Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You'd Think Mortgage Lenders Would Have Learned By Now

Considering all the recent gloomy financial news about the housing market, mortgage defaults and foreclosures you'd think that mortgage companies would insist on making loans that were safer and more secure. Apparently not,. For the second time in the last few weeks I received a post card offering me 100% financing and no money down on homes in my area. Considering that housing prices here are in decline and are projected to continue to decline such a mortgage is almost guaranteed to become "upside down", meaning it will be for more than the property is worth in a short time. That's part of the recipe that brought us all the foreclosures we've seen to date. It's madness.

At least Senator Obama's six point plan to deal with the economic crisis calls for more regulation. This is consistent with his views in his four years in the Senate. John McCain, on the other hand, is now a born-again regulator. For years as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, he was a champion of deregulation. We've seen how well that deregulation works. McCain is part of the problem and is one of the causes of the current crisis. I don't trust him to fix anything. At least with Obama there is a chance for reregulation since that change is consistent with his beliefs and his record.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Religious Argument For Being Pro-Choice

I originally posted the piece below in the first incarnation of this blog on February 27, 2006. With Republican Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates who are strongly anti-choice I felt it was time to post this again. The anti-abortion position is always portrayed by the right as somehow the correct moral choice and the position that anyone who believes in G-d must take. It just isn't true and even Christianity is hardly unified on the issue of abortion.

Anyway, here is what I wrote. It seems particularly timely in this election season when faith and politics are mixed all too often:


When the anti-abortion crowd states unequivocally that abortion is murder they are voicing a belief based on fundamentalist Christian interpretation of scripture. It certainly isn't based on science or medicine which would argue that you have a child at some point in the pregnancy when the fetus is viable and can live outside the mothers womb. Nobody would argue based on science that a newly fertilized egg is a distinct individual. To make that argument one must turn to religion.

Similarly, based on my Jewish religious tradition and a mainstream (Conservative or modern Orthodox) interpretation of scripture I could argue unequivocally that life begins at birth, not before, and abortion is never tantamount to taking a life.

Yes, I know conservative Christians use some of what they call Old Testament scripture to justify their position. The problem with this is that from a Jewish perspective Christians reorder the Tanakh (Bible), mixing up Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). They also weigh the whole Tanakh equally while Jews give greater weight to the Torah (Law), or the five books of Moses. So, then... what does the Torah have to say about abortion? Quite a lot, actually.

Let me quote Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, from his excellent book The Ten Commandments of Character, which I highly recommend:
"My view is shaped by Jewish tradition, which, while strongly limiting instances in which it regards abortion as permissible (e,g., when the mother's physical or mental well-being are imperiled), categorically rejects the notion of abortion as murder. The classic case in Jewish law is one discussed in the Torah. Exodus 21:22-23 rules that if two men are fighting and one murders the pregnant wife of the other, the killer is executed. But if instead of killing the wife, he wounds her and causes her pregnancy to be aborted, "the assailant shall be fined." As this passage makes clear, whatever value the fetus has, the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the Old Testament) doesn't grant the status of human life. If it did the punishment for killing the fetus wouldn't be a monetary fine, but the same as that for killing the woman, i.e., death. Therefore, according to the Hebrew Bible, abortion is definitely not murder."
It should not be surprising that Israel, a Jewish nation in which Orthodox religious leaders have considerable sway, permits abortion on demand. Israel, unlike the United States, does not have separation of religion and state.

Abortion is a necessary evil. The choice must belong to the woman. One would hope she would consult with her doctor, her spiritual advisor (in a Jewish setting this would be a rabbi), and, if appropriate, the father. The state, though, has no right to interfere.

In a nation where one of it's chief founders, Thomas Jefferson, called for "a wall of separation between church and state" imposing a ban on abortion based on one religious belief, no matter how prevalent, is simply wrong. If polls are right a majority of Americans are pro-choice in any case, not that numbers should matter. I, as a member of a religious minority, do not want to see any one religion or set of beliefs given supremacy over all others. That issue goes far beyond abortion. Once that happens, once the United States starts moving towards theocracy, it would no longer be a country I could be comfortable living in. Banning abortion based on Christian religious belief is, indeed, theocratic.

I certainly don't want the state or someone else's religion making medical decisions which could have severe consequences for the woman involved for the rest of her life.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Tonight, on the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9-11-2001, MSNBC ran the NBC coverage of the events in real time beginning at 11 PM Eastern Time (US). It may still be running for all I know. I couldn't watch any more.

On the morning of 9-11-2001 I was in a Red Hat classroom at their old location in Durham taking a prep class for certification. Instead of learning the inner workings of Red Hat Linux we all ended up watching the events unfolding on TV. I remember watching the second plane crash into the tower, the buildings collapsing, and so on. Watching it again seven years later I ran through the whole gamut of emotions again: the horror, the sense of loss, and the overwhelming anger at those who did this.

In the past week we read and heard reports of a U.S. strike at a Taliban stronghold inside the South Waziristan region of Pakistan. The attack has drawn sharp criticism from the Pakistani government which has vowed to defend Pakistani sovereignty. Our so-called allies in France and Germany have also criticized the U.S. military action.

The Pakistanis, in promising to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country are, in effect, threatening to turn their arms on U.S. and NATO forces fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I seem to remember Senator Barack Obama warning during one of the Democratic primary debates that Pakistan would become a major problem for the U.S. He took some flack for his comments if I remember correctly. He seems prescient about now.

My feelings on this are clear. If the Pakistanis choose to harbor and even defend Taliban and al-Qaeda forces they are, in effect, changing sides in the war. They may find themselves at war with the United States. I, despite my normally left-leaning politics, am with the conservatives on this issue. That is one war I would wholeheartedly support. I also would not care one little bit if the French and Germans were upset about it.

Tonight's coverage of 9-11 was a stark reminder of why we are at war in that part of the world. More Americans were killed on that day than in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. My main criticism of the Bush administration actions is that they have not fully and forcefully prosecuted that war and brought it to a successful conclusion.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New Home For My Linux and General Computing Blog

O'Reilly Media has been reorganizing and restructuring their website recently. One of the net results is that my articles and blog posts on Linux, Open Source Software, and computing in general have been moved around a bit. I originally was writing for the old O'Reilly Linux Dev Center blog. Then it was O'Reilly News from June through September. Now it's O'Reilly Broadcast. You can also find all of my writing for O'Reilly, old and new, albeit listed in no particular order I can fathom, here. In addition, all my new writing for O'Reilly is available via atom feed.

Confused yet? Hopefully this is the last set of changes.

The simple version: new stuff here or by atom feed.