Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Season of Mavericks: Peres to Leave Labor and Join Sharon

From the AP:
Elder statesman Shimon Peres has signaled plans to leave the Labor Party on Wednesday after six decades and throw his support behind Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party.

The move would cap dramatic realignments in Israeli politics over the past month, following the summer pullout from Gaza.

A poll published Wednesday showed Sharon's new party - Kadima - has widened its lead and is now positioned to crush its rivals in March elections.

Peres is expected to return to Israel from Spain on Wednesday and hold a news conference.

Officials close to the longtime Labor leader said Wednesday he will announce he is leaving political life and will no longer be part of any major party. But he is expected to support Sharon in the election and, under an emerging deal, Peres could receive a Cabinet post in the next government if Sharon wins.

Although Peres has been trying to keep his announcement under wraps, he gave broad hints while talking to reporters in Barcelona on Tuesday, saying it was a difficult decision and praising Sharon.

"I shall decide tomorrow night," he said.

Neither Sleep Nor Slumber

Fool! What is sleep, but the likeness of icy death?
The fates shall give us a long period of rest.

On the Border: Lebanon, Israel, and the Party of God

Michael Totten photoblogged a recent trip to the Israeli/Lebanese Border. His photos show the tenuous military situation, as well as Hezbollah's public relations efforts.

*Warning: Graphic Content*

Via Instapundit

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanksgiving Memories

Maybe it's the long hours, but I found this Thanksgiving post quite touching.


Personal kudos to B. Spinoza for getting the new header.

The man in the image is indeed Clint Eastwood as William Munny in Unforgiven.

The movie is all about the old guard of the West confronting a changed world and their difficulty in responding to it. It's so rich with morals that I am just going to have to recommend you watch it. Of course I grew up with Sergio Leone's Man With No Name spaghetti westerns, so the movie was a real treat.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Waiting for Eureka

Despite the harmony I achieved in reconciling what I know with how the world works, I am still obviously missing something, or I wouldn't be up at 4:00AM. This got me to thinking to what consider what exactly is it that I am looking for.

When I "lost my faith," or when I reached that lovely paradigm shift discussed here, I had an "Aha!" moment. The questions that were lingering for years came into sharp focus and something clicked. An afterlife is so hard to imagine, because it most likely does not exist. There is so much evidence for evolution because it is true. There is a paucity of evidence supporting the Biblical narrative because it's mostly not literally true. Free will is an ill-defined concept because it most likely does not exist. Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen to bad people. Man is torn between emotion and intellect because different neural structures literally compete against each other. Jewish music sucks because Jewish music sucks.

But what now? How can religion ever prevail? The thought of a magical silver bullet is most unlikely. The leading kiruv klowny theories supporting the existence of a God as described in the Bible are so ridiculous that it is entertaining to hear someone try to make the case. Will there ever be a moment when my world view shifts again and I see truth behind everything that seems like nonsense now?

For some reason I doubt it. People far smarter than I am devoted their lives to the reconciling the division between science (i.e., "reality") and the mythical nature of religion and failed. RYBS didn't succeed and instead came to terms with the dialectic with out resolution and concluded that life is the struggle between these two competing views of human existence. I have a feeling the remaining years of my life are going to be a low-level conflict, or a war of attrition, between reality and my upbringing. Eventually one might win, but the lonely man of agnosticism faces the same conflict as the lonely man of faith.

What would resolution even look like?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Marketing Halakha

This is the closest I ever came to using foul language in a post. It seems that Jewish retailers can't help but make it seem as though their products were custom designed for Jews and therefore holy.

First, via GH, is the Holy Compass:
An amazing, attractive, compass that defies nature as it spins and stops in the direction of our prayers and dreams- Jerusalem! No computer chips, no circuitry, this non-electric, patented device, defies the laws of nature to point directly toward Jerusalem from any place you are in the world.

The compass ships in an elegant jewelry case and is recommended by leading Rabbi's
(Rav Moshe Halbershtam, shlit"a, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit"a, Rav Yosef Lieberman , shlit"a).

Second, via BTA, is the Shabbos Alarm Clock:
* Shabbat Mode- All alarms shut off by themselves after one minute! Once set, no need to touch your KosherClock on Shabbos! NO PROBLEM WITH MUKTZAH.
* 5 Beep Alarms- on Shabbos wake up for shacharis, enjoy a snooze, don't miss your chavrusa and be on time for mincha.
* Record Feature- on weekdays only, wake up to the voice of a loved one, or a recorded melody. (Do not use recorded alarms on Shabbat.)
* Photo Frame- holds a 2.4" x 2.7" picture.

Auto Shut-off Alarm Clock for Shabbat with 5 alarms and weekday recording
For example: Set the first alarm to go off at 8:00am. Set the second alarm for 8:15am. Each alarm will ring for one minute and then shut itself off automatically. No need to touch your KosherClock. The effect will be just like a snooze alarm. And to make sure you don't accidentally touch any of the buttons when you are still half asleep, KosherClock has a special hard flip cover as a heker. Perhaps you'll set the third alarm for 9:00am for your wife. The fourth alarm can be set at 4:00 pm to wake you for your afternoon chavrusah. And if you tend to get carried away with your learning, set the fifth alarm to warn you that it's time to walk to Shul for mincha.

What a fabulous gift idea, for Bar Mitzvah, Graduation, Birthday or especially for Grandparents living in another town.
I don't get the granparents thing. My grandfather is up at 5:00AM and he doesn't need no sticking alarm clock.

Would be uncouth to wonder how much money was involved in obtaining haskamas for these items? Some days I am embarrassed to be a member of the tribe.

A Fulfilling Lifestyle

Blogger ate my last attempt at this, so here goes.

BTA has posted (I, II) a series of letters written by Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch in the voice of an off-the-derech Jew. Needless to say, I will have to buy the book to read RSRH's answer, but the comments got me thinking. Is there anything redeeming in the Orthodox lifestyle, assuming that the theology is nonsense?

GH (who refuses to retire and that is a good thing) recently wrote why he has no problem with observing halakha:
If I am comfortable with Halachah and the Orthodox Lifestyle, what difference if all the claims of Orthodoxy are 100% true or not? They might well all be true, so it certainly makes no sense for me to drop any Halachic observance, especially when I am so comfortable with it.
But what happens when it is the liefestyle that contributes to the mental angst. Living your life from vapid practice to vapid practice is maddening. At some point, the intellect must control our actions.

I wear teffilin without feeling anything. I keep shabbos without feeling anything. I keep kosher without feeling anything. When I go to shul, I pray without feeling anything. A turning point came this succos when I witnessed grown men hollering on the top of their lungs whilst waving a palm frond and a lemon. Whatever supreme religious ecstasy they were feeling was definitely lost on me. A testifying Baptist congregation has ruakh too and I fail to see the difference between these two moments of religious ecstasy.

That the lifestyle is costless does not convince me. It is maddening to engage in practices you know are pointless. What does a lifestyle riddled with paradox have to offer, when an alternative system exists with a minimum of questions? Let me know.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

More Thoughts on the Afterlife

Not too long ago, DovBear had a surprisingly remarkably insightful post. In it he wondered how does God think without a physical brain. Today we are fairly certain that our mental processes are a result of our wonderful, physical brain. The rational answer is that the idea that God has thoughts and emotions is anthropomorphism run amok. I guess the apologetic answer is that God created man in His image, replete with the same cognitive processes He possesses.

To extend the question further, how do Jews imagine the afterlife. Death, by any religious definition, is the soul departing from its physical shell. The brain is part of that physical shell. How can we experience the pain of hell without a brain? My elementary school rabbis taught me that Heaven is the joy of experiencing the nearness of God's presence. A Chabad rabbi taught me that Hell is the experience of not being reincorporated into the God's essence and regret at what could have been. These emotions are impulses from the emotional center of the brain. Without it what else is there?

Friday, November 25, 2005

After Dinner Movie

Tonight I am enjoying Exodus along with a Romeo y Julieto (Habana).

