Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why is this not a joke?

On Miriam's urging I went to the site No Santa Clause for Hazleton and poked around. At first I was convinced, particularly after watching the sorry TV spot, that the website was satire, poking fun at the crusade against illegal aliens. After a little more study, however, I realized that they were serious. My question for the moment is what about the site (e.g. language, presentation, etc) convinced me that the author of the site is earnest about his or her beliefs? What properties key us into the intended meaning?

Update: Because it is a joke. Shumli 1 Zev 0.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Here is an obvious example of evolution at work. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

S'iz Shver Tzu Zein a Yid

If I can't look pretentious, I will have to look pretentiously. Mmmmmm, baby squid and fried chickpeas.....

Seriously tough, the number of artistic pleasures denied to orthoprax Jews is quite large. Restaurants, for starters, the vast majority of wines, architecture of great churches and the great art therein, fashion (as it relates to men looking at women), opera/musicals. I wonder what people with taste do in the afterlife?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Never Happened

What a wonderful publicity stunt for the State of Israel. Generally I tip my hat to the crafty nature of Ahmadinajad for his carefully balanced political act, but I think he has made a true miscalculation here. Israel, to a large degree, exists because of the crimes of the Holocaust. The anti-Semitic rhetoric of the 19th century panned out in the worst way and the Nations of the World understood, for a brief moment, that the Jews needed Israel (I am waxing poetic, and will desist shortly). By calling into question the myth of the Holocaust, you are setting yourself up for every survivor, every historian, every archivist with a passion for mid-20th century affairs to dig up every shred of support to the myth (and there are quite a few such shreds). This is not like the heliocentric model of the universe, it is the most well documented genocide in the history of the world.

By calling into question the myth of the Holocaust you only cause that myth to grow and entrench itself into the consciousness of the welt. Those who forget or become dispassionate suddenly see a call to action. There can be no greater aid for the State of Israel than to give cause for the world to reexamine how truly awful that episode really was.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Is it sheer coincidence that Milton Friedman's death and Pinochet's death occurred within a month of each other? I'm betting that several such stories will come out in the coming weeks.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I thought I invented a word today. Apparently not (#2). Well had I, it would mean:
Snortle (v)- a snorted chortle.
Although defined a chortle that way from the get-go, I do not find sound basis for such a liberal definition.

ION (in Other News) a first for me, impressing RFS (Random friendly Stranger) by association to Herbert Hauptman. To all those NS (Nay Sayers), ha! Random mathematicians/crystallographers do carry currency!

Also, kudos to NPR. When they say, "Go to to find out more." they really mean it. Linking to arXiv would be about all the More one could ask for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I found this on Facebook today. What a wonderful insight.
Reg=Ministry of Love
posted by a William Clark. It is the Ministry of Love, isn't it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Milton Friedman passed away today. He was 94. There are many jokes which can be made about free lunches and optimizing markets. I will not make any.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Thumpin'

What constitutes a thumpin'? According to Pres. Bush today:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You just described the election results as a "thumping."
THE PRESIDENT: I said the cumulative -- make sure -- who do you write for?
Q The New York Times, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, that's right. (Laughter.) Let's make sure we get it -- the facts. I said that the elections were close; the cumulative effect --
Q Is a thumping.
THE PRESIDENT: -- thumping. (Laughter.)
I will, for the moment, have to respectfully disagree with the President. My dispute with Mr. President lies in my hypothesis that elections tend towards the mean. That is to say that people like close elections, and when polls spread candidates too far apart, you will generally see a correction of sorts. Generally. That being said I do not believe that given a long enough X(time) the curves will intersect. There seem to be districts which poll very close, but have a very large lean towards one party over the other. That is not to say that a heavily Democrat district will ever swing red, but it might correct itself so as not to thump one candidate over the other.

That being said, the President's remarks seem to indicate a different view on election results, some sort of randomness. Let's say, for the moment, that in the contested races the average victory was +/-2% which we can approximate to an equal likelihood for either candidate to win, given enough events. When the President said that, "Look, this was a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping." What he must have been saying was that every race was close, but given the number of events, which are in themselves 50/50, we just saw a run of one particular outcome. It's like flipping a coin 1000 times and getting 8 heads in a row; it does not mean that your coin or probability is broken.

But the President conceded in his remarks that the electorate was sending a message, which means that the aggregate effect was related to the individual events. It only appeared close because of the hypothesis I stated above. The President could only be correct if he truly believed the Democrat swing was a random series of events.

Groove pointed out to me that the President might have meant that it was only a small portion of the vote that actually swung the election. 45% are going to vote one way or the other every time, so it is the 10% which actually mattered, and they collectively combined to a large aggregate effect, but that it does not necessarily culminate to a democratic "wave." My answer to this is just that every election is defined by the middle. A thumpin' then must be defined by the context of elections which are fought at the margins. Thus for one party to win the majority of the middle in every election ipso facto constitutes a thumpin'.

Thank you President Bush for using such an awesome word and allowing me to write this post about thumpins'.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Figuring that Tom Toles was originally from Buffalo, Norwood's kick must go through his mind when he sketches this stuff.

Two great cartoons for your viewing pleasure:

Monday, November 06, 2006

Just Kidding

Apparently, Thomas Jefferson should have penned, "We hold these truths to be self evident...most of the time, but some times, when we think its a good idea, they're not so evident."
I was just reading through the text of S. 3930 otherwise sited as the "Military Commissions Act of 2006" when I came across the article §948b(g) which stipulates that
18 ant subject to trial by military commission under this
19 chapter may invoke the Geneva Conventions as a source
20 of rights.
...most of the time.
Or as the ever amusing Keith Olberman puts it: Why does Habeas Corpus hate America?

Note: For those with a legal eye in the audience, I am not making a truly legal argument. Yes, I recognize that for instance, the Geneva Conventions are not constitutionally guaranteed. But there is still a discussion to be had regarding these "issues."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Crescat Sententia

Crescat Sententia lives. And although it has changed from a suffix of .org to .net I have full faith that it will retain its impeccable insight despite the move.

But why the move? Because the free market is filled with poopheads. But maybe they are just optimizing the market, what do I know?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Another strike against Penn

Clifford Geertz died Tuesday of complications following heart surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He was 80.

Geertz was one of the first texts I read in college that made me go, "Oh, my God, he's right!" I hope heaven is full of Balian cockfights, for your sake.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Join this Facebook group

Keep Chris out of jail. Just do it, it's the right thing. To find out more you can click on these links. If you have a blog, tell others to do the same.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The best day of the year

What is the best day of the year? I am sure that many of you think that this is up for contention or a mere matter of opinion. Nope, it's not. It is the day which is more of a day than any other day. The Last Sunday in October-day, of course! That is the most marvelous of days in which the regular 24 hour day magically becomes 25 hours long! So for all of you complainers, workaholics and procrastinators carpe that extra hour on Sunday and use it well.

Consider this a throw-down of the gauntlet to all those other scant 24 hours days to beef themselves up a bit...oh yeah, and change your clocks back one hour this Sunday morning, or you will be really early to everything.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hard Candy

This has got be one of the darkest, bleakest movies I have ever seen. I will leave it to you to watch it or not (though be warned, it is very gruesome) but the thing that bothers me about the movie is the appearance of moral equivalence. The producers of this movie want to give the appearance of a dilemma when really there is none. The movie is very finely acted (and I would be very surprised if Page did not get a best actress nomination out of it), but at it's core is numbing and slightly boring. After a half an hour, you have basically seen all there is to see.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

All I need is a soundtrack

I saw A Beautiful Mind last night. It was a solid movie, with the best part being that I stopped the movie half way through, kind of disappointed, only to realize that I was just at the fulcrum of the whole flick. I have decided that if you put James Horner (or any relatively adept score composer) to anyone's life it would be interesting. I think Saturday Night Live has spoofed this idea before, but it is quite true.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Just Watch It

Beckenbauer obviously a bit of a surprise there...

Thanks to CosmicV for this doesn't matter, really it doesn't.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Congrats to Will

on receiving a clerkship with Judge Michael McConnell of the Tenth Circuit. I, for one, wish Will many raucous evenings out in the bustle of Utah.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

on Andy Warhol pt 2

As I was preparing dinner last night I turned on PBS to catch a documentary on Andy Warhol in the series "American Masters." Although I was taken with John Updike's remarks concerning Warhol, a line last night added a whole new dimension to my understanding. When Warhol was first experimenting with silk screening and candid photography he took one of his friends (I am trying to find the name. Update to follow) to a photobooth on 42nd, pumped coins in the machine and said, "Now pose, this is costing me money." He would go on to show a series of 36 images from this photobooth. When interviewed the subject remarked, "I thought I was going to have my photo taken, like Richard Avedon, but instead he dragged me down to 42nd..."

