Monday, May 30, 2005

French Philosophy

I just got the following email from some group of French "philosophers":
If you can read French, go directly to:

French philosophers fight back!
Determined to oppose the slanderous campaign which followed the publication of the outrageous essay by Emmanuel Faye (insinuating Martin Heidegger to have inspired Hitler and Heydrich), some of the most eminent french philosophers, translators and experts of Heidegger's works and thought, answer online in a special project put out on the website dedicated to litterature and philosophy entitled "Paroles des Jours".

A manifesto in 13 languages :

is being sent to departments of philosophy and philosophical sites all over the world.
Sorry if you already received it or if you don't feel involved.

I then realized why France produces such crap that it calls "Philosophy". The reason is that they spend so much time sucking up to their heros that they have no time for real original thinking.

In contrast take analytic Anglo-American philosophy. The hero for us is Frege. Frege started philosophy of language, modern logic, philosophy of mathematics, then philosophy of mind. Frege was also a proto-Nazi. He was a virulent anti-Semite, and anti-Catholic. That is all clear. We know this because he left over a diary where he wrote some real bizarre things (only recently translated to English by someone I know). Is what he said defensible? I am sure with the right twists of logic (which would be real ironic) you can construe him as not evil. But for analytic philosophers, that is hardly the point. Maybe he was a bad guy, maybe he wasn't. Who cares? A philosopher is supposed to really be above that. In France they have not gotten past this hero worship. In France, and Germany too, it is way more important for a philosopher to believe in the goodness of the greats than to do philosophy. That is the equivalent of talking about the sex lives of politicians and calling yourself a political theorist. Political theory is about countries and their interactions, etc. Philosophy is about arguments, not their proponents. The sooner the continent stops confusing gossip with thought, the better off they will be.

Added 6/8/05: As if French philosophers don't hero worship enough, a book about the film of Derrida just came out with the complete screenplay.

Also, keep in mind that Faye's book was not even the only book this year to come out on this topic. A more apologetic reading was given by James Phillips. (Though this book actually contains philosophy, not just comments about Heidegger.) Moreover, Heidegger was also the subject of a well received "documentary" The Ister.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

On life support

Please pray for the health of my cactus.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On Reading and Learning

As most of my friends know, I see little value in reading. Most books are really not worth it. I do not think that one's "soul" somehow gets "enlightened" by "literature". I do not think that one is somehow "bettered" by having mentally processed all the words in some "great novel". I am not impressed by people who read many books.

I am eternally grateful when a very popular novel is made in to a movie so that I can get the idea of what everyone is reading without having to actually read the damned book. Reading is often tedious, and generally time consuming. I only have a certain amount of reading time per week, and I have very strict priorities there.

Personally if find great pleasures in finding things out. I like understanding how the universe works. I like knowing what happened in the past. I really take great pleasure in grasping a new philosophical argument.

However, I have no idea why I should have to be forced to sit through endless prose to do it.

Mind you there are some things where the challenge is to figure out the text. Some math problems are there to be solved, and you couldn't care how the problem is stated, you just want to see if you can work out the solution. But sometimes, you just really care about the text. Like when one reads the Bible, sometimes figuring it out is the interesting part. One who sees the movie is missing the real interesting stuff there, namely the nuance. The Talmud, is the same way, one cannot simply see the film version (not that there could be one) the joy is in actually making your way through the tangled prose, and deciphering the complex logic. Many people want to just know what the books say, but that is a lesser adventure.

But in the general case actually reading the book does not seem all that important. That is why I am finding the Times' article about reading versus audio books so odd. Some people are displaying an odd prejudice against them. People who for whatever reason want to get to know the contents of a book should take it in, in the way they feel most comfortable.

When I was in first grade I wrote a science fiction short story (which has since been lost) in which students learned by injection. This is as reasonable a way as any to take in a book. If it works, why not. I wish I could just upload a few hundred books in to my brain and save myself the trouble of actually reading them.

