Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Some Thoughts on the Middle East Situation

While I have been critical of Israel's "responses" in the past, this time it seems that Israel is doing almost everything right (although I have heard some disturbing news about Israel hitting civilian and NGO targets that are not serving in any way, shape or form as storehouses for bombs or hiding places for radicals -- Israel can't continue to say "oh we are waging war in a way to minimize civilian casualties ... what other country does X, Y & Z to minimize civilian casualties?" and then go on and target schools, etc., with no bombs or terrorists in them! that's completely disingenuous and wrong ... and Israel wonders about it's hasbara problem?).

Moreover, even when I have been critical of Israel, I have found the mindset of my fellow left-wing critics to be very disturbing. How can lefties, who have infinite empathy for any oppressed group suddenly decide that we Jews, who have been oppressed in Europe for so long, are tools of European colonialism and thus our narratives do not deserve to be listened to? How can lefties who so understand how the Palestinians could be driven to violence refuse to even give a hearing to the Israeli perspective? How do they think they would respond if they were in the position of the average Israeli -- having had the world turn its back on 6 million Jews being slaughtered and then, once a Jewish state is established, having the world complain about every single attempt at self-defense by that state? Are we Jews not allowed to be secure? Are we supposed to be living under siege forever? (that being said, Zionism is a failure: the state of Israel has not achieved normalization of the Jewish people -- and any religiously oriented Jew could have told you that from the get-go ... we Jews are not one of the "goyim", nations, but an "am hakodesh" -- a distinguished people, and c.f. the Song of the Suffering Servant ... so why and how did Zionism become the sine qua non of Jewish identity? vide infra for more complaining about this ...)

How can the international community, that does nothing when Jews are refugees, suddenly decide that our solution to our refugee problem is "violating rules" regarding refugees? How can that international community look the other way when sundry other nations violate "norms of the civilized world" and then accuse Israel of doing so? And those lefties and that international community wonder why we Jews are distrustful of them and view them as potentially anti-Semitic?

Still, the attitude of many of my fellow Jews also disturbs me. We are a people who have been persecuted for so long, who have been dispossessed for so long, we know how hateful it is. Yet we still glibly dismiss the Palestinians' situation as "the fault of those Arabs" and are happy to ignore how settlements, etc. are contributing to the plight of the Palestinians. We even ignore our own religion and the great sage Hillel who exhorted us "do not do unto others what is hateful to you".

We Jews refuse to see things from the perspective of the Palestinian Arabs: it's one thing for us to say "well, no matter what, Israel is in the right here", but it's an entirely different thing for us Jews, contra Hillel, to not think "how would we react if our land were taken away from us, etc. ... would we be reacting any differently than the Palestinians would under that situation?".

I am particularly disturbed by the Conservative/Masorti movement in which, religiously, I feel most at home. This movement, for some reason, was one of the first religiously (rather than secularly) oriented movements to embrace Zionism. And now a Zionist orientation is seen as the sine qua non of Jewish religious identity even as the Conservative/Masorti movement embraces (properly, IMHO) visions of Jewish chosen-ness that run contrary to everything Zionism takes Judaism to be. To make matters even more pathetic, that Jewish state that we are asked to support precisely because we are Jews (and anybody who asks me to support Israel for that reason cannot complain about accusations of "dual loyalties" ... because they themselves are promoting what should be a dismissible anti-Semitic canard: who is the real self-hating Jew -- a Satmar or a leftist with a real philosophical or theological beef with Zionism or a "reasonable, moderate" Jew who tells me to behave exactly as anti-Semites claim we Jews should behave) does not even recognize our religious stream as a form of Judaism nor does it recognize our conversions, our divorces, etc. And we Conservative/Masorti Jews are supposed to support a state because it is supposedly Jewish even as it does not recognize our Judaism as Jewish?

