a little confusing and which puts me, as I said the other day, in the situation of feeling like I have no party, no side, no allies. I can’t truly be alone, but try as I might I see no one in the press expressing even a shadow of my ideas. Since I’ve never been on the margins, never a conspiracy theorist, this is a distinctly new feeling.

Cohen goes on to mention something interesting:

“Sweden is the world’s 12th largest arms exporter — quite an achievement for a country of just nine million people. Its exports to Saudi Arabia total $1.3 billion. Business leaders and civil servants are also aware that other Muslim-majority countries may follow Saudi Arabia’s lead. During the ‘cartoon crisis’ — a phrase I still can’t write without snorting with incredulity — Danish companies faced global attacks and the French supermarket chain Carrefour took Danish goods off the shelves to appease Muslim customers. A co-ordinated campaign by Muslim nations against Sweden is not a fanciful notion. There is talk that Sweden may lose its chance to gain a seat on the UN Security Council in 2017 because of Wallström.

“To put it as mildly as I can, the Swedish establishment has gone wild. Thirty chief executives signed a letter saying that breaking the arms trade agreement ‘would jeopardise Sweden’s reputation as a trade and co-operation partner’. No less a figure than His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf himself hauled Wallström in at the weekend to tell her that he wanted a compromise. Saudi Arabia has successfully turned criticism of its brutal version of Islam into an attack on all Muslims, regardless of whether they are Wahhabis or not, and Wallström and her colleagues are clearly unnerved by accusations of Islamophobia. The signs are that she will fold under the pressure, particularly when the rest of liberal Europe shows no interest in supporting her.”

This reminded me however of reports I heard earlier this year that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is encountering financial difficulties. The cynical side of me can’t help wondering how much money influences what our politicians see and say. The Clinton Foundation has received between 10 and 25 million dollars from the King of Saudi Arabia and the Sultan of Oman has given between 1 and 5 million. We do not know what President Obama will do as an ex-president, but former President Clinton has set a troubling example.

Before I say anything more, I should say that I am of fifty different minds regarding U.S. intervention in Syria. Following President Obama’s address on Sunday, someone on Reddit wrote:

Pretty damn reasonable assessment of the situation.
Continue a methodical approach to fighting terrorist’s evolving tactics.
Don’t get baited into a military blunder.
Don’t give in to the temptation to alienate all Muslims.
And we will win this battle.
That simple.

That anyone could think this is simple is scary in and of itself. Whether you oppose all intervention, support bombing but oppose troops, support arming Syrian forces who oppose both Assad and ISIS, are worried that there are insufficient Syrian forces to arm or that they can’t be trusted, support cooperating with Russia and Iran, or making a full commitment and going in with overwhelming force, I can’t give you much credence if you think it’s “simple.”

There are, as they say, no good options, only less bad ones, and most of the options look really bad to me and it’s hard for me to distinguish which one is less bad. Russia’s involved, Iran’s involved and Turkey is our nominal ally who’s acting like anything but. I tend to be naturally anti-interventionist, but at the same time, since we went into Iraq in 2002 and helped to destabilize the region, there seems to be something irresponsible, and frankly immoral, in the desire to just wash our hands of it, though, believe me, I desire that in no small way.

Here’s the good news. I’ve never before been so appreciative of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the terror cell that staged the massacre in Paris on Friday the thirteenth, would be terrorists in the U.S. would have a much harder time going back and forth to Syria for training. Although I believe that ISIS has grand ambitions, after all, it’s already declared itself a “caliphate,” I don’t think it could really administer much territory without becoming internally unstable. Unlike some people on the left, I don’t believe that Western countries have become wealthy simply because they have stolen things from other people. I believe that our political institutions and economic system have contributed to our prosperity, and ironically made the West powerful enough to dominate nations in other areas and steal things from them. As China and other countries show, the systems in the West are not the only possibilities, yet there is nothing about ISIS that leads me to believe that they are capable of governing and administering a stable, prosperous state on the scale their grandiose ambitions require. So, while they have expansionist dreams, the U.S. is not in any danger. The same, however, cannot be said for regions that don’t have the luxury of the Atlantic. While I tend to believe that ISIS must eventually collapse under the weight of its own grandiosity, in the mean time they can do a lot of harm to many people.

A few days ago, I read a post called “Bombs alone are not enough, but we need to do something in Syria.” It brought up the “anti-war” movement.

Predictably, the “anti-war” movement mobilized, #DontBombSyria has been trending on Twitter for the past couple of days and ‘Stop The War’ organised a protest to oppose the potential British intervention in Syria with their lame chants and even lamer speakers such as Tariq Ali and George Galloway. The Ayatollahs of the regressive left. Just goes to show how much of a sham this “rally” was when they have someone like Galloway who has a track record in supporting tyrants and thugs like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Al-Assad, the Mullahs in Iran etc.