Currently, the written word, the "printed page" in all its manifestations are our best medium for transmitting knowledge, but by far not our only one. People should make sue of whatever makes them happy, and authors should be grateful that people care about their books at all. There is a lot of competition for people's reading time given the billions of books out there, and if someone is listening to your book, you ought to be happy. Few books (and in my opinion, almost no fiction whatsoever) is that great that it is worth reading if the experience would be too tedious.

As an aside, I do love books. I own many, and I am very proud of my collection. But I do not see why I ought to read many of them. I own them for my own pleasure. It is an aesthetic thing, not a literacy thing.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Star Wars

Last night I went out to see Star Wars Episode III. The film has so far invited many political comparisons. If you are a left winger then it seems that the Empire are the Republicans: Liberty dies with the consent of the governed (to a thunderous applause), and you are either with us or against us. It seems that if you are a right winger then the Empire is the UN and Palpatine is Kofi Annan, attempting to increase UN strength with an inneffectual fighting force and do-gooding pretenses, all in the name of consolidating power for yourself and family without much regard for the democracies that exist, all with an attempt to grab power for those small dictatorships which pepper the galaxy and oppress their own countries.

Either way this assumes that you are viewing the Empire as evil and the Republic as good. In our multicultural world where we are taught to view things from the prospective of the other side, this is a rather dangerous way of looking at things. Jonathan Last made the case after Episode II that the empire is not the bad guy. After this new episode, he is obviously even more correct. We have no reason to assume that Palpatine is really "bad", or that the Jedi are really good.

A Bunch of anti-Chancellor elitists deciding on what really counts as democracy and mocking the system that produced it, are about as anti-democratic as they comes.

There is nothing sicker than a state that gets children and raises them to become warriors from birth. Who raises children from youth to become state slaves with no ego, no desire for family, friends, real relationships, property, etc? Beside Stalin, I can’t think of any.

We are confronted with two differing views of how to achieve peace in the galaxy. One offered by the Empire, a repressed group that eventually made a comeback, perhaps like a small struggling democracy or religion, and the Republic, which seems to have lost its moral compass when it refused to allow the machinery of democracy to work the way it was supposed to, and gave too much power to the shadowy warriors who thought they alone had the best interest of the galaxy in mind.

We can just imagine if Ralf Nader, Michael Moore, George Soros, and Yoda were secretly in charge of the US, and commanded a secret army that answered to no one and had limitless resources at their disposal. I'd turn to the "dark side too", and so would most of this country, if they valued democracy.

The Republic seems to be inhabited by a world of princes and inherited royalty. I saw no democracy on any planets. I just saw a few corrupt planets, and a council of privilege (Jimmy Smits was Royal Highness) and princesses all over.

People do value family, and democracy, but there is no reason to assume that when all the smoke clears, the Sith are not better positioned to give it to the galaxy. We saw a council (yes, the one Anakin killed for some unknown reason. Was there a revolt afoot? Were they in league with the empire? Were they the Jedi of the Empire? Who knows). There is no sense that the Empire was all about enslaving the people or anything like that. Calling the 20 years under the empire a "tyranny" is fine, but some of my best friends spoke that way of the 8 year rule of Bill Clinton, and some of my better friends still talk about the sick facist state that Guiliani ran in New York for 8 years. So I'm not all that impressed with tyranny talk. I had a great time under Guiliani’s New York.

Seeing a story from one side is called propaganda. Star Wars, all six of them, is essentially Jedi propaganda. All the lacuna about the position of the Empire on the issues are lacking, and we are clearly not getting a balanced picture here.

We see the one second clip of Samuel L Jackson watching Anakin killing the children in the "temple". We do not really know what happened in the temple. Perhaps Anakin told them to come with him to the dark side and they blindly refused, and all attacked him? Given the film's reluctance to show us too much of the events, when showing them would have been great propaganda, we must assume that what they omitted was damaging to the credibility of the Republic. As the audience found out, which moments of a battle you see determines your perspective on the whole thing. What we saw of Anakin in the Temple is just like what Anakin saw in the Chancellor’s office.

