Sunday, March 25, 2007


Moderately Priced Traif Bordeaux Wines?

I'm not such a fancy-pants'd wine connoiseur that I'd even appreciate a big, fancy Bordeaux, even if I could afford it. OTOH, many inexpensive Bordeaux available in this country, seem to be made for people intolerant of any sugar in their wines, but just don't have the depth to work as completely dry wines. And they try so hard, that when they miss the mark, it's a tragedy of classical Greek proportions.

I've had Dourthe and rather like it -- it's just right as a table wine, but I've never been able to find it in the U.S.A.

Now there are many nice, inexpensive Kosher wines which capture what I imagine to be the essence of a reasonably priced, wonderful Bordeaux table wine or Vin de Pays (and are marketed as such). But in areas where there aren't too many of us Jews, it's hard to find such wines.

Fortunately, I've just discovered Barons Rothschild (Lafite) Reserve Special. I've had their white wine, and while the flavors don't quite blend perfectly, they certainly are wonderful: floral, grassy, and everything a white Bordeaux wine should be. And it's just perfectly off-dry: sweet enough to piss off those who insist on their wine being dry and dry enough to be too dry for those who like their wine sweet, so it pleases the contrarian in me ;).

I should sometime try their red wine to see if it's at the same level of being something that is good, but doesn't try too hard to be great and thus misses the mark by being not good at all. Anybody have any experience with the Barons Rothschild (Lafite) Reserve Special line who might have something to add?


A Random Legal Question(s)

Suppose X has two adjacent plots of land. X sells one of the plots of land to Y (at a price way below market value: and shortly after the sale, the attorney representing X in these negotiations goes on to accept a lucrative position working for Y), but is concerned that the activities for which Y plans to use that plot might damage X's remaining plot of land. Thus, X extracts a written promise from Y that Y will take any feasible step to avoid damaging X's remaining plot of land. 4 years, post sale, after much negotiation, more exact precautionary measures are hammered out to which Y (reluctantly) agrees and X re-affirms that it will not challenge the, um, suspicious price for which their then attorney negotiated the original sale.

Fast forward to 20 years post sale. Y, who had since established a partnership with Z, had long been neglecting to follow the specific precautionary measures agreed to 4 years post sale. Because of this, during work being done by Z, $D damage accrues to the plot remaining in the hands of X. Lawsuits ensure, Z ends up having to pay 98% of $D (which, beyond the amount directly required to pay for the immediate clean-up of the obvious damage, they delay paying for over ten years) while Y settles up and pays 2% of $D (which their insurance covers).

My question is whether Y's negligence in insuring that both Y and Z followed the terms of the 4 year post-sale agreement constitutes a breach of contract regarding the original sale (Y had already been caught threatening people who made complaints about a possible breach of contract by Y). If so, is the original sale null and void? If so, then does Y (and Z) owe X rent for use of the plot of land? If so, how much?

Does the possible conflict of interest of the original attorney for X enter into the picture? If so, does it matter on the other hand that a retired Supreme Court justice was willing to take over the negotiations on a pro bono basis on behalf of X and certainly could have found someone to represent X in other matters as needed, yet X did not take any action to fire their then attorney (who was also a prominent legislator in the state where this all happened)? Moreover, some other work, done shortly after the sale before X's employ for Y, X's erstwhile attorney did for X helped X to make a lot of money selling their other plot of land (in spite of the damage, or perhaps because of the notoriety of the case), which the damage had rendered useless to X per se, about 30 years after the sale of the first plot of land.

Bonus points if you can identify who X, Y and Z are and what the damaging incident was. I'll give you a hint: Y and Z both tried to blame an employee of Z for the damage, because the employee was drunk at the time, although the employee, even though he was the supervisor responsible for the operation at hand, was off-duty at the time as well. Super-duper extra credit if you know who the Supreme Court justice was.