I was reminded of Dorothy Day. Some friends in my past had once been heavily involved in the Catholic Worker. For those of you who are not familiar with Day, she was a socialist who founded the Catholic Worker organization and whose name has been tossed around regarding possible sainthood. She was also known for her pacifism and spoke out strongly against U.S. intervention in the Second World War. I was searching for some information about that when I came across the website of a British pacifist organization:

The war meant the return of military conscription. Pacifists had campaigned against it, but when it came, the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors was set up to co-ordinate work on behalf of all objectors…. The 100 COs who went to work on farms in Jersey came under German control when the Islands were occupied; about half of them were later deported to civilian internment camps in Bavaria, where they played a lively part in camp life; some went outside to help local farmers grow food; some married local women and settled in Germany (pacifism has no frontiers).

There’s something about chipper British pacifists helping the German war effort that makes me a little ill. I could almost understand a regretful pacifist, someone who felt torn but who truly believed pacifism was a long and difficult, but ultimately the best, road for an enduring peace. I might think that person idealist to the point of not being in touch with the harsh realities of the world, but that person would not disgust me in the same way. The idea that British pacifists today, knowing what we now know about the horrors of Nazi Germany, could write with such a blithe tone shows me that the pacifist movement has no moral standing, that they show a callous, indeed depraved, indifference towards human suffering.

Everything we have this far heard about what is going on within the Islamic State leads me to believe that when the full knowledge of the atrocities they have committed come to light we will yet again wonder how we sat by and allowed it to happen.

I cannot make a firm case for going in with ground troops, however. The situation is too complicated with the competing interests of countries who are in closer proximity to the conflict prevents a simple solution, military or diplomatic. I cannot see, at this juncture, a reasonable goal, in other words, what sort of state would be there when we left. Still, those who resist further involvement or who advocate pulling out altogether, should not be so blinded by the shine the see on their halos that they cannot see the consequences of their inaction.

I’ve not been, in the past, particularly good at getting discussion threads going here. Probably I don’t have enough readers. Still, I was reading a book on neo-liberalism this evening and came across a quote from Adam Smith in the context of a discussion of where Milton Friedman’s ideas differed from those of Smith. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the context, the “New Deal” was a series of government programs in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s that used the public purse to alleviate economic misery.

But Smith was not thinking in terms of the twentieth-century New Deal state and its successes and failures, although he did go further than Friedman in his advocacy of public administrative action. He argued, for example, that government should take responsibility for education and infrastructure, something Friedman thought the market could operate through vouchers and competition between alternative providers. Smith’s conception of the moral individual, essential to his thought, Friedman avoided altogether. Smith was concerned that people’s “disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor and man condition,” led to “the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Smith’s best known work is The Wealth of Nations, but his other major work is The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which I have not yet read.

For those of you who are not familiar with Maryam Namazie she is an activist for secularism and human rights. This particular speech, which was given at the invitation of Goldsmith’s, University of London’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, came to my attention because Maryam was heckled and interrupted by members of the university’s Islamic Society. For those of you who are following the freedom of speech issue as calls for censorship rise, might be interested in this event since Maryam has been accused of harassing the hecklers, invading their safe space and being an “Islamophobe.” I’ve met Maryam in person and she is a lovely, gentle, soft-spoken, warm woman. The idea that anyone might find her threatening in any sense of the term as it’s normally understood is totally laughable. It is only her words and her ideas that are threatening.

Besides the disruptions, many people will be interested in hearing the content of the talk. In comment threads in the past few weeks, I’ve seen many people struggle with the difference between opposing Islamism, a political ideology, criticizing Islam, a religion which is appropriate to discuss critically but would be wrong to try to suppress, and anti-Muslim bigotry, which I expect most people will view as wrong. For those struggling with the difference between those things, I think Maryam’s talk will be very helpful.

Earlier today, in a comment I put on the internet, I wrote, “I’d tell you the details but I’m trying to keep it short. Not my strong point.” To which someone replied, “You would tell us the details but you won’t. ok. Your response is a bunch of blah blah blah nonsense. You must live in CO and are evidently stoned as your babblings say nothing……” I took that as an invitation to elaborate, so I did. It was rather long and it occurred to me that I might as well make a post of it.

