Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hitchens and Religion--In Case You Haven't Read Enough About This Particular Topic Already

I was reading over the girlfriend's shoulder on the subway yesterday when I came across this sentence (or rather sentence fragment) on page 173 of Christopher Hitchens's god is Not Great. They're the opening words of a chapter entitled "Does Religion Make People Behave Better?" and they're as succinct and as damning an indictment of the late polemicist and literary critic as anything I can think of:
A little more than a century after Joseph Smith fell victim to the violence and mania he had helped to unleash...
Hitchens goes on to contrast the dishonest and mercenary founder of Mormonism with MLK, whose use of religious language and themes to combat the evils of racism and oppression has, at times, been capable of producing "profound emotion of the sort that can sometimes bring genuine tears." I assume Hitchens, ever the unwavering opponent of bigotry and injustice, is talking about himself here. But I have to call bullshit--I question whether it's even possible for someone so heartless to weep "genuine tears," or to even understand what it means to do so.

My knowledge of this is Wikipedian at best, but at least according to Mormons, Joseph Smith was a victim of religious persecution, martyred in the process of affecting God's will on earth. Now in this case--and again, I'm really just working off of Wikipedia here--"God's will on earth" included things like suppressing a burgeoning dissenting element within his movement, which in turn included things like closing down the offices of a newspaper accusing Smith of harboring bigamist and theocratic ambitions. Polygamy, theocracy, suppression of the press--we moderns can agree that these are terrible things. Maybe we can even agree that historical hindsight entitles us to view the Mormons of 1844 as the brainwashed self-righteous outsiders that they most likely were; as people whose belief in a religious fraudster pushed them further and further into the American periphery. It is unsurprising that Christopher Hitchens would fail to sympathize with the leader of the less progressive wing of a religious movement so wholly untethered from and so totally unconcerned with modernity, tolerance, empirical truth, etc. When you put it that way, I'm not sure I even sympathize with them.

But--and again, I'm no expert on this--it appears that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were in fact lynched and mutilated by an angry mob after being accused of "treason" against the state of Illinois (this after the pair went to the provocative lengths of declaring martial law in the Mormon hamlet of Nauvoo after shutting down the aforementioned anti-Smith newspaper). The mob consisted partly and maybe even largely of local anti-Mormonists who, in addition to being your run-of-the-mill religious bigots, saw Smith's imprisonment as an opportunity to expunge a group of local rabble-rousers--kill the suddenly-imprisoned and soon-to-be-executed Smith, they must have reasoned, and this whole polygamist vs. anti-polygamist, theocrat vs. anti-theocrat nonsense could be foisted on strangers living deeper in the frontier. Regardless of his illiberalism, it is not accurate to say that Smith "fell victim to the violence and mania he had helped unleash." Instead, he was a victim of religious persecution. It was persecution that attained a certain, inevitably murderous legitimacy as a result of Smith's own failings as a leader (all five of the people charged with Smith's killing, including the editor of a local anti-Mormon newspaper, were eventually acquitted). But so what? We don't agree with most of what the Rebbe of New Skvare believes, but if he were imprisoned on trumped-up charges of treason and then lynched by non-Jewish Rockland County locals on the basis of his religious leadership alone, I'm guessing even the most progressive among us would be so appalled as to start questioning the very nature of the country and society we're living in.

This half-sentence, throwaway dismissal of an individual's religious liberty--which is, by extension, a throwaway denial of basic human dignity, up to and including the right not to be lynched by an angry mob--contains just about everything that makes me uneasy about Hitchens's work. And it's not just that Hitchens could speak and write passionately about one group's persecution while callously shrugging off another's (my friend Benjamin Kerstein once noted that Hitchens was so appalled by Nazi symbolism on the streets of Beirut that he put his life in danger to vandalize a Syrian Social Nationalist Party monument--but he still believed that Antiochus's failure to eradicate Judaism was one of history's great tragedies). Rather, it's his criteria for who does and doesn't deserve some rudimentary human dignity: Hitchens isn't bothered by the facts of Smith's death, because Smith spread ignorant, poisonous piffle that is simply below all contempt. Never mind that it's piffle that millions of people believe. And never mind that religious association might have to do with things over than mere belief; that even in 1844, Mormonism provided its followers with an outsize, even Utopian sense of purpose that my modernity and Judaism don't prevent me from admiring on some level. Never mind all that--if a belief structure doesn't pass Hitchens's ontological sniff test, then those who promulgate it don't deserve his sympathy or even that most basic of freedoms, i.e. the freedom not to be killed as result of one's deepest convictions.

