Saturday, January 31, 2004

Religious fanaticism strikes again

Once again religious fanaticism annoys me. This time it is Hindu Fanatics.

According to the prestegious journal _Science_ there was a book publised by James Laine whose content apparently said something about 17th century Hindu-Muslim relations, and had a "disparaging" remark or two about some legendary Hindu King Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Big deal, one might think. Academics publish all sorts of stuff all the time. No one really cares. Not this time. Apparently somewhere in the Acknowledgements section of the book there are some people from some research institute thanked for thier help. And that is all it took. On Jan 5, about 150 Hindu nationalists ransacked the institute, destroying priceless and ancient documents, and tore thousands of books, and generally caused about a quarter of a million dollars worth of damage. 72 people have been charged with various crimes.

So I am wondering, did these people go home that night and tell their kids with great pride how today daddy went and trashed a library with some historic treasures? One day you too will grow up to defend the honor of your religion by destroying some old books? Geeze! I am so pissed about this. What ever happened to just being nice to cows and stuff? Where is that Ghandian non-violence that we want India to stay famous for? At the very least, stick to annoying Muslims who are a real challenge to Indian Hindus. Stay away from the defenseless libraries. Those who attack libraries are like the child molesters of religious fanaticism. They only attack the innocent books.

Update: Now that I think about this, (according to "R") it is most likely that this was more political than religious. Shivaji was not a religious figure, he was more of a political figure, more akin to Martin Luthur King Jr, than say, Jesus.

hectic week

This week was hectic. I wrote a lot, and mostly ran around and dealt with lots of administrative stuff.

Tonight I had some beer in Max Fish, and Then a late dinner in Katz's.

Otherwise I have had a relatively uninteresting week.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Year of the Monkey

Yesterday Chinatown hosted the annual Chinese New Year parade. There were the usual dragons and confetti and noise. It was a fun event. I went with three frends (who have no page I can link to). At some point we ended up marching with some Asian American social justice group which was fun, though we quickly looked and felt out of place.

I also got some lucky money today (I am now rich, rich, rich!!!) in a lucky red envelope. I love that.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Big Apple Blogger Bash

Last night I attended the Big Apple Blogger Bash. It was a lot of fun. (Thanks Paul for doing all the work.)

We were first kicked out of AZ on 17th Street. They were really sucky. (Don’t go there.) At a certain point, it was deemed that there were too many people in the bar, so they simply stopped serving drinks, and then we were apparently asked to leave. I am not sure I get this. But, hey, whatever, they suck.

Then we all moved on to Siberia on 40th street. It is a cool place. Me and my socially awkward self spent much time talking to people I had already met once before and shunned new people. I should really not do this. But hey. Whatever. I'll get therapy one day when I have more time.

There were a lot of New York bloggers there, and of course there was the publicity people and marketing researchers, and the obligatory reporter doing a story on bloggers and their parties. (Side note: once upon a time raves were cool until they sold out (see Rushkoff's old post on this). I see that happening to blogs. I am dreading the day when will be sponsoring the Nifty Tri-state Blogger Marathon Party.)

Anyway, there were lots of cool people there. Here is what Rachelle and Tien and Dahl and Mike and bluejake and Caren and Brian and Daniella and gothamist and Amy and Belle Ambrose and Bill and coolfer and Stephanie and mer and blindcavefish and web-ho all have to say about it.

(In short: AZ sucks, Siberia was cool, the people were nice, blogs are (so far) still cool, and some people caught it on film.)

Big Apple Blogger Bash 2004

Review of Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad's Death in Beirut

Like many countries which were affiliated with the West, Lebanon too had a coming of age in the late 1960's. Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad's novel Death in Beirut does a fairly good job of capturing that coming of age through the eyes of Tamima Nassour, a Shiite Moslem girl, studying in the Teacher's College in Beirut. She is dating a Maronite Christian Hani Raai. (The Shiite and the Maronites were the principle antagonists in the impending Civil War.)

The novel explores her psychology, her father who is in Africa with his second family and Job, her abusive (though typical Lebanese) brother, her mother, her boyfriend, her lover (not the same person), and a host of other characters, who come together to portray in vivid color the turmoil and chaos that captured those days in Lebanon. The political climate was extremely fragile. Lebanon then was recovering from French colonialism, a minor civil war, and the immediate aftermath of the humiliating defeat of the Six Day war. The Fedayen were just starting to assemble to start attacking Israel, and Israel was just starting to fight back. The myriad of groups and ideologies which eventually became a plethora of militias was just starting to emerge.

