Why I Hate Moral Relativism

As most of my veteran readers are probably aware (and all of my new readers should know,) I’m a product of the political Left. However, I am more than willing to stand by the political Right on the handful of issues on which I agree with them. For this reason, I feel it is my responsibility and obligation to attack an ideology that too much of the Left has embraced and that most of the Right, especially the religious Right, despises: moral relativism.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, moral relativism can be defined as, “…the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint…and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.” In other words, moral relativists believe that the context behind actions, and not the actions themselves, determine their morality. In essence, while a moral absolutist could say that it is never acceptable to steal under any circumstances, a moral relativist could argue that stealing a loaf of bread to feed an impoverished family would be a moral act.

While I can see moral relativists’ points in many cases, it is also my view that the context behind actions which they use to determine morality is not a reflection of an action’s morality, but rather its necessity. Whether we like it or not, the world does not operate in a moral fashion. In every sedentary society in the world, some portion of the population is marginalized in some way. Similarly, the Soviet Union’s 1991 implosion proved that communism, despite being a morally superior ideology to capitalism in theory, is unworkable in reality. It is therefore safe to assume that despite our immense intelligence as a species, it is highly anthropocentric to say humans are a benevolent species and are anything more than apes.

Because the world is inherently immoral, people sometimes must do bad things in order to achieve good goals. For instance, the firebombing of German cities by American and British forces during World War Two was necessary to save Western European democracy from the dual evils of Nazism and Stalinism. As horrific as the bombings were for those who suffered most from them, their necessity to defeat Nazi Germany and undermine the Soviet Union’s geopolitical influence in Europe makes them necessary, understandable and perhaps even excusable, but still not moral.

Going hand-in-hand with moral relativism is its anthropological cousin known as cultural relativism. Cultural relativism teaches that one’s behavior must be understood in the context of their cultural background. While cultural relativism has value when it comes to such things as material and political cultures (the latter always having at least some degree of immorality,) it can be just as self-serving as moral relativism, and used to justify such historic and contemporary acts of barbarism as foot binding in China, sati in India, cannibalism in Papua New Guinea, female genital mutilation in Egypt, and human sacrifice in pre-Hispanic Mexico. While this school of thought originally was intended to serve as a non-ethnocentric alternative to an anthropology field that had long been dominated by imperialists, it can be argued to be just as racist, if not more so. According to Maryam Namazie, an Iranian-British human rights activist:

[Cultural relativism] is a profoundly racist phenomenon, which values and respects all cultural and religious practices, irrespective of their consequences…It asserts that the rights of people, women and girls are relative to where they are born, “their” cultures and religions. There is no right or wrong according to cultural relativists. As a result, cultural relativism supports and maintains sexual apartheid and violence against women…because it is “their culture and religion.”…

Cultural relativism doesn’t merely ignore violations ; it actually legitimizes them. Moreover, it never opposes any cultural or religious practices. Cultural relativism not only makes it unnecessary to oppose violations and lack of women’s rights, but also makes it racist and against freedom of choice to do so!

By pointing out that cultural relativism is too often used to to hold people to a lower moral standard, because of their religion or culture, Ms. Namazie demonstrates that cultural relativism can be seen as a smug, ivory tower form of racism little better, if at all better, than the pro-imperialist anthropological currents it was created to combat.

Namazie’s argument against cultural and moral relativism is further validated when one considers that in order to believe in these ideologies, one must hold different people to different moral standards or deny the existence of moral standards altogether. Such attitudes undermine the ability of law and order to prevail in a society, which while not always moral, are necessary for its survival. Furthermore, any legal system that officially holds different people to different moral standards will inevitably be ridiculously byzantine and unworkable. For these reasons, moral relativists should learn that morality and necessity are not the same thing, the world is inherently an evil place, excusing one’s bad behavior on the basis of their culture or religion is bigoted, and that no matter what we do, human societies will never be perfectly just and moral.

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Why the Illiberal Left Lost the Culture War

Over the past few years, a new strain of left-wing politics has become increasingly influential in American society, particularly among younger millennials. Though clearly a product of the left, it can hardly be considered “liberal” in the traditional sense of the word. This movement, which has become increasingly influential on college campuses and has been promoted by such social and news media outlets as Twitter, Tumblr, Gawker, Buzzfeed, Vox, Upworthy, and Everyday Feminism, focuses primarily on addressing social inequities faced by various marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. Commendable as their efforts may be, activists within this movement have often been criticized for a variety of reasons, including the hostility of many to anyone who disagrees with them even slightly, a common tendency to manufacture controversy, and the widespread presence of open bigotry by such activists towards members of privileged groups. These criticisms, which are not necessarily without merit, have enabled critics of this “illiberal left” to pejoratively refer to them as “social justice warriors,” “white knights,” and “special snowflakes.”

