Tuesday, December 27, 2005

people are strange, when you're a stranger

Christmas Eve I went to a freind in East New York's place for a Christmas Eve "dinner". It was very Puerto Rican. So there was not much dinner. But his basement was turned in to a night club (certainly in violation of some building violations) and we all danced for like many hours. It was actually great fun. They seemed to find it incredibly odd when I said that white people typically talk and eat when they have family gatherings. I suck at dancing. I seem to only do it when someone makes me, which is probably why I suck - lack of practice. But anyway, I really enjoyed it.

The grandparents had a dinner party wit the whole family. We actually just sat around and talked and ate. There were a lot of kids there. My extended family is becomeing more and more extended.

Last night I joined I (and M) at this party thrown by some group called MJE. It was hot and there were a lot of people and not enough alcohol. But the people seemed nice. I even spoke to some, though I am more firmly becoming committed to the "don't talk to strangers" ideology. They really are often strange.

Transit Strike

So it has been days since the strike and I'm still feeling the impact. I am now officially many days behind in my work because I could not get to it during the strike or over Christmas. I am really pissed at the TWU. Still.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Guy Gap

Boy will this article surpirse many of my male friends.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Review of Alfred W. Crosby’s The Measure of Reality

The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600
is a very learned book which attempts to show how the intellectual leaps in the middle ages were made possible as a result of westerners learning to quantify their world.

The first part of the book addresses the types of quantification specifically in space, time and mathematics. The second part of the book addresses visualization in music, painting, and bookkeeping.

The book was OK. I did not come out with a wonderful new appreciation for how things work or anything like that. There were some good discussions on the new number systems, and the use of currency, mapmaking, and the double entry bookkeeping system. But altogether I did not see how that caused anything. There was no picture woven together.

The author is clearly well-read and knows much about painting and music and other things of that era. But there was no coherence to the whole theory, nor was there a proof that this was somehow unique.

I am hesitant to endorse this, though it was not bad in any way. It just felt somewhat dissatisfying.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ride of Shame

I was talking to some people over dinner Friday night and “A-“ suggested I “blog this”. So I thought it would be worth pointing out:

After the long Jewish holidays, like the first two or three days of Succot or Pesach, and even after Shabbat, if you go at the right time, you will see a whole bunch of Orthodox Jews, returning home.

These are mostly women and a fair percentage of men who have their little suitcases that they are wheeling along, and perhaps a garment bag too, and get on the Q train not long after the holiday is over and return to their apartments on the Upper West side. They get on mostly at Kings Highway, Ave M, and Ave J. They all look spent, like they just had to spend the past three days with their religious families doing holiday things and explaining to their parents why they are still single. Some of them must have enjoyed it, and others clearly did not. Mostly theses are single individuals, though sometimes you see a pair of girls returning home.

They are all returning to their ordinary lives which may or may not include religion, but it certainly does not include their parents’ kind. It is a life very different from their families.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Charedim can't believe science

About a week ago Ahron Schechter and Shmuel Kamenetsky just jumped on to the Slifkin ban wagon. They are about as mainstream and accepted as it gets in the charedi community. So what is going on now that book bannings against people who express positive positions about science are becoming officially charedi policy? Now to be charedi you are really barred from believing much of science.

But what is really going on? I suspect that there is something in Jewish history that requires that every time fundamentalist Christians do something that even hints of "piety" (false or otherwise) Jews have a need to emulate it. Somehow Jews are not comfortable in their own theology and see themselves as not being as frum as Christians.

I do not have too many examples off the top of my head, but fundamentalist Christians outlawed polygamy, so fundamentalist Jews outlawed polygamy. Christians wore stupid clothing, so the ultra Orthodox wore stupid clothing, fundamentalist Christians are anti-abortion and birth control, Charedi Jews are anti-abortion and birth control. Fundamentalist Christians are anti-science and now so are Orthodox Jews. Jewish notions of modesty, acceptable sexual practice, and now common sense itself are all just things that Charedim are taking from Christians.

(Mind you this does not only apply to Christians. I once heard a hassidic rabbi say that the reason that Moslems were blessed with oil is because their women were so modest.)

An anecdote: When I was in 9th grade in Torah Temimiah (this is way back in the 80’s, mind you) the principal, Rabbi H, was lying in wait. The young new teacher, Mr. D, started his class by saying, and writing on the board, that there were “two fundamental concepts in the study of biology: genetics and evolution”. Rabbi H called him out and had a two minute chat. When they returned, Mr. D erased the board and said that there is one fundamental concept we need to know about in Biology: genetics. And that was it for the rest of the class. I suspect that no single event in my life made me suspicious of Yeshiva more than that. Subsequent to that, I always wondered what else they were hiding from me. (I later found out that there was almost nothing else they were hiding except for girls, but that is another story).

I am scared to think what they’ll think of next.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

On being a political loner - a follow-up to last post

I thought I would explain my last post a bit more. I am going in to a bit of biography, a rarity for me.

Those who know me know that I have never been conservative about anything. In high school I wanted to save the whales. Given my high schools, that was some pretty radical stuff. (Whales are treif, who needed them?)

I was a convert to libertarianism in college. (I read Nozick.) I assumed that if we just allowed free enough trade, someone would figure out how to make money off saving the whales.

In graduate school, I took a hint from the neo-cons. I realized that there were some people who were not allowed to free the whales because people were trying to shove them in concentration camps, so we needed to destroy their maniacal leaders so that everyone can be free enough to figure out how to make money saving the whales.

There is no political position that seems to match how I feel. But there was also never anyone around who seemed to feel the same way as I did. My boss is currently a person who really thinks Churchill and Hitler are merely two varieties of mass murderer. Most of my colleagues think that both Saddam Hussein is a nice guy, and that it really is not worth saving the lives of people who are Kurdish or Shiite if it means taking money away from things that are important to them, like education, or if it means agreeing with a Republican. I think we do not have enough abortions on this planet. I like the idea of individual liberties extending to the economic sphere. I wish the government did not impose their values on me, and I wish it was legal to take drugs. I have voted for Republicans and Democrats, and I have few regrets about my decisions. . .

So I learned to put up with a lot of nonsense. While most of my colleagues learned that most of their friends agree with them, they never learned the value of a good debate. They never learned how to respectfully disagree with people who are actually different than them. I felt bad, but I frequently found myself reducing people to tears because they could simply not stand to listen to views that were so different then theirs. (Screw them, I say!) Most of my colleagues can do little more than recite party lines when it comes to their views. The Village voice and the Daily show are pretty much all they need to find out what they believe. The very idea of watching news, reading statistics, thinking about a social issue, etc, is foreign to them. They all have very knee-jerk responses. No one thought twice about the war. No one ever changed their mind. And no one ever puts their money where their mouth is. They all worry about how the state is going to help them, they complain about their lack of funding. No one can do enough to help them.

Now, conservatives are no better. But I am not surrounded by them. I never had to learn to defend abortions. But I am sure I can do so without the contempt that would drip forth from the mouths of those I surround myself with.

But I tell you, it is a lonely, but rewarding, existence. It requires one to work very hard, and at the end of the day you impress the only person who matters – yourself. There is no group of people you can turn to for support, or to even make sure you are right.

I never liked “campus conservatives” or the “Local Liberals” they all seemed like a bunch of losers to me, and they all had lines they were supposed to believe. If that is all I wanted I’d still be fanatically religious. It still saddens me that there are educated adults out there like that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Last night I went with "S" to see Ushpizin. It was a pretty good Israeli movie. I actually really enjoyed it. It was about an Israeli couple who apparently had gone from being secular to being Bratzlover chassidim a bunch of years prior. They now lived in Jerusalem's Geulah/Meah Shearim neighborhood among many other hassidic Jews.

In dire financial straits just before the holiday of Succot, a number of things end up working out for them (and then they don't, and then they do again) to challenge and test their faith.

The movie had a rather quick ending, which was slightly disapointing. We do not see how things get resolved, only that they do. It is satisfying up until the very end.

Overall though I had a good time and you should see this movie.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Review of Lispector's The Hour of the Star

Clarise Lispector's novel The Hour of the Star is odd, and I didn't like it. To illustrate why, I am writing the review of the book in the style of the short book. If you can tolerate my review, then perhaps you will be able to tolerate this for 80-something pages. And just so you are not tempted to ever buy it and read it, I give away the ending: She dies. The end.