And here was Temima right in the middle. The sexual revolution, and the religious revolution were also in the forefront. Honor killings were still a big part of Lebanese society (as they are still a big factor in much of the Arab and Muslim world). Much of Temima's story is about fear and liberation from all of this. Lebanon was rebelling against much stronger social forces than the US was in the 60's. The conservative pull was much more severe, and the culture as a whole much more backward.

The book has strong revolutionary tones capturing the zeitgeist of Lebanon in those tumultuous times. There are strong Neitzscheian undertones that will appeal to those who want to see the products of attempting to overcome the slave morality from a very primitive state. The book was a good read, and would interest anyone interested in Arab or Lebanese literature. It should also be interesting to those who are curious about the various upheavals that took place in the 60's. Lebanon is an interesting point of comparison.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Today I had a rather uncomfortable lunch experience. I met someone I did not know at My Most favorite Dessert. The resaurant was fine. The food was good and the place was packed with people going to the theater. But there was something very artificial about the nature of the meeting. It was someone "I just had to meet". Basically I was set up. I had to meet a total stranger for lunch, and make conversation and the like for a couple of hours. Someone hates me. Said stranger was very nice. Had it not been for the awkwardness of the social situation I might have had a nice time. But I am just not cut out for being alone with total strangers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

World's greatest aphrodisiac

Today I went with two friends to Dylan's Candy Bar. It was really fun. They have like a zillions kinds of candy. At first it is pretty overwhelming. It was fairly pricey, but there was a place you can sit down, grab a rice krispy treat or ice cream, and a hot chocolate and relax. They have shelves of all sorts of candy, and it is really neat. There is a whole lot of candy related music always playing in the background, and Willy Wonka on a few TV screens on both floor.

This, by the way, seems like it would make a great date place. Women seem to change in the presence of all this chocolate and candy. It is very weird.

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Last night I attended my first blogger party, complete with food I never ate before (good empanadas, Dahlia) and people I had never met before in real life, and naturally, someone writing a story about blogger parties.

Everyone was really nice, even in person.

I was also confronted with the sad reality that it has been many years since I actually watched a TV program that was not set somewhere in outer space. (Can someone explain this American Idol thing to me?) This alone might explain my social awkwardness. I also just realized that I am the least techno-savy person I know.

Here is rachelleb, tienmao, on the party (with pictures). Here are some other attendees: Our host dahlia, and Sam, Paul, smitten, sassy, the guest of honor, and Joclyn, who got me to come along.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Yom Kipur and the Military

There was a story reported in Haaretz (which is down, so I found in Google's cached version) about a couple, the Chaikins, who were training in the US military to be human intelligence gatherers and were discharged for missing class on Yom Kippur. This has me a bit worried. The US army, you would expect, would be fairly accommodating to things like this. Naturally, it is understandable that the army cannot accommodate every little religious request that someone has, but this is going too far. The army's policy is to accommodate religion to the point that it would have an adverse impact on unit cohesion. Missing a class, or even a day, could not have this impact.

Missing a class is pretty bad. The army is big on accountability. Everyone always needs to be accounted for. For someone to be missing is very very bad. But on the other hand for a commander to not accommodate his soldiers so that they be able to miss class one day, seems like the commander had some problem. The couple should have gone up the chain of command to see what more could be done. Unfortunately they did initially go up pretty high. If the battalian commander said "no" the only place to go is the brigade commander or your congressman (both of whom are equally accessible).

The army should not be alienating talented people because it has a problem with Yom Kippur. I would urge the army to reinstate them, or at the very least reclassify their discharge as "honorable".

