Thursday, March 31, 2005

Humor and Faerie

Some other business to attend to first. Alan sent me this link and it made my otherwise miserable (no food at Bartlett, no deposit envelopes at the ATM, debit card bounced to buy text books, missed bus, got sopping wet, paid too much for dinner- $1.50 for two nature valley peanut butter granola bars and a cup of tap water) day much better. Classic Israeli screwball comedy.

I went in to speak to a certain Israeli professor yesterday about taking his class. "Too many people, I just can't do it." he insisted "I have eleven students, and I am leaving early, how can I give attention to all of them?" Despite impossible odds, there was still hope "Ok, I'll tell you what, I will stay after class with you lehashlim what you missed." (as I can't make the first part of class because of PE)
Rule #1 about old people: They want you to know how much work they put in. They are not faulting you, they love you, but they want you to know that they have to work. I always misunderstood my aunts lists of preparations as a guilt trip until I realized that she just wants me to know that she really cares. It explains so much. P.S. He sends DaSh to Tiki.

As a graduating senior it is my right to take a cool class. Luckily Prof. Fulton and Pick are teaching the Medieval Myth of Tolkein. I have been struggling to understand why it is that I don't like Tolkein that much. He is good, but not an author I rave about. I finally stumbled on the reason, he is not funny. Well there are funny parts (few though) but he essentially sees his writing of Faerie stories (enchanted myth type things) as necessarily serious, because he reasons that if they are made light of than it is impossible to really accept the secondary reality (he writes as much in the Tolkein Reader "On Faerie Stories"). Where as The Princess Bride, a work I will rant about at length, it essentially a satire, which is so moving that it also works as myth/enchantment story (not Faerie per se).
I am really looking forward to this class (at the moment) because I think it will help me ponder my two favorite questions right now: Stories and Humor. I think both are really important, but I don't know why yet. I have more to say on the matter, but I adjourn here for now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

With all due credit to will baude

mr youse needn't be so spry
concernin questions arty

each has his tastes but as for i
i likes a certain party

gimme the he-man's solid bliss
for youse ideas i'll match youse

a pretty girl who naked is
is worth a million statues
-- e e cummings

Million Hour Movie

'Croesus asked who [Solon] thought was [the second happiest person], fully expecting to win second prize. Solon answered, “Cleobis and Biton. They were of Argive stock, had enough to live on, and on top of this had great bodily strength. Both had won prizes in the athletic contests, and this story is told about them: there was a festival of Hera in Argos, and their mother absolutely had to be conveyed to the temple by a team of oxen. But their oxen had not come back from the fields in time, so the youths took the yoke upon their own shoulders under constraint of time. They drew the wagon, with their mother riding atop it, traveling five miles until they arrived at the temple. When they had done this and had been seen by the entire gathering, their lives came to an excellent end, and in their case the god made clear that for human beings it is a better thing to die than to live. The Argive men stood around the youths and congratulated them on their strength; the Argive women congratulated their mother for having borne such children. She was overjoyed at the feat and at the praise, so she stood before the image and prayed that the goddess might grant the best thing for man to her children Cleobis and Biton, who had given great honor to the goddess. After this prayer they sacrificed and feasted. The youths then lay down in the temple and went to sleep and never rose again; death held them there. The Argives made and dedicated at Delphi statues of them as being the best of men.”'
-- Herodotus, Histories

Monday, March 28, 2005


Last quarter. I am so not ready for this...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

חג שמח

Happy Purim Everybody.

I'm writing after a spirited megillah reading in Jerusalem. Although the mention of Haman's name was boo-ed quite often, the most spirited boo-ing came after the following verse:
וישם המלך אחשורש מס על-הארץ ואיי הים

Also heard an interesting bit of Purim Torah. As I'm sure y'all all know, the Torah was written originally without sentence stops and without breaks between the words (much like the ancient Greek and Phoenician forms of writing). Thus the Beginning could be read as follows:
בראשית ברא אל הים את השמים ואת הארץ. . . . ורוח אל הים מרחפת על פני המים

(This reading explains the singular verb.)

Regards to everyone and a Happy Purim to all.


I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who lives in the not-so-safe part of Yehuda/West Bank. If he is right about the violence that will ensue following disengagement, I will need severe therapy. How can I be affiliated with the dati-leumi (National Religious) movement after a (potential) stunt like this? They think they are on some mission of Biblical importance. Are they nuts?!!! This rhetoric is insane but these people don't seem to understand that this is considered psychotic in other parts of the world. Like Jose's story of Mitnachlim who shoot arabs and then go to frum-lesbian weddings. WTF?! How do these people get social issues so well, and completely lose political ones???