Here are two techniques for those of you who have some cigars lying around outside the misty confines of a humidor:

1. The Bathroom Method:

Place the cigar on a ledge in the bathroom. Run the shower and the sink at full blast as hot as you can make them. Close the door and let the steam accumulate in the room. A bonus technique is to place the cigar in a perforates baggie and afix it to the room's vent if it has one. Many vents have a leverfor opening and closing the vent which makes a handy place to hook the bag onto. I do not like this method because the area you are filling with steam is far larger than the area of the cigar, hence it is inefficient. Also, if the room is large and the water heater small, you may not generate enough steam.

2. The respondingtojblogs Method (pat. pending):

Take a small sauce pan and fill it with a cup of water. Fold a sheet of tinfoil so a strip several layer thick, 2 inches wide, and about 8 inches long is formed. Perforate the center of the strip with a fork. Fold the strip of foil into a U-shape around the cigar, so that the cigar is centered on the strip. Now fold the strip with the cigar in the center so that the foil is mesa-shaped and affix the foil to the pot. Cover the whole mess with a hood of foil to trap the steam and turn the burner on full blast and moisten to perfection.

Back to the movie, I liked Eva Marie Saint better in North by Northwest (I have yet to see On the Waterfront). The book, which I read in high school after finding a copy in the yeshiva's library (how it survived there, I will never know) is far, far better than the movie.

Still, it is nice to reflect on that fleeting moment in history when it was cool to be Jewish.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Finding the Ideal Woman

From one Black Widow to another.

The Equalizing Nature of Judaism

I fear if I don’t commit this to “paper” it will be lost forever, as my turkey coma is coming on strong. The turkey, incidentally, came out beautifully minus a broken ankle.

In undergrad I studied, amongst other things, sociology. I was never much impressed with this field, as its principle insights come from other disciplines to be examined by scholars without training in the disciplines they either critique use to bolster their thesis.

One of my classes focused on the sociological effects the economic structure in the United States. The class was pretty straightforward hardcore socialism- Marx and Engel made up the bulk of the reading. In analyzing the “two Americas” concept, the class studied the divide between the rich and the poor and how that divide affects the social structure of social life.

Much is made about the disparity in the quality of education received by the rich, in their ritzy private schools and that received by the poor sods in public schools. Judaism, however, does not have this problem. While at the extreme margins it is possible to imagine a really rich religious child who receives private tutoring and an extremely poor religious child whose family is so destitute that he is sent to public school, in most instances Yeshivas are a melting pot of the rich and the poor.

Although the UO community has a rigid, albeit informal, social hierarchy, the Yeshiva system serves an important equalizing factor in education.

There, I’ve said something positive about ultra Orthodoxy and feel free to pass this along to any sociology students looking for an easy dissertation. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have tryptophan nightmares.

Pre-Thanksgiving Movie

This movie kills me. Luckily I'm a Cary Grant fan and Audrey Hepburn isn't too hard on the eyes. James Coburn is an added treat. They're almost enough to see past the ridiculous dialogue.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mikvah Thoughts

Lazer Brody shares his glurgey take on the practice of ritual immersion:
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that immersion in the mikva is the cure for all troubles, and has the power to purify a person from every form of sin and impurity. The spiritual power of the mikva is rooted in the most exalted levels of wisdom and love.

When the soul is purified, the brain thinks more clearly and the body feels a sense of wellbeing. Immersion in the mikva is superb preparation for both prayer and Torah learning. As such, many people - especially in Israel - immerse in the mikva every morning.

Immersion in the mikva before the Sabbath prepares the soul to receive the added, high-level sanctity of the Sabbath.

The Kabbalists say that when one immerses oneself in the mikva in this world, one's soul is immersed and purified in the upper worlds.
I already made my views on this subject clear. I never felt any spirituality going to mikvah, unless spirituality is akin to worrying about athlete's foot. I understand that tumah and tahara are matters of khoq, the practice still strikes me as fairly bizarre. The interaction between the physical world and that of tumah and tahara is just strange and beggars rational justification. Which would lead one into a discussion of taharas ha'mishpakha, and I don't plan on going there.

New Header II

I'm so proud of this header, I think I'm going to give it up for Lent.

Jews and the Internet

Must read article in today's Times. They scramble the details a bit, but it's nice to know someone is watching.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, the Orthodox schools and institutions of Lakewood, N.J., a community of 6,500 families in Ocean County, issued a proclamation forbidding children and high school students from using Internet-linked computers.

"Many children (and adults) have fallen prey to the immoral lures that are present on the Internet, and their lives have been destroyed," the seven-page proclamation began.

It barred even adults from going online at home except for the needs of a livelihood - and then only with rabbinical authorization.

Other faiths have also grappled with the Internet, though outright bans are rare. In 2000, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a "user beware" policy that warned parents to exercise some common-sense precautions like filters to ward off pornography.

More liberal Orthodox believers see the Internet as "an unbelievable tool" that must be used with sensible precautions, said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future, a division of Yeshiva University.

"Judaism does not believe in a Robinson Crusoe type of lifestyle," he said. "Our responsibility as Jews is to bring light into a larger society, and you don't do that by retreating."


So many haredim depend on the Internet for their livelihoods that the irony was not lost on them that the Lakewood ban displayed a keen sophistication about the Web.


Hasidim and other haredim have never been Luddites opposed to technology. But in building what they call a fence to safeguard Torah observance, they discourage enrollment in college, and social contacts between men and women. Some yeshivas will expel a child if they learn the family has a television.

"If television wasn't banned, we wouldn't have kids studying and learning Torah 16 to 18 hours a day," said Rabbi Shalom Storch, principal of Yeshiva Nesivos Ohr, a day school in Lakewood.

Hat Tip: Bloghead

A Scrawny Hero

Meet David Markovitch:

IDF paratrooper Corporal David Markovitch foiled a would-be attack when he killed four Hizbullah operatives carrying an anti-tank missile in the village of Ghajar in South Lebanon on Monday.

Markovitch, a trained sniper, aimed at the rocket, which exploded and killed three of the terrorists. He then shot the fourth, whose body was taken back across the lines by other Hizbullah members. The IDF was holding the other three bodies.

Markovitch, who was drafted eight months ago, was described by an Israel Radio interviewer as "not especially large or threatening, even with a helmet on his head," and was eager to praise his commander and cohorts when grilled for details.

"We were four [soldiers] working together, everyone did his job. We wanted to duck and hide, but our commander, Natan, gave the orders. We're a team," Markovitch said.

He told reporters that "it happened that [we] were in the middle of things, but really, it was a miracle. Them not seeing us - it was a miracle." Despite being trained combat soldiers, Markovitch admitted, they were afraid. "We didn't know what was going to happen," he said. "We were panicked, but we did our job."

"The terrorist - I saw him, and then...boom. It was a matter of seconds, the entire thing."

Insomnia Watch

Just a random musing at 5:30AM.

I've started using Google Talk as an alternative to AIM. While the basic instant messaging technology does not change much, Google Talk has a fairly impressive user-to-user voice calling system. I had a conversation with someone in Philadelphia and the transmission was near instantaneous. Which is more impressive when you realize that the microphone captures the sound, turns it over to GT for encryption, sends it through the internet to the receiving computer, decrypts the message and then plays it. And it works. The quality was superior to that of an analog phonecall.

I suppose a truer test of the technology would be over greater distances and calls abroad. A key feature that is not available, however, is GT-to-telephone service, which would necessarily cost Google more than a pure IP-to-IP call.

What's even more fun to speculate is a golden, future time when WiFi or similar wireless internet networks are made widespread. All telephone calls could be VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol- i.e., calls that exist purely as packets of data on the internet that flow between two internet users) and this greater interconnectivity will not only be cheaper to run, but offers superior transmission quality than the analog telephone system. Gone are antiquated telephone PBXs (although they have come a long way) and costly telephone service.

Unfortunately, the telecom industry rather than embrace the technology and work to develop it will most likely chose to fight readily available WiFi and are sure to fight VOIP.

Exhibit A is an article describing the telecom industry's fight to prevent Philadelphia from providing free WiFi throughout the city. Although I am a big fan of industry in general, this is fairly ridiculous. It's kind of sobering to think that politicians would attempt to deep-six a program that is clearly on the cutting edge of technology and would serve as a great test subject for this next step in communication technology.

