Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Our Nation's Capitol

I spent the last few days in Washington DC. I spoke at a rather dull conference on a rather dull topic. Boring academic stuff. I got to see the national gallery. It is cool.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Review of Victor Cosculluela's The Ethics of Suicide

This book presents a rather comprehensive look at the ethical issues surrounding suicide. It starts normally enough with a refutation of all the standard arguments against suicide, like the "religious" argument and the "unnatural" arguments. Then there is a chapter on the standard philosophical arguments against suicide. Especially good is the few pages on Kant. Kant is notorious for his bad examples of great theories. Suicide is one of them. There is a good treatment of it there. Arguments from the value of human rights and other-regarding arguments are then dispensed with.

The book is unabashedly anti any argument that makes suicide immoral. Rightfully so, I believe. The discussion of permissible and obligatory suicide is somewhat lacking. I think that there could be a lot more force in these arguments. For example, I think that there is a lot more to say about the people-as-their-own-property argument. I believe there is a lot to be said for the fact that people have the right to do to themselves as they wish on the justification that they have ownership rights in themselves.

There is also a chapter in the role of others in suicide. May others prevent suicide? May others facilitate suicide a suicide? And a host of other questions. They are dealt with well. Nothing ends up being as simple as anyone would like.

There are two other notable features of the book. Schopenhauer and Camus have views on suicide, and it is good to see them so easily dismissed. They are pretty ridiculous, and are shown to be so quite easily.

Finally there is a straightforward but useful appendix on a definition of suicide. The final result is a small modification of an older definition.

All in all a good book. There is little brilliance in the book, as it is all very straight forward. I think I was hoping for more, but I suspect that it is not the fault of the author. The subject is just not that hard. There is still plenty to be said about the topic. Hume, as usual did not have the last word, and neither did Cosculluela. There are many new issues that involve suicide, and there is more philosophy to come.

Nittle Nacht

I hope you are all having a good Chanukah. It is now the fifth night by my reconing, and it is also Nittle Nacht. There are numerous customs associated with this holiday, and I expect to follow at least one of them. (One custom is to avoid learning, another is to learn extra, and yet another is to play cards.) I am looking forward to a few days R and R after this.

Monday, December 22, 2003

On Diplomacy

An Op-Ed piece by today's WSJ says something so obvious that it is amazing that some people refuse to get it.

Diplomacy only works when each of the negotiating countries has something to gain from a successful outcome. Then they can bargain and trade concessions. I'll give you lower tarrifs and you give me a better border security, or whatever. If one country simply wants the other country to do something and has nothing to offer, then the only thing it has is the credible threat of the use of force. You start respecting human rights or I'll invade your country.

Ghadhafi's capitulation was not a triumph of diplomacy. Behind the scenes was not something like: "You admit to blowing up airplanes, and starting a WMD program, and we'll let you hang out with us at the next UN shindig and spend millions trying to apologize for the past". It was more like "You do what we say, and let our inspectors wherever they feel like going, and only then will you not be the next person hiding in a hole, unshaven listening to your wife sell you out, while we kill the parts of your family that we missed last time and make your country a respectable humane place to be."

Moamar ain't dumb. He sees the decline of the hegemony of Arab values over Arab peoples. Pretty soon it will be Western values ruling Arab people, and he does not want to be there when it happens. It is only brute force that allowed us to capture Saadam and it was the threat of brute force combined with Ghadhafi's ego making him thinking he was important enough to be next, that scared him in to capitulating to the demands that he cool his WMD programs.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Person of the Year

Looks like I made Time magazine's person of the year.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Review of Ernst Cassirer's Language and Myth

Ernst Cassirer's Language and Myth has been around a long time, and actually makes for a bit of interesting reading. It is interesting to explore the relationship between man's myths, and the language he uses. The book traces myths and words, and understanding and the way it all relates.

It is a bit hard to figure out the real point to the book, and I am not sure there is much philosophical gain to be had from reading it, but Cassirer was extremely competent, and deserves a fair hearing.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Review of P. J. O'Rourke's Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich is classic O' Rourke. Like his earlier Parliment of Whores it is funny and informative at the same time. Actually there are a few really informative chapters where he explains a bunch of economic stuff. These are the funnier chapters. The other chapters are economic diaries of differnt countries he visited to see how things work, or don't work. Singapore does not work, neither does Cuba. Hong Kong works, just like wall street. Russia might work, Sweeden looks like it is going down, but it is good for now. . .

I would like to have seen Switzerland discussed though. Overall if you are a fan of libertarian humor, this was an OK read. O'Rourke can usually be counted on for a laugh, a good turn of phrase, and some insight too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Viagra thoughts

For no reason whatsoever, I was thinking about Viagra today. I had two
thoughts: 1) What would Plato have thought of Viagra? He seemed to look at
old age and freedom from sexual needs, desires, and abilities as a blessing.
It was something that let him free to pursue other more important affairs.
(He expresses these views in the very beginning of the Republic.) 2)
Has the Viagra industry been good for the environment? Has demand for all
these bizarre aphrodisiac gone down now that we have a pharmaceutical that
works? Are rhinoceros tusks and whale ambergris less desired, and thus
leaving poachers out of a job? That would be a nice side benefit. Has PETA
thanked pfizer?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Frum Gossip

I was in Flatbush this weekend and I got to catch up on the latest frum-world gossip. Apparently last shabbos there was a bus (or perhaps three or four) which left Boro Park, Brooklyn on a two hour drive to Lakewood, NJ. However it did not arrive in Lakewood till 7:00 PM, which was about two and a half hours in to shabbos. As you would expect there were countless cell phone calls to rabbonim, and dozens of halachic issues to contend with. Could they leave the bus when it stops? Could they leave the 4 Amos (8 feet or so) of the bus? It is unclear to me what happened, at the end, but many rabbis in many shuls started calling for soul-searching because of this. I heard there was also an ad taken out in some religious paper (I think the Yated Ne'eman) by four rabbis claiming that they did NOT offer any ruling that would have allowed this to happen.

The incident also inspired many jokes. The best one I heard is "well, they don't believe in _sheshet yomim taaseh melacha_, why should they believe the sequel _U'va'yom HaShivii shabbos La'hashem_?"

Lakewood is a good target for jokes in general. The kollel lifestyle is not the most popular, even among Brooklyn's very Orthodox Jews

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Capture of Saddam

Today is a good day. Today is truly the dawn of a new era for Arabs and the world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Taiwan, China and the US: What is going on?

A few days ago, the NY Times had an Op-Ed piece advocating that Taiwan not push China on the independence issue. Today, they report that Bush, while meeting with the Chinese, seems to be going along with this. We are now encouraging them not to pursue independence.

While the US has always been a staunch protector of Taiwan, something is different now. China, as this analysis explains, has ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan. It has always been the US that has protected them.

Why are we suddenly stopping our support for small democracies? Why are we suddenly kissing up to China, and leaving Taiwan in the lurch? I suspect that money has a lot to do with it, though I cannot figure it out.

I am not surprised that the Times favored a large communist state over a large democracy. On the other hand, I would not be surprised to find out that someone higher-up told the Times to put the Op-Ed there. It was the most poorly thought out piece I ever read there. Their big argument was that China benefits, so Taiwan should cave.

Something smells rotten here. I want answers. Generally, when a people who are really independent want their democracy, like Taiwan, we have supported them. Why stop now?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Review of Aristotle in Outline

I just read Timothy A. Robinson's Aristotle in Outline. It is really good. It is a pretty short book, and it is not a simple read, but it is very clear and lucid. If you want a general idea of the main points of the important parts of Aristotle's thought, you would be hard pressed to find a better book. Basically it deals with Aristotle's views on science, eg, explanation, causes, wisdom,etc. Also it has a good discussion of the soul and Aristotle on God.

There is then a good chapter on Ethics, and finally the third chapter is on politics. The book ends with a decent bibliographic essay.

I have nothign but praise for this book. If you are taking a class on ancient philosophy, or even teaching one it would be worth your while just to see it layed out so well. If you are interested in Aristotle this is a pretty good place to start.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Le Pen

France's le Pen, in a single statement managed to make a remark that was bith anti-Semetic and anti-Muslim. THAT is a real skill. The NY Times writes in a story about the recent school torching in France that "Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front, who has been accused by opponents of being anti-Semitic as well as racist against the influx of Muslim immigrants to France, said in a statement that the government had overreacted to the school fire. He called the new measures against anti-Semitism "laughable," adding: "There is no rise in anti-Semitism in France. There are the inevitable effects of an untamed immigration"."

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Saturday night

Tonight I somehow ended up in this Tell us the Truth thing. I am not sure what it is, but there were all these people who got up and talked about how much they hate all that the US ever did. Then they sang some songs that were not particularly motivated. It was sad. It was kind of pathetic. The whole thing was MC'd by Janeane Garofalo who was not particularly funny just talking about how she didn't like George Bush.

The bright spot came from Jill Sobule who was really cute and sang really cute songs. She was pretty enjoyable.

With the one exception, it was a whole festival of people with hokey gituars telling us, that because they can put it to music, they must be right.

Then "Y" and I went to see Donny Darko in that Theater on 3rd and A. It was a cool movie. I had a good time. I then went to have a slice of pizza and went home.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Suing gun manufacturers

It seems that there is are real theoretical problems with holding gun manufacturers liable for the misuse of their products.

If they are responsible for every gun crime, then certainly they are responsible for every good thing done by guns too. There must be a symmetry. Gun manufacturers are either responsible for everything or nothing. They are actually more responsible (read: praiseworthy) for the good things, because, as "B" pointed out to me, they intended the good things. Approximately 2 million crimes a year are prevented with firearms. This is a rather underreported fact, but it is true.

Of course it is easy to overlook millions of good deeds in favor of the little harm, similar to the looking at the ill effects of a war, and ignoring the historic good that will be produced as a result.

John R. Lott recently wrote a new bookthat outlines a strong case for gun legalization.

A strong argument for not holding gun manufacturers responsible is that we have no intuition that they are praiseworthy when they do good. Guns don't prevent crime, police officers do, right? If we do not hold them praiseworthy for their good deeds, and there are millions a year, then we cannot hold them blameworthy for the bad things done with their products.

The function of Intro courses

I was wondering what the point of introductory classes was. I don't think they are useless, rather I want to understand why they are useful so that we can structure the classes accordingly. I want to focus especially on my own field, philosophy.

