Thursday, April 29, 2004

Very worthy cause

After being told last week at my reserve post to "consider myself on alert, just in case I would need to ship out", naturally, I would have to encourage everyone to support an organization like this: Operation TOFTC.

(It is about time that someone provided an alternative to that resurrected Vietnam-era, draft-dodging, commie slogan written on countless buttons in the 60's: "girls say yes to boys who say no".)

UPDATE: Sadly enough this may all be a hoax.

Of people and their opinions

It recently dawned on me that people deserve respect, and their opinions deserve consideration, and by no means is it the other way around.

(I can't believe some people think that just because they have opinions, that the opinions deserve respect. Opinions should be considered, some more than others.)

. . . And Saadam wants us out too

For some reason, everytime someone on CNN, or any other liberal is talking about the war in Iraq they say the following: The Iraqis want us out, the soldiers want to be out, so we should leave. This is the dumbest thing I ever heard. The LAST two groups of people who should have a say in whether or not there is fighting, are the people who are in middle of battle.

Naturally, as Americans, every soldier has a right to voice their opinion and also have a say in how to deal with things. However, we must keep in mind that they are the most effected, and therefore the least objective. But for some reason, it is seen as relevant that people who are in the middle of the hell of battle want to leave it. Of course they want to leave, they are fighting. No one wants to stick their neck out for some godforsaken ungrateful people in a large sweltering unproductive desert. How long does anyone, even the most hard core of soldiers, want to fight? Certainly we should consider them as much as possible, but I would hardly want the military deciding which wars to fight. We have smart people who get paid lots of money to try to work out the political intracies of global economics, terrorism, foreign policy, Middle Eastern stability, democratic theory, ethics and all of their respective impacts on the United States and her allies. Why is noone polling them? (Oh, wait, we did. That's why we are in Iraq.)

And are we really expected to consult Iraqis about this? They all think that if the US leaves, then they can get on with the business of having their tribe massacre the other tribes and seize power, and establish their own little new Saadam State.

The only thing that matters is what is the best way to preserve the human rights of Iraqis in the long run.

Leaving Iraq will turn that country in to the next Lebanon. We can look forward to 15 years of civil war between the Suni, Shite, and Kurds. You could expect mass graves, and massacres that make Rawanda look like a party. You can expect that the largest reserves of crude oil in the world will go the way of the largest diamond mines in the world, they will go to fund the brutal civil wars, and they will go towards financing global terror and destruction. If we left Iraq now, Earth will be a frightening place to love. People who think we should leave now, really have little clue of the consequences.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Review of Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming

With Miss Wyoming Coupland gives us a rather enjoyable read, though it seems to have less of the philosophical, or even cultural appeal than some of his others.

The main character, Susan Colgate is raised by a hick who thinks that by making her go from beauty pageant to beauty pageant some good will come of both of them. Susan goes on to become an actress. Her mom, well, she and Susan don't get along.

Susan becomes the sole survivor of a plane crash, and while no one is looking, takes a year to hide away from civilization. John Johnson, a big-time movie producer also pulls a disappearing stunt for a bit. They somehow meet, and their destinies seem intertwined.

I think that deep down the book is really trying to talk about shedding what you are "supposed to be" and finding your own way. That would be consistent with the themes of his other Gen X-y stuff.

I am not overly enthusiastic about this one. But, if you find a used copy somewhere, it will not disappoint you.

Monday, April 26, 2004

A Google spell checker

As far as I know, Google, owns blogspot. Google ads appear alongside the new gmail, and above blogs. These ads are generated by having an engine "read" the content and match an ad with the content, on the assumption that people reading a certain site would be interested in products and services related to the content.

I think another project that Google might want to undertake is the new GoogleSpellchecker. Why doesn't blogger's spell check recognize "Kim Jong-Il", or "Falluja" as words that are not misspelled? Would it be that difficult for Google to design a program that searches the thousands of say, news reports each day and look for words that are not in the dictionary's vocabulary? I would assume that millions of people have pushed the "Ignore" button when spellcheck challenged their usage of the word "Condoleezza". Google search engine already does this. If you type in "Condolezza Rice" in to Google, it will ask you if you meant "Condoleezza Rice". Why can't spellchecker realize that this is what is happening, and adapt it accordingly. Google should not care if a word is technically misspelled. We need spellcheckers to know if a given string of characters is widely used. That is what makes a word a word, and that is what people will want to write.