And when we raise these questions, we are told "these are good questions ... but now is not the time to raise them". Of course we Jews should support each other. To slightly adapt another famous saying of Hillel's, "if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?" Israel is in the right here and we shouldn't let our political allies or our very real concerns regarding Israel and Zionism convince us otherwise. OTOH, that saying as slightly adapted would continue "if we are for ourselves alone, what are we?". If we Jews ignore Hillel's version of the Golden Rule and fail to even understand the origins of that Palestinian anger that enables Hamas to kill innocent Jewish civilians, not only have we made ourselves powerless to do anything to alleviate that anger (which alleviation is, in the long run, the only way to ensure Israel is at peace and achieves the Zionist goal of being a normal state) but we also have made ourselves as inhuman as the Palestinians have made themselves by their behavior -- we have sunk to the very level at which anti-Semites imagine us ... thus granting Hitler a posthumous victory (perhaps, though, this sinking is not surprising as the Zionist definition of Jewish nationhood is very much similar to how anti-Semites conceive us Jews), etc.

And as to the issue of "now not being a good time to raise these questions" ... remember the completion of Hillel's three part dictum: "if not now, when?"

Monday, January 05, 2009


Misc. New Year's Notes

Does anybody study the notions of "private languages"? I notice I have certain code words, inside jokes, etc., that all but constitute a language incomprehensible to outsiders when I speak with my brother (evidently this is the remanent of a "twin language" we used to share as young kids even though we are 3 years and 9 months apart) and similarly with my friends and now my wife and daughter. How widespread is this phenomenon? How many words in, e.g., the Adictionary, are from such private languages? Who studies this? What has been learned?

Specifically from my friends' and my code language -- we have a habit of avoiding all verbs but forms of "to have" and turning all other verbs into nouns ending in the suffix "ness". E.g. the preceding thought would be expressed as "we have a habit of having verb avoidanceness with exception-existingness for forms of the verb 'to have', thus having turningness of other verbs into nouns having the suffix of 'ness' endingness". It ends up sounding like a bad translation of Heidegger (sp), don't it?

In my brother's and my code language, we have "peppiness level" from my dad's minor sub-mania -- he is never fully manic but is oftentimes "peppy".

Speaking of which, how much is it appreciated that bipolar disorder may be a heterogeneous set of disorders? E.g. bipolar disorder runs on both sides of my family, but the disorder on my mom's side is very different than that on my dad's side. In the former case, "mixed states" predominate" while, except for my paternal grandmother who had classic bipolar disorder, on my dad's side, the typical form is "peppiness" with occasional bouts of lassitude and anomie. And I was once set up with a girl who had bipolar with both mixed states, mania and depression but was marked with the sorts of almost autistic like cognitive defects not seen in classical bipolar outside of psychotic breaks -- even when her mood was relatively stable without any other sign of even neurosis and certainly not psychosis, she still lack a "theory of mind" or even the sort of "meta-theory of mind" that many autistic people have in lieu of an intuitive theory of mind. Has this been studied?

Has anybody come up with a "mass transit bill of rights"? I think it's ridiculous that I cannot take a mass transit from point A to point B (within the same metro area with supposedly one of the most extensive mass transit systems in the nation) without it taking 2+ hours (when driving would take < 1.5 hours) and requiring me to walk to my final destination over roads that have no frickin' side-walks! Someone needs to distill this ridiculousness (have distillation of narishkeit?) into a "bill of rights" that can be circulated as a petition.

So many questions ... and yet while I should be doing even my own research, I'm blogging! ;)

Saturday, January 03, 2009


PBS Kids Shows

I'm really pleased with Sid the Science Kid (may recommend that my students watch it!) but what's the deal with the de-emphasis of phonics on the reading shows? Research does indicate that "phonemical awareness" (or something like that) is more important than phonics, and reason dictates that in a language as crazy non-phonenitcal as English (I had ghoti for Shabbos dinner, for example) phonics are not the best way to learn reading ... but still, it seems that every so often (shortly before I went into pre-school, nowadays it seems) everyone gets too excited about research that is never as conclusive as is claimed and reason that only goes so far in an irrational world (nu? if the world were so rational, English would be phonetic so phonics would work anyway ...) with the result that, well, kids just don't learn to read.

So? What's with the lack of phonics in the reading oriented kids shows?

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Before My Laptop Discharges ...

I'm signing in to wish all a happy New Year. My wife, daughter (she insisted on staying up) and I toasted in the new year with juice (for my daughter) and Villa Jolanda Prosecco. The wine was good: it didn't have the melon flavor of other proseccos I've had but rather a smoky tartness remaniscent (sp?) of the Piper-Heisdieck house style.

So what did you all use to toast in the New Year?

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