I grew up in a highly left of center environment. My own parents were very moderate, but many of my friends parents and my teachers were on the left. I went to a small liberal arts college of the sort conservatives make fun of. At that point, most of my political views were things that could be described as received ideas rather than ideas that I had developed on my own. Basically, I had been taught and believed the basic left wing view that I mentioned above about the oppressors and the oppressed. The best summary of this view I’ve read was in The New York Review of Books, it was a quote from Corey Robin:

Since the modern era began, men and women in subordinate positions have
marched against their superiors in the state, church, workplace, and
other hierarchical institutions. They have gathered under different
banners—the labor movement, feminism, abolition, socialism—and shouted
different slogans: freedom, equality, rights, democracy, revolution. In
virtually every instance, their superiors have resisted them, violently
and nonviolently, legally and illegally, overtly and covertly…. Despite
the very real differences between them, workers in a factory are like
secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a
plantation—even wives in a marriage—in that they live and labor in
conditions of unequal power.

The reviewer, Mark Lilla, calls it “history as WPA mural.” That’s a funny quip, but that’s the history I was taught.

The first chink in the armor came when I was reading an article about a West African immigrant in France who was arrested for mutilating his daughter’s genitals. Was the French government oppressing him because it was an evil colonial power trying to ban the practices of other cultures, or was the father a big bad patriarchal oppressor. The leftist view of the world didn’t give me the intellectual tools to understand this.

Well, that was in France and didn’t concern me, so I more or less forgot it, at least for a time.

Then, browsing in a bookstore, I picked up “The Wealth of Nations.” I can only describe it as revelatory. Most of my friends at that time were some flavor of socialist and the notion that capitalism was inherently evil was taken for granted. Still, I found Smith’s arguments very convincing and this kept me from ever advocating a socialist economy. Of course, that alone put me to the right end of the spectrum among my social cohort. I was far from alone there, but still I was at one end, especially when you consider about a year or two later I’d be hanging out in the East Village in New York with anarchists living in squats. (I never lived in a squat myself. I’m much to fond of hot and cold running water.)

Okay, so now I’m in my early twenties, hanging out with some far left radicals, I still sort of believe the “history as WPA mural”, but I don’t think a socialist economy will help alleviate economic injustices because full fledged socialism doesn’t work well.

Then we have a lot of racial tensions in New York. This is the era of “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” The rise of Al Sharpton. Tawana Brawley. Howard Beach. Bensonhurst. Crown Heights.

As these fights were raging, I was reading. David Hume. John Rawls. John Locke. Immanuel Kant. John Stuart Mill. There was no rhyme or reason, just curiosity. Then Crown Heights. That was the moment that my WPA mural came falling down.

The Crown Heights riots followed a series of incidents in a neighborhood that had a large number of African Americans and a large number of Hassidic Jews. A Jewish man ran over with his car, and killed, a young black boy. During the riots that followed, a young Jewish man was beaten, stabbed and died. Another man, mistaken for being Jewish, was shot and killed. A black friend who had grown up in Harlem came over to my place. I remember he was crying and said, “My people. Why are they doing this?” My response was, “They’re not your people. Just because you have the same skin color doesn’t mean they’re your people.”

Prior to this, I had struggled myself with my own ethnic identity. This moment for me confirmed a feeling I’d been having regarding myself for some time at that point, that the individual was ultimately more important than the group to which he or she belongs.

In many ways, I may have been constitutionally predisposed to embrace individualism being the sort of person who never quite fit in. I’ve often said that I identified with the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, always asking uncomfortable questions. Adults described me as having an “artistic temperament” which I understood was not a compliment. Furthermore, as my own ethnic identity was ambiguous, I had no natural “tribal” group. In situations in which people split up into ethnic groups I would often find myself standing alone. If I was lucky, I would find myself in a group of other people without larger groups, with the one Chinese kid in school, the Puerto Rican kid, the Afro-Caribbean, the Malaysian, the black kid adopted by white parents, and we’d have our own little group of people with no group. I solved this ethnic identity problem by concluding that there was only one race, the human race, and that race or ethnicity was mostly a curiosity and not necessary to an individual’s well being.

Until that night, that had been my own internal solution to my personal problem, but, that evening, with my friend up crying all night – it would get so late that he would wind up falling asleep on my living room floor – I began to realize the wider, one could say political, implications of what had previously been my own personal solution. Simply put, the individual was the most basic level of society. Groups could be broken down and divided into groups, but the person, the human being, was the indivisible unit of society.

I must apologize if my reasoning seems unsophisticated and naive. I was developing my ideas for my own personal use and not as a Ph.D. thesis. Indeed, I have never discussed them at this length. I have always wanted to study political science so that I could share ideas in a more coherent manner, but have not yet done so. I would say that my ideas about individualism owe most to John Stuart Mill. Of course, since Locke’s beliefs about individuals is the basis of our own system of government and echos of his ideas can be heard clearly in the Declaration of Independence, shadows of his ideas were certainly in my mind before I actually studied his ideas. I found Locke to be exceedingly congenial. That is not, I suppose, a good argument to defend his position against other, but I was only trying to make sense of the world for myself. The ideas of Locke that I liked concerned his emphasis on human rationality, on reason, on empiricism, the idea that legitimate government arises from the consent of the governed, the separation of church and state, and the limits of government.