After years of fascination, I finally bought "In the American West" by Avedon. Having been utterly captivated by the images in this book for a few years now, I was really excited when it arrived on Tuesday. Avedon's portraits focus such a careful eye on the subjects; every pore, every scab is indelible. Much in contrast to Warhol, Avedon looks at the beautiful "accuracy" (his word, not mine) of the camera to show those of us that inhabit the world. This counterpoint was what I was missing from my initial understanding of Warhol. Sure, Warhol saw a new mass media and it's radical shift of the visual-scape, but his was only one critique. Avedon came to offer a brilliant balance to Warhol in his ability to show and replicate accuracy when Warhol could not. While Warhol's screens smudged and blurred, each of Avedon's prints were as stunning as the very first. You couldn't have had Warhol without Avedon, and it all comes from this very casual remark of Warhol's subject.

Note: This post, like many in 3W, is mostly in my head and only partly in the text. If you are lost, consider yourself in good company. But like Warhol's works, a little is sometimes more to work with than a lot.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Privileged Experience/Reality

April 43rd, 2000
Today is a day of great triumph. There is a king of Spain. He has been found at last. That king is me. I only discovered this today. Frankly, it all came to me in a flash. I cannot understand how I could even think or imagine for one moment I was only a titular councilor. I can't explain how such a ridiculous idea ever entered my head. Anyway, I'm rather pleased no one's thought of having me put away yet. The path ahead is clear: everything is as bright as daylight. (Emphasis added. "Diary of a Madman" by Gogol)

I have been very interested for some time (ever since reading Spinoza's Theo-Political Treatise) about how we know things, or more specifically, when we realize we know something. Many times one might solve an equation on an exam, erase it fully and completed and then proceed to write the completely wrong solution. It would seem that this individual does not really "know" the answer to the question. We stumble upon many possibilities during the course of a day, but to say we know or understand takes a certain sense, the clarity of an Ahah! moment--then the thought resonates or fits in with the rest of ones knowledge base. Most of the time that Ahah! moment indicates that one has stumbled upon a tiny Truth, but sometimes it confirms that one is crazy, as demonstrated by Gogol above.

Update: I tried to write more about my disunderstanding of American culture when I am in Israel too long, and visa versa, but it was eaten by a Computer Ogre named Quentin. So it goes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Belated Summer Vacation

I went white water rafting today. It was sunny and 85 and the water was 65. I got to ride in a school bus, and we sat in the back. My legs are terribly sunburned, it really hurts to bike. I got to stare out the window as we passed small towns and large fields of corn. For some reason, still ponderous, girls are just more fun to soak with water. If they squeeked less it would not be as fun. And the montains are Huge. Green, clear and huge.

Thank you summer, and goodbye.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

All the Hubbub

I was surprised and dare say happy to hear that Harvard is doing away with Early Admissions. As I thought about the matter more carefully I realized that I am of two minds. On the one hand it is really not fair to work 17 year olds up into such a frenzy about college. College is important, but at 17 it is difficult and unnecessary to labor umteen hours in SAT prep courses, higher a college admissions councilor and only then actually begin to fill out the stupid apps themsevles. It is not fair to the students and not fair to those without the impulsive mothers who nag relentlessly to get their kids into the Ivy (not to mention those that lack the resources to do so). On the other hand research has shown that which college you go do does not affect your long term earning potential, so why not accept students who will be likely more committed to your establishment by forcing them to sign a binding agreement upon application? It is really quite arrogant on the part of these schools to believe that they are the sole gatekeepers of success.

My only firm opinion on the matter is that, irrespective of Early Admissions, schools should not get rid of the early application deadline which alleviates the unbearable wait from Jan to March not knowing what the future holds. They should just flatten the acceptance rates.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Facebook 1 Your Soul 0

To the Wide World of Facebook:
People are upset about the Facebook Mini Feeds (also see Wiki), I respect that. You have friended 900 zillion 5 trillion 276 billion and three people, most of whom you could not recognize sans Facebook, and now they know everything that lurks inside your dark dark soul. If I may be so bold, why do you, then, compulsively update your account? If you wanted to keep a list of friends and favorite books you could do that from the comfort (and privacy) of your own desktop using a simple text app. The whole bloody point of Facebook is to share these things,* so stop getting your loins all tied up in knots about this. And if it is because you feel exposed now that all these unfamiliar friends can see into your soul (see ibid.) when they could not before, I have two thoughts for you, either A. Unfriend those children-of-parents-who-were-not-properly-wed-to-one-another -at-the-time-of-their-conception or B. You didn't know what an RSS feed is??? This was sooo in the pipeline. Personally I don't care that my 50 or so Facebook friends know that I have just added Gogol's "The Nose" to my favorite books (even though it is not a book, per se, but a story).

*In truth, I have pondered for some time to understand the base impulse to join the Facebook, but have made no considerable progress.

Frenchies on Lebanese Coast

Apparently, French boats will now guard Lebanon. According to Jpost (the newspaper too right wing to be associated with Zev):
French FM says: "We're going to make sure there are no deliveries" of arms by Hizbullah.
Great! Now France will deliver the arms herself.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

So Many Names

So is this how it works in Mexico, the more names you have the bigger a nut-case you are*? Andrés Manuel López Obrador just sounds like the name you give your son if you want him to become a meglomanic political administrator. Somehow setting up an alternative government in Mexico smacks me as a bad idea.

*Borges, who was not from Mexico, had six names, but he was a cool nut case.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Squid and the Whale

I think I have found new favorite movie dudes, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. They just pick up on certain realities that only exists in a particular few pockets, pockets I frequently find myself visiting. First "The Life Aquatic" and now this.

Squid and the Whale hit me in a way that few movies do (and obviously passed right over/beside/below Roger Ebert who is at a complete loss to understand this one. Yes sir, too much Dickens can be a bad thing, and no, there is no happy ending to this one.) The main character, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) bears an uncannily striking resemblance to one of my People who I hold in the Highest Esteem (there are between five and seven--my mom and dad make two) and as an added plus Anna Paquin stars as the star student cum teachers pet. Aside from that, though, this movie was a line that fell tangent to my space. Everyone occupies a certain space, your job, your schools, your parents, your jokes, your books, etc. Most movies don't strike that, they run parallel in some way, but never really intersect. I loved Citizen Kane, but the movie in no way exposes or encroaches upon my space. This movie did. Noah Baumbach interprets a Jewish intelligentsia without pity or remorse, and I could not help but blanch.

Maybe minor Dickens is good too.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Holy Land Ho!

I hope to be ba'aretz from Aug 28th-Sept 4th. If you read this and you are in Israel, give me a call. 0528-835-וגח. (That's supposed to be read from left to right)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thoughts on Rhetoric and S.L. Jackson

ADVISORY: This post contains language and/or content which may be objectionable to some readers. I do not intend or wish to offend anyone, but rather to spark inquiry on a fairly silly subject.

Samuel L. Jackson has started some sort of religion and I want to sign up. The Muthufunkin' Church of the Muthufukin' Immaculate Mother, or whatever he would call it*, His Church already has tens of thousands of devotees, eagerly anticipating the reverend's next rhetorical miracle.

No, Jackson has not turned water into wine, but he has transformed a B movie, into a muthufuckin' B movie! and that might be an equal or greater feat. He has a charisma and confidence which rings of religious power. He seems to have divine inspiration of cultural needs, and then proceeds to precipitate trends with his inspired rhetoric.

Like most religious movements however, there are far more devotees than worshipers. I was convinced that this movie would shut down all other movies at the box office last weekend. With its fervent blogo-roots it would shame previous ticket sales. It came in at #2 behind Will Farrell. It grossed only $15 million, not that hot for the media hype of the Rev. S.L.J. In truth, I, like a hypocritical sinner have not seen the movie, I am waiting for later, for a better time. It just goes to show that hype and buzz often fall short.