Although adherents to this new left-wing movement have successfully drawn attention to many legitimate social issues, such as disproportionate police brutality against black and Hispanic Americans, the high prevalence of rape and sexual assault on American college campuses, and increased rejection of the gender binary, a number of recent developments seem to indicate that the worst components of the illiberal left have lost much of their influence, if not all of it.

Perhaps the first nail in the illiberal left’s coffin took place following the Charlie Hebdo shooting on January 7, 2015, when two French Muslim brothers forcibly entered the satirical newspaper’s headquarters and shot, killed, and injured dozens. The brothers’ sole motivation was retaliation against the publication for displaying cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on their cover.

Although most people condemned the acts of senseless violence, a vocal segment of the illiberal left, including Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, placed greater blame on the murdered cartoonists, arguing that satire should always “punch up”and never “punch down.” The idea behind this is that satire should serve to challenge the status quo, but never to attack marginalized populations.

A close look at Charlie Hebdo’s leanings serves to discredit these claims of the periodical “punching down.” The paper has a strongly left-wing, anti-racist political slant. It is also staunchly secular, and has a history of using distasteful cartoons to criticize morally questionable values and practices espoused by various religions, including Christianity and Judaism along with Islam. While it is wrong to judge people based on what they look like (racism), there is nothing wrong with judging people based on how they behave. Because religion can greatly shape a person’s behavior for better or worse, there is nothing wrong with criticizing interpretations which justify harming people. Based on these facts, it is clear that the cartoons that inspired the shooting weren’t so much an attack on French Muslims as they were a criticism of Islam.

Taking these facts into account, it is my view that by demanding the cartoons be censured, the illiberal left were the real Islamophobes in this incident, as their view implies that Muslims are incapable of responding to perceived aggressions and slights against their faith nonviolently. That is not to say that Muslims do not have the right to take offense to these cartoons (they do). However, murder is not an acceptable way to express offense. Had the shooters boycotted the paper or picketed in front of its offices, they would have been better able to garner sympathy from all people. Furthermore, common sense dictates that anyone who would consider an irreverent cartoon as bad as or worse than murder has their priorities completely wrong and would do well to have their heads checked.

More recent developments have also greatly hurt the illiberal left, especially on college campuses where they have more influence. In higher education, they have called for “trigger warnings” (an appropriation of accommodations for people with PTSD now primarily used to censor any academic content that could make anyone uncomfortable for virtually any reason,) the punishment of students who commit “microagressions” (unconscious and/or unintentional acts of discrimination, such as touching a black woman’s hair or talking to a developmentally disabled person in a condescending, sing-song tone of voice,) and the dis-invitations of speakers with views that run counter to large swaths of student bodies. On September 15, President Barack Obama openly advocated for less oversensitivity on college campuses, pointing out that efforts to curtail free speech undermined the ability of students to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another and learn from each other. As an icon of the American Left, Obama’s opposition to the efforts of the illiberal left to curb free speech on college campuses surely undermined their ability to do so.

While Obama’s opposition to the illiberal left’s extreme “political correctness” was instrumental in helping to defeat them, he is hardly the first prominent figure to speak out against this tool. In June, Jerry Seinfeld, arguably the most well-respected comedian alive, said in an ESPN interview that the new culture of political correctness was bad for comedy. While other comedians, such as Chris Rock and the late George Carlin, had expressed the same sentiment years earlier, Seinfeld’s opposition to the illiberal left paved the way for an even greater number of comics to speak out against it, including Bill Maher and Dave Chappelle. This widespread opposition to the “new political correctness”among so many comedians suggests that the efforts of the illiberal left were effectively, if not intentionally, stripping American society of one of the greatest things that can bring people together: laughter.