(A side note: blogger's spellcheck will not even recognize "Google" or blogger as a word. The spell checker assumes it is misspelled.)

Having a condescending spellchecker tell you that "Metallica sux" is improper usage, will not change anything, certainly not my spelling. This is how people write, and if enough people are doing it, then most likely my doing it is deliberate. Spellcheckers better get used to it.

Kosher for people who are Modal Logic Geeks

(Expressed using standard Kripke-semantics.)

Some foods are Kosher in all possible worlds. Foods like fruits and vegetables (which rigidly designate), are always kosher.

Some foods are Kosher is some possible worlds. Beef, for example is Kosher if it inhabits a possible world in which it was killed according to some particular kosher guidelines. Worlds in which the beef was not prepared this way are not kosher. So a particular piece of beef is kosher in some worlds and not others.

Some foods are Kosher in no possible worlds. There are no possible worlds in which shrimp and pork are kosher. It would have to be a contradictory world where pork was not pork, and thus that world could not exist.

Dude, who f*$#ed with my country's defaults?

I remember a time when, in general, Democrats voted Democrat, and Republicans voted Republican. That was after all, why they registered for those particular parties. Those were the political defaults. (There was a large group of exceptions, like Catholics, Jews, Asians, middle class ethnic voters, etc who were often swayed to the vote on the other side, and many people from states with primaries registered so that they can vote in the primaries.)

Somehow in this election, everything changed. The default is not to vote for your party, but, at least for Democrats, the default is to vote against the other party. I understand defaults like that. For me, I like Coca Cola. I hate Pepsi. I would always choose Coke over Pepsi, but I would also choose camel urine over Pepsi. I am not just pro-Coke, but more anti-Pepsi. I have friends who behave similarly when it comes to baseball. They are ambivalent about the Mets, but they loathe the Yankees. Cest la vie.

Though I understand that these defaults exist, when it comes to politics, there is something very screwy when a country does not want to elect a leader, but its prime goal is to depose one. Deposing a leader leaves a vacuum. If Kerry fills that vacuum (which he will by default if he wins), then he will have a rather pathetic mandate. He will have gotten the vote of people ho couldn't care less who is in office as long as it is not Bush. As a leader, he will have little support from the ex-Deaniack Democrats who are apathetic, and mostly probably do not even know Kerry's first name, and he will not have the support of the Republican half of the country. No policy he will make will be worth anything to anyone.

If Kerry wants to plan for the future contingent possibility that he might win, he ought to try to get Americans to vote for him and what his party stands for. So far, no one knows what it is. He has distinguished himself but not being George bush, and every pronouncement from his mouth sounds the same. They are all along these lines: "George Bush said today that it was a really nice day. I say, that while the day is nice, we have to have reservations about the White House getting involved in recklessly addressing concerns that are way out of its domain, and not fully understood. Mr. Bush: Leave the weather alone." (Wild cheers follow.)

Kerry, I couldn't care less if you win or not. If you do, you will have the worst presidency ever, unless you distinguish yourself by who you are, not by who you aren't. Reset our country's defaults. Get people vote FOR a candidate, not AGAINST one.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Hasidic Clothing

Alex Padalka, writing for the free hipster, Williamsburg-centric Block Magazine ought to be commended for a good article. (Unfortunately their current issue is not online.) He writes a reasonable, accurate, and non-condescending or judgmental article about the male and female hasidic garb frequently seen on the streets of Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn. While (sorry) I do not see any writing awards emerging from the article, I thought it was sympathetic, and true to the spirit of the wearer's. Padalka's eyes were of course on the standard stuff people want to know about clothing, where to get it, what it feels like, and how much it cost. A bit of history would have rounded off the article nicely. Hasidim can be weird, and the way they look, doesn't help much. Portraying them as a culture with traditions that are on par with ony other is admirable.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Why all Europeans have the same immoral opinions

Allow me to apologize on behalf of America for disagreeing with you, my European friend. I know that it appears to you that my fellow countrymen and our leadership often say these dumb and immoral things which offend your refined moral sensibilities. Often we make unilateral decisions that go against conventional EU wisdom.