Coverage of Lab Tests

I want to know: how much money is wasted billing people, whose medical insurance is from company X, for lab tests because health care practitioners, covered by insurance company X, do not or will not send those tests to a lab covered by insurance company X? It seems to me in the quest to save money by denying claims, etc., insurance companies, health care providers, et al., are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

T. Roosevelt challenged Taft (the substance of this challenge being much under-appreciated with everyone focusing on the progressive/conservative split and only occassionally noting the substance of the challenge simply as something "ironic" ... kinda like rain on your wedding day, I reckon ... if ya know what I mean ...) because he realized that competition only works to increase efficiency if there are innovations that can increase efficiency beyond the point where time and money are wasted by having to make choices between competitors, having to juggle paperwork and billing by multiple payers, etc. In other cases, monopolies or even government ownership is more efficient. So how come, as with most things, so-called conservatives, the first people who should worry about the costs of a system, only seem to see benefits in competition and do not look into the costs our supposedly competitive system is injecting into, e.g., our health care bills.

The health care system is this country is beyond being broken. All of those horror stories you hear about socialized medicine seem to be even more true for non-socialized medicine. So how come we cannot even muster the political will to even make some reforms in the right direction in our system? Of course, it doesn't help that some of the people most favoring reforms don't even know their history (regarding the update on the linked post -- if you want to discuss that, can you please do it here so that way I'll be more likely to note any much appreciated fashion advice I'm receiving in the comments?).


Vayikra Blogging

I was talking with a friend last night and he made the point that he finds he, as a Roman Catholic, cannot be lead astray, at least in terms of general theological and even soterological if not necessarily specific moral issues, by looking to Jewish texts: not just the "Old Testament" but also the Talmud, etc. On the other hand, he finds certain Protestant sources to be deeply at odds with the Catholic viewpoint, even though Protestant Christianity, as Christianity maintains certain aspects of Catholic theology and soterology that, obviously, represent breaks with Jewish thinking.

On the one hand, this is not surprising in as much as Judaism is the "root" of Christianity while, from a Catholic point of view, Protestantism is heretic, but on the other hand, it is interesting how considering even a document as specifically Jewish as the Mishna (*), somehow a Catholic can read out of it something rather different than the Jewish reading. Consider the last part of Pirke Avos 2:18, "you must not consider yourself totally wicked". Somehow a Catholic can be comfortable with what we Jews consider to be a condemnation of the doctrine of "original sin".

What does this have to do with Vayikra? Well, from a Christian point of view, the sacrifice of Jesus substitutes for the "blood atonement" provided by the sacrificial system described in Leviticus. However, we Jews view the whole motivation of the sacrificial system quite differently than do Christians: to us the key point of the sacrificial system is fellowship with God and humanity; which fellowship re-connects us with the community we harmed by sinning. Which fellowship is continued by communal prayer and communal meals.

Now, just as even an Orthodox Christian may be comfortable with many a Talmudic teaching as being a teaching which would not lead such a person astray, an Orthodox Christian would have no problem with this Jewish notion of sin and repentance, although the emphasis on fellowship may seem a bit hippy-dippy liberal to some conservative types (even within Judaism). Yet somehow, the lens in which these teachings are viewed by such a Christian precludes modern forms of fellowship -- the communal Amida and the communal meal -- from being sufficient to reconnect with God and the community. T'filla, T'shuva and Tzedaka are somehow not sufficient as far as they are concerned: "blood atonement" is necessary. So again, a Christian can feel the Jewish text cannot lead him or her astray, yet such a feeling is based on a complete reframing of what the Jewish text says. And still, where did this reframing, the introduction of the idea of "blood atonement" come from?

Interestingly, it works the other way around: Christianity also reframes how Christians view Christian texts that date to pre-Christian times. Sometimes it seems the "lessons" of certain Christian texts are lost of Christians because they view those texts through the lens of the mindset engendered by those texts, whereas, agreeable to us or not, we Jews looking at those texts through the Jewish lens through which those texts were first intended to be read might appreciate certain subtleties in the text that are missed by many Christians: consider, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan, which says something rather different about the importance of faith in judging moral character than, e.g., many Christian denominations would say today.

I think I may have had some conclusions and summary statements I wanted to make with this and some more links to the idea of sacrifice (and hence why this post now), but my train of thought has managed to derail. Maybe someone can take my mind, and write these things down in the comments?

