Monday, June 30, 2008


Another Blog of Possible Interest

Modern Mitzvot


The Liberal Party Line

Regarding some questions asked of me by a friend regarding how I label myself on my facebook profile: how is having a pro-Palestinian (or at least a pro-return exactly to Israel's pre-1967 borders) stance necessary to be considered liberal? Don't the "if you're a liberal, you must be pro-Palestinian" people assume things about the Palestinian cause as well as about Zionism that just aren't true?

I can understand how "liberal implies you must have a certain empathy toward the Palestinians" (and it should imply having the same empathy toward Jewish concerns, including even the Zionist position, as well), but how does that translate to having a certain party line on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Similarly, when again did being Zionist become the sine qua non of Jewish identity?


That's Some Commander Guy

Lessee if I have this right: the Army now "officially" blames its commanders for the disastrous lack of military follow up in Iraq post-invasion. But suddenly we forget that GW "Commander Guy" Bush has this horrible habit of making sure the only commanders that survive are those which tow the line he wants towed (that way he can disingenusouly claim he always follows what his commanders say?). Doesn't that mean that no matter what a commander felt post-invasion, there would have been a declared "Mission Accomplished" and inadaquate resources to deal with the insurgency, 'cause any commander who said otherwise would have found himself out of a job?

Come-'on media -- let's have less "the Army is so wonderful its self-criticism: maybe if Gen. Franks were more like Gen. Patreus, everything would be different in Iraq" and more examination of what the actual political situation was at the time? Does the name Shinseki ring any bells to the media?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Pondering My Move

As I've been pondering my move to The City, I've been thinking about how I'm gonna commute to work, etc. ... and hence about transport issues. Pace my fellow moonbats, people move to the 'burbs for more reasons than to get away from "those people". There is a reason why people tend to move to the 'burbs when the kids come -- I was gonna do a post about it, but ended up getting it out of my system in this here comment at MY's place.


Quick Media Updates

John McCain has a rather annoying campaign ad in which he shows a bunch of good things (generally associated with a liberal outlook, e.g. environment, etc) and says he supports them. I wonder how many people will fall for this ad: "ooh, look McCain is not some fanatical winger, he's all mavericky and lurves the environment and such"?

In covering the child-rape issue, NPR managed to play Obama's statement but not McCain's. This is very important: it's one thing for the media to repeat what someone says, but it's another thing to play the tape. Even when the media plays a tape of GW Bush stumbling over his speech whilst it reports a counter-argument as if it were "objective", GW Bush still wins, because people will believe what they hear first (the BushCO spin) while people dismiss the second argument as "the work of the liberal media", which argument is mangled even more than GW Bush mangles his message, as the media are not pro-spin-meisters or politicos.

Nu? Having the media actually report the Dem. candidate's actual words is a big plus. Now if the media will actually be balanced and you'd get a clip from each candidate ...

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging During the Actual Week of Reading Said Parsha

Don't get too excited that this'll happen often ...

I posted this to the listserv of my wife's synagogue (on the subject of a famous quote ... you'll get the gist of it from the post):

When I was a kid, in religious school they used a "sanitized" as well as longer version (which I'll quote as much as I can remember): "the goal of Zionism is to create a state where it's normal to be Jewish: where Jews are not only [a list of stereotypically 'Jewish' professions would be given here] but also [a list of not-stereotypically Jewish careers would be given here] and even Jewish policeman would be chasing Jewish thieves".

I actually had a problem with this as a kid: "Jewish thieves? as a reality this happens ... but as an aspiration? how does the aspiration to have a 'normal Jewish state' square with the idea that
we Jews are supposed to be 'Am Kadosh'? -- maybe we are not always so Kadosh in practice, but at least that's to what we should aspire". One fault I could say about the religious education I received (in an otherwise wonderful synagogue out west) is that it presented Zionism as a positive ideology and presented also the idea that we Jews should be an "Am Kadosh" but never made any attempt to reconcile the two notions.

Of course, some Jews find they cannot reconcile the two notions, whence religious anti-Zionism (now limitted to some in the Haredi community, but at one time strong both amongst the "traditionally Orthodox" as well as the Reform). Since the synagogue which my family attended was Reform, maybe the lack of attention to reconciling Zionism with the notion of "Am Kadosh" reflected this history within the Reform movement?

The connection with this week's parsha? Well, before we prepare to read the Sh'ma, including a passage from this week's parsha commanding the wearing of Tzitzis, we sing in prayer about Hashem calling us from all peoples and languages but then gathering us from the four corners of the earth into our land. Is this the solution to the kasha of the quote?

