Tuesday, May 31, 2005

My God, Your God, Our God?

I have recently had the opportunity to take time to reflect on why God enjoys making me fret. I feel that every-so-often I, the good pious little Jew-boy that I am, am forced to come to grips with some element of my theology/practice that I really had intended to avoid. There are a bevy of theological issues to encounter, and well, I only choose to ponder those that I can solve. For some reason I find myself in situations which require me to ponder, very immediately, these other "dirty nasties" (as Dad would call them) that I would have preferred to skirt. Bekitzur, God has a sense of humor (echoed by Kevin Smith and Jose).

Tonight, I had the pleasure of dining at the Brackman's and listening to an Alum (turned Chabad) and his wife (also turned) talk about their religious experience. The wife spoke of being an executive with a record label, only to find that the Rebbe would show her a path away from her job and towards her beshert [husband]. (This happens bederech hateva [in the normal course of things], of course, when she does not get the promotion) I am not slighting her religious odyssey, but rather find myself puzzling over why some peoples journey takes them towards emunah [faith] and others away. Are we (ehm, I) just not looking for God? Does He play games (i.e. challenge us)? And on what grounds is this the same God? Obviously, as a monotheist, there is only one God, but what does that mean to say that our conceptions vary so distinctly?

Why would you want to be an academic?

I was speaking to an aspiring academic (AAA) a couple days ago and he was explaining (part of) why he wanted to be an academic. AAA felt that academics do not work very hard and have flexible schedules and were willing to earn less than similarly talented individuals because they just don't value money so much. I responded that he seriously underestimates how hard academics work and he ignores the long, difficult road to tenure and the downsides of limited choice as to where one will live. Further, I argued, if the tradeoff was merely between riches and few hours + flexibility, there are much better choices. The classic example is prostitution and the sex trade, but I also suggested beer vending. WARNING- TANGENT In Chicago there are two baseball teams, so you can work some 150 games for half the year at about $250 a game (a conservative estimate) and collect unemployment for the other half year. I remember how Rachel's younger brother Joe mocked his older siblings in the summer of 2001 for earning less than he did. Rachel had just graduated U of C and was working for Chicago Partners, an economic consulting firm, and her older brother David had just graduated from Harvard and was (and still is) working for the [Government Agency]. Joe was spending his summer vacation vending at the ballpark. TANGENT OVER The academic tradeoff, I suggested, was more about valuing status more than most people do than it was about valuing money less than most people do. This is one reason, I think, that women in academia are disproportionately feminist. Why do the aspiring academics among y'all want academia ? Beware, the rest of us might try and keep you honest.

. I implied that feminist women are more concerned with status than non-feminist women. Seeing as how I say that only based on my own thought and experience and not systematic research of any sort, I feel I should limit that suggestion to Orthodox feminist women, a group I at least have a little more knowledge of.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


We'll see how this one plays out, but the feared diplomatic 500 ton juggernaut, better known as the EU, about may be slowed indefinitely.

Friday, May 27, 2005

UofC Gossip

While I was over at the house of one UofC administrator, watching a slide show on Vienna, I learned some interesting tidbits:

1. Hutchins destroyed the University by building the RI with money from the Rockefeller endowment. This led to further dippings in to the account, which did not allow it to grow. Furthermore, the need to rehabilitate the neighborhood in the 50's sapped a lot of money that the University did not foresee. They got so depreate that they started admitting 15 years olds and giving BA's to 19 year olds in order to raise money from undergrad tuition. This then led to the utter devaluation of our undergraduate degree, to the point that no grad school would accept it. High-Schools were then withholding transcripts of bright high-school kids who wanted to apply here and enrollment dropped to below 1,500 for the entire college.
That's why Hutchins left, he was forced out by the board.

2. Admission is capped at 1,200 (per class) for the foreseeable future because the University cannot provide housing to more undergrads (and promises housing to all first years).

3. The new dorm is breaking ground June '06 and will be attempted to fit into the environment--no more orange brick. Hopefully something like the new GSB.