I think that fifty years from now, Hitchens' lack of intellectual curiosity, and lack of even basic empathy in terms of understanding what religion means to people--joined with his abundant willingness to drone on about religion for literally hundreds of pages at a time--will go down as his greatest critical failing. I'm guessing his work on religion will be politely ignored; chalked up to the sort of unfortunate eccentricities that the most brilliant minds are often prone to. After all, Hitchens was an eloquent defender of western liberalism, someone whose refreshingly shameless (and antiquated) fervency for the philosophy and rhetoric of the Enlightenment powered his writings on topics as diffuse as Cyprus, radical Islam and Bill Clinton. Who wants to remember that he flippantly suspended his own principles as far as religion was concerned?

His admirers can hope that future generations forget about this. Hitchens used to insist that "religion poisons everything." He did so with total sincerity, a sincerity that seemed slightly delusional when I saw him debate Rabbi David Wolpe a few years ago. It was Wolpe who came off as decent and genuinely open and tolerant; Hitchens who came off as petty and unctuous. Religion apparently doesn't poison-everything after all! It is, however, hard to read this half-a-sentence and not wonder whether Hitchensian anti-religion, and the hostile, anti-intellectual and even morally degrading stance towards one's fellow man that it entails, isn't a little poisonous itself...

...Elsewhere in silliness, it's Nick Kristof! Meles Zenawi has been dictator of Ethiopia for two decades now. He's presided over famines, stolen elections, and pointless and needlessly destructive wars with Eritrea. His county is somewhere in the 170s of the Human Devleopment Index, which surely has something to do with his government's long-standing hostility towards NGOs, civil society groups, democracy--you know, the things that allow people to question why their country is such a fucked up and woefully mismanaged place. He's a bad dude! He's been a bad dude for a really, really long time!

But Meles has really crossed the line this time.

DAVOS, Switzerland

IN a filthy Ethiopian prison that is overridden with lice, fleas and huge rats, two Swedes are serving an 11-year prison sentence for committing journalism.

Martin Schibbye, 31, and Johan Persson, 29, share a narrow bed, one man’s head beside the other’s feet. Schibbye once woke up to find a rat mussing his hair.

The prison is a violent, disease-ridden place, with inmates fighting and coughing blood, according to Schibbye’s wife, Linnea Schibbye Steiner, who last met with her husband in December. It is hot in the daytime and freezing cold at night, and the two Swedes are allowed no mail or phone calls, she said. Fortunately, she added, the 250 or so Ethiopian prisoners jammed in the cell protect the two journalists, pray for them and jokingly call their bed “the Swedish embassy.”

What was the two men’s crime? Their offense was courage. They sneaked into the Ogaden region to investigate reports of human rights abuses.

That's right, readers. He's imprisoned Swedish people.

Now I agree that Zenawi's imprisonment of two Swedish journalists is alarming. But at this late stage in the game, I can't help but think back to Jeffrey Sachs' risible claim that Zenawi was a member of "Africa's new generation of democratic leaders who are pointing the way" in The End of Poverty. Zenawi was considered a trailblazer and a democrat back when he parroted Jeffrey Sachs' beliefs about the Western obligation to sustainably develop Africa. Zenawi's true colors have been obvious for decades now, but it's only when he turns on western journalists that he earns himself the dubious honor of a Nick Kristof column.I gather that Zenawi has fallen in and out of popular favor based solely on the perception of sustainable developers and soap-boxing New York Times columnists--self-appointed apostles of progress and change whose individual agendas apparently have little to do with the millions of Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis who have suffered under 20 years of Zenawi's rule.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Notes on the SOPAcalaypse

What a bizarre political moment SOPA has produced. I cannot remember a more loathed piece of legislation. George W. Bush's social security privatization push was cause for widespread anguish, but it never had much of a chance of getting passed, and didn't make it nearly as far through the legislative process as SOPA and PIPA have. The PATRIOT act is so hated in some quarters that's it's seen as a harbinger of our declining democratic values--but it also has scores of willing defenders, and at least serves the abstractly altruistic purpose of preventing us from getting blown up by terrorists. The fight over Obamacare dragged out for over a year, but with a solid majority of Americans in support of overhauling this country's dysfunctional healthcare system, it's hard to group it with SOPA, which seemingly nobody supports.