I think that there are two main functions to the introductory class. The first is to literally introduce the field to the beginning student who might develop an interest in the subject and be inspired to major in it. I think this is somewhat rare though. Philosophy is something people tend to discover on their own for personal reasons. Nonetheless professors must take this in to account when structuring their classes.

The second class of students is far more important. First, most people are taking introductory philosophy classes because they have to. The course is required of them. So we start at a disadvantage. We must pique the student's interest.

But what should we address in class? There is no canon or accepted introductory way to teach the course and there is a lot of leeway given to the instructor. I know one that talks about Plato's Republic, Descartes' Meditations and Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic. I know other professors who just talk about Philosophy of Mind. Still others who arrange their course around the question of the meaning of life, and a younger colleague who mostly teaches questions of love and sex. Some of us stodgy types teach just old dusty texts of Kant, Plato, Mill, and Descartes. Others of us use watered down anthologies and mostly talk about how boring Kant must have been and how exciting Leibniz's sex life was, without really getting too deep in to the actual philosophical context of their works.

What problems or texts should we be exploring? Should we explore texts or problems? Many professors give introductory versions of what interests them at the moment. This is selfish and lazy but does have its merits. The professor will exhibit the most enthusiasm and be able to incorporate the most up-to-date research in a field he or she is currently thinking about. Conversely, the professor, being so absorbed in his own field may forget that the obvious assumptions and background to the material which he has mastered and is fresh in his mind, might not be so obvious to the incoming freshman.

Texts are good ways to introduce philosophy, as it gives the students a feel for what it is like to struggle with a real philosophical problem. Kant might be tough reading, but it pays off if you can convey what it is like to have engineered the categorical imperative. If you can get across the importance of consistency, duty, and the inherent worth of persons as Kant saw it, you have made important inroads toward giving the student valuable philosophical insight.

There is also good reason to think that a problem-oriented approach is better. Students get nifty units which they can deal with. There is a definite question and a definite answer. There can be a paper, and there are areas for further research. There is a nice satisfying beginning and end in which the students really see a question and develop and use the methodology for answering it. This is quite good.

Unfortunately I do not think that completing and satisfaction is what we are looking for in philosophy. The field of history is well known for having lots of details. You can take a class on the Civil War, or a class that addresses the Civil War, and develop a life-long interest in it because you know there will always be another book that you can buy that will shed more light and give you a more complete grasp of the war. There are new details you can find out, and new stuff you can learn. Philosophy too must strive to do that. It must provide enough so that some question that students might be interested in can provide for a lifetime of interest in the field.

This is not an easy task. There are not many accessible books in philosophy that can be read by people with a first course in the field, and this is the fault of the profession. But the first course must make more literature accessible to the average college graduate. I suppose my real goal is to train people to be able to understand philosophy a bit, or at least one or two of the problems, and make them interested enough to want to try. It is important that the students realize that these problems, despite appearances, are still open problems. These open problems are still interesting. Studying these problems are partially what makes us human as a species.

So to sum up, the goal ought to make problems interesting enough so that when students are all grown up and have time to think about the issues, they might turn to a book in philosophy, and have it still be readable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Just yesterday I was complaining about the anti-Semitism situation in France. Today JTA NEWS has an article about France actually responding. I am impressed.

Review of Aristotle in 90 Minutes

I read Paul Strathern's Aristotle in 90 Minutes. It took me about 70 minutes to make it through, and even those 70 minutes were pretty much a waste. Aristotle was mostly known as a philosopher. The book is a little essay which is just a bit of dubious gossip about the man, with a nod toward some of his writing. Do not read the book if you are interested in Aristotle. Read something else.

Europe to Oppose U.S. Effort to Air Iran Arms Issue in U.N.

Europe to Oppose U.S. Effort to Air Iran Arms Issue in U.N. reads the times headline. Europe, and frankly the middle east is gearing itself up, not for the simple shooting itself in the foot type accident, put probably blowing its head off type catastrophe.

How do I mean. It comes back to Israel and the UN. Look, here is what is happenning. Israel is currently marginalized by the UN. They have little say in what goes on there, and there is nothing that they can do there. At this point, except for keeping up appearances, it is not at all clear what Israel is doing there. Israel gets nothing out of the UN.

So the benefits of the UN are zero. Moreoever, given UN routine condemnations, Israel gets less than nothing, it gets to be humiliated (which would be easier to ignore if Israel were not part of the UN). And, given that there are no benifits, the cost of defiance is pretty low too. Israel is thinking, if you've got nothing, you've got nothing to loose. By defying the UN Israel will get what they are getting anyway, condemnation.

So now Iran is upping the stakes. Iran is a big threat to Israel. Iran is not building nuclear weapons to defeat the Iraqis. Iran has only one target - Israel. If the UN cannot reassure Israel that the UN has Israel's best interest at heart, which they have never been able to do, not in the Siani, not in Lebanon, and not with Iraq, then Israel will think it has to take care of Iran herself. The only thing stopping Israel is the fact that the UN wont like it.

If the EU keeps making sure that anything that will reassure Israel is off its agenda, then it it setting the stage for a catastrophe in the Middle East. Either Israel will have to take out the reactor, or there will be an attempt at a nuclear exchange.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

France's anti-Semitism. . .and some suggestions

Apparently I am not the only one who thinks that France is the most anti-Semetic country on the planet. This article in Haaretz suggests that over 90% of Jews think so. It is no surprise that France is doing little to attempt to change this, though Sharon's recent pronouncement about Chiraq not being an anti-Semite probably helped a bit.

France is a shitty little country in Europe. It is about as significant as Greece. Many years ago they made a contribution to the world, but that era is over, and now they have to show themselves to be the great liberal, progressive country they claim to be.

There is no Zionist conspiracy to hate France. Jews have nothing to gain by marginalizing her. Zionists have more important things to worry about. It just works out that anti-Semitism is France's biggest commodity.

France should improve her image. Perhaps she can start a program of having Jew-friendly tours of the country with kosher food, and a guide who is not rude to everyone. Perhaps they can admit that they liked being Vichy, and now feel sorry. Perhaps they can crack down on those who stab rabbis and burn synagogues. Perhaps a few public trials of perpertartors. Maybe Chiraq could come to Israel and make Kennedyesque "Ani Yerushalmi" speech.

Of course doing this would piss off her new Arab voters.

And that reminds me that there are now two strands of anti-Semitism in France. Maybe I should give up.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Review of Gregori Freiman's I seem to be a Jew

I just finished reading a book called I seem to be a Jew by Grigori Freiman. (The title apparently invokes a line of the poem Babi Yar by the prominent post-Stalinist Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko.)

(The copy I have is one signed by the translator Melvyn Nathanson to Marshall Shulman. Unsurprisingly, I found it in a bookstore near Columbia University.)

It is an old book, from 1980. It is about the situation in mathematics in Russia during the cold war. The author was a mathematician (I wonder what ever happened to him) who went on about the state of anti-Semitism at the time in the Soviet mathematical hierarchy.

Mathematics has been singled out over and over agin by those in the know as a stronghold of academic anti-Semitism in Russia. One does not hear similar stories about Soviet physics or biology. There are still some traces of this in mathematicians who moved here from the former USSR.

I should offer an aside, that I happen to personally know a few Russian emigre mathematicians who are genuinely princes among men, and very fine people, who in no way exhibit any signs of anti-Semitism, and I have absolutely no reason to believe that they are bigoted in any way. On the other hand I have quite a bit of second-hand information about other mathematicians (in my own university) who brought their bigotry with them. In my experience, the more prominent they are the less they have time for the pettiness of anti-Semitism. I am grateful for that.

The book itself is very much a product of the cold war, and it shows on every page. It can be quite informative though. It si odd to look in to a society where it was normal to expect that your mail was read, and there was even an organization which officially did that. It is odd to see how one's travel was controlled so carefully, and all the other stuff that goes along with a repressive regime that was the Soviet Union.


This weekend I spoke at a conference in New Jersey. I also happened to eat dinner there the night before. It totally felt strange to be in and out of New Jersey twice in two days. I suppose that is normal for people who live there and work in New York, but if felt strange to me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Colin Powell's speech

Yesterday I heard Collin Powell speak at my university. He is an alum, and it was good to see him there. It was veterans day eve, and he gave a speech in memory of Ralph Bunche. Bunch did a lot to make peace in the middle east, just like Powell is attempting to do now. It was very appropos.

Unfortunately he did not say anything new that anyone didn't know yet. We are doing good things in Iraq, trying in the Middle East, fixed Afghanistan (even though it is still a Muslim country), etc.

Today I saw the Veteran's day parade on Fifth Avenue. As I passed by.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Beautiful minds- not very telegenic though

The Guardian published an article Beautiful minds that addressed what it is like to do a film about philosophy and philosophers. They picked as their subject the philosopher Richard Rorty. Now, I am very much not a fan of Rorty. I tend to think much of his work is almost not even worth criticizing.

I have been known a few times to lament on the fact that tere are not enough philosophers in the public eye, and there are even fewer philosophers who are glamorized in the mass media. When you ask people who the last philosopher they saw in a film inevitably they answer something as dumb as Ethan Hawke's character in Reality Bites or something like that. He is a philosopher because he seemed bored with life and he was show reading Heiddegger on the movie.

Now the reason why it is hard to portray a philosopher is because philosophers don't really do much. They have pencils and ideas. So to make Rorty look interesting they resorted to showing flowers. I am not sure I understand why even after reading their explanation.

Of course the author points out, and they hardly exploit this, that many important philosophers have had facinating lives. Socrates, Descartes, and Wittgenstein for example had been soldiers. Russell was a peace activist, decended from a prestigious political family. Chomsky, not exactly a philosopher, but close enough has been involved in so many things it is dizzying, has had many films made about him. Kripke, the most importatn philosopher this century lives a life so interesting he has been satirized in a novel. But enough about philosophers.

What philosophy is often about is much more telegenic than filmaker give credit for. The problem is that much of philosophy sounds (and often is) hard, so before you can make something visual, you have to understand it. The Matrix portrayed a few elementary philosophical concepts amazingly well. Something like this, but with a philosopher doing the talking can portray what philsophy is about. There are all these anthologies out now about the Matrix, Buffy the vampire slayer, and even the Simpsons as topics for philosophers. But even if you don't take all that seriously, which I can understand, there is still so much to work with.

Much of philosophy is thought experiments. What if the world were a certain way? What if wer were brains being maipulated by evil scientists? What if we lived in a world with a different government? What if we lived in a world with different laws? What about different laws of nature? What if we lived in a world with different laws of logic? What if we really had souls? Many of these questions are waiting for some good visual effects to bring them to light in to sharper focus.