On to the second part of my post: what does muthufuck mean? It is a very peculiar word as it rarely appears in the basic form (although the OED does find evidence for it as early as 1964), rather in the form muthufucka (which can also be used as an adjective, as in, "He's one bad muthafucka.") or in its adjectival form muthufuckin'. [see Note #2] While the word was initially two separate words, mother and fuck, it quickly progressed to become a compound word and then to a single term. It would be quite difficult to fully unpack the subtleties of the word fuck in this short blog entry, suffice it to say that the term conveys very broad range of meaning. Much the same way the word monster is related to demonstrate, muthufuck is only loosely related to mother or fuck. Fuck, conventionally though to be the most crass single word that one can utter is then intensified by the antecedent mother; not only does one lack shame of coitus, but one would be willing to fall pray to incest as well. It is, in my opinion, an example of tacking on an intensifier to an absolute, like saying the very best, which although common is in some respect nonsense (not that language needs to make sense). In this muthafucka way conveys a sense of absurd intensity, particularly when out of place. It is thus used so casually (e.g. "I'm going to kick your muthufuckin' ass.") because the quality of the term almost stipulates that it cannot assume significance or meaning.

When S.L.J. used the fateful phrase, Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Plane, he was unleashing the raw religious power of his machismo and rhetoric on an object far too feeble to receive this force. The asymmetry, the very same absurdity of the intensified absolute, is what makes this movie so great. Recognize, however, that SoaP is no longer a movie directed by so-and-so and produced by so-and-so. That movie has been destroyed by S.L.J.'s awesome zeal. Rather, a new thing as been created, Muthafunckin' Snakes on a Muthafuckin' Plane, which is qualitatively distinct from its progenitor.

I'm done.

Note #1: The orthographic disunity is as a result of the dynamic properties of the term in question.

* I "deleted" the above phrase because I think it may be too offensive. That being said, I feel it is also instructive to my point about the terms use and definition. You cannot have a fucking virgin (yes, immaculate conception and virgin birth are distinct, I recognize that), although everyone will know what you are talking about. One could never have a Church of the Muthufunkin' anything, because the term is self-destructive, it would instantly obliterate the movement it sought to create.

Note #2: The OED has four basic entries for the word Fuck; fuck v (1503), fuck n (1680), fucker n (1598), fucking adj., adv., & int. (1948). According to the hoaried tomb the word can mean a great number of things including: one who copulates, one who blunders, the act of copulation, various other casual, intensive, etc., uses. (e.g. How in the fuck should I know?), as an intensifier, to mess around, a person (often a woman), as an affirmation (e.g. WALTER: That rug really tied the room together, did it not? DUDE: Fuckin' A. DONNY: And this guy peed on it.) --among other things. As evidenced by this expansive set of meanings, this monosyllabic item must obviously be very linguistically potent.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Maybe if Chicago moves up another eights spots I might actually invest some confidence in the rankings. Seriously though, Duke, Penn, Dartmouth(!), how the hell do they get to be among the elite? Have you ever heard of Dartmouth University Press? How about a Duke School of Thought? Has Penn ever founded a discipline? It is just silly to impute meaning to a system that is unable to measure the significant characteristics of an educational institution. While one could attempt to argue which faculty is finest, the UofC also does a damn fine job of undergraduate education, a fact completely overlooked by any of the USNews indicators.

As an addendum to this rant, I spoke with Dean B____ a little over a year ago about the rankings. I asked him whether or not the university cared about its low ranking to which he responded that they didn't care, although angry alumni calling up the school complaining did make it harder to not-care. I guess the angry alums won out.

Thanks to WWPD by way of CS for the heads up.

For more fun with numbers look here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Damned if you do, more damned it you don't

I just want to remind people that criminal acts plotted on a large scale (such as terrorism) have a severe effect, even if those alleged criminals are apprehended. Just because Scotland Yard arrested those suspected of plotting a mass criminal action, doesn't mean that, in some significant respect, they have not already been successful. Yes, tens of planes did not fall from the sky killing untold numbers of innocents. People, however, are still very shaken up and (possibly more importantly) airtravel has been severely slowed, costing untold millions in productivity (not to mention the threat of no carry-on luggage crippling business travel and the airlines over the long term). There are always costs to pay, it is just a matter of which ones. Obviously better to save lives and slow air travel then lose lives and slow air travel, but this cannot be considered a total victory for "us" (as defined by whoever "they" were targeting).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Now there's hope for all of us

Jr. Ginsbu is engaged to Cheryl Turk and A1's roommate woes will finally abate.
I expect a mucho grande tasteful wedding.

Ugly People U

Sorry it took me so long to link to this story.
If you let in only the brilliant, then you produced bookworms and bench scientists: you ended up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago (an institution Harvard officials looked upon and shuddered).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

You're All Idiots

I have not being having much luck of late. Most recently, my favorite senator has gone down in the Democratic primary. Now, after being overwhelmed by a barrage of anti-Joe propaganda, I am just in a generally surly mood.

Congratulations, Democrats, you have won! Finally, after trying to formulate intelligent positions on a plethora of complex issues you have come to understand the value of partisanship. It didn't have to take this long, but even the brightest students take time to shine. So you are now resolute, just one issue (this eliminates the bothersome issue of having congresspeople only voting with your party a paltry 90% of the time. So where is the room for healthy debate, btw???). Easy to remember for all those over taxed-payers out there. One and only one: oppose the President.

Don't worry Mr. Lamont, even though you have no political experience save filling potholes (re: Sunday's "Meet the Press") your job will be a sinch, only one position to take. We are not interested in seeing legislation go through a bipartisan House and Senate (currently controlled by the GOP, as it happens). We just want to sulk.

Unfortunately, you also forget that 54% of the country doesn't agree with you. So in our wonderful world of majority elections, you are only going to get 46% of the national vote. Which is great, unless you actually want to make sure that women get proper reproductive care in the entire country, and not just in your cushy Greenwich McMansions. Or maybe you democrats will remember that there is a proponderance of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere, leading to mass climate destabilazion. You could wait until Thy Kingdom Come and you control the House, Senate and Presidency and then fix Global Warming, or you could do what Joe has done for 18 years and work with people from the other side of the aisle and try and fix the problem. Gathering up your marbles and going home won't help stop the environmental, educational, health care or any other of the problems which you seem to whine about so continuously.

So circulate a memo to the Democrats: don't back Bush. Don't go to tea with Roy Blunt, don't eat scones with Mitt Romney, don't even snort pixy stix with your Republican great-uncle Herb. So long as you stand by the sidelines and cry, you can have a clear conscience and equally vapid agenda.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Penn & Inklings

What: To discuss things that appear to bore the vast majority of fine people that grace this planet. This time it will be the essay, "On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt

When: 8/12

Where: Blarney Stone

Why: Because I miss The Pub.

Iranian Context

One of the UB Med Students was over for lunch this past shabbes. As I am not so fluent in Med School jargon, I was grilling her on Iran and popular sentiment there. She mentioned that every morning at the beginning of school all the students would chant, "Death to America. Death to Israel." (much like I used to say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." without really knowing what those words meant). "My parents," she said, "told me to keep quiet when they said death to Israel."

Being Jewish, I can't imagine that she went to a particularly extreme school growing up. The notion that this was the climate 20 years ago in moderate Iran is perfectly terrifying.

Morning Edition and Diapered Goats

This story is truly worth a listen. Bizarre is the closest word that our sparse language has to capture the strangeness. Ionesco, eat your heart out.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Despair without Hope

Tisha B'Av has become one of the most meaningful days in the Jewish cycle for me, but only after much struggle and thought. Coming from a tradition of optimists I fought with this day as it commemorates all that is vile and base in the world. I have, over time, learned to accept the day and cherish it, though it runs completely against my nature. As this is a rant, I am too tired to actually put together sources for everything that might follow, they do, however, exist.

There is a midrash that in every generation that the Beit Hamikdash (Jewish Temple in Jerusalem) is not rebuilt, it is as if it has been destroyed. While this can come across as banal, it cannot be interpreted simply. Is this somehow a compulsion to rebuild the temple? Does anyone actually believe that were we to place brick on top of brick in successive fashion that we would somehow complete this process or rebuilding the temple? The loss of the temple is about inevitability and corruption. We cannot rebuild so we are forces to gaze upon the destructive fires which razed that building some 2500 years ago, and again 600 years later.

The message of Neviim (prophets) is along these same lines. It is true that the sins of the people caused the destruction, but politically the state was also doomed. Yoshiahu could not have allied with Egypt, lest Babaloyia beset Judah with hostilities, and thus he was forced to fight, and die in Meggido. No state can exist indefinitely without succumbing to natural pressures. The world in which the first and second temple existed, as in the world today, was unstable and enthropic and ultimately leads to chaos.