4. While the UofC does not look at the US News rankings they get a lot of angry calls from younger alums when our ranking drops. Make of that what you will

A Glimpse of Another Jerusalem

Yesterday, Sara and I went with a Druze friend of ours to Salah a'Din street in search of some Arabic literature. Sara and I have been to a number of small villages in the North of Israel in search of books, but I found my trip into East Jerusalem somewhat different. What struck me first was how nice East Jerusalem looked. Far from looking like a town under military lockdown, it had fancy stone paved streets and sidewalks (unlike the horrible asphalt sidewalks of West Jerusalem) and the buildings were all beautiful and in excellent condition. There was a lot of construction and the new buildings promised to add even more elegance to the neighborhood.

What I noticed next was how many Palestinian flags there were and how many signs and posters against Israel. The signs of Arab resistance to Israel were far more plentiful in East Jerusalem than in any Northern village we had been to. While we were there someone was shouting his support for the Al-Aksa Martyrs and we had to be careful to avoid speaking in Hebrew.

The bookstores were a great disappointment. Apparently, philosophy has gone out of style among the Arabs here and the closest thing we were able to find was a sort of encyclopedia of the important religious thinkers (which included no texts). While at the bookstores, I scouted out the collections of books in English. Since the Arabs of East Jerusalem have a lot of foreign visitors, they sell many books in English. I figured that these books may be able to give me an idea of how these Arab Jerusalemites wish themselves to be seen. The only book I saw on Palestinian culture was a short Palestinian cookbook. Every other English book was about the intifada or their suffering. I did not see a single book on architecture, art, music, etc.

On the whole I found the trip slightly nerve wracking and when I got home to my apartment (which is about five minutes away from Salah a'Din) I had a nice glass of Ouzo and returned to my study of epistemology.

Writing from Jerusalem,


I only dog paddle...

I am not quite swimming yet. I only dog paddle, as the great Andre the Giant was famed to say. I have handed in three (and a half) papers this week, and have recieved three final grades. To all those who think I no longer exist, I will exists again soon, I promise.

Great moment of ever. I get into Abe's office this morning: "I read your paper, it was good... ... ... I mean it wasn't perfect, there were errors..."
I have never been so excited for the period of three elipsies in my whole life. He actually had to pause before he said something negative. It made my ever.

Monday, May 23, 2005

At last...

After a long negotiations with 3w blogging management, I have received finally received blogging status. I'm not tenured, or so says Zev, but it's a start - perhaps akin to being a Harper fellow? I would say shechiyanu, but Jake Sasson would probably send me a nasty email in response to saying a bracha lebatala.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Silly Santorum

The day was filled with heated rhetoric. Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania compared the Democratic protests over GOP moves to have judicial nominees confirmed to Adolph Hitler's seizing of Paris in 1942 and then saying, "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city. It's mine."
("Senators seeking a deal on judicial filibusters" Houston Chronicle 5/20)

To my knowledge, there have been a couple of wars aside from WWII. It is generally considered tactful to make analogies to those conflicts and skirt mentions of Hitler. Its a slippery slope from that to bad manners.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Real Senate Majority Party and Judicial Confirmation

If the GOP received less votes for the Senate than the Democrats, why should they get to confirm judges ? Well, because that’s the way our government works, but the question can be pretty effective as a rejoinder to GOP democratic majoritarian arguments for confirming the filibustered nominees. I think though that it still fails even at that.

1. Not all Democratic Senators support the filibuster. It makes sense to count their vote tallies on the other side. The Democratic Senators Nelson of Florida and Nebraska voted for cloture last Congress and switching (or merely removing) their vote totals gives the majority to the anti-filibuster side (Democratic Senators Breaux and Miller also voted for cloture but have since retired) . It remains to be seen whether Senator Salazar will vote for cloture.

2. There is a reason this Democratic argument has been heard only recently even though the filibusters have been going on for quite a while. After the 2002 election, when the filibusters began, the total GOP Senate vote was greater than the total Democratic Senate vote by this measure. If this measure should determine whether these nominees should be approved, they should have already been approved.

3. The votes would probably have come out differently if total Senate votes by party were seen as significant. After all, in the more democratic House and Presidential elections, the GOP racked up a majority of votes. The Democrats racked up landslide Senate victories in New York, Illinois, and California where the GOP did not put up serious opposition. If both parties and voters had felt the Democratic margin of victory in those states important, the margin would probably have been similar to that in the Presidential race. Of course this sort of thing can operate the other way as well. It just didn’t in 2004 to the nearly the same degree.