As distasteful as many of the illiberal left’s views may be, there are some things that they are absolutely right about. There ought to be greater awareness of privilege and power as well as greater efforts to address needs specific to members of various marginalized groups. However, censoring free speech is not the way to go by it. “Stunning and Brave,” the season premier of the nineteenth season of South Park, manages to lampoon the authoritarianism of the illiberal left while offering better solutions to the legitimate problems they seek to combat. Rather than demonizing people in positions of institutional power or punishing those who offend members of marginalized groups without malicious intent, such incidents should be used to foster dialogue so that both parties involved can learn from each other, an idea which at least in my eyes is more reasonable, humane, and perhaps most importantly, effective.




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Is the U.S. the Solution to the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

Over the past week, the media has drawn a great deal of attention to the influx of refugees from Syria desperately traveling to European and other Middle Eastern nations in order to escape the horrors of a brutal, seemingly endless civil war and murderous terrorist groups such as Da’ish (better known in Hellenic civilization as ISIL or ISIS.) According to the United Nations, this exodus of people is the worst since the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

Despite the perils the refugees face, Middle Eastern and European countries are for various reasons unwilling and/or unable to take in enough refugees to fully address the problem. This has led to an even greater concern as to where else they can go. While doing so would be a highly unpopular move, the United States could easily be the solution the many Syrians unable to be fully processed elsewhere are looking for.

Perhaps the most obvious of these reasons is crucial structural differences in the political cultures of Europe compared to that of the United States. Virtually every European nation’s identity rests on its dominant ethnic group or groups, while the United States is a multi-ethnic society whose national identity focuses more on a common set of values. Although they have much more secular societies than the United States, the countries of Europe have much less of an official separation of church and state. For these reasons among others, it is much harder for the ethnically homogeneous, officially Christian European countries to integrate foreigners, particularly non-Christian ones, than it is for the United States to do so.

Despite the difficulties Syrian refugees to the United States would inevitably face as newcomers, they would have opportunities to find culturally familiar institutions. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are approximately 154,450 Syrian Americans. The only larger Arab-American demographics can trace their heritage to Lebanon and Egypt. Considering the significant size of the Syrian population in the United States, and the fact that Lebanese, the largest Arab American demographic, are similar to Syrians in terms of culture and dialect, it should be relatively easy for Syrian refugees in the United States to find people with whom they share a common cultural heritage.

While there is no question that many Americans would have reservations about or be completely opposed to taking in mass numbers of Syrian refugees due to concerns about security, there are more safeguards in American society than in European or Middle Eastern ones to help keep any extremists in check. As I have previously written, the greater diversity of American mosques over those in the Muslim world, as well as the constitutional guarantee of a free exchange of ideas has allowed Muslim Americans to establish interpretations of their faith that are compatible with American values. In fact, a 2013 Pew poll indicates that they are more liberal and tolerant than most of their coreligionists worldwide. Similarly, a 2011 Gallup survey shows they are also more tolerant and pacifistic than Americans of virtually all other religious backgrounds. The liberalism of Muslim Americans therefore makes it harder for extremists of the same faith to engage in acts of terrorism with the support of their coreligionists.

Although it appears unlikely that the United States will not take on the Syrian refugee crisis in the way that I advocate, its multi-ethnic character and official separation of church and state, a significant Syrian presence already existing within the Arab American community, and Muslim Americans’ general preference for a liberal interpretation of their faith all make it perhaps the best place of refuge for the millions of Syrians seeking a better life outside of their homeland.


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It’s the Times, Stupid!: The Source of Donald Trump’s Popularity

In the 2016 election cycle for president of the United States, few contenders have received the same degree of media attention as the current Republican frontrunner, real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump. From his comparison of Mexican immigrants to drug dealers and rapists to misogynistic remarks about comedian Rosie O’Donnell at the first Republican debate and allegations that former Democratic president Bill Clinton urged him to run in an attempt to sabotage the Republican Party’s chances at taking back the White House, nothing thus far has managed to undermine Trump’s campaign for the nation’s highest office.

Political pundits of various stripes have proposed different theories behind the businessman and unlikely candidate’s popularity among Republican voters, with many saying his appeal simply comes from his tendency to publicly say what others are too afraid to say. Considering many politicians, including Vice President and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have frequently been known for doing just that, this reason holds little water. Rather, it is my view that Trump’s popularity is a product not of the man himself, but of the times in which he is running for president.