Has there ever been a generation worthy of sanctity, one which has not been guilty, metaphysically causing the destruction? Only 40 days after the revelation at Sinai the Jews turned to false gods and the destruction in Europe was perpetrated against the holiest and greatest of our nation. There seems to be little correlation between the works of man, and the rewards from heaven.

Tisha B'Av is an acknowledgement of the corruption of the world, without any comfort of hope (though you may find particular exceptions). Unlike Yom Kippur, there is no theme of repentance or cheshbon nefesh on this day. We concentrate on our suffering without any possibility of redemption. There is only desolation. Chazal took one day on the calendar to focus on the depravity which history delivers, bounding this focus by 25 hours. Were we to stop drinking in light of these sickening truths (as the Gemara suggests) these enthropic forces would indeed prove immediately victorious.

Hashiveinu eilecha venashuva, chadesh yameinu kekedem. Only when we can return to kedem (closely associated with Eden in Jewish mythology) will we be able to return to a time of stability.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

יום ז'אב תשס"ו

Zev Day (the seventh day of the month of Av) is my favorite day on the calendar. So, like in years past, I ask you to do something Zev-like on said day, which this year falls out on August 1st.

Every year I get the same question: what is something Zev-like? The answer to that is, you know as well as I. With what sorts of things do you associate me with? Hopscotch? Equestrians ballet? Spelunking? Let the circumstance of the day lead you to impulsiveness...Happy birthday Oren.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Letter to the Editor

Here is an excellent letter to the editor of the Washington Times I found describing the threat of Hezb-allah and why their attacks should be taken more seriously by the West.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


A few years ago my friend took me to Shira Hadasha in Yerushalaim. I found that my main objection to Egal is not so much in the theory, but it the Egal (as in other branches of Judaism) just has a more experiential view of religious ritual than traditional Frum shuls do.

Does anyone know of an Ortho-Egal shul that has hot kiddush, 1 1/2 hour Shabbes Shachris, and strict rules about nusach from the ummud (none of this aspirated neo-Israeli pronunciation garbage)? If so I am very curious ;)

M.E. Regional Flare-Up

Just one thought about this current mess:

Every conventional military in the world sucks at a-symmetric warfare (Israel less so than most). As this conflict become more symmetric, the conflict becomes more "favorable" for the Israelis. The inverse and the transpose also hold. Watch for Hezbollah to do more ducking-and-running, oscillating the power of their aggression.

Under these assumptions I cannot understand what Hezbollah stands to gain by firing Katusas on Israel...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The proof is in the bombing

In the 1890's David Emile Durkheim saw a spike in the suicide rate and saw it to be a symptom of a deep social change sweeping Europe. He reasoned that such a rash venture as to takes one's own life must have some deep cause, and could not happen by arbitrarily. To this end I am trying to synthesize Robert Pape's remarks on suicide bombing and nationalism in the 21st century. If nationalism is truly outmoded, why does it produce such violent affects? Take note all ye political theorists, it is significant.

In the mellifluous words of the poet Wu Tang KRS-1, "suicide, it's a suicide, suicide, it's a suicide." Maybe this set of suicides should prompt a similar line of questions as the former epidemic. Apparently Pape does address Durkheim specifically in his book, "Dying to Kill," but as he is an IR guy and not a theorist, it appears is if there ought to be a lot more work to be done to better explore this relationship, beyond simple psychoanalytic prescriptions for suicide, rather looking at the theoretical germ of the outbreak. (Brownie points for the person that shows me the article that already stumbled upon this.)

In Pape's words:
To clarify Pape's argument I decided to transcribe a particularly lucid and concise passage from his book.
The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any of the world's religions...Rather what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that terrorist consider to be their homeland. Religion is not the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts of the broader strategic objective ("Dying to Win" by Robert Pape p. 4)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

You are how you read Returns

I saw Superman Returns with my brother motza"sh and was fairly impressed. One shot in the movie caught my particular attention, however. Towards the end of the movie we see Lois Lane pining for her lost love while the camera moves through her study (it might not be hers, but she looks awfully comfortable there). The angle starts low and proceeds through two bookshelves, opposite one another, chock full of books. Not binders or legal books but paperbacks and hardcovers, different sizes, shapes and publishers. There must be six five-foot cases all told. Lex Luthor, to contrast, is seen to own a boatload of sets, the kind of thing you pick up to fill shelves that you will not actually read (self-irony noted, if not intended).

While I think the latter choice says less about Luthor, I really think Bryan Singer crafted the scene with Lois. Lois was never portrayed as a brainy one in the past, but I think Singer composed the scene with the bookshelves to help cast a more contemporary interpretation on Lois as a really smart, contemplative (and, gasp, even intellectual) journalist who is also independent; with or without Superman (why do books=independence? Non-trivial question, with a set of trivial answers; also has to do with the scene--her pining contrasted with her Pulitzer, which she won definently wo/ Superman). Whether Kate Bosworth communicates that is a different issue...

Your are how you read

My dad starts, "There is a store over on Main that makes brass plates for bookshelves. So the question is, what categories do you use to categorize your library."

"Easy," I replied "Literature, Art & Graphic Arts, Politics & History, Social Theory, Religion, Science* & Math, Philosophy and Sifrei Kodesh."

And like that, I realized how simply (re: crudely) I saw the world. Drama is just literature; anthropology, social theory etc. Definitely a worth while exercise.

* by science I "really" mean physics, where biology is just tacked on, the way platypi are kind of like mammals.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Beatles Shmeatles

In the days of raging Beatlemania, the Beatles were not allowed to perform in Israel. The Minister of Education forbade them from doing so, fearing their music would have a corrupting effect on the youth (cf.). Well, that youth has grown up and they've brought the Beatles to Israel. Okay, not the actual Beatles (at least one of whom is dead, I'm told), but a group of young Israelis (about 30-45 yrs young) who can imitate the Beatles. I heard them last night where they performed in an ancient Roman amphitheater near Haifa with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra. In a way it was like a Montessori school reunion with a bunch of 50-60 year old Hilonim dancing, while seated, to the music. But when I took a closer look at their dancing in their seats, I noticed it bore a striking resemblance to the kind of shuckling many Orthodox people do in schul. This was their religion, I realized. Of course they were shuckling.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

What if

instead of Lex Luthor, Superman was confronted Martin Luther hammering his 95 Theses to Superman's chest, with a kryptonite nail!!! That would get the Reformation going in a big way.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Saleet's Question

Three years ago Saleet asked me a great question: Why don't you marry Oren?

There are two obvious wrong answers to that question: 1. Because I/we are straight 2. Because Oren is married (which was not the case at the time).

I became further confused today, as I was arguing that their is no essential difference between the two sexes. If that is the case, why can't two men marry, raise a family and have children with a close female friend? Why does the mother of the child necessarily need to be part of the "nuclear" family? If men and women really are the same, is the reason for marriage purely utilitarian, i.e. it is just more practical to have the mother of the child serve as the second parent? Religious doctrine aside, why must sex (v) be confined to/part of marriage?

My only answer now (that I have proved to my self, through contradiction) is that there is generally does exist a distinction between the sexes, which is not a conclusion I am all-together happy with.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ann Coulter meet Zizek

Listening, as I do daily, to the inimitable Keith Oberman on my way to work (thanks to Podcasting) I was treated to a rather vicious attack by Mr. Oberman of Ms. Coulter for her indictment of a group of widows from the 9-11 attacks who have used their new-found plight as a moral step-stool to assail the Bush administration.

Poor form aside, Ms. Coulter sounded more like Zizek than I could have ever imagined. She use a power argument to maintain that plight and victimhood should not inure one from reproach or rebuttal. These women, using their tragedy as leverage, hope to convince the American public of the political wrongs of the Bush administration. While they surely have suffered great loss, what makes them better spokespersons for Truth than any other citizen of this country? Their victim status somehow rhetorically privileges them above the political debate, and gives them the moral high ground--they can sling their arrows, but those below can volley nothing in return.

