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