Our most outspoken critics often come from countries like Germany and France. After thinking about it a bit the reasons for this are clear. Our countries have very different ethnic, biological and cultural heritages which I believe is responsible for the rather large disparity of opinion. In Europe, especially in countries like Germany, France, Austria, and Belgium, there was a glorious period where all the people with the wrong opinion were removed. Your country was cleansed of Jews, political thinkers, gypsies, and homosexuals. They and their immoral kinds were thankfully eliminated from your streets, your homes, your libraries, your educational systems, and were afforded new homes in gas chambers and mass graves. Those sneaky immorals who managed to survive ended up not in your country, but in countries like the US and England. There they mixed with other immoral creatures who fled your countries in previous religious purges. Once here they were compelled to get along despite their differences. They enriched each other's tradition and continued to build a society that was inclusive and open to various kinds of immorality.

Your own countries thankfully were able to come out of this glorious period fairly Judenrein. Your independent political thinkers retained their glorious positions in such ancient bastions of learning, and transmitted their great values to their biological and intellectual heirs. You managed to keep a system in place such that all "foreign" values were political heresies, and all foreigners remain foreigners for generations to come.

My own country could not do that. We welcomed in these immoral Jews and political thinkers. We took in all the "inferiors" you spit out. You kept your Heideggers and Sartres and we were left with your Einsteins and Godels. You were able to keep your opinions homogeneous, monolithic, pure, and inbred. We were relegated to end up pluralistic, robust, diverse, democratic, and adaptive.

Apparently we lost out. You keep telling us tat we are immoral, that we poke our noses in to the rest of the world too much. May I remind you that until your golden age of ruthless barbaric warfare, we tried it your way. Then we felt the need to protect those whom you deemed to immoral and unfit to live. I do not think you will find too many people in this country making apologies for that. Remember too that there are none among you who know what it is like to stop a tyrannical dictator. I suspect that none of you understand why it is even important. The very existence of each individual in your country is a testament to the fact that you were never subject to a dictator, but rather that you were a collaborator to one.

Your people killed off anyone who looked or thought differently from the way you did. Your people were beasts. Your countries are thus full of the intellectual and biological descendants of monsters, and I envy your ability to stay so self-righteous despite that.

Next time my country is hesitant to join the reigning orthodoxy, next time my country has radically different opinions, please get up before a large international body like your EU or UN. Remind the world not what your opinions are, but rather the Nazification and Vichification process that was needed to kill off all other opinions. Remind the world that your ability to unify under the banner of the good is easy once you eliminate immorality from your midst. Give us your plans for the construction of reeducation camps, like those which are sprinkled across your continent as a sad testament to your ability to eliminate heterodoxy. Remind us that you are right because you are pure, and we are wrong because we are polluted. Remind us that you keep out foreigners, and create few new citizens, while we create Americans out of anybody. Remind us what it means to have everyone trained with the same opinion. Remind us of the evils of dissent. Finally, remind us that while your countries have mostly stopped their active ethnic and intellectual cleansing, they still retain the virtue of being ethnically clean.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Kerry - what does he think?

I have had a bet going for some months now that no one I speak to will give me a halfway decent reason to vote for Kerry. The terms are that if someone, without being prompted, tells me why I should vote for Kerry, without invoking "Bush" or "republicans" (ie, telling me why I should hate them) I will vote for Kerry, otherwise I vote for Bush. I have yet to hear a reason to vote for Kerry that was not something like "Bush will ruin the country" or "Bush is evil" or something like that.

I feel pretty confident that I will vote for Bush, but who knows. I speak to a lot of people about politics, and occasionally, when it comes up, I just tell people I am voting for the American Nazi Party. Then when I get that incredulous look, I say "I thought I would do the same thing you did. Assume that Bush was evil, and then vote for whichever other person on the ballot pops in to my head. The Nazi candidate popped in to my head, so I'll vote for him. How lucky for the world Kerry popped in to your head first."

Few people have any idea how to respond to that. To those who do, I remind them how they supported Clarke or Dean, and now they are supporting Kerry because he is the only one on the ballot they heard of who is not Bush.