The great thing about the argument is that it doesn't really follow from the rest of the rhetoric on the Right. Our soldiers in Iraq are used as victim shields as are the husbands of these unfortunate women. Plenty of White House rhetoric is aimed specifically to disarm their opponents by stymieing debate--you don't hate the soldiers, do you? You don't want to dishonor the victims of 9-11 by letting the terrorists win, do you? Unfortunately Ms. Coulter is an ass and comes off as a bit inured herself. But I still give her marks for trying to slip a PoMo argument by for the Conservative-Right.

Kol Sasson

Welcome, and enjoy your stay. (The title is a link)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Iran will disrupt oil shipments if her right to nuclear power is threatened (JPost). One wonders how badly they need nuclear power if they are able to threaten other countries with cutting off the oil supply.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

יום התלמיד

Starting this evening, we at Hebrew University of Jerusalem are celebrating יום הסטודנס. Celebrations involve typical student-like activities such as parties with loud rock-music and beer. Also school has been cancelled to celebrate this day.

In protest, I am celebrating יום התלמיד, a day in which I sit in the library and study all day. This is, I suppose, another way of being a student. The library has at least one thing those loud outdoor parties don't have - an air-conditioner.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Who do they think they are?!

How stupid can you be? It is as if they are sending a formal invitation (printed on card stock, matte paper) to the international community to compare this Iranian regime to 1936 Germany. Who does their PR?

I wonder if they will include a reply card.

Update: I had linked to a National Post article (Canadain national paper) that ran a story about a new law in Iran which would require all members of minority faiths to wear armbands with distinct colors; Yellow for Jews, Red for Christians and Blue for Zoroastians. This report appears to be false, but I would stay tuned as the Iranian gov't is known to have misrepresented themselves before (re: op-ed in the NYT "We do not have a nuclear weapons program" from about a month ago).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Babblefish in the Afterlife (or the lack thereof)

I am in the middle of an article about Cavell, Emerson, Aristotle, et al and I had the most curious thought: What if, when you die, you go to an afterlife that is completely foreign to you. You stand before a daemon, venting power and wrath, except s/he does not speak your language. You are at a complete loss to understand His/Her moral charges, but during the hearing, through no fault of your won, you crack up numerous times when the prosecutor utters words such as "Fuptubarb" and "Rakakamakamon." You can throw gavitas right out of St. Pete's window.

What an absurd ending.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Viva la Lobbists!

I have not learned very much in the past year. One thing I have learned is that democracy is all about making your voice heard...above everyone else's. While other people merely vote in the polls, we (those that bitch the night away) must do something more to insure that America does not make the wrong decision.

How can I make my voice heard over the mass of the loud hoi polloi, you ask? Easy, donate to a campaign. Yes, you, who live in Chicago, NY or New Haven can influence an election in a state that is not even contiguous to your own! God bless America and its nearly boundless freedom of expression, i.e. hard money contributions. So quit whining about interest group politics and become and interest group of your own!

I would have now plugged Casey against Santorum, but as Casey is pro-life, I can't, in good conscience, ask other people to do that.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Of Interest

Like every Monday morning at work, I set about perusing the NYT Online to see what I have missed through my inattention during the weekend. Among other important articles about the resignation of Goss from the CIA, I stumbled across a piece by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt "A Star is Made." It is unimportant to present a careful dissection of the argument, but simply put, the authors posit that talent is near worthless to effort. Great musicians, athletes, writers, etc are not born with talent, but become good through repetition.

Slightly more subtly, the article moves from a paradigm of "practice" to one of "interest"--which was more intriguing to me.
Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task; playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome...Ericsson's research suggests a third cliche as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love; because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.
Like many Levittine arguments, I initially tossed it out; obviously there are people who are more talented than others. While Michael Jordan is a better basketball player than I (which is no surprise, as he has practiced a whole lot more than I have) he is also better than Toni Kukoc, who probably shot nearly as many layups in his life.

What Levitt Inc propose is much more significant however--Michael Jordan is more interested in basketball than Toni Kukoc. Not interested in the sport--I am sure they both love the game--but the article posits that MJ is interested in those facets, the "specific goals" as they are referred to, than TC. Basketball is not one whole unit, but it is made up of zillions of finer aspects: dribbling, layups, guarding, wrist motion, etc. Levitt proposes that MJ just likes the sum of all these parts more than most players of the modern era, and as such, practiced to "obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome."

The obvious question which this thesis admits is: Ok, you have replaced the word, "talent" with "interest." So what causes one to be interested?

I didn't find the answer to that question in the article, but the conjecture is not as flat as I suggested. It means that if you think you are interested in a vocation, ask yourself, "Do I like the individual aspects, that sum to the whole?" Some people love physics, but are just not interested in doing long intergals or in trig. identities. I got news for you, it means you are not really interested in physics. And if you stay up at night pondering what other groups of Hermitian operators will solve Schodinger's equation, what you are doing in not called curling, it is called physics--sometimes things just get mislabeled (no philosophy of language discussion now, please), and you just might need to relabel them for yourself.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Homer Omer

I realize that this is square in the middle of the counting, but better late than never...

should you be in despair during sefirah, let Homer help you out! Zev would tell me that I would have failed to live up tradition if I didn't spread the word.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Star Spangled Spanish?

I woke up one morning last week to hear the host of the radio program I typically listen to (WLUP - 97.9) soliciting responses from people on the question of whether the recent Spanish translation of the Star Spangled Banner done by Adam Kidron (a Brit) should be encouraged among Latino immigrants in the country. While I expected the responses to be fairly opposed to the Spanish translation, I couldn't help but notice the xenophobic overtones in the comments. While I do think that the song should be sung in English, the issue didn't bother me nearly as much as it did for some of the callers. However, I wasn't sure if I simply couldn't dismiss the fact that the Loop (a classic rock(think 80's) radio station) has a listenership that mostly consists of working class Chicagoans, who might be more likely to have strong patriotic sentiments. I suppose that the question I'm posing is how one makes the distinction between patriotism and xenophobia?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

(The) Hoi Polloi

I love this expression, not only due to how it rolls off the tongue, but also because my grandmother used to use it as one of her -isms. Upon reading the phrase last week I was provoked to find out what its origins were. And both the OED and reveal the same thing: It is a Greek term meaning "the masses." Why then did my grandmother use it to mean high society, with an ironic touch (You don't want to be part of the hoi polloi, do you?)

About this point has this to say: Hoi polloi is sometimes incorrectly used to mean “the elite,” possibly because it is reminiscent of high and mighty or because it sounds like hoity-toity.

While the literal meaning of the word is "the masses" I found it is not just my grandmother who used the term in its perverted usage. John McGahern in "Amongst Women" (132) writes, "Is she hoi polloi?" referring to the family's de facto sister-in-law. As the inquiring sister is from a poor farm in rural Ireland, I don't think she is accusing the woman of being common, but rather of being tosh.

I don't think the phonetic similarity provided by really seems to cut it though. Maybe "the masses" came to refer to the indescript mass of artistocracy? Who knows.

Academic Speak?

I had submitted a paper to a journal and it was returned with a Revise and Resubmit letter and a copy of two reviews. I would think that would entail some contructive critism. And to this end one of the reviewers wrote:
As a potential avenue of research the paper makes interesting proposals. But the arguments are not fleshed out. The scholarship is very slight--especially on Hobbes.
While I take "scholarship" in this context mean secondary literature (where she is correct that I did not make much reference to) and not just an ad hominem it is not a tone I had expected from a R&R letter.

A tough bunch they are...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Looks like I will be in Philly for a while...

While my grad school initiative proved rather unsuccessful, I am not crushed--only very dejected. For the time being I plan I taking Matt Damon's line about library fines to heart and actually do some research in the Penn library. I have some plans to make next year's round a bit more successful. So it goes.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

HD or Blu Ray?

Anyone on odds?

My bet is on HD DVD for three reasons:

1. It's a cheaper technology. The HD disks cost $10 less than Blu Ray disks.
2. HD is a "thing" now, it is a hot marketing word. Televisions programs are "now in HD" your TV is HD, so naturally your DVD player should be. Blu Ray is the thing that is not like the other, the thing that is not the same.
3. Sony is inept. Sure, if Sony could pull off the PS3 by the end of the year it might make the battle close, but the company is in such chaos, who knows if that can happen.
4. Blu Ray is the "superior" technology (better picture), it has to lose.

So start lining up to buy your Toshiba HD DVD players...when they fall in price by $400.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sucks to Hamastan

The US and EU have cut aid to the Palestinian "government." Not to worry: Israel is still paying for their water, electricity, defense, roads, etc.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Soloveichik shout out

I always enjoy reading articles where I can imagine the tone of the voice used.

