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.