* An interesting side note for those who view Judaism as a "sister" rather than "mother" religion to Christianity is that the Mishna, which makes into a quasi-cannon (although Judaism preserves the Beraisas in a way the Christianity does not preserve, e.g., the non-canonical gospels, although with respect to the apocrypha, it is Catholicism that maintains more of it than Judaism, hmmm ...) the basics of the Oral Law distinguishing Rabbinic Judaism, was compiled at around the same time as the Christians' "New Testament"'s compilation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Bloggin' Bloggin' Bloggin', Keep those Bloggers Bloggin'

Mr. Letraca, if we shall call him that, has activitated, so to speak, his blog. Check it out.

Also, a former flatmate of mine was surfin' the net and found this blog and thought I might be interested. Maybe some of y'all might be, too?

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Book Discussion

Been reading America Beyond Capitalism. Some accuse Gar Alperovitz of being a commie in this book, but really, for all of the radicalism of his proposed solutions, he sticks close to some real centrist/capitalist, if not exactly mainstream at least "bipartisan" proposals in this book. Compare this book, for example, with Lind's "Made in Texas", which seems to have a similar perspective.

However, as much as I like micro-capitalist type solutions, Alperovitz seems a bit too in awe of the small in what really is a global economy. Anyway, as someone else otherwise in awe of micro-capitalism, Greg Palast, points out: entrepreneurs are not the social do-gooders, etc., some make them out to be: they are people like everyone else. Anyway, if the entrepreneurial spirit were as necessary and sufficient for a good economy as some politicians, as well as Prof. Alperovitz, make it out to be, countries like Nigeria, where everyone seems to be on the make with a new business scheme, would be the economic powerhouses of the world. And who knows, maybe they soon will be?

Still, I'm inclined to say to Prof. Alperovitz "I find your ideas intriguing and would like to sign up for your newsletter", however, I'm not so sanguine those ideas are all quite so good as some would think they are.

At the very least, Alperovitz quotes some fascinating paleo-con types who, contrasted with what passes for conservative -- either of the paleo or neo varieties -- thought nowadays, actually are coherent and make the obvious point missed by so many who claim to want to return us to Jeffersonian ideals of limitted government: you cannot have such a limitted government when you have big corporations organizing the economic life of society. As Jefferson, who opposed the very introduction of such corporations into our society, might have put it (considering the causation he really ment to imply with his famous quotation): "governments which recognize and enable corporations are not good governments because they cease to be able to govern least".

Still, call me Rooseveltian here, but have corporations been such a bad thing for our society? Don't the gains outweigh the losses? And would returning to a bunch of, c.f. Greg Palast, potentially equally selfish small businesses be any better?


Shabbos HaChodesh Blogging

The readings this last Shabbos provided an interesting juxtaposition: the details of the finishing touches for the construction of the Tabernacle complex with Ezekiel's vision of the New Jerusalem and the Temple in Messianic days. If it were not Shabbos HaChodesh, we would have read instead of Ezekiel, a reading about Solomon's Temple.

The Jewish tradition contains multiple codes for multiple Temples. It is interesting that, to adapt Koheleth, for every season, there is a reason. For every time, a different code of worship that both connects our worship with the worship of our ancestors but also remains relevant today. Those who would maintain a pseudo-tradition to the exclusion of any innovation (and who oftentimes, in one of the most common of ironies, are exalting as tradition a rather ahistoric innovation) miss this lesson of the multiple codes.

The actual chronology which sacrificial code was operative when is rather controversial. Some would maintain that the Priestly Code of Leviticus is post-exilic and refers to the Second Temple but has been backdated, so to speak, to make it seem more authentic to those who followed it. However, do we really think that the authors of such a code would be so clever as to purposefully make the code different from their practice to make it seem ancient, especially if they were so worried about making their practice seem authentic by forging a supposedly historical code? I would suggest that the Priestly Code does reflect the pre-exilic worship, Ezekiel does reflect not the pre-exilic Priestly Code but the Priestly Code for a Deuteronomic Utopia and that the sacrificial codes in Exodus and elsewhere, like those we read of this last Shabbos reflect an even older substratum of worship.

Religion, like anything else, is an evolutionary thing: we grow not only biologically, but also spiritually. May we soon be blessed to grow into the Utopia presented by Ezekiel.


Getting Them While They're Young

We liberals may actually be doing a good job of this! I've recently heard a lot of complaints from religious conservatives about the near domination of the youth book market by books with agendas that even I would agree are very liberal and the dearth of well-written books with a conservative agenda. In these complaints is also the inevitable knocking of liberals who dare make a lot of money.

