Friday, November 29, 2002

I would like to wish you all a happy first night of Chanukah.
I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. I naturally enjoyed my mother's turkey, which was excellent. It was nice to see the family.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Attacks in Israel

The last few hours have been pretty disturbing. An Israeli airplane attacked with Stingers, Hotel in Kenya attacked with plane and car-bomb, and the Likud office attacked on primary day. The person who promises to kick Arab ass, and looks like he will follow through, will win. Sharon has been reported to encourage elections.

Al-Aksa Martys brigade claim that this was in retaliation for the two people killed last week. You should remember that the last person who attempted to retaliate for this accidentially blew himself up without any Israeli casualties.
I saw the new Harry Potter movie last night with "S" and her daughter "E". It was fun. It had all the same charm of the first one. I enjoyed it.
Overheard in Boro Park: (sorry don't mean to make fun of Jews) "Bloomberg is a gonif. Why? He raised property taxes, the only ones that Boro Parkers can't get away without paying.

Lunch at Circa

It has been a crazy and hectic past few days, and there will be more craziness and hecticness for the next two weeks. There are about a zillion things I must get done, and I have lots of big things due, and I suspect I am in real trouble if they don't get done. But anyway, I met "S" for lunch yesterday in Circa-ny on 33rd between 5th and 6th. Not to bad for lunch if you want kosher. The prices, however, are steep, and the service is pretty slow. The pizza was pretty good though.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Hassidic Wedding in Boro Park

I just returned from my cousin's wedding in Boro Park, Brooklyn. I go to Hassidic weddings about once a year. Most of them have been siblings of tonight's groom. Hassidic weddings are rather interesting events. It starts out with a modest shmorgasboard. Then there is the ceremony. There is a whole protocol for determining who gets which honor under the wedding canopy. Then there is eating and dancing. The dancing is, like everything else, done with men and women seperately. You can go through a whole hassidic wedding - dancing, ceremony, eating, etc - without seeing a member of the opposite sex. After the dancing (ended at around midnight), most of the guests leave, except for immediate family) and there is a mitzvah tance where someone is hired to make fun of everyone (well, all the men) in Yiddish and tell jokes. This is the only time where men and women sit facing each other and the men dance between jokes. Oddly enough, here the woman holds one end of a gartel (belt) and a man holds the other and they "dance". The function of the batlan is rather interesting. He is quite funny, telling lots fpo jokes and making fun of the family based on scant information provided by one of the relatives. The humor here is possibly worth an academic study by some sociologist. The whoe thing ended at around 2 AM.

Past few days

So let me catch you up on the events of the past few days.

Friday night I went to hang out with a bunch of philosophers in the lobbey of the New Yorker Hotel. It was an interesting gathering. I then had dinner with "B" and "Y".

Saturday I went to Brooklyn for the auf ruf of my first cousin. The auf ruf was in Boro Park. I forgot that there is now an eruv and every but the Gerrer Hassidim carry. (And even they do when no one is looking.)

Saturday night I went with "S" and "L" to Yaffa, and then I ended up in Cayote Ugly on 1st and 10th. There was table dancing and lots of men chanting "take it off" and stuff. Many women complied. I wish I had it in me to regularly be that shameless and vulgar. I simply do not.

I then somehow made it to Jersey (I am not sure which city), where I passed out till Sunday morning at "S"'s place. In the morning "S" and her daughter "E" who is really cute (she is around 6) and I went to this diner where we had the best chocolate chip pancakes. She then drove me back where I fell asleep again.

Friday, November 22, 2002

The very open society and its enemies

So there are Islamic riots in Nigeria over a remark about the Miss World pagent, an American nurse gets shot dead in Lebanon, El Al saw a hijack attempt, what the hell is the Arab world coming to? Roger Scrouton is now claiming that American Multiculturalism is too open, and I am starting to wonder about that myself.

There is a book that I read about 20 years ago (that inspired me to think about politics) called A Nation of Sheep by William J. Lederer. In that book the author described how the communists in China would take a student from every little town and bring them to Beijing or somewhere, and give them the royal treatment, educate them, and propogandize a lot. By the end of the student's education a sympathizer was born. Then they sent him back to the village he came from to work on the rest of the population.

The point I think was that it might not be a bad idea to allow a lot of foreign students to come to the US (on us) and learn about the wonders of democracy and freedom, so that they can go back and take some of this to their villages and hopefully get the world to be a better place than it is.