The Welfare State

Disregarding, for the moment, the external hardships on the Palestinian people and society, I see a very clear parallel between the debate over domestic welfare and national welfare. While the PA treasury is empty, it is to be expected. With relatively little FDI (foreign direct investment) or economic infrastructure and now the lack of international aid, it is not a wonder Hamas cannot pay its bills.

The question appears to be: should we (the international community) fund the PA indefinitely, even though they have made little progress towards economic autonomy in that past decade?

This is, then, the same question as, "how long should we keep someone on welfare?" Can we expect every nation in the world to hold a job? There are circumstances outside the control of some nations. Drought, famine, border closings (eh hem- slight cough, you know). Should they receive indefinite funding, or should they be forced to look for a job at a point, even if there exist circumstances outside their control? Then obviously you have to ask if there is any justification for a true Welfare State?

And I just don't know...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Dear Anonymous,

While 3W allows anonymous comments (A) to allow people to post who do not wish to reveal themselves or (B) that don't want to sign up through blogger... I would people appreciate if others knew to whom they were responding.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Israel is Our House (or "ישראל ביתנו')

Deeming the day of elections a better day for fun than the day after, Sara and I travelled to Haifa yesterday to have a bar-b-que with the Rubin and Kellner families. Indeed, one does not always know what to do with the day-after-election parties and many of those having day-after parties today are not those who expected to have them yesterday. Qadima, whose representative on Channel 2 claimed minutes before the polls closed that they were expecting to win all of the seats in the Knesset, fell 132 seats short of their goal. Shas, whose formal position appears to be to be bought off by anyone, is the number three party and has already been bought off by Qadima. A close fourth was a party that advertised almost exclusively in Russian and Israel's association of retired persons took as many seats as both Arab parties combined.

What will the future hold? More pullouts as Qadima and Labor bind together. Possibly fewer suicide attacks within Israel proper, but probably more Kassam and other attacks.

There is, however, a change on a larger scale that ocurred in this election. None of the leaders of the five major parties were generals or even high ranking officers in the Israeli army. If these people can put together a government, we will a see a significantly different form of regime. Whether non-military leadership will improve the country beyond what Sharon has already done remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bibi, melech Yisrael... rather sar otzar Yisrael... ah, the good 'ol days.

Sigh--the communists have once again taken over the country. I guess it is to hell in the proverbial handbasket-of-redistributed-wealth, again.

Friday, March 24, 2006

...and you flank from the left

So oddly enough I agree with Youssef Massad. I am ashamed to admit it, but I do. I would probably not go so far as to say that "[The US] has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests, including Israel." But I would probably support his intuition, that Israel falls roughly along the U.S.'s greater foreign policy trajectory.

I guess politics makes strange bed fellows. Kinda like David Duke and John Mearsheimer ;)

Update: And apparently I am not alone (see "Strange Bedfellows").

Is it at all possible that this article was written in light of my post (as I sit here and scratch my head)?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I have received requests to express my opinion on the recent Walt-Mearsheimer paper. In short, I was hoping to find an incisive debate over the merits of strategic alliances with Israel. Instead I found that the paper glossed over the interesting aspects (devoting a pallid 2.5 pages to the "moral" component of America's support of Israel) and only ten pages in explains that the only possible reason for U.S. support must be the Israel Lobby. In the context of the article the Lobby is both loosely defined to include AIPAC, The Middle East Forum, Jews in the media, neo-Conservative scholars (who to Prof. Mearsheimer's dismay are not realists) and other ranking diplomats such as Dennis Ross. At other points it seems clear that the Lobby refers to AIPAC specifically. This everywhere-nowhere distinction is problematic to my mind because it allows for the creation of a duality in which both everyone is implicated, but yet still affords room for an Illuminati, which sits at the command center.

The article does not allow for the possibility that the Israel Lobby is compelling on its own accord. It is possible after all to have a wrong (to the minds of Walt and Mearsheimer) argument but still be convincing. The paper seems to only alot for the possibility of undue influence, but does not seriously engage the strategic arguments that the neo-Con school articulates (not to mention non-neo-Con elements of the Israel Lobby, such as Peace Now). And how "letter writing campaigns" constitute undue influence, let alone a serious mention in an article concerning lobbies, seems absurd.

I will leave it here, but I found this piece ("Duke 1, Harvard 0") helpful to point out the factual disagreements various some scholars have with the Walt-Mearsheimer piece.

Additional Thought: I just wanted to mention how I suprized I was that Mearsheimer coauthored this paper. He sits on the International Board of a Bar-Ilan think tank and, though not to his knowledge, got me my position with the JCPA. So I don't know if one could call him anti-Israel, per se.

Great Quote: "We went out of our way to say that the lobby is simply engaging in interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie." -J. Mearsheimer

I think that helps probe what is going through his head.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I hate Mishloach Manos

This should come as no surprise to those who know I refuse to give gifts even to my wife. People put a great deal of time and money into giving others foodstuffs that the others generally would not have gotten of their own accord. In theory, this might make sense for those on the receiving end except that purim culture generally demands a roughly equivalent exchange. In general most everybody ends up with food they value much less than the time and money they put into it.

I think that the manner in which this mitzvah is carried out is generally attributable to women. This is not to say that men have not made their own unique contributions to Purim culture. The drunken stupor, for instance is primarily a male contribution. As is their nature, women have forced men to participate in their time consuming prettied up candy exchange. Men, on the other hand, do not demand that women join them in drunken stupor.

I am mindful of the halachik mandate and have always complied. In Purims past, I would give to my beloved brother. (With his back to me, I whip an apple at the back of his head. Just as he turns towards me in a rage, I hammer him between the eyes with a can of pop. Good times. Good times.) For the most part I have maintained my minimal compliance. This year, Rachel forced me to give mishloach manos to the boys' teachers, but other than them, I gave to none. We did, however, assist the boys in preparing some Mishloach Manos for some relatives. I worry that in the future we may join this silly game so our children do not feel shame.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thoughts on a Sub-Conventional War

I heard Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon speak tonight. It was mildly interesting, but as I remarked to a peer, "You Israelis make it sound so easy. Go in, kill a few Hamasniks, demolish a few houses, ve zehu." I find Israeli political intellectuals to be heavily tactical in their thinking (because of the overwhelming military culture in Israel) and very much unable to create theoretical models. But that is neither here nor there...

Ya'alon did say something which sparked my interest, however. He remarked that since '73 Israel has not fought a conventional war (and besides Iraq I, has anyone really?). It spurred me to realize that conventional war is a struggle of territory. You force the other side to say uncle by taking his land, and encroaching upon his capital. Although the Risk analogy is not perfect, it is simple. Present armed conflict, in what Ya'alon termed "sub-conventional," revolves around identity, forcing the de facto creation of Us-land and You-land. A pocket of resistance will emerge in order to define itself against its surrounding political entity (I thought better than to use the word "power").

It is in precisely this way that Israel gets screwed. In '67 Israel was like, "Ha! We won a war and captured land!" But it is in this exact period that the paradigm of military struggle shifts. Whereas in the 19th century wars to annex territory were common, I do not recall much literature about resistance fighting amongst the locals. Regions of Poland, for example, regularly moved between a variety of powers with little opposition from the locals--in this model the "two stages" of war (conquest and occupation) are one. However, beginning around 1967 these two aspects become separated. It thus becomes almost antiquated to speak of a war to annex land; if the residents of land you seize feel like creating Us-land, you are again embroiled in conflict. Since the strategy of engagement becomes completely altered, you taking the land and holding the territory become two completely different episodes.

This explains rather nicely why it is that massive military powers seem to have so many problems these days--they essentially think that the conflict of old (land war) is the same as the new war (land hold). Thus military scholars write of the well-planned Iraqi invasion, and point to the poorly executed occupation period. That is precisely wrong, however (according to Ya'alon and what I present here). The two events are not stages at all but completely separate endeavors. Thinking in these terms allows for a much better grasp of the intransigence of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as well as numerous other anti-insurgency campaigns.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Otis Spunkmeyers

As I sat down to my lunch of Code Red Mountain Dew and Otis Spunkmeyers chocolate chip muffin, it occurred to me that it must not be a mere coincidence that such yummy, yummy muffins were kneaded by Mr. Spunkmeyers. No. There must have been a story, which might tell very much like this...

