Friday, June 30, 2006

Explain the meaning of the Akedah to me again, please

Regular readers of my day blog, "Live Frei or Die, may have remembered that the Akedah is one of my least favorite stories in all of Scripture. However, at least I could derive some consolation that the Jewish consensus what that the story teaches us that Judaism abhors the idea of Human sacrifice.

Well ,I should have known better. As with everything I've been taught about Judaism, that's not strictly true.

In the course of a comment exchange with Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Giller, the discussion turned to 2 Kings, chapters 21-23. This is basically an acocunt of naughty King Menashe of Judah, who "did that what was evil in the sight of the LORD," and of Good King Josiah, who cleaned up the mess.

In the course of the clean-up process, we have the following incident:

23:19 And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel.
23:20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.

23:20 ‏וַ֠יִּזְבַּח אֶת־כָּל־כֹּהֲנֵ֨י הַבָּמֹ֤ות אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם֙ עַל־הַֽמִּזְבְּחֹ֔ות וַיִּשְׂרֹ֛ף אֶת־עַצְמֹ֥ות אָדָ֖ם עֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיָּ֖שָׁב יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם

Basically, the text says that our Good King didn't just execute these priests he executed them on the altar. The Hebrew word translated as "slew" ("yizvach") has the same root (zayin, bet, chet) as the word "mizbe'ach" (altar), and "zevach" (sacrifice) so I can only conclude that Josiah made a human sacrifice as part of his purification of the land of Judah.

How come they didn't teach us that in Hebrew School?

Godfather Horse Head

Click Right Here

Pass the Oxygen

Remember this infamous article by Rabbi Meyer Lubin in the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists' journal? Well, the latest issue of the journal has letters in reply, and Rabbi Lubin's reply to them.

In the letters, the respondents point out that Rabbi Lubin clearly doesn't have a frickin' clue about what evolution actually is--often confusing it with Lamarckism--and that he mangled just about everything he attacked, making a fool out of himself and the organization. Zev Stern, PhD asked, "Would [Rabbi Lubin] please cite one reference in the scientific literature that claims, as he asserts evolutionary biologists do, that humans evolved from sardines or mice?" Rabbi Lubin's reply to this? "Oh yes, even without the 'please' I am glad to." He continues [emphasis mine]:

[Dr. Douglas Futuyma] showed the author an item which stated, “The mouse genome effort, according to Nature’s editors, had revealed “about 30,000 genes, with 99% having direct counterparts in humans. Futuyma explained that this resemblance…gives meaning to biomedical research using mice and other animals, including chimpanzees, which (to their sad misfortune) are our closest living relatives.” Of course, Dr. Stern may assert that these two citations do not state that humans are descended from mice, but only that we have a common ancestry. When years ago evolutionists were accused of claiming that humans were descended from chimpanzees, they replied, “Darwin forbid, they only had a common ancestor…” Will Dr. Stern now maintain that humans and mice have a common ancestor?

The sardine ancestry is found in biology textbooks, among them Amsco’s Biology Review Book, where there is a direct arrow from fish vertebrates to humans. Perhaps here too evolutionary biologists will claim fish and humans have a common ancestor? [...] And perhaps only we common humans are related to sardines, but Bill Gates is related to goldfish?


I'm convinced these things are actually a grand conspiracy to kill all the kofrim by getting us to laugh so hard we asphyxiate. If so, it's a full-frontal assault, with the latest Jewish Observer, the Kornreich's column in the Yated, and now this. I mean, how else can you explain it?!

My Testimony (A guest post by Pinchas Giller)

One winter night a few years ago my mother fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck. There was no spinal chord damage but her heart stopped in the ambulance. I flew out to the Midwest from LA, my sister from Manhattan. A few days later she developed an intestinal kink and began to hemorrhage. As they were attending to that problem, pneumonia set in. Her temperature was rising to critical levels.

The doctor walked my father and me into the hall and explained that a certain point had been passed and her body was conspiring to shut down. We sat there in an uncomprehending daze.

I had put all my classes and business in LA onto a single day so I flew back. On the connection to Chicago I ran into R. Yosef Weingarten, the Chabad meshullach.

“I’m on my way to the Rebbe,” he said, by which he meant the “tziyyon” in Queens. Write a k’vitl. I’ll take it. Come on.”