OTOH, one could argue that Zionism is, in fact, paganism (Speaking of Faith had an interesting program on Paganism yesterday and how the key aspect is the sacredness of (only) certain locations in contrast, e.g., to the Jewish view of the omnipresence and universe filling nature of divinity) -- with its emphasis on the Holy Land (c.f. Jacob realizing a place was holy even though it had no markers of holiness). Another kasha, in case the first one is somehow answered by recourse to the words of "Ahava Rabba", how does Judaism harmonize its belief in Eretz HaKadesh with the omnipresence of God?

Interestingly, the mystic tradition in Judaism both emphasizes the Merkaba (which implies God is localized, e.g. has to leave the Temple Mount in a Chariot) and the omnipresence of the divine. Perhaps, this is one of those "mysteries" which ought to only be taught to those ready for true understanding?


Cease Fire

The leftie blogs seem to be pretty silent about it. My $0.02: this cease-fire better result in some rather immediate benefits for the Palestinians. If the Palestinians can feel that, when Hamas is not using their neighborhoods as bases for operations, they don't have to worry about being held up at checkpoints, they don't have to worry about getting strafed by Israelis, and they further benefit economically, then they will move toward peace. Otherwise, Yussef Palestinian is gonna say "so we make peace with these people who stole our land, and what does it help us? we might as well fight".

Of course, the same is true on the Israeli side ... obviously a real cease-fire means Israelis benefit from the lack of attacks. But the cease fire needs to be kept very well and not undermined: if Israelis feel that the Palestinians are not bargaining in good faith, then they have every reason to be concerned about lifting the Israeli thumb from occupied territories (and there is every reason why, out of sheer principles of fairness, Israel should be allowed to exercise that thumb as she sees fit ... although Jewish law might state otherwise). Of course, the problem is that this gives all the power to Hamas and similar radical groups -- whatever they do really determines what happens in Israel/Palestine next. Which leads to the question: what should Israel do to avoid giving Hamas this sort of power (instead of always "responding" to attacks that gives Hamas always the power to goad Israel into doing things that make Israel look bad, etc.)?

Of course, that Olmert did this now is just proof of P.J. O'Rourke's contention about the ME: how much better the region would be if everyone were like, to use O'Rourke's example, Josephus. In general the problem with "why don't those two sides be reasonable" approaches to ME peace is that it is perfectly reasonable for each side to keep on fighting ... but we've been down this discussion path before.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Domestic Abuse Reporting

I have seen evidence of domestic violence amongst my neighbors. I want to report it. How come when I google domestic violence abuse reporting Tallahassee (or Florida or Leon County) or report instead of reporting, I get tons of resources but no actual hotline information? If I drop the location indication I get some by state hotline numbers, but nothing more localized.

In this internet age, how come there are so many resources about (statistics, causes, effects, etc) domestic violence but so few to deal with "this couple in your apartment complex has injuries indicating they've had a physical fight -- I can't mediate this by myself: to whom do I report this before one of them hurts the other with more than just scratch marks or a bloodied eye?" situations.


Update: I called the National Hotline and they said that there isn't much a bystander can do in these situations except, well, meddle like Mary Worth. I have some contact information for the lady involved now and I guess I can tell the guy (who is a disabled vet) to ask for some more mental health support from the VA ... but evidently, there's not much else I can do.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Damnit Jim! I'm a Biophysical Chemist, not an Economist

(Links below are in which I demonstrate my complete, almost McCain-like ignorance of and frustration with economics)

I know it's often just a matter of semantics, but having taken thermo, I do sometimes wonder what economists are smoking when they talk about efficiency or when they talk about a presumably measurable effect as if the effect itself (rather than the predicted effect) is a function of the model. If my mindset is that of Kant, it seems economists, with their reality being a function of their model, have the mindset of Bishop Berkeley's immaterialism: and I though economists were supposed to be objective (whatever that means)!

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Bala ... B'la ... Oy vey, I can't transliterate that which I can't pronounce: Kinda Weekly Parsha Blogging

Does the "sacrificial offering" of the Levi'im in this week's parsha support or deny the "Levi'im as untouchable Temple Slaves" hypothesis?

Just that one question ... that is all ... for now.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Happy Loving Day

Happy Loving Day to all!