Of course, I need not mention how much projection these complaints display. But for the abundance of liberally oriented children's books, religious conservatives would have a near monopoly on the "getting the children while they are young" market. Conservative religious institutions have always been aggressive about promoting prayer in school and other techniques designed to ensure that youth are maximally exposed to their particular religious beliefs. And, while many religious institutions are quite financially strapped (as am I, Mr. Synagogue Treasurer -- I'll pay up my dues soon, though, I promise!), some of the more institutions that are the most aggressive in recruiting, e.g., youth, are also very good at getting money.

So, when religious conservatives complain about the gay agenda recruiting youth, liberally themed books brainwashing youth, and everyone making money and getting power from the process, considering how the religious right works, this is rather a bunch of projection, nu? Anyway, we must be doing something right if they have their dander up. If our liberal books and such were having no effect, we wouldn't be on their radar, would we?

But the canard that somehow it is evil for we liberals to make a profit spreading liberalism really does rankle, though, don't it? Reactionaries mistaking all liberals for Marxists would have you believe that we are hypocrites for making a dime in the free enterprise system. But many of us are avowed capitalists, so the idea that we are Marxists, and hypocritical ones at that, is leaping from assumption to assumption, even as, alas, too many people buy that narrative lock, stock and barrel.

But there is something else going on: part of the reason why conservatives are so keen to bash "limousine liberals" is not just because they figure they can score cheap points by equating us to Marxists and then using that equation to decry a non-existent hypocrisy on our part (which, considering Jesus' teachings regarding wealth, may be a yet another example of reactionary projection -- of their own hypocrisy regarding their wealth!), but because they want to wage a divide and conquer strategy of class warfare. If they can paint liberalism as a luxury belief that poor people cannot afford to have, they can turn the lower and middle classes against each other and win a class war. And bourgeois liberals, who make the sum total of liberalism the right of icky people to do icky things and an idea that us carnivores who don't have the money to eat fancy organic food are evil for destroying the planet, play right into this class war.

Anyway, let us remember that when the right accuses us of playing at class warfare, they are projecting big-time. And let us remember that, with the youth, we are winning! So let's keep up the good work.


Can Corporations be Shipped off to Gitmo?

If I were to get myself tangled up with "Islamo-fascism", according to the admin, they have the power to ship me off to Gitmo as an "enemy combatant" which would afford me neither the protections of a POW nor the rights of a citizen actually accused of a crime.

But somethin' tells me the admin will not apply the same standard to those individuals of legal fiction, the corporations when they do the same sort of thing -- especially considering how much of our Presidents' personal wealth comes from corporate enemy combatantism, nu?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The Coherency of Conservatism

(N.B.: when I refer to a "conservative" in this post, unless it's stated otherwise or at least clear in context that it's otherwise, I'm referring to those who are both libertarian and religious conservatives -- i.e. the "base", but not maybe the most rabid, reactionary elements thereof, of the GOP. Of course, there are many other kinds of conservatism, e.g. Progressive Conservatism, some of which are also forms of liberalism, at least for the purposes of the dichotomy set up in this post. E.g. by "conservative" I'm not referring to the word as it's used in "Conservative Judaism", which would be considered a liberal movement in religion -- even as there are individual Conservative Jews across the political spectrum, within the liberal/conservative dichotomy explored in this post. It might be interesting to consider how religious and libertarian conservatives might respond to other forms of conservatism -- it's beyond the scope of this post, but not the comments -- hint, hint ;) ).

Even as we liberals, in terms of strategy, tend to underestimate the degree to which the various trends in the conservative movement, e.g. libertarian vs. religious conservatism, and fail to exploit opportunities for divide and conquer, we liberals somehow manage to also under-estimate the degree to which it is possible to have a coherent position that is both socially conservative and "libertarian".

"How?", you might ask ... well, the idea is that if society can enforce a degree of morality upon its members (righty-tighties -- pronounce that phrase as I would with my slight problems pronouncing the good-ol' midwestern cupped 'r' -- tend to use the phrase "social fabric" or something like that, in this regard), then you don't need to have government regulations, e.g. of business, that deprive people of liberty -- i.e. if people would behave, then gummint wouldn't be called upon to step in.