Jews, they say, are traditionally democrat. But they are democrat because 1) they think that democrats are better for the US, and they think that democrats are better for the Jews. (Let's leave aside the first issue for now.) Bush, for the time being, unlike his father, has this image of not being bad for the Jews. He is a friend to Israel, and an enemy of fascist tyranny. All of these are things that Jews like.

Kerry is remarkably silent on all of this. I have no idea what Kerry thinks about anything. He was against Vietnam, and wishy-washy on the war on Saddam Hussein, so I have no idea what his views are on uprooting tyranny. Does he like Israel? I have no idea. Peace process, road map, getting rid of Arafat, Yassin, Nasrallah? We are completely in the dark. Is he waiting for polling results or what? Will he work with Israel? Can he deal with Sharon? Will he be like Clinton, and spend his last few days in office pretending he has a solution to all the problems in the middle east? Could he even pronounce "shalom chaver"? Does he have any concrete ideas that friends of Israel can take with them to the voting booths?

Bush does. He likes Sharon, and is willing to support the peace process. He hates terrorism, in all of its forms. He says the word "road map" aloud every other day. He wants it to happen. He eliminated one of Israel's worst threats, and a sponsor of (to the tune of $25,000 a head, literally) anti-Israel terrorism. Bush does not just repeat some mantra about dismantlement whenever he hears the word "Israel". That is something that Jews are taking to the voting booths.

Lots of people would vote for Kerry if he gave them a reason. Why isn't he?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Untapped resource

I remember when I was in eleventh grade in some yeshiva in New York there were two boys in my class, let's call them F and G. F and G were interesting cases. They did not speak English all that well when they had just entered the school a couple of years before. They were new immigrants. This was kind of rare for Jewish community that usually outsourced their "immigrant" students to yeshivas that specialized in taking care of immigrants - with their special needs, like learning English, and acculturating. But anyway, these two students were most likely charity cases, and the school took them.

I remember G used to read the Op-Ed page of the times every single day to learn English. I am not sure how much he understood, heck, I am not sure how much of it I would have understood at the time, but he was the hardest working eleventh grader I ever met. He then went to Yeshiva U. on early admissions to College, and I saw him around every now and then, but we eventually lost touch. He was a really nice guy.

F and G were from Iran.

Being the curious sort, I often took the time to ask them about where they were from and how they got to New York. Both had stories. Both involved running away from the Iran-Iraq war where they believed, as Jews, they were to be used to locate landmines - by running through mine fields. Their stories involved bribing border guards, local officials, and everyone else. They would speak sadly of the days of walking and hiding and running and sneaking and living in fear, that was involved in escaping Iran.

Every Iranian in YU wants to get in to medical school. There are tons of them there.

Going to my father's synagogue for Passover, there is a very kind man who works in the neighborhood. He sometimes has some trouble with the prayers and is not overly comfortable with the Orthodox service, but over the last two or three years has learned to fit in quite well. He too is from Iran. His English is getting better and better by the day. It is very good.

I remember when I was in the Army recuiter's office the recruiter took a phone call and requested a Russian speaking recruiter. Her office was on Coney Island, just at the fringe of Little Odessa, aka Brighton Beach. For her to get her recruiting numbers up, she needed a Russian speaker. I do not think that putting a Yiddish speaking Army recruiter in Boro Park would generate any soldiers for the Army, in the same way that a Yiddish speaking Mormon would probably get few to zero converts. Not many hassidic types joining the Army.

However, the State department has a few very white collar Jobs, very respectable, well-paying, and VERY vacant. They need Farsi and Arabic translators. They need them badly. There are calls going out every day for these people. For some reason the Jewish community has not been contacted. There are tons of Jews in Brooklyn and other places who fled Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya, and Yemen. Many of them speak the languages that the state department needs. None of them have any allegiance whatsoever to their home countries. There are actually enough of them that there are almost 5 pages in the Iranian Yellow Pages advertising Jewish services.