Like really, have you read any op/eds, essays, tweets--like, individual tweets even--in favor of this thing? Even the usual channels of dipshittery--your O'Riellys, your George Wills, your New York Times editorial pages--are silent on this one, with actual intelligent people who know a little something about the Internet--your Julian Sanchez, your Reddit, your Electronic Frontier Foundation-- dominating the public discourse. Admittedly I'm somewhat of a casual observer here, but it seems like the SOPA debate is pretty much down to "every smart person who writes about tech policy for a living, along with randos from across the political spectrum (Eric Erickson?!?!)" vs. Lamar Hunt. And God bless the good Texas congressman, because without him, and his trusty sidekick, the reptilian (and ethically-challenged!) Chris Dodd, there would be no debate of which to speak. Hunt and Dodd are seemingly the only two people in existence who are willing to offer a quote or a public statement in support of SOPA, and in a weird sense, they deserve our gratitude. If the lead villains were any less transparent, any less flippant or contemptuous, the anti-SOPA movement would be a somehow less satisfying to witness.

On the other hand: take a look at the list of lawmakers who support this thing. More instructively, look at the Democrats who support it. SOPA has won the support of both conservative democrats (Gillibrand, Wasserman) and very liberal ones (Conyers, Reid). In fact, it's even supported by Rachel Maddow's former lead-in on Air America, a man whose mere presence in the U.S. senate was once offered as proof that shameless, fearless progressives still had a constituency in this country. For reasons I can't even begin to fathom, Al Franken, a man who like, wrote a bestselling book about the culture of dishonesty and hypocrisy in American political discourse, is a SOPA supporter, and a PIPA co-sponsor. But just to begin to fathom them: let's recall that Franken is the Senate's most outspoken supporter of net neutrality, so he already believes that the government should adopt an aggressively interventionist policy towards both the uses and overall architecture of the internet. Likely the net neutrality debate convinced him that he has both an expertise and a level of clout on web policy that he obviously doesn't possess--but this reasoning only explains why Franken trusts himself and people like him to determine what the internet should look like and do. It doesn't explain the underlying principles that would actually convince him to support SOPA, since backing the regulation of internet service providers doesn't necessarily require you to back the regulation of the internet's content.

SOPA has produced one of those depressingly familiar (but also quite bizarre!) political moments in which our valiant leadership is acting contrary to the public's actual wishes and interests, and in accordance with an occluded and probably corrupt jumble of motivations known only to themselves, to the extent that they are even known at all. Last night, I had the awe-inspiring experience of seeing Kevin Spacey play Richard III at BAM; possibly the most chilling moment of his performance (which was an embarrassment of chilling moments) was the Act I soliloquy in which Richard tells the audience or himself or whoever that he's realized what a corrupted and hateful person he is, that he has no friends, no family, no one who trusts him, no one who he can trust or depend on; that he's alone with his ambitions, succored only by a toxic insecurity and an insatiable desire for control. "I am crept in favor with myself," he says, in one of Shakespeare's more profound reflections on political psychology. It's like he's saying that power is a lonely and dangerous prospect, and those who seek it drift blindly towards a kind of Glochesterian event horizon where ambition shapes the self even as the self shapes ambition; where your motives become cluttered and hidden even from yourself, and where the self is overwhelmed by a mad, self-justifying lust. How many SOPA supporters are "with themselves?" How many have no understanding of what they're doing or why they're doing it? How many have become unmoored within the deadly, tumbling seas of their own disordered minds?

But I digress. My point in all this is that it is bad for democracy when laws this reviled are supported for reasons that no one can really explain or justify. SOPA deserves to die on its merits. But it deserves to die because I don't want to be the subject of a political system that can blacken even Al Franken's heart. A system that passes SOPA in light of this loud of a public outcry is a system that cynicism has finally conquered. Along with the now-totally inexplicable continuation of the drug war, SOPA's success would be yet another depressing indicator that our leaders are crept in favor with themselves alone...