In order to understand how the current point in American history has positively impacted Trump’s candidacy, one must recognize the similarities between the present and the United States of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. During the chronologically earlier period, the country underwent vast political and social change. Such change included the abolition of Jim Crow laws, the reclassification of homosexuality from a mental illness to a natural sexual orientation, and the expansion of women’s rights, especially pertaining to reproductive health. This increasing liberalization of American society was very troublesome for a sizeable segment of Americans, particularly socially conservative, working-class white men overwhelmed by the changes that too often seemed to come at their expense. Although this demographic traditionally voted for Democrats, they became disillusioned with the party as it began to embrace more liberal stances on social issues. As a result, they would serve as a crucial component of the majority of the American electorate that would bring Republican Ronald Reagan, who proved himself effective at showing concern for the fears of such voters, to the White House in 1980.

Like then, the United States is becoming more socially liberal than ever before. The nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, increased public awareness of racial and gender issues, increased opposition to marijuana prohibition, and the reality that the United States will not be a white-majority nation for much longer have all alarmed a segment of the American electorate that feels helpless as their country changes in a way they would prefer it didn’t. Trump, who has frequently spoken out against “political correctness” during his campaign, manages to capture the fears of such voters much as Reagan did with the so-called “Reagan Democrats.”

Despite this similarity, Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan. Much of the Gipper’s appeal came from his charisma, his tenure as Governor of California, and the fact that his opponent in the 1980 election was deeply unpopular incumbent president Jimmy Carter. Trump lacks charisma, appearing more as a bully than a leader, has never held elected office, and will not be facing an unpopular incumbent if he receives the nomination. For these reasons among others, it will be much harder for Trump to win a general election than it was for Reagan.

Even if Trump does not win the primary or the election, his message could be instrumental in the near future. History shows that culture wars, such as those that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s as well as now, almost always end with the dominant culture winning, but not without the counterculture leaving a big impact. For this reason, it seems likely that Trump, or someone else who can effectively communicate the fears of those who would vote for him, could be elected in the not-too-distant future.

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“Arabian Nights” from Disney’s Aladdin: Copy or Coincidence?

Of the many American film companies, none have produced animated musicals that have achieved the acclaim, popularity, and influence of Disney’s. One of their most famous animated musicals, the 1992 blockbuster Aladdin, was praised not only for the late Robin Williams’ hilarious performance as the Genie, but also for its music. The film’s iconic score, which includes such classics as “Friend Like Me,” “One Jump Ahead,” and “A Whole New World,” led composer Alan Menken to win multiple Oscars, Golden Globe Awards, a Grammy, and a BAFTA Award.

But what if Menken’s score was not as original as it has been given credit for? The song that calls his originality into question is the film’s opening number, “Arabian Nights.” During the song’s instrumental opening, a riff can be heard, which in the scene below can be heard from 0:23 to 0:29.

While most people would understandably assume that this riff is simply intended to reflect the song (and film’s) Arabian theme and aesthetic, it sounds almost, if not completely identical to a riff played in an older, but much lesser-known song. This other song, “Ghost Town,” was first released in 1981 by British ska band The Specials. In the song, the riff which sounds suspiciously similar to that of ”Arabian Nights” plays multiple times throughout, but can first be heard from 0:17 to 0:23 in the version below.

Despite the immense similarities between the two riffs, I am not accusing Menken or Disney of plagiarism, but am only informing my readers that it is a distinct possibility. I will leave it up to my readers to decide whether the riff from “Arabian Nights” was deliberately taken from “Ghost Town” or if Menken was unaware of the song and its riff when he composed the score to Aladdin.


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A Boost for Bernie from #BlackLivesMatter?

On Saturday afternoon, Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was interrupted at a rally in Seattle by a group of black women. The women took the stage from Senator Sanders and proceeded to accuse him of not doing enough to combat racial inequity and his predominantly white crowd of supporters of white supremacy. This incident prompted Sanders to cancel the rally early. Although the disruption appeared to undermine the Sanders campaign at least initially, it nonetheless sparked a series of events that could help Senator Sanders win the black vote, aiding him in his efforts to win the Democratic nomination in next year’s presidential primaries.

The idea that Sanders is disinterested in racial inequality and focused only on class divisions in the US is not new. Many left-wing publications, such as Salon, have said the same. Even so, Sanders, while far from perfect, is quite possibly the least racist Democratic candidate running for president thus far. In contrast with the current Democratic frontrunner, former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, both of whom have said that “All Lives Matter,” (an appropriation of “Black Lives Matter” used mainly by racist whites and well-intentioned white people who are ignorant of racial power dynamics in the US,) or former Virgina Senator Jim Webb’s defense of the Confederate flag and his insistence that the traitors who used it in battle were “honorable,” Sanders’ biggest failure on racial issues has seemingly been his apparent ignorance of and inaction on them.

