Sunday, February 27, 2005

George Bush

I was just reflecting on the state of the world before George Bush, and on the way it is today. The changes are really interesting. Bush, not just at the beginning of his second term, where he can start effecting real change has already presided over probably the biggest change in world politics since WWII.

The Ukraine just demanded and got a corruption-free election. Lybia is open to the west. Iraq has had elections that were pretty free. Saudi Arabia had elections of some sort. The Palestinians had something like free elections. Lebanon just made demands of Syria. The Egyptians are talking about free elections. Afghanistan had real elections. Israel is about to leave Gaza.

I can't imagine how racist you have to be, how anti-progress you have to be, how unconcerned about the state of liberty and freedom you have to be, to oppose this sort of agenda. One has to have this sort of hyper-selfish, isolationist, me-first and me-only attitude to look at the way the world is and hate the man who presided and encouraged, supported, and partially caused all this to happen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

UN's relevance

In yesterday's WSJ, Kofi Anan tries to justify the UN's continuing relevance. However, what inevitably comes out is that the UN does a lot of feeding hungry children, and little peacekeeping. Perhaps the UN ought to genuinely alter its mission to the world's soup kitchen, instead of the arbiter of world peace. Feeding the hungry is truly noble, and it accurately reflects what the UN is and is not capable of.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A post in which I vent my frustrations. . .

There is very fundamental difference between men and women. It has plagued me so far three times in the past three days, and I am very annoyed. It seems that men rarely acknowledge someone's failure to do something as doing something failingly. Women on the other hand interpret failure to do something as deliberately doing something failingly.

Clearly there are failures that are mainly predicated on omission. For example, if I promise to do something and I fail to do it, I am wrong. If there are conventions that involve exchanges and I get something and then fail to give appropriately, I am guilty. But I am not talking about these normal transactional things.

Apparently there are many inactions that, for women, are open to be interpreted as actions. For example, and this is a big one, failure to call, is a sure sign that men have made some sort of conscience decision to dislike you. (The fact that women don't call is rarely interpreted this way, but that is a different story.)

Men do not think like this. Men believe that there is a fundamental distinction between active and passive. To express displeasure with someone you have to actively do something. Men believe that things will stay the same unless being acted upon, like in physics. Women seem not to have this distinction. You can both do something by doing something, and you can do something by failing to do something.

I find this very perplexing and irritating. Women constantly ascribe beliefs to me that I never imagined having. Do women think that they are so clever that they can figure out what I think by what I failed to do? That is an impressive feat. Men would never have that much hubris. Do women actually signify hate by failure to call? Am I that naive? What the heck is going on here? Don't people realize that I am a VERY busy person, and I do not always have time to call people on some weekly schedule? Do women not know how to call people to say "hello"?

I swear that I usually do not express my hatred of someone by failing to call in a very timely manner. Sometimes I just get too caught up in the other things in my life to call. I have problems too, you know. I have enormous responsibilities. I don't see people being too understanding about those. My problem often involves a very busy day. I wish people would be understanding about that.


Women: get past this. If I hate you, and I really never want to talk to you again, I will call you and inform you of this fact. I am articulate enough to do that. If I do not call you for a while, it is your obligation to call me and tell me that you are aware that I am busy, you have sympathy for me, and you wish you could alleviate my burden, and you will start by being understanding about my temporary forgetfulness and inability to call. That is one option you have. By failing to do that I hold you responsible for any breaking down of any friendships that may occur. It rarely occurs to men to "just call, just to say "hi". Men do not work that way. We can be trained to do that in the context of some sort of relationship, but that will not generally happen naturally, as a rule.

Even in cases where there is something pressing that I should have called about this does not apply. There could be a million reasons I do not call. Do not think that you are clever enough to guess which one applies. You are not.

So to all those female friends I have, call me some time. (You all know who you are.) Do not expect me to realize that I hate you after I have failed to call in a couple of weeks. I will not. Neither will most men.