Child soldiers!?!, using a "temple" as a religious training base!?!, both things currently violate our Geneva conventions. What barbarian thought this system up? The Empire would never do that.

Keep in mind that the clone army was commissioned in the name of the Republic (and fought for them until they were commanded to do otherwise) and was built, in all its barbarism by a planet in the Republic sphere of influence, most likely a member of the council. (Clearly a Sith-aligned planet would not build what they thought to be a Republic army.)

Palpatine’s humanity though was touching. When he takes Darth Vader, after he is limbless, burnt to a crisp, and left for dead by the enemy, and rebuilds him. Most clichéd bad guys would have put Anakin out of his misery then and there, and left in disgust as the best student was defeated by the enemy. Palpatine could have found a new protégé. But instead he took pity on Anakin and rebuilds him. That is more than we saw anyone in the Republic do. They didn’t even look like they tried too hard to save the princess who died in childbirth. They gave some lame excuse about loosing the will to live and let her just die, while taking care to preserve the children to become future warriors for the cause.

There is also no reason to assume that Anakin’s plea for a trial for Palpatine wasn't genuine. If there truly was a danger to the empire, it would have come out. Palpatine was in no position to argue, and Anakin could have helped restrain him. (If you think Anakin’s motives were selfish, he could have gotten the teachings from Palpatine while he was on trial, and no doubt a place as obviously enlightened as the Republic did not have the death penalty. So there would have been plenty of time to visit him in Jail while sorting this whole mess out.)

No doubt viewers of this Jedi piece of propaganda are supposed to learn some lesson about finishing off your evil enemy lest he come up and rise against you. Perhaps a bit less ruthlessness on the part of the Jedi and more diplomacy would have averted the tragic events of Star Wars, ESB, Return of the Jedi, where countless lives were lost. Oh wait, I forgot, Sith lives don’t count. They are not really as human as us.

Taking every scene in your "film" which portrays the other side using low lighting, and only showing the small internal power struggles, and making those out to be the essence of the way the Empire behaves is akin to taking all the misspeaks of George Bush and assuming that our whole foreign policy rises or falls on the pronunciation of the word "nuclear".

Added: It is becoming clearer that Palpatine has an alternative vision of peace apart from the Republic. His goal is apparenlty to unite the Republic and the Sith/Seperatist-allied states under one banner in peace (ie, the first Glactic Empire). Anakin's assasination of the seperatist leaders is an effective way to end seperatism without a costlier war. How do you convince people who want to dominate that they have to unite? (Think about the Sunni in Iraq now.) He needed to get rid of the Jedi for the same reason. The Jedi was an army that was stuck in the old way of thinking. (Think of today's CIA.) Palpatine knew that it would be impossible to take a group and make them obsolete with peace. They will keep on insisting that war is necessary and do whatever they can to perpetuate the conflict with the Sith. If they have no enemies, they have no power. Thus their anihiliation was also necessary.

(Just an aside, but with all their technology, why didn't Padme know she was having twins? And thaty hadn't invented birth controll? I can't believe that their decision to have children was deliberate. That is certainly not the impression we get.)

(Another aside: Was it me, or do we have good reason to suspect that Obi Wan might have had something going on on the side with Padme? He spent too much time talking to her given the fact that he didn't know about her involvement with Anakin. He was also a bit too concerned about her kids, one of which (ie, the boy) he kept an eye on.)

Sunday, May 22, 2005


I just heard Suzanne Malveaux on CNN refer to the Western Wall as "A very important cite for Israeli Jews".

Jesus is probably a very important person for Italian Christians, and the Eiffel Tower is a very important structure for Parisian Frenchmen.

And while we're at it, does CNN know the difference between editorials and news? Barbara Ferguson is just waxing lyrical about how the US used to be the darling of the Arab world until we invaded Iraq.

Hello CNN: 1. This is false, and 2. It is not news, it is editorializing.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The nature of Mathematicis

I bet this is news to lots of mathematicians.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Patriotism and bad faith

Conservative Philosopher links to a quote of Simon Keller on Patriotism as bad faith. I beg to differ and offer a different take on patriotism. I admit I have no fully worked out theory, but I thought it was worth a shot.

