Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Why We Care About Some Brown People but not Others

I just don't get why we get emotionally (often = $ (units aid)) involved in some natural disasters and not others. In the last year alone 20,000 people were killed in Iran and 10,000 killed in Venezuela (not to mention this one). Why is there such attention to the tsunami? Is it because the death toll is four times higher than a large disaster? Is it because it was an inter-continental disaster? Is it because people are in the mood to care? It is really funny that one day the Media tells us "20,000 people died today, don't get too worked up" and then some time later they say "40,000 people died, you don't care? What are you, some kind of monster?"
Obviously no one says this explicitly, but it is implicit. It is primarily told by how many days running stories are carried. Stories that are only told for one day are the "shock and forget" kind, whereas the week long ones are the "shock and care" kind. So when the tsunami hit I expected a "shock and forget" story (initial reports were only of 2,100 dead- NYT) but it was in fact a "shock and care" story. I now have to reorient my whole emotional approach (not to mention how I discuss the topic). Whose editorial job is it to tell me when I should care?!!!
(I should have personalized the title- but I can't take that much responsibility for myself)

Yussef Massad

While bored at the library this morning I found my way onto jpost (which I try to avoid) because my boss supposedly had an article there, but he didn't. So I clicked on the story of anti-Israel and Columbia and I remembered that the dude who is getting all the flack spoke erev-Shavuot my first year. He was really asinine, as I recall and claimed that Jews all descended from the Kazzars (thus we have no claim to Palestine, etc).
Not the point, really. So I went to his website and he has a long-winded apology exclaiming how he is really a good guy. Here is my favorite excerpt:

As for Noah Liben, who appears in the film according to newspaper accounts (I have not seen the film), he was indeed a student in my Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course in the spring of 2001...He asked me if I understood his point. I informed him that I did not. Noah seems not to have done his reading during the week on gender and Zionism. One of the assigned readings by Israeli scholar and feminist Simona Sharoni spoke of how in Hebrew the word “zayin” means both penis and weapon in a discussion of Israeli militarized masculinity. Noah, seemingly not having read the assigned material, mistook the pronunciation of "zayi" as "Zion" pronounced in Hebrew "tziyon."
Indeed, he would write me E-mails, even after he stopped being my student, to argue with me about Israel. I have kept our correspondence. On March 10, 2002, a year after he took a class with me, Noah wrote me an E-mail chastising me for having invited an Israeli speaker to class the year before when he was in attendance. It turned out that Noah’s memory failed him again, as he mistook the speaker I had invited for another Israeli scholar. After a long diatribe, Noah excoriated me: "How can you bring such a phony to speak to your class??"

Oren, can you imagine being berated after three years for not having done the reading one day! Talk about a tape-recorder memory, Massad remembers everything. Reading this I thought of a debate between a supremely articulate Side-Show Bob and the more urbane Krusty the Clown. How can you juxtapose the word "excoriated" with "phony"? I find it funny more than anything else.
For the whole apology go here
Batya taught me that I do not need titles for my post. I am fully aware that the Matriarchs watch over me.
It looks like Site Meter has recorded 1000 hits. As Maxim pointed out, many of them are mine (he said that they are all mine, which is only close to true) but still it is a warm feeling. So thanks to those who click on this thing who are not me.
Maxim got the latest issue of Notices last week, and there was one article I am still going through. It is about diffeomorphic spaces in R5 and their folding tendencies... er no.
It is actually a list of the canonical math jokes in the business, of which I heard half from Yehuda already. The link is here, and I recommend all ya'll print yourself out a copy and have a good laugh (I only get a few at best, but at least they are funny- to my head).
Here are my favorite:
Q: What’s purple and commutes?
A: An abelian grape. (Yehuda's favorite)

Q: What do you call a young eigensheep?
A: A lamb, duh! (I actually get that one- how sad)

Q:What do you get when you cross a mountain goat and a mountain climber?
A: Nothing—you can’t cross two scalars. (or any variation thereof)

How to prove it. Guide for lecturers.