So I sat on the plane and took pen to paper. “Ana HaShem, rachem al nishmat Imi ha-tzanua…” I got a little teary and brought the nib up to my eye; why not? “Hatzel at nishmata ha-tehorah…” Hmmm, what am I doing? “be-zekhut hishtatchut ha-petek ha-zeh be tziyyon ha-Admor…” Hmm, z”l? Don’t want to offend anybody. “Al tziyyon ha-Admor, MaMaSh.” Well, that elides things.

I gave the k’vitl to Yossi and he pledged to take it to Queens that day. I did my business in LA, packed my black suit and the right kerakh of Yoreh Deah and flew back to Grand Rapids. “Well, her temperature went down,” said the doctors. My sister looked pale and wan.

I ran into Yossi in the hall of the hospital and told him. “My son is going back to New York today,” he said. “You have to keep the Rebbe informed.” I composed another prayer and handed it over.” “For future reference,” said Yossi, ”the Rebbe has a FAX.”

Slowly, my mother got better. One of us slept at the hospital every night in her room. My sister was indefatigable. My father took to pestering me, “did you send a FAX?”

My parents live in the San Fernando Valley now. It’s nearby and there is no ice. I was idly watching the Chabad telethon one night and their names scrolled past with a $180 donation. “Well, it’s the least they could do,” I thought.

“And that’s what you think happened?” asks my wife, indignantly. “You think it’s because of the petek and the kever?”

“We need the eggs,” I reply.

---Pinchas Giller

Screwy New Medicaid Law

Gotta love those oh so compassionate conservatives who promote wholesome morality and family values. How do you screw over immigrants and the most needy people in this country simultaneously? Just check the latest law by the heartless republicans who are so adamant about their holy Christian nation "under G-d" while totally chucking "E Pluribis Unum" right out the window with the worthless nickel its printed on.
Under the rule, intended to curb fraud by illegal immigrants, such proof as a passport or a birth certificate must be offered at the time a person applies for Medicaid benefits or during annual reenrollment in the state-federal program for the poor and disabled.

Critics fear that the provision will have the unintended consequence of harming several million U.S. citizens who, for a variety of reasons, will not be able to produce the necessary paperwork. They include mentally ill, mentally retarded and homeless people, as well as elderly men and women, especially African Americans born in an era when hospitals in the rural South barred black women from their maternity wards....The new provision is part of last year's Deficit Reduction Act, which President Bush signed into law in February. Despite a federal inspector general's report concluding that there was little fraud by noncitizens, supporters said the measure would ensure that Medicaid dollars go only to citizens or eligible immigrants.

Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.), one of the prime sponsors, decried "the outright theft of Medicaid benefits by illegal aliens."
Teaching good values must not include chapters on bullying the poor and disabled. I'm sure this too would affect many in the Jcomm for a variety of reasons. Shudder.

(Cross posted to The Town Crier)

A final thought from Akiva

Henay MaTov - - - - by Akiva

Henay MaTov uMaNayim Shevat Achim Gam Yachad - How good it is when brothers sit together.

We don't get together very often. We as in, we Jews. Together as in, well, together. The Ashkenazim don't pray with the Sephardim, the Yeshivish don't learn with the Chassidim, the Modern Orthodox don't pray with the Yeshivish, the Religious Zionists don't stop by the Charedim, and Chabad generally stands alone. Within the world of Torah there's surprising diversity and yet surprising isolationism.

This week, DovBear invited his brothers, his fellow Jews, to come and use his bully pulpit. He brought together a diverse group, who no doubt would probably never get together in the physical world, who disagree with each other and with DovBear on most everything. A right wing religious zionist settler, a chassidic kabbalah learner, a learned atheist, an uber-liberal, and more.

It's good when brothers sit together, even when they disagree, as they're still family. In a difficult week for Israel, DovBear has done an immeasurable service to Klal Yisroel, he has created a moment of unity.

Yasher Koach DovBear, and thanks for inviting me to be a part of it.


The real danger to Israel’s security

It seems that J. Bradford Delong would be better sticking to economics (his specialty) or at least spend a few minutes on Wikipedia before he starts making incendiary political comments:

Lieberman's "we criticize the commander-in-chief at our own peril line" is indeed despicable. More despicable, in my view, is his twenty years of anti-Israel rhetoric. It has been obvious since the late 1970s that for American politicians to coquette with the anexationist fantasies of Likud is to raise the chance that Tel Aviv will become a radioactive abattoir sometime in the next half century. Joe Lieberman surely knows this. But he keeps on coquetting. To curry favor and contributions from AIPAC by doing what you can to undermine the long-run security of Israel--that is truly beneath contempt.