I am also torn as I realize that reports like this in Arutz Sheva are completely accurate, Israeli police hate Arabs and Settlers-- this is known-- and on the one hand violent police officers is not ok, on the other, neither is planning violent counter insurgence to government operations. It's the B rate ideologues that scare me.

Oh, and apparently my friend is teaching a noncredited course at Bar-Ilan in political philosophy to MA students. Avenu shebashamaim...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Why the Hell not?

Reading Jpost's article on orthodox-frum-women-(albino-eskimo-midget)-rabbis (ok the middle stuff came from a weird song I happened to shuffle past last night) I think to myself, why the Hell not? I understand not inventing legal categories that have never existed before, like letting women count in a minyan, which is even a shaky idea when it is considered in the mishna (and they were pretty liberal back then- hell, they even wanted women to learn torah [Sotah 20.]). Everyone concedes, however, that smicha died a very long time ago (except for maybe the GRA) so that our modern rabbinate is just a synthetic artifice, the same way the DMV is (i.e. it exists for our convenience). That being said, I do not see why women should not be afforded the same opportunities as men*.

I think we can then map this debate on the Andrew Sullivan/Michael Warner homosexual marriage debate. Sullivan would say that we (women) want the same rights and opportunities as plain folk, while Warner would argue that we should not be trying to bolster the current power hierarchy. Oh, and Jerry Falwell would say that they are all damned to hell anyhow, so why should we care**.

Oh, and go check out Volokh.

* I do think that feminism in orthodox is an uber-boring topic of conversation, however, that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be blogged about on (very) rare occasions.
** He would probably give the "women should serve their husbands in the home" line from Ephisians 5:22, but I wanted to continue with the Hell theme of the post.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


The West Coast is a good place for Abe.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Darth RAL

[As I have the utmost respect for HaRav Lichtenstein, I would never offer any words that might belittle or insult him]

R. Aaron sent the Gush alumni an email *inviting* us to the annual Gush dinner where this year, R. Amital will be honored. Unfortunately R. Aaron's prose comes accross as a tad combersome and at one point I could not help imagining the lines coming out of R. Aaron with a Darth Vader mask*.
I trust you will avail yourself of this opportunity by joining the Har Etzion community at the dinner
Admiral Piet.

* As R. Aaron is a large man with huge hands, thus it is not a difficult picture to construe.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Unwearable Brightness of Seeing

I finished "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" last night, between 11:59 and 12:00.

Good book.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Could Bush actually have done something (or possibly many things) right?! (and more importantly, could the NYT be recognizing it!?)
At the very least, Mr. Bush is feeling the glow of the recent flurry of impulses toward democracy in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where events have put him on a bit of a roll and some of his sharpest critics on the defensive. It now seems just possible that Mr. Bush and aides like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz were not wrong to argue that the "status quo of despotism cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or cut off," as the president put it in a speech at the National Defense University here.
"For Bush, a Taste of Vindication in Mideast", By TODD S. PURDUM, NYT, 3/9/05

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


a map of Mexico city, two hundred years ago
how holy the correlation
pensive pynchon
penny pinching pensions
chinese chicken, alabaster sauce
the cost of daily exercise and
long, sweet beautiful

ANTH 21690

"Patriarchy as Anthropology in the Urban Sphere"
taught by Willowby Dabdul III
visiting professor from Kyle U.
Spring Quarter 2005

textbooks: "The Art of Mackin'" by Tariq "K-Flex" Najif
selections: Chpt. 4, The Cultural Anthropology of a Chickenhead: a Critical Schematic

Pooh on Politics

Oh Bother.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

How Many U of C Students...

does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. Shhh! We're trying to study!

Last night at 10:36 the lights in the Reg went off for a good ten minutes and no one budged. Everyone insisted on working by the light of their laptops and that was that. A true UofC moment.

Another good story: My prospie this week told me that his dad was being mugged during exam week in Hyde Park. He informed the mugger, "I don't have time for this!" and went on his way.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Roper v. Simmons

Thank God the court finally struck this down (although 5-4 is far closer than I would have liked). I don't see how this was not obvious, esp. in light of Daryl Renard Atkins v. Virginia. I want to read the decision and post more later.

