Thursday, March 27, 2003

Visit in Haifa

Wednesday was a tough day. I went to visit a relative in Haifa. This was one of the more difficult visits I have ever made. Two weeks ago a relative who I was very close with passed away. I went to visit his family in there. He was a wonderful person. One day I will write more about him. I remember him always looking out for me when I was in Israel. Visiting his family was very emotional.

I went to dinner with my family in Café Rimon, and then met a friend in Tmol Shilshom for coffee.

More on Weather

Tuesday we had the weirdest weather I have ever seen. It was like in those cartoons where the bad guy had an evil weather device and is intent on proving that he can alter the weather at will. It was nice in the morning, and then there was about five minutes of snow. Then it was sunny, then ten minutes of hail. Then sun, then sleet, then sun, then rain. . . It was odd.

I met an old friend in the new Moment Cafe. I was there this summer when it had been rebuilt after a massive bombing.

I then went to visit some of my old haunts in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, then off to the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University for a meeting.

Afterward, I went to a wedding in the Tamir Hotel in Jerusalem's Ezrat Torah neighborhood. It was a very haredi wedding, but it was quite nice. During the outdoor huppah it hailed, and we were all huddled under umbrellas. It was quite memorable.

Jerusalem Weather

It is so far disappointing coming from beautiful New York weather to crappy Jerusalem rain and stuff.

Before Takeoff

I get to the airport on Sunday all ready to hop on to Turkish Airlines flight 0007 to Istanbul, catch a connecting flight to Tel Aviv after a nice, but very brief, stop over and be in Israel sometime Tuesday afternoon.

That did not happen.

I got to the airport and I was told that because of the war, no planes were leaving Turkey on Monday. I would have to stay over in Istanbul until the next flight at 1 AM and arrive in Israel at 4:30 on Tuesday. Now I really could not afford to cut it that close. Also, I would have to stay over in a hotel, which they would provide, but. . . I would have to shell out $100 for the honor of entering the country itself, which they would not provide. My alternative was to spend 13 hours in a crazy hotel.

So after checking in, L, who drove me to the airport with S, says to me ``why don't you call the travel agent and see what they can do." But the travel agent was closed, but his ``emergency'‘ number was working fine. So after a whole bunch of backs and forths with El Al, Turkish Airlines and my luggage, my travel agent drove to JFK and personally handed me a new ticket for the El Al flight.

It was Five Star Travel in Boro Park, Brooklyn. THAT is service. Thanks.

(note added later: The following day there was a Turkish Airlines flight hijacked. I do not think it was the one I was supposed to be on.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I am here

I arrived in Israel after a little ordeal which I will describe when I have more internet time. For now, things are nice. There was just about three and a half minutes of intense snow, and now it is sunny. I have a crazy jam packed schedule. I am trying to get too see as many friends as I can inthe next 7 days. It is like one of those reality shows.

Sunday, March 23, 2003


What is with all the news websites taking down all the pictures of the prisoners and changing and deleting their stories. There are no more pictures of the prisoners anywhere. Al Jezeera doen't have them either. This is all messed up. I want news! What is being hidden from everyone?

On my way out

I am practically out the door, heading for Israel via Istanbul. I know this seems like the wrong time to be going, but a host of family and academic business brings me there. I also think that in times like these, showing support might just be a good thing. The people in my building in Jerusalem still remember me as the person who came during the gulf war. I guess this will be done a second time.

Saturday, March 22, 2003


Those protesting lunatics are messing up New York again. Half the city is closed so they can be annoying. It is like they think if they annoy enough New Yorkers then George Bush will feel so sorry for us that he will no longer mind if a genocidal maniac runs a large important Middle Eastern dictatorship.

And. . . while we are on the subjects of protesting and biological weapons, I came accross this on SFGATE: "In a unique form of opposition, some protesters at the Federal Building staged a "vomit in,'' by heaving on the sidewalks and plaza areas in the back and front of the building to show that the war in Iraq made them sick, according to a spokesman." It is like they all lost their minds.

Those Damned Jewish Well Poisioners

Al-Ahram has an article that shows how the Zionists are and have always been poisioning the wells of the Arabs in the region. This article is designed to show that the first users of WMDs in the region was not Saadam Heussain, but rather the Zionists. Somehow that makes the Arabs use of them OK, I suppose.

As everone who has ever done any history knows, well poisioning is together with blood libels (which we can expect to see in the near future, no doubt) is the oldest anti-Semetic move in the book. It is sad that Arabs are too non-creative to accuse the Zionists of something original.