I suspect that the author both chose the wrong philosopher, the wrong topic, and had too poor an understanding of philosophy to understand how to put it on to film.

Give me a call next time you need advice on this, OK?

Bombing in Riyadh

Don't these muslims know that it is wrong to launch an attack in Riyadh against innocent muslim children and families during Ramadan? These people can't even respect their own codes of decency.

Saturday, November 08, 2003 - Lunar eclipse to turn moon red - Nov. 8, 2003

I write this as I watch the Lunar eclipse today.

I love this astronomical stuff.

Street Fair

There has been so much going on in the news lately that I am tired of pointing it all out. I just thought I would mention that there was a nice street fair going on today from Union Square north till 23rd street. It was nice, though I realize that the more I attend these fairs, the less interesting they are. The food is less and less exciting, and how many times can you look at the same T-shirts before you wonder who would ever wear such tacky stuff?

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Suggestion for the Military

I was just thinking that (on my estimation) the military just issued about 300,000 new uniforms to the soldiers in Iraq. They were all brand new and were made for desert warfare. We have all seen them on CNN. Soldiers are normally issued woodland camoflauge when they start out, and then new special ones if there is a mission that requires it, like the one in Iraq. Now, each uniform has the soldier's last name just above the right breast pocket.

As part of the "hearts and mind campaigns, perhaps the government would be wise, as a nice courtesy to the Iraqi people, to throw on another name tape on the pocket or something. Perhaps the government could put each soldier's name in Arabic on his pocket. We should at least try to get a local to write everyone's name on 100 MPH tape and stick it on to their body armor.

It would make American soldiers more human to Iraqis and allow the Iraqi people to at least address them by name. It is a small cheap courtesy that would perhaps provide a small contract to some local name tape store in Bagdad, it would be a nice gesture to the people and make Americans look a bit less like foreign interlopers. Unlike many cultures who could not care less, Arabs appreciate foreigners making small gestures toward being accommodating like this, and toward communication with them. As it is too hard to teach everyone there Arabic, this would be a nice start.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

New Toys

The US and Israel have developed some cool new weapons. Cool. These are real.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The UN needs Hebrew

The UN officially has 6 official languages: English, French, Russian, Arabic, Spanish and Chinese. The reason, supposedly for this is that these are the languages spoken by the largest groups of people of the member, or initial member states, and the world in general.

However, it only seems appropriate to add Hebrew as an official language, as that is the language spoken by the group of people who have the largest number of UN resolutions directed at them.

Remember, it is Hebrew-speaking Israel, not Farsi-speaking Iran, or Urdu-speaking Pakistan which has been singled out for a full third of UN human-rights commission hostility. It is Hebrew-speaking Israel who has the honor of provoking the only joint session of the signatories of the Geneva Conventions.

Perhaps if the UN made Hebrew an official language they could get Israel to take them seriously.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Davening in Bagdad

The other day I got the latest issue of Army Reserve Magazine (vol 49#2). On page 43, there is what must be the Army version of inclusiveness. There is a nice picture of the Jewish Service in Bagdad International Airport. The scene shows about five people, four with Kippot and two wearing the talit. The fifth is a woman. The Soldier in the foreground (with the Airborne patch) is reading out of an Artscroll Siddur, and the rest are using standard military issue Jewish Prayer books.

Military siddurim, by the way are interesting. You get the impression that you are reading a foxhole-siddur, or only the bare minimum, in case you do not have time to pray.

But the picture is very nice, and it is good to see Jews prominent in the military in the US.

Military services are unique, and the Jewish service is especially so. There were eight people at the service in Bagdad, and the chaplain was a reservist. I am sure that the service meant a lot to the people there.

Rewriting Plato, Please

I am sure that there are a ton of purists out there, and frankly, I would usually count myself as one of them, but perhaps it would be a good exercize if someone could rewrite all of Plato, but in prose. These dialogues really just don't do it for me. I am sure it would be a real boon to student in this field who just don't get what is going on because Plato thought he would be better as a playwrite.

The weather

Today is officially the yuckiest weather day we have had in a long time. It is rainy, overcast and just downright icky. On top of that I realized that I purchased a mostly polyester shirt by accident and wearing it for the first (and only) time in this weather is unpleasant.


New York is like the girlfriend I always wanted. I find something new to love in her every day.

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Tonight I went to "M"'s 30th birthday part in Teaneck. It is starting. Friends are starting to turn 30. EEEEEEEk.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

20th Anniversary of terrorism

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the rise of modern terrorism. There is so much that can be said about what happened in Beirut 20 years ago. Oct 23, 1983 is when the bombing of the American Marine barracks in Beirut was carried out by Hizbulla.

It is hard to say what the lessons ought to be. On the one hand we have to ask ourselves about how we asses foreign missions. Does it pay to help these little countries sort out their problems? I think that we ought to keep helping to build a better planet. The US has stopped thinking in isolationist term. We are the best because we have gained from everyone. We have accepted the best and brightest people from all over the world and it is time that we make the world safe and stable for everyone.

On the other hand, there is a lot we can learn about tactics and strategy. We must expect the unexpected. The idea that our enemy is rational is as out of date as that of rational economic agents. The enemy might do anything.

Second, there is no such thing as having too much information about an area. We did not understand the politics of Lebanon at the time. It was very complicated, and we were unable to comprehend that there would be a powerful enough force in a country who did not want our help.

Third, we must learn the value of perseverence. We pulled out of Beirut, and then Somalia. Everyone now knows that a superpower cannot operate like this. Soldiers in combat know the risks, and Americans cannot afford to be as squeamish as we are. A few lives is a tragedy, but it is nothing compared to the threat to the planet that was caused by pulling out.

After we pulled out of Beirut, Hizbulla declared victory against America, much like they claimed credit for getting Israel out of south Lebanon. It was really where suicide bombing started, though it was not the first. It is where everyone realized how effective it was. And it was only effective because the US pulled out. The civil war continued, and Hizbulla became respectable.

The US did nothing to get justice from Hizbulla. We learned our lesson. Bin Laden lost Afganistan and Iraq because of what he did, and no act of terror will go unpunished anymore.

241 Marines lost their lives, and it started an avalance that has still not settled.

Times Square

Yesterday I hung out with "M". On a whim we went to visit Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Times Square.

Monday, October 20, 2003

The Usual Anti-Semetic/Zionist Tirades - Now in English

I think I spoke too soon when I originally said that the Novel Dreaming of Palestine would stay in French. Now it is being published in the US by George Braziller and by the American University of Cairo in Egypt.

It was recently translated without much new fanfare by a former student in my own university (a TOTALLY different department and historical epoch than mine, thankfully). She is incidentially an ex-Jew, now Christian who lived in Italy for a bit and now translates stuff from Italian to English. I suppose someone had to translate it, but now I realize that the (roughly) 50 year old translator did a better job because she too had an anti-Jewish chip on her shoulder, just like the 15 year old author.

And, as long as we're on the subject of the French. . . nothing new here.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

New York Stuff

So often you see pairs of shoes thrown over telephone wires. Lately there have been all these cut-outs of shoes (2-D dimensional) over these wires. Anyone know what these are?

Secondly, has anyone seen that flyer that had been up around lower manhattan for a few weeks now that says "My number has changed. My new number is 212-560-7418"? It is all over. So one day a few weeks ago when I was walking down St Mark's with "S" and "L" a few weeks ago I called and left a message on the dude's answering machine. the machine said somehting like "Hey, you have reached my new number. . ." Anyone who know what that is all about?

Also, anyone check out the new New York free daily newspaper? For a free daily it isn't bad. It is called "AM New York".

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I always hated this guy

Just because Coetzee won a Nobel Prize this year doesn't make him any nicer or brighter. Now he jumped on a version of the Holocaust on your plate bandwagon.


In one of his amusing autobiographical works, The eminent physicist Richard Feynman tells a tale of how he was on a team selecting high school textbooks. He talks about how incompetent the group of people on the "committee" was, and how the textbook company expected that sending fruit-baskets to the committee would make it a shoe-in.

As someone who gets tons of textbooks for perusal all the time, I can tell you that these things are not designed for students. Textbooks are designed to be 1) politically corrrect, 2) expensive, and 3) comprehensive. Interesting things do not get discussed, yet everything else does because the publishers want to make sure that no teacher has an excuse not to adopt it. Naturally if you need to use it, and the teacher gets a free copy, why should the company not charge as much as it can. TExt books are so expensive, that I applaud this teacher for tnot adopting them.

Personally I do use price and quality when evaluating texts for my classes. Fortunately I am lucky in that I never need to go through a process of approval before I get to select a textbook. I feel bad for the high school teacher who does. I feel worse for the students.

New Frog Found

I love frogs. It is always nice to see that they found a new family. It is like the cousin of my favorite species.

Ruling the world

I always thought that the biggest problem with the planet was that I do not rule it. . . . OH, . . . wait. . . . I do, by "proxy".

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad claims that the Jews rule the world. Moreover they invented Socialism, democracy and other things for their own benefit somehow. To win, he calls on Muslims to emulate Jews, and get out of medieval ways of thinking about the world. He believes that the Jewish people had "survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking"

One of the first bits of wisdom I can think of comes from the Talmud: "silence is a sign of wisdom".

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


There is something that is so obvious that it never dawned on me to notice it, but Julian Sanchez pointed it out and it is worth commenting on.

I hate actors. I never want to hear them talk, except when they are reading lines off cue-cards. So seeing him win did not exactly bring joy to my heart.

But sometimes I look around, and I see people who are my teachers, people who run stores I shop in, my students, and countless others with these foreign accents. These people came here because here is better then where they were. They may have been oppressed, poor, persecuted, out of luck, discriminated against, tortured, disillusioned, disenfranchised, or just looking for a better opportunity. They came here because they believed in the American dream. They left their country's politics behind. They still have allegiances, emotional and historical attachments to their home country, but what becomes important is the opportunity they have here. That is the story of countless immigrants. Many immigrants make it, and for most their children do. They integrate in to US society and their children are as much a part of the country as the descendants of the Mayflower. Now we have a guy whose name we can't even spell without the accent "Ahnold" who is from the country which produced our greatest enemy in the second World War, and has ancestors that fought against us in the war. And he lives the American dream. Worked hard, never lost the accent, went to Hollywood, and now governs one of our states. Like that Russian comedian used to say "What a country". Where else can this happen where a guy with a foreign accent can make it like this without appealing to his own constituency. He did not appeal to Austrian-American voters. He did not run with an immigrant agenda (though that might have worked well in CA), nor did he have to. He is as American as anyone else by dint of having lived the American dream in America as an American. There were no issues of him not being "American enough", there were no issues of his ability to represent the people of California, there were no issues of him not being "culturally American". There were no issues of racial purity, or even of having been born here, educated here, or even liking the country. But now he is governor.