Proof by vigorous handwaving: Works well in a classroom or seminar setting.
Proof by forward reference: Reference is usually to a forthcoming paper of the author, which is often not as forthcoming as at first.
Proof by example: The author gives only the case n=2and suggests that it contains most of the ideas of the general proof.
Proof by deferral: “We’ll prove this later in the course.”
Proof by reference to inaccessible literature: The author cites a simple corollary of a theorem to be found in a privately circulated memoir of the Slovenian Philological Society, 1883.
Proof by importance: A large body of useful consequences all follow from the proposition in question.
Proof by accumulated evidence: Long and diligent search has not revealed a counterexample.
Proof by cosmology: The negation of the proposition is unimaginable or meaningless. Popular for proofs of the existence of God.
-And my favorite-
Proof by intimidation: “Trivial.” (Thank's Ilya)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Best People Ever

On the list of "Best People Ever" MK Rav Melchior scores very high. This is why...
Although I do not agree with his economic policy (socialism does not lead to productivity or a more even distribution of wealth) he is more articulate than any I know, wrt the religious/political divide (certainly in English).
I have also added a link, at the behest of Chaim Neria to Maariv/NRG Yahadut section. He claims that the talkback section (as well as the articles themselves) are proof of the diversity within the Dat-Leumi community- which otherwise goes unrecognized. I remain skeptical.
I composed a long rant about the Orange Badges worn in Gaza by stupid mitnachlim, but the post was erased. The long and the short of it was: stop Chomsky-izing the Holocaust! Needless to say these antics do not give me cause to reinvigorate my admiration of the above mentioned D.L. community.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


For those interested in calling Israel: there is a new internet service called skype ( which allows you to make computer to computer calls all over the world for free. I use this service often and can tell you that the quality is better than any phone connection I've had yet with the States. Download it and call me up. My Skype name is yshalper.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Palestinians Complain of "Two Palestines"

JERICHO, West Bank, Dec. 23 - Palestinians in 26 West Bank towns and villages voted Thursday in orderly municipal elections, the first since 1976 and a prelude to a presidential vote in just over two weeks.
The turnout was large and the voting went smoothly, with no major glitches or security problems reported.
The Fatah movement, founded by Yasir Arafat and the dominant force in Palestinian politics for decades, was expected to make the strongest showing. However, it faces a challenge from Hamas, the militant Islamic group, which is taking part in elections for the first time.
Hamas made a strong showing in local Palestinian elections in 26 communities across the West Bank on Thursday, according to preliminary elections results. Official results will be announced Saturday night.
This is the first time the Islamic faction has competed in the polls.
Some 150,000 eligible voters choose among more than 800 candidates in the election. Sixteen percent of the 360 local council seats were reserved for women.
According to the preliminary results, the ruling Fatah movement won a majority in 14 towns, while Hamas took control in nine communities. In two, a joint Hamas-Fatah slate won. The outcome of the vote in one community, Ya'bed, was not immediately available.
However, Hamas officials said they had won a majority in at least 17 local councils, based on reports from their election observers.
Many Palestinian analysts see this divide as a possible rift in Palestinian society. "What you are seeing here is not a mere political swing, but a deep ideological divide." said Rahim Sajib, a senior political analyst from the Center for Arab Studies. "The two parties stand for polar ideologies... This is in effect, a fundamental socio-political split."
Many locals also complain of the fierce rivalries between the two groups. "Its like there are the red towns and the blue ones." Says local olive grower Mahmud Abu Zuhri. "If Hamas continues to win these elections, I am thinking about returning to Jordan!"
While many others feel that this sentiment is rash, Hamas does explain that they are serious about their agenda. "We are a religio-political party, we won't make any bones about that." Salim Id, Hamas spokesman says "We believe in Islamic and family values and we will not let these secular jahiliah strong arm local politics and morals."
While Fatah struggles to maintain a majority under Hamas pressure, they are also considering changing their message. With an aging leader and liberal values, many in the Fatah party question their ability to compete in 2008. "Maybe these Muhamed-freaks have something going?" queries a senior Fatah spokesman. "We might need to abandon some of our more liberal policies to conform to a increasingly conservative nation. The important thing is not to alienate voters. If they want to see the destruction of Israel, who are we to stand in their way?"

(I borrowed text from here and here)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

כתיבת בני אדם

This week I went to a conference on the Rambam held at the National Library in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, most of the lectures that I heard involved discussions of Arabic linguistics and the inadequacy of Hebrew translations. I should also mention that people were quoting the Rambam in Arabic without bothering to translate and Rambam's Arabic is well beyond my capacity to understand. What I was able to understand was an interesting powerpoint presentation of how the National Library digitally copied all of the Rambam manuscripts in their possession and published them online. This collection is very good and the copies are very good and can be enlarged easily.