Who trains you to think like this? Who makes the inference from "Karl failed to do X" to "Karl must believe Y". (Where X and Y are completely unrelated?) That is invalid. I teach logic. I know. That is not a rational way of thinking. If you are not rational, learn. Your irrationality is no excuse. This ought to be a fallacy written up in logic books. Oh, wait, it is. It is called the fallacy of ignorance. (i.e, because you do not have proof that X, you have proof that not X.)

(Sorry for going on. I have been dealing with this non-stop for a few days now, and I hate when people tell me what I think. I have given up.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Books and Gates

On Sunday I saw The Gates that everyone seems to be talking about. I went with "J". It was actually nice, though I cannot understand the hype. I can't imagine dedicating one's life to this. "J" seemed to like it a bit more than I did. However, I realized that I would really like one or two of the curtains to use as drapes. They are the perfect color for my bedroom. (So to the artists, if you read this, I could really use them when you are done.)

"A-" and I then went to the YU annual Seforim Sale. We met up with "C" and took in a class before the sale. I only got one or two things, as I am really cutting on book spending, due tighter shelf-spaces.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Fallout from Lebanon bombing

According to Lebanon's Daily Star various Islamic groups have already blamed the zionists for killing Hariri. According to CNN the information minister is all but rewriting Hariri's stance on the Lebanon-Syria relationship, and well, mostly kissing up to Syria. Most people are still blaming the Syrians for what happened.

As it turns out, on February 7, Hariri came out and said that Lebanon should make a deal with Israel for peace, following Jordan and Egypt.

Outwardly the politicians are calling for calm, but it is hard to know what will happen. The people want blood. The Army has all but declared martial law. This is not a good first step. It means people will be killed on the streets, and those will sounds like first shots.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Bombing in Beirut

Rafik Hariri was assassinated a short while ago. Hariri, a very popular former Prime Minister, recently joined the clamor of voices (including the US and the UN) demanding Syria get out of Lebanon. Most recently in the past few days he has been extremely outspoken, using harsh language, against the Syrians.

I found no reports about who did it, but it seems all to obvious that it was the Syrians. It is very much their style, and in their interest.

The obvious worry now is that Lebanon will revert to civil war, which of course is what the Syrians want. Perhaps I am a bit less worried than most, though I am unsure why.

A bit of background: Lebanon had a 15 year civil war lasting from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. Basically is was the Christians versus the Moslems. The Palestinians fought with the Moslems. Israel was involved briefly to help the Christians, and the US was in even more briefly to keep the peace. The Syrians came in initially to help the Christian maintain power, and then switched to helping the Moslems win. Israel pulled out after about one summer when the man they were working with, Bashir Gemayel, then the elected President, was assassinated, and the Christians (most likely with the encouragement of Syria, and officially within the context of an "occupation" by Israel) massacred many Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla. The US pulled out after a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Marine barracks, and it looked like the country did not want US help in stabilizing. Syria never left.

Syria always considered Lebanon as part of "greater Syria", and is the major power player in the region. Nothing happens there politically unless Syria approves. Syria continues to harbor and train the various terrorist groups that operate South Lebanon against Israel.

Syria has been under increasing pressure to get out of Lebanon, and the myth (most of us think) that they have been spreading for the past 10 years is that if Syria were to leave Lebanon, the civil war would start. Syria tells Lebanon that it is keeping the peace, and thus many Lebanese (who have no great love for Syria) feel they need to keep Syria there.

The fear is that 1) Syria is right, or 2) Syria might arrange for this to be right or 3) it might be right because of what Syria has been saying. Alternatively Lebanon might be past this.

The civil war did not end because there was a victor, nor did it end because there was a resolution to the problems. It seems it ended because there was not enough internal energy to keep the flames of war up on either side. So there is no reason to assert with confidence that they will not flare up again. It has been only 13 or so years since the war ended. Most of the population still remembers the 300,000 Lebanese dead.

This may be Syria's way of testing those waters and upping the ante.