Exhibit B
is an article detailing the FCC's ruling forcing VOIP carriers to provide 911 with the location of their users. This article details the sort of kludge solution that needs to be worked out for this new technology. At first blush it seems reasonable. A VOIP user suffering a stroke who is able to dial 911 but unable to speak should rescued just as a standard telephone victim would be saved. But cell phone carriers are not required to provide 911 with the location of a user. In fact, and this is rich, I attempted to report a crime to the Metro PD here in DC, but my phone was roaming on another carrier's network, whose cell tower is located outside of DC. Hence, instead of getting my local cops, I got the Arlington PD. Which probably wouldn't have worked out too well if I was in need of serious medical attention or needed the police to exercise its monopoly on legitimate force on my behalf.

Another problem that faces VOIP and even new instant messaging programs such as Google Talk is the problem of network effects. Basically, envision a telephone service that consists of you and your mother. The equipment backing the network only allows you to talk to your mother (her paradise I am sure). Now envision a network that allows you to talk to your whole family. Clearly you would prefer the network that allows a greater number of possible conversations. For this reason it was difficult for other firms to compete for local telephone service, and this is why it is difficult for upstart IM programs to gain a toehold.

However, I believe that VOIP and IM programs are different. The problem with network effects and the MaBell debacle was the problem of physical infrastructure. Physical line had to be laid by the telephone company to each house and from each house to a PBX and from each PBX to a series of "long lines," or super lines that connected the telephone exchanges. Here, the infrastructure exists and it's just a matter of time until someone perfects the VOIP technology and makes it readily accessible.

See what happens when I play around with my blog header? The inner geek emerges.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New Header

It seems no one gets the picture and many don't like the contrast between the black and the rest of the blog.


And I will personally give kudos to anyone who can identify the figure in the header (other than those I have already told).


I've modified the layout of the blog to make it more readable. Please let me know if it doesn't load properly on your screen.

Monday, November 21, 2005

With Murtha and Laughter Let Old Wrinkles Come

The redeeming quality of treadmills is that you can watch television while you run. After SpongeBob SquarePants (which was very disappointing, I remember it being funnier), I caught Vice President Cheney's speech to the American Enterprise Institute.

It's worth excerpting a few choice tidbits.
But nobody is saying we should not be having this discussion or that you cannot reexamine a decision made by the president and the Congress some years ago.

To the contrary, I believe it is critical that we continue to remind ourselves why this nation took action and why Iraq is the central front in the war on terror and why we have a duty to persevere.

What is not legitimate and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence.

Some of the most irresponsible comments have come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein.

These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities.

And they were free to reach their own judgments based upon the evidence.

They concluded, as the president and I had concluded, and as the previous administration had concluded, that Saddam Hussein was a threat.

Available intelligence indicated that the dictator of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and this judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of many other nations, according to the bipartisan Silberman-Robb commission.

All of us understood, as well, that for more than a decade, the U.N. Security Council had demanded that Saddam Hussein make a full accounting of his weapons programs.

The burden of proof was entirely on the dictator of Iraq, not on the U.N. or the United States or anyone else. And he repeatedly refused to comply throughout the course of the decade.


Meanwhile, back in the United States, a few politicians are suggesting these brave Americans were sent into battle for a deliberate falsehood.

This is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety. It has no place anywhere in American politics, much less in the United States Senate.


The terrorists want to end American and Western influence in the Middle East.

Their goal in that region is to gain control of a country so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands.

For a time, the terrorists had such a base in Afghanistan under the backward and violent rule of the Taliban. And the terrorists hope to overturn Iraq's democratic government and return that country to the rule of tyrants.

The terrorists believe that by controlling an entire country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in the region and to establish a radical Islamic empire that encompasses a region from Spain across North Africa through the Middle East and South Asia all the way to Indonesia.

They have made clear as well their ultimate ambitions: to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate all Western countries and to cause mass death in the United States.

Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway.

The reality is the terrorists were at war with our country long before the liberation of Iraq and long before the attacks of 9/11. And for many years, they were the ones on the offensive. They grew bolder in the belief that if they killed Americans, they could change American policy.

In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 of our servicemen. Thereafter, the United States withdrew from Beirut.

In Mogadishu in 1993, terrorists killed 19 American soldiers. Thereafter, the U.S. withdrew its forces from Somalia.

Over time the terrorists concluded that they could strike America without paying a price, because they did repeatedly: the bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993, the murders at the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995, the Khobar Towers in 1996, the simultaneous bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and, of course, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Believing they could strike us with impunity and that they could change U.S. policy, they attacked us on 9/11 here in the homeland, killing 3,000 people.

Now they're making a stand in Iraq, testing our resolve, trying to intimidate the United States into abandoning our friends and permitting the overthrow of this new Middle Eastern democracy.

Recently, we obtained a message from the number two man in Al Qaida, Mr. Zawahiri, that he sent to his chief deputy in Iraq, the terrorist Zarqawi. The letter makes clear that Iraq is part of a larger plan of imposing Islamic radicalism across the broader Middle East, making Iraq a terrorist haven and a staging ground for attacks against other nations.

Zawahiri also expresses the view that America can be made to run again.
In light of the commitments our country has made, and given the stated intentions of the enemy, those who advocate a sudden withdraw from Iraq should answer a few simple questions: Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with Zarqawi, bin Laden and Zawahiri in control of Iraq? Would we be safer or less safe with Iraq ruled by men intent on the destruction of our country?

It is a dangerous illusion to suppose that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone.

In fact, such a retreat would convince the terrorists that free nations will change our policies, forsake our friends, abandon our interests whenever we are confronted with murder and blackmail.

A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, an invitation to further violence against free nations and a terrible blow to the future security of the United States of America.

I realize most of my last few posts have dealt with politics and not religion, which everyone loves hearing about. I'll return to that as soon as possible, however, it is important to counter this ridiculous notion that the Bush Administration lied about pre-war intelligence and that leaving Iraq immediately or within six months is a good idea. Why six months? Why not a week? What's magical about six months, other than the fact that Murtha is naturally attracted to big, round numbers.


What's worse than running on a treadmill?
Doing it after staying awake for 36 hours.

What worse than running on a treadmill after staying awake for 36 hours?
Running without your pair of $15.00 socks.

That's it, nothing else to see here.

NOLA Synagogues on Brink

From the Forward:
Before Hurricane Katrina hit, the Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation had $750,000 in pledges from congregants and was planning to update its 1970s-era building in suburban New Orleans. Now, nearly three months after the storm, the city's only Conservative congregation faces a fiscal crisis and is simply hoping to survive.

The synagogue suffered at least $700,000 in water damage — a sum that must be paid in full, since the congregation lacked flood insurance. Monthly dues have been suspended, the vast majority of temple families have not returned home and the ultimate size of the future membership remains uncertain.

"[It's] down to the barebones," said the congregation's executive director, Michael Kancher. "The next two years are going to be tough."

The physical damage to Jewish institutions across the city is significant, as synagogues and religious schools brace for lower numbers and lean times.

The offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, located on the third floor of a brick building in suburban Metairie, survived unscathed and reopened October 17. But the building's first two floors, which house a satellite of the Jewish Community Center and the federation-run community day school, sustained damage from water and mold. In addition to Shir Chadash, Metairie's Reform congregation Gates of Prayer suffered significant water damage, while Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in New Orleans's Lakeview neighborhood, may have been damaged beyond repair.

Insane Left Smack Clinton on Iraq WMD

Mike Marqusee, writing for CounterPunch, where the insanity is so strong you can smell the disease, isn't fooled by Clinton's recent back peddling on the case against Saddam.
Clinton publicly backed the invasion of 2003--and he can't credibly claim he did so because (like the US public) he was misled by White House propaganda about Iraq's WMD and links to Al Qaeda. In fact, his administration laid the groundwork for the Iraq policy pursued by Bush.
Be sure to listen to this audio file put together by my peeps at WABC radio in NY and publicized by Drudge. It's a regular hit parade of Democratic politicians pushing the case for WMD. Either they were grossly negligent in their oversight capacity or they spineless political hacks who compromise national security for the sake of electoral politics. You decide.