THAT my friends is what makes this country better than all others.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Ethics and Second Editions

Here is an argument I'd like to see in the next introduction to logic text I come across:

Someone's putting out a second edition of a book ought to be an embarrassing thing. After a second's worth of thought they emerge as admissions of having initially released a flawed book. 9th editions ought to be really embarrassing.

In the sciences it is understandable. New research demands updates, and new paradigms and equipment mandate new methods. This whole thing is actually not applicable to cases where real new events and findings mandate new editions of old books which are otherwise well made. But there is little excuse in the humanities, especially in something like an introductory philosophy, logic, statistics, history or classic text. There is a really big problem in all those ethics textbooks that get reissued. An ethics text from 20 years ago is probably just as good as one written today. The problem is that in itself it is immoral.

Generally a second edition says 1) my first job is good and this second one is inferior, or 2) This is just a re-wording of the first edition, or 3) This edition is better than the last one. If this new edition is inferior, then of course I do not want it. I also have no interest if I am just looking at a re-worded version of the first. What is the point of that? If the newer edition is better then it says that either the author was originally sloppy, or it says that the author was deliberately worse in his first endeavor in order to improve it later. If the author was sloppy the first time, I am not that likely to assume that the second try, even after she has heard all the criticism is much better. That is what the writing stage is for. If the author was deliberately inferior the first time around then the author is evil. The reason the author is evil is that there is an assumption that a person does their best job the first time around when writing a text book. Generally this is stated in the introduction or on the back cover by someone who hails the book as a pedagogical revolution in the field of introductory texts. So the evil comes because there are millions of books out there and to get me to read one of them, I must be convinced that the author worked hard making the experience worthy. Moreover, students rely on these texts for their futures.

If there are mistakes in books, sufficient that it warrants a new edition, the author and publisher should recall the original text and offer to exchange it for the new one with no charge and point out the changes, so one need not waste their time looking for what poor information they were given the first time. But since they don't do what they ought to do, I do not trust them. And I refuse to buy the book of one I do not trust.

Now, I am not so naive as to not know the real reason for the constant re-issuing of new textbooks. These are generally demands by the publisher. The publisher says that if the author/editor does not release a new edition, then they will not keep the book in print. The author wants the book in print, so they play along. The publisher wants the new editions because students tend to sell their texts back at the end of the semester to get some cash and to promote recycling. The books then get resold the next semester to the next batch of students who pay a lower price, but with the publisher getting nothing.

Perhaps a solution might be to have the publisher "rent" books for the semester.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Succot and Music Gossip from the 'hood

I was in Brooklyn today to enjoy succot with some Booklyners. I had lunch with the folks and then went to visit "Y" and his family. Then I hung out with "S" for a bit and returned to Manhattan.

Being in Brooklyn gives me a chance to catch up on my Flatbush gossip. Today I learned about the new Flatbush bands. Apparently Jewish music is evolving from the Miami Boys Chior and Country Yossi stuff (not that they were bad) to something new. I have not yeard heard any of them, but there is a lot of talk about some "Blue Fringe" (reminiscient of techelet) group. Naturally various Roshei Yeshivos have forbidden it. But that is the Yeshiva Equivelant of being banned from MTV: suddenly everyone NEEDS to hear it. If they are annoying Roshei Yeshivos they must be doing something right. Mordechai Ben David never pissed off a Rosh Yeshiva.

Lesbians and Hassidim?

The Meow Mix, where I was on Friday night, you may remember, was made famous as the lesbian bar in the movie Chasing Amy. If I am not mistaken it still is a lesbian bar.

I was wondering why there were so many girls there with 2 braids. What is the significance of that? Is that a lesbian trend that I missed? It seems like many of the patrons were "braided". Please explain.

If memory serves me, there is a related phenomenon among hassidic girls in some communities. Hassidic women cover their hair completely when they get married. Most (though not all) hassidic women actually shave off their hair completely and wear a wig and a hat. (I never understood this myself, but I digress.) But the single girls in the community are divided in to the available and the unavailable ones. Ie, there are those who have reached marraige age and those who have not. Those girls who are not available because they are too young wear two braids, and those who are "on the market" switch to one braid. This might be a phenomena particular to Mea Shearim Hassidim. I do not recollect this clearly.

I guesss all communities have similar customs. I have a very gay friend who once removed a bandana, that was hanging out of my back pocket, from my pants. He claimed that the way I "wore" it indicated that I was gay and available. I guess it may also be related to the 80's thing where one wore an earring on their right ear to indicate homosexuality, and the left ear to indicate heterosexuality.

These are such complicated subtle social indicators.

Olive Drab

Friday night I went to hear Olive Drab in Meow Mix on the LES. It was cool. They are a good band. Worth a listen if you can find their CD. They put on a good show. They are definitely worth hearing live.

Friday, October 10, 2003

I can't believe this happened in MY country

In the city of Munic there is a building that displays every flag that the city was under in its entire history - execpt for one, the Nazi flag. In Munich it is considered too disgraceful to display that flag publically. Moreover, in Germany, it is illegal to display that flag.

Now, while making something like displaying a flag illegal, is barbaric, there are some things that just should not happen in my country. Especially not in a publically funded university during a football game. But yet this happened. Onje wonders what goes through the mind of school principals.

It does kind of figure. . . the incident took place in Paris, Texas. I can't think of a more appropriate place for such stupidity.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Review of Robert Flanagan's Maggot

Robert Flanagan's 1971 novel Maggot was a little strange reading. It is the story of a sadistic Drill Sergeant and a few of his recruits at Paris Island in the Marine Corps Boot Camp. Recruits Waite and Adamczyk were there to become men, and found out that it was harder than they thought.

The book interested me because of its description of early military life in that period. The description was fairly accurate. It very much resembled "Full Metal Jacket" and my own experience in the Army.

Unfortunately the book was not really that well written. I did not think that it was that interesting, and the plot was fairly thin. Ultimately the end revolved the Drill Instructor kicking someone and the question of whether anyone would tell on him.

The moral issues were not all that interesting either, and the psychological angle did not really play out well in the novel either. The book could have been far better written, and it would have had a chance.

Review of Johnson's Computer Ethics

Colleges are racing to give courses in all sorts of ethical issues which are 1) not understood by the philosophers teaching it, 2) are not understood by the professionals in the field who are exposed to it and 3) are not fully developed as fields in and of themselves. One such field is computer ethics, and one such book is Deborah Johnson's Computer Ethics.

The book is not all that bad when one surveys the other books which do the same job. But as a field, computer ethics needs a lot of work.

The first question in the field, is wether it really is a field. Is computer ethics really an independent field of study, or is it, as most philosophers tend to think of it as plain old ethics with examples from computer science. I am personally inclined to believe that it really is an independent field, because it is capable of asking its own questions that are independent of standard ethics. However the Johnson is not really successful in convincing us that that is the case.

Johnson gives us these half-answers that about how the scope and nature of the medium really causes us to have new ethical questions. I am not convinced by her answers.

Here is a general rundown of the book. There is an introduction to the questions about whether there is a need for computer ethics, and discussions of ethics, computers and society. Chapter 2 addresses philosophical ethics which does a sloppy job on ethical relativism and an awful job with deontological theories. Next are chapters on professional ethics which will work on classes in business ethics, computer ethics, engineering ethics, and in a pinch will work for doctors and lawyers too. Chapters 4 and 8 (for some reason) address questions about the internet. Chapter 5 touched on privacy and 6 property rights. Both of these need more conceptual clarity and philosophical rigor. Short of that it would be nice to give students a way to deal with these questions. Neither is present. Chapter 7 addresses questions of accountability.

Much work needs to be done in this field. Johnson does a good job for a field that really is in its infancy. She produced a book that does offer a lot of stuff to think about. Unfortunately her answers are somewhat unfinished, but that is more the fault of the field, than Johnson's.

REM in Concert

On Saturday night I went and saw REM in concert. I found myself rather surprised by the number of songs I recognized of theirs. They put on a pretty good show. I was pretty tired during a lot of it though. I had to be back in formation at 07:30 the next morning so toward the end I was getting ready to leave. I got home OK and made it the next morning.

Drilling in the Army

This past weekend I went on my first "drill" with my reserve unit. It was actually kind of boring. I got to meet the members of my team. It was a long trip in the morning, but I will get used to it. The members of my unit are actually all pretty nice. I think it will be nice working with them for a while. It seems like I got lucky. My Sergeant is decent and seems to care about her soldiers, and is willing to work on their behalf. There is not much more you can want in a superior officer.

A passing officer actually asked me if I wanted to leave early on the (correct) assumption that I was Jewish and needed to make it in time for Yom Kippur. That was quite nice of him. I pretty much told him that I would make it on time if I left on time, which is true. I assume he knew that, but wanted to tell me that if there were Jewish Issues I'd be OK. I assume I can expect to be understood like this in New York.

Now I feel like I am in the Army. I am part of a unit.

Review of I. F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates

I. F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates is an unsympathetic account of Socrates at his famous trial in ancient Athens in 399 BCE. To any new student of philosophy the trial is one simply where the barbarians of ancient Athens did not understand the profundities of Socratic wisdom, and foolishly ordered the execution of the father of philosophy. To Stone Socrates was not the nice old man who was trying to teach people how to be wise and virtuous.

Stone starts his account by going through the Socratic account of the ideal ruler and specifying that he believed that rule by the best was better than rule by all. This anti-democratic stance sat very poorly with the Athenians who had two tyrannies fresh in their minds. Socrates did not think everyone had the ability and thus the right to rule. And that is ultimately what led to the sentence of death.

Socrates' self-righteousness and condescension likely gave the jury ample reason to want him out of their hair. Stone goes through Socrates' antagonism of the jury, and what he should and could have said, and some ideas of why he did not.

Frankly I hated the book. The whole book sounded like Stone had some personal grudge against Socrates himself, or perhaps it was Socratic theories of best rule that he does not like. I am not too sure I am crazy about them either. However, Stone is often unduly harsh with Socrates. Stone has little sympathy with the methodology, genesis, style, or content of Socratic thought.