Around this same time I read the Federalist Papers and began to appreciate more fully the liberal foundations of our own system of government.

Yet, the world had long since advanced from the time of the Enlightenment, many of those advances were depicted in the now degraded WPA mural. One of the great criticisms of liberalism from the left was its inability to address the very struggles depicted in the hypothetical mural. I had told my friend that he had did not belong to the same “people” as the rioters in Crown Heights. Today, Janet Napolitano would probably see that as a “microaggression.” In fact, it is a political statement and Janet Napolitano and I apparently subscribe to different political philosophies.

The word individual is derived from the word indivisible. By definition, a group can be divided, but an individual cannot. Groups do exist, but they are divisible and malleable. They are not inherent in ourselves, but are defined by our relationship to other people. So, what does it mean that my friend thought of blacks as “his people” and saw the people rioting in Crown Heights as belonging to that group. It is only tangentially related to skin color since he would not consider Australian Aborigines who may be equally as dark as “his people.” Meanwhile, “his people” would certainly include some very light skinned people. “His people” has its roots in a common history, people who were brought to North America and the Caribbean as forced labor, mostly from West Africa and mostly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Ask anyone who has been called a “coconut” as a child and it is evident that group is easily divisible. The existence of the group is contingent on a particular set of circumstances. Their ancestors in West Africa probably did not see themselves as a unified group. When confronted with a shared difficulty like racial bias, it makes sense for the individuals to unite to combat that difficulty. Groups are not inherently negative, they can certainly have utility, but it is important to remember that they are contingent, malleable and divisible.

Liberalism is what provides the moral reasoning to oppose racism. Racial divisions are inherently collectivist ideas which consider the group to which a person is assigned to be defining and limiting characteristic of that individual. Those of us who are steeped in Western individualism are naturally horrified by the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Jewish man who was killed during the riots. We do not view it as justice to kill one person as a collective punishment for a group to which he belongs, nor do we see the group as being responsible for the actions of one member.

Furthermore, individualism is the only way different groups can cohabit the same polity with some reasonable degree of harmony. In a multi-ethnic society, without individualism, we would have a variation of Hobbes’ vision of each against all, although instead of being each person against all it would be each group against all other groups.

Individualism is the core of liberalism and comes with attendant freedoms. The most essential is the freedom of conscience, which leads directly to freedom of speech.

Another core component of liberalism is autonomy.

It’s getting late and I should wrap this up although it is far from adequate, then again, writing a political manifesto off the cuff is not something I am asked to do everyday.

Looking at the dates of the events I mentioned in the first part of this comment, I see that this process took a longer period of time than I realized, about a decade that spanned the period from my late teens to my late twenties. Soon, I married and moved to Canada. By that point, many of my ideas were well in place.

For most of my adult life, I was an independent, not registered with either political party. Around the year 2000, I felt, as many people do, politically powerless. I decided to register with a political party so I could participate more actively. The “culture wars” were picking up a head of steam at this time and the Republican Party was taking a huge lurch towards the right. In the past, I had voted for Democrats more frequently than Republicans, although I never saw myself as a party person and tried to evaluate each candidate individually. Still, aligning myself with the Democrats seemed like an easy decision. At that point in time there were still some people in the Democratic Party that called themselves conservative Democrats and I felt near the center of the Democratic Party.

Since that time, the Democrats have shed their more conservative members, which occurred a couple of election cycles ago. I didn’t particularly mind that much since I didn’t see it as an ideological issue at the time. Many of those conservative Democrats were accused of being more concerned about the well being of corporate donors than their constituents. However, that put me in a conservative position relative to the rest of the party.

Within the past year or two, however, the radicals have come to the forefront and some people who seemed to be liberals have revealed themselves to be steeped in radical ideology. Conservatives might not recall that at the beginning of President Obama’s tenure, attacks from within the party came principally from the left. The incident that comes to mind which most sums up that period is when Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs referred to critics as “the professional left.”

“The White House, constantly under fire from expected enemies on the right, has been frustrated by nightly attacks on cable news shows catering to the left, where Obama and top lieutenants like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have been excoriated for abandoning the public option in healthcare reform; for not moving faster to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay; and for failing, so far, to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military.” Source.

Perhaps I have not been paying attention, but I’m not entirely clear on what has occurred to prompt this leftward shift. Has Obama always been radical and just pretended to be more centrist in order to get elected and, now, no longer facing an election he can finally do what he wants? Have left wing activists, like Occupy Wall Street, pushed him to the left?

If it was only Obama, I would not be too worried. However, listening to the presumptive nominee, the entire Democratic Party seems to have taken a great big leap away from the liberal principals on which this country was founded to a more radical position, leaving me a person without a party.