Imagine (bang!) that there is a book. Before I tell you about the book I must tell you about the author. Why am I writing this review? Why indeed does anyone write at all? After all, words are like snow that fall over houses. I am in love with the author who will never know me. She will never know me because she is dead. (bang!) There, I said it. I had hoped there was a more dramatic way of saying it, but I write this at a time of innocence where author and writer fuse in melancholy ways. To get back to the book, it is about a narrator talking about a girl. The narrator is someone who you don't find out much about. I want to tell you about what gets narrated, but is there time? The girl in the book, did I mention her name? No matter. The girl likes Coca Cola (bang! some real information) , though I don't recall her drinking any in the novel. Novels are like time, as they are both quantified. I write that because there is no other way to tell you. Did I mention that nothing happens, but she dies? (Bang!) Endings are pitiful, like characters in her books.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Review of A. E. Taylor's Aristotle

A. E. Taylor wrote Aristotle in 1919, so you expect the book to be a bit antiquated, and it is. But that is only the beginning of this book’s problems. This book is what you get when you ask a Platonist to write a book about Aristotle. The author obviously has little sympathy for Aristotle or Aristotelian thought.

It is weird seeing Aristotle via the lens of a Platonist with too much respect for the Midieval interpreters of Aristotle. He actually goes so far as to call Aristotle a Platinist.(30-31) This reminds me of some students (and friends) of mine who seem to make it their life's work to show that everyone agrees with them, so Maiminides becomes a mystic, or Plato is a Darwinist, or the Vilna Gaon was a Hassid. I am all for non-conformist beliefs, but this is going a bit far.

There are a whole bunch of places where he seems to get Aristotle wrong. When he talks about Aristotle's theory of knowledge for one.

On page 33 he seems to confuse truth with certainty in mathematics. He rarely seems to grasp what Aristotle meant by what Science is really about, or what sort of things are knowable (ie, first principles). Neither does Taylor get self-evidence or dialectic as Aristotle had it, and he makes the "active Intellect" a spiritual thing, following some of the later commentators, whereas in Aristotle himself it is not all that clear.

When it comes to Aristotle there are many things that are worth appreciating. Aristotle had a methodology not all that different from the one we have today. At least its essence is similar. Taylor dismisses all of this because Aristotle got the answers wrong. (And of course Plato had them all right!) Thus Aristotle was a bad scientist.

Taylor endlessly nitpicks on the details that Aristotle misses, and ignores the Aristotelian methodology. We thus do not get out of the book what civilization has gotten out of Aristotle. But this is the main point of the book, to give the lay reader an appreciation for what Aristotle gave to civilization. So the book fails at its own goal.

This is meant to be a popular book, as such it has no references, to let you look at Aristotle for your self. This is annoying to someone who has a deeper interest in this. Don't bother with this book unless you are not very bright and have a simplistic nieve dislike of things Aristotelian. Robinson's book is infinitely better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The four cups

After I broke all my glasses one-by-one, I went to the Fishs Eddy store around the corner to get some new ones. I was pretty disappointed that they had every kind of glass you can imagine except the one I wanted (which I bought from them 6 months ago).

But what I did find was the latest in Judeo-kitch - Rabbi Glasses. So naturally I bought the set. But I was wondering why they picked the four rabbis they picked: (1) Azriel Hildenseimer, author of a fascinating bunch of responsa I once read, and forerunner of Modern Orthodox Judaism (more here), whose name incidentally, they misspelled. (2) Yitzchak Spector (whose name they also sort-of misspelled) a pioneer, and one of the more important early members of the Hovevei Zion movement and an indefatigable advocate for Jewish causes (a man they tell many stories about, more here). (3) S.Y. Rabinovitch, whom I heard of, but for the life of me, can't remember where or why, and finally (4) Elizer Goldberg (whose name I am pretty sure they misspelled too) who I never even heard of except in that generic sense that every Jew must know an Eliezer Goldberg.

If anyone has a theory on why they picked those four, out of all the rabbis they could have picked and still looked just as kitch-y let me know, I'm really curious.

I hope I don’t break these glasses.

Friday, November 11, 2005

People of the Book . . . Bans


In the past few years, first it was One people, Two worlds, then it was The Making of a Gadol [sic] (now available in an improved and sanitized edition), then came the Slifkin affair. Fortunately there is some good clear headed writing on this, like the new piece by R. H. and M.B.

A high point of R.H. and M.B.'s analysis is that book bans, like witch trials and McCarthyism takes loosers who never lived up to their parent's reputation or they were otherwise disenfranchised, or low on their local totem pole, and makes them the vanguards. They get power and fame where they had none before.

(By the way, it seems easy to figure out who these people are, but it seems like they don't want to be outed, so do them that favor.)

Now the latest book ban comes from Israel (like the slifkin one), but likely won't impact us much because the book is only in Hebrew. It is published by I. Shilat (who did some good stuff on the Rambam). This is a book by Gedaliah Nadel (brief bio here). The stuff looks really fascinating, though I only got copies of about 40 or so pages.

One thing that Jewish history teaches us is that generally bans are issued on intersting people: Eibshutz, Spinoza, Maimonides, Luzzatto. . . and the banners are never vindicated by history.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Who surrenders when two French groups get in to a fight?

As I understand it, the riots in france have been going on as long as they have because France has never had a situation where they had to surrender to France before. While there is ample recent precedent for France surrendering to almost everyone else, France has not had to surrender and give in to itself lately.

Oh, wait. . . there was the French Revolution.

I guess we know what is in store for Fance now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Review of Israel Knohl's The Messiah Before Jesus

Israel Knohl's The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls is an important book in Bible scholarship. It is short, and a rather easy read, but extremely interesting. In the book he advances the following thesis: Jesus was a messiah who was following the pattern of an earlier messiah.

It was earlier believed that although there were many messiahs of Jesus' period, but many things about Jesus like the suffering servant" and the "son of man" attitude were later inventions of the church, and not authentically from Jesus. Knohl believes that they were actually Jesus' attitude. He claims that there was an earlier messiah, just before Jesus lived who followed the same pattern. This was a messiah who is reflected in the Dead Sea scrolls. He then conjectures that this messiah was in fact a certain Menachem who was mentioned in the Talmud as the other leader with Hillel in the time of the "pairs" of leaders in Tannaitic times. His evidence for this is impressive and well thought out.

It was an intersting read.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Review of Graham Priest's Logic: A very short introduction

Graham Priest's Logic: A very short introduction is very short and is about logic. But it is not an introduction. That is not to say that it is too hard to be introductory, it is not, if you are even the slightest bit bold in the face of a little bit of symbolism and mathematics. But the topic it introduces is not standard logic.

This is a book more about its author than its subject. Graham Priest is well known amongst logicians and philosophers to have an agenda, and it comes out strongly in this book - too strongly. For example chapter 7 suggests that "->" might not be truth-functional. This is true, but it is not introductory stuff. I'll explain why in a moment. Exploiting the ambiguities in natural language for its counterexamples, or apparent counterexamples in logic is annoying and is a bad way to introduce modern conjunctions. For example when he exploits the ambiguity of "and" to sometimes mean "and then" and ignores canonical logical conjunction which has no such ambiguity. Paradoxes (and drawings of such - as Priest has done in earlier papers) appear to be interpreted as a problem whose real solution appears to be a Priestian paraconsistent logic. This is hardly standard or accepted.

In another place Priest endorses the use of fuzzy logic to solve the sorities paradox. (Perhaps I am being hard on him here, as this may just be an "in" to fuzzy logic.) He then shows how it must fail as a solution. But of course there are a number of ways to diagnose and solve the problem, fuzzy logic being only one of them.

In short he presents too many controversial issues as solved problems with one bad answer that does not work. Letting Priest write an introductory book on logic is like letting Dembski teach a course on introductory evolutionary theory. It becomes a course on each and every alleged problem with the theory - which is fascinating - but barely scratches the surface when it comes to offering a clear report on the going paradigm in logic. This is bad for two reasons: 1) Some problems are only big problems for Priest, who likes to "solve" them with his own version of logic, and 2) it leaves the reader wondering what good logic is if it is just as system full of holes and problems. On the whole logic is a profound system allowing for all sorts of useful stuff from digital watches to artificially intelligent robots. It is not too bad as a system to base philosophy or mathematics on either.

On the positive side it does at the end cover a very nice and judiciously chosen range of topics, though I did not like how they were handled. And while he does have a specific agenda that comes out on every page, he is eminently qualified to write a book of this kind. He is a top-notch writer and thinker.

It is also nice that the book ties in many of the logic exercises with some classic problems in philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion. I especially liked the discussion of Pascal's Wager in the section on decision theory.

I would highly recommend this book to someone who has learned a bit of logic and now wants to go deeper. It is a good and quick read and very rewarding. I would not recommend this book to someone who wants to learn for the first time what logic is. This is for someone who wants to know for the second time.

Review of Tom Segev's Elvis in Jerusalem

One gets the feeling that when Tom Segev came to his English-speaking publisher with a book called A Post-Zionist Manifesto she looked at him and said it would never sell, better rename it something that will get the attention of at least some demographic who might enjoy the book. So they somehow came up with Elvis in Jerusalem: Post-Zionism and the Americanization of Israel.