BTW ... a friend of mine (who has a very Pauline view about "law" in general, though, c.f. infra) doesn't see how the law can discriminate on the basis of age in terms of having a separate drinking age than age of majority ("if you're of the age of consent, how can they say you still can't drink?").

Is there a strict scrutiny argument here? Can the state discriminate on the basis of age in re drinking beyond saying "you have to be an adult"? Of course, many of the same people who are upset at "stupid gummint laws that say 18 y.o.s can't drink" and go on and on with their conception of "the law is an ass" also, if you argue "well, you could also apply strict scrutiny toward the denial of marriage licenses to gay couples" and suddenly they hide behind tradition (as if they were Laban trying to marry off Leah)?

Sometimes the conservative mindset seems to boil down to "law is futile, but I am such a nervous/shy person that I am uncomfortable in a society without a bunch of social rules" ... and thus they love every hide-bound "tradition" but view the rule of law with the same contempt that Roper showed toward More's ideas in A Man for All Seasons: whence, even if they sincerely care about the poor, their distrust of "big, legalistic gummint" together with their social conservative love of having a legislative agenda that supports "traditional morality".

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Commuting Stupidity

In my soon-to-be job/living situation I will be commuting from NYC to NJ. Now NYC has good public transport, but not all of NJ has good public transport. So why not leave my car at the train station over night and commute by car only on the NJ side? Well, of course, they close all the parking lots at the train stations.

This seems like a missed opportunity to get at least some more people driving less.


It turns out there are Park & Rides at which I could leave my car overnight -- but the ones that are close enough to pay really don't provide me with any real time savings for my commute. OTOH, ignoring traffic (which is a big thing to ignore, but still ...) commuting via my own car takes less than half the time as commuting via public transport would. If it takes more time to get to work via public transport than via car in the very dense NYC area, is it any wonder so many people decide to drive?

Sunday, June 08, 2008


It's About #@%$ing Time

Yesterday, Kent Brockman, er, Scott Simon made one of his editorial comments, and I have to excuse the big mistake he made (JFK the first Catholic nominee from a major party? What? Al Smith's chopped liver?), because he finally got it right. He was describing how Obama succeeded not because he transcended politics but because he's really good at politics. And he managed to make this point without displaying any of the usual (from the media) disgust about the rough and tumble politics of a democratic republic.

Perhaps the media has finally taken to heart the Madisonian vision on which our system of governance is founded? Maybe soon more of the citizenry will stop with their "kewl kids'" above-it-all attitude toward the life of the polis and actually engage as citizens of a democratic-republic rather than adopting the neo-feudalist attitudes of the self-proclaimed elites even as they realize those elites are "out of touch" (which, thanks to the "up is down" reference working campaign of the GOP, they falsely ascribe to some sort of liberalism on the part of those elites)?

Maybe there is hope for our body politic after all? Kent Brockman, er, Scott Simon not sounding condescending toward mass politics is quite a big step, after all, and one to be celebrated.

Perhaps I am going to far you say? Well, as I am wont to point out, we miss a lot of the key lessons of the Prophets by de-politicizing them. Can politics be our salvation? Well, what is the Messiah but a really good politician?


Skipping B'Midbar Blogging: It's Naso/Shavuos Time

Numbers Rabba has an interesting commentary on the specific laws dealing with Jews without (Jewish) kin: that these refer to converts, and it tells a nice midrash (the details of which I cannot remember). On Shavuos, when we read of Ruth, the convert who is the ancestor of the Messiah, perhaps we would do well to remember the Biblical obligations of welcoming the stranger, leaving the gleanings and the corners of the field for the poor and letting the land rest of the Sabbatical year (lest the land kick us out to take its rest, c.f. the Babylonian exile). Today too many people think such measures should be undertaken by charity, but the Biblical mindset is that these are legal obligations, not acts of charity. And how our treatment of strangers, the poor, etc. differs from our Biblical obligations?

Yet where is the so-called religious right on this? Today we'd throw the ancestress of the Messiah in Gitmo.

Some of this is the infestation of this country with a particularly mean-spirited interpretation of the Christian notion of Original Sin, which I have explicated on this blog and elsewhere. Suffice it to say that these people take Johnson's argument about the need for martyrdom and religious liberty to its illogical extreme. And even Jews get infected by this sort of thing: e.g. the RCA issued a statement on the recent controversy about Aaron's Kosher Meats saying that Rabbis cannot be expected to ... and then it lists a bunch of things which any Rabbi ought to be expected to understand and monitor. Have these people not read Baba Metzia? Or the rest of Nizikin?