Somehow this is not working. I suspect the reason is that when we see a foreigner, we do not tell them what we are, we ask them to spread what they are, so that the US can be more "diverse". What we ended up with is a large taxpayer-funded platform for people to come in and preach militant Islamic fundamentalism and declare a Jihad against the people who finally give them platforms. This is unacceptable. We would look at all these people and patronizingly look at them and smile and declare their way of life so "interesting" and ignore the fact that it was actually quite repugnant to the values that allowed the person to be brought here int he first place.

We did not spend any effort in to assuring that the people who came here were not enemies of democracy, pluralism, and toleration or us. They are. And we are now paying for it.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Arab military optimism

It seems to me that there is this bizarre optimistic notion in the Arab world that any group of people, no matter how small, uncoordinated and under armed and underfunded can do anything, like take over a country. Even a half a dozen street kids with 4 old rifles between them. Most of the "militias" in Lebanon were like that during the civil war. The PLO believed it could take over Jordan. Then when it failed, it was simply looked at as a minor setback and they attempted to take over Lebanon (which was the Civil War). It still thinks it can take over Israel. This attitude is given credence when ther are such fortuitious events such as Israel pulling out of south Lebanon. Hezbolla not only takes credit, but actually thinks it caused it. (It was actually a function of Israeli politics under the dovish Barak.)

This of course explains the plethorea of groups that exist in abundance with avowed goals of taking over countries, liberating the Arab/muslim world, and destroying the west. This explains the popularity of Hezbollah and bin Ladenism. Bin Laden it is believed can take on the West and win. The Shiites and Allowites have also been such sects, and in the Allowites case, with some success.

(See also all the literature by Dominic D. P. Johnson, Richard W. Wrangham, and Stephen Peter Rosen on the adaptiveness of military incompetence, which this seems to be a prime example of.)

Conference on Antisemitism

Today I went to a conference at Kingsborough Community College on the Resurgence of Antisemitism: A Global Perspective. A friend was running it, so I thought I would attend. I only stayed for the first panel discussion. Dr. Michalel Bernebaum, Kenneth S. Stern, Mark Weitzman, and Tal Becker spoke. They were all OK. Nothing too academic, mostly just talking to a lay audience about anti-Semitism. There was a lot of interesting stuff said there.

Ken Stern made some interesting points about how the language of human rights has been co-opted to promote anti-Semitism. Words like "aparthide" and "racism" are now serving the purposes of those who have little interest in justice, but rather being anti-Semitic.

I found out that there was a conference on denying the Holocaust planned for Beirut a year ago. There was also a plan for one in Verona, and one took place in Jordan.

Tal Becker spoke well, I thought. He is the Legal Advisor to the permanent mission of Israel to the UN.

(I embellish his words, but their spirit follows:)

Tal spoke about the difference between the way Israel views itself and the way it is viewed in the UN. Israel views itself vis a vis the palestinians as a country with a territorial/political conflict with a neighbor. Israel and the palestinians did not recognize each other nor each other's right to exist. The handshake on the White House lawn between Arafat and Rabin was there to show that they now recognized each other's humanity and agree that each has the right to exist and the right to rights.

Others look at the conflict differently. The view at the UN is that there is a villian and a victim. Israel is of course the villian and the palestinians are the victims. Israel is incapable of being the victim.

He repeated something I have said before, and also something Thomas Friedman said in a recent column. It is OK to criticize Israel. That does not make one an anti-Semite. Every Israeli newspaper does that daily. It is OK to hold Israel to a VERY high moral standard. They actually appreciate that. Moreover, he stressed, it is OK to criticize Zionism. It may not be a universalist doctrine to everyone's liking. There is room there for reasonable people to disagree. What is repugnant, is when there is selective justice. Selective justice, he claimed, was when Israel is held to a standard that no one else is held to. When that happens, and say, Israel is criticized for responding with innappropriate force to a suicide bombing, and the suicide bombing is not criticized, then the person is not interested in any type of justice, rather they are interested in using justice as a weapon against the Israelis. That is anti-Semetic.

He also pointed out that the Human Rights Commissioner for next year will be from the Lybian (sic) delegation.

Becker mentioned a response he got from some EU delegate when they supported some resolution condemning the Israeli human rights issues vis-a-vis the palestinians. He asked why they are singling out Israel for such treatment. The answer he got was that "you gave us a guilt trip for the last 50 years, now it is our turn".