...And what of our most powerful leader? For me, the most fascinating aspect of the SOPA debate is President Obama's relative absence from it. Obama could have single-handedly stopped SOPA weeks ago simply by promising to veto the bill if it's passed--I doubt that there are that many Democratic legislators who want to kick off an election year by both defying a sitting president and voting for SOPA twice; moreover, I doubt that these legislators and their Republican allies would constitute the 2/3rds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

Such a promise would have been politically savvy, and perhaps even politically essential. Not sure if you've noticed this, but the cool kids in the Republican conference are pretty much lined up against this thing: Bachmann, Issa, Scott Brown, Marco Rubio, as of this morning. Ron Paul. All opposed. SOPA opposition is one of those rare libertarian causes that isn't offensive to some large percentage of the Republican base, and that isn't offenseive to some even larger percentage of the general electorate. Surely some Republican strategist is going to figure out how to marry the Paulite civil-libertarian surge to the apparently quite-popular idea that the government should keep its fucking hands off of the internet. My guess is that this strategist will also figure out how to turn the SOPA narrative against the Democrats, what with the president being a Democrat and a PIPA co-sponsor basically being the lefty version of Jim DeMint.

More importantly: Obama carried the youth vote the last time around. It's part of why he won swing states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. He convinced young people that the 2008 election was a historic moment, and that his was a historic campaign. He built a movement on the hopes and on the backs of 18-30 year olds who truly believed in him. How many are gonna believe in him if he actually signs SOPA? How many will even vote for him? I know I won't. Just by letting SOPA fester for this long, Obama is signaling that the entertainment industry's support might actually be more vital to his reelection chances than the kind of movementarian, grassroots youth mobilization that propelled him to the presidency. This alone is kind of a "fuck you."

Mashable has a pretty interesting primer on Obama's SOPA position. On the one hand, Obama believes that the Justice Department should have the ability to go after websites that pirate American intellectual property. On the other hand, he's against a bill that would threaten freedom of expression online. Whatever; Franken and company probably don't think that the current incarnation of SOPA threatens freedom of expression online, and Lamar Hunt is greedily welcoming any opportunity to keep SOPA on the legislative agenda. Obama could put an end to SOPA in a single press release, given the unpopularity of the bill. He could send a clear message to Congress that they badly fucked up and should now be forced to start this process over again. So why hasn't he?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

And Now For Something Comparatively Trivial

So it looks like my very own Washington Nationals are on the verge of signing Prince Fielder. Oh my God. The Washington Nationals are on the verge of signing Prince Fielder. Fuck! What do we do with ourselves, Nats fans? For years, we've been shackled to a franchise that was hesitant to spend money on anyone, regardless of whether that "anyone" was a first-round draft pick or a hall-of-fame manager. The Nats front office has been characterized by a series of high-profile failures and flare-ups, such as the failure to either trade or re-sign Alfonso Soriano, the Esmalyan Gonzales fiasco, or Jim Bowden's entire tenure. Even seemingly-good ideas, like dedicating unimaginable amounts of money to stealing a borderline-star player from a bitter divisional rival, have dramatically backfired, at least thus far.

If this happens--if the Nationals land an actual, no bullshit top-flight free agent at the peak of his productivity, and at a position of the utmost need--it would be the franchise's defining moment since moving to DC, reflecting a dramatic change in attitude and priorities. A Fielder singing would serve as an acknowledgement that the Nats can't win by playing small ball; that while they might be able to bunt, sac-fly and suicide squeeze their way to an 80-81 record, it'll take a bit more than that to beat the Phillys and Floridas of the world. And it would be an acknowledgement that the Nats can't win just by sitting on their hands and hoping that their prospects pan out two or three years down the line--it would cop to the reality that management actually has to make bold, expensive decisions every once in awhile if they want to field a contender. More so than the Werth signing, the record contract for Strasburg and the Gio Gonzelez trade, giving Prince Fielder a 9-year, $200 million-type deal would signal a complete reorientation for the club.

Now we Washington sports fans are used to moves like these actually wrecking the franchises they were meant to save. The Caps traded so little for Jaromir Jagr that his acquisition was tantamount to a free agent-signing, and after landing Jagr, the Caps promptly signed him to the most valuable contract in NHL history. Jagr's tenure resulted in his two worst seasons, zero playoff series wins, whining, infighting, firings, and by far the most painful fire sale in DC sports history, a culling that left a doddering Olaf Kolzig as virtually the only recognizable player on the roster. The Redskins' signing of a disinterested Deon Sanders hogged cap space and symbolized an entire era of mismanagement and excess. The Bullets gave up two first-round picks for the right to sign Juwon Howard to one of the largest contracts in NBA history; in return, Les Boullets got one measly playoff appearance and the worst nickname, jersey and logo in the history of sports. Surely the names Haynesworth, Stubblefield, Jeff George and Albert Belle are familiar to some of you.