Or have the bought into the idea that some Christians have of a separation between "religious matters" and ethical matters? Gimilus Hassidim toward the poor, the stranger, et al., is not a matter of charity but of tzedakah -- these are acts of justice and required by moral law.

As was suggested in the Friday night sermon at my shul, perhaps as we hear the story of Ruth this Shavuos, we should ponder the tzedakah by which Ruth is the ancestress of the Messiah and what we, alas, would do to her today.


Perhaps any Christians reading this may wish to comment on the significance of the speaking in toungues on Pentacost and how language barriers and hospitality relate?

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Obama, McCain and Ethics

Remember a tiff between Obama and McCain about some bipartisan ethics reform taskforce on which both served? I don't. But Juan Williams does. And when such a story goes down the memory hole, it means it reflects badly on the GOP whilst when the likes of Juan Williams dredge it up, that means they've figured out how to spin it for the GOP and against the Dems.

Evidently, what happened is that, in the wake of the various lobbying scandals that managed to break just after the 2004 elections, a bipartisan task-force was set up to lay out a plan for ethics reform. Obama was on that task-force, but decided to leave it in somewhat of a huff, which got John McCain hoppin' mad.

My dad is an on-again/off-again local politician (at the homeowners' association level: he's never really done anything to even try to run even for city council or something like that) and as such has served on a number of "blue ribbon committees" (about which he is entirely cynical), so I know the drill, even if I don't remember the details: the committee was exactly the sort of bipartisan effort to which John McCain sincerely is dedicated, over which the media creams their collective pants and which, ultimately, does absolutely nothing except provide "fixes" that, in the long run, do more harm than good whilst making it look like someone's done something about the problem at hand.

Meanwhile, Obama probably left the committee because he saw the writing on the wall. Was he being partisan? Maybe ... but Obama was doing what is supposed to happen in the system. Our Founding Fathers were smart enough not to trust "blue ribbon committees" to come up with reforms. Instead, they constructed a system wherein "ambition would be made to challenge ambition". Ethics issues exist? Well, give political rewards to those politicians who actually are ethical and implement real reform. Even if Obama and the Dems. were playing politics with Ethics Reform ... nu? that is how the system is supposed to work (even if the GOP, in working the system this way about trivialities during the Clinton years did their utmost to discredit this).

I have no doubt that, in fact, John McCain was sincere in his anger over Obama. I have no doubt that the media elites, when they inevitably use this to smeer Obama, sincerely do believe that he should have soldiered along with the Taskforce. The problem is that the mindset of McCain and the media is not that of a democratic-republican but rather that of a feudalist. And too many people, c.f. Bowling Alone, wouldn't know the democratic-republican mindset if it bit them in the face -- because they've not served on "blue ribbon committees", they don't know what works and what doesn't. So they fall victim to "even the liberal media thinks politics is icky" -- which, given the public's almost Kassian approach to morality, makes politics evil.

Sure, politics is dirty ... but politics is, fundamentally, how we come together at the level of the polis and beyond. Unless we want to revert to some Jeffersonian agrarian utopia, we can't pretend politics shouldn't happen (and we can't let ourselves fall into the "Jeffersonian" glibertarian trap of "gummint is teh evil"): politics, taxes, etc., are the prices we pay for living in a society in which we get to have technology, art, etc. And aren't art and techology worth that price?


In other news -- I've heard it in the pipeline from my "sources": one of the talking points of the GOP is gonna be to re-enforce the notion of "the media are liberals with an agenda" (which notion is used to discredit any criticism of the GOP and ensure people support McCain thinking "wow, even the liberal media likes McCain") using the media's "calling" the Dem. nomination for Obama over that poor, 'Murkin Hillary Clinton (so hypocritical given how the GOP let the media foist their favorite candidate on them). You're gonna see a lotta conservative love (and crocodile tears) for HRC (in part to lure HRC supporters to McCain) -- what are the Dems. gonna do about this?

Monday, June 02, 2008


Looking Back at Leviticus: Delayed Location of Sinai Blogging

Leviticus ends by sourcing its laws to Moses at Sinai, but begins with sourcing its laws to Moses at the Tent of Meeting. What does this dual sourcing say about the actual location of Sinai? We really don't know where Sinai is, do we? So where, or even, when is it? Nu? What does it mean that we Jews ALL received the Torah at Sinai?

I guess some look to the Bible for answers, but we Jews look to the Bible for questions?

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