Personally, in so far as it comes to halachic issues, in this day and age, I see the whole military enterprise as one big case of pikuach nefesh (life-threatening danger). Everything that a soldier learns, does, trains for, etc has the ability to save lives. Mistakes get your buddies killed. (I heard this about a zillion times in basic, and have seen it in every newstory about battle casualties. Ask Jessica Lynch where her drivers were on the day they learned to read maps in the army.) Now, I am sure there are those who would sit around and lecture me on how since the danger is indirect as far as each particular incident goes, all the pikuach nefesh dispensations do not apply. In Israel, there are books written on this. (I personally own two books called Hilchot Tzavah.) However that is in the context of a society that is able, and accustomed, to accommodating religious issues and work around them. In the US it is slightly diferent. The US Army is not able to accommodate this. It could not, and still be combat effective. (On the other hand, I have sat through army classes, and I can tell you that everyone knows that missing one will not harm anyone. (It might be different for different classes though.)) I am thus inclined to believe that pikuach nefesh can usually be assumed to be the case with all military training, unless there is some specific psak (by one who understands the military and halacha) claiming that someting is not. Thus it is even doche (pushes away) Yom Kippur. Naturally, one should not do more than is absolutely necessary (like avoid taking notes. . .).

It would be nice to see some of the military chaplains deal with this. I am certain that there are a few orthodox ones. (I met one.) It is their responsibility to handle cases like this.

If you remember I had a somehwat better Yom Kippur story with the army, so I am thankful for that.

Review of Samir Okasha's Philosophy of Science: A very short introduction

Okasha's Philosophy of Science: A very short introduction is, so far, the best introduction to the philosophy of science out there. I would recommend it to anyone who is curious about the field, and wants to know what philosophers of science do. I would recommend it for the general public, or an undergraduate course dealing with the philosophy of science, though a full course might need quite a bit of supplemental reading, perhaps a decent anthology.

The book has a number of features that really recommend it. First, it is short. It is a small book that has under 150 pages. It is easy to carry and even a touch on the stylish side. But it also has much substance.

It starts out asking what science is. A good question, and it deliniates science, pseudo science, the philosophy of science and falsificationism. Then it moves on to the methodology of science addressing Induction, deduction, Hume's problem (no grue tough), inference to the best explanation, and theories of probability. It also tries to show how theories of probability are designed to try to solve Hume's problem of induction.

The third chapter deals with explanation. dealing only with the D-N model and causal accounts of explanation. It could have used some unification models too, although the two that were chosen are the standard ones, as well as the most popular. This is followed by a chapter on realism and anti-realism that does not make either side look dumb. Chapter five is on Kuhn and historicism. Again no Lakatos, and the relationship with Popper is hardly mentioned. But the chapter is pretty good at giving the challenges that arose when philosophers read Kuhn and started thinking of science in the light of the history of science.

Chapter six is refreshing in that it raises three questions from the special sciences that are addressed to illustrate problems that real philosophers of science deal with, and that really do make a difference to science. While I wish all philosophy of science introductions did this, I wish he could have done a slightly better job here. The first question deals with the Leibniz-Newton controversey of absolute space. Toward the end of the discussion there is a sentence about how the question has some contemporary relevance. We are left hanging there. What is the contemporary relevance? The second question is about classification in biology. This is of course useful. Are classifications by evolutionary relationships or some sort of similarity? I always thought that our biological taxonomies were based on evolutionary relationships. It would be nice here to see a stronger case for the alternative view to make the debate sound more plausible. Finally there is a discussion of Fodor's question about the modularity of mind hypothesis. Here again the philosophical motivation was not all that clear.

Chapter seven is also refreshing. It asks questions about science and values and science and religion. It is a good chapter. Ethics rarely gets covered in a philosophy of science introduction, and it should. So it was good to see it mentioned here.

For a book with so few words there is a lot of information, and it is well presented. The reader does not feel condescended to, and there are nice real scientific examples where appropriate. Here and there an argument is not made as good as it can be, like in the argument for underdetermination of theories. And generally only one or two theories are presented, like in the case of the interpretations of probability, where one would like more. But it is a very good read.

A minor point too is that the publisher did not see fit to full-justify the text. It is left-justified only detracting from the neat appearance of the book. I found this annoying.

The book will not make you an expert, but it will give you a picture of the terrain, and a very good feel that philosophers of science are doing something that is worth pursuing and even interesting. It is the first time I think that I came away from a book in the philosophy of science realizing that it's debates are not merely academic. They have relevance to the interpretation of science in a way that is comprehensible to scientist, layman, and philosopher.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

More New York stuff

Today I went with "M", "D", "B", and "J from G" to the Museum of TV and Radio on 52nd street. I caught the pilot episode of Bernie loves Bridget. It was a bad-short-lived sit com from 1972. The main plot was that Bernie and Bridget fall in love and get married. Bernie was Jewish and Bridget was Irish Catholic, and hilarity ensued. I seem to recall that Meir Kahane used the show as an example in one of his books and pamphlets about intermarraige.