Indeed, I grew up with the "non-coercive" form of these views spouted by my dad (whose views in today's terms qualify him as a moonbat lefty, but when he soaked up his political views from his maternal grandparents, they were considered all but right-wing-nutty views): where the likes of my dad break with conservatism is that while someone like my dad accepts these ideas in a "one rotten apple spoils the barrel" form -- "if gummint's having to regulate us, it means we've failed morally so if we loose liberty from it, it's our own damned fault" (not that I agree with that sentament, FWIW) -- conservatives accept these ideas in a "coercive" form -- if only government would sanction and encourage private morality (*), there would be no need for other gummint regulations, so we can have more liberty by regulating private morality.

This came to mind recently when I read a short description of the ideas of Robert Nisbet, who held a somewhat similar position: that religious institutions, etc., form a social fabric, so to speak (is that his term?) which prevents people from being isolated -- and it is such isolation that engenders totalitarianism. So encouraging religiosity, etc., is a preventative to totalitarianism.

Now, I don't agree with these points. E.g., I think history shows the sense of causation in these arguments is wrong. Also, what about the hypocrites? Does religion, e.g., really do what it's supposed to do? As a vaguely religious person myself, I would hope so, but I've met enough hypocrites of all religious stripes not to be sanguine about it. Still, arguments as to the mutual compatability of social and libertarian conservatism are far more cogent than for which we liberals tend to give them credit.

We liberals do need to do a better job of "divide and conquer" when it comes to politics: after all, social/economic liberalism make a far more, IMHO, coherent ideological package than social/economic conservatism do, and look at how the GOP has been able to drive a wedge (largely, as I have pointed out on this blog and elsewhere, do to class issues: many working class folk simply feel they cannot afford the luxury of social liberalism, and the GOP has been able to effectively portray social liberalism as a luxury) between social and economic liberals. However, we should not think that such a strategy would be easy: even if particular social conservatives might worry about the corrosive effects of the un-restrained market supported by economic conservatives while individual economic conservatives might worry about social conservative intrusions on liberty -- and thus both might be attracted to, respectively, economic and social liberalism -- there are many people who are both social and economic conservatives; and they are not as incoherent in their thinking as we liberals might think.

So let's try "divide and conquer" -- 2006 shows we Dems. have a chance if we fight. But let's remember we will never be able to get everyone voting for us. Indeed, part of the problem the DLC wing has created for our party is that they try to please everyone and end up pleasing no-one, while making us all look effete in the process. So a little bit of realism about our prospects, far from dampening our enthusiasm, might push us over the edge to trying tougher strategies as we'll cease being overly concerned about trying to please everyone.

* Update: of course, many religions (in particular the Dharmic religions as well as Judaism -- especially the proto-Judaism of the Priestly Code -- and Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Pietist Christianity) hold that spiritual discipline is a particularly effective means of becoming the sort of moral person who does the right thing on a larger canvas. Indeed, one can argue that such spiritual discipline leading to one's becoming a better citizen and otherwise being better tied in with society is the very essence of religion, even in terms of the etymology of the word religion. But we liberals of such faiths don't make the leap that religiosity is either necessary or sufficient for people to be moral enough that government can let go of the regulation reigns.

Moreover, e.g. in Judaism, to the extent that the coercive version of the "encouraging religion leads to greater liberty" thesis is supported in Torah, it's supported, as in the Priestly Code, along with the construction of a very redistributivist state. So one can argue that, e.g., Judaism does agree with conservatism in it's assessment that private moral discipline can lead to greater liberty, but only when such discipline is also accompanied by acts of wealth redistribution -- by leaving out the latter, conservatism doesn't adaquately represent the point of view of the theocracy described in the Priestly Code, even as some have claimed religious conservatism to be "Levitical" in nature due to the common ground of mandating certain moral codes to be legislated. And anyway, the Levitical theocracy explicitly applies only to the Chosen People living in the Holy Land under the auspices of divine consent (which does not apply to the current State of Israel, for example -- and certainly not here) ... otherwise, Jewish political thought is arguably more in line with secular liberalism than with religious conservatism, as the political affiliations of many Jews demonstrates.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Foxes and Hens

Hearing the pundits and talking heads speak about the potential for a chilling effect on journalism due to the involvement of journalists in the successful prosecution of "Scooter" Libby indicates to me that they just don't "get it" and potentially are purposefully refusing to "get it": it's one thing to protect the identity of a whistle-blower, be it a fox, guard-dog or hen, but it's another thing to be a guard-dog and hide the identity of the fox entering into the henhouse. At the very least, whatever happened to "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable"?