Now, if I were a Connecticut resident, I, too would probably vote in the Democratic primary to send Senator Lieberman into a well-deserved retirement, and I’m even willing to concede that the program of the Likud may well turn Tel Aviv in to a “radioactive abattoir” sometime in the next 50 years. (Though I think that the greatest danger is that the program of the Israeli right will turn Tel Aviv into Mea Sha’aerim or B’nai Brak, which might even be worse.)

But De Long presents no evidence that Holy Joe is a tool of Netanyahu’s bible thumping cabal. Yes, people like Rabbi Michael Lerner aren’t exactly enamored of the man, but even Reb Tikkun admits that Joe was probably supportive of the evil Oslo Accords back in the ‘90s. In fact, Joe, like most American Jewish machers, was the type to (at least publicly) support whatever party line was emanating from Jerusalem. No wonder Joe started supporting the Likud in “the late 1970s.” Guess what happened in 1977? The Likud won its first election ever in over 2,000 years. Up to that point, all the machers supported Labor, but while they weren’t sure whether they liked the idea of supporting the “terrorist” Menachem Begin, they gulped, and decided that supporting Israel was more important than getting too involved in Israeli politics. And none of this had anything to do with kissing AIPAC’s ass.

(Another relevant point: In 1977, Joe was a state senator, not exactly a postion where his support for Likud would be relevant, even if it existed. He wasn't elected US Senator until 1988.)

And I hope Dr. DeLong doesn’t have some warm ‘n fuzzy fantasy about the Labor Party “peaceniks.” Sure, members of the “Peace camp” in Israel are almost all leftists, but not everybody in the Labor Party is a “peacenik.” The first West Bank settlements, after all, were set up under Labor governments who essentially caved to the messianic mishugass of the Gush Emunim. (Just as the great Ben Gurion caved to the demands of the hareidim to allow Orthodoxy to be the only state-sanctioned Judaism in the country.) I recommend an piece in the Washington Jewish Week : “Outpost showdown? Israel aims to take down renegade settlements” by Leslie Susser where it’s pointed out that out of 105 illegal (“illegal” by Israeli law) outposts, only 24 were set up after March 2001, on the watch of the evil warmonger Ariel Sharon. While some of these outposts were no doubt erected during the dubious tenure of Mr. Netanyahu, it’s an inescapable conclusion that a lot of these obstacles to peace were established under the administrations of Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. And people wonder why Oslo failed.

So DeLong is wrong about Lieberman and his relationship with the Likud, and also wrong about the Likud being the only danger to Israel’s security. But he is right on the money when it comes to the real danger to Israel’s security: The annexationist fantasies.

So, too bad for the right wing: It’s not fair, but the religious rightists and their secular fellow travelers today don’t get the same free pass that the leftists got back in ’48. Yes, the leftists stole Arab land in 1948-9, but they were doing so for Jewish survival. .Today’s settlers, however, do it for a ridiculous messianic fantasy that, like all messianic fantasies in Jewish history, will lead the Jews to ruin.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Explaining Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter on her religious beliefs:

"Christianity...ended the practice of churches, i mean it basically ended religion. With Christianity, Christ came and died for our sins. We no longer get to heaven by good works..."

That explains it.


The greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world

This year marks the 50th aniversary of the Interstate Highway system.

The short history of of this wonderful network of roads, clogged as thickly as a chulent-and-kugel eater's arteries, is as follows:

In America 100 years ago, it was pretty easy to get from town to town by train, but if you lived out of town you were on your own, and had to deal with "roads" that were basically mud sinkholes.

In 1919, the U.S. Army had a zillion surplus trucks left over from World War I, and nothing to do with them, because Pancho Villa wasn't cooperating in terms of cross-border raids, so someone at the War Department had a great idea: "Road trip!! Road Trip!!" Also, the auto and concrete lobbies were trying to encourage the novel concept of paved roads.

Thus was born the Transcontinental Motor Train, an Army convoy that was responding to a simulated attack on the west coast by the "Yellow Peril" with a truck convoy that took 62 days to drive from Washington DC to San Franscisco. (They could have taken the same trip by train in 4 days.)

On of the officers participating was an observer from the Tank Corps named Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower. He seems to have enjoyed the experience, and wrote rather detailed reports. However, his professional view was that the roads of the US were not yet suited for mass transportation by motor vehicles, which he thought was a problem, because his job in the military involved using motor vehciles as a military tool.