I then met "J" for dinner in this Cuban restaraunt on 17th off Broadway. It was pretty good. She was telling me about Cuba and her recent visit. We need to lift the embargo there. As soon as American stuff can get in there, communism there will fail. I suppose it will happen as soon as Fidel croaks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Past few days

I drilled in the Army this weekend. A good time was had by all despite the cold.

Last night I went to see a They Might be Giants show at Joe's Pub at Astor Place with "Y". As usual, they put on a good show, and again there was much fun. It was a good place. Most people were eathing dinner and there was a very small crowd. I liked it.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Syria and Iran

I am no expert, but isn't moving military stuff under the guise of humanitarian aid a violation of the Geneva conventions? What Syria just said is that if we ever say we are on a humanitarian mission, shoot us because we might be carrying weapons. What Iran just said is that there is no national emergency so big that we cannot divert from it and take the opportunity to try to kill some Israelis.

People then complain about Palestinian ambulances being held up. Now we know why. Hezbollah has no qualms about using humanitarian transport for weapons.

These are people with no honor.

Review of Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato

Sabato's Adjusting Sights is a wonderfully written novel. There is nothing bad to say about it. It is a memior about a tank gunner in the Israeli Army during the Yom Kippur War. The book's style is clear and poetic filled with allusions to all over the classic corpus of Jewish literatire and liturgy. The story focuses on the search for Dov, the protagonist's best frend who went missing early on in the war.

The book is a real account of the difficulties and sadnesses of war, as well as the spirit that is needed to make it through. The book is quite moving.

I think one of the reasons that the book is as good as it is, is that it steers clear of all politics, and sees war for what it is from the point of view of the young soldier who has to fight it. Golda Meir, the then Prime Minister of Israel is not mentioned. There is no concern for the bigger picture, and there is not a touch of hate. There is just the feeling of saddness of the soldier over loosing his best friend, and the grief that war causes. I was moved by a passage "There was a dogfight. We heard booms. An airplane fell. A parachute opened. A pilot dangled between sky and earth, his life hanging by a thread. We prayed for him without knowing if he was our or theirs." (113)

The translator seems to have done a great job in making the book poetic in English. This book is a quick and good read. I would highly recommend this to all the 19K and 19D soldiers in the Army as well.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Need help with some rules about old girlfriends’ stuff

I am considering moving in about two months. I am in the process of collating many of my belongings. They are currently dispersed all over, eg, in the place I am currently living, my parents’ house, my three offices in Manhattan (don’t ask how, I just have three), and some friends’ apartments. I so far (and this is with little effort) have three large boxes of books I plan on selling or giving away. I also threw away three large garbage bags of old papers that I have no idea why I didn’t throw out years ago. I also have two garbage bags of clothing that I will either give away or throw away, if giving them away is too much work.

But here is my problem: I have been finding all this stuff from old girlfriends. I have rings (and other jewelry), letters, clothing, stuffed animals, underwear, ashtrays (even though I quit smoking years ago), music, books, toys, tzochkies, key chains, fake flowers, alcohol, and countless other things. Are there rules for what I should be doing with this stuff?

I never had one of those giving stuff back ceremonies with anyone as we broke up where we throw our stuff at each other. I, by the way, never got anything back either.

I decided that the clothing goes with my old clothing: charity or the garbage. The alcohol I will drink; that is a New Year’s resolution.

Remember that scene at the end of Top Gun where Tom Cruise’s character throws Goose’s dog tags over the edge of the aircraft carrier as closure. I too have some personalized jewelry, but I do not need closure (I am closed, trust me), and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away jewelry. So I do not know what to do with that. I can’t give it away as it has someone’s name on it. I can’t really return it, as most of these people are married. (Almost everyone I was involved with got married within a year of breaking up with me. I am really good luck that way. It is weird, I know.) It would be cruel to mail people their old stuff. Right?

I am kind of sentimental about letters. I just save those. Is that weird? I have all these old love letters going back to high school. Am I supposed to throw those out?