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Indian food

Today it was raining lightly, but in a most annoying way in New York. I had Lunch with "R" at Pongol on 28th and Lexington. (He paid.) The food was good. I had one of those Indian-named things like Masalla Mysore Dosa with Lassi and Sweet Chutni, or something like that. I am really getting to like it, but I still have no idea what I order. I am greatful that most of these places do not serve anything that used to be alive, or I would really be in trouble. It is the fact that it is so spicy that often gets to me. I often find myself drinking tons of water withyevery meal. There were many children there today. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is related to Diwali, and more families going out to eat? It could just be that I usually do not go on Sundays, and I am not used to the Sunday crowd.

Eventually I made my way to Brooklyn and had dinner with some family there, and "A-" and "K" came by to say hello. I will stay here for the night, and see if I can get some sleep.

Review of Sam Williams' Arguing AI: The Battle for Twenty-First-Century Science

I read Sam Williams' Arguing AI: The Battle for Twenty-First-Century Science in one sitting. It is not a hard book, nor was it highly informative. Basically the book starts with a chapter on the mathematical roots of AI. There Hilbert, Turing, Godel, and von Neumann are mentioned. There is nothing at all technical mentioned. The author barely understands it himself (or so it would appear from his references to Godel's making use of the power of infinity to provide room for all them Godel numbers!).

Then Williams goes on to the more familiar names in the early history of AI, including Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, and Hans Moravec, and mentions that they did a lot of early research, especially when few understood the big problems.

Then it is off to chat about the gurus like Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier, and Bill Joy. There is also a bit about David Stork and his HAL project.

The whole book is more of a long article on the gossip, culture, hopes, and prophecies surrounding these people. Basically if you have been either keeping up with Wired Magazine, or even if you have read Kurtzweil's books and the Lainer and Joy articles, you know all that the book has to offer.

The author apparently feels a lot more comfortable reporting the gossip then he does with the technical stuff too. This is a shame since understanding AI is all about understanding the philosophical and technical obstacles.

Otherwise it is a good way to kill two hours. The book is not worth the money. Do what I did, read it while leaning against the wall at your local bookstore.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Saying hello to the UN

I knew I would get in to trouble for this eventually.

I was doing my customary run up the East River, from the Lower East Side to the UN and back this morning. As usual I would stop at the UN, "clear my throat" and head back, to have a full 5 mile run.

Today a UN security guard walks over to me as soon as I hit the UN, as if he was waiting for me, and says "why do you always stop there?". To which I reply, "because this is where I turn around and head back.". "But" he replies "I see you do this religiously every time. Why do you have to [spit] in front of the gate where the staff members here pass? Can't you do it there [at the corner]?" To which I respond something like "sorry, I'll take that in to consideration." And then I ran off.

I think I better reconsider my policy of showing my disdain for the UN with saliva in the future.

But at least now I can say that I have tangled with UN security forces and emerged unscathed.


I had dinner with "B" in University Diner on University Place and 12th Street. It is just south of Union Square, and I kind of like it, even though I had this rather frightening waiter.

Afterward, I went to see "A-" and "K" (both just in from Berlin) today in Esperanto, a 24-hour cafe in the West Village. Esperanto is far less cool now than it used to be. They now have these overbearing waitresses. They are annoying. I used to just go up to the counter, get coffee, and sit and drink it. Now they have these people who annoy you all the time, asking you questions and disturbing conversations. I used to go there all the time, but now I go there much less. I actually stopped a while ago, and now just visit every now and then.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Review of Schiff and Ya'ari's Israel's Lebanon War

Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari are clearly superior journalists. Their book Israel's Lebanon War is very detailed, and comprehensive. If you want to know what happened during the summer of 1982 when Israel went to war with the Moslems and Palestinians in Lebanon, you could not find a book that is more comprehensive. There is considerable attention paid to the background to the war, and the events in Israel and Lebanon leading up to it. I really did find the book full of all sorts of information including the minutes of all the important meetings and phone conversations both on the Israeli side and the Lebanon side as well. These people were the journalists during the war, and their book is somewhat akin to a 317 page newspaper article.

Unfortunately that does not always make for facinating reading, and the book is a bit dry at times, though that is the trade-off one make for being detailed.