While I'm at it, be sure to read this piece by the Hitch explaining how much tinfoil you need in your hat to believe Bush lied to the nation.

Keeping the Internet Free

Bravo to the WaPo. In an editorial, the paper disfavors handing over the architecture of the Internet to the United Nations:
It's possible that a multilateral overseer of the Internet might be just as efficient. But the ponderous International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. body that would be a leading candidate to take over the domain registry, has a record of resisting innovation -- including the advent of the Internet. Moreover, a multilateral domain-registering body would be caught between the different visions of its members: on the one side, autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and China that want to restrict access to the Internet; on the other side, open societies that want low barriers to entry. These clashes of vision would probably make multilateral regulation inefficiently political.

You may say that this is a fair price to pay to uphold the principle of sovereignty. If a country wants to keep certain users from registering domain names (Nazi groups, child pornographers, criminals), then perhaps it has a right to do so. But the clinching argument is that countries can exercise that sovereignty

to a reasonable degree without controlling domain names. They can order Internet users in their territory to take offensive material down. They can order their banks or credit card companies to refuse to process payments to unsavory Web sites based abroad. Indeed, governments' ample ability to regulate the Internet has already been demonstrated by some of the countries pushing for reform, such as authoritarian China. The sovereign nations of the world have no need to wrest control of the Internet from the United States, because they already have it.
Hopefully this new penchant for multilateralism will never extend to a medium that has and will continue to change the way we live our lives.

Fallen Art

Despite its political overtones, this short and extremely macabre animation is fascinating. Right click over the link and select "save as."

This is not exactly work friendly and definitely not for children.

on the film.

In Fashion Reminiscent of Genghis Kahn

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The poem continues, but you get my drift.

Blog Spotlight

I just want to point out Moving On, a really touching blog written by a father who lost his ten year old daughter.

His posts are always well-written, cogent, and sobering.

Crime Under-reported in DC Metro

This is a lovely bit of news. Turns out that the Metro authorities do not include crimes committed on the Metro if the incident was handled by law enforcement other than the Metro cops. Which is ridiculous when you realize that the Metro system cuts through three states. Well, two states and a vassal of the federal government.

Funny story, I actually got into a fight on the Metro, but that's a story for another time (mainly because it wasn't that exciting).

Zarqawi Update

The jury is still out on whether Abu Musab "Fredo" al-Zarqawi has bit the big one, and both the White House and the J-Post, the first English source to report the story, are backing off.

Israeli Schools to Teach Pollard Case

From Haaretz:
Jonathan Pollard has been imprisoned for 7,304 days. On Monday, for the first time since he was incarcerated over 20 years ago for spying for Israel, a local government authority is seeking to express what it sees as the broad public support here for "Pollard's contribution to the State of Israel."

In accordance with a directive by Education Minister Limor Livnat, all schools will spend one hour on Tuesday learning about Pollard's case. Teachers will recall the events leading to his imprisonment in the United States, and they have been instructed to discuss the obligations of Israel toward him with their students.

I have already made views on Pollard known. I think there are more valuable causes than a busted spy's.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Zarqawi Might Be Dead in Blast

This is too good to be true, and we've been disappointed before.

Of course look for the insane left to portray this as a Bush publicity stunt whether it is true or not.

Hattip: LGF

Update I (11/20/05 1353):
That didn't take long.

More details here:
A U.S. and Iraqi raid on a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq safe house in Mosul sparked a three-hour firefight in which four insurgents and four policemen were killed and three guerrillas blew themselves up, said Gov. Duraid Kashmoulaof Nineveh province.

Iraqi and U.S. forces had suspected Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of Iraq's most feared insurgent group, might be at the house, Kashmoula said. Zarqawi's whereabouts have been the topic of a stream of murky reports; U.S. military officials have said they believe Zarqawi has vowed not to be taken alive.

The U.S. military was examining the dead late Saturday, the governor said. U.S. military spokesmen in Baghdad said they had no information other than word of the firefight.

Two thoughts:
I. The story is not implausible, since Zarqawi has been disowned by his family, and someone may have ratted him out.

II. A producer at a Mid-East might have gotten a litte over anxious and couldn't wait for confirmation. If the U.S. military is conducting DNA tests, it stands to reason that the story would break from American sources.

Bush Mountain Biking in China

I am trying to decide whether biking with the president is a good detail or bad. I remember reading that the agents enjoyed running with him, but mountain biking is hard! I'd rather run 10 miles cross-country than bike it.

Labor Pulls Out

In a widely-expected move, the Peretz-lead Labor (Labour?) Party has pulled out of the government, while Sharon mulls leaving Likud.

Wait a sec, I though Sharon was at the center of the PNAC-Likud International Zionist Conspiracy to Subjugate and Ethnically Cleanse Indigenous People. Damn, but those Likudniks are crafty.

Aguilera No JAP

Christina Aguilera has tied the knot, and quite honestly I couldn't give a damn, however this part stood out:
Sources told the magazine that Aguilera, her hair decorated in jewels and pulled back in a bun topped by white flowers, walked down the aisle in a Christian Lacroix gown. The couple exchanged rings in front of about 130 guests.
130? If a pop star can do it, is there a reason the standard Jewish weddings have more like 600 guests?

Reform Jews On Holy War

From the AP:
The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a "monopoly on God" while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said "religious right" leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.

The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.

Yoffie did not mention evangelical Christians directly, using the term "religious right" instead. In a separate interview, he said the phrase encompassed conservative activists of all faiths, including within the Jewish community.

He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.

"We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. "Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry."

The Union for Reform Judaism represents about 900 synagogues in North America with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism - Orthodox and Conservative are the others - it is the only one that sanctions gay ordination and supports civil marriage for same-gender couples.

Yoffie said liberals and conservatives share some concerns, such as the potential damage to children from violent or highly sexual TV shows and other popular media. But he said, overall, conservatives too narrowly define family values, making a "frozen embryo in a fertility clinic" more important than a child, and ignoring poverty and other social ills.

One attendee, Judy Weinman of Troy, N.Y., said she thought Yoffie was "right on target."

"He reminded us of where we have things in common and where we're different," she said.

Yoffie also urged lawmakers to model themselves on presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who famously told a Houston clergy group in 1960 that a president should not make policy based on his religion.

On other topics, Yoffie asked Reform synagogues to do more to hold onto members, who often leave after their children go to college. He also said the Reform movement, which is among the most accepting of non-Jewish spouses, should make a greater effort to invite spouses to convert.

That's real lovely- imply the "Christian" right is akin to Hitler. Hey, here's a question. If there are many paths to God, why the need for converts?

I find it hard to understand how a religious leader who is so keen on moral relativism would tell another religion how to act.

Why is it that the alternatives to UO seem like nothing more than front groups for liberal causes?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Neusner on the Pentateuch

I started reading Jacob Neusner's Transformations in Ancient Judaism. It's fairly dense material and I wish he footnoted his work (the book does not include any references). His basic thesis is that the creation/formation/redaction of the Pentateuch, Mishnah, and Talmud/Midrash were in response to crises experienced by ancient Jews.

His work doesn't lend itself to pithy quotes, but this one ain't bad:
[T]he Torah extended the range of the covenant to even humble matters of ordinary, everyday life: sanctification of the here and now. The human condition takes on a heightened intensity when God cares what you eat for lunch, on the one hand, but will reward you for having [chosen] suitable food, on the other.
As a side grouse, the book doesn't appear to be edited at all, and I find myself distracted by typos. And with that, I am off to freeze on the Virginia shore of the Potomac.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Krauthammer on Intelligent Design

I usually make it a habit of reading Krauthammer's Friday column before I go to sleep on Friday night, but this one is too good.
Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. It is a "theory" that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species but also says that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, "I think I'll make me a lemur today." A "theory" that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the "strong force" that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.