Some years later, Eisenhower, now a general (well, the General in charge of all the Allied Armies) found that the German autobahnen were a great way to move his army deep into the heart of Germany. (May it's just as well American roads were lousy mudholes. Imagine if the Yellow Peril has landed in San Fransisco and had been able to insinuate an army of Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans into the heart of America... )

A few years after that, Eisenhower got elected President of the United States, and in 1956 supported (along with Al Gore's father), the establishment and funding mechanism for creating Interstate highways. (Of course, by then, the raods in the US were better than what Eisenhower encountered in 1919, but they were mostly 2 lane, and thus not useful in moving large number of commuters desiring to flee from the riff-raff of the inner city, nor were they useful for the speculators who dealt in suburban farmland, which could be converted to housing for the commuters fleeing the urban riff-raff.)

The rest is history, and for the whole sorry tale, I reccomend surfing over to the James Howard Kunstler's web site. and his two books, The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere. Mr. Kunstler can sometimes be repetetive, a bit of a nudnik, but when it comes to sprawl and architectural criticism, he's right on the mark. And criticism of mass motoring on the basis of pollution, global warming, national security due to dependence on fuel suppplies, etc. is right on the mark. Not to mention the hassle of spending your entire life in traffic, driving a car. Or having $20,000 of your capital tied up in a depreciating asset. Or the ~$6-8,000 a year it costs to mainatin a car.

Kunstler's basic thesis, with which I agree, is that the automobile is the transportation equivalent of crack cocaine. And the infrastucture built to accomodate our "drive-in utopia" is, I guess, our national crack house. JHK also originated the phrase that's the title of this post.

Now, I don't mean to insult or patronize. We all live in Kunstler's nightmare vision, and I'm as much of a "transportation crack" addict as anyone. I do find it ironic that Al Gore is now working so hard to sound the alarm about global warming, a problem that his father, Al Gore Sr. help cause by bringing the Interstate Highway system into being.

Want to do something about it? The best thing would be to move into the city, sell your car, take the bus to work, and live in an apartment in a walkable, mixed use neighborhood. But I know, nobody's going to do that. ("What?!! Live with the schv*[derogatory Yiddish term for African Americans deleted]**s!?? G-d forbid!!") But you can cut back the amount you drive. That's not to hard.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Interstate system, even if you are the greatest misallocation in the history of the world.

Heilman's Howlers

Grampa ("Abe") Simpson is known for rambling on and on, making incoherent claims regarding life in the old days and such. One famous example:
We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere - like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Give me five bees for a quarter," you'd say.

Now where were we? Oh yeah - the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones...
In "Sliding to the Right," Prof. Samuel Heilman does his best Abe Simpson impression with bizarre and plain wrong observations about Orthodoxy. Some gems:

-Even a putatively lenient interpreter of law as the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, head of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim Yeshiva in New York, took the view that, as it in a responsum written to a Detroit school principal, "according to all authorities, co-education is absolutely forbidden."

-Yeshivas became increasingly popular because they took children in at a young age and occupied them for long hours - a fact not lost on Haredi families with many offspring who could use the help of the school in caring for them.

-There was another basis for the centrists' discomfort -- the liturgy whch impressed on those who recite it daily, as did these Orthodox Jews, that they needed to "be forgiven for we have sinned and be absolved for we have transgressed." Multiple times a day and in a variety of prayers, they recited the words that reminded them that wrongdoing and desire for exculpation were an inevitable part of their lives... Thus, if there was something structural that might tip the balance in their increasingly ambivalent cultural stance away from engagement in the modern world ... their liturgy was ready to give expression to underlying feelings of culpability that were in any event part of their post Holocaust Orthodoxy.

-Another sign of the "slide to the right" could be seen in the Sabbath day culinary habits of members of puatively modern Orthodox synoggoues. Post-services refreshments at these places of worship -- the kiddush -- which once featured sweet herrings -- either pickled or cream -- manufactured by old-time American food companies such as Vita and Season, were more and more often supplanted by the more traditional European salty herring, schmaltz, to the point where those who favored sweet herring would be derided by their co-religionists as Amerikainers, Yinglish for Stupid American. This process, which I call supplantationism, is like supplantation, but with more syllabyles.
(OK, the last one was me).