Al Haram is Egyptian. Was this supposed to compliment the "historical" show made out of the Protocols?

Friday, March 21, 2003


Today is A-Day. The US has begun to attack Iraq. I want to wish our soldiers well, and hope that this is over soon.

Book Review: With all My Heart With all my Soul

If it weren't so awful, With all My Heart With all my Soul might not be a bad novel. but is is, so it isn't. B. D. Da'ehu (which is an obvious pseudonym which stands for Bechol Deracheha Da'ehu `in all your ways know Him" see p.111) made an attempt at explicating "authentic" Orthodox Judaism and the passion it entails. Unfortunately he was not up to the task. It is clear that the author is angry that most people's views of Orthodoxy come from writers who are not familiar with it. That is true, but that is no excuse to write a bad novel.

It is basically a story about a Talmud prodigy and a WASP who fall in love with each other. Unfortunately because of her lack of conviction she cannot become Jewish. Her inability to believe is the central focus of the book. Why Josh (the protagonist) believes and can't communicate why, is completely beyond me. The woman is all impressed by the rationality of it all, but does not believe. It makes little sense.

The author really takes a lot of time to spout a few divrei Torah, and some other offbeat beliefs about Judaism, and claim that it is really the only authentic view. He is slightly nuts.

The story has more real flaws than I really want to enumerate here. But I will start anyway, and I leave the trashing to someone else.

First, the author has about an eighth grade understanding of Philosophy, religion, Jewish Philosophy, and literature. The Author quotes a book every now and then, but it all sounds canned, like he got it out of some secondary source on Sartre. He never struggled with philosophy the way he wants us to believe he struggled with a sugya of Talmud.

Second, the author believes every one of the WASP stereotypes imagined. (see eg p 224) He has little clue how a non-yeshiva person thinks. He believes everything that the yeshiva taught him about the outside world is true. He is so very off. He does not understand the difference between the general social mileu of the south Bronx and Princeton University. It is awful.

The author even got Judaism wrong from time to time.

The whole plot is implausible in that an intelligent thinking person can be won over with 3rd rate pilpul. It is embarassing.

The plot goes too quickly. They chat, they fall in love, they are thinking about marraige? Huh? I blinked, and missed it. No one thinks like this, execpt people in Yeshiva. It is hard to suspend belief when the whole thing is so artificial. The dialogue, like the plot is contrived and fake. All the pseudo-witty banter is stupid. It is not nearly as clever as the author must believes it is.

I wish that someone would get this genera right. This book does not.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Travel Fears

I am all set to leave for Israel in a few days. Lately I have been hearing rumors that planes going to Israel might cancel their flights. I am starting to worry.

Book Review: The Multiple Identities of the Middle East

Bernard Lewis' The Multiple Identities of the Middle East is a real gem. It is not a long read, yet it contained a few insights that helped clarify a few things about the region. I found it insightful. His main goal is to elucidate the various ways that the peoples of the middle east identify themselves. For example, we discover that while for your average Westerner, say an American, the world is divided in to countries. There are the Americans and the French, lets say. Those are the us and the them. In the US there might be Christians and Muslims, and in France there might be Christians and Muslims. For the Average Middle Easterner there are Muslims and Others. There are muslims who live in Iraq, and Muslims who live in Iran, and there are Christians who live in the US. George Bush leads a Christian Nation. The only people here who see the world that way are the wacos in the midwest. The average Arab's relation to his nation state is explained, as are the issues involved in nationalism.

Why some Arabs have adopted their historical roots, is addressed. How the peopels saw themselves historically is addressed, as is the centrality of religion, and the roots and problems of the modern nation state in the middle east.

The book has lots of nice things to say for it. It is worth a read if you want a good start at making sense of the Middle east. It is worth a look even if you already think you know something about the region.


Happy Purim!

Monday, March 17, 2003

The UN's mission

Bush was right when he said that the UN has abandoned its historic mission. The UN was designed to preemptively deal with agressive dictators. The world did not deal with Hitler. It can deal with similar men. Saadam is not quite Hitler, but when we speak of megamurders, the mind does not really distinguish between a million and 20 million. Nor should the UN. How many people would this man have to kill before the UN takes action. How many would he have to threaten to kill before the world takes action? How many more countries will he have to attack before he is just too dangerous to let live? His agressions against Kuait, Israel, Iran, and the Kurds are just four examples. When he has the power to do more, or to do it again, he must be stopped. If he does not have the power, he is only prevented from doing so by the 10 year embargo which is killing his people. We cannot allow this to go on either. We live in a world where it si too east to kill too many people too quickly. Moreover, he is likely in a position to do that. We must take this man. We must terminate his with extreme prejudice.