A little while later:
Intuitively Justice Kennedy's argument just makes sense to me.
The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest. (p. 20)

And really all of (b)(2) on p. 1-2 of the synopsis.
I realize that while I feel very passionately about the matter, I am not a jurist and trained mainly in philosophy, theology and ethics. Thus most of the arguments that I can bring are not from the realm of the legal (re: relevant) but the philosophical/political. Oh well. For now best-of clips:
It has been noted that “adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior.” Arnett, Reckless Behavior in Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 Developmental Review 339 (1992). In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. (p. 15)

As for retribution, we remarked in Atkins that “[i]f the culpability of the average murderer is insufficient to justify the most extreme sanction available to the State, the lesser culpability of the mentally retarded offender surely does not merit that form of retribution.” 536 U. S., at 319. The same conclusions follow from the lesser culpability of the juvenile offender. (p.17)

Respondent and his amici have submitted, and petitioner does not contest, that only seven countries other than the United States have executed juvenile offenders since 1990: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria,the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China. Since then each of these countries has either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice. (p.23)

JUSTICE O’CONNOR, dissenting: The Court’s decision today establishes a categorical rule forbidding the execution of any offender for any crime committed before his 18th birthday, no matter how deliberate, wanton, or cruel the offense. (p.1)

Indeed, the age-based line drawn by the Court is indefensibly arbitrary—it quite likely will protect a number of offenders who are mature enough to deserve the death penalty and may well leave vulnerable many who are not. (p.16)

Accordingly, for purposes of our decision in Atkins, the mentally retarded are not merely less blameworthy for their misconduct or less likely to be deterred by the death penalty than others. Rather, a mentally retarded offender is one whose demonstrated impairments make it so highly unlikely that he is culpable enough to deserve the death penalty or that he could have been deterred by the threat of death, that execution is not a defensible punishment. There is no such inherent or accurate fit between an offender’s chronological age and the personal limitations which the Court believes make capital punishment excessive for 17-year-old murderers. (p.16)

Justice Scalia dissenting: What a mockery today’s opinion makes of Hamilton’s expectation, announcing the Court’s conclusion that the meaning of our Constitution has changed over the past 15 years—not, mind you, that this Court’s decision 15 years ago was wrong, but that the Constitution has changed. The Court reaches this implausible result by purporting to advert, not to the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment, but to “the evolving standards of decency,” ante, at 6 (internal quotation marks omitted), of our national society. (p.1)

Even laterer:

1. Upon rethinking I realize that Atkins is not a fortiori to Roper, but yes, I am against the death penalty. Hobbes defines cruelty in De Cive as that which looks back and not forward. It seems to me that the death penalty punishes the criminal based on the heinousness of their action and not to protect society from that person, or allow the criminal to reform. That being said, my opinion is irrelevant because our Supreme Court does not believe the death penalty to be either cruel or unusual.

2. Listening to Jacob's good advice I read Scalia's dissent of Atkins v. Virginia. Scalia, per usual, shows why he is brilliant and explains that and "evolving standard of decency" is not the best of arguments to make. He then examines the objective evidence for the evolving standards, which are tenuous. To that end I agree with Mr. Thunder that looking for national consensus is not the best idea. That is to say looking at the various states of the Union and how they legislate does not strike me as the best way of determining standards, the purpose of having states rights is not to enforce uniformity. Just because 26 states do not have the death penalty does not mean that we ought to coerce the remaining 24. To that end I am more comfortable with looking at the rest of the world for these standards of decency. As a matter of policy I do not think it wise to attempt to achieve moral parity with the EU, but the fact that the only countries to have executed minors since 1990 were Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria,the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China does make it seem a little laughable that we would attempt to do so.

3. Trying minors as adults has always baffled me. How can you call an apple a pear, when it is in fact a pear? Assuming that minors are held to a lighter standard of the law, the harshest punishments should be reserved for only those who possess full status under the law. Echoing Justice Kennedy, minors do not have the right (re: competence) to sign contracts or vote. This is a categorical (arbitrary) rule whereby one who is born one day earlier may vote, while another, born later, may not. Once we hold that minors lack this competence, they should lack it in all domains of the law.

It fundamentally bothers me that some reason that if a child commits a calculated crime, it must mean that he has a calculating sense of moral reasoning. Computers can calculate, but they cannot be tried for murder. Children can be very smart, but not wise; wisdom can only come with age. It is the wisdom that allows us to understand the consequences of our actions. While 18 does seem arbitrary, we assign arbitrary standards all the time to proclaim when and where responsibilities fall. It is impossible to believe that kids (yes 17 years olds are still kids- have you seen the prospies?) can understand the full moral implication of their actions. Like the story of Cain and Abel, Cain understood what killing was, but he did not yet understand murder.

I apologize to all the legal feet I have just trampled on.