Is it me, or do womens' bodies exhibit a much wider variation in shape than mens' bodies? It seems like most men have a body that is of similar shape. Some are larger and some are smaller, but the general shape is more or less the same. At most there are a few shapes. But it seems women have a much larger variety. Why is that? I am sure that there are biologists who have wondered about this.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Why men have no need to shop but a need to compete

There is something very "gatherer" about shopping. I think that the culture of shopping that has been foisted on humanity for the past few thousand years is forcing a mode of commerce on humanity that is very "unnatural".

There are various methods of obtaining the necessities of life. We are typically accoustomed to thinking about hunter gatherer distinctions. This distinction makes some sense as it does reflect our primitive ancestors' modes of provision aquisition. We tend to believe that historically Women were the gatherers and men were the hunters. This makes sense, and also accurately describes and explains much about ancient history.

Shopping is a very gatherer activity. Now that we do not live in a society that either hunts or gathers we, for some reason, feel compelled to continue those traditions or habits still. Apparently women are doing well replacing gathering with shopping, and men have been doing well using risky business and competition as a compensation for hunting.

It is a classic case of replacing psychologically necessary behavior with similar behavior to trick your "unconscious" in to thinking that you are doing what you are supposed to.
Male behavior exhibits this classically.

maybe we need new TV shows

I think an interesting idea for a TV show would be for a show that looks like any news show starts doing the news. But instead of looking at the world for the news, they should look at other TV shows. For example, They would talk about things like the scandals at General Hospital, the problems with the space shuttle Enterprise, and the comments of a sports commentator on the sports show. And if something scandalous happens, like if a fictitious news reporter has an unwed pregnancy, that too should be on the "news".

Or perhaps we can have a sort of hybrid news show about people who are only important because they actually play other people on TV, or just play on TV and then look at their personal lives. So We could have Koby Bryant and his alleged sex crime. We can perhaps look at where Bruce Willis is vacationing, or maybe we can go so far as to have the political opinions of the politically astute Ricki Lake. The obituary of John Ritter would be paramount as well.
On boring days we can perhaps talk about how people on TV dress.

We already have fake shows about reality, why not fake shows about TV land?

The point is that the media spends so much time talking about itself is horrible. Occasionally I am forced to listen to someone talk about themselves for long periods of time. I think it is as boring as shit.

Sometimes the media devotes whole shows to analyses of "the media" or honest reporting, or how things were portrayed on TV or something like that.

I just want to be entertained, damnit!

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

There is Arab anti-Americanism

I hope the US didn't pay much to the panel it hired to discover this. There is not a human alive who does not know this now, and frankly there is not an educated human alive who didn't know this for years.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Review of Bernard Lewis' The Political Language of Islam

I remember as a visiting student at Hebrew University, the first week there was a get-together of sorts for all the new students in the overseas program. There was mostly music and chit-chat, all of us in our broken Hebrew, of course trying to communicate with the Russian, French, and miscellaneous students with whom we only shared broken Hebrew as a language. The entertainment was this guy and his band singing these hippy songs, one in particular stands out in my mind. The Song was basically the word "salam" repeated over and over again, with an occasional "shalom" thrown in. Reading Bernard Lewis' The Political Language of Islam I have come to understand that why that song could only have been written and sung by an Israeli. The word "salam": was never used to indicate peace between any Muslim and a non-Muslim. There were other words for that.

The book is an interesting historical/linguistic study of the vocabulary of power and politics in Islam. It starts out with a discussion of what the significance of metaphor and language is for Muslims, and how that is reflected in the modes of discourse and how it reflects Islamic views of politics. For example we discover that unlike for Westerners, power is not thought of in terms of hierarchies. It is thought of in terms of being closer and farther from the power center.

There are chapters on The Body Politic, the rulers and the ruled, war and peace, and the limits of obedience. Over the course of the discussion we encounter the various forms of the word for ruler, and where and why each one was applied. We learn what a jihad is and when the term is really applied (only in religious wars, and never against Muslims). We learn the lingo of obedience and usurpation, as well as that of tyranny and oppression.

Overall the book was pretty interesting. Those with an interest in the language of politics in the Muslim world will be greatly enriched by this book.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Universal Stupid Constant

So I have been having discussions about science, philosophy, politics, religion, and things like that for a really long time. I spend a lot of my day discussing these sorts of things with all sorts of people. By now I have heard all the arguments. I teach many people, and fortunately I get to spend a lot of time listening to their boring drivel. Teaching philosophy gives me the opportunity to have people feel free too expound on "their" philosophy of life (as if I care).

So I have come to a number of conclusions about people and the way they are. Here is one of them: Most people have a stupidity constant. That is to say that people do not mature and have their stupidity levels decrease over time. What happens is that people often realize that they are stupid about something and try to improve, but inevitably it comes with a comprable rise in stupidity about some other belief.

You have perfect examples in college students. You find that when they come in they believe in every folk tale they heard as children. Columbus discovered America, The Earth is flat, God exists, mathematics is useless, evolutionary theory is based on an athiest guess, other types of people are barbarians while yours are perfect, rain causes colds, . . . whatever. There are many things we learn in college that enlighten us about the world and improve us as human beings. In almost every case though there are people who then take what they have learned and become wiser and at the same time feel that they must become stupid in some other area. So they start embracing these leftist trendy political causes despite the fact that it contradicts a whole bunch of things that do make sense. They learn that (and this I read in an article by M. Levin) that since soem of the things they learnt must be false, then all of them are. So they do a 180 degree turn on EVERYTHING. This is silly, because it is rare that people start their education with beliefs that are 100% false. So they end up discarding even the good ones.

Thus there is likely a constant amout of stupidity that exists in humans. It ought to be measured and recorded as a universal law of psychological thermodynamics. This is related, of course to Sidney Morgenbesser's "Universal Tzorus Constant", the law that states that the amount of tzorus in the world is a constant. ("Tzorus" is Yiddish for Pain of all sorts.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Anan on the origins of the UN

Kofi Anan reminded us in his recent speech of the mission of the founder of the UN, invoking by name, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Undoubtedly this was designed to appease the US and remind us of our obligation to take the UN seriously.

What Anan failed to remind us of is that the UN was founded by the US only AFTER the US took care of the crazy dictatorial and genocidal menace that threatened to destroy the planet. He of course did not speculate on what the world would have been like had the UN been around before the rise of Nazi Germany. Undoubtedly as France was being invaded they would have fought the US on our interference in European affairs. The US never expected to have to face a maniac who was able to threaten the US, US interests, or indeed the planet.

I can only speculate, but if there was a threat that the US would have suspected that there would be new challenges to US sovereignty, we would not have pressured for an international body which can interfere with our ability to handle it.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Consistency, globalization, and independent states

It strikes me as odd that it is always the same people who advocate for a strong INTERNATIONAL governing body like the UN, and strong respect for the wishes of coalitions of nations, are also the same people who advocate for an end to global economies (globalization) and are the same peopel who press for independence for small states, like Tibet, Taiwain, and Palestine.

There seems to be a minor sort of inconsistency there. Either you want a larger group controlled by a smaller group, so then you can have the UN controlling everyone, or you can have smaller groups controlled by a larger group of people.

You can't have it both ways and still expect to make sense.

I am all for the latter, myself. The more states - the better. What benefit is gained by having a large international tyrant in charge of everything? Of course when you throw away the only thing that makes sense to have internationally, namely an economy, what is left?

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Arab Anti-Semitism didn't pay

During the last election there was a general consensus in the Arab world that Bush would be much better. (This piece is interesting and says the same thing about Muslims.) The reason for this is of course simple. Leiberman is Jewish. Having a Jew in the White House could not be good for the Arabs, or the world as a whole.

The current general concensus in the Arab world is that the most dangerous group of people in the world today are the neocons. The famous neocons, all the rage in today's political discourse seem to have the ear of much of Americal foreign policy makers, and are always associated in the media with Jews. Not all neocons are Jews. But some of the the big famous ones (Leo Strauss, Alan Bloom, Paul Wolfowitz, Irving Cristol. . . ) are.

Finally, it is hard to imagine Al Gore invading Iraq.

All these together do not add up of course. Had Gore been president the Arab world would have had to suffer the indignity of hating America because it was run by Jews, even though the Jew would have been much better for them then Bush - the Christian. Since Bush won, the Arab world has to suffer the indignity of hating America because it is influenced by Jews and some imaginary Jewish agenda.

I think the big lesson here is this. If Arabs (and of course I refer to the general Arab consensus, not any individual or group of individuals) couldgive up their anti-semitism they might have a coherent political platform. By letting themselves be shaped by which Jews are in charge of what in the US, they limit all their options to the one that has the least Jews involved. In this case they lost. They got Bush. It was an apparent victory, and now they can all bicker if it was worth it just so they do not have to have a Jew in the White House.

Lebanon in the NY Press

This week's New York Press has an article (coincidentially named after this blog whose author is quoted in the piece) about Lebanon and the potential to kick Syria out. The article focuses on a man named Ziad Abdelnour who is well connected in all sorts of things Lebanese and thinks that with a bit of "air support" from the US he can free Lebanon. Much of the article compares him with Chalabi and discusses his relation with washington neo-cons. I have no idea why the NY press carried this as their feature article, but . . . hey.

As I advocated before it is Lebanon's time to free itself from Syrian occupation. It is finally free of Israel, and it needs to resume a real political life. I do not buy the line that claims that Syria is THE stablizing force in Lebanon, and the place would collapse in to civil war again if Syria pulled out. Syria had little to do with ending the war. Everyone was pretty much sick of it, so it ended, and treaties were signed.

I have no idea if this guy's plan is worth anything, but it is a good time for Lebanon to do something.

The Death of Emil Fackenheim

I was saddened to hear about the passing on Friday of Emil Fackenheim. Fakenheim was a good philosopher who was very influential as a post-holocaust thinker. His main idea regarding the holocaust is that it is to be viewed as an injunction to Jews to continue being Jews and to perpetuate Judaism. To cease to contintinue, or to stop the chain of Jews is to grant Hitler and the Nazis a postumous victory. (This is an argument I disputed in print once, by the way, but I will not discuss here). His passing is a loss to Judaism, Jewish thought, and philosophy.

Jews in the Park

Today I was at the Chabad Jewish festival in Washington Square Park. The Piamentas were playing, and there were a few cute things to do there. It looks like it is great fun for kids. I just happened to be there, so I took a look.