48 Hours

It is now official. Seconds ago President Bush gave Saadam Hussain and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq or face invasion.

I fully support the president's decision, and hope that Saadam Hussain leaves Iraq tomorrow.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

binary gedanken


Thursday, March 13, 2003

Book Review: Beirut Blues

I thought I would give another of Hanan al-Shaykh's novels a shot. This one was worse then the last one. Beirut Blues is a novel that is written as a series of letters from a woman to her friends, lover, grandmother, city, war. . . She wrote these letters, and from them we get a picture of what life is life from the perspective of this woman and the life she led in Lebanon throught the civil war there. Frankly I just didn't like the book. It was just not a good read, and a bit annoying to follow. There were mostly stream of consciousness stuff, with little plot. The big dilemma was whether the protagonist should leave with her lover to Paris and abandon the hell that was Beirut. There are some love triangle stuff and other tidbits about the war and feuds, and family and boring stuff. I was very not impressed.

France's stake in the war

It really does seem like France has been selling lots of weapons to Iraq lately. I am sure when we arrive we will see all this artilery marked "Made in France".

Propaganda suggestion

Many of us in New York probably remember about 2 or so years ago when Bloomberg information was giving out all those free radios that had exactly one channel. It was a great marketing ploy. I bet a ton of people listen to Bloomberg info all the time.

I think the Army should airlift millions of those one-station radios to Iraq, and have US propoganda in Arabic on all the time.

That really might work. Currently the army broadcasts and just plans on dropping leaflets with the American stations printed on. That seems less effective.

PETA's antics

This site suggests that March 15 be designated "Eat an Animal for PETA day". I am so totally on board. They are such stupid hypocrites.

Is there hope for Iran?

This stuff by the Iranian student movement is worth looking at. There is a real movement to democratize. Theocracies are so medieval. When will they learn?

Freedom Kissing

I just read that the house of representatives' cafeteria changed the names of "french fries" and "french toast" on their menu. French fries will be "freedom fries" from now forth. While this will undoubtedly lead to laughter and mocking, its symbolic significance should not be underestimated. George Orwell had everything is his 1984 named something like "victory chocolate" and the like. In the US during WWII, we had liberty cabbage (not sauerkraut) and Hot dogs (not Frankfurters). This was just to show that we did not want to have anything with the word "kraut" in it. "Kraut" (cabbage) is what we nicknamed the Germans. People in countries are often nicknamed for the food they eat (Eg, the surrendering Frogs in France.). This sent a powerful message to the Americans that we are very displeased and want nothing to do with the Nazis. The same here. The Modern Vichis will laugh, but Americans will not take this lightly, and it will send a powerful message.

While we are at it, we should definitely rename the french kiss. The french kiss should be something like giving the finger, and perhaps we all should start freaky kissing or something.

This whole thing is the diplomatic way of telling that shitty little country in Europe to go fuck themselves, without having to "accidentially" bomb their embassy in Yugoslavia or something.


Yesterday I saw the DaVinchi exhibit at the Met. It was really great. They had all these tinly little sketches and drafts of his, as well as some of the Gates manuscript. He was such a magnificient artist. He was so talented. New York is lucky to have it here. See it while you can.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Subway Chat

This morning I arranged to meet "B" on the train on the way to my office, and so we meet and take the "F" train uptown and we are talking about the Iraquis who surrendered to the British troops in Kuait. Now "B" said that the British should have accepted their surrender because now the soldiers who did it would just get killed at home. I was somewhat sympathetic with that, but I claimed that if we started to accept the surrender of some troops, it de facto puts us in to some sort of military situation with Iraq and then we have to deal with their soldiers and the world's complaints that we are "rushing in to war" and all that crap that we would have gotten for all these other countries whose so-called "peace" agenda far outweighs their concern for the Iraqis. (The whole things sounds like an Iraqi ploy, no?)

Anyway, this went back and forth for a while and it got in to a general conversation about the war where I generally espoused views that are in support of Iraqi freedom (ie, regime change) and support fot the current US administration's agenda. So out of the blue, this guy on the train starts talking to me about the war. He is challenging me on every point the anti-war manual has, and when he realizes I have answers that are better than his questions, he just askes a different one. (It was very reminiscient of an argument I once had with a Christian missionary.) But it was all polite and peaceful.