Recently a bunch of German visitors in Meah She'arim in Jerusalem were "persuaded" that they were not entirely welcome. I shall not dwell upon the different interpretations of the event - unless you live in a cave, you've already seen both sides in a number of different versions.
[If you DO live in a cave, WELCOME! Please share your wisdom - shut up.]

But I will say one thing: Orange T-shirts!

We can assume that these visitors were not Dutch monarchists. Or soccer fans.

The colour was not an accident.

Entirely aside from the deliberate statement behind the choice of hue, there is something, dare I say it, disturbing about a bunch of Germans all wearing identical shirts.........

The most positive spin on this is that it was a clumsy attempt at interfaith dialogue.

Much as I love the idea of communication and co-operation among groups, and feel that the more we know about what makes the other guy tick the more we'll all be able to get along, I am ambivalent about interfaith dialogue. And this is despite knowing that many of the people involved in the endeavor are estimable indeed, and much more intelligent and knowledgeable than myself.

Interfaith is precisely what it isn't. It's just two sides talking to each other.

Which is a good thing, to be sure, but forevvinsake leave the almighty out of it.

The understanding of the nature of G_d is explicitly different on the two sides of the Judeo-Christian divide; one cannot say that they share the same deity but differ on details - the difference is one of fundamentals.
Even claiming that they have some source-texts and traditions in common is debatable. Once man's relation to existence comes into play the differences become even more glaring.

Necessarily any discussion between the two sides would have to avoid theological debate.
Or even statements of differing opinions on certain fundamentals - to define the differences is already to disagree and evaluate the other.

Calling it interfaith-dialogue is somewhat misleading, as it suggests that only mere details differ.
As if the various faiths are little more than menu choices at a Taco-Bell: same ingredients in similar proportions, only varying in how long they were in the deep-fryer.

I have no faith in a Fry-o-later. Do you?

PS. I could've also used the group-grope metaphor, but Dov said to keep it clean.
So I'll just bite my own tongue.

Instead of yours.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

Cross posted on my own blog at 6:48 Pacific Summer Time, precisely and approximately.

See here:

That's cross-POSTED. Not that other thing.

Proof Positive

In this era of boundless skepticism it can hard for us maaminim to maintain our faith in whatever we were taught to believe. From all sides comes evidence that what we believe isn't true and it can be very hard to ignore it all. It helps to have many proofs in hand because even if individually their logic doesn't work, when you put them together it seems like a lot and that works. So, to aid in this cause I'm proud to introduce Intelligent Bending Theory.

Have you ever used a straw? Shame on you! A true ben Torah doesn't drink in such a vulgar manner. Moshe Rabbeynu would never have used a straw despite his burnt lips making every glass a dribble glass, you shaigetz. However, if you've ever been unfortunate enough to see such a prust display of unbridled gashmius, you have already seen proof of your Creator's existence. Take a look this picture:

Notice that the straw looks broken, like a yingele's spirit after a good mussar shmooze. What causes this weird illusion? The Almighty of course, and I can prove it! Picture this scenario (by Richard "Dick" Feynman, a widely known Evil Atheist Rosha Scientist):

You're standing on the beach enjoying the Aibishter's spectacular screensaver. Suddenly you hear a cry! Further down the beach someone is drowning. As an ehrlicher yid, you're going to rush to save this person (pretend it's a Jew drowning or that it's not Shabbos.) However, you have a problem on your hands, or should I say feet.

You want to get to the drowning person as fast as possible. You can run on the sand much faster than you can swim in the water, so you're wondering how to most quickly get to the hapless glubber. Should you run in a straight line towards the the drowner (path B), spending more time in the slow water but traveling a shorter path? Or should you run on the sand until you're perpendicular to the drowner (path A), thus minimizing time in the water but traveling farther overall?:

The answer is neither! The formula to calculate the answer is complex and probably requires time in college (chas v'sholom!) to understand, but the fastest path (path C) is somewhere in the middle (but not halfway). Of course, by the time you calculated this best path the person has drowned. However, it might have been a woman anyway which wouldn't have been tzniusdik, so gam zu l'tova.

Now replace the beach sand with air, the water with...uh...water, the straw with the drowner, and remember that light travels at different speeds through different mediums just like your pale legs. The light is you, trying to get to the "sucker" as quickly as possible. Like a bochur leaving yeshiva for bein hazmanim, light always picks the fastest possible route to take. Of all the infinite angles it could take, it takes the best one every time. Not once does it ever pull over to "chap ah mezoynos" in an out of town McDonalds. No, it always stays on the derech. How does light know how to do that? Like a kofer, it has no brains! So how does the light calculate which path will be the fastest? Obviously something supernatural is at work.