Of Models, Movies, and Italians

On Friday I met "I", an old friend whom I have not seen in over 3 years for coffee in Bryant Park. It is fashion week now, and so there were all these models walking around. I also discovered that there is a tiny library that consists of a couple of carts of book that are loaned out to people hanging out in the park.

Then I walked to grand central. There was a cool AMC exhibit featuring all these movie clips and 3D art pieces built around them. It was a cool 10 minute exhibit there.

Yesterday, I met some people and we went to the festival of San Genaro in Little Italy. It was crowded but fun. It was good to see that most of the people were not Italian, not that there is something wrong with being Italian, but rather that there were so many other New Yorkers and tourists there. The festival celebrates some Italian Saint. I understand that the festival has a long history, much of it unpretty with stories of corruption and the like in its past. But it is supposed to be much better now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Children, abortions, and informed consent

There is this large debate in the country over the question of whether we should allow school children to leave school during school hours to go get an abortion or receive treatment for STDs without the school being obligated or even permitted to inform the parents.

This is a rather odd debate. Why the children cannot go to these free clinics or Planned Parenthood after school is beyond me. Why does this have to be done on school time? Is this a new way to get out of school?

But independent of that, there is a really important issue at stake.

After the various atrocities of the Nazis during WWII were revealed the field of medical ethics arose. That is, after we saw the sorts of experiments that went on in places like Dachau where Jews and other prisoners were used as part of medical experiments, the medical and academic communities took note. Prisoners were the subject of drowning, disease, and pressure experiments that amounted to little more than torture and death for most of them.

What emerged from this was a concept that was to become the cornerstone of medical ethics: informed consent. One can only perform a procedure on a patient when and only when there was informed consent given for that procedure. That means that if there was no consent, or it was not a consent that was given by someone who was able to give consent in an informed way, then there is a major breach of accepted medical ethics.

There are some classes of people who are incapable of giving informed consent. Individuals who are very mentally handicapped are generally taken to be unable to give informed consent. Children too are unable to do this. That is why one is not allowed to have sex with minors, or sell or give liquor to minors. They cannot vote or smoke. We say this because they cannot give informed consent for these sorts of things because they are judged not to have the maturity to make certain decisions.

Parents are charged with these responsibilities. Parents can make the decisions for the children. Parents must make the decision for the students. Parents are taken to have the best interest of the children and thus the capability and the right to make the decision for the children.

Now there are certain criterion where we do want to allow the children to make the decision for themselves. This happens when we believe the child to have the maturity and intellectual maturity to make an informed decision. But if this is the case we should also give the children the responsibilities of an adult. For example, we often refer to emancipated minors who are not accountable to their parents. We sometimes try children as adults in courts of law. We ought to make those analogies. In a case where we can say that had the child committed some crime, we would have tried him or her as an adult, then we can say that we should allow the child to make medical decisions. Of course the responsibility is also on the doctors who perform these procedures that they are performing them on people who can make informed decisions.

If we just allow children the "right" to leave school and make decisions that they are incapable of making correctly we have thrown away 50 years of progress in medical ethics.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Good Slogan. . .don't care for the message

Yesterday I was walking down first ave and I saw some graffiti stenciled on the sidewalk that said "Drop panties not bombs."

(sigh). . . If only. . . .

It was the great theorist of war Martin Van Creveld who suggested that war might disapear if only women were full fledged participants. (In his The Transformation of War, p223.)

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Israel, The Palestinians and the Geneva Conventions

There are a number of interesting issues raised with regards to Israel, the Palestinians and the Geneva Conventions. Recently in an AP story related the following odd sounding claim: "One contentious issue in the draft [resulution regarding the expusion of Yassir Arafat] is a call for the protection under the Geneva Convention of civilians during war or under occupation. Israel claims the convention does not apply to territory it seized in the 1967 Middle East war. It says the land is disputed, rather than occupied."

I am not sure what to make of this. This sounds very odd. While the land might certainly be disputed, in the interem it is certainly occupied as well. Moreover, I have no idea who the disputants are. If it is indeed Israel and the Palestinians, then according to Israel what is the status of the inhabitants? What is the exact status of each of the players here? Ido not understand the Israeli claim.

However, I nonetheless believe that the Isaelis happen to be right despite their flawed reasoning. They do seem to have a very important point. Why are the Geneva Conventions applicable to the Palestinians? Now you might naturally say that the Geneva accords were signed by Israel, and therefore binding on Israel. That is not exactly the case. The geneva conventions provide for morally symmetric warfare. That means that the convention is only binding when both sides agree to follow the accord. Have the Palestinians? It is a bit hard to get a clear answer to this. (I can't find it on the web) Moreover, who speaks for the palestinians, and if we do find someone who does, say the PLO, it only applies to the forces which that body controlls, which would exclude all the non-PLO groups. That is to say that Hamas, and Islamic Jihad is exempt, and there are no provisions execpt whining by Amnesty International which governs their treatment. It also only applies when there is a real distinction between combatant and non-combatant. This is non-existant in Palestine as there is little relation between the various militias and the people carrying weapons and carrying out authorized attacks. Furthermore, the lists of atrocitises (namey those which would fall under "treatcherous tactics") which various groups from Fatah to IJ to Hamas have claimed credit for is extremely lengthy. Utilizing ambulances, the enemy's uniforms, and civilians are all illegal, and would seem to deny intent to comly with the Geneva conventions. Without an explanation is would assure us that this is what is happenning.

There is also a rather interesting note appended to the signatures of various Arab (esp Kuait) countries specifically expressing the sentiment that their signature of various international treaties excludes Israel, and does not imply recognition of or a treaty with Israel. It is unclear how this would apply to Lebanon (and the various things Israel has been accused of there) too, but that is another matter.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

My 9/11/03

Today was a busy day. I checked in with my Army unit in the nether-reaches of Queens. It was a real schlep. The base (Fort Totten) is now mostly overrun by the Fire dept and EMS which were holding a small memorial service there, which I watched for a while.

I then met "B" for lunch back in manhattan at Odessa on Ave A. Then I wandered a bit around Lower Manhattan. I noticed the scientologists out in full force in Union Square, just liek they were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11/01. I then wandered in to the B&N right there and later on, met "L" and "S" for dinner at Kosher Delight on Broadway. We then went to the Twin Tower light thingy. They were really cool light towers. I heard you can see them from space, but I could not find any pictures of them on the web.

I wondered: if there was a new moon, and we shined the lights on it, would we have a full moon?

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Rereading Machiavelli's The Prince

I just finished rereading Machiavelli's The Prince. I last read it about 12 years ago. It made a real impression on me then, but I thought I have a slightly different take on the world now, and I had forgotten most of it. Wooton's introduction is pretty good.

This is the book that introduced the world, systematically, to power politics. There is much in the book to consider and take seriously, and no doubt millions of people over the past 500 years have. I think that it might be a good exercise to rewrite The Prince using modern examples. The examples are not really necessary for the book to make its point, but almost every chapter has some examples. They serve to make the book a more interesting read, and also to support the conclusions. It would be instructive to use examples from the last 50 years of history to see how applicable. I suspect that it would be informative to see that there are some places where he was wrong. It would also demonstrate the amazing relevance the book still does have, despite the radically different natures of governments, warfare and religion. Perhaps some enterprising history teacher might want to try this?

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Camo Fad

When I was in Basic Combat Training this summer they told me that when I returned to the civilian world, I would be annoyed if I saw some civilian wearing camoflauge. After all, it is occassionally worn, and after all we "earned" that uniform, and you have to expect that it would be annnoying to see some lazy hippy wearing it. We were punished to no end if our uniform was not in perfect shape. It is annoying when it is worn sloppily.

Anyway. . .

I came bacck from basic, and the first few times I saw people wearing camo, I was a bit annoyed, but not enough to really bother me.

But what I realized after a few days is that EVERYONE is wearing it. It isn't just a few people who like to shop in Army surplus stores, but it is like all over. I am certain that the world did not start a trend in support of me, but it is nice to imagine.

Either way, I thought it was an interesting coincidence.

Friday, September 05, 2003

An Ethics Question for Suspicious Professors

When you teach, you do not always get to know all the names of all your students. Generally I have about 100 new students each semester. This semester I have about 75, and I hope that by the time it is over I will know the names of 50 of them. But despite this, when you walk in to your class, unless it is one of those large lecture hall classes, you will recognize everyone. If someone is there who does not belong, you will notice. If there is a person who has never shown up, certainly by the third week you will know it.

So when you give an exam, it is not likely that someone will try to get their friend to sit in and take the exam for them. If they do, you will know it right away. If you have a large class, or you are particularly untrusting, you can ask your students for a photo ID to prove that the person registered is the person taking the exam.

Now what do you do when you have a female Muslim student in your class who wears a veil that covers her entire face except her eyes. You will never know if it is her, her sister, or her friend in your class at any given time.

Should a professor in that position just let it slide? I would not want my teaching suspicions to interfere with her religious right to wear whatever she wants, I just want to have some way of verifying that I am teaching the same person who I am testing.

Addendum:People have apparently taken advantage of the anonymity of veils for illegal activities before.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Friends and enemies

When it comes to choosing friends, the US could probably use some advice. Here is mine. We should have friends. Everyone knows that. Everyone is saying that. But who should our friends be? I suspect that the answers are not simple.

First, we should keep the friends we have. England likes us. Cultivate that. Make them like us more. Canada has to like us. Make them want to like us. Israel likes us. Don’t change a thing. Etc.

Second, ignore the countries who are not going to like us no matter what we do. Say kaddish for our friendship with France. Screw Iran. We have no need to appease China. Etc.

Third, invest in the start-up countries. There are a whole slew of countries who were once worth something and show promise of making a comeback. Or they are just new countries with spunk. There is all of Eastern Europe who like us, and want to be our friends. Get them before the EU does. Make them owe us before they owe Europe. It will pay off when they start producing something. With our help it can be soon.

Fourth, there are all these neutral countries which seem to have little opinion about us. Court them. Invite Iceland to all the cool parties. Be nice to New Zealand. Don’t spend too much on them, but compliment them on their shoes and stuff. Make them feel like big players. They will then want to hang out with the biggest - us.

Fifth, if we have extra money in the budget throw it at the third world. Not the crappy terrorist countries like Pakistan, but like all of middle Africa and things like that. Zaire, India, Malawi, Bolivia, Zanzibar. . . We want to look like we are doing more than all of the EU together. We want to help the world, and not spend too much.