By now, DC fans harbor an ingrained suspicion of expensive potential saviors. But it's worth setting aside here, because signing Fielder makes more actual, organizational sense than any of those other, inevitably nightmaric moves. As Nate Silver explained in a seminal essay about baseball free agency, the value of an additional win increases exponentially when a team is within the playoff contention "sweet spot" between 80 and 90 wins. By value, Silver actually means long-term financial value for the franchise--because pennant races produce buzz and the ticket sales and TV views that come with it, and because even a single playoff appearance can increase a team's revenues for up to a decade, games in which a playoff berth is potentially at stake have a potentially-outsize effect on a franchise's long-term and of course short-term cash flow. According to the chart, win #90 (which is usually a playoff-clinching win, since teams miss the playoffs at 90 wins like, 1-3% of the time, if I remember correctly) is worth an additional $4.5 million of revenue, whereas win #79 is worth only about $750,000.

Cumulatively, wins 80 through 90 produce somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million in extra revenue. The Nats won 80 games last year. According to baseball reference, Fielder performed at 5.2 wins above replacement, and 5.9 offensive wins above replacement last season. The Nats are currently in the process of negotiating a new TV deal with MASN and have yet to sell the naming rights for Nationals Park, so the "sweet spot" multiplier might even be understated in this case (Fielder is one of those players whose adds value to a franchise beyond his performance on the field, I think it's safe to say). Twenty mil a year for Fielder could be a bargain from an organizational perspective, at least for the first 3 to 5 years of the deal. The Nats wouldn't just be throwing money at a sexy free agent, the way the Caps and Redskins used to.

Another reason not to worry about a potential Fielder signing: even if the Nats end up overpaying Fielder over the second half of an 8 or 9 year contract, they're already overpaying Adam LaRoche. LaRoche produced a piddling 4 runs above replacement over 600 plate appearances during a contract year in Arizona in 2010. LaRoche's season was cut short by a shoulder injury last year, but there's no use in pretending that the guy is actually like, all that good. The Nats brought him in--and paid him an astonishing $7 million for his replacement-level services--simply because their infield defense had been pitiful the season before, and because an aggressively mediocre journeyman who had the proven ability to hold up over an entire season seemed better than the currently-available alternatives (Morse's breakout season made LaRoche's acquisition seem a bit superfluous. But Morse was a 27-year old career minor leaguer when the season began.). There's something to be said for consistency and a baseline of competence, even when that baseline is fairly low. But does it really make more sense to overpay a 32-year old replacement-level 1st basemen in 2012, when the team appears to be on the cusp of something special, than it does to overpay a 32-year old probably well-above replacement-level 1st basemen in 2017, after five years of actual, honest-to-God contention? If the Nats are going to overpay a 1st baseman, I'd rather it be Prince Fielder 5 years from now than the current incarnation of Adam LaRoche (by the way, apparently Florida, Milwaukee and a number of other teams disqualified themselves by refusing to sign Fielder to more than a five-to-six year deal. If five years of overpaying for .700 OPS is the price of five years of arguably underpaying for 1.1 OPS, then fuck it, just sign him. We'll figure out whether and how often he plays after we win the 2015 NL pennant...).

Obviously there are concerns. Fielder is a below-average defensive player, and unless he does a ton of steroids his power statistics will likely plummet during the second half of his deal. But let's worry about that shit later. If the Nats land Fielder, they add a player who finished top-3 in the NL in walks, homers, runs created and win probability added in 2011 to a power-deficient lineup that could very well improve next year. If Jason Werth performs just slightly below his career average, if Ian Desmond continues his tear from late last season, and if Danny Espinosa and Michael Morse can stay within the 20-25 home run range, this is a mildly formidable lineup, even without Prince Fielder batting 4th. And with him batting 4th, the Nats would turn their franchise around and acquire a player who might as well be a robot constructed by a team of cyberneticists who also happen to be sabermetricians in their spare time.