The book is however a post-Zionist manifesto - but in a scary way. There are a number of reflections on the history of Israel and how its Americanization has led to taking Israel out of its Zionist roots and into post-Zionism.

The book also, however much a contradiction this might be, argues that most of Israel's roots were always post-Zionist. Though there is something very Fahrenheit 451 about the claim that Herzl was the first post-Zionist (p15) (like Ben Franklin was the first fireman). The book goes on to talk about how all of early Israel was really designed as a post-Zionist enterprise. And those things that did not start out post-Zionist like, say, Rav Kook-Style religious patriotism, was responsible for dragging the country in to post-Zionism (p91).

To be completely honest, the book managed to completely piss me off by page 6. There he divides Israelis in to two broad categories: the first is the separatist, hateful, bunch which wants to spitefully wallow in the memories of all the evil done to it. This is obviously an allusion to the right and to a large extent the religious, and certainly the religious right. The second group is simply characterized as those who follow the old adage of loving thy neighbor as thyself - the "Judaism of love and forgiveness". This is supposed to reflect the left.

But this is actually the biggest load of crap for so many obvious reasons. The Judaism that is the right can be construed in many ways that are not nearly as disingenuous self-righteous or inaccurate as this. (Not to mention the amount of logical fallacies here, eg, the false dichotomy, the well-poisoning, . . .)

Then there is the pervasive blame-Israel strand that is just typical of unreflective liberal thinkers. Take the following quote "But war is inevitable. Israelis have looked back a thousand times in an effort to figure out where they erred and what should be done in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past." (p37) So war is inevitable, but naturally Israel could have prevented it. That makes sense.

The book goes on to laud the new history and the new historians because of their wonderful achievements in discovering some facts in the Zionist archives. These facts shed light on the fact that Polish Jews were treated better than Sefardic Jews as immigrants (p129) and other such unknown facts. And of course we are told that the new historians are motivated by the purist of goals, namely truth, as opposed to the old historians whose work was meant "not only to prove the justice of the cause to the non-Jewish world but also to reinforce Zionism's somewhat tenuous position among the Jews themselves."(p 128) I find this somewhat hard to swallow. Not the latter part, mind you. There is no doubt that the early Zionist historians might have been motivated by patriotic ideals, but the plain fact is that the New Historians are as much motivated by their versions of left-wing (anti-)Zionism as the old were motivated by patriotism. Like E.H. Carr said about history: Historians come in with some a priori view of what they think and then they make the facts fit their version. This is more true here than anywhere else.

The book does have some points that are worth taking seriously. The dilemma that Israelis have been talking about almost since the inception of the state is stated as THE problem for Israel: that is how can one reconcile being a Jewish state with being a democracy. When there are too many Arabs, it will be impossible to have a Jewish democratic state. Personally I suspect that when it comes down to it, Israel will go for staying Jewish rather than staying a democracy. That is not necessarily what I want, but what I suspect will happen.

But is there a better way? Can this be resolved? Segev, as any typical left winger, has no real solution. Naturally the old solutions of Avineri and Buber are dumb. A binational state cannot make any sense without the full cooperation of the other nation, and this presupposes some common ground upon which to forge this. There is none. The type of bi-national suggestion of Sami Smooha is discussed at the very end, and rather pessimistically. (I personally find it intriguing, or at least on to something.)

Post-Zionism would seem to advocate that one drop the Jewish and just be a democratic state, and post-Zionists seem to think they are fighting against those who would choose their Jewish identity over their democratic identity.

In reality it seems like a sort of Sophie's choice, asking yourself which part of your identity you are willing to give up. This is a choice that no people I can think of have ever been asked to do. Either choice is a kind of spiritual suicide. It is incumbent on anyone who wants to deal with Israel on any fair level to appreciate the nature of the dilemma. I'd bet your average Israeli sees it this way. They want the comfort of preserving their Jewish identity and their personaly safety, but also the satisfaction of living a liberal life with the democratic values that they cherish.

Overall I was not impressed by the book. It told me little I didn't know, except that somehow there emerged a new-kind of Israeli left that sees itself in the right because it too knows how to rewrite history.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Review of Pappas' Plato and the Republic

Plato’s Republic is a challenging book to read and to teach too. There is much there that is generally unfamiliar and new especially when encountering the Republic for the first time. Nickolas Pappas wrote a really good guide book that really helps sort out what is going on in the Republic. The Republic is written as a dialogue. Pappas carefully goes through all the main arguments and offers a very sympathetic reading of Plato. Sometime I felt that he was saying what Plato would have been saying had he wrote in English prose instead of Ancient Greek play.

The book is divided in to three parts. The first part offers some preliminary background material on Plato and the Republic. The second part is the bulk of the book. This goes carefully through the argument of the republic piece by piece. There is first the question about what justice is, and then what it is for. Then it goes through Justice int he city, justice in the soul, politics, metaphysics and epistemology, returning to injustice in the city and soul, and then finally to the question of art. The book is mostly broken up thematically, but at the same time it follows the order of the republic, though it does not follow exactly the breakup of the book in to the ten books as we have it.

The third pat deals with a few general questions that one may have when looking at the whole book. "Is Plato really akin to a modern totalitarian?", "Is Plato's use of the Forms consistent?" "How does Plato relate the various kinds of censorship he advocates?". All of these are things we might inquire about Plato when we are done, and so they make up a small part of the book, the last section.

There is also a good breakdown of the main premises that the Republic uses in its arguments that seem pretty handy.

Pappas' Plato and the Republic is well done. It is a great guide to the Republic, the best I've seen yet, and I daresay even to Plato's work in general. If you are ever studying the Republic or you are intimidated by it, start here. It is extremely rewarding.

(Incidentally, I read the first edition. There is now a second one out and I am pretty sure that it does not differ substantially.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Paulos correct, but only telling half the story

John Allen Paulos has a history of saying things that while not profound, make an incredible amount of sense. He is someone who has a history of taking a mathematical look at the world, and often hits on really interesting points.

This Article on Intelligent design is a case in point. He pursues a fascinating analogy between the emergence of very efficient free markets and Darwinian evolution. Now when you think about it is not the most profound analogy, they are both things that have naturally emerged. Therefore they naturally have an appearance of efficiency. No one in their right mind would ask who intelligently designed our economy.

Each price is set by market forces. Nothing costs more than people are willing to pay for it. Certainly nothing that any of us use. No one deliberately made sure that every drug store has the toothpaste that most people around there use. If it didn't someone would open up a store that did have it and people would buy their stuff there.

So there is a very clear analogy between an argument for efficiency of free markets and their value, with Darwinian evolution. But here is my problem. Paulos then goes on to marvel that there are all these people who are so anti-Darwin and yet so pro-free market. How could they, he wonders, be so prepared to favor the notion of efficient emerging markets, and yet reject the notion of emergent efficient biological mechanisms.

Now, personally I believe in both - self-organizing markets, and self-organizing biological systems. I think they are both perfectly reasonable explanations for how we get these rather efficient systems, both organic and economic.

But Paulos does not seem at all amazed that there are massive amounts of people out there (mostly called "academics") who think that it is so obvious that the most naive form of Darwinism is true, but vigorously fight and propagandize shamelessly that self-emerging markets are horrible ways to design economic systems, and that the only way to get real efficiency is via central planning.

He does not bother to mention the minions of academics who, since Marx, fought very hard to have an anti-Darwinistic economic notion become mainstream academic thought (at least outside economics departments). And academics, unlike your average anti-Darwinist, should know better.

Paulos is forgetting that analogies are two way streets. Your average academic, if I am not mistaken, thinks that a soviet-style economy, where a central "intelligent" agency simultaneously decided the prices and distribution of millions of goods and services is naturally preferable. There is no spontaneity or emergence in socialist markets, and yet academics have no problem believing that 1) this is the most equitable, and more importantly, 2) this is the most efficient.

So Paulos pointed out a big flaw in the reasoning of those who liked the free market but didn't like Darwinism. He goes so far as to practically mock their inconsistency. But somehow the standard left-wing dogma which is equally inane, goes unmocked. Somehow Darwinism is really the same as free markets, and so anti-Darwinists are dumb. But he feels no need to tell us that the free market is the same as Darwinism and anti-Free marketeers are dumb too. Why can't he say that? It is the natural flip-side.

Somehow when the left and right make the same mistake (which they are both equally dumb for making) only the right gets ridiculed. Sad.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Review of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to all Creation

One wonders why a book on evolutionary biology would have a blurb on its jacket by Barbara Eherenreich. Seems like a way you would market a pathetic book to people who would rightfully be uninterested in reading about evolutionary biology and thought that reading a $24.00 book with her endoresment would make them more socially aware.