Now my point is not to say that I had an argument with some guy who will just go home and believe everything he initially believed for no good reason. But rather my point is that when it is civil, it is good to have strangers engage you in debate. It is very not New York. It used to happen to "L" and I when we would hang out, people used to just join our conversations. It was nice. Now our conversations are way to technical for most people to understand without the vocabulary. But it was fun when it happened. It was fun today too. It was nice because it showed that we do live in a civil society where civil people, even strangers, can engage in dialogue about the important questions of our time. I really do with that for the Iraqi people too.

(I also want to mention that we were a bastion of multiculturalism. I am an over-educated Jew from Brooklyn. "B" is an Arab, the dude from the train was a black guy with dreads, and he was with this chick who was almost definitely Japaneese.)

sandwich-board guy spotting

The other day I saw this guy wandering around the UN wearing a sandwich board with lots of crazy writing about how we need to put an end to human slavery by computers. It went on to describe how we are all under surveliance and thusly enslaved. He really looked the part too., He had a long scraggly beard and the ripped coat and all.

Book Review: Fire in Beirut: Israel's war in Lebanon with the PLO

Dan Bavly and Eliahu Salpeter's book Fire in Beirut: Israel's war in Lebanon with the PLO is not all that famous. Nor will it be. That is not to say that it is a bad book, but it does seem somewhat dated. There are a number of good things and a number of bad things I will say about the book. First the good: The book does give you a better perspective then others I have read, about the bigger picture of the war. That is to say that there is a decent chapter on the Soviet stake in the war, and the media environment, and a small sampling of the other Arab interests in the war in Lebanon. The book is also refreshingly not written assuming the objectivity of the left-wing weltenschaung. The book is mildly polemical, and is not in any way pro-Sharon. There is also some good material on the lessons learned from the war, both by the Israelis and the Americans.

The book, like I said, is dated though. It was written in 1984, from the perspective of the events as they were then. It assumes that Ragen will have the final say in some of the issues here. He did not. the book is also a bit light on source material. I would like a bit more on how they came to that formulation. The book also lacked a goog analysis of the American and Israeli demands on Bashir Gemayel that forced him in to making some of the choices he made. That would have been useful, and rounded out the picture nicely.

Finally, they kept referring to the al-shouf mountains, and stuff like that. "Al" is synonomous with "the", so "the al-Beka" valey sounds redundant and annoying.

The book was not bad. I learned a few new and useful things from it, and I would recommend it to anyone really interested in the topic.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Pancake formula

Apparently there is some British holiday that has to do with pancakes. I am not really sure I care to know about this one, but it seems harmless enough. Some Brit, recently, came up with an interesting formula that should be used when flipping pancakes: The angular velocity of the pancake equals the square root of Pi, times the gravity divided by the distance the pancake is from the elbow times four - that is how to get the pancake back in the pan after the flip.

Important, no?


It is snowing in New York right now. There are these HUGE snowflakes falling and they are covering the ground really quickly.

Soldiers in Times Square

So those of you who have been around Manhattan for the past month or two have probably seen the soldiers around Times Square, Union Square, Columbus Circle, and West 4th street. They hang around the subways and make this country look like it is a police state.

If for nothing else, I hate those who made this country this way. I did not grow up in a country where the army was present on the street. That was for those messed up countries where there was war on domestic soil. The US is not supposed to be that way.

I would support any effort the US took that would return my way of life to me. I would support any effort it took to assure that all of the US Army was deployed in someone else's country. This is not something for civilized people to see. Our children should not think that this is what countries ought to be like.

In New York, anyone just fits right in, and few people give the soldiers a second glance, but I am very not pleased to see soldiers with M-16s, biological contaminant detection kits, and combat fatigues in the subway station.

French gluttony

The French now want to petition to have gluttony removed from the list of deadly sins, making the list of things Catholics should feel bad about now number only 6.

(Roll eyes here)

Baseless attributions

Someone ought to keep track of the amount of bad things initially and baselessly attributed to Israel in the Press. (The NY Times is particularly egregious.) In the past few weeks we have seen the bombing in Ein Hilweh which turned out to be a feud between Qaida and Fatah first get blamed on Israel. Prior to that we saw an attempted suicide bomber have his bomb go off too early and Hamas initially blamed Israel. There, the New York Times in the same article that they said that it was a guy blowing himself up, had a headline that read something like "Hamas Says Israel Responsible". The amount of irresponsible reporting is enormous.