I do have a few criticisms. While their journalistic integrity is well intact and do not appear to be "taking sides" here, one can never shake the feeling that (1) They do not like Sharon, and (2) they blame the war and all that happened in it (including the massacres in shatilla and Sabra) on Sharon. There is a bit too much editorializing for my tase in the book, but to their credit it is kept to a minimum, and it never really mars the narrative.

Though one does learn a lot about what happened during the war, one sadly does not come away with the feeling that one really understands any of the events. What motivated all of them, what features of the Israeli or Phalange or PLO's, or any of the players' (political) psychology caused the events? We are not given that insight. That again could be to the credit or the detriment of the authors. Do they not understand or do they believe that it will ruin the book with interpretation?

The last chapter attempts to give some analysis, but it is short and not very satisfying.

There are also a number of other questions I would like to have seen dealt with more comprehensively that were not. First, what was the story with the bombing of the American embassy and Marine base? This was covered in a matter of sentences, and there should have been more detail as to the American role there.

Second, I would like more details about who killed Bashir Gemayel. The standard story is given, and I would like to know what the real story is. I, as well as others suspect Eli Hobekia, but was it? The book does not give enough detail there. It is not that I am even disagreeing with the recieved view, but I would like more details about it, like who were the players behind the whole thing.

Third, it is well known that unbeknownst to the Israelis at the time Bashir was making deals with the Americans to cut out the Israelis. Was this information uncovered too late to be in the book, or are there whole dimensions of this that were cut out of the story for some reason. It seems like the book needs to be revised in light of those details.

Otherwise this books deserves to be considered definitive. It is a real contribution to the literature, and worth the read.

Monday, November 11, 2002

German antisemitism today

I wanted to share a so far somewhat obscure piece of news with my loyal readers (the few of you that there are).

As many of you know I spent this past summer traveling the globe, but I spent all of August in Berlin. It was a strange experience being Jewish and contemplating German life and all. Having spent some time there in Germany and having many friends there, I still carefully keep up with the happenings in that city.

Despite all the emotions that surfaced while reflecting on German past and despite all the beliefs that people harbor (rather justly I believe) about German anti-Semitism, one would have to look pretty deep in to German culture to find any expressions of anti-Jewishness there. No one claims that German love Jews, but 60 years of post-nazism has put a very tight cap on what can be said in public. World War II rhetoric or Nazistic inuendo is enough to ruin a political career, as seen during this past election.

Which is why I was so surprised to hear the following story: A little over a week ago the Berlin city council decided to rename a street in Spandau from it's old name "Kinkelstrasse" to its even older name "Judenstrasse". The name was changed by the nazis to remove all Jewish references from the city street, so they changed the name from "Jews' Street" to "Kinkel Street" after some 19th century German revolutionary figure.

During the ceremony reportedly there were shouts of "Juden raus", or "Jews: leave". There were a number of demonstrators who under the guise of not wanting to change their business cards, vigourously protested the renaming of their street. The report was more detailed.

I remember hearing about the changing of many street names lately. It was done a lot in Budapest, if I am not mistaken after communism to remove all traces of the communist names of things. Many cities did such things. There must have been a whole bunch of "Lenin Street"s renamed back to their original old names. I am sure that bothered no one, and their business cards recovered. (I was quite pleased about Jackie Robinson Boulevard in New York.)

I have increasingly hearing stories of anti-Semitism in Germany lately. I even heard reports of challenges to the standard account of the Holocaust offered in academic contexts in Heidelberg.

I think I am worried.

A friend recently forwarded me an email with a line from his grandfather that went something like this: In the 30's one saw graffiti on German wals that said things like "Jews: go to Palestine", now one just sees: "Jews: get out of Palestine". While I do not see Germany attempting the fourth Reich, the days of unwavering support from Germany are waning, and I suggest the free world take heed.

Sideshow in SoHo

I went to see a sideshow on Saturday night at the SoHo Playhouse on Vandam Street. It was a lot of fun. It was actually somewhat better than I expected. I found out about it about an hour before I went, so I really didn't have time to form too sophisticated an expectation. The guy's name is Todd Robbins. He does the sideshow on Coney Island. The dude ate a glass lightbulb, blew up a hot water bottle till it burst, did some electricity tricks, and swallowed swords. There was also a knife thrower and a contortionist (who was so-so) too. It was a lot of fun. I went with "M" and "S" and "S" and about 7 other people. He spent a lot of time explaining that what he did was all an art, and at the end he seemed almost sad that it was a dying art.