4. Since Senate elections are staggered, those Senate elections that take place in Presidential election years would be disproportionately represented in this measure. Adjusting for this point, though, would only reduce the Democratic margin, not erase it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

How to accept a Fast

1. Kavana
2. Instert this somewhere in Shmone Essre:
הריני בתענית יחיד מחר. יהי רצון שתהא תפילתי ביום תענתי מקובלת
3. Instant Ta'anit!

Note: Rama says it is better to instert this after the Amida (as not to make a hefsek), but I remember being told to say it during Sh"E at Gush. One one of my friends forgot to insert this in his tefilah, R. Mordechi told him not to fast.
Supernote: Mishna Brura says on this in the Rama, "It's better after the tefilah: Like in the beginning of the section when is says: in "shomea tefilah" or "after he finishes his tefilah, etc." On this he [Rama] says it is better to add it in after the tefilah but before yehe ratzon."

שולחן ערוך תקסב:ו

Do you think?

I think mitzvot lo ta'ase need kavana. Not the שיכלי ones, but the chukim, like not shaving the corners of your face, or shatnez. If you just use a electric razor because your dad owns Norelco (or an equally silly reason), I bet you are not mekayem anything.

on Translation (short)

Brinker quoted Frost (or someone, I forget) today about poetry in translation. "Reading poetry in translation is like kissing a women through a vail. Someone else said it is like eating a potato without any salt."

Is kissing a women through a vail like eating a potato without salt? Apparently.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Burn him!

Ok, I do not always agree with A.O. Scott, but I often respect what he has to say. However, this time he has gone too far. I don't care how good this movie is, not even if Sir Alec Guinness came back from the dead to play Obi Wan himself would it be as good at A New Hope. What really aggravates me though is the de-mythologizing of the old movies.
Scott writes:
This is by far the best film in the more recent trilogy, and also the best of the four episodes Mr. Lucas has directed. That's right (and my inner 11-year-old shudders as I type this): it's better than "Star Wars."

"Revenge of the Sith," which had its premiere here yesterday at the Cannes International Film Festival, ranks with "The Empire Strikes Back" (directed by Irvin Kershner in 1980) as the richest and most challenging movie in the cycle. It comes closer than any of the other episodes to realizing Mr. Lucas's frequently reiterated dream of bringing the combination of vigorous spectacle and mythic resonance he found in the films of Akira Kurosawa into American commercial cinema.

To be sure, some of the shortcomings of "Phantom Menace" ... are still in evidence, and Mr. Lucas's indifference to two fairly important aspects of moviemaking - acting and writing - is remarkable. ..

Anyway, nobody ever went to a "Star Wars" picture for the acting.
That is just not true. Leaving aside for the moment that A New Hope was, in fact, the best of the trilogy--acting and writing were important to the first set of movies. Alec Guinness is an acting legend and Harrison Ford launched his impressive acting career through the movies. Not the mention James Earl Jones as Darth Vader, an awesome villain only since dreamt of by six year olds, who is an accomplished Academy Award winning, classically trained actor. No, Hamill was not of that caliber, but he did his job (particularly in episode IV). The screenplay for A New Hope has also produced many wonderful quotes, which the new movies have so poorly attempted to mimic. This nonsense that the first Star Wars were merely impressive light shows is patently false, and it really irks me that Scott so easily wipes away the first movie as such. Well, I will see this new movie (which I am glad to hear is better than the preceding two) on May 28 (when my probation ends) and will judge for myself. I have no fear, however, that eating crow will be even a remote possibility.

Roger Ebert (bless him) has more sane things to remark about the new movie. He too liked it, but had more substance than it was just good. He does lament the diolog admitting, "[t]o say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion." I found Ebert's comments on the role of special effects the most interesting part of his critique though. "[S]pecial effects should be judged not by their complexity but by the degree that they stimulate the imagination, and "Episode III" is distinguished not by how well the effects are done, but by how amazingly they are imagined." And here he claims ILM and Lucas do a fine job of creating a new reality for us. I guess I will be seeing this movie multiple times.

Regarding the Omer, Rav Yuter told me that one might be chayav to watch this movie as it is a tragedy, and would actually intensify the mourning of sfirah. How 'bout that for a heter?