I am reminded of a Dry Bones cartoon from the 70's which had Arafat reading about a boiler exploding in a Tel Aviv apartment. Then Arafat calls an aide and tells him to quickly claim responsibility for that. This is similar. If a boiler explodes in Gaza there is someone on the phone blaming Israel for the attack. Whatever the facts may reveal later is completely independent. (Remember Jenin?)

Dumb talk about just war

The theory of just war is no longer a viable theory. Yesterday I attended a lecture by an important ethicist who spoke very dumbly about Just War theory and terrorism. The theory is mostly one thought about by Catholics following in the tradition of Augustine, and lately by fans of Michael Waltzer.

Unfortunately, the theory depends on a few things that can no longer be counted upon. Modern warfare in the middle east is not symmetric, in the sense that we know where the battlefields are, there is no clear distinction between soldier and civilian, a human shield is no longer your enemies civilians that you are using for protection, but your own. There are new presuppositions about what counts as an army, and a target. All of this goes in to the failure of just war theory.

Answering ANSWER's rhymes with reasons

No matter what ANSWER thinks, a rhyme is not a reason.

(I recently came across some psychology articles that suggest that we are more likely to believe rhymes then the same thing said without rhymes. Humans are so stupid that way.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

More trouble in el-Hilweh

Once again there is trouble in Ein el-Hilweh. Israel is no longer being blamed for this. (How magnanimous.) Yesterday someone was shot in broad daylight. Apparently what is happening is that there is an emerging feud between Qaida and the PLO. More precisely it is between Usbat Al Ansar, whcih is linked with Qaida and Fatah, which is the military wing of the PLO.

This does not look like the beginning of a new civil war there, of course. It is just that el-Hilweh is a hornet's nest of terrorism. The world will not be safe until someone takes responsibility for this sort of thing. And, it does not seem likely that some start-up-militia will pull a Sabra-and-Shatilla on Ein Hilweh and find some way to blame Sharon. Israel has lots of plausible deniability there. No one want to be in that sh1t-h0le of a town.

In today's world however, there is no such thing as a local problem. In big cities there are often neighborhoods where even the police fear to enter. When this happens the police just let events run their course. When crime starts spilling over to other "good" neighborhoods, then you see the police crack down. It is unfortunate that the crap that goes on in the ein Hilwehs of the world (especially those in Saudi Arabia) are starting to spill over in to the civilized places. They must be taken care of.

I know, I know, I hear the liberal cry in my ear: we do not want to impose our wester values of non-violence on the indigenous peoples of Ein Hilweh. What can I answer to that?

Monday, March 03, 2003

The left are tools of the Arab Bourgoise

Quick question for all those who think that George Bush is in this for the money: Is the Bush family anywhere near as rich as any of those psychotic dictators that the American left is protecting with their "no blood for oil" routine? Arafat and Saadam together must be worth many times what the Bush clan is worth.

There is no moral to this, but all this says is that we are trying to overthrow RICH dictators, and the liberal socialist left is trying to keep the rich dictators in power, while blaming the poor. They are all such tools of the Arab Bourgoise.

Bombing in Lebanon

A bomb exploded in Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp on Saturday. Now Ein Hilweh is traditionally a refuge for criminals and assorted terrorists. Naturally despite the boastings of the most recent militia there, Israel was blamed. The man who was killed Abu Mohammad al-Masri, a member of Qaida. Naturally.

There is no hope for the Arab world until this sort of stuff ends. Politics will forever be by the sword, or its most lethal modern equivelant. Not that I really feel bad for the guy.

Watson's public lecture

My sister had a baby girl. I went to visit her in the hospital, where she spent a lot of time throwing up. I sat in a room with some family and the placenta. It was kinda gross.

Then I went with my folks to Mendy's on 34th street for dinner.

On my way home I saw all these people in the Public library listening to a speech. James Watson was speaking and so I went to listen. It was a dull talk, but it was a thrill to See Watson talk about DNA. He spoke about the future of DNA research. It was to a general audience and the questions were pretty dumb, but it was cool hearing him anyway. He is like a rock star for biologists. It was cool.

Mazal Tov

I just found out that I am an uncle again!

Book Sale

Last night I went to Yeshiva University's book sale. I generally try to make it most years. It was good. I bought a few book, though nothing that exciting. I seem to have most of the books I need. I went there with "E", who I went with last time. I also bumped in to "G" which was also nice.

Then I went to Brooklyn to meet with "J". We had dinner at Two Boots on 7th and 2nd street. Good food and stuff.

Then I went home and didn't do much.