Since the affair in Seattle, however, Senator Sanders has become more outspoken about addressing racial inequality in America. This is evidenced by his appointment of #BlackLivesMatter activist Symone Sanders as his press secretary and his announcement of a comprehensive plan intended to address various forms of racial inequality in the United States on Sunday. Even though his plan will almost certainly fall far short of eliminating racial injustice, no other candidate in this election cycle has proposed as much to address this inequity. This suggests that Sanders is genuinely interested in combatting such problems, even if he is ignorant about how best to address them.

Despite these efforts, Sanders continues to poll in only second place to Clinton, whose husband, former US President Bill Clinton, was and is a popular figure in American politics, notably among African Americans. His appeal among much of the black community influenced prominent African American writer Toni Morrison to declare him the “first black president” in 1998.

Despite President Clinton’s popularity among members of this demographic, which his wife will inevitably use in her bid for the presidency, there is at least one comment from the former president that Sanders can and should use against the Clintons to increase his appeal among black voters. Following then-Illinois Senator and current US President Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 South Carolina Democratic presidential primary, Bill Clinton, in a seemingly dismissive tone, compared the future president’s primary victory to those of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 in the same state. By comparing Obama’s campaigns to another black man’s, and in particular one whose presidential campaigns did not go especially far, Clinton seemed to demonstrate contempt for black candidates and voters. As a result, his comment, at least in my opinion, should be a matter of concern as to whether the Clintons are truly interested in the well-being of African Americans.

While Bernie Sanders still has a long way to secure the Democratic nomination next year, let alone the White House, the apparent catastrophe that was the Seattle rally may have been a positive turning point in his campaign. The interruption still communicated the important message that too many politicians in the United States neglect the needs of African Americans. Taking this into consideration, Sanders has started to prioritize racial inequality in addition to class inequality in his campaign. This, along with Bill Clinton’s apparently racist remarks about President Obama and Reverend Jackson, could allow him to siphon black votes from Hillary Clinton and grant him a victory in the Democratic primaries.

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The Jews and the Chinese: An Anthropological Comparison

Out of the many ethnic groups in the world today, there are few whose longevity is greater than or equal to that of the Jews and Han Chinese. Over millennia, both groups have made vast contributions to world history. Although both groups have existed for such an immense time period, there has been relatively little significant interaction between the world’s largest ethnic group and one of the world’s smallest. Despite their historical isolation from each other, the cultures of the Jewish and Chinese peoples have a great deal more in common than one would expect at first glance.

Perhaps the most obvious source of similarities between the Jews and the Han can be found in their theo-philosophical traditions. Unlike most other religious traditions, Judaism and Confucianism both prioritize actions over beliefs. Often, the traditional Jewish and Confucian views of which actions are good and which are bad are identical. Such common values include modest dress, intensive study of sacred texts, the disposal of dead bodies by burial, and a taboo associated with body modifications, such as tattoos.

Furthermore, the traditional structures of Jewish and Chinese families are in many ways similar. In ancient times, the traditional conventions of marriage for both groups involved a loose form of monogamy. Men would have one wife and multiple concubines. Although these conventions of marriage are no longer practiced, other similarities in the family structure exist, particularly in regards to gender roles. Like most, Jewish and Chinese culture are traditionally patriarchal, with the oldest male in the home usually representing their nuclear family in the public sphere, as well as to extended relatives and guests to their home. Despite the male supremacy present in both cultures, women are hardly powerless, as they are expected to run the daily affairs of the household, including being responsible for virtually every component of their children’s development. It is from this role that such archetypes as the neurotic, overbearing Jewish mother and the strict, smothering, Chinese “Tiger Mom” have emerged.

Another similarity between the Jews and the Chinese is present in the behavior and perceptions of their sizable diaspora communities. In these communities, Jews and Han both serve as prominent middleman minorities, dominating the business and financial fields in their adopted countries and possessing greater wealth, power, and education on average than the majority of their respective countrymen. The diaspora communities’ great successes, along with their relative insularity, inspire a great deal of fear, hatred, and suspicion. It was for this reason that the Thai King Rama VI, better known as Vajiravudh, famously called the Chinese “the Jews of Asia.”