Long ago there live a boy, whose parents were very, very mean. While his parents kept normal, unobtrusive names, Robert and Louise Trott, they foisted upon their only son a truly wicked and absurd name, Otis Spunkmeyers. As soon as he was allowed to play with others (which was far before most children) he was incessantly tormented for his name. What is your name, the children would ask. "Otis, Spunkm..." but the end was invariably drowned out by silly girlish laughter and the thumping of crude boys’ fists. No one liked Otis, and how could they? It is doubtful that anyone so named Spunkmeyer has ever survived the ripe old age of three (do you know any Spunkmeyers?) They either die of shame, or of older boys beating them for the crime of possessing such ridicules name.

Otis's parents wanted it this way. They enjoyed seeing him come home stale and empty, having all the shit knocked out of him on a regular, or hyper-regular basis. You see, that is why his parents named him so cruelly, and thrust him into toddler society when he was much too young, and the other children could easily pick on him. Every day they would ask Otis, "How was your day?" Only to rejoice at a sniveling and barely audible reply.

Otis was not without any luck, however. He not only learned to speak far before his colleagues, but also how to run. And run he did. Around the jungle gym, through the swings, up the slide, down the monkey bars and into the classroom, where only the mocking scars of his teachers and peers could lacerate him.

But on he lived. And while a truly tortured life, he outlived the normal life expectancy of children named Otis Spunkmeyers by 5 fold (the avg. O.S. only lives to 17 months you see). And while 7 is not a very old age, it is if you are so named Otis Spunkmeyers and have incredibly cruel parents who force you to begin school at far too young an age. You see, every day Otis would come home from school, beaten and bruised, and every day his parents would rejoice. But, after a time they had hoped that the bullies would finish the job. But alas, Otis was too fast. So they skipped him, into a class of even bigger bullies. But yet again, he outran them. So they skipped him, and skipped him and skipped him some more, but he outran all of them. So by the ripe old age of 7 years and one month, Otis was already a Junior in highschool. And it is there that he found his true salvation--HomEc.

Ms. Casey was a kind and gentle woman, from the heart of east Dublin. A heart of gold and a culinary might to match. Well, when battered and bruised (but not quite dead) Otis Spunkmeyers entered her class she knew what she would have to do. She approached him and exclaimed, "No ther boi, wy d'thay beat un yoo so?" It took a moment for poor Otis to parse the thick accent, but at last he responded, "They think I deserve it, for having such a stupid name." "Wel then." Ms Casey quipped, "wee wil ave tu doo sumptin aboot that."

And faster than you can say, "Paint my suspenders red, and call me Zarathustra." (which if spoken by a Welshman, could take five to nine years) Ms. Casey demonstrated to young Otis how to whip up a batch of her famous Chocolate Chip muffins and use them in defense of the nasty, nasty bullies. "No uze theze, an' no won 'ill evr think yu stupid ageen."

Otis was skeptical, but that day, in during Dodgeball, all the nasty boys were poised to bludgeon poor Otis Spunkmeyers. But before they could say, "Paint my suspenders red, and call me Zarathustra." Otis offered them some of his delicious Chocolate Chip muffins. Well, as you must know by now, Otis Spunkmeyers's Chocolate Chip muffins are the best source of fat, sugar, carbohydrates, calories and Mmm Mmm Good, this side of Baton Rouge. Who could hate Otis after eating such yummy muffins?

After the boys had their fill, they were too plump and jolly to be inclined to harm neigh a hair on the poor boys head. And even if they had wanted to throttle poor Otis, they could hardly run in such a condition.

Well, as you can imagine, Robert and Louise were neigh too pleased. They forced Otis to bake his yummy yummy muffins, until they burst--and burst they did. All their anger, rancor and wrath splattered their small town of Dussilvontrapvonschnit, and it tasted sweet, like Otis's yummy yummy muffins.

And that is why, to this day, his muffins are still known by his name.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Now I Get It

I just got a joke today, which was told to me over three years ago...

Three years ago I mustered up the courage to ask R. Aaron (Lichtenstein) a question that had been bugging me all through my first year of college. It appeared to me that the ethic within the university of open discourse, and the notion that dialogue will somehow lead to the betterment of Man and Humanity, is at odds with a Rabbinic sentiment that "all is contained within it [Torah]" and such prohibitions as bechukoteichem lo teleichu.

Well, I phrased the question somewhat along those lines (R. Aaron did not understand at first, so he needed to reformulate it) and as he walked to the Bank Mizrachi he explained that in the 19th century there existed this grand idea, expressed by the Romantics in particular, that Man's perfection will come through the perfection of the mind; if we pursue knowledge a bit further we would be able to perfect our universe. However, many 20th century philosophers have refuted this idea, and it seems clear that an intellectual ethic, on its own, is not particularly moral or helpful. He suggested that I go read John Henry Newman's Apologia, which articulates the point well and explains Chazal's perspective—that of essential mistrust of secular wisdom—succinctly.

I was never able to find the volume, until this weekend, when reading the New Yorker I found a reference to John Newman and remembered this conversation. John Henry Cardinal Newman was an Anglican who parted ways with the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic priest. The Apologia (appropriately titled) is a defense against the Anglicans. R. Aaron sent me to read a book of Catholic theology in order to answer the question of how Jewish thought regards secular knowledge...

...that's hysterical. What a bright, bright man.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In Context

So this is the cartoon which has spurred the demolition of Danish embassies in the Middle East. After so much hype, I can't say that I find it particularly offensive. Blasphemy is very passé in the West, it just doesn't rile people up the same way it did way-back-when.

As a thought experiment for a moment, let's pull a Chomsky and change the face of Muhammad to Sharon. Would the Jewish World be outraged? I would guess so. The distinction in our reaction comes from the implication, i.e. Islam is innately violent--since some part of us would concede that Islam promotes violent doctrines (rightfully or not) we laugh at a cartoon poking fun at Muhammad. As we consider Sharon's past very sensitive, we would likely protest the corollary. So let's call the cartoon in poor taste, if nothing more. However, it appears to me that the rioting which has ensued is not due to the equation of Islam to violence, but is in response to the heresy of displaying the face of the prophet.

I can't help but think about the infamous Ramirez cartoon five years back. People were offended, the LA Times apologized, that was that--I still do not think kindly of the cartoonist, however.

The question, of course, is not whether the response in the Middle East is justified (which it is not, in case you were wondering) but whether hurtful characterizations ought to be avoided. Cartoons are supposed to "poke fun" and are by nature controversial. They ought not be graphic (bloody limbs, etc) or otherwise pornographic (Jesus molesting little children would compel a response, I would venture to bet). However, the only real dictum I can settle on is that the cartoon expresses a mainstream opinion. If a cartoon is too far removed from "good taste" it becomes "hurtful." And, well, that is just too subjective for my liking. Alas, I am left to the Common Sense (Smell Test) which fails so many so often.

ברוך דין אמת

My thesis advisor, Professor Aryeh Leo Motzkin died last Saturday in Jerusalem. I learned a tremendous amount from him and will miss him greatly.

Jack bests the New York Times

It is simply amazing how the establishment media refuses to actually run the cartoons over which much of the Islamic world is having a tantrum. If not for the internet, the Celitic Semite would probably not have been able to come forth and debunk one of the "cartoons"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Whither Civil Liberties?

More interesting than Bush's SotU was the Democratic response. It was delivered by a soft young Democrat, Tim Kaine, who talked about Good News (cringe). But completely omitted from the address was any talk about the hearing scheduled to be held concerning the legality (and lack thereof) of Bushes warrantless wiretaps on millions of Americans. Is that just not an issue? Do overt and causeless invasions into the lives of average Americans not licit a response, when Pres. Bush reiterated his fervor for the practice. In the words of the revered Napoleon, "Gawd."

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Only yesterday

did Rachel and I get an invitation to the Bassik-Gedwiser wedding. The reason for the tardiness, no doubt, is that Rachel and I moved to Skokie. Of course, the tardy invitation is no excuse for my absence from the wedding. Miriam sent me multiple e-mails asking me whether I would come. I was incredibly rude and didn't even respond. In general, I am terrible at responding to e-mails, but here I also acted (or did not act) out of some absurd notion that saying I wouldn't come would prevent me from changing my mind. We should not, however, let my rude and obnoxious behavior distract us from the real atrocity - Halper's absence.