Most importantly, now that I've hacked out a fairly lengthy blog post on the matter, this deal had better like, actually happen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Least Shocking Thing Ever: Former American Conservative Blogger and Professional Jew-Baiter Philip Weiss Apologizes for Ron Paul

This isn't the kind of thing I like writing about on this blog, but when you can't let something go you just can't let something go. I was scanning the worst website in existence when I came across Phil Weiss fulminating about the mainstream media's collective poo-pooing of Ron Paul's presidential campaign. The Post and the Times don't want an honest discussion of American militarism in the Middle East!, Weiss claims without citing any evidence whatsoever. Worse than its ad hominem nature is the post's inclusion of what might be two of the more ignorant paragraphs I've ever read about the Egyptian uprising of roughly a year ago:

If you care about the antiwar issue, joining with Ron Paul is like seculars joining with the Muslim Brothers to get rid of Mubarak. You needed a broad coalition to push Hosni out. And in the end, that coalition did the impossible; it moved Obama. Obama wouldn't have jumped in if not for Tahrir. He needed political cover. A broad coalition gave it to him.

But what if leftwing secular social-media types had stood around Tahrir Square asking the smart question, Hey what do these folks-- Muslim Brothers and Salafis-- want to do with the role of women in politics? They would never have gotten rid of Mubarak.

Ignoring, for a moment, how abhorrent it is to attribute Mubarak's ouster to some mythical liberal-Salfi-Ikhwan-social media alliance, rather than the years' worth of potentially life-threatening political organizing and civil society-building undertaken by traditionally lefty outfits like the April 6th movement--ignoring that: it's unsurprising, but nevertheless distasteful, to see someone like Weiss weeping over someone like Paul. Weiss once blogged for and frequently contributed to The American Conservative, a publication that Pat Buchanan founded in 2002 and edited until 2007. The sentence preceding this one would itself be an ad hominem, had TAC not published the following paragraphs, which were authored by none other than Phil Weiss, and which were selected more or less at random after a brief skim of this article:

Yes, but what about my hard-earned views? Israel and the Mideast were crucial pieces in American foreign policy. Jewish giving was the largest factor in Democratic campaign financing. Peter had never squelched my views, but how free would I be as a writer, knowing what I knew about the bosses’ feelings?

As the meeting went on with Peter praising my talents in his Ziegfeldian way, I became upset. “Peter, don’t you see what’s happening in this country? Ron [Rosenbaum] just went to Slate. He is pro-Israel. Slate also lately hired Shmuel Rosner, an Israeli who loves the neocons, to write from Washington.” I grabbed a galley of Jeffrey Goldberg’s book from one of the piles in Peter’s office. “Goldberg works for The New Yorker in Washington and because he thought America was dangerous for Jews, he moved to Israel and served in their army, then he moved back here and pushed America to go to war in Iraq. Well, I’m different. I don’t think America is dangerous for Jews, and I’m critical of Israel. And there’s no room for me here. There’s no room.”

Weiss is a proud, card-carrying conspiracy theorist who has published articles in America's leading paleoconservative journal, which was itself founded by one of America's leading card-carrying conspiracy theorists. Of course this guy would be a Ron Paul supporter.

Ron Paul believes all sorts of asinine things about Jewish influence; beliefs which happen to justify a left-wing, anti-war view of America's role in the world. And as I mentioned in my last post, Paul's ability to stake a heroically reasonable position on certain issues rests on a bedrock of pure crazy. The difference between say, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson is that Paul understands that his ideas will stagnate if he's unable to build up a base of support. Depressingly enough, in America in 2012, barely-telegraphed conspiracist tripe about Jewish influence and Jewish money is one way of building up a base of support.

The parallelisms between Mondoweiss and the Ron Paul campaign explain why Weiss's enthusiasm for the Texas congressman has produced such a fit of pique for me. Weiss, like Paul, is a race-baiter masquerading as a fearless truth-teller. Weiss's blog might be successful (well, relatively successful) because it follows the spirit of the Paulite movement in staking a heroically reasonable position on the Middle East--but it's also successful because it follows the spirit of the Paulite movement in offering an unabashed appeal to the American psyche's basest, most paranoid, and most racist instincts. Ron Paul and Phil Weiss are kindred spirits in the worst possible sense.