When Vajiravudh referred to the Han Chinese as such, he was referring only to the similarities of their diaspora communities as middleman minorities. However, by focusing on just one of the many similarities between the Jews and Chinese and ignoring others, including their similar ethical codes and family structures, he could have made his comparison even stronger.


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Led Zeppelin: An Overrated Band

In the history of rock music, few artists have achieved the popularity and acclaim of heavy metal pioneers Led Zeppelin. The band, whose lineup consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, lead singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones, and the late drummer John Bonham, have been ranked at 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Many of their songs, such as “Stairway to Heaven,” “Good Times, Bad Times,” and “Immigrant Song,” have become iconic rock standards. Despite their fame and influence, a closer look at Led Zeppelin’s history and musical technique shows that they are given much more credit than they deserve.

In order to understand why Led Zeppelin is overrated, one must first understand their roots in an earlier band, The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds, who are probably most famous for bringing Page, along with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, into the public spotlight, were an influential blues rock band that emerged in 1963. During the Clapton and Beck years, the band would release such hits as “Heart Full of Soul,” “For Your Love,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and “Shapes of Things.” In 1966, Page replaced Beck on guitar, after which the band failed to release any quality songs until their breakup in 1968.

After this breakup, Page would found Led Zeppelin, or “The New Yardbirds,” as his new band was originally called. The original name choice suggests that Led Zeppelin was intended as little more than The Yardbirds recreated in the image of the worst lead guitarist they had. This reality should serve as a red flag to anyone convinced of Led Zeppelin’s greatness.

The inferiority of Page’s guitar playing can be asserted by contrasting his style with that of Clapton and Beck. In contrast to Clapton’s soulful blues sound and Beck’s innovative use of distortion to emulate such sounds as trains and sitars, Page’s style is innovative only because it makes use of distortion during loud, uptempo solos. Considering earlier bands, such as The Kinks and The Kingsmen, already had a history of loud and fast solos, that Page’s only significant contribution to such a style is distortion says a lot about him as a guitarist.

Even if Jimmy Page was a better and more innovative guitarist, their reputation remains tarnished by their long history of plagiarism. Among their songs that have ripped off other artists are “How Many More Times,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love.” They have even been alleged in court, with merit, to have plagiarized the iconic riff in “Stairway to Heaven,” probably their most acclaimed song. The fact that so many people have managed to win lawsuits against them on allegations of plagiarism proves their relative lack of originality and a need to rely on other artists to create much of their music.

There are many great classic rock bands out there, and Led Zeppelin is no exception. However, their origin as a reincarnation of The Yardbirds in the image of its worst guitarist, Jimmy Page’s lack of originality and creativity, and the band’s frequent plagiarism of other musical works are proof enough that they are hardly in the same league as many others in their genre.

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Binyamin Netanyahu: A Threat to the Jewish People

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

It’s no secret that you are deeply concerned, and not without merit, about Iran’s recent nuclear agreement with the P5+1. Like you, I am no fan of the Iranian regime, its human rights abuses, or the staunchly anti-American, anti-Israeli, and anti-Jewish rhetoric it spews. That said, I have observed and read about your actions over the course of your political career, and as a Jew looking at them through the lens of current geopolitical realities, I feel you are a greater threat to our people than Iran is.

I know that it sounds outrageous to consider the leader of the world’s only Jewish state a greater threat to his people than a tyrannical regime committed to the destruction of said state. For that reason, I’d like to point out that Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution explicitly grants Jews, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, freedom of religion. Although discrimination against Iranian Jews is otherwise common, the fact remains that with a population of roughly 9,000 Jews, the Islamic Republic is home to one of the Muslim world’s largest Jewish communities, second only to Turkey.

Although Jews are not fully equal to Muslims in Iran, the country nonetheless has a historical legacy of religious tolerance, notably towards Jews. As the son of the prominent Jewish historian, Benzionn Netanyahu, you should be aware that in ancient times, it was the Achaemenid Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great who not only allowed the Jews to return to the Promised Land following the Babylonian Exile, but helped them rebuild their temple. The Persians’ overall tolerance for the Jewish people, particularly under Cyrus, is documented in several parts of the Tanakh, including the Books of Ezra and Second Chronicles. In fact, the Book of Isaiah establishes the ancient Persian king as the only non-Jewish Messiah mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

While Achaemenid Persia and the current Islamic republic are hardly the same, the current regime has showed some earnestness in letting non-Muslims practice their faith. A prominent example of this regards the country’s alcohol laws. While officially illegal in Iran due to its taboo status under sharia, exemptions are made for Jews and Christians for religious purposes. In fact, the predominantly Christian Armenian minority in Iran dominates the country’s black market for liquor.