The school board thinks it is indicting evolution by branding it an "unguided process" with no "discernible direction or goal." This is as ridiculous as indicting Newtonian mechanics for positing an "unguided process" by which Earth is pulled around the sun every year without discernible purpose. What is chemistry if not an "unguided process" of molecular interactions without "purpose"? Or are we to teach children that God is behind every hydrogen atom in electrolysis?

He may be, of course. But that discussion is the province of religion, not science. The relentless attempt to confuse the two by teaching warmed-over creationism as science can only bring ridicule to religion, gratuitously discrediting a great human endeavor and our deepest source of wisdom precisely about those questions -- arguably, the most important questions in life -- that lie beyond the material.

How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.

On Free Will: Part I


I've been meaning to post something on free will, given a recent conversation I had (you know who you are), but the topic is so rich, I imagine it will grow into several posts.

I can kick it off with a recent anecdote. I was having a conversation with a very prominent government official. I can't identify him by name or by title to protect his identity (and to some extent to protect my own anonymity), but suffice it to say that he operates at the highest level of government and is on first name basis with at least one Supreme Court justice and the current resident of the Naval Observatory. I say this not to impress but to give you some context.

We were discussing Consilience, a book by E.O. Wilson, a Harvard biologist, which he had read and I have not. Wilson's basic thesis is that the human condition, its literature, its religion, and its culture will one day be understood through the study of physical processes, particularly the brain. The official told me that he envisions that one day, but not in his lifetime, and in all likelihood not mine either, neuroscience will be able to achieve complete understanding of how the brain shaped the human condition.

Now this happens to be a small pet cause of mine, especially after reading the seminal book How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker and On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. So I asked him the next logical question: How did he think society would react when neuroscience is able to demonstrate the non-existence of free will. (This is not beyond possibility, the technical minded can imagine an experiment which would demonstrate the mind as a Turing machine or an Oracle.)

His response:
"What do I care, I'll be dead?"

Tolstoy vs. Carmell

I finished reading Tolstoy's War and Peace over Simchas Torah, but lingered over his second epilogue, which is basically a treatment of free will and history. In it he utterly destroys a kiruv clowny argument made by Aryeh Carmell in his essay "Freedom, Providence, and the Scientific Outlook," which I read in Challenge, a collection of essays on reconciling Torah and science edited by Carmell. I don't want to knock the essay too badly, because some of it is quite good, especially the section that addresses the semantics of free will. And, although for some odd reason he bothers to discuss it, he eliminates quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle as possible saviors of free will. He also has some strange speculation of the existence of a mindon or psychon fundamental particle responsible for free will, which quite frankly is entirely kiruv clowny.

In his essay, Carmell writes:
In any case, if there were indeed a conflict between physics and free will, which would have the burden of proof? Which represents itself with more certainty to the human mind? The laws of physics are, after all, derivative, while of my ability to make decisions I have direct cognisance.

Arthur H. Compton, the Nobel physicist, put this point very forcefully: "One's ability to move his hand at will is much more directly and certainly known than are even the well-tested laws of Newton and...if these laws deny one's ability to move his hand at will, the preferable conclusion is that Newton's laws require modification."

Compton did not of course mean his remarks to apply only to Newtonian physics. They apply certainly with no less force to modern physics with its basically statistical laws.
Phew. So basically free will exists because we think it does. It is odd for a scientist to trust his own intuition over physical law, no?

As it turns out Tolstoy thought so too. In his second epilogue to War and Peace he writes:
(1) To whatever degree we may imagine a man to be exempt from the influence of the external world, we never get a conception of freedom in space. Every human action is inevitably conditioned by what surrounds him and by his own body. I lift my arm and let it fall. My action seems to me free; but asking myself whether I could raise my arm in every direction, I see that I raised it in the direction in which there was least obstruction to that action either from things around me or from the construction of my own body. I chose one out of all the possible directions because in it there were fewest obstacles. For my action to be free it was necessary that it should encounter no obstacles. To conceive of a man being free we must imagine him outside space, which is evidently impossible.

(2) However much we approximate the time of judgment to the time of the deed, we never get a conception of freedom in time. For if I examine an action committed a second ago I must still recognize it as not being free, for it is irrevocably linked to the moment at which it was committed. Can I lift my arm? I lift it, but ask myself: could I have abstained from lifting my arm at the moment that has already passed? To convince myself of this I do not lift it the next moment. But I am not now abstaining from doing so at the first moment when I asked the question. Time has gone by which I could not detain, the arm I then lifted is no longer the same as the arm I now refrain from lifting, nor is the air in which I lifted it the same that now surrounds me. The moment in which the first movement was made is irrevocable, and at that moment I could make only one movement, and whatever movement I made would be the only one. That I did not lift my arm a moment later does not prove that I could have abstained from lifting it then. And since I could make only one movement at that single moment of time, it could not have been any other. To imagine it as free, it is necessary to imagine it in the present, on the boundary between the past and the future- that is, outside time, which is impossible.

(3) However much the difficulty of understanding the causes may be increased, we never reach a conception of complete freedom, that is, an absence of cause. However inaccessible to us may be the cause of the expression of will in any action, our own or another's, the first demand of reason is the assumption of and search for a cause, for without a cause no phenomenon is conceivable. I raise my arm to perform an action independently of any cause, but my wish to perform an action without a cause is the cause of my action.

The arm raising thought experiment is nonsensical and it taints Carmell's essay. What is interesting is that neither Tolstoy nor Carmell inform their work with any neuroscience. Tolstoy, writing in the 19th century, had an excuse.

NAACP Head Joins GOP

Interesting news out of Florida:
For decades, Republicans have struggled to reach out to black Americans. But now in Orange County, the GOP has to reach no further than the NAACP.

As of this week, Derrick Wallace, head of Orange County's NAACP, has switched parties -- to become a Republican.

"I've thought about this for two years," Wallace said Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours after returning from the elections office. "This is not a decision I made yesterday."

It is, however, a decision that rang out like a shot among political circles.

Republican Party leader Lew Oliver described himself as "extraordinarily pleased," while Democratic leader Tim Shea said he was disappointed.

Wallace, a construction-company exec, was candid about the fact that his business life was a big part of his decision to change.

"It's purely a business decision. Ninety percent of those I do business with are Republicans," he said. "Opportunities that have come to my firm have been brought by Republicans."

To that, Shea responded: "I'm a little confused. Are we talking about the National Association for the Advancement of Construction Professionals -- or Colored People?"

Wallace elaborated that his "business" line of thought also referred to the NAACP. Behind many of the power desks in this town sit Republicans. And he said he wants his organization to be part of that structure. Just as importantly, he said, he didn't want people to immediately brand -- or dismiss -- NAACP concerns as synonymous with those of liberal Democrats. "I want this branch to be respected," he said.

Oliver said they already are, noting that all of the members of the GOP executive board joined the NAACP a few years back to show that they were serious about outreach. "We have taken pains to do our very best to reach out," he said.

But Shea and other Democrats have long maintained that Republican talk about inclusion is little more than that: talk. They cite GOP policy after policy -- on everything from voting rights to health care -- that disproportionately negatively affects blacks.

Wallace's party switch may not be a complete surprise. After his own long-shot bid for mayor of Orlando fell short in 2003, he twice supported Republican candidates for the post.

Still, Wallace's new GOP standing is historic for the NAACP -- an organization that is vastly Democratic.

"I don't think my doing this hurts anything. In fact, I think it helps," Wallace said. "But we'll hear what others have to say. I'm sure I will."

I don't see any evidence that this part of a broader trend, but it's fun to think so. As the battle over the estate tax shows, wealth blacks have the same concerns as wealthy whites, and they are unwilling to allow the Democratic Party to redistribute their hard earned fortunes.

The political economics of a possible trend are titillating. The Democratic Party has long taken the black vote for granted and this built in demographic is probably the only thing preventing a total collapse in southern states.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bin Laden on Williamsburg Bus Ads

What would OBL have to say about the advertisements the Williamsburg community protests from time to time?

Osama bin Laden wants the United States to convert to Islam, ditch its constitution, abolish banks, jail homosexuals and sign the Kyoto climate change treaty.

The first complete collection of the Saudi's statements published today portrays a world in which Islam's enemies will take the first steps towards salvation by embracing the "religion of all the prophets".

Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden is billed as the first accurate compendium of the terrorist leader's words, threats and ruminations from 1994 to 2004.

Its editors have rooted out many statements which they identified as forgeries and retranslated to correct "horrendous" errors.

His terms for America's surrender appeared after the September 2001 suicide attacks and include demands that amount to the abandonment of much of western life.

Alcohol and gambling would be barred and there would be an end to women's photos in newspapers or advertising.

Hattip: LGF

NY Jews Urge Tougher US Stance On Israel

Who are these people?
New York Jewish leaders encouraged U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to intervene aggressively in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the Gaza border crossings, telling her this would gain the support of American Jews, according to sources affiliated with the community's liberal wing.

In particular, the sources said, they urged her to take a tough line against Israel, especially on issues such as a settlement freeze and dismantling illegal settlement outposts. The sources said several leading New York Jews held talks with Rice recently at which these issues, as well as the impasse over the border crossings, were discussed.

Ending the White Phosphorus Idiocy

It's nice to see someone is sticking up for my good buddy, Willy Pete. A milblogger debunks the recent hysteria over the use of the "chemical weapons." It has come to my attention that cordite is a chemical compound that expands at high speed to drive little bits of metal into innocent Iraqi militants. But then we already knew our savage military routinely engages in all sorts of war crimes. The history revisionists are surely hell-bent on proving it.

An Instapundit reader notes that if WP is actually a chemical weapon, then Saddam had plenty of them and there were in fact stockpiles of WMD.

More Iranian Animation

Here are some more execrable children's cartoons courtesy of the Mullah's propaganda machine:
I, II.

Courtesy of MEMRI TV.

Protest: Syrian Style

Just who is demonstrating on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad? The two groups of people with the greatest liberty under the Assad regime of course: Children and prisoners.
In Syria, even the prisoners are supporting the government in its standoff with the United Nations: They're on a three-day hunger strike to express solidarity.
It's all part of a new and more aggressive stance by President Bashar Assad, who's made clear in recent days that his country intends to fight back hard against a U.N. probe that implicated Syria in murder.

Some may dismiss the hunger strike as a government-staged stunt. But it shows how far Damascus will go to prove that normal Syrians support the president:

- Children ages 6 to 10 have held a pro-regime sit-in.
- Syria's black, red and white flag flutters from all balconies and car windows.
- And, according to an association that cares for prisoners, 90 percent of inmates in Damascus jails began a hunger strike this week to protest the international pressure.

It's nice to think that those imprisoned in Syria's jails are so patriotic. Actually, they just might be true Syrian patriots who prefer a democratic government as opposed the current inept regime which put them in the poke in the first place.

Start Back Over As One

Many apologies to my readers. Real life rudely extended my blogging vacation. The good news at the end of all it, there was a lot of beer. Really a lot. A keg and a half's worth. But that's a story for a different time.

But more than just apologize, I want to thank the commenters who kept the last thread going, notably, Anonymousette, K., Holy Hyrax (get a damn blog) and HWHL. I'm not sure why he thinks he is on my list of blogs to avoid, but he brings a blissfully ignorant perspective that fills me with nostalgia.

I also want to thank Ezzie for taking over wacking Dov Bear with the clue bat in my absence.

In the comments on the previous post, both Holy Hyrax asked if it was possible to be rational and believe in God. Mis-Nagid seemed to indicated that some belief systems involving a deity are rational, but I am not familiar with them.

The arguments for God that squeeze Him in the role of First Cause are not irrational in that they don't contradict any physical evidence, but they strike me as fairly ridiculous. The line of questioning begins with the assumption that all things have a creator. The kiruv klowny rabbis that I have spoken end their argument right there. All things have a creator, therefore this world must have a creator, and that creator is God.

Which is ridiculous. The whole premise is built on the assumption that all things have a creator. Who created God? The questioner then drops this assumption with the Judaic conception of the timeless Creator. David Hume made this line of questioning fairly ridiculous to Christian deists, and if one attempts to find the God of the Jews in this ridiculous argument, they will be fairly disappointed as well.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I'm Back

My blogging vacation is now over. My apologies for the lack of bloggage, but my real-world commitments have been keeping me busy. In the past eight days, I've pulled three all nighters. Longest period without sleep: ~50 hours, nowhere near my personal record of 70. Longest period of continuous sleep: six hours.

Of course GH's retirement kinda took the zest out of blogging, but his recent blessing to me is a new source of inspiration. Just to speculate about GH's retirement: He said that he was packing it in due to new job commitments and I believe. Even my humble blog really eats into my regular routine. But is it possible something else is at work? In one of his last posts, GH speculated that some gedolim get depressed later in life, possibly by the realization that the dialectic between religious and scientific man (to roughly paraphrase RYBS) is one that offers no resolution. Is it possible that those who pick up the mantle of resolving these issues are invariably disappointed and are left with more questions than answers.

It seems that the whole system is falling apart. To cite anecdotal evidence, no one I know who went out to reconcile their religion with the real world came back the same. They come to the realization that the answers they wanted are not there. It would be lovely to pick up a book by some cool rabbi who lays out the case for God and utilizes actual reasoning in doing so.

Instead they realize that the rational framework offers no justification for religion. They discover the apologists standard line- eilu v'eilu divrei elokim chayim- that these two entities are separate and never shall the twain meet. Belief in God requires a suspension of the reason.

Is it possible that GH came to this realization and realized that the uphill battle wasn't worth it. That life is short and it's a healthier strategy to focus on his family and community than to tilt at windmills?

I think it's a good possibility. The system is falling apart all around us, and any rabbi who attempts to tackle this issue is either castigated by the UO or falls off into the abyss of logic. We all desperately want to believe that resolution lies off in the future, but it is right in front of us. The world makes sense. We are just scared too scared of it.

So I wish GH the best of luck in retirement, and toast his enormous contribution to the j-blogosphere.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Happy Veterans Day

Jim Massey: Liar

In honor of today's celebration, here is a piece of good news. Apparently people are wising up to the fact that Jim Massey can't tell an atrocitiy from the delusions that flit across his diseased mind:

For more than a year, former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey has been telling anybody who will listen about the atrocities that he and other Marines committed in Iraq.

In scores of newspaper, magazine and broadcast stories, at a Canadian immigration hearing and in numerous speeches across the country, Massey has told how he and other Marines recklessly, sometimes intentionally, killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Among his claims:

Marines fired on and killed peaceful Iraqi protesters.

Americans shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head.

A tractor-trailer was filled with the bodies of civilian men, women and children killed by American artillery.

Massey's claims have gained him celebrity. Last month, Massey's book, "Kill, Kill, Kill," was released in France. His allegations have been reported in nationwide publications such as USA Today, as well as numerous broadcast reports. Earlier this year, he joined the anti-war bus tour of Cindy Sheehan, and he's spoken at Cornell and Syracuse universities, among others.

News organizations worldwide published or broadcast Massey's claims without any corroboration and in most cases without investigation. Outside of the Marines, almost no one has seriously questioned whether Massey, a 12-year veteran who was honorably discharged, was telling the truth.

He wasn't.

Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated - according to his fellow Marines, Massey's own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's unit, including a reporter and photographer from the Post-Dispatch and reporters from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.

While I kind of feel sorry for Massey, since he sounds rather ill, it is loads of fun to watch the DemocraticUnderground crackpots vie for who has the crackiest pot of them all.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mount Nebo

It seems that Godol Hador is really leaving. For once I hope DovBear is correct and that he will be back, but I respect GH's decision. Blogging consumes a lot of time, and GH not only posts frequently on heady topics, but he then expounds and defends himself in comment threads that routinely reach 100 comments.

For me, he is irreplacable. He was a trailblazer in trying to make Orthodox Judaism rational and defend our tradition against insane fundamentalists who more closely resemble unthinking Mullahs than God's Chosen.