There is one lesson that everyone learned from the Lebanon civil war. That is: do not get involved in the Lebanon civil war. The Syrians were the real victor and the Lebanese were the clear looser. Israel was the other looser, as was the US, and most importantly was increased Middle East stability.

The Sunni in Lebanon cannot really let this pass without doing anything. This was perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to the country. The only upshot though is that there cannot really be two sides to this civil war. There are too few people left in the country who really support the Syrians. Perhaps someone will take it upon themselves to start killing some of the 14,000 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon.

Al-Jezeera (according to MSNBC) is reporting some new unheard of Islamic fundamentalist group claimed credit for this. Some group called "victory and Jihad in greater Damascus" has claimed credit and Syria has denounced this as "terrorism". (Everyone is still believing it was Syria. It is common to blame things you did, but can't take credit for, on fictitious Islamic fundamentalist groups.) The word on the street is of course (surprise, surprise) that it is the Israelis who did this, despite the fact that Israel has nothing to gain and even a little to loose from this.

The people in Lebanon are worried.

UPDATE: I just realized that Saturday is Ashoora. Ashoora is a holiday where the death of Ali in the battle of Karbala is mourned. It tends to be a day where Muslims get a bit worked up. I hope that it is not the day where things will explode.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hate Sites

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency is running an a piece today on a "hate group" who has a forum on Orcut. (Orcut, for those of you who don't know, is the new Friendster.*)

Apparently Jews still feel a need to respond to this sort of stuff. If there is an antisemite somewhere, there is a need to complain. Then there has to be committees and appropriate responses, and letters to the editor, etc.

This is dumb.

So I checked out the group mentioned in the article and it has a grand total of (drumroll please. . .) 15 members, (mostly Arabs, Iranians, and Brazilians) and 3 recent posts. Orcut has in total (according to my quick estimate) over 880,000 groups. I am not sure this would rate as even moisture in the bucket, let alone a drop.

Apparently some of the member of Jewish organizations have fired off letters to Google who owns Orcut, and also Blogger. They want Google to take this site down.

I am pretty baffled as to why some major Jewish organizations care about whether there are a dozen kids who don't like Jews out there. I am perplexed as to why they think that writing these letters is called "fighting anti-semitism". I always thought that the best way to fight anti-semitism was to have Jews be good Jews. If Jews were to be a positive force for the world, and the planet, then there is little for anyone to gripe about. If they do, screw them.

Censoring some 18-year olds from Iran will not help the cause of freedom anywhere. It will just make them believe that 1) The Jews control the internet, and 2) America (the country of Orcut) is about as rife with censorship as their crappy country. Why bother reforming if freedom is censorship too?

Jewish organizations need to justify their existence in the same way any political machine needs to - they show you that there are many problems out there. If there are many problems, then we need big organizations to fix them. (That is why politicians, especially Democrats, never tell you good news, only bad.) Jewish groups have to look around and find every little thing, blow it up, call it an "incident" and file a big complaint, change the world, and look like dorks in the process (remember the recent ADL condemnation of Borat?).

As Jews, this should really be our biggest problem - a handful of Arabs wondering if Bush's friendship with the Saudis is more dangerous than his friendship with the Jews (an actual post on the Orcut site).

I hope they don't go after Blogger next. I am sure there is plenty of blogs by people who don't like Israel or something. (Maybe you should try to have this site shut down because today I don't like you.)

To Brian Marcus, director of Internet monitoring for the Anti-Defamation League, who plans on doing something about this: Get over it, pal, and start spending the ADL's money on something useful, like maybe getting computers in to Yeshivas, getting good Jewish content on the net, or something more general, like making people feel happy about being Jewish instead of being paranoid that a kid in Brazil doesn't like them.

*I do not have accounts with either of these, but some of my best friends and alter egos do.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Debate on gifts

I wonder which type of gift is better, a permanent one, or one that gets used up.

I can see arguments for both.