I chucked most of the underwear and bras. Couldn’t think of any use for them. Returning those to people who have gained eight sizes since would be way too cruel.

Most of the books are integrated in to my book collection. There are a few I am considering divesting myself of because I never cared to read them then, and still don’t.

What about the stuffed teddy bears, the little toys, the glitter lamp, the marble Mexican bookends, sunglasses, Pencils, posters, sundials, and miscellaneous junk? What do I do?

Also, what am I supposed to do about the stuff that was hand-made for me? I have a couple of knitted things (like scarves, hats, kipot. . . ). How long am I required to store those in a draw before disposing of them?

Finally, is it pathetic to save all those pictures? I have a lot of pictures of a lot of people. Do I toss those too?

I am taking any advice!!!

Review of Alex Rosenberg's Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction

Alex Rosenberg clearly has a good grasp on the philosophy of science. His book Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction is a good demonstration of that. This book is in the same series of a book I read a bit over a year ago by Lycan.

Unfortunately there is much about the book that needs to be said. I have few quabbles about the substance of the book, but the form leaves much to be desired. Rosenberg’s book suffers from a number of defects, most of them pedagogical and organizational. The book covers many of the standard issues in the philosophy of science: explanation, theory formation, underdetermination, and historicism. It also has a discussion of Bayes’ theorem and interpretations of probability.

Normally the first question in an introductory book is: what is science? This question is dispersed throughout the book. Instead there is a nice discussion the relationship that exists between science and philosophy.

Chapters two and three discuss explanation. These chapters address the main theories of explanation, motivating the discussion using notions of laws, causation, pragmatics, statistics, and teleology. These two chapters need to be completely reworked. It should have been one long organized chapter instead of the two poorly organized one. There was also not sufficient space given to clarifying the various accounts of explanation itself.

A number of times in the book there are topics that are put together because they are connected in a significant way. But the connections are not clear. Few of the concepts of explanation are spelled out clearly enough such that someone coming in to the topic for the first time, even with a background in philosophy could understand it. The book is not self-explanatory. The same happens with Bayes’ theorem and probability. There were also not many theories of probability discussed. Moreover he dismisses some of them way too flippantly.

The Section on theories and their problems is only discussed vis-a-vis their role in explanation. This may be a good strategy but there are other virtues to theories besides explanation.

The relationship between Kuhn, Popper, and Feyerabend is not spelled out as clearly as could be, and Lakatos is not even mentioned.

Finally, the book ends with a discussion of historicism, and the sociological accounts of science. To say the last chapter is polemical is an understatement. Here Rosenberg has a Paul Bunion-sized ax to grind. While I wholeheartedly agree with his position, the opposition is treated with ridicule. Latour and Woolgar are not so much refuted as bullied and ridiculed.

This book is not the place to start if you have had no exposure to the philosophy. I believe there is a companion anthology of papers that are addressed in the book. I assume that the function of the book is to help connect the papers in the anthology with each other. If that is done then perhaps the book is not a total write-off. But the book can not be read alone.

The author is clearly bright, but needs to work on being able to patiently and slowly explain each concept fully. The connections between each issue ought to be clear as well. Definitions need to be made as early as possible, and as precise as can be. The examples need to be more spelled out too.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Review of Pathways to Jerusalem: The Travel Letters of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura

Reading the letters or diaries of people who were bold enough to travel the world, is often a historically rewarding experience. There is a short book translated as Pathways to Jerusalem: The Travel Letters of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura which personally was quite interesting. Bartenura wrote one of the two classic commentaries on the mishna that is still studied by most schoolchildren and anyone else seriously studying the mishna. He was originally from Italy (in the late 1400’s) and in a few letters to family and friends he describes his journey from Italy to Israel. Needless to say the journey was perilous. The letters describe medieval Jewish Messina, Palermo, Venice, Syracuse, Alexandria, Rhodes, Cairo, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Demascus, Gaza, Sefad, Hebron and other places.

The relationship between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Mamluks is discussed. Nuances about the types of food they ate, the prices that one paid for things, how commerce was done, and how synagogues were run are all included. It is a historical treasure, and a nice read.

Also, the translation by Yaakov Dovid Shulman seems competent. It would be nice to have a more extensive historical background and introduction to the letters though.