I can't pretend to think that I can take his place, since we definitely have opposing view points on many crucial issues (although given more time, who knows, he could have convinced me) and quite frankly he knows a heck of a lot more than I do. Therefore, I have reserved This will be a collaborative blog shared among bloggers who appeared in GH's comments (and newcomers) to continue the "great conversation" contained in GH's blog. If there is interest in this, please email me. I have no interest in running the blog, just reading its posts.

Hat Tip: Holy Hyrax for the title of this post.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Status Update

I am still technically on blogging vacation (as announced at the bottom of last post) dealing with the demands of real life. However, since some of you view my Blogger profile, I should explain that I reserved a blog called "Post-Godol Hador." I really hope that GH stays in the fight for rational truth, but in the event he leaves, he will leave a huge gaping hole in the j-blogosphere. I prefer that he curtail his posting rather leave, but I guess that is in the hands of a higher authority (Mrs. GH, who must be long suffering).

I can't imagine who would fill his shoes, since his place in all this mess is unique. What I propose in the unfortunate event of him calling it quits is a collaborative blog authored by his regulars. At least if GH leaves he will return to us in spirit, ala Mis-Nagid, albeit one who, hopefully, guest posts frequently.

Sidenote: How ironic is it that Blogger's spell check doesn't have "blogging" or "blogosphere" in its dictionary?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Shifting Without a Clutch

BTA has been kind enough to edit and put up my guest post on his blog, which promises to add something to the current situation confronting many religious Jews today. Here it is on my blog:

Education and Re-education:
My name is Anonym and I am an OTD FFB. I think I was always a good kid. I got good grades through out elementary and high school. I competed in an interschool halakha competition (don't worry it wasn't on a useful topic). My science education was quintessential Yeshiva Orthodox. In junior high, the professor gave me our science exams to grade. We skipped several chapters in high school bio. Trigonometry was a joke (the only thing for which I don't forgive my high school).

My point is that I was not a "troubled teen." Me and my group of friends would discuss science and halakha. We discovered Challenge and got very into it. Of course we would never believe that man came from monkeys, that's ridiculous. I mean look at us, we're Yeshiva students toiling in God's word, how could we come from monkeys?Our rabbis honestly told us that fossil evidence is entirely manufactured. Dinosaurs are a myth. Why Orthodoxy chose to pick on dinosaurs is beyone me...

It was very clear that we were in the right and anyone who opposed us was either sadly mistaken or an evil genius- to be avoided like the plague for his potential for misleading us.

Paradigm Shift Without A Clutch
Then I got into the world, which I won't discuss (I assure you I was still a good kid, I just don't want to reveal identifying details).This summer I had time off and got to thinking. I had just read an excellent book on evolutionary psychology and was thinking about the arguments the author made. It wasn't an overly technical book, but suddenly my world changed. I understood that evolution as discussed in Yeshiva was an awful distortion of the actual theory and that the evolutionary mechanism is a simple description of physical law (whether or not it fully explains mankind is a matter up for debate, but there can be no question that the mechanism is there). And that was my tipping point. My worldview rotated on axis and I realized that all the garbage I digested, all the apologetics, all the ridiculous "proofs," and all the trappings of Orthodoxy, were flatly wrong.

It was a pretty awful feeling, so I called one my Yeshiva buddies, who I will call Mike. He left Yeshiva a little after me and is in a scientific profession. "Mike, I got a serious problem. I finally see the religion for what it is. It's nonsense. They have no concept of science, they don't understand evolution and none of it holds up to rational scrutiny." Mike asked, "Is this a joke?" "No, why?""Because you called me about this three years ago, and your exact words were 'Mike, I'm not sure about this religion, something doesn't seem right, they can't explain science.'"

The difference between this crisis and whatever heart-to-heart I had with Mike three years ago is incalculable. It is one thing to question your faith and then fall back on one of the standard pat answers tossed about by the "cool" rabbis bold enough to discuss science-inspired doubts (Hint: God must be Swiss 'cause He makes watches). That kind of thing wasn't going to help this time around. The watchmaker explanations only left me more wound up. [Ed.: sorry, couldn't resist]

The switch in my perspective is so fundamental that the only people who seem to know what I am talking about are those who experienced it themselves. But you know something, I still can't leave my religion. There is a great pizza place around the block from me. Since my crisis kicked into high gear, I cannot articulate what is keeping me from walking in there, but I can't.

The socialization you get from an FFB upbringing is similar to the pressure a BT feels to maintain your adopted lifestyle. I think we face a very similar dilemma as to where you go from here. Orthodox Judaism is not something you can easily walk away from if you are a cool-headed, stable person.

The "Other"
One more point that addresses the difference between a FFB and a BT going off the derech, and I guess you can tell me if this happened to you. The absolutely worse part about losing your faith is that you suddenly assume the identity of the "other." Like throughout my Yeshiva years, we would hear about the "other." You know; the secular scientist hellbent on disproving religion, the rebellious teenager who falls into drugs and promiscuous sex, and the middle-aged man who suddenly divorced his wife, left his kids and the derech. And upon hearing each horror story, you pat yourself on the back, smile at your buddies and think, "Gee, thank God I am not like them. I'll never be so evil. Suns may rise and also set, but at least I will never do that."

And after the turning point in the crisis of faith (when you realize that using religion to search for the answer is of no use, since the answer is right in front of you, but you don't want to accept it) you realize that you came to the same conclusions "they" did, and while some may have had problems, and perhaps they used faulty reasoning to get where they did, ultimately you and "they" are now in the same boat, or in what I like to dramatically refer to as the Wasteland.

I am not unhappy with it, in the sense that I have some emotional beef with it. I don't think all rabbis are hapless fools. I am not angry with God (although I think He might have a few choice words about me). Insofar as it has gotten me into my current jam, I don't regret the day I was born into this tiny faith. I hate change. I keep the same hairstyle, own one watch, and mourn the running shoes I retire.

Although I cannot intellectually justify any of my current observance, you don't just walk away from 20 years of chinukh.And so I started all the usual "truth seeking." Reading religious philosophy, talking to a few Rabbis and then it hit me that I wasn't seeking the truth, but trying to hide from it. A religion that requires you to spend your whole life trying to justify it is probably not going to be provable. There is not silver bullet that will remove all your doubts. No one has the answer. It's just impossible for people on the other side to realize how fundamental the paradigm shift is.

Why is this meandering post on an OTD BT blog, while I am an OTD FFB? I venture to guess that many BTs were attracted to Judaism for the wonderful picture of harmony and warmth it provides. Shabbos IS enjoyable if spent with friends and family. Shul can be fun when the Rabbi is brilliant, the singing tonal, and the kiddush scene sociable. I don't think that many BT's experience this shift and that's what brings them into the fold. Many people feel something is missing in their lives because life in this galaxy can be cold and lonely. Judaism looks good and it even works pretty well, provided you don't "look behind the curtain." Therefore, I think I am in the same position as many OTD BTs who find themselves on the other side of the shift.I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin.Incidentally, if anyone reads this and thinks I haven't done due diligence, by all means contact me and prove that Orthodoxy is rational. I can be reached by sending an email to respondingtojblogs on the gmail email service.

PSA: I am going to be pretty busy the next few days, so blogging will be light to non-existent.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Us and Them: Part V

Us. Them.

You know life is, like, totally complicated.
How do you know if you are doing the right thing?
Morality is complex, and even religion doesn't answer all the questions about how to conduct yourself.

But here is a hint: If your religion treats dissent as betrayal, it's time to get out.

Don't Rock the Boat

Richard Cohen, in today's WaPo, bemoans the "instablity" in the Middle East due to the Iraq war. To wit:
The United States would love for the Assad regime to go. But what would replace it? It's hard to imagine, but it could be something worse: the radical Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. It is about the closest thing Assad and his clique have to an organized opposition. Replacing a secular dictatorship with a radically religious one is not what Washington would call progress.

In short, and not taking into account the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the war in Iraq has hardly made this area more stable. It's true, of course, that nothing catastrophic has yet occurred in the region, but the casual assurance that nothing will happen must now be held to a new post-Iraq standard: Just about everything Washington said was happening (weapons of mass destruction) and would happen (an easy occupation) has turned out to be utterly false.