The State Department (and the NSA who is now launching a new recruiting drive) will not do better for their language needs then to go to YU and offer good jobs translating intelligence information from Farsi to English. But there is no recruiting in the Jewish community. There are magazines just for Farsi speaking Jews in New York. (I think that one of them is named "Shofar".) I do not think the state department ever considered advertising there. The state department is forced to rely on people with all sorts of dubious allegiances from Arab countries who have friends, and siblings who must be members of all sort of militias, and governments, to do their translating. They are forced to rely on Arabs and Iranians, whose loyalty is at best questionable. The Jewish community can produce people who can move in Persian circles, and do whatever need to get done to deal with routine intercept, and gather human intelligence. This article describes our failure at getting people we need for the job. The Jewish community is a good solution. Our government needs to consider it - now.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Boycotting for virginity

To paraphrase a T-shirt that was popular in Israel since the 80's: Boycotting for academic freedom is like fucking for virginity.

Will someone please explain how an academic boycott is supposed to promote academic freedom? Is it perhaps the same way that bombing Israelis are supposed to promote mideast peace?

By alienating academia in Israel, you are alienating the strongest source of support the left has. It would be like the Taliban bombing Berkeley.

No one ever accused the anti-Israel left of being clever.

There is about a zillion dollars to be made. . .

. . . by the first person to market Atkins-friendly matzoh.

Happy Pesach.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Review of Tony Hanania's Unreal City

Reading Hanania's Unreal City is like trying to swim across a lake of molasses. It was a very slow read, and when I was done I had no idea why I even tried. I am not really sure what the book was about. There was a guy, who grew up in some underground world during the civil war in Lebanon, in Beirut and London. He spent much time hanging around strange people looking for some sort of redemption.

The novel is mostly told as a series of reminisces. There is no plot, and the writing is fairly mediocre. It is a lot of how it was back in the day sort of stuff. Nothing that give you a feeling for what it was like, or a sense of time, or what happened. Just a lot of fragments of past memories. We almost get to look at snippets of the narrator's memory, but not a story. The book kind of picks up at the end. By the time the story becomes coherent, it is over. One does not get a feel for the war, the life, or the people. I am not sure what I was supposed to get out of the book. It was so far the worst piece of fiction I have read about the civil war in Lebanon.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Orthodox Rabbis and Gay marriage

It would undoubtedly give me much pedantic satisfaction to pick apart the Rabbinical Council of America and Orthodox Union's position on Gay marriage, but I will settle for making a few points. (For such a short document, it is so full of Jewish and logical inaccuracies, it is frightening that the group is actually made of rabbis.)

Traditional Judaism has a position on Jewish marriage. There is no traditional Jewish position on either non-Jewish marriage, or civil marriage. Jewish marriage is ke'daat Moshe v'Yisroel. Non-Jewish marriage is not. So to jump from a position on Jewish marriage to civil marriage is not in conformity with Jewish religious or legal tradition.

The only position that Judaism has regarding the sex life of non-Jews is that they not engage in incestuous relationships (contrary to the popular perception that it includes anything Jews don't like about sex). That is one of the seven Noahide laws. Judaism has no other view of the definition of marriage.

Judaism has a general position on homosexuality. That is: The lord said to Moses that the children of Israel should not be engaging in it like the other nations do, because he finds it disgusting. (See Lev 18) Judaism has no verse that goes: The Lord said to Moses that you ought to preach to the whole world that homosexuality is wrong. Nor does it have a position on the types of unions that are wrong for others.

So while the RCA and OU should have a position that none of THEIR rabbis, or even that no rabbis should be supervising the marriage of members of the same sex, it is unclear where they get a position on civil unions. What the other religions or civil institutions do is way out of their domain.

One of the things that makes Judaism great (and I do not say that lightly) is the fact that it does not have a mandate to impose its beliefs on others. Jews are charged with being a light unto the nations. That means that Jews ought to inform others what it is that they do and why that is a good thing. Jews are not charged with coercing others to do things their way, or even to tell others that their way is right and other ways are wrong. Jews are charged with doing right. Judaism is extremely pluralistic that way. We do not tell Christians, Muslims, Hindus or anyone else to keep the Sabbath, the kosher laws, or anything else. Jews simply preach an internal doctrine: it is wrong for Jews.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Teaching reality vs teaching abstinence

Apparently there is not enough information in the fine print on the back of a 1' x 1' condom wrapper. Some people, including many in our government, want more. Here is their claim: apparently condoms are not that effective against HPV (genital warts). Ergo, abstinence is better than condoms, and that ought to be written on the back of already crowded condom wrappers that no one reads anyway.