Even if I’m wrong and Iran is an existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, I’d like to remind you, Mr. Netanyahu, that you helped empower Iran in 2002 as a private citizen by testifying in favor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq to Congress. By invading the country and toppling Saddam Hussein, an enemy of Iran, the United States upset the balance of power in the Middle East, giving Iran greater capabilities to expand its influence there. Considering you supported one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in U.S. history thirteen years ago, it is hard to take you seriously when you say similar things about Iran.

Assuming your fears of Iran are correct, however, Israel is no longer the regional pariah it used to be and does not have to worry about going alone in the event that Iran becomes belligerent. You should remember that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States also fear a nuclear-armed Iran, and have worked at least unofficially with Israel to undermine Iranian influence in the Middle East. These improved relations with your neighbors, along with your recent cooperation with Hamas to combat Da’ish (more commonly known as ISIS, or ISIL,) have helped make your country’s geopolitical standing better than ever before.

Despite this unprecedented cooperation with your neighbors, you still focus on external threats to Israel, which are nothing compared to the internal threats that you ignore if not exacerbate. Israel’s survival rests on remaining a democracy with a Jewish majority. In order to ensure this continues, a two-state solution establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel is necessary. However, time and again you have failed to take the necessary steps needed to establish such a solution, namely a withdrawal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Unless the current trajectory changes, Israel will be forced to either absorb the Palestinians as citizens, costing Israel its Jewish majority, or it will have to abolish its democracy at the expense of Israeli Arabs, which will inevitably lead to the Jewish state losing American support and becoming a pariah nation. Both of these scenarios will cause Israel to implode, once again leaving the Jewish people without a homeland of their own.

Although a two-state solution is crucial to Israel’s survival, it’s become increasingly clear that you no longer support one, if you ever did at all. The closest Israel ever came to achieving such an agreement was in the early-to-mid-90s under the premiership of Yitzhak Rabin when you were Leader of the Opposition. During this time, you condoned fiery rhetoric against Rabin, including comparing him to a Nazi, for making necessary concessions for peace in the Oslo Accords, which would inspire Yigal Amir to assassinate Rabin. Your failure to condemn the unwarranted hate leveled at him makes you partially responsible for his death. This, along with your prioritization of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing nationalist Jewish political parties over secular, left-wing, and centrist ones in your coalition governments (the latter of which represent the core of Israeli society) suggest you are little better than the leaders of hostile neighbors that would love nothing more than a second Holocaust.

At a time when Jew-hatred is on the rise in Europe and the United States, it would only make sense you would do more to promote support for Israel among Diaspora Jews. Instead, you’ve done everything in your power to alienate them. From appointing government ministers that deny the Jewishness of Reform Jews to effectively, if not intentionally, disrespecting U.S. President Barack Obama, who is overall popular among American Jews, by violating diplomatic protocols, your actions have only distanced us from Israel, further calling into question the survival of the one safe haven in the world for us. By focusing on the potential threat of a nuclear Iran (which is laughable when you consider Israel has a stronger military than the Islamic Republic and hundreds of nuclear weapons compared to Iran’s absence of them,) while doing nothing to prevent Israel’s current trajectory towards implosion, I feel I can legitimately fear you more than I can Iran.

Yours truly,

A Concerned American Jew




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Why Hillary Clinton and the Democrats Shouldn’t Celebrate Just Yet

After years of speculation, former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton finally announced on Sunday that she will run for President of the United States. Many Americans of all political stripes expect her to easily win the 2016 election, succeeding President Barack Obama and becoming the first woman president. Such a victory would also greatly benefit the Democratic Party, as it would mark a relatively rare instance in which the candidate from the incumbent party of a two-term president wins election.

There is no question that the prediction of a Clinton victory in 2016 has merit. Polls consistently show that she has a healthy lead over any likely Democratic primary challenger and any likely Republican challenger in the general election, suggesting that 2016 could be the Democrats’ biggest presidential electoral victory since 1964, when incumbent President Lyndon Johnson defeated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. An electoral college that increasingly favors the Democratic Party, as well as a Republican Party that has become more and more out of touch with American society, also greatly benefit her campaign. Despite the many advantages Secretary Clinton has over any other presidential candidate, there are a number of factors that make her election in 2016 all but inevitable.