One way to look at patriotism is to consider patriotic loyalty as a social compact. Patriotism can be viewed as a manifestation of an understanding of reciprocity between a large number of individuals. These individuals are bound to some agreement of reciprocal altruism as enforced by a commonly understood and agreed upon system of rules and governance.

So, I can love my country because it enforces a set of understandings about how we can cooperate with each other – in a way that perhaps is beneficial to all. Conversely, one may be xenophobic because she has no reason to believe that a foreigner believes that he is bound by the same set of rules as my fellow countrymen. The foreigner may defect in a way that your own countryman would have a much greater difficulty doing.

It seems pretty easy to believe that others around you are bound by certain rules and standards, while people who are from different places are not. Deciding to support, even blindly support, people with whom you have an enforced pre-existing trust-relationship seems a lot wiser than supporting people who might have a strong incentive to defect against you, and a weaker disincentive not to.

There seems to be little question about bad faith unless there is a prior presumption and agreed upon understanding of good faith. In the case of a foreigner, (whom the patriot may seemingly arbitrarily like less) there is no understanding of what it would be to act in good faith. Good faith is relative to a common system of practices. It is easy to act with good faith toward a fellow citizen, as there is an accepted standard, and as a last resort, an agreed-upon enforcement procedure. It is much harder to act in good faith in the absence of both.

This is of course for patriotism on a scale of preferring your countrymen versus those individuals of other countries, eg, in cases of who to give preference to in admission to your universities, who to give charity to, or who to invite to your parties. But does it cover the cases of preferring the policies of my country versus the policies of other countries?

Yes, it applies here too. The assumption is that the policies of your country are designed to look after your best interest and the policies of other countries are designed to look after the best interests of their citizens.

It is the same problem. I have a reason to prefer (even blindly prefer) the policies that are designed to look after my best interest over those of another’s best interest in the absence of any external agreed-upon and enforced standard of good faith. One would have to be foolish to promote the best interest of another when it is at her own expense.

Even promoting “the good” is not an option in the absence of outside constraints enforcing the good that has been promoted, regardless of who benefits.

So patriotism does not seem to be, either on the level of the individual or on the level of the country, a bad faith concept. Bad faith only makes sense where there is a mechanism for good faith. Given the diversity of views that exists in an international setting, it is hard to argue that there is a common enough concept of good faith to make patriotism a bad-faith concept.

Koran-verse toilet paper?

Here is a key difference between the way Westerners seem to think and the way that the Arab/Muslim world seems to think: Westerners believe in principles. The Arab/Muslim world does not.

Westerners believe that if something is right or wrong, then it is right or wrong for everyone. Things are either universally right or universally wrong. Arabs/Muslims believe no such thing. They believe that there are things that are wrong to do to them, and there is never any reason to generalize that belief.

Many Westerners for example are Christians. They believe that everyone ought to respect Christianity. They then realize that to get Muslims to respect Christianity, they have to have Christians showing respect to Muslims. This then gets generalized to “people ought to respect the religion of others”.

Muslims on the other hand believe that everyone ought to respect Islam. They realize that if they want to see this happen they have to make everyone respect Islam by force. Ultimately this gets generalized to “everyone must respect Islam, regardless of what Islam says about you”. This is very different from the Western model.

One can see many examples of this. Take the recent Koran in the toilet incident. Muslims believe that everyone must respect the Koran. Westerners believe the same thing. However, Westerners believe this as the product of a principle that derives from our need to respect the important symbols of others, perhaps because we respect them and perhaps, more cynically, because we want them to respect ours. Muslims believe that people ought to respect the Koran because it is a sacred symbol of Islam, regardless of how Islam treats their sacred symbols. There are few Muslims who have any compunction about, say, burning the American or Israeli flag – both symbols that are pretty sacred to their respective peoples. Muslims do not have a principle that claims that one ought to respect others, only that one ought to respect Muslims.