We all went to The Other Room in TriBeCa for drinks, and then to Biny for Sushi and more drinks. The sushi there was good. Bini is a karoke place. There were these Japanese guys rapping in Japanese. It was very comical. We did a little singing ourselves, though yours truly stayed away from the mike. We broke up at around 4:30.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Books and their authors

It is an odd thing I noticed that in Ancient China books were normally named after their author. The Art of War, for example, by Hsun Tzu was actually called simply Hsun Tzu until Western translators decided to call it by the same name as a similar book by Machiavelli. Jews on the other hand often get named after the titles of their books. A prime example is say, the Chofetz Chaim. He is known after the title of his first famous work, ie, the Chofetz Chaim. It is perfectly normal (and perhaps the only acceptable way to say this) to say that the Chofetz Chaim wrote the Mishna Brurah, his other famous work.

Monday, November 04, 2002

What viruses can you get from cybersex?

So I have heard of viruses, and I am familar with computer viruses, but what happens when you date online? Can you get both?

Sunday, November 03, 2002


I woke up in the mornig to cheer on the marathon runners. Congratulations to all of you who participated.

Party in SoHo

Last night I went to one of these SoHo parties (On West Houston) that was right out of Zoolanders or a Bret Easton Ellis novel, complete with trust-fund babies, celebrety suck-ups, and people walking around asking each other "are you famous?". It was fun though. It was a Halloween thing and I of course was not in costume. Neither were the 4 people I came with. I was there with "M", "S", "Y" and "S". I have known "M" for long time, and it was good to see him. There was a lot of free Campari, and other bad booze. someone dressed as Winona Rider complete with the Winona hair, "Free Winona" shirt, handcuffs, and a Sacks Fifth Avenue bag took first place for costume. For a party with a suggested donation of ten bucks, we did OK.

Before that we ate at some resturant in TriBeCa (on Varick and North Moore) that was really good, but whose name I forgot, with the same people. I had the Cesar salad and some Jack and Coke, but everything that everyone had looked really good. After the party it was off to some other bar in TriBeCa, for beer, and then a 5 AM return to Williamsburg where I slept.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Review of Lycan's Introduction to the Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction by William G. Lycan is a pretty good book if you want to get the basic idea of what is going on in contemporary philosophy of language. Contemporary philosophy of language started a little over 100 years ago, and has completely dominated the field of philosophy in the English speaking world. The offshoots are Philosophy of Logic, mind, mathematics, and science.

Lycan gives us the basics that we would need to really have a good idea of where the fiels stands, and what issues the practitioners take to be important. The classic questions of reference and meaning are taken up. The questions of reference is basically what is the relationship that our words have to the world that they talk about. How does the word "cat" come to relate to a cat? The question of meaning is: What does it mean for a word to have a meaning (as opposed to being meaningless), and what is our standing for ascribing meaning to some word.

The book takes up questions of pragmatics as well. It also refers to "the dark side" of philosophy of philosophy of language and takes up questions of metaphor. He really does sort of gloss over it perhaps unfairly, but then again, so does every other philosopher of language. (A friend of mine happens to study this, and I wish metaphor were not as maligned as it is.)

Overall I thought it was a pretty good book if you just want a basic outline of the theories and standard objections to the basic problems in the philosophy of language.

My only real criticisms are that it seems that the arguments are not presented comprehensively enough, which is understandable if you want to produce a good book in under 250 pages. But what annoyed me about the book is the style. Lycan obviously tries. He makes real attempts to be a cute, but erudite writer. He is not cute, and his erudition appears phony. His examples are not funny, despite the fact that he is obviously trying very hard, and frankly I do not think the book would have been less interesting if the examples were more vanilla and less obscure. The fact that he knows the first woman who won some Irish prize or other does not impress me. The fact that I have to sit and think about this while I am trying to keep a long chain of reasoning in my head annoys me. Few people can pull off what people like Hofstadter and Pinker do so well. Lycan does not. It is a shame that it marred this book.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Running in isolation?

I went running this morning in Marine Park today in Brooklyn. It is a nice park, but the scenery is a bit dull, and the running track is only .84 miles long. So I had to do it 5 times. I noticed that the people in Manhattan who run seem much friendlier than their Brooklyn counterparts. Are the Manhattanites so isolated that they are much more eager to reach out to others in friendship? I think that is the case. In Brooklyn (part of which is America's first suburb) people are not as isolated from all community as they are in Manhattan. The sense of community is much less.