The corrosive effects of living in Hyde Park, Chicago

I was speaking to a friend yesterday about Jack Abramoff. I told my friend, "at least he will be in federal prison rather than state prison." My friend responded, "He'll probably go to that federal prison in Connecticut that has a daily minyan". For some reason, though, I first understood him to say "Daley minion". Only when he mentioned the daf yomi shiur at the prison did I realize my error.

But Why?

News reports of another person "going postal." Though I don't feel like digging through the GoogleNews to find the recent episodes of such mania, the expression indicates the tendency for postal workers to act out violently. Does anyone have a reasonable hypothesis as to why postal workers appear more inclined to return to their place of employment, and shoot their coworkers?

How much worse off are the homeless?

According to Newsday,
Homeless adults in New York City had higher rates of HIV and tuberculosis, were more likely to be hospitalized because of mental illness or substance abuse, and died at twice the rate of adults with homes.
This is quite a claim! When I was last in New York City (over two years ago) I believe the death rate was still what it was for the last 5766 years, viz. 1 to a person -- irrespective of any facts pertaining to home-ownership

Monday, January 30, 2006

An Intelligent Word

on the Palestinian elections was said by David Warren, a prominent Canadian journalist.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

On the Possibility of Future Attacks by Hamas...

On the possibility of future terrorist attacks by Hamas, Shaul Mofaz said it (Hamas?) would be the subject of an "unprecedented attack."

The one thing that I found to be surprising about this statement is that Mofaz would be so public about such a strategy - I thought he would've approached the topic a little more subtly.

Friday, January 27, 2006

On Hamas

So as everyone knows by now, Hamas has claimed 79 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian election. A result, I may add, which none of the pollsters and all of the journalists predicted. This indicates an interesting facet of Palestinian/Arab public opinion, which for whatever reason, is difficult to quantify, a priori.

The relevant question, as always, is: Is it good news for the Jews? On this point I am uncertain. I can see three distinct courses history could take, but have no notion of how to quantify them (e.g. 30% likelihood, 40%, 7%). In my thinking, however, I take for granted that Hamas is not a "viable partner for peace" (much like Arafat), and barring radical and sustained changes on behalf of Hamas, Israel will likely be forced to take further unilateral action in the coming years. Only a fool or a madman could attempt to negotiate with a PA representative (e.g. Abbas) who does not represent the present government (Hamas).

First scenario (less likely): A friend of mine asked me last night, if all the polls show that the vast majority of Palestinians want peace, how can they vote for Hamas? I think this answer is obvious. The results indicate that the majority of the Palestinians are concerned with infrastructure and social welfare and do not currently wish to engage in negotiations towards a final status agreement. Throughout America's history we have swayed back and forth between imperialism and xenophobia (to take two extremes) and I see no good reason why the Palestinians should not feel the same. In this scenario the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic remains static for the coming three years. With Hamas engaged in its role as a social welfare provider, it will not have the means to concertedly combat the "Zionists." Moreover, any Hamas provocation would likely provoke an Israeli response which would be contrary to the entire impetus for voting for Hamas in the first place, namely, building civic infrastructure.

Second scenario (more likely): Remember friends, because so many forget, Israel exists. And just like France, it is not going to dissolve any time in the future. So many in the neo-con camp seem to overlook the fact that Hamas does not pose a significant threat to Israel (Iran is something different, however). Therefore, the doomsday scenario in my eyes is that Hamas will use its position of authority to procure weapons and foreign support for its terrorist campaign, and ramp up its capabilities. It seems hard for me to believe that Hamas will be able to kill too many innocents before Israel would intervene and inter Hamas's political officials, but unlike Hamas's prospects in 1997, it does not look like their group will dissolve in the near future.

The final scenario, which is much less likely, is that Hamas, representing the Palestinian extreme, will actually be able to compromise and come to a lasting agreement. While Begin and Sharon were able to forge lasting arrangements due to their particular positions on the right, it does not seem to me that 1. Hamas is nearly mainstream enough 2. They have been involved long enough. Maybe after 30 years of political involvement Hamas could take a position of compromise, it does not seem reasonable that it will happen in just three.

One of the big wild cards here is how closely are rhetoric and policy linked in the Arab Politic? Can Hamas act moderatley while preaching violence? In the past Jihad means Jihad, but, for instance, I don't think Iran is going to attempt to wipe Israel off the map in the near future, despite Ahmadinejad's rhetoric to the contrary.

So is it good news for the Jews? I frankly see it being better than the current state of affairs. As my dad pointed out last night, truth is better than fiction. For the past months the world has been under the fiction that Abbas could restore order to the Palestinian territories. Now Hamas runs the region both in name and in fact and thus would seem easier for Israel to monitor, and identify a unified Palestinian voice (rather than bargaining with one voice, and bombing with another). Additionally, politics has its devilish way of making people complacent, maybe it will work its magic on Hamas as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Pork Soup

Apparently one of France's traditional meals is posing some problems for some of the poor within France. While there have been steps to denounce such actions, this strikes me as, yet again, another way in which the far right has been able to remain a legitimate political force in France.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Note on the Value of Elections

Traditionally, even the greatest supporters of liberal society have been wary of the democratic value of elections. The American constitution (article 2) created a system of electors in order to ensure that the presidential elections were slightly removed from a purely popular vote. The well-known European thinker, Edmund Burke, has the following to say about the value of popular elections:
To govern according to the sense and agreeably to the interests of the people is a great and glorious object of government. This object cannot be obtained but through the medium of popular election; and popular election is a mighty evil. . . . They are the distempers of elections that have destroyed all free states. ("Speech on a Bill for Shortening the Duration of Parliament")

Despite such warnings, our contemporaries appear to have come up with the idea that democracies are constituted by and only by popular election. Thus we learn that Egypt is democratic, Iraq is democratic, and even Palestine (though it is not yet even a country) is democratic. By the way, the list of parties running in the Palestinian elections would make anarchists blush. This list I have found (source) includes five parties:
  1. Fatah

  2. Hamas

  3. People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

  4. Third Way (for people who have grown disillusioned with Fatah, but are reluctant to endorse Hamas' program)

  5. Independent Palestine (headed by Mustafa Barghouti)
Three of those parties are well known terrorist organizations. The other two appear to be made up of independent terrorists. If these are the representatives of a democracy, there may be more "distempers" to worry about than those caused by the elections.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

All of the Fun

none of the shvitz. It's Oren and Miriam wedding photos.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wide or Narrow?

I am fasting today, and thus I am not entirely there (and I really wanted to see Apple announce the 13.3" iBook that they did not. Bummer.) so please excuse this post if it is not to your liking. On my last day here at Schumer's I have been listening to the Alito hearings and have been tuning in and out (More out than in during the MacworldExpo Keynote Address). I did catch something this morning something that caught my interest. Alito opined that his judicial philosophy would instruct him to rule, "not going to broader grounds when a narrower is a fair one." Why is that the case? Why should we think that Occam's Razor should apply to law (i.e. simpler is better)? I could image that lovey-dovey liberal environmental laws were enacted to evoke the most liberal reading possible. Why then should they be interpreted narrowly?

Reality Check on Douglas

While I will never be able to compete with the storied writings of Yo Miss! but I still think cataloging things kids say is important.

I substituted at Kadimah last week, the local day school, and I stayed to help out in the extended-day program. Sitting at a table of third and fourth graders reading a wonderful short work by Justice William O. Douglas "Points of Rebellion," I was trying to explain how important Justice Douglas was to those present. One of the kids interjected, "Well, my parents are still divorced."

Man, she schooled me.

Mmmmmmm. Shwarma

"In an attempt to stimulate the senses of ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, well-wishers brought [shwarma] into his hospital bedroom at Hadassah En Kerem" (JPost). This well wisher also tried to bring Sharon a delicious laffa full of shwarma (with pickled eggplant and hummus). Unfortunately the shwarma looked so good that I ate it on the way to the hospital. Mmmmmm shwarma.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mazal Tov

to Dave and Tikva Levitt on the birth of a baby boy on Friday. Bakol mikol kol, as they say.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Why I want to go to Penn

A. Finishing 7 grad apps of my own and
B. finishing 3 college apps for my brother and
C. the imminent prospect to moving to the Penn campus

I found this Doonesbury hysterical

If one wishes to meet the king of Sweden, I can recommend better colleges to attend.

The Presidential Hanukah Bush

This is the Hanukiah in front of the President's House in Jerusalem.
Between the Hanukiah and the presidential entryway, one can see a bush.