Alas if journalists, prosecutors and judges cannot be depended upon to exercise the prudence, discretion and judgment that are supposed to be prerequisite to their professional obligations, perhaps we need legislation to clarify what is a protected source and what is not? I wrote my Congresscritter and the Dem. Senator of my state to suggest this and I urge y'all to do so as well.

What we cannot have is stenographers for the powers that be hiding behind journalistic privilege to avoid doing their jobs and identifying which foxes are stealing our hens. On the other hand, we cannot have the existence of those stenographers used by those foxes as an excuse for going after real journalists who need to keep confidential a source indicating someone placed a fox in charge of the henhouse. It is regretable that common sense cannot deal with these sorts of issues -- but given what the self-proclaimed arbiters of reasonablenss are saying, we cannot trust anyone to be sensible -- so we may have to legislate the distinction: as the hens are too important to our livelihoods to be left to the foxes!


Ki Thissa Blogging

With the story of the census, the Golden Calf, and all the other big events mentioned in this parsha, often some of the details get overlooked. And, as we learn from the sandwiching of the Revelation at Sinai between Yitro's advice to Moses and the whole of Parshas Mishpatim, it is those details that frame and allow us to integrate awesome revelations and important moral principles into our lives.

One interesting Mitzvah given in Ki Thissa is the commandment not to worship Asheros. After the Decalogue's insistence on the primacy of worshiping Hashem, isn't that commandment redundant? What is the particular concern with Ashera worship and the worship of sacred poles? Indeed, from the archaeological record, it would seem that as a "consort" to Hashem, Ashera worship need not be anything different than the highly Cabalistic theological concept of the Shekhina: so what makes an understanding that service to the Divine brings one under the cover of the Shekhina immanently kosher while Ashera worship is so traif?

To answer this question, allow me to posit a hypothesis: there is a connection (maybe via the Hittites who so influenced the culture of the Levant) between the concept of the Ashera and the Indo-European concept of Ashuras. Perhaps the sacred pole and Ashera worship common in the Levant was not so much the equivalent of the immoral rites associated with the worship of Aphrodite (as most commentators have assumed) but rather the equivalent of the sacred pole worship of, e.g., the Saxons. The worry with Ashera worship was not sexual immorality but rather a worry about the ill effects of fatalism.

Common to much Indo-European mythology is a war between two sets of divine beings: one set are the "divinities", the other set are the "ashuras/titans". The former set supplants the latter set in an allegory for the establishment of civilization: mankind is no longer a slave to nature and fate but has become a co-partner with the divine in creation. Perhaps the clearest telling of this is in Der Ring des Niebelungen, where Wagner and his sources conflate the old Germanic myths relating to this conflict with legends about the intrigues of the Burgundonian court. In this retelling, Woton, one of the divinities, cuts a branch from that which the sacred pole represents -- the World Ash tree on whose branches the Norns weave everyone's fate. Woton uses this branch as a cane to guide him in walking, but in the process the world withers, as everyone's fate is no longer determinant. The slide to chaos is only stopped when the dwelling places of even the divinities is burnt down, leaving man fully in charge of his world, without being able to shift any responsibilities onto pseudo-divine beings.

Judaism, which embraces what, from a pagan perspective, are the atheistic lessons (remember to the pagans of old and even from a certain Christian point of view, we Jews are atheists) of such myths, takes them one step further. It is not a god who severs the branches holding our fate fixed but rather we ourselves who must cut down all representations of such a fatalistic view. And we cannot even use the resulting sticks to guide us. In the Jewish view, we are entirely on our own. God, in his love, has given us a Way (Halacha) to live, but it is we who must live it; we who must, in the words of the Deuteronomist (in a decree which, ironically considering who most often quotes it nowadays for what purpose, mandates certain abortions as Mitzvos) "choose life".