A second example: The Arab world expects Israel to do the right thing and recognize the Palestinians and their state. This comes from the universal belief that everyone ought to recognize the rights of the Palestinians, regardless of what the Palestinians do. When an American looks at this she is thinking that we need to recognize the right of Palestinians because any people ought to be recognized, and are entitled to a free state. Arabs have no interest in granting statehood to peoples. Israel was created over 50 years ago and has never been recognized as a state by the Arab world (outside the context of the two specific peace treaties). So Arabs have an interest in promoting their state, not any general concept of peoples who have rights to states.

A few weeks ago I posted a response to an op-ed by Rami Khouri. That piece essentially said that there were a lot of things that are important to the Arab/Muslim world and the US was ignoring them – to the detriment of the US. For example, Khouri claimed that Arabs need to perceive that what countries are doing has international legitimacy. The US had no international or moral legitimacy, and thus they are unwelcome in Iraq. I responded by pointing out that international legitimacy is not important to the Arab world, as we can see from a whole slew of examples. There was no international UN sanctioned coalition with the Arabs when they invaded Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, or 1973. Khouri was playing on our beliefs in principles. The principle that Arabs really believe in is that there ought to be international consensus when invading one of their countries.

Khouri was deliberately lying to us. Khouri knows that Westerners will look favorable on any idea that seems to invoke principles that apply to all equally. That seems to be the meaning of fair. (Under a Rawlsian veil of ignorance we would only want an invasion of Arab territory if there was an international consensus.) So he took some Arab complaints and claimed that they were really instantiations of general Arab principles. He then got all Arabs who read it to say “yeah! That’s what we believe!”. When in reality what they believe is the rule as it applies to this specific case.

It is very clever, but rather insidious and ultimately a bunch of deliberate lies. Westerners look at Arab/Muslim claims and reproach themselves for failing to live up to general principles that all take sacred, and Muslims get to feel self-righteous for having these humane principles that the West tramples.

It is smarmy because what Westerners really believe is that they ought to always reciprocate: if you respect me, I’ll respect you. Westerners then turn this in to a general principle of all respecting all. The Arab/Muslim world skips the reciprocity step, and just demands the general respect that falls out of western principles. Westerners do not realize that anyone could skip reciprocity, and wonder what we are doing wrong and how we could fail to respect the rights of non-Westerners.

Westerners need to wake up and realize that we are not dealing with a culture like our own. If the Arab/Muslim world wants our respect and wants us to care about things like torturing their prisoners, or using the Koran as toilet paper, they need to start showing us the same respect. We need to realize that until we demand this, we ought not to care about those things. We cannot afford not to provide a disincentive to that part of the world not to respect us.

Muslims and Arabs need to realize that respect is a two way street. Someone is going to start manufacturing toilet paper with verses from the Koran in English and Arabic and sell it on the internet. It will be funny to Westerners who think that Christians and Jews are not welcome in their countries, so they really don’t care what the inhabitants think. It will be even funnier when the great toilet-paper fatwas start flying.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Koran Toilet Incident

By now we have all heard about the Newsweek report that claimed that a US soldier flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet in an effort to anger some Guantanamo detainees in to talking. Later, Newsweek backed down from the story after it found out that it was probably not true.

But before the retraction, 15 people were killed in angry anti-US rallies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Way to go Newsweek! You don't just report the news, you just orchestrated a massacre.

I find it odd that suddenly Pakistanis are taking the US media as true, and assuming that we are being true and unbiased. The countess reports of the way that the US initially handled the prisoners were apparently ignored. They were all provided with Korans, and food that would not offend any of them. They were given guard who were sensitive, etc. All that is discarded because we have one reporter who knows he can manipulate lots Islamic fundamentalists to demonstrate more hatred of America than they already do.

I wonder how the rioters feel now. They were duped by the American media and they killed 15 people, and injured dozens of others over a mistake. I couldn't live with myself if I was part of that.