Now, some scientists would have you believe that this is a natural occurrence. They might even have a very fancy-shmancy sounding explanation for it. But they are members of E.A.R.S., so you can't believe a word they say. A maamin will see that this proves that all around us guiding every light wave is an intelligence, a being obsessing over every kink in the world. Not only that, but it proves that the same Intelligence gave the Torah! Different colors bend different amounts when passing through refractive media. This is what causes rainbows, and azoy shtayt in posuk somewhere in parshas Noach! Thus, you see from science that the Intelligent Bender is truly the force behind the rainbow, perpetually reminding us of His promise to never again go on a bender, wiping out the world because it got Him bent out of shape.

To everyone who's not bright this proof from lightrays will illuminate your way, keeping you on the bent and narrow. We believers are bent on getting Intelligent Bending Theory taught as an alternative to the atheistic theory of optics being taught in physics classes all over America. Our tayareh kinderlach are being indoctrinated with something invented by someone named Ibn Sahl, obviously not a ohev Hashem! And, unlike that Intelligent Design movement that refuses to say who they think the Designer is, we have no such qualms in the Intelligent Bending movement. All hail the almighty Bender!:

And so I sign off, finished with my duty as DovBear guest poster. From one Bender acolyte to another I say, "Get bent!"

Is It Really Only 1%?

Cass Sunstein quotes a statement by Vice President Dick Cheney:

We have to deal with this new type of threat in a way we haven’t yet defined. . . . With a low-probability, high-impact event like this . . . If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.

Sunstein argues that the Precautionary Principle (which requires a serious response to a low probability but great damage risk) is legit, but in this context should be used cautiously.

I believe Cheney's statement should not be taken literally (that one percent is equal to one hundred percent), but basically means that sometimes even a risk of one percent is sufficient to take seriously.

An example: Let's say we know that a shooter is lurking in New York and there's a 90 percent chance he'll kill 20 people. That's a pretty high risk and if we multiply the risk times the probability, we can assume that 18 people will die if we do nothing. So the government should exert x amount of resources to bring down the risk or the harm.

Now let's say we know there's a 1% chance that a Muslim terrorist will detonate a nuclear bomb that will kill 100,000 people. We can then assume, in the absence of any action, that 1000 people will die. The latter threat, although less likely to occur, is more grave and the government should exert resources that are greater than x.

So it would seem the government should respond more seriously to the latter threat. How should they respond? One effective way is to impose greater restrictions on liberty (for example checking every Muslim at random). Is that a good idea?

Let's say the balance between security and liberty is at its optimal point, which is 50/50. If we changed the balance to 55/45 in favor of security, we'd lessen the probability of the harm. So interestingly it makes more sense to impose serious restrictions on liberty in a case where the probability of harm is only 1% than it does in some cases where the probability is 90%. If we change the numbers in my example from 90% to100% (meaning that if we do nothing we know for sure 20 people will die) and 1% to .1 percent, it still makes more sense to curtail liberty in the second example more than in the first.

Cheney is right. We must take 1% risks seriously where the harm is unimaginable.

I understand that I’m not taking into account the costs imposed by curtailing liberty and other alternative methods of stopping terror. But I’m getting married on Sunday and I don’t have all day. Plus I have a time limit. Thanks DB, you’re the best.

Ok, that's my real post. Hope you all enjoyed it and my time here.

A Success

CWY alluded to an experiment I was running, and I must say it worked. Basically my hypothesis was that on political blogs the number of comments is inversely proportional to the quality of the post. And while my test wasn't exactly scientific, I think it proved a point.

Let me explain. I mean this in the nicest way, but most of the political posts on DB's blog are simplistic and make broad and weak arguments. DB is a smart guy, but it's completely understandable when he's posting a few times a day and thousands of times a year. My guess is he just sees an interesting topic and decides to post about it without thinking it through.

When I look at the blogs I read, it seems that the less well-written and intelligent the post is, the more comments it will get. Kos gets thousands of comments a day and most of their stuff is crap. Volokh, however, maybe gets 100 on a normal day and their stuff is top rate (I know they appeal to different people). It seemed to me that people usually comment when either they want to agree or to argue.