That said, you’d be wrong. I can’t answer to the whys of Ehernreich’s name on the jacket, and reading it will not likely make you more socially aware, but Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana's sex advice to all creation was not half bad. I actually enjoyed it. Again, it is not as the front cover proclaims “the definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex”, but it is a fun read. (Who the hell decides what goes on dust jackets of books? Though the picture of the two bugs on the front is very pretty.)

Over the course of this popular book we find “letters” to a fictitious advice columnist form all sorts of creatures which allows the author to talk at length about the wide variety of sexual habits and strategies found in nature. It is my guess that most of the examples are from insects, but there is a great deal of other creatures represented.

We find discussions of sexual promiscuity (in males and females), monogamy, creatures who eat their mates before, during and after sex, we find, discussions of aphrodisiacs, rape, battles for mates, creatures who have sex almost in utero, creatures who wait years before having sex, creatures who have one sex two sexes, three sexes and hundreds of sexes. We see why some creatures have little sex and some have a lot.

There are loads of interesting questions there. My personal favorite was the last chapter on virginity, which is why some species have no sex at all.

The book is well grounded in evolutionary theory. There is a clear appreciation for the complexities and also the simplicity of the theory. Everything is presented so as to make sense and be clear. It is a cute read and tells you a lot about an interesting aspect of the diversity of nature. Read it.

PS: To “L” and Christian fundamentalists: please do not complain about the book soley on the grounds that the word “evolution” is mentioned in a discussion of it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Spotted on Kings Highway

S took this picture on Kings Highway in Brooklyn today.

Apparently there were a few demonstrations there this afternoon. For some reason if all Jews are on one side of an issue, they are on the other. The Neturei Karta believes that God does not want Jewish Soverignty anywhere until a supernatural messiah comes and hands it to us on a silver platter. Since most Jews are pro-soverignty they are against most Jews. So they pretty much side with any issue that is anti most Jews.

Today they were supporting black antisemitism with Farakahan.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It's only McCarthyism when a Republican does it

The American Federation of Teachers, which I either belong to, or just got on their mailing list somehow, has an unusually pathetic magazine with stories about educators and how wonderful their unions is.

This month there is a story about Terry Mulcaire (whose name they couln't even spell right) who was one of the ten professors "targeted" to get a note taped on to his door by the Santa Rosa Junior College Republicans, of Petaluma, CA. The story came complete with a picture of another professor looking like he is imprisoned behind a door with a paper with a big red star attached to it. This was the Jr. College Republicans' Operation Red Scare. The note contained a reminder of an obscure California law outlawing the communist indoctrination of students.

The college's response was swift and sympathetic to the besieged teachers. There was a note of sympathy from the president, and there was a general lambasting of the Jr. Republicans by the faculty senate. (I wish there were transcriptions of the lambasting.) There was a clear mentality that the goal, as the article put it was to "excise liberal thinking from the university".

Yes folks, you read that right. The goal of these people, and something that has academics the world over quivering was, the real threat that liberal thinking might be excised from the campuses partly as a result of ten Jr. College kids who put notes with shiny red stars of some offices. Talk about hysterical.

The president was worried that there is a "right-wing effort to ensure that conservative voices are heard - and many feel, liberal ones squelched - on campus". The horror! Right-wing voices heard on college campuses! Fortunately we have the union sponsored lecture by, Ellen Schrecker, an expert on McCarthyism reminding us that we must combat "this inappropriate speech with free speech." Because clearly the republicans should not have had such freedom.

What lunatics I have to deal with in academia. When a Republican says something right-winged it is innappropriate. When it is liberal rants and raves against the government, it is clear thinking freedom. Moreover, teachers seem to find it natural and reasonable that some of the leaders be suspended and the Junior College Republicans be put on probation. No McCarthysim there. After all, What gives Republicans the right to express themselves?

Mulcaire claims that he was targeted because he made clear his passionate opposition to the war in Iraq. Of course if he did this in his classroom it is sad, as he is not a teacher of ethics, reasoning, foreign poilicy, military theory, military history, political science, or anything that might lend itself to a discussion about the rightness or wrongness of war. He teaches English, which might make him eminiently qualified to teach about protest poetry from the 60's or something, if that.

What gives him the right to exploit the fact that he has a podium and students who have to listen to him to "express his opinions" on any subject he wants? I have no idea. That is just wrong, and I assume that he did violate his students rights to a good education. They came in to class rightfully expecting to learn about English, instead he turned it in to a sharing his feelings about the war. That is almost criminal. He now claims that he is no longer teaching "war issues in his English Classes". Maybe they'll move war issues to the mathematics department where it really belongs!?! This has really changed the way he thinks about teaching, he claims.

Maybe this should change the way he thinks about thinking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flatbush Eruv War

Recently a new pamphlet was put under the door of many Jewish homes in Flatbush. This was a pamphlet by a Rabbi Shia Director (who nicely left a comment on my earlier post on this subject.

This pamphlet follows the first two widely distributed pamphlets. The first was a rather professional solid halachic discussion of the matter in favor of the eruv, the second was a collection of pictures of rabbis with no halachic content. (I discuss that here.)

This latest blow in the eruv war looks like it will turn in to a friendly-fire incident. It is (and again I am doing this from memory) a 10 page collection of letters to a certain "Avi . . ." entitled "Letters from Woodburne". It is filled with rants and raves and vehemence against the anti-eruv group.

It was written by someone who clearly has never really written in English in his life, and has very little in terms of halachic content. There were a bunch of "many rabbis I spoke with agreed", "Brooklyn clearly has walls on all three sides and highways on the other" (which it does not), and vehemence. There are sentences of the form: This is the fault of Bic and other moral degenerates . . . (the reference is to Rav Bic OBM, no halachic or moral slouch.)

It was a rather sad piece of writing. I realize that there is well meaning attempt to support the eruv. I of course could care less whether it succeeds or not, though I guess I am rooting for the success, but pamphlets like this will not help matters. Pamphlets like this make people think that the biggest proponents of the eruv are people who cannot think or express themselves clearly.

However, this all shows that there is a lot of people who feel that there is a lot at stake here. I look forward to the next volley.

(This controversey is being covered a lot by bloggers on the web. kaspit is a good place to start, if you are interested.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Weekend update

This has been another hectic weekend, and I am so tired that there is no analysis, only a list. I spent a lot of the weekend hanging out with "P" and we did a ton of things.

We saw Oi Va Voi and the Balkan Beat Box perform at some show, and Michal Cohen and Sara Aroeste perform in Joe's Pub as part of the Jewish Heratige Festival. It was good fun all around.

We also saw the film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu at the New York Film Festival. It was pretty good. It made me really pause and think about health care in Eastern Europe, and I am greateful that I never needed it there.

We joined "L" and "S" for Proof, which was a pretty good adaptation of the play, which I saw with "S" a few years ago.

This morning I saw the Dalai Lama at Rutgers University. I am really impressed with how unpretentious he is. His style is remarkable. For a world leader, he said nothing too deep or unexpected, but it was a very eye-opening look at a world leader.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Need Sleep

After I finished my Sunday with my unit yesterday (in which much physical work was involved) I stopped for slurpees at 7-eleven with three buddies. When I got home, I quickly showered and changed and went off to a DVD launch party for this movie. It was a good documentary. There were lots of interesting people at the party too. I got home insanely late, and was up early today to run my customary 9.15 miles. I then worked and I am now ready to pass out, but I have to go learn with "A-" in a few hours. I totally need more sleeeeeeep.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Army and Katrina

I spent today in the Army doing reserve things, and I was talking to people there. It is always interesting to talk to soldiers from New York. They are a mixed bag of interesting people, each with their own take on the world, their own perspective, knowledge base, and background.

One sentiment that was floating around, and I have to admit that I shared it, was the government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina.

My unit, because of what we do and the experience we have, would probably be pretty useful right about now in helping Loiusiana. But yet no one has called. Many people would have been happy to go and help out.

Toward the end of the day my unit colleced names of people who would want to go down there if the Army calls looking for volunteers. Like many in my unit, I put my name on the list, but I suspect that the Army won't call. They never seem to call when you want them too.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Strategic Coffee Reserve

I have been telling people for years, warning them, and begging. But no one listened to me when I said that in case of emergency, akin to our strategic oil reserve, we need a strategic coffee reserve. It is for times like this that we need it. What would our country do without our coffee? I am glad I have a good personal stockpile.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

last 4 books I read

Unfortunately I do not have the time I would like to write more detailed reviews, but I wanted to say something quick about the last four books I read before I forget that I have actually read them.

First is Charles Bukowski's Play the Piano Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. It is an interesting collection of peoms that were enjoyable, I presume for those who, unlike me, get poetry. The whole thing was a bit beyond me.

Second was Martin Gardner's The Numerology of Dr. Matrix. This is a collection of a few of his really old articles from the Mathematical Games column from Scientific American. They are all dated, though amusing. It is mostly a lot of these funny numerological thingies that dumb people find profound and smart people find cute, with real mathematical tidbits thrown in as questions that are pretty hard to figure out. He gives you all the answers in the back.