Perhaps the most obvious challenge that Secretary Clinton faces in the upcoming election is her age. If elected, she will be 69 at the time of her inauguration, making her the second-oldest American president elected to a first term, trailing Ronald Reagan by only eight months. This age factor could concern many Americans worried about the physical and mental health of their president. Considering the theory espoused by many, including his own son, that Reagan developed the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease while in office, Clinton’s age, and effectively her health, could allow many voters to develop valid reservations about voting for the woman who could become the second-oldest president in American history.

Racial issues, particularly pertaining to Latino Americans, could also put Clinton at a disadvantage when compared to many of her likely challengers. As Latinos make up an increasingly larger proportion of American demographics, Democrats and Republicans alike have worked to secure their votes. Out of the three Republican candidates who have already formally announced their candidacy for president in the 2016 election, two of them, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, are Cuban-American. A third probable candidate who has not formally announced yet, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is also the younger brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, may not be Latino. However, Bush’s wife is Mexican and he is fluent in Spanish. If the GOP nominates Cruz, Rubio, or Bush, it could potentially pose a challenge for Clinton in courting the Latino vote.

Secretary Clinton’s political track record, if properly used against her, could also serve to undermine her presidential campaign. An unpopular First Lady during the presidency of her husband, the highly popular Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton was elected to represent New York in the Senate in 2000. Her election was not so much driven by merit and popularity as much as it was by nepotism and the fact that she faced a weak Republican challenger, former Congressman Rick Lazio, in a predominantly Democratic state. Clinton’s Senate career was, while not horrible, unremarkable at best. Perhaps the best-known vote of her legislative career was in favor of allowing then-President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, an invasion that led to a costly war, the destabilization of the Middle East, the empowerment of Iran, and even the rise of ISIL.

As Secretary of State during President Barack Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton was much more competent than as a senator, but was by no means perfect. She deserves credit for such accomplishments as restoring the United States’s soft power in the world, overseeing the Obama Administration’s “pivot to Asia,” improving relations with Burma, and promoting detente with Iran earlier than many other Obama administration officials. Despite these successes, her record is tainted by her (mis)handling of the Arab Spring, her support for the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, which would drive the country into chaos, and her underestimation of the quantity and power of militant Islamists following the civil war, which would lead to the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, the first such instance of an American ambassador killed at the hands of  an enemy force since 1979.  Clinton’s mixed track record, particularly in regards to foreign policy, could (and likely will) be used against her as she seeks to return to the White House.

Clinton’s integrity could become yet another issue as she runs for president. According to a 2010 Siena College poll of US presidential historians ranking each one from George Washington through Barack Obama, her husband, Bill Clinton, was, with the exceptions of Warren Harding and Richard Nixon, the most corrupt president the United States ever had. This is not without surprise, as numerous controversies took place under his presidency, including the Whitewater Affair and a number of sex scandals, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal which would lead to his impeachment, making him only the second American president to have such a spot on his resume. While Hillary Clinton is not her husband, the recent allegations of her deliberately deleting emails from a personal address as Secretary of State, allegations which a slight majority of Americans believe to be true, could be the first in a series of scandals that Secretary Clinton could have to address as both a candidate and potentially as a president.

Ultimately, Clinton’s biggest challenge to winning the presidential election might not come from the Republican party, but from her fellow Democrats. Despite being the preferred choice for the nomination among most Democrats, her party base has become increasingly less energized about her candidacy. Reasons for this disenchantment include her hawkish views on foreign policy, perceptions that she is not liberal enough, and the fact that a Clinton victory in 2016 would mean that the White House, with the exception of Barack Obama, would consistently be held by members of the same two families for every year since 1989. When one considers that Democrats are more likely to skip the polls and/or vote for third-party candidates than their Republican counterparts, it seems inevitable that Republican voters will more consistently support the candidate their party nominates, even if said candidate does not energize the base, than Democrats will with Clinton.

Although the electoral landscape looks disadvantageous for the Republican Party and Hillary Clinton seems to be President Obama’s probable successor, the election is still over a year away. Even if it is an uphill slope for the Republicans to take back the White House in 2016, they still have a substantial amount of ammo, including but not limited to the above examples, to use against Clinton.


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