It seems like lower quality posts will have more comments because people will agree or because people can respond to the arguments (disagree). And that theme seems to have been true on DB this week. Pretty much every single post I wrote was crap. My minimum wage argument was especially simplistic, yet it garnered 76 comments. 76 comments! I'm not sure my blog had that many comments all year. Yet my co-guest blogger's posts, which were far superior to mine, barely received anything (with the exception of Mis-Nagid). Why is that? I believe it's because people like responding to poor arguments. They know they can beat the argument so they try. And in many cases they do. Yet well-reasoned posts (especially Jameel's Can Israel Win? and Noyam's Presumed Consent posts) barely registered any comments at all.

So what have I learned? That successful blogging (as measured by comments and probably hits) requires the ability to entertain. As DB constantly likes to point out he is an entertainer. He is witty, smart, and does a good job of providing the type of posts people like to read. He's like talk radio. People read him because they agree with him or because they hate him (well not really hate, but you know what I mean).

But entertainment and quality are two different animals. It's no coincidence that talk radio and mediocre newspapers get a greater audience than magazines like The Economist. You can't really have both (although DB's religion posts and Godol Hador seem to be a good mix). You have to choose. And that choice will often greatly affect the size of one’s audience.

You were all part of the experiment. Some of you figured out I was writing crap (although I agreed in part with everything I posted). I hope I didn't offend anyone. That was really not my intention.

If I have time in the next two hours I'm going to write one real, serious, jajc-quality, conservative post. If not, I'd like to thank everyone for reading and responding to my posts and DB for letting me post here. You guys were all great.

Tacos Rule!

I get one more post before close of business, so I'm gonna make it the best ever!

OK, maybe not that good, but pretty awesome:

If George Bush was a Jedi!


(Thanks Dan)

How about a round of applause?

Please take a moment to say thanks and good-bye to the very excellent guest bloggers. Their time expires this afternoon. This evening a new group takes over.

Guest-bloggers: Your final posts please!

Presumed Consent

Currently, there's a bill, among others, on George Pataki's desk. As described in an op-ed in yesterday's New York Daily News:

"The most revolutionary among these bills would have the state start studying something called "presumed consent" - the practice whereby everyone in the state is presumed to consent to being an organ donor, unless he or she actively opts out." (Here)

(Long story why I was reading the News. Basically I left before my Times was delivered and needed something to buy for the change of a dollar, refused to buy the Post.)

Anyway, the idea struck me. At first, I recoiled (shoulda seen me on the Subway, people must have thought I was having a seizure :-) ) at the idea. I should decide what goes on with my organs. The libertarian in me said, "hands off my kidney. What's next, forced donor registration and forced donation?" But then the pragmatist took over. Nobody would be forced to donate. It would simply shift the mechanism from opt-in to opt-out.

Certainly, the lazy middle would suddenly go from being non-donors to donors. (That's the thrust of the op-ed, that inertia should be used to promote donation, not stifle it.) But those that felt strongly one way or the other would do what they have to, just like they do now.

But should be really presume that people intend to donate their organs? Should this be up for a vote. If a referendum showed that a majority of people would donate their organs if the situation arose, then consent should be presumed, following the majority.

But does the legislature have the right to presume the consent without taking such a referendum? (This website suggests that the opt-out rate in European countries that have Presumed Consent is 2%. Wow.) Would it be a good thing?

I think so. There is a severe organ shortage in this country. Presuming that people consent to donating their organs would have to dramatically increase the number of available organs. I honestly have no idea in strict numbers, but it simply has to be.

Certainly, there are arguments to be made regarding an indicidual's right to choose, and privacy and "it's my body." But then I wonder, are the people who make these arguments going to be the same people who make them in favor of abortion, or will it be the people who reject them about abortion? Doesn't the "Culture of Life" absolutely mandate that once a person is dead (and let's not dispute that, because one must be dead to be an organ donor) anything that can be done to save another's life, including removing a liver or a kidney before that person goes into a Titanium box forever, should be done? I think so. I wonder how this will flip the traditional arguments. I really wonder if anyone can be opposed to it (one thing that blogging has taught me, someone will always be opposed to everything. I could say "the sky is blue" and I'll get a comment "maybe to you, lefty.").