Also, I find it hard to take seriously a people who routinely publicly burn American Flags, a rather sacred symbol to millions of us here in the US, and then whine and cry when they believe that the same thing is happening to them. (Something about going around and coming around comes to mind here.)

incidentally, I happen to own a copy of the Koran. I am very tempted to flush it down a toilet after seeing what I just saw. One of the great things about American capitalism is that you can buy any book you want and flush it down your toilet. I highly recommend it. It is probably a very liberating experience.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

EEOE/AAE acronyms and the APA

The American Philosophical Association puts out a periodical that lists jobs for philosophers. It is unimaginatively called Jobs for Philosophers. On the front cover it has definitions of abbreviations. Among the nine acronyms it defines are Asst. Prof. and Assoc Prof., whose meanings should be quite obvious to anyone at the stage in their lives whtere they are applying for a job in the academic world. (The periodical is in English and mosly has jobs in English-speaking countries, so it is not for people who are unfamiliar with our abbreviations.) It then defines AOC and AOS and CV which are useful to know, though should not be surprising.

What baffles me are the final four though: AA/EOE, EO/AAE, EO/AA, and EEOE/AAE. These stand for, respectively: Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer, Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer, Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer, and Equal Employment Opportunity Employer/Affirmative Action Employer.

Can anyone tell me what the difference between these four are? And what is the deal with the last one? I don't even think it makes sense.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Yom HaAtzmaut

Hag Sameach.

I am spending today bogged down with allergies. It is awful. I suspect that my medicine is not really working that well this season. Been very busy. Life is hectic.

I have some big thing tomorrow relating to my schoolwork. I am all nervous.

I can't wait till the semester ends. I need some rest.

Friday, May 06, 2005

New Eruv in town: Attempted Halachic Change in Flatbush

A day or two before Passover hundreds or perhaps thousands of Orthodox Jewish households in the Flatbush part of Brooklyn got a small book in the mail. The book was half in Hebrew and half in English. It was essentially a defense of the new eruv put up in Flatbush. (This debate has been around for a while. About a year ago there was a whole to-do about this with ads in the Jewish Press, etc.)

Orthodox Jews do not carry objects outside their houses on the Sabbath. An eruv is an artificial enclosure (usually done by stringing a wire around the area, thus “enclosing” it) which, as a legal fiction, transforms a “public domain” in to a “private domain”. If the outside area which is enclosed in this eruv becomes a “private domain” then Orthodox Jews will allow themselves to carry objects from their homes to the outside. This represents a large convenience for the Orthodox communities which have them. Most orthodox communities all over the world are surrounded by eruvs.

Flatbush has an eruv. It has had one for around 30 years. The eruv was put up and sponsored by the Young Israel movement. However, among a large portion of the Orthodox (at least those who do not consider themselves to be modern-orthodox) the eruv never gained acceptance.

The major reason for the eruv not being accepted was that when the eruv was initially conceived, Rabbi Moses Feinstein, unarguably the most widely respected halachic authority in the US of his time, ruled that for various technical reasons such an eruv would not be kosher in that part of Brooklyn. An eruv, to be kosher, has to meet certain technical requirements. One of the requirements limits the number of people who pass through the areas that it encloses. (An area can reasonably be called a “private domain” if there are hundreds of thousands of people who pass through it daily.) Parts of Brooklyn that are encompassed by the eruv (or have streets that are feed in to them by certain large streets), do not meet this requirement.

But there is a new eruv up in Flatbush. This has been causing controversy for some time. Many may recall the fights over the eruvs in Boro Park (which is fairly widely accepted among the Hassidic communities) and in Williamsburg. Both of these led to actual verbal and physical altercations. All of these eruvs are the victims of constant sabotage. (The theory behind the sabotage is that if you sabotage the eruv it will not be used because it is not up, so you win by not having people carry, even if they are doing so for your reason and they still believe you can.) I am told that students of a certain school which I am an alumni of are quite active in the sabotage of the new Flatbush eruv.