A permanent gift, like say a souvineer, from a place you visited, has certain advantages, the main one, being that it is permanent and the recipient will have it for a while. Thus of the giver has some meaning, and you are sentamental about things you might mourn the death of flowers, and the fading of memory of the occassion of the gift.

On the other hand, if it is a bad gift (and I am sure that many of those are given each day) the recipient does not want to have it for a long time.

A temporary gift, like say flowers or candy is more ephemeral, and thus you do not have to live with it if it is ugly or just not something you want to live with. Also, sometimes you really do not want to remember the giver of the gift for very long, and you feel bad actually throwing away a perfectly good teddy bear or whatever. But once it is gone, it is gone. Once you ate the chocolates, there is no more gift.

People have different preferences. I have to give this some more thought. Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ayn Rand at 100

There are a bunch of books that every thinking high school kid needs to read while he or she is playing hookey. Among them are Siddartha, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance, 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, The Ugly American, Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher in the Rye, and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. These books are not to be read for their literary merit, nor for their brilliant or deep philosophical arguments. Rather, these books are to be read to inspire. That is why they need to be read by the youth, while they are still youth.

There are movies that do this too. I would count Dead Poet's Society, or perhaps Pump Up the Volume, as two.

Today would be the 100th birthday of Ayn Rand, the author the last book on the list. Reading her works when you are old must sound like someone is screaming at you for 10 hours straight. She comes on hard and straight forward, most likely in an annoying way. But for me and generations before me, and hopefully generations to come, her work had the ability to inspire. Who didn't want to be an architect after reading The Fountainhead. How many people still ask the question "Who is John Galt?". Who didn't want to buck the system, be an individual, create something beautiful, and live their own lives? Whether you like her or not, this is what her books do, and for that alone she will live on in the hearts of millions and the one who gave us a passion.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

2 ideas for the price of none

Natalie Angier whom I am told is a rather competent writer, was asked to speak for the Ethical Cultural Society about something or other.

Her talk was a rather uninteresting one about atheism and children. Essentially she plans on, and actually is, rearing her child as an atheist. I have no real qualms with that. After all we all tend to impart our beliefs on our children, and when it comes to deities, zero is as good as any other arbitrary number of deities that you can believe in. I feel very strongly about this because first, I too have little reason to think there is a God out there, and two, here in the US, whether or not you believe in god is a rather benign belief. Sure it is unpopular, but you are not likely to start a genocide because you are an atheist.

But, I think it was Richard Dawkins who once claimed that pointing to a young child and saying "look" at that little Christian" is akin to saying "look at that little liberal". And at least in the case of Christians, where you are one IF you believe, they both sound like ridiculous utterances. An child who has no religious ideas whatsoever has no business being called a believer. But, and this is where I take umbrage with Angier, neither does the child have any business being labeled a liberal.

Angier talks as if she believes that beliefs come in packages. Being an atheist comes bundled with living in a blue state, hating George Bush, sympathizing with every bit of liberal nonsense that comes along, etc. It is entirely possible that she has given real thought to this atheism thing. But what is less apparent is that she has given any real thought to political beliefs. For her, it seems she bought in to some package of beliefs because one of them sounded convincing.

She assumes that because her audience is likely to be sympathetic with her atheism, they are also likely to be sympathetic wither he lefty politics. For all I know this may be true and her audience might be making the same errors she is making, but it sounds really presumptuous.

The rest of us have to think about all of our beliefs. It is annoying when others only have to think about one and assume they can slip in all the others. Beliefs are independent from one another. Just because you are not a fan of God does not mean you have to like Kerry or Nader or Dean, or Saddam, or Stalin, or Chomsky, or Che, any other darling of the left.

In case Angier wants to know, It is pretty clear why atheists are unpopular in most places. Because for her, and probably many others, atheism is really just a code word for "rabid arrogant liberal". Perhaps it is not your lack of faith the red staters despise, but rather all the other dogma that your non-deity makes you believe in.