Third I read Douglas Adams' Last Chance to see. This is the story of Adams and Mark Carawdine's trip to some remote places to see some endangered animals. The story that is told is sentamental, as befitting an emotional tour through various places. Douglas Adams' style still comes out as clearly as in his other works, though less so. It is a quick read, and if you are a die-hard fan, it's a must.

Finally, I just finished Catherine Osborne's book Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. This is part of Oxford's Very Short Introduction series. The series is pretty good, though not always. This book really is good. I was pretty impressed. First I was impressed that Presocratic philosophy can be interesting, and second I was impressed that there is a solid methodological underpinning in this field of research that can be explained to simpletons like myself. And finally that someone actually did it. If you want a good introduction to the prsocratics, you would be well advised to start with this book.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Lakewood Rumor

So the latest rumor going around is about Lakewood and the kollel communities there. I am waiting for it to be verified.

Apparently the girl's schools upped the frum ante. Now in order to get in, in adition to whatever prior standard had to be met, you 1) cannot have a father who works, and 2) cannot have a mother who wears denim skirts. If you you cannot be admitted in to the Beis Yaakov there.

So this school year was slated to start with 150 frum girls who although they met all the other standards either had a mother whose skirt is made with cotton processed a certain way that the talmudic rabbis never envisioned, or has a father who, like almost all of our Amoraic sages, actually has a job.

But now they have no school to go to.

So, as the story goes, Rav Eliashev was consulted and he said that the school year could not start until the girls were all in schools.

Apparently their school year has not yet started.

Anyone know more about this story?

last week or so

OK, so things have been very busy with the starting of classes and all. I have had no time to do things like updae my blog.

I saw the movie Junebug, it was cute. I saw Wedding Crashers. It was OK. I wasn't thrilled. It was a cute idea, but there was nothing unpredictable in the movie.

I caught the last few minutes of Circus Amok in Prospect Park. I have really got to stop going to these lefty events. They bore me to tears with their rantings against the man. It is sad and pathetic.

I saw the 9/11 lights from the promenade.

I have been trying to have a life. Moderate success.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Flying Saucer is back

The Flying Saucer Cafe is now open again. It used to be an OK place to work, but yet, as I recall, everytime I got there it was about to close. If I got there at 2 PM, then they were closing at 2:30 or 3:00. If I got there at 5:30, they were closing at 6:00. It generally seemed arbitrary. It also used to have this stupid look of old crap thrown together.

Now however, they seemed to reopen. They also seem to have a new attitude. They claimed that they were open till 7:00, which is still pretty early, but not all that bad. They also went a bit more minimalist on the decor, which is a big plus. Their garden, which was pretty nice, is now upgraded in my book to very nice, since they threw out a lot of the garbage that was in it. I think they also got some better furniture.

Their staff also seems friendly.

It is on Atlantic Avenue between Nivens and Third in Brooklyn. The coffee is not bad, and I am told neither are the other things. Give them time to get the rest of their menu up and running.

Fact checking

This article in Friday's New York Times about Orthodox Jews in the mountains had me wondering. If you look at the caption under the last picture, there is a Moishe Kishmich pictured.

Look, I really don't know the guy, but "Kishmich" is usually Yiddish for "kiss my ass". How careful was the Times about getting this guy's name right? Were they had by some Orthodox Jew with a sense of humor?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Afternoon walk

So on my first day of work this semester, I decided to take a long walk through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I went with "S", and it was really nice. I can't believe I have never done this before. It is a really nice place. On Tuesdays it is free, but it was pretty empty. There were mostly people from the neighborhood - Crown Heights, and a few others.

There were lots of interesting plants. There was a whole section with medicinal plants, and a whole garden dedicated to the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. There was an exhibit of fragrant plants there too.

It is a fun place. You should go.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Yesterday "L" and I spent the day trying to make a battery out of lemons and limes. We failed. We were able to get enough voltage out the fruits, but apparently not enough current. Any thoughts on what went wrong?

We wired them in series and managed at one point to get the voltmeter to read over 3. At that point we tried to hook it up to an LED which worked with 3 volts worth of Duracell, and got nothing.

We tried wiring them in parallel too but that got us nowhere either.

I know, it sounds like a seventh-grade science experiment, but we plan on working our way up to bigger and better things. We were hoping that starting with the basics - power sources - we would gain insight in to the higher up things.

This is very frustrating when this doesn't work.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Al Franken Show

This morning I woke up with the Sundance Channel on, and today's Al Franken Show was just starting. (Yeah, pretty sure it's the same one that that "borrowed" $875,000 from some charities) I have never seen this show, so I thought I should watch it all the way through, and so I did. It is one of those radio shows that they put on TV for some reason. So the show is just watching Al and his co-host and their guest talk with headphones on.

(By the way, the show's site for today has people who wern't there and doesn't have people who are. They need to get their act together.)

The first thing that one notices about the show is that it is not funny. One would think that Al Franken fancies himself a comedian and that his job is to keep coming up with clever witty and funny retorts and jokes. But no, there was nothing at all funny about the show. It was all done in the serious tone reserved for most of the NPR programming.

Franken's co-host was also pretty much superfluous. Like Robin, on the Howard Stern Show, her function is to interject a stupid sounding laugh every now and then when Al Franken says something.

Turns out too that Al Franken is a real prick. I'll explain in a moment. I wouldn't ever want to work with him.

He had a few guests on the show. Now, honestly, the guests carried the show. I was very-very-impressed with the quality of the guests. It is not that the Al Franken show can't attract good guests, but these people were all judiciously chosen, and they are probably the only people in the world that give left-wingers whatever good name they still have amongst the same people in the country.

Perhaps I caught an anomalous episode, because it was so strange, but here is what happened.

First there was Al Franken blabbing uselessly about Pat Robertson on Hugo Chavez. It was Rush Limbaugh quality blathering. It was worthless.

Then he had the mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson. He is a liberal mayor of a pretty strongly Republican state. It is obvious why when he speaks. He was an extremely reasonable man, it seems. He is probably what I like to think I would sound like if I was anti-war. Frankly, I think he an I would actually agree about most things about the war except the fact that I think it should have happened and he doesn't. He wanted support for troops and veterans, and more honesty and forthrightness from the White House. All very reasonable stuff. He wanted to reconcile with the White House, but only after receiving a bit more candor. Who can blame him?

Then this dude Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institution, who spoke nicely about what he sees as some of the problems with the new Iraqi constitution. Again, quite a reasonable guy. He spoke about the problem with the possibility of the Sunni becomiming more and more dissatisfies as they will eventually become de facto disenfranchised because of the inpending division of the future oil revenue.

Malcom Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point spoke about a piece he wrote for the New Yorker on health care. He was OK. I think he missed a bit in his analysis, but it was a fine enough discussion anyway.

Finally, and this is what screwed up the whole episode, they booked this political psychic, Accuro: The Radio Psychic. First of all this guy was so psychic he came two hours late to the studio because he couldn't find it. The entire show, by the way was full of Al Franken getting annoyed that the guy wasn't there. He also got really snappish at his staff and repeatedly blamed Gabby. I think she is the producer. It was awful. Turns out he just was on the wrong side of Manhattan, and couldn't read the address he scribbled down on his paper, and turned his cell phone off.

When he finally got there Al Franken couldn't not stop drilling him about why he was late. He did not get to talk about anything else. At some point he predicted the 2036 election, as if anyone cares, and he was magnanimous enough to secretly write down the electoral college results of the upcoming election, which he didn't know the date for. It was the dumbest thing I ever saw. Why a show that purports to be s serious political show books a psychic, I don't know, and why Franken couldn't get past the fact that he got lost, I also don't know. Moreover, he actually didn't tell us anything. So I am not even sure what he was doing there in the first place. It was ridiculous.

That is my take on today's Al Franken show. I am not sure what more to say. They had some good guests, but I pretty sure I learned absolutely nothing new from it. I did not get to hear anything worth hearing, and it wasted my time. Perhaps O'Hanlon was informative. That's about it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

It Figures

Just as Lance Armstrong, the darling of the trendy-lefty bright yellow bracelet thingies is seen hanging out with George Bush the Media resurfaces with allegations of drug abuse.

There is a lesson here folks. I am just not sure what it is.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis has been a favorite author of mine since I read his controversial American Psycho when it came out in 1991. I also really liked his Glamorama. He just came out with a new book, Lunar Park which looks pretty good.

Tonight, and also last Wednesday, I went to hear him. Tonight he spoke at Coliseum Books and on Wednesday at Barnes and Noble at Union Square. I actually missed his reading at Barnes and Noble.