Sixth, enemies. They are a bigger problem. A) Isolate the country. The works, trade sanctions, cold diplomatic relations. . . 2) Regime change, if it is the last resort. Help the pro-democracy troops there. Don’t make any promises, but give lots of money. Don’t make the mistake of funding the psychos this time. Pinochet and the Taliban were our best bets at the time, but we should know better. 3) We need to start bringing the worst of them here for study. Have the CIA open and fund a few universities. Spread the word in Saudi Arabia that they are very Islamic-friendly places. Bring people from the fundamentalist ghettoes. Ignore all the princes’ children who pay a fortune, and come out figuring how to get more out of us. Get them for a short time, and figure out what propaganda works. 4) Educate our college students about the politics of these countries. Until 9/11, I suspect 1% of college grads could find Afghanistan on a map. We need university graduates who speak Pashtun, Arabic, Swahili, and whatever they speak in the Sudan. There are plenty of students who waste away taking years of Spanish in high school or college. This gets them no where. It just makes life harder for immigrants from Mexico, who have even fewer incentives to learn English. Let them learn a language that makes them valuable if we need them. Also integrate language study in to the military. We have two and a half million people in the military. Why are there only a few hands-full in the Defense Language Institute? Why is there not more education about foreign counties there as well? The more they know, the more effective they will be when the time comes.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Esperanto Excitement

Here is the excitement for tonight. Apparently tomorrow night (Friday night) there will be a boycott of Esperanto (the Cafe, not the language). The details are not entirely clear, and it is not well known who started this thing, but it has been in the hopper for a long time. Esperanto, in the west village of Manhattan used to be a real cool place to hang out. It still is actually, but it used to be cooler. Then a couple of years ago they got waitresses. The waitresses were all nice, but they changed the ambiance. Now when you come in you have a seat and someone serves you instead of going to the counter and just ordering and taking it to your table and enjoying your coffee. It is now a whole thing. Then a while back they started to enforce this policy that required ou to be consuming $5 worth of stuff per hour in order to stay there. Now peopel used to stay there all night, especially when there was no one else there, as they are one of the few places open 24/7. They did not really push this policy too much. It was just something they brought up every now and then.

Apparently the owner started to manage the place, and it turns out he is a real jerk, and business on that block (like in the rest of the city) has gone down lately. Last week he screamed at some of customers who were apparently not downing enough decaf. He also harassed the staff about this. And this went on until one (or more) of the customers decided there will be a boycott of the regulars at the store this friday (today, actually). The people there are all pretty friendly, and so they started this thing where they hung up signs on McDoogle Street, and changed the background on the computer to a boycott sign. The owner has been removing these signs ever since.

Those who know who started this are not talking.

If the owner has the balls to apologize, he can still salvage his regular customers.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

King's Dream - 40 years later

It is the 40th anniversary of MLK's famous "I have a Dream" speech. It is a piece of writing that has had a lot of influence on my life. (I never heard the speech in MLK's voice till a few years ago, when I caught it on the radio.)

It is normal that we overly glamorize the lfe of MLK. He was human, and he made the mistakes of humans. His "Letter from Birmingham" was not the brilliant philosophical system that it is made out to be. His PhD was mostly plagarized. And yes, he really liked white women (which were not his wife). So he shoud be no role model for anyone. But we idolize him nonetheless.

But nonetheless the speech was profoundly significant. It always saddened me that the speech which was meant for everyone had way more impact on whites then on blacks. It was a dream "deeply rooted in the American dream". That is true. It was a dream that "we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood". It is a dream that "one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood." This is something that whites have worked very hard for. It was a dream of true integration. I think it is sad that the black community has not fought as hard for this. Blacks want rights for minorities. Whites want rights for everyone. At a certain point in history this might have been understandable. But the time for that has passed. Certainly there is nothing wrong with "black culture" whatever that might amount to, but to grant special rights (despite their special persecuted history) is a dream not deeply rooted int he American dream. It is a dream rooted somewhwere else.

I think racism has not ended in this country. I do think that institutionalized racism is mostly gone, and that is all we really want the government to promote. The rest is about community marketing. Racism will not end as long as the races act differently. And they will never really be the same. And there will always be people who do not like each other. That is human nature.

But MLK's speech does not ask that we all like each other. He wants us to have a forum to sit down in a spirit of brotherhood. He wants our children to be able to school together, dine together, and (gasp) to marry. That is all nice.

I hope that we all take a good look at the speech, and try to live the dream. I hope that the speech will start to resonate with blacks too. Sure they want racism to end, but are they prepared for brotherhood with whites, Or are they stuck on brothahood?

The 10 Commandments

I am so glad that this 10 commandment things looks over. These pseudo-Americans fighting for the reintegration of church and state! Alabamans are pretty stupid people, even if you make it to judge. What is up with this? This is a constitutional no-brainer. The large number of people who support having the ten commandments in a federal building are simply showing their preference for God over country. They are no better than the Anglicans who forced the early American colonists to leave England. Frankly they are - in principle - no better than the Taliban who pulled this same thing, execpt the Americans are civilized enough to not violently follow through.

I am greatful for high courts with common sense.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Review of Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars

Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations is by now a classic in the theory of just and unjust war. There is a lot in the book that can be agreed with and disagreed with, and I will not trouble here to go in to a lengthy discussion of the book right now, the book has been reviewed over and over again already. The book covers a lot of the things you would want to address when talking about wars and morality. There is ample discussion of when a war is just, and what are just and unjust methods of fighting a war. There is a discussion of nuclear deterrence, emergencies, and terrorism, among many other things.

There is only one thing that would hold me back from recommending this as a good place to start if you want a presentation of a relatively modern academic discussion (from 1977) of what the issues in Just War Theory are - the presentation is a bit hard to follow. The historical illustrations are really helpful, but the discussions are often a bit prolix, and somewhat dense. The book could use to loose a few pages.

It really is a well thought out book, and despite the massive amount of literature that has already built up around it, both favorable and critical, it deserves to be widely read - especially these days when there is so much talk about justice and war, and so little corresponding thought.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Spotted at the UN

Today I ran to the UN where there was a silent demonstration in front of the building, inside the complex. It was a memorial of sorts for the people who were killed in the recent bombing in Iraq. I saw Kofi Anan marching there with about 200 other people.

2001 in Bryant Park

Movie in Bryant Park

Last night I saw 2001: A Space Oddesy in Bryant Park (Thanks to the sponser HBO). I love those free shows in the park. I try to take in at least one each summer. 2001 was a great movie, and it was great seeing it on the big screen. If I were in a more philosophical mood I could ramble on about the movie for pages, but I am not quite in the mood for that now. There were a few annoying people there, but overall it was nice. To see one you have to get there early, though I think last night was the last one for the season.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Review of Rushkoff's Nothing Sacred

Review of Douglas Rushkoff's Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism

As a general rule, one should always worry when someone tells you they are going to tell you the truth - even when that someone is Douglas Rushkoff. Rushkoff is one of the modern geniuses of the study of the media and our relation to it. His earlier works were not just books, but events in the study of society. So when he writes a book about Judaism, even one with such a suspicious title, it behooves us to take notice.

The book starts out giving us Rushkoff's view of what Judaism is. For him, it can be boiled down to three, and only three things: 1) iconoclasm 2) monotheism, and 3) social justice. He demonstrates this by giving us selective examples of all three from the bible and Jewish literature and history. Then, in chapter two, he goes on to ask how Judaism "lost it", or lost our focus on the above three goals. He is especially concerned about loosing Judaisms iconoclasm which was a product of open, free, and supported rational inquiry. Basically he blames contemporary Jewish practice for stifling this inquiry. He claims that we have replaced openness (and pluralism) with dogma and insularity.

Chapter three then claims that there is a long history of improvements as the process of renaissances. Moreover, he integrates this well inside of the Jewish tradition. The book then argues for an "open source Judaism" which will allow us to see things more multi-dimensionally. He then advocates a sort of abandonment of tradition such as to allow the important stuff in Judaism, ie, social justice and iconoclasm, to flourish, even at the expense of everything else.

There is then a sort of digression to stave off the objection that Judaism is a race and therefore ought to be preserved as one. The chapter claims it is not a race, but something else. Therefore he concludes that it is then OK to share Judaism's core values with others, even if it means we all become the same (ie, we assimilate ourselves and our values for the sake of perpetuating Judaism's core memes of iconoclasm and social justice.)

The fifth chapter is more normative. It enjoins us to establish a collective narrative. It insists on open exchanges and constant critical dialogue. The chapter asserts that everything is open to reinterpretation. The idea is that we should strive to reinterpret the old narratives as openly as possible. Rushkoff goes on to then say that to do this we need access to the original texts and their original contexts. Instead of seeing our places in Judaism as a link in the long process of Judaism, what we need to do is to take the original Judaism and imagine we are the first interpreters, and ours is the generation that it ought to be interpreted for. Then we will be able to take the original vales and apply it to today and it will be meaningful to us, and will promote Judaism's true values.

My problems with the book are many, and I will state a few of them here. (1) First, and this is a pet peeve of mine - one should not think they can successfully get away with reverse engineering Judaism to discover its core values. It is both the book's premise and its conclusion, that there are core values and that they were figured out. The task is always dangerous because there is no way to be right and no way to be wrong. Generally people know what they want the answer to be and find the examples they need to get to it. If I had every book whose opening chapter told me what the author thought the real "essence" of Judaism was, I would have an enormous Judaica collection. For some it is saving the whales, for other the ecology, for others it is serving God, for some it is about bring the messiah, honoring your ancestors, voting democrat, entertaining the world, singing, or smoking marihuana. I have never bought in to any of those and I don't buy it now. The three core values for Rushkoff iconoclasm, monotheism, and social justice are interesting choices, but sound very agenda-laden especially since monotheism (all theism, actually) seems to get lost over the course of the book. Moreover, iconoclasm seems like it was a good stepping stone for monotheism. Monotheism does seem important and probably was one of the main goes somewhere along the line. And, social justice is clearly anachronistic. There is certainly an ancient idea of making the world better for the Jews, and even of making the world better (though that must have come later). But it seems odd to put that as a main goal. There are enough references to "l'takin olam bemalchut shaddai" (to fix the world within the kingdom of heaven) to suggest that there is an idealist conception of a Jewish reaching out to spread word and practice of our God to the world, and this is taken up by some, but this cannot be generalized to social justice. Moreover the name itself is very anachronistic. The term "social justice" congers up images of Jewish-lefty-bundist-arbiter-ring-style social thought. This could hardly have been the intension of whoever first uttered "tikkun olam".