No one except the too-stupid-to-read demographic does not know that condoms are not perfect. They break, things leak, not everything gets covered, etc. We ought to teach this in class.

Of course the argument that abstinence is therefore better is also bunk.
People who try to practice abstinence have no need to carry condoms or even go on the pill. So when, as inevitably happens with every teenager, they finally do have sex, they are unprepared and get whatever disease their enticing partner has, and often pregnancies result.

But there are still people who (ironically enough) have the chutzpah to call themselves Project Reality are asserting that preaching abstinence is a more worthy endeavor than preaching the wonders of the best protection we have given the real world fact that people have sex. That is reality?

People, especially teenagers, hate using condoms. If you can get kids to use that it is a miracle. God himself could not orchestrate the cessation of sex. (Even in the Bible everyone was shtuping everyone else.) It is too well embedded in our genes. You would have to separate men and women from each other until you are ready for them to marry, then arrange their marriages for them. In other words we would have to devolve to Hassidic Jews from the stone age. This is a clear step backward.

Let us just preach safety. If Clinton would have mentioned the word "Trojan" in that deposition about his sex life, STDs would have decreased by 50% among teens. Let Bush get up on TV and say that he and Laura used one on their first date, and overnight we will have a healthier nation.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

I am not a sheigetz god


This piece from the New York Observer really made me think about myself and the stereotypes I exhibit. The article is about Shaina Feinberg's lusting after non-Jewish men, and her loss of interest in Jewish ones. At first I was violently offended. What does she mean "I don't want a little weenie Jewish boy."?!?

Excuse me?

Is this some angry woman's way of getting back at all men for the gold-digger JAP jokes of the 80's? Is this the self-hatred that the author's shrink says she has?

I suppose it is OK to talk about stereotypes of your own kind? If they exist, then who is more qualified to talk about them? Of course Jewish men are not her own kind. Jewish women are - but so what? Or, is the author just looking for the only people she can feel superior too, realizing that with someone completely alien, she can pretend to know something, whereas even when it comes to being Jewish she is hopelessly outclassed and outgunned by your average Jewish male?

Who knows what the author is thinking? Maybe she needs more help then she realizes.

Anyway, I was thinking that despite her obnoxiousness, and crass insensitivity to Jewish men, she may indeed have a point. Being a somewhat self-reflective Jewish man, I have to admit, I am not particularly tall or hulking. I am a fairly nice guy. And I am genuinely bookish. I do sit and read. . . alot. I do spend late nights hunched over my Talmud, or my math book, or my Arabic grammar, or some obscure philosophy book. I do wear glasses. I drink many lattes at Starbucks. I rarely attend sports games, and I have only once been in a bar fight, and that was at least six or seven years ago. I am not impressed when someone understands three percent of what she reads in a haggadah. The ability to understand the words that come out of your mouth is a duty, not a virtue. Most of my girlfriends had staggering IQs. I am slightly on the neurotic side. I have a blog. (I am literate.) My friends include academics, doctors, and lawyers.

I do not have all that much to offer in my defense. I have made bookshelves - from nails and wood - with my own two hands. And I can use a stud-finder. I recently fixed a broken toilet. I am a low-level nobody in the US Army whose job it is to do lots of hard manual labor. I stay in shape. In the army I also learned how to kick someone's ass. I was pretty good at it too. (In my unit I am the only white guy, that has to be good for something.) I never see doctors unless I need a form filled out. I never used an inhaler. I speak with my mother every other week - and that is on good months. And my friends include plumbers, contractors, and bus drivers.

So what is my deal? I am a stereotype. I have described myself as an overeducated Jew from New York. I will always be one. So I am not blond? So I am not thuggish?

Mind you, all this criticism comes from a woman seeing an Israeli shrink. I think it may be time to revive those old how-do-you-know-when-a-JAP-had-an-orgasm jokes. (When she drops her nail file.)

From now on, I do my studying in secret, and my fighting in public. None of this metrosexual slash Woody Alan crap for me. I am off to get me some power tools.

Screw you.