Anyway between the two times I saw him I had him sign four of my books. One was signed to a person very dear to me, who unfortunately is fictional.

He is very interesting to hear. He is interesting in that he has so little to say. It is almost as if he is trying to say "just read the damned book and enjoy it". He claims to have no insight in to people, no idea how he gets these ideas, nothing deep in the narrative. . . One is inclined to want to side with him though since he does write some pretty good books.

(The pic is by Whistling in the Dark, is currently unavailable)

T-shirts in Union Square

Tonight I was passing through Union Square and there was this guy selling all sorts of T-shirts. One of them was a Hitler/Bush shirt with a caption that read Same Shit, Different Asshole. He also had a T-shirt that said "Capitalism breeds poverty". when I asked him how much it was he said it was seventeen dollars, so I called him a greedy capitalist bastard. Then he launches in to a tirade about how Diesel charges $50 and how hard it is to make a living doing this.

First, I think that he just misssed the irony.

Second, if he stopped selling T-shirts with pictures of Hitler, he might stand a chance of making a better living.

What a dumb bastard.

It's times like this that I second-guess my willingness to die defending this SOB's freedom of speeech.

(Oh, and speaking of sick T-shirts. . . )

Sunday, August 21, 2005

My new role model

Not only has she never read a book in her life, Posh Spice apparently has not yet read her own autobiography.

Of course, you've got to wonder what makes it an autobiography now.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

T"U B'Av

Today Jews celebrate the holiday of T"U B'Av. Well, that is not entirely true. Some Jews celebrate it. It is one of the more marginalized holidays.

T"U B'Av is a holiday that is mentioned in the Mishna (the early part of the Talmud) as one of the two most important days of the year, the other being Yom Kippur.

It is a holiday that commemorates a number of events, most notably it celebrates certain women's right to marry men outside their tribe. Jews were once made of 12 tribes, and there were some odd regulations about who can marry whom. There were some technical reasons in some cases, and the other was because of some nasty incident by some people of the Tribe of Benjamin, involving a concubine, a rape, a murder, dismemberment, violations of postal regulations, and gross inhospitality. After a while these events were forgotten about and the punishments were lifted, and everyone was able to marry anyone they wanted. Hence the celebration.

According to the Talmud, on this day, women would borrow clothing from other women who were in socioeconomic classes lower than them, unless they were on the bottom, then they would borrow up, and go out dancing with the express purpose of snagging a husband. They were supposed to be very tempting and seductive. Nowadays most Orthodox Jews do not consider the early Rabbis of the Talmud to have been sufficiently religious or pious, so they gasp in horror and embarrassment when confronted with such immodest practices.

Somehow we abandoned this practice.

Christians revived it for themselves and called it Valentine's Day and moved it to February 14. In Israel it is celebrated as "Yom Ahava" or "Chag Ahava". It is a secular Valentine's day. And, although it is not as popular as it is here, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Israel too.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Tonight at Housing Works

I went with nyreads to our third concert this summer at housing works. I was bored to tears this time. There were three acts: First was Sonya Kitchell. OK, she wasn't so bad. She has a lot of maturing to do, but I see some talent and potential. Then came Blondfire, who was pretty dull. She had a good vioce, but I was half asleep most of the time. The main act was Charlie Sexton who frankly sucked. Some of the songs sounded like he made them up that morning, and his playing was rather ordinary. I was very disapointed.

Brooklyn Cyclones

I just came back from the Brooklyn Cyclones game. They won in the 11th. 4-3! Go Brooklyn! I went with "L" and "S" and my nephew M.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Gaza Pullout

My mother's parents grew up in a small town in Czechoslovakia. She had been in the town under three or four governments. It was Czech, Hungarian, Romainan, now Ukranian, or whatever. It was like that for political reasons that my grandparents did not understand. Prior to World War II, they just lived under whichever government happened to control the region. It was fine with them.

Clearly that sort of thing would not work in Gaza. Why you ask? That is a good question.

The answer is obvious. Actually, it is obvious to me. I'll bet it is obvious to most people. It is just a matter of political correctness not to give the answer in public. So I won't. I'll let you figure it out.

But I want to know, amid all the punditry on TV, why have I not heard that question. Now when talking to Israelis, Palestinians, or Americans. No one wants to publically say the answer.

Just like no one wants to utter the words "ethnic cleansing" with reference to Gaza. That is what is going on, but no one wants to say it. Mind you, I have nothing against most cases of non-violent ethnic cleansing, and neither does most of the world, but it seems so impolitic to say it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Fringe Festival

Tonight I went with nyreads to see Elements of Style, part of The New York International Fringe Festival.

Oddly enough, I actually enjoyed it (more than nyreads, I think).

Basically it was a one-woman show about a copy editor for some of Conde Nast's magazines. The actress plays a number of roles where she is ostensibly trying to go through the interview process for a number of people for the job of copyeditor. She waxes poetic about the virtues of the emdash and the comma while giving us a good picture of what it is like to work for these publications.

The set was simple and there was even some audience participation, though I didn't get to participate. I think the acting needs some polish, but it was cute and there was enough humor to make it worth the trip.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Aristocrats

Douglas Hofstadter is like a god to many of us geeks. He inspired a generation of people to pursue such intellectual fields as artificial intelligence, computer science, cognitive science, logic, philsophy and much more. Mostly it was his Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid that made many of us devotees. But another one of his great books was Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. The book essentially takes a short poem ("Ma Mignonne") of Clement Marot and gets dozens of differnt people (and machines) to tranlate it from French to English, and weaves it in to a very long (600 large pages!) discussion on the nature of language. This is of course simplifying the book, but you get the idea. It is a wonderful book.

Now imagine that instead of having an obscure poem and famous (and not so famous) literary snobs to the translating, you have an obscure joke - a filthy disgusting obscure joke. Then you have about 100 filthy and disgusting famous comedians retell the joke their own way, and then you put weave it all together in what resembles a documentary film about this joke. You get a really good film.

The Aristocrats is an "in" joke among comedians that has apparently been around since the days of vaudeville. There is no authorative version, and everyone tells it their own way. Like translations, the version you hear reflects the writer as much as anything else.

It is really a vile joke, and it is not funny. Those are the only two constants that all the versions have, but watching it get told over and over, interspersed between discussion of it becomes very funny. No two comedians have the same version. And it is something that they all know. If you do not mind hearing a very gross joke get told over and over and over, go see it.

Cindy Sheehan and the media spectacle

I was in my parents' home yesterday and the news was on and there was a story about Cindy Sheehan. Cindy Sheehan lost her son in Iraq and now wants to talk to President Bush.

The first thing that one has to realize is that you really can't be too angry at a woman who lost her son in war. She deserves our sympathy. Everyone knows this, but she and her new Michael Moore-like friends are exploiting this. They are exploiting her, and they are exploiting her dead son. I am sure her son, who signed up for the Army would be humiliated if he knew what his mother is doing.

I frankly find moveon.org, and the other organizations who are using this woman dispicable. Let her mourn in peace. It disgraces her son's death to have him used like this. Nothing good will come of it other than giving Bush-haters more of a platform.

While we were watching the news, I announced, in the presence of my parents and sister-in-law that should I die in Iraq, I would appreciate them not geting up on TV and becoming spectacles. I was met with a rather stony silence. I guess that was not such a good thing to say to my mother. (My chances of dying are generally pretty low in the event I do get sent to Iraq.)But seriously, If I die, just say on TV what a loss my death is to humanity and all that sort of good stuff. Don't make it a political thing.

Gaza pullout and Strategic protesting

I am very much in favor of the Gaza pullout, but on the other hand I am very much in favor of protesting it as well. Remember, in cases like this protesting can be (what we game theorists call) strategic.

Sharon's goal is not to pull out. It is to pull out as a concession to the other sides (whomever that may be) so that he gets something in return. The more difficult it appears that it is for Sharon to pull out - because of resistance from within his own camp - the more he looks like he is giving up for the sake of peace or whatever.

The best way to support Sharon, it would reson is to let Sharon do his job and protest it. As a politician it is clear that he couldn't care less about protests (which politician does?), but it appears as if he is taking these bold, politically dangerous, and very generous steps. Next time he is asked to make a concession, he can point to the last time and show how difficult it was for him as an Israeli and a politician to conceede anything, and try to get more out of the deal.

The Palestinians are doing the same thing, only they are playing with live ammo. By showing that accepting only Gaza they are barely satisfying anyone - to the point that they can barely control the terrorist groups, it shows the world how much of a mere drop in the bucket is compared to what they really want.

I guess that that moral of the story is that if you like Israel, wear orange. If people ask for your personal politics, tell them what you really think.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Ecology and the Military

Here is an interesting and important lesson for ecologists that I'll bet you won't hear Greenpeace talking about. (Or this.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Ameriquest sponsors Rolling Stones

So I really don't get this. First why would the Rolling Stones need sponsors? I can't imagine that selling sell-out performances for like $100 a ticket can't cover their expenses and net them a hefty profit? They need sponsors too? How greedy can these hippies be?