One could almost forgive President Bush for waging war under false or mistaken pretenses had a better, more democratic Middle East come out of it. But just as the 1991 Persian Gulf War introduced an element of instability in the region -- the rise of al Qaeda in response to the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia -- so might this one do something similar. A Shiite arc is forming, Iraq is infested with terrorists and coming apart, Syria might be going from bad to worse, and Saudi Arabia is complaining loudly that the war's only winners are the Shiites and Iran. From here, it looks like a war that is already going badly for America could go even worse for much of the Middle East.

In Cohen's world, change is bad because it causes instability. But change, by its very definition is something that is unstable. It seeks to undermine the status quo. Cohen, apparently, would like change without instability, something that is a physical impossibility. If you agree that change is needed in the Middle East, and I think there is consensus on that issue (unless Cohen loves the prosepct of a nuclear Iran, the theocracy in Riyadh, and terror without end in Israel), effecting change means bringing instability to the status quo.

Folks like Cohen are so risk-adverse that, following their logic, change would be impossible. But the Middle East needs instability and the blood letting it would entail. For example, everyone knows that a civil war has to be fought between radical and moderate Palestinians, but no one wants to admit to it. Under Cohen's thought the status quo is not worth instability, his euphemism for bloodshed. But bloodshed is at times necessary. Even federalism required a civil war before the idea's of Hamilton and Madison were realized.

Instability leads to bloodshed, but it is the mother of a better world.

Update: I've linked this post to The Polical Teens open trackback.

Reid: A Very Special Prosecutor

This is very funny, but don't blame me if it's offensive.

Slate Smackdown of Dowd

Katie Rolphie at Slate has some choice words about Maureen Dowd's recent rant about her spinsterhood and her nostalgia for feminsim (the way it used to be):
Maureen Dowd's penchant for provocative overstatement has found its most recent outlet in a much talked about excerpt of her new book, Are Men Necessary?, in the New York Times Magazine. In it she bemoans a perceived return of 1950s values and courtship rituals and portrays a younger generation of women as grasping, shallow housewife wannabes and "yummy mommies." In the most inflammatory and intriguing passages, she claims that men are put off by women in power, that they prefer the women who serve them—maids, masseuses, and secretaries—to their equals. She attributes the fact that she is unmarried to her powerful position as an op-ed columnist at the New York Times. Then she notes her own family history of domestic service and concludes that "being a maid would have enhanced my chances with men."

Is this dark view of sexual politics a little extreme? If it is, it shouldn't be surprising. Dowd pushes every statement to its most exaggerated form; her column occupies a space somewhere in between the other columns on the New York Times op-ed page and the political cartoons that sometimes run there. She is, at her best, a brilliant caricaturist of the political scene, turning each presidency into vivid farce. As a caricaturist, she has a fondness for punchy one-liners strung together, and for the one-sentence paragraph: "Survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the fakest"; "We had the Belle Epoque. Now we have the Botox Epoch"; and "As a species is it possible that men are ever so last century?" Her style evokes a brainier Candace Bushnell, whose oeuvre she frequently refers to, but it is given extra weightiness by her position at the Times.


JC Watts: Republicans Are Arrogant

From Instapundit:
"Republicans in just 10 years have developed the arrogance it took the Democrats 30 years to develop."
Ouch. When I read that it hurt. I really respect JC Watts and used to be friendly with his staff. When he speaks, I listen.

He is refering to, among Libby, Miers, and DeLay, the congressional spending spree that doesn't seem to end. I don't really view Libby, Miers, and DeLay are any fault of the Republican Party, but the spending is an issue that should be core to the party.

From his editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Republicans in Congress are spending like profligates with no tomorrow. The freshman senator from my home state of Oklahoma, Dr. Tom Coburn, recently assumed the role of skunk at the garden party when he inquired about a quarter of a billion dollar bridge to nowhere in Alaska, and had the temerity to suggest that money could be used to rebuild several real bridges to somewhere in Louisiana and Mississippi.

And Tom Delay may or may not be serving his last term in Congress as he faces politically-inspired charges of corrupt fund-raising practices. Certainly, Delay plays hardball, but the last time I checked, being a jerk is not an indictable offense.

I was part of that wild and crazy Class of '94 that shook the political landscape by taking over the House after more than 50 years of unfettered Democrat control. We came to Washington full of ideals and conviction.

But sadly, what they say about absolute power is coming to reality in the 2005 GOP Washington. Republicans in just 10 years have developed the arrogance it took the Democrats 30 years to develop.

He has words for Democrats too:

But speaking of arrogance, DNC Chair Howard Dean, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democrat Campaign Chairman Rahm Emanuel -- the man in the takeover hot seat -- have visions of retaking the majority. Essentially, they believe the basic plan of getting their base to the polls, increasing Hispanic voters, and better communication will put them over the top. They believe their failures in these mechanical functions have cost them in the past decade.

The Democratic leadership is talking about the party's campaign for change and their "new" ideas.

But when you peel the layers of the onion back and start to ask what their new ideas are, you find their party's "big ideas" are the same old things they've been doing for the last 40 years. A Democrat's "big idea" means big spending.

Free college education. More regulation. More money for the No Child Left Behind Act, in spite of the fact that they say it hasn't worked. More money for hurricane victims ... more money for health care ... even more money for military! Now there's a new idea for Democrats!

Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" recently asked Rep. Emanuel how we will pay for these expensive initiatives, in response to which he promptly laid the bill at your feet. In spite of the fact most Americans will pay 50 to 55 cents of every dollar they make in some government tax or fee, Democrats want more.

Republicans promote tax relief. Democrats want more taxes.

For all the weaknesses of my former colleagues, they have held the line on taxes. Republicans want to make tax relief permanent. Democrats want more of your money.

And perhaps more importantly, Democrats still don't understand the values voter. They think better communications will turn the tide with this voter. They just don't get it on cultural and social issues.

Had the values voter not rejected them last time, John Kerry would be in the White House today.

Democrat leadership continues to fail to address social, cultural and economic policy in line with the will of the majority of Americans. They think they can do the same old thing the same old way but not get the same old results.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Nuclear Disarmament Committee Falls Apart

From the AP:
The 14 centrists who averted a Senate breakdown over judicial nominees last spring are showing signs of splintering on President Bush's latest nominee for the Supreme Court.

That is weakening the hand of Democrats opposed to conservative judge Samuel Alito and enhancing his prospects for confirmation.

The unity of the seven Democrats and the seven Republicans in the "Gang of 14" was all that halted a major filibuster fight between GOP leader Bill Frist and Democratic leader Harry Reid earlier this year over Bush's lower court nominees.

The early defection of two of the group's Republicans, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, could hurt if Democrats decide to attempt a filibuster of Alito, the New Jersey jurist Bush nominated Monday to replace retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.

If Democrats do filibuster, Frist wants to change the Senate rules to eliminate the delaying tactic - something the centrist group blocked in May.

Psssst...don't tell Kos. He thinks they can rely on Rule 21 to indefinitely tie up the Senate. No wonder he is this week's jackass.

I Am the Highway

Man, there is nothing quite like hitting mile 4 and being totally blinded by incoming traffic on a near-by highway.

Or expressed mathematically:
Running path + Zero ambient light + Xeon bulb headlights 10 yards away= Total blindness.

Damn you daylight savings time.

On the plus side I still ended up shirtless, despite it being November.

Are You A Good Person?

I've hit upon the perfect test to see whether you are a good person. If you feel pity when you watch this video, good for you. Other choice heatbreakers are this one and this one (crescendos at 2:30 mark). Go to this page if you want to see more.

It is truly a sad state of affairs. Especially the use of the little kids pointing to the rostrum while shout "Yechi!." The image is very disturbing (e.g.) .

For all things Chabad, read this and this.

Personally, I really like Chabad. The rabbi I consult is Chabad, I like singing La Marseilles in davening, I think Al Tirah is the best part of daily Jewish liturgy, and I think it is useful to be able to slug whiskey and talk about God with a rabbi. All this is a response to losing their primary religious figure who encouraged them to think he was the Messiah. It's sad, but to what degree is our faith removed from theirs? There, but for the grace of the rebbe, go us.