So the booklet that came in the mail was anonymous. It is widely believed to be the work of RH who is the most outspoken supporter of this new eruv, and is both learned and has the financial resources produce this. The book is well produced, and the timing was perfect. It was sent out just before Passover when people would have three days off to read it, and the rabbis who are opposed would not have nearly enough time to formulate a coherent response. And in Flatbush people were reading it over Passover.

The book made a strong case that 1) the eruv was kosher, and 2) Moses Feinstein would accept it today. Finally there was a long and impressive list of rabbis who actually endorsed the view that the book was espousing.

The fact that that the book was both in Hebrew and English said that it was both respectable for scholars and also for the lay person. The long list of rabbis indicated that even if you are merely a rabbi follower and don’t know much, you should take the conclusion seriously. The fact that it wa well produced made it look like it was from some one(s) who had their act together, and the fact that it was anonymous made people want to know who it was, and hence there was more discussion about it. (It was actually put out by something like “The organization to fix the eruv in Greater Flatbush”.)

Here is not the place to examine the technical merits of the case. Nor am I really qualified. (nor do I have the book in front of me right now.) But it would be interesting to follow this development. This would be an interesting case of Halachic change.

Jewish law, like all law, is very conservative by nature. Once a law gets established, it is very hard to change it, regardless of the facts that one later finds out. Laws built upon scientific mistakes get kept. It is just the way the law works. (The equating of electricity with fire or “building” are both laughable, but it is still prohibited on the Sabbath.) It will only change if there is a very strong movement on the part of people who generally otherwise follow Jewish law to change it. And this happens, but rarely. (The great Jewish historian Jacob Katz documents instances of this in some of his books.)

I find it odd for someone to attempt to orchestrate halachic change, but I guess it has to start somewhere. In this case it is happening from within the community, which is the only way it has a chance of working. I am curious to see how this turns out.

This will have a real impact on the community either way. If people do change over the next few years, then the culture will be different than it is now. You can expect more women at Sabbath prayers now that they can carry their children and bring carriages. You can expect a very different feel to the community now that they can interact in different ways – like they can carry food from one house to another. Keep in mind this is one of the strongest Orthodox communities in the world, so its impact will be deep. If this does not get off the ground, there will be repercussions too. The rabbis that signed on will loose some credibility. The anti-eruv group will feel vindicated and become stronger. It will prevent an eruv attempt in Flatbush for quite some time thereafter. The whole thing may just serve to polarize the community even further. Lord knows that Jews have enough of that.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

British Elections

Today is election day in England. I totally forgot to send letters to some Brits telling them how to vote. Tomorrow remind me to put up the headline "How can the 2,149 people in England who voted be so dumb?". While I am at it, I have some advice about what they can do with their royal family.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sunday morning F Train

Yesterday morning at around 5:45 AM I was waiting for the F train at the Jay Street station when suddenly, out of nowhere, this wheelchair comes rolling down the stairs followed by this homeless (or just a little-bit crazy) guy hobbling behind. When the wheelchair hit the bottom of the stairs it did what all things with wheels do when they hit the bottom of stairs – it started to roll.

As the chair started to roll down it headed for – you guessed it – the tracks. The voice from the stairs emitted the oddest sounding “Oh no” you ever heard. And a second later me and this other guy just about run in to each other head-on each trying to grab the wheelchair from opposite directions. We each got there about a second too late, and it went right down on to the tracks.

We stared at each other for a second not knowing what to do. At that point two other people came over and started arguing about what should be done. One guy insisted we call the train people, and another insisted it was OK to go down and get it.

I looked both ways, and dropped my bag (and my Talmud) on the floor and went in to the tracks. I handed the wheelchair up to one of arguing people and then the other one helped me get back up.

At that point two transit employees had just arrived. One started helping the guy with the wheelchair and the other was looking around. He came toward me and asked if I was the one who got the chair and I said “yes”. He thanked me, and moved on. Then one of the two arguing people (he was Indian) came to me and was going on and on about what a great thing it was to get the chair from the tracks.

The train didn’t come for another 5 minutes.