But I am OK with greed. It's the American way. Sell out, make money, and act self-righteous.

Apparently it is the British way too.

But this Amriquest, the famous mortgage company obviously tried to capitalize on this "America" theme with its name is now sponsoring the band who is lately famous for insulting the US government.

Again, I am OK with dissent, it is also part of the Amrican way. Come to the US (from England or wherever) make money, sell out, insult the country that let you make all this money, as well as the people who put the government in to place, and act self-righteous.

As little as I like all of this, it is the US and I'll deal. But I got to say, I am glad I had the freedom to choose where my mortgage came from. And I am glad it isn't Ameriquest. I hope they lower the interest rate, you loosers!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

My take on a lot of News this past week

Hassidic Jews apparently have nothing on Saudi Wahabists when it comes to segregating the sexes. Fortunately there are Saudis who are learning how to fight back. Perhaps Hassidic Jews can learn something from all this.

I am certain that I mentioned this to friends a while ago, but apparently two people have now done it. Two straight guys get married for tax benefits. Well straight men and women have been doing it forever. (If I had a nickel for everysoldier I know who got married the day before he entered the Army so he can collect "separation pay", or people who get married on Dec 31 to grab tax benefits for the year. . . ) The moral of the story: abolish tax benefits for married people. Then only people who really love each other will get married. Better yet, abolish civil marriage all together. Why is it the government's business who is shtuping whom? Isn't marraige really a religion's job? Where is the ACLU when you need them? I want my Church and State apart here!

Apparently the state of Oregon is prosecuting for such horrible crimes as wedgies. While I agree that this behavior ought to be criminalized, are we not overprotecting our children? What is this kid (the victim) going to do when he gets in to the real world and has to fend for himself and the law and his mommy are not there to help him. I would never let any kid of mine grow up in a way that shields them from everything he is going to experience as an adult.

Same goes for many cases of sexual harassment. While I applaud the nod toward equality, I can't believe that a man sued for sexual harassment because he felt bullied by some female nurses who said things like "boys are icky" or something like that.

I don't want to sound cruel, but people in Niger will continue to starve until they learn that they cannot have more children than they can feed. The reason why many countries are poor is because the West supports them to the point where everyone lives on just enough to have many more children and get supported by us. I realize that their current condition was caused by a natural disaster (mostly locusts), but it is massively compounded by the fact that they did not have anything to start with, and have more people then they normally know how to feed. Birth control is an integral part of poverty control.

Why are reporters allowed special privlidges with respect to anonymity of their sources. Perhaps we should allow everyone those same rights? Free press is simply the right to take any piece of information you legally acquired and put it in to print. It does not grant you some special immunity from testifying. Why would people think it does? Plenty of reporters managed to get their job done without shielding anonymous sources. And if they can't? So what. There is no constitutional protection making sure that you can do every aspect of your job properly all the time in all cases.

Now that there are products that essentially let you easily choose the sex of your child or at least let you know in time to abort what the sex is, we are going to be in trouble. While I have no real objection to this on moral grounds, it seems like it can be dangerous. Nature does a good job of keeping things random. In China when people did this, and aborted female babies, they are left with millions of males who will never have girlfriends, wives, or sex. This product should be legal, but used with extreme caution.

Apparently, the mainstream media's ignoring of this is a bigger story than the actual scandal, but apparently "Air America" "borrowed" $875,000 from real charities to pay rich people like Al Franken to stay on the air. Them liberals sure know how to stick together, no? Now there are boys and girls clubs who have to wait for their money, while bitching about rich republicans not giving them enough in the first place.

This fucking guy. Let's return his foreskin, kick him out, and call it a day.

Apparently Harry Potter is pretty popular with Gitmo prisoners. I hope we don't start mishandling those. If we flush a copy down the toilet or something God-knows who will start bitching. Also, it seems like these freakish religious loonies were not supposed to read stuff about religious magic and all that. Of course I think we ought to flood Iraq and the rest of the Arab world with copies in Arabic. It might make them chill out a bit more.

Why do we care if some athlete uses steroids? If it is bad for him then he'll suffer, not me. I'll enjoy watching a good game. Let them all use it. A better game for me to watch. Maybe they should have two leagues, like with the XFL and their more liberal rules, where they allow steroids in one and not the other.

Peter Jennings dies. I never really liked him much anyway. Mainstream media is the problem. His death ought to be a metaphor for the big media giants.

Kant and Armstrong

That is Immanuel Kant and Lance Armstrong. I think that Kant would not be pleased seeing all these people walking around with "Live Strong" bracelets. I assume Kant would say that all these people's charity would have no moral worth as it was given to get a bracelet, and not really for giving charity. After all, how many people would have given charity if it were not for getting the bracelet? For Kant, you see, your motive is very important.

And it should be obvious why motives are important. If you think you are giving money to the KKK, and by accident you addressed your check to the Starving Children in Nebraska Fund, you are still a prick, even though your money went for a good purpose. That is because you intended you money to go to a bad place. So what you intend really does matter.

Of course in our case the money still seems to go to charity, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be trendy and wear a bright bracelet, but Kant would have a problem looking at it as a good moral act.

Of course, on a deeper level, one might want to say that the bracelets are not worn to be trendy, but rather as an attempt to psychologyically coerce others to give to charity. After all, everyone knows that people aren't very bright, and they tend to just want to do what other people do, so if everyone openly claims (by wearing the bracelet) that they gave money to a charitable organization, and thus gets others to do it, then perhaps some moral worth can be salvaged from this after all. But not for most people.

Mill, I assume, would ask if the money could have been spent elsewhere in a better way. He would also ask if the money going to the Chinese who make the bracelets is actually helping or hurting the people of China. He would ask if the bracelets are good or bad for the environment. He would want to know if the money is going to somehwere that has any hope of helping people who have cancer. He would ask what value we put on the coolness factor of having the bracelets. He would also ask how much better people feel when they make fun of people who wear the bracelet. He would ask how good it feels to condescend to people who don't. Then he would try to add up all of that in terms of how much it helps and hurts humanity. If it helps more than it hurts, then he would look at it as a good thing. If it is discovered that in the long run humanity is actually harmed by them, then he would find it bad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I spent the morning on the beach here in Miami beach. Lovely place, though pretty dull without the beach. I leave for the airport in about a half hour. Can't wait to be back in NY.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Rest of time in Venezuela

On Friday night "LT" and I went to a club where we had a real good time doing stuff that guys do at clubs. It was fun.

Saturday we went to go see some of the stuff in the main capital square in Caracas. It was a busy square like many others. There were lots of obnoxious vendors. We saw this museum of really kitschy South-American Jesus stuff. We saw what must have been the Abu-Ghraib of the Venezuelan Church of a few hundred years ago. (Some torture chamber in the main Chapel.)

There were lots of book vendors selling these cheesy books on alternative medicine, sandwiched between Spanish translations of Mein Kampf and Michael Moore's Estúpidos hombres blancos.

There was a big truck in the square that the police kept filling up over the course of the day with what must have been drunks and political dissidents.

At night we went to see the movie Kung-fu Hustle. It is in Chinese and it was subtitled in to Spanish. So I understood nothing. But it was still quite a bit of fun. It was actually an enjoyable movie.

Then, we went to the only open bar in Venezuela. Sunday was election day, and so by law the bars could not be open the night before. Apparently they wanted everyone not to be hung-over when they voted. As if that is what keeps people from voting. So we found an illegally open bar and went with 10 of our newest friends and drank a lot and danced till about 3 in the morning. Needless to say I was not awake enough the next day to go vote. I understand they might not have let me anyway. So I am glad I broke that law.

Sunday, after the locals voted, "LT" our Hostess, her daughter, and I drove about 2 hours to their beach-place. We went to the beach and spent Sunday night there and came back on Monday. On the beach we ate fish that must have been caught about an hour beforehand. It was pretty good.

Monday we got home and then "LT" and I went to buy gifts for our hostess and her family. This morning, we took a plane to Miami, where we are now. We should be flying back to NY tomorrow evening.

The Caracas airport is very third world. There are a bunch of taxes they spring on you at the airport, and like 12 lines you have to stand on, only about 3 of which are actually necessary. It was like the airport was designed by a pre-literate people. (Actually, it might have been.)

On the airplane "LT" and I managed to score bulkhead seats with lots of legroom. On the seats next to us was this guy who made sure he didn't go 10 minutes without offering me some of the Jack Daniels from the bottle in his knapsack. There was also an anesthesiologist from Ecuador. Neither spoke English very well, but we managed just fine.

A few observations about Venezuela.