When Adam and Eve at the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (is this concept related to that of a sacred tree?), when Moses shatters and burns the Golden Calf, when, in the Maftir last Shabbos we read of the use of the ashes of the red heifer for purification, and when Abraham is stopped from the sacrifice of Isaac, these defining moments of Judaism place our religion on a path in similar to that described in Der Ring des Niebelungen: we can no longer depend on cosmic fate or pseudo-divinities to hold our world together, but we must actively reject any idea that our salvation lies outside of the path (Halacha) which God, in divine grace and love, has given to us.

That our "Semitic" mythos should echo Indo-European mythos should not surprise us -- and I am not being a Jungian/Campbellian here -- as we are told that Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem. But there is a key difference: it is not, in Judaism, the divinities who destroy the ashuras for us nor do we depend on some hero to destroy those demons (i.e., considering the etymology of the word demon, divinities, which makes the translation of ashura as demon ironic, nu?), but rather it is part and parcel of the law for we ourselves to be intolerant of Ashuras and pseudo-sacred monuments (10 commandments monuments perhaps? yet more irony?). As Erich Fromm (whose name, like Truman and Churchill, will not be believed by those in the far future to be a real name given its meaning in the context of his very writings) put it in the title of one of his books "You Shall be as Gods".

Worshiping of Asheroth is not equivalent to seeking the shelter of the Shekhina, but rather, c.f. Buddhist thought, the specific commandments regarding Asheroth and sacred poles reflect the same lessons reflected in Indo-European mythos regarding a war between sets of gods. But in Judaism, where we shall be as the gods, this lesson is taken to its logical conclusion: in evolving from being beasts to being human, we must cast off our demons ourselves in order to truly fulfill our place in walking as partners with God.

P.S. of course, I would be remiss in not pointing out that there is an interpretation that is rather the opposite of the one I have given above which relates the evolution of Hebraic monotheism to the development of Ashura worship, leading to and following from the teachings of Zoroaster, among the Persians. In this framing Judaism takes the side that it is (as it is etymologically) the divinities who are the demons not the Ashuras. These two framings of Judaism and similar approaches to the Indo-European mythos are contradictory, yet somehow people who have embraced one framing of the Indo-European mythos have also embraced the contradictory framing. Could the ultimate rejection of both the divinities and the Ashuras by both Germanic Romanticism and Judaism be what transcends the contradiction of on which side God's on? God is really on neither side?

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Very Disturbing, Indeed

About a State that is supposed to be the homeland of the People of Laws, this analysis leads to some profoundly disturbing conclusions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Another Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Did you know that combining soap and shampoo leads to the creation of ammonia? I didn't. When I was bathing last, I had some shampoo lather left on my hands after washing my hair, and decided not to rinse it off but to supplement it with soap lather and continue washing -- and whew ... did I smell ammonia!

From googling about when I should be working (one can only spend so much time peak picking spectra!), I found out the reason why they add citric acid to shampoo is to keep the pH low enough the ammonium laural sulfate, etc., doesn't decompose. I guess I just raised the pH too high ...

The things "they" don't tell you; the things ya learn ...

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Passive-Aggressive Behavior and the Awesome Power of the Clenis

Hearing the dating woes of a friend of mine and noting how much they resembled my own dating woes in my single days, I was thinking about the residues of sexism in our society and how sexist patterns of socialization really mess up both men and women. In particular, even as much as, all other things being equal, most of us men would prefer a non-passive/aggressive woman (most of us prefer assertive women, a few jerks prefer passive ones), most of us are willing to put up with a high degree passive-aggressiveness from women (and some men dig it -- these are the men who like to play games, so when their girlfriends are complaining that their boyfriends are always playing computer games, it takes a lot of willpower to resist snarking: "if he didn't like playing games, he wouldn't even be your boyfriend"). On the other hand, passive-aggressiveness in a man is something away from which almost all women I know run: and who can blame them?

Still, there is a double standard here. And it hurts women, perhaps even more than men. A passive-aggressive guy might not get as many dates because he's a real "Nice Guy" (TM) and "I like him, but not in that way", but us passive-aggressive guys are socialized, as much as humanly possible, out of our passive-aggressive tendencies, mainly via athletics which are thrust on boys in a way that even the most athletically talented and experienced girls of my generation simply did not experience. Indeed, I wonder how much of the "when a man is assertive, he's at worst labeled 'pushy' but when a woman is assertive, she's called a 'bitch'" double standard simply arises from the fact that, from a very young age, boys socialized out of any passive-aggressive tendencies we have (and whatever remain by adulthood, we have to eliminate real fast if we want to have any sort of romantic relationship), whereas from early child-hood to the dating world, females get molly-coddled and sometimes even encouraged to be passive-aggressive. And when a passive-aggressive tries to be assertive, the inevitable result, without training and socialization is, indeed bitchiness.