Friday, May 13, 2005

אבדתי את תעודה הזהות שלי

Brinker's class was a lot of fun today. I am beginning to warm to his surly ways. He was talking about Dalia Rabikovich today and how beautiful she was in '49. Apparently the professor was very boring and everyone would just stare a her instead. As she always sat in the second last row of the class they would have to strain their necks to do so. Last class we almost spoke to Chaim Guri, but he was not home.
The phone rings. You know, he might be at an azkara for his brother. Shalom, Juri, its Menachem, I guess your not home right now, so I will just leave a message. My students and I just wanted to say hi and wish you a good Yom HaZikaron. I will see you in three weeks, in any event. Bye.

Yes, ####, he does posture. But as he pointed out today, young people have no memories and are full of plans. Old people have no plans and are forced to retrieve memories. It is very sweet though. He also invited us to join their tiyul ever shabbat to the old city from Moshava HaGermanit. All the "boys" (one of them is Magen Broshi, but I forget the others. Brinker's pals--the Israel intelligentsia, quite literally) walk to the old city, tell stories and camp out eating at their favorite chumus stand. How rock awesome?

Now onto the Amichai poem I really liked...

אבדתי את תעודה הזהות שלי
אבדתי את תעודה הזהות שלי.
אני צריך לכתוב את תולדות חיי
מחדש להרבה משרדים, העתק אחד לאדני
והעתק אחד לעזאזל. אני זוכר
את התצלום שצלם לפני שלושים ושלוש שנים
בצמת דרכים שדוף רוחות בנגב.
אז עיני היו נבאים בעוד גופי
לא ידע מה קורה לו והיכן מקומו.

הרבה פעמים אתה אמר: זה המקום,
זה קרה כאן, וזה לא המקום,
אתה חושב שכן וחי בטעות
אשר נצחה גדול מנצח האמת.

וככל שהשנים עוברות מתמלאים
חיי שמות כמו בתי קברות נטושים,
או כמו שיעור הסטוריה ריק,
או כמו ספר טלפומים בעיר זרה.

ומות הוא כשקורים אחריך
וקורים אחריך
ואתה שוב לא מסתובב
לראות, מי

On the Freedom to Choose

I have thought a lot about the current liberal paradigm of choice, and I have gotten no closer to my goal of finding a better liberal assay. Choice is really good. Let people do what they want; it is the full extension of Mill's writing. By ensuring that all people have the right to choose (active) we simultaneously prevent harm (passive). I don't think that the ability to choose is a bad thing, I just think it is not the best thing. I am willing to entertain the possibility that there is no best thing, and that we will be stuck with choice for the rest of eternity. However, as the minds of people are fickle, the lack of evolution will always lead to social regression. Sort of the same way a firms credit will be downgraded if it fails to meet market expectations, liberalism will be downgraded to junk if it ceases to show strong returns or come out with new products.

So what are the problems with choice? I have come across three for now.
1. Too many choices: Everything is a choice. Snack food, Presidential elections, dinner, television. You can't be forced to choose all the time. Well you can, but you will get so bored of it that either you will make crappy choices or your choices will consume you, in some paradoxical way, limiting your liberty. If you spend as long deciding between doritos and fritos as you do on your selection for president, you will have very little time to do anything productive with your life. To argue that one does not need to spend that long on a choice is not a proper response, however, because all it does is further condemns the ability to choose.

2. Following up on that last thought, we are not really free to choose. If an observable has three degrees of freedom (e.g., translation in the x,y,& z planes)then it is limited in OO-3 ways. Insofar as you are only free to choose the options in front of you, you are de facto limited. Hell, you are limited by your time on this planet (as my prof told me when I complained about an exam "life is a timed exercise.") If you tried to make every choice fully you would be severely limiting yourself on this blessed planet.

3. The ability to choose presupposes you can govern the outcome. If you did not think you can govern the outcome of a choice, you would be completely satisfied to let someone else choose for you. Since we can't dictate the outcome of our choices, it seems silly to make choice the ultimate barometer of our liberty. (Ad absurdum I might argue that I don't really want to choose at all, rather I want to dictate the outcome of my choices. Therefore I should ask that person who can best help me arrive at that outcome (ignoring for the moment that no one can dictate things perfectly). However I have now forced another person to choose and maximize their ability to dictate the outcome and then they will seek the person best able to dictate the outcome of this new choice. This will obviously lead to a regress.)