Lest one should infer from this that the National Library is very high tech and resourceful, I will say explicitly that it is not. For one thing, not all the books are on the computer catalogue -- for many of them one still needs to use paper library catalogue cards. Also, not only do normal people (including students and professors) not have access to the stacks, we cannot check books out from the library. That means that we either have to read the books in the library or photocopy the books, in violation of international copyright laws.

But, you ask, isn't there is a library just for the University on Mount Scopus? Yes and it even bears a structural resemblance to the Reg. Imagine the Reg. Now imagine that it had only five floors. Now imagine that one of those five floors was a copy room / bomb shelter and another was wasted on administrative offices and study spaces in which people are allowed to talk. That leaves us three floors of books. Now imagine that there were no stacks, i.e., three floors of reading rooms. Now imagine that more than half of the books in those reading rooms has an attempted translation into Hebrew written in between or on the lines of the text itself. What you are imagining is our university library.

Nonetheless, people do seem to be doing a lot of interesting work here. My own classes are exciting and I seem to have found a new direction for my own thinking which seems to include some Jewish thinkers as well.

Seasons Greetings, folks

So, what's new in my life?
1) My apartment was painted, it looks hot
2) I love my cornet
3) My friends are the best people over, they all come visit me.
4) I finally have a chavrusa, and
5) it's really really cold.

On that note, here is my second favorite cummings poem:

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who,his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
yes humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and(by octobering flame
beckoned)as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that's bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit,all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
--i say though hate were why men breathe--
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

If you can guess my favorite, you get a dollar. Happy birthday to all, and spread some love.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

That Which Really Ties the Room Together Posted by Hello

That Which Really Ties the Room Together

Due to the trend Oren has started on reporting domestic affairs, I have decided to report on my own neat new acquisition: a rug. It must be said that it ties the room together, but I think in this case it really does. Now the only thing we need is a couch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I am away from the office

I am on "vacation" for the week and won't blog. If anyone is wondering why I am not updating.
Querry: In the song "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" there is a line:

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

Isn't the whole point that you are being good so Santa will shower you with riches? What is this "goodness sake" nonsense?
Happy Eighth day!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Dimebag Darrell ז"ל

"Indeed, Abbott's playing was powerful, innovative and unpredictable. He was equally capable of churning out crunching, staccato riffs as ominous textural arpeggios, and while he was metal to the core, his Texas roots and love for ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd gave his playing a southern swing that, in the early years of Pantera's success, was dubbed "power-groove." In addition, Abbott flavored his songs with squealing harmonics and tuneful lead licks that became an integral part of his rhythms. However, he may be best known for his searing, virtuosic leads, which were filled with lightning-fast runs that cascaded from his amplifiers like torrential rain." - MTV News
They use the word "arpeggio" in the same article as Dimebag Darrell. This could only be a eulogy. Dimebag, we will miss you.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Man, what a great night.

As Tziona says:
"you guys- you have no idea
hashem is just the best!!!
(trust me on this one)
and that's all i have to say for now."

Chag sameach.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

UofCers Dream Come True

I found this out from Crooked Timber, but Judge Posner and Gary Becker have a new blog(???!) It is like having a doughnut with doughnut filling, or something. Although CT does seem to believe that it is a hoax. You can tell that they really want it to be bona fide though... Will thinks that it is kosher for the time being (as Posner has been known to guest blog before). And this does certainly gives credibility to it:
We wish in closing this brief introduction to our blog to thank Lawrence Lessig, Jacob Wachman, and Matthew Haughey for their valuable assistance in setting up the blog.
And Lessig has apparently seen the blog, and not called out. In any case it is definitely a good read for the time being. I am currently writing a paper for "Democracy and National Security", so I was happy to see Posner & Becker's post on preventive war.
I fixed the Crooked Timber link and got the correct link for IMRA (which I really recommend). And as far is links go, here is the latest paper put out by the World Bank on Disengagement (if you like staying in the loop).

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Let's talk about me, a little bit.