(2) Why stick with social justice any more than anything else? Perhaps we should stick with the kosher laws, or the family purity laws, or the holiday laws. Maybe we should make up our own laws, call that Judaism, in the "very Jewish tradition of free inquiry" and promote those? Under the books understanding of Judaism anything can really be construed as Judaism. And if we are allowing that what does Judaism really have to do with this. If we happen to like a value, what is the point of talking about its authentically Jewish nature? If it is to convince Jews that this is authentic Judaism then you are only going to interest those who are interested in Judaism's original message and those who are interested in your message. Those who are interested in yours do not need Judaism, and those who are interested in the authentic message do not need to be Jews if the message is worthwhile enough.

(3) There have been many trinities in Judaism, by the way. Many look like good candidates. The book's is just as arbitrary as many of the others, it seems. Is there an argument to suggest one over the other? Here are a few: Rav Kook: Jewish Torah, Jewish State, and Jewish people. Big three prohibitions: Idolatry, adultry, murder. Rosh Hashana: Repentance, Prayer, Charity. Jewish Characteristics: modesty, mercifulness, kindness. The pillars of the world: Torah, avoda (service), kindness.

(4) I am very bothered by the book's tone with regard to tradition. Personally I am not a believer in anything. I am barely a practicer of anything, nor am I secretly pleased that there are some out there who carry on "authentic" feeling Judaism. I do things within Judaism that I feel like, and that please me. That's about it. However, it seems like, by sounding so hostile towards tradition, the book disregards one of its own messages of open inquiry. Open inquiry does not mean something that is open only to those who already have the right answer. It is like an open democracy where they only allow one candidate to run, or at the very least, they outlaw some of the candidates. Inquiry, or at least its promotion, is not present if you assert a priori, which answers you will not allow to turn up at the end.

(5) There is an assumption that seems to lurk in the pages that IF one is Jewish, THEN they feel as if they must support Israel. I personally do, but I do not think that one must to be Jewish, or that it is necessary or important for one's Judaism. Judaism has allowed for a multitude of voices on this since the times of Herzl.

(6) Much of the information from this book seems like it was gleaned from the pages of modern new age pop-culture books with trendy titles, and authors who appear on Oprah. (Like Drosnin et al) There seems to be little first-hand familiarity with the workings of the Jewish canon. The corpus of Jewish writing is extensive. To call it multi-faceted would be a massive understatement. Traditional Orthodox interpretation and reinterpretation allows a very wide latitude in reading of the text, especially the kind that Rushkoff seems to innovate here. Few Orthodox Jews would find it hard to look at the 10 plagues and see it as casting off 10 idols. Biblical criticism is at least two millennia older that Spinoza. And Spinoza knew it. Spinoza was following a well worn methodology and style, only his answer was radically different - not his questions. (Hobbes actually got the jump on Spinoza on the biblical criticism question anyway.)

There is a much more obvious reading of Maimonides' Mishne Torah that Rushkoff misses, which makes the exact opposite point that the book is making. Maimonides on one very important level strove to CLOSE discussion on Jewish law. The talmud is a work with lots of stuff in it. There are stories, legends, parables, discussions, gossip, textual analysis, philosophy, and discussions about Jewish law. The discussions have ambiguities, open questions, many more points of view then actually get full treatment, and their inclusion is conscious on the part of the editors of the Talmud. So much was deliberately left open ended to allow for a reinterpretation. Moreover, those familiar with the story of the oven of Achnai, know that the rabbis made sure that the law is not fixed in heaven, but rather open to their constant revisions and reinterpretations. The Talmud is VERY clear about the living nature of the law. There are also few final pronouncements thus allowing for many possible loopholes and interpretations, and directions that can be taken from the text itself.

One can even argue that in that way the talmud is very philosophical rather than dogmatic. It records all the arguments and reasons, rather then the law itself. What is important for the editors of the Talmud, what they needed to preserve for eternity is the debate - regardless of what the outcome or practice is.

Maimonides sought to replace all that with a simple, closed, and fixed text from which you can get all law. Gone was the discussion. Gone was the idea that critical inquiry was valuable. Now all one needed was to see what Maimonides said the final ruling was and you had Jewish law. Maimonides goal was to replace dialogue with dogma. This was done for the masses as well as the intellectual. However for the intellectual there was an elaborate and sophisticated justification of this in the Guide for the Perplexed where obstacles to the first project were removed.

(7) There are a few places where the book makes assertions about Jews that reflect only on those Jews least in need of the program it is advocating (ie the educated and practicing). There are pronouncements for example that the Shabetai Zevi story was "erased from our history". This is preposterous. Everyone with a halfway decent Jewish education knows this. Certainly anyone who spent enough years in Hebrew school or read a few Jewish books in her life. It was a central part of Jewish history. The only way you could not know about him is 1) if you spent too few years in Hebrew School, 2) you do not remember what you were taught in Hebrew school, 3) you went to a Hebrew school where the teachers were not more educated then the students, or 4) you read zero books on Jewish history.

(8) The issue of race comes up a lot in the book, as if for some reason it came as a big revelation to the author that Jews do not see themselves as a product of a race. Israeli society is plagued with racism (discovering this was actually one of the biggest disillusiong moments of my life). WASPs (White Ashkenazi Sabras with Protectsia) are higher up on the social ladder than the Arab or north African Jews, and they both see themselves as higher than the Yemenite, or black Ethiopian Jews. But they all see each other as Jews. Jews of different races, yes, but Jews nonetheless. (Initially there was much debate of their Ethiopian Jews, but what was at issue was their linage as Jews, not their race. Everyone, except for a bunch of anti-Semites knows that Jews are not a race, the existence of race itself is hotly debated among those in the know, but it is not clear why so much time is spent debunking this.

The reason why he deals with race at all is that he makes the dubious claim that only Jews, ie the Jewish race should feel so special such that they should share their religion with others. It is not like anyone thinks that having non-Jews do some Jewish things is wrong. What is wrong if non-Jews give charity, or celebrate the Passover or whatever?

(9) I really do like the final chapter of the book. That is the chapter that recommends a fresh approach to looking at Judaism. I believe that it is not original in the sense that there are long traditions of modifying services and rituals, and textual interpretation to accommodate the times. The Orthodox do it, as do the unaffiliated and everyone in between, but it does promote a large awareness of what is going on, which I like.

It would be nice to see a more tolerance for different voices, not just the "correct" one. The correct voice, if there is one, that is the voice that is most appropriate for the time, will, as Rushkoff puts it, naturally emerge from the multitude of voices that speak out on every topic. Beyond that it is hard to imagine what the correct voice is. It cannot be the original intention in the original context, because we do not share their world, so their world view is useless. We also do not share their priorities, and you would have to make a good case for why we should before you do. So it has to just be the interpretation that works best for us here and now. But there is nothing that says that there is a unique correct interpretation. A central principle of Talmudic hermeneutics is "eilu v'eilu divrei elohim chaim". "Both these and those are the words are the living God." There are lots of things that count as the right interpretation. It behooves us to find them all, no doubt.

There are also numerous smaller problems in the book most of which I shall not deal with. However the problems range from the factual like Napolean's death had little to do with the status of the Jews, and the last Czar was incorrect in the book, and the Russians wrote The Protocols not the French - To the very strange misrepresentations of the Hebrew language (YHWH and avoda, for examples). Also, while "oz" does indeed mean "strength" in Hebrew, the Uzi was named after its inventor Uziel Gal (nicknamed "Uzi"). And there is an annoying caveat pertaining to nomenclature, but I feel a need to point it out: Shabetai Zevi is never referred to as Zevi in the scholarly or Jewish literature. Nor is Rabbi Nathan of Gaza referred to simply as "Rabbi Nathan".

In closing, it is not clear what in the book is supposed to be innovative. The theology and scholarly methodology is used in everywhere in the Jewish world from the hassidic yeshiva, to the secular university, where everything from source-critical apparatus to mystical interpretations are employed, often side-by side. Sometimes the goal is to find the original intent of the author, sometimes the intent is to translate it in to modern lessons. Sometimes it is filtered through the lens of scores of generations, sometimes it is brand new commentary straight from the original. The book's values are nice, though they seem more to try to fit social justice and iconoclasm in to a Jewish mold rather than to take them out of one. There are equally plausible cases that could be made for Judaism's conservative nature than its iconoclastic one. There are also easily made cases that Jews were more interested in themselves than saving nations that they were planning on being a light to.

But, on a more positive note, I really do love the "open source" metaphor for Jewish inquiry. The open source philosophy blurrs the boundary between creator and user which was, by the way the original reason that the oral law was oral - so as not to become rigidified on a text. Traditional software generally has one creator, and the program is static. The user then has to deal with whatever software she is given. Open source allows the user to modify the software as she needs to. There is nothing sacred about the source code. The source code is not copy protected with all the security and legal apparatus that usually comes with it. Open source Judaism also encourages each individual to make any contribution that he wants. Popular tweaks will be picke up by others and catch on. Of course it is innately difficult to modify the source code. To do so you must first have a good understanding of the original intent and language of the source. You can't modify the code if you don't understand the program. With Judaism you can only make a change if you are perceived as understanding it. Illiterate Jews cannot really impact the religion. Who would listen? (Though there have been a few possible exceptions.)

While this is a wonderful metaphor, it is hardly a new concept. Judaism, like other religions can be well described by the open source terminology and can be modeled within the rubric of open source philosophy. There was an initial program. This Kernel (a core of the program protected by some administrator that is accepted as cannonical) was a general program (whatever that was). The "protector" of the kernel was pretty conservative. Each generation adds its own features and changes and modifies it, and the popular ones are picked up by all and the unpopular ones are discarded. The whole process has being going on in Jewish law since the beginning, and even those who think that strictly Orthodox Judaism has never done that would do well to read the historians of Halacha (say Jacob Katz's Divine Law in Human Hands or The Shabbos Goy or more importantly the Soloveitchik "Rupture and reconstruction" paper of a few years ago). On a larger scale, Diaspora Judaism itself has fractured in to three major groups, and Israeli Judaism has taken up Zionism and other "denominations". Each rift can be easily modeled as a new step in the evolution of the Judaism program. There are many ways to use the open source concept to describe these.

But either way, the book is a fresh reminder of the value of a Jewish education and the benefits of a healthy debate in Jewish practice and theology. Debate is vital to the tradition, and Rushkoff should be commended for taking such a decisive stand in it.