The Venezuelans are very proud of their women. If you are having a conversation with any local and they know you are a visitor it is inevitably less than three minutes before they rhetorically ask you what you think of the women. You are supposed to make a very approving gesture. They will next point out that they have had five Miss Universe winners.

Venezuelan women try very hard to look good. Many even succeed. You can really tell that many try really hard.

A good chunk of the country blame everything on Chavez. He is the current president. Apparently he has been squandering the countries oil wealth on crap. He started by publicly killing some of the opposition, and releasing a good chunk of prisoners and using them as thugs for his party - MVR. If you are poor and a member of his party, you will somehow find a job. If you have ever voiced any opposition, by say, signing a petition or something like that, you get blacklisted from lots of jobs, especially in medicine, academia and government. Under Chavez, according to the people I have spoken to, crime rose, the economy went bad, and the country is getting run to the ground.

Apparently Hugo Chavez fancies himself the reincarnation of Simon Bolivar, the famed liberator of most of South American from colonialism. Chavez renamed everything in the country after Bolivar, including the currency, the airports, etc. ALL the coins have the exact same face of Bolivar on them. It's a bit dull.

The socialist worker's dream has not yet been realized.

There is a good chunk of anti-American sentiment around, but I was pretty shielded from it. It was on TV, radio and other public media.

The country would benefit greatly if we airlifted some common sense in to the place.

They have some pretty good food here. The satandard arrepas and other stuff is pretty good. Though, some of the restaraunts would never pass a health inspection in the US.

It is amazing how poorly the water facilities and the sewage in the country work. Most toilets are not very good. Toilet paper has a rough time time. Water pressure in showers is not up to what your average American is used to.

Finally, I am now pretty certain that Spanish is not a real language. I understood about 30% of what was going on around me. I had exactly zero minutes of Spanish lessons in my life. How did I manage to get things? It is weird.

Friday, August 05, 2005

In Caracas

Yesterday me, "LT" and our hostess (a friend of "LT") climbed a mountain, I think was called Altamera. It was a good climb. There were all sorts of locals there doing it too. Apparently it is an activity here, groups of friends, couples, old people, and kids.

At night first we wenty out for some Chinese food, then we went with a bunch of people out to Las Mercedes (the fancy neighborhood), and to some nice night spot and drank - alot. We then went out for arrepas and more local beer.

My Spanish is improving.

Today we went to the shopping center, and to the capitol, and some famous chapel. We ate in some Italian restaraunt for lunch, and are getting ready for dinner now.

Remind me to talk about the politics here later.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Arrived safely

I arrived here in Caracas safe and sound. I have yet to see much of the place, so I am withoolding judgement. There is a lot of stuff here. People say all sorts of funny things. I think I already saw the seedy district and a political demonstration.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Apparently in Miami there is

Apparently in Miami there is absolutely zero presumption that someone speaks English.

All is well here in

All is well here in Miami international airport. my flight to venezuela leaves in an hour.


I am taking my only real vacation of the summer tomorrow. I'm off to Venezuela for a week. Just to relax. Nothing else.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Google gematria

Did anyone ever notice that gematria for google is 42?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Matt Sherwin at Sidewalk

Last night after some perogies at Odessa on Ave A, I saw Matt Sherwin at Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village. We followed this with "milkies" from the Holy Land grocery on St. Marks. All this was done with "Y" who bought me a pencil from that tzchochke store right next to Odessa.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Today's lecture

I just finished a attending a lecture by an Israeli game theorist.

His talk was rather interesting, though the second half was quite technical. He gave a talk generalizing the solution of Rabbi Natan in the Mishna (Ketubot 93b) regarding the division of an estate in cases where there were multiple claimants and not enough assets. The mishna gives a rather odd solution, and he showed that the solution was completely consistant with (Rashi's interpretation of) the garment solution (where two people claim different percentages of a garment). Generalizing this gets technical and involves the concept of the nucleolous the kernel and Shapley values and other complicated things, but it does generate a unique solution for all bankrupcy cases. Clearly Rabbi Nathan could not have had the generalized solution worked out but the intuition is pretty clever. It is clear now that he had in mind the concept of consistency with the rest of the mishna. Rabbi Nathan's student's had no idea why he proposed it. We do now. Moreover, using this it is possible to have a solution to bankrupcy cases we could not have had until the generalization was worked out. We also now know that there are unique solutions to all of this. There was aslo an interesting physical analogue of the proof.

At lunch he was quite amusing too. We spent an hour telling each other jokes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Last night I went with my dad to see Antony Sher in the Broadway production of Primo, a rough adaptation of Primo Levi's book Survival in Auschwitz (originally called If This Is a Man). The book is often compared with Elie Weisel's Night. I always thought that Levi's book was much starker, much more raw and austere. The book had little in the way of literary flourish or fluff.

The one-man show was the same way. It was roughly a retelling of the story of Levi's tenure in Auschwitz. There was no complex cast interaction, no scenery, beyond the stark walls of a concentration camp and a chair, no fancy costumes. Sher delivered a very good performance. The words rolled off his tongue and he came off like a man resigned to his fate as inmate in a death camp. There was little in the delivery that attempted to evoke a response, leaving that almost entirely to the content.

One powerful moment was when he refers to two people in the context of an interview and states that because of one trivial incident he forever judges them. It was then that the audiences feels the pain of Primo Levi.

There are other memorable phrases from the play (and book) which stick out. He once sees a man praying, thanking God that he was saved from the selection that week. That struck Levi as so absurd. He says that if he were God and he heard that man praying, he would spit in his face.

Thw whole show was 90 minutes, and there was wisely no intermission. It was memorable and worth seeing.

Suspicion in the park

Last night I saw Hitchcock's Suspicion in Bryant Park. I generally try to take in at least one movie there each year. It was a pretty good movie. Originally Hitchcock had a better ending planned, but he went with the lame ending. Apparently, Hollywood didn't want Cary Grant to be evil in a movie. It was, as always, a fun time.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Last night

Last night, "A-" and I were learning, like we often do, fighting a valiant battle with keeping up with the daf. We managed to get a few pages done in Esperanto, and still chat with just about everone in the place - again as usual.

"L" joined us at some point, and did the daf too, though he was a bit ahead of us.

"A-" and I then went for beer afterward. First we went to this crowded snooty place that I could not hanlde in the west village. "A-" snapped the picture on Christopher Street on the way back. We made our way back to the Peculiar Pub, where we had some odd beers, and inadvertantly hit on and got flirted with by two Iraqi sisters (who averaged to pretty cute).

I made it home by 4:00ish. Fun Fun. Fun. New York in the summer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review of An Evil Cradling

Brian Keenan's An Evil Cradling was written by a shit who it was hard to really feel bad for. A man goes from Ireland (where because he lived through things like the massacres of Bloody Sunday (where about 13 people were killed) he thought going through Lebanon (where about 400,000 were killed in the civil war) would be a walk in the park. He has the usual Irish ignorance and ability to over-romanticize the Arab world, and goes to teach English at the American University of Beirut. Against advice he lives off-campus, and gets his ass kidnapped, which he must have known was going to happen. If he didn't, he was too dumb to be teaching in a university anyway.

Even with the benefit of hindsight and the ability to actually read a book on the war, the man has the poorest understanding of the war in Lebanon that I have ever seen in print. He essentially took on the crazed revisionist history of his captors, and saves his harshest invective for Israel, who he takes to be pretty responsible for all the bad things in Lebanon.

(I have not seen anything else about him, but I'd bet anything that even after his ordeal, his politics still matches his countryman - Robert Fisk, and he frequently says stupid things in public.)

That being said, he is not someone I felt too bad for. However, the above two paragraphs were gleaned from isolated sentences and snippets in the book. The bulk of the book was about Keenan's actual ordeal as a captive of one of the Islamic Jihad groups during the Lebanon civil war for about 4 and a half years.

The prose is good and the descriptions are pretty horrifying. It was not a pretty ordeal, and having thought about this once or twice myself, it is not a position I relish finding myself in. He describes in very vivid detail the conditions, treatment, and life of a prisoner of that time and place. He describes himself, and his captors - how they acted, and treated him. There is some psychobabble about his captors here and there, and in a number of flashes of Stockholm Syndrome, he understands them, pities them, and actually identifies with their cause. (Sorry for my own psychobabble there.)

Most importantly, the book is really about friendship. For most of the 4.5 years Keenen was with John McCarthy, also a do-gooder English bloke who was taken captive, ironically after doing a documentary about Keenan. Living together for all that time with no other contact apart from their captors, one learns a lot about what it is to be a good friend. Keenan and McCarthy apparently became tight, and the friendship is well described. Keenan's discussion of his interaction is the soul of the book and also its saving grace.

Despite my introduction, I would recommend people look to this book to get some insight in to male friendships. It is worth understanding better, and there is nothing like a friendship formed in a pressure cooker to test what kind of people we are.