Some random stuff from my life:

Sunday. My roomate and I decide to spruce up the old homestead, and so we split ways; he heads off to Bed Bath & Beyond, and ends up getting some very nice chairs, a funky paper floor lamp (very cool, his remark was "it's trendy, right?"). He also picked up a lot of CRAZY stuff from his grandmother's place... we now have an incredibly imposing picture of his greatgrandfather, the Iluy of Maichat, hanging in our living room, overlooking every meal. He's got a big beard and peircing eyes; it's like having Mesilas Yesharim hanging on your wall.

He also got a lot of really fancy serving dishes and stuff; things that no one under 80 can serve on, except, of course, for us - there's this one silver pitcher which has GARGOYLE legs which looks awesome, you really have to see it, it's outrageous. Anyway, the same day, I drove a lot; went to fair lawn to get a car, then to Elizabth NJ to get to Ikea (more on this later), then back to the heights, and then back to fair lawn to drop off the car. I got a nice dining room table and a lounging chair.

I then spent basically the whole week at home building ikea furniture. For those not in the know, I am in love with Ikea; and building the stuff is a lot of fun - this week I've built the dining room table, one bookshelf, one lounge chair and footstool, and doors for two other bookshelves I'd already built. All in all, about 6 hours of work. Now I get to fill my bookshelves. And have people over for shabbos. And the place looks really cool too, much better than it used to.

Friday I was able to leave work with just enough time to make a chulent; we went out for dinner but had 9 people over for lunch. It was great, I had really missed making big meals. The people were a lot of fun; there was a good mix of ages and personalities, and a good time was had by all. We will have leftover food for a while.

And now, some e.e. cummings: "Humanity i love you"

Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both

parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard

Humanity i love you because
when you're hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you're flush pride keeps

you from the pawn shops and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down

on it
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
of death Humanity

i hate you

Once again, have a good week everybody, and send some love (and to zev too.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

לשון בני אדם

So I was learning 1:12 הלכות יסודי התורה with Jose this morning and I was wondering why the Rambam invokes לשון בני אדם here. He could have said that the Torah is written in homily, or it is דרך סוד, but instead he uses this funny phrase, the "language of man". Jose and I came up with two explanations (although I don't think the Rambam would like either one, necessarily).
1. We, as people, are somehow fundimentally bound by language (see PI), all the concepts which we are given are restricted by the words we have to talk about them. The Author realizes that man is limitted and thus using phrases like "zroah netuya" are equivelent to something like "in an awesome manner". The same way "low table with a back" and "things that holds you when you are squatting" might be the same for someone who lives in a universe w/o chairs, they are both equadistantly wrong from the right formulation. (I am not happy with this example, I will try and fix it later)
2. Merely by talking about a chair in a universe without chairs you are already uttering blasphemy, so you might as well write in a form that the audience can understand. (As there is no formlessness that we are familiar with that is of the same kind of formlessness of G-d) Thus the chumash embrases a humanized prose in order to make it a work for humanity (eg the argument between Moshe and the Malachachim wrt for whom the Torah was written)
In any event there has to be understood that there is a qualitative difference between לשון בני אדם and the True לשון. That is only one of the many paradoxes about "scripture" (ie תורה שבכתב)
I am still left feeling empty because I don't think that the Rambam would buy either of these two answers. Maybe they are really one answer. Oh well.

Pub Night

For all those wondering (i.e. me) why we got a funky molecule on our Class of 2005 Pub Night glasses it is for this reason:
Glucose (C6H12O6) is the main sugar that will be converted to alcohol. Many reactions take place inside the yeast that ultimately convert each glucose molecule into two molecules of ethyl alcohol (CH3CH2OH) and two molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2).

C6H12O6 => 2(CH3CH2OH) + 2(CO2) [this equation is written in tiny letters on the side of the glass]

Very funny.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Storm's a Brewin'

My dad currently stands with 10 points.
I have a question: Why do all the normative critics decry Bush for hegemonic practices when it was the former Pres. Clinton whom terrorists seem to have responded to? (1993, McVeigh, and 2001- preceeded by various fatwas in the '90) It seems that Clinton's more open and normative policies only prevoked terror. Thus giving the Bush administration the easy retort, "Well that obviously did not work, so..."
I apologize to all of you who figured this out years ago- I just had the lightbulb go off today in class.