The interesting thing is that you don't see the kids today having the same double standards of behavior that kids did in my day or even that the kids who were my students when I was a TA in grad school had. The difference indeed largely seems to be due to the greater ubiquity of women's sports (in the, hopefully very near, future, when the glass ceiling finally shatters, it will be due, more than anything to Title IX athletics and the culture it has bred, which might explain the reaction against it), but something else seems to be in play.

Which reminds me of something I've long thought about: as much as we liberals might accurately criticize Clinton as being not at all a liberal, the Clinton era really did bring forth great (if alas maybe temporary) changes in our society. I first noted this at the time -- during the O.J. Simpson case. If the case were to have happened 5 years earlier, there would have been a lot of quiet chatter about Marcia Clark and Robert Shapiro both being Jewish with a strongly implied note that the whole thing was just a bunch of trouble, which might lead to another "Rodney King riot" being stirred up by us Jews. But you really didn't hear that: you heard about the Jewish origins of the attorneys involved and even some fear mongering about another riot, but nobody seemed to be talking in particularly conspiratorial tones about "the Jews". Similarly, during the Clinton sex-scandals, Lewinsky's (partial) religious heritage did not lead, outside of the far right, to talk of Jewish conspiracies, even in subtle tones, in the media (which was happy to talk of any conspiracy which would make Clinton look bad), but rather to jokes about the Clinton scandal leading to a reduction in intermarriage as Jewish boys realize that they didn't have to marry a shiksa in order to get oral sex.

In general, during the Clinton administration, I felt we Jews went from being outsiders to being real Americans. As some would describe it, we Jews (even those of us of non-European ancestry?) became "white". Perhaps I felt a change was happening, because these years corresponded with a change in my own life: leaving a high school overran with fundamentalist Christians and going off to college. But I think what happened wasn't just a change in scenery for me (after all, I went to school in a rather socially conservative, working class state school, still within Orange County, which, alas, is nothing like the T.V. show), but a general change in social attitudes. Some would attribute this change in attitudes toward the Jews to the right-wing's discovery of Zionism, but I think the change was even more general than that.

At the beginning of the Clinton era, the culture wars were coming to a head: even nominal liberals were worried about "political correctness run amuck" and the "debasing of culture". By the end of the Clinton era even religious conservatives were digging South Park. In the Clinton era, while the excesses of liberalism had waned under the influence of a more moderate liberal body politic (to the extent that those excesses actually existed and were not strawmen of the right, not to mention, given the PC-enforcement of the Horowitz crowd, examples of projection), the liberals won the culture wars.

This victory explains something: many liberals are puzzled by the conservative animosity toward Clinton given how moderate Clinton actually was. Many of us have attributed this animosity toward jealousy: Clinton took away the Republican's fire by being a better Republican president than any of the Republicans could have been. But perhaps the conservatives are really mad at Clinton, because during the Clinton years, they lost! Perhaps if we liberals would stop worrying about loosing the social conservatives (who, if they are voting in good faith, will largely vote for us so long as we become bona-fide economic liberals, instead of appearing as promoting a liberalism, of over-priced lattes and expensive organic food*, that the working class cannot afford -- and if they won't vote for us if we make a good faith effort to be for the rights of Joe and Jane Sixpack as well as for "the rights of icky people to do icky things", then we don't want their votes anyway!) and realize that we won, maybe we could win again?

* another thing we liberals need to realize, e.g. in the Al Gore flap, is that the conservatives are not attack Al Gore for being a bad liberal, but for not being a conservative's strawman of a liberal. If Al Gore is seen as having done too much wrong by us liberals for not being quite a paragon of virtue (and for all of their antipathy toward politicians, the right seems to think that politicians should and can be paragons of virture -- paging Dr. Freud!) which few people can afford to be anyway, then that really is taking up the right-wing framing of environmentalism as a luxury item movement, nu?

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