4. Sometime it is better not to choose. Normally we say that the more educated an individual is, the better he or she can make a choice. However, sometimes we restrict knowledge from people so that they can learn e.g., on tests. Furthermore there are choices I would never want to make, like choosing between my sister and my brother (Ch'vCh), I would feel more free not to make that choice.

Again, choice is not a bad thing, it is just not the best thing. And no, Jacob, this in no way relates to my thoughts on abortion.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

It's the most wonderful time of the year

The sun is out, birds are singing, flowers are in bloom, and book sales are abound! This week has been the quarterly Reg sale (which I will hit up on the morrow for rock bottom prices) next monday and tuesday are the Div School booksale (my personal favorite--also known as the "how many books can you hold" book sale) and then the Sem Coop should have their annual members sale shortly, as I recall. HP is truly at its finest this time of year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Big Sleep

In the ongoing quest to complete my father's list of "Best Movies (before 1980)" I watched "The Big Sleep" last night. Now one of the amazing things about watching good movies is that you can't really waste time, per se. Of course I had a essay to finish on Rousseau, but The Big Sleep is educational, and builds upon my liberal arts foundation. Rousseau can wait.

I did have an epiphany, however, about old detective movies. When I was younger I was so confused by old movies. How was it that even the lay blue collar workers could appreciate these subtle plots, and I, a MIRC, find myself so lost. After following the two hours of the movie I realized that the plot is not supposed to be followed. Yes, the plot is contiguous, but that is not the important part. Bogey and Bacall are what you are watching the movie for (among others such as Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, and Peggy Knudsen). Their personality and exchanges are wonderful, a chemistry that may never be matched again. The plot is just a device to advance the Bogey and Bacall dynamic. The plot is so convoluted because it wants you to ignore it.

While I think this is a clever insight, I actually think it is backed up by the "text." In the out-takes they showed, the dub-over spoke about how scenes, which would have made the movie more understandable, were taken out. Why would you want to make the movie even more confusing?! Just like a Coen Bro. movie, the characters are what matter, if the plot is too good or profound, you might get distracted from Bogey, Bacall or Buscemi.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Shalem Fellowship

I have received a Shalem Center fellowship for next year. As a fellow I shall be researching the reception of Greek political/ philosophic idealism among medieval thinkers, particularly Rambam and Averroes. Other fellows include my friends Rory Schachter, Aaron Tugendhaft, and Natan Sharansky. Our interests differ among us, but it is through our differences that we can make the world a better place.

While my work will involve a close reading of Maimonides and Averroes, according to the Jerusalem Post, "Sharansky will go back to doing what he did for nine years in a Soviet prison and what many believe he does best: sitting and thinking."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Just a Pipe Dream

pipe-dream orig. U.S., a fantastic or impracticable notion or plan, compared to a dream produced by smoking opium; a ‘castle in the air’; hence pipe-dreamer; pipe-dreaming vbl. n.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Tony Awarded

Congrats Mr. Blair on a third term in office. Congrats Pres. Bush on Mr. Blair's third term in office.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Homer Omer

Thank you to all who have pointed us to this page over the years. Don't forget to count the omer with Homer.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Tufts Decision

My brother, Daniel, a former 3w resident, has decided to pursue his college education at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Best of luck Daniel and congratulations!!!

From My Blog to God's Ears...

(or whatever the hell he believes in)
So Prof. Carroll has posted on his blog that he was denied tenure here. I for one am upset by this. He is most certainly one of the finest teachers in the university, being able to convey both sophisticated GR and simple time/space stuff. Less noted is his work teaching courses on atheism, which is also cool. He is one of the very few faculty members here who maintains all three crowns of teaching: research, pedagogy and publicity (being a frequent guest on NPR and the like- not to mention his publications e.g., his new textbook). It is a shame that politics must always get in the way. Our loss.

And why do I want to be an academic again?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Why Radiohead is the perfect music for armed combat

A heart that's full up like a landfill
A job that slowly kills you
Bruises that won't heal

You look so tired and unhappy
Bring down the government
They don't, they don't speak for us
I'll take a quiet life
A handshake of carbon monoxide

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
Silent, silent

This is my final fit, my final bellyache with

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises please

Such a pretty house, such a pretty garden

No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises please (let me out of here)