From a Jewish perspective (which I really tried to avoid until now), in the interest of full disclosure, I am student of Rav Tendler when it comes to Bioethics. Literally, I took his bioethics class in YU (I was a Bio major). I remember his feelings on the matter of organ donation, and they were unequivocal. Certainly, there will be people touting halachic authorities that disagree, and that say that organ donation isn't as peachy-keen as I think. And to them I ask:

If Hashem will replace your worm-chewed heart with a new one after tchias hamaysim, why can't he just give you a new one? Let someone else use to live instead of making it worm food.

PS - Today's the day to tag-out, and let Team B take over. Some lucky blogger on that team might be DovBear's 3000th post.

Kugel and The Pentagon.

Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel
Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel
Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel
Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel

Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel
Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel
Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel
Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel Kugel

Last Friday at my son's impressive graduation from second grade, they served...Yerushalmi Kugel. I must admit, that eating kugel on any day of the week except for Shabbat is definitely bizarre (almost as bad as eating chulent on a Tuesday), but it never occured to me that it would be served on a Friday morning at my son's school.

It tasted excellent as well -- not the sweet kind, but the mouth- watering, peppery type that makes you have to eat another piece.

However, the Pentagon seems to have a problem with Kugel. Or more specifically, with Jews who have relatives in Israel who like Kugel.

Defense Dept. imposes loyalty test on American Jews

The Pentagon has banned security clearance to Americans with relatives in Israel. Government sources and attorneys said the Pentagon has sought and succeeded in removing security clearance from dozens of Americans, mostly Jews, who either lived, worked or have relatives in Israel. Official documents report that American Jews were asked by Pentagon examiners whether they would join a U.S. attack on Israel if the Jewish state was threatened. Web Source: Insight Magazine

That's enough to give anyone heartburn.


Mis-Nagid: Was that different enough a posting?

What's in a picture?

Far away from the galactic center of the Milky Way, I found this blog "The R Factor" with an interesting picture from here in Israel:

Reuter's captioned the picture as follows:

"Israeli soldiers sing and dance as they prepare to enter the Gaza Strip at the Rafah border crossing area on the Israeli-Gaza border June 28, 2006. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (ISRAEL)"

R-Factor brings up some interesting questions:

1) Is this caption accurate? I.e. Was this photo really taken of soldiers celebrating their return to Gaza?

2) Guess which newspaper/news agencies will probably post this picture in their online/print editions today and tomorrow?

3) What is your reaction to such a picture?

Having had my picture taken a few times while wearing an IDF uniform, I can vouch that not every single one them is the perfect image of seriousness (nothing inappropriate, but some are silly). I'm not exactly sure of the circumstances that this picture was taken, but I have a hard time believing it was what the caption describes. The pictures over here are much more in line with what's really going on.

In any event, Israel is now mourning for 18 year old Eliyahu Asheri, the 18 year old Israeli who was kidnapped and brutally shot in the head by Palestinian terrorists, immediately after his abduction.

Most pictures you'll be seeing from Israel over the next few days will be full of grim determination.

The Muqata

PS: DovBear, Sorry I haven't been more cheery the past few days. I'll see if I can come up with something on the lighter side a bit later.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Proper Use of Presidential Power

Recently the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to review President Bush's use of signing statements. Never mind that Bill Clinton used them as well (albeit it to a lesser degree), but apparently this has become a big deal now.

The Constitution requires that Congress can legislate and the President must sign the legislation for it to become law. Here Bush is signing the legislation, but refusing to abide by certain sections of it because he feels those parts are unconstitutional. Is that a problem?

Why would it be? Since when can't the President interpret the Constitution and decide if legislation runs contrary to it? And if he believes parts of the legislation are unconstitutional, why can't he refuse to execute them? If the courts decided those parts were unconstitutional, the President would not be allowed to execute those parts? So why can't he make the same decision as well?

Seems only fair.

Squealing on Sneaky Scientists

Every gutte frumme yid knows that scientists are all evil and only out to destroy the Torah. These Evil Atheist Reshoim Scientists (E.A.R.S.) say things k'neged Daas Torah just to lead people away from frumkeit, even though anyone truly honest can see that things like evolution are patently ridiculous. Of course, they're also very sneaky, which is why all the scientists you know don't seem to be like that at all. Don't be fooled! It's a trick. Membership in E.A.R.S. requires you to pretend that you're only seeking truth and to disguise the fact that science is really all a conspiracy against Orthodox Judaism.

In truth, Evil Atheist Reshoim Scientists are dastardly folks. When you're not looking at them, they're secretly laughing at you for believing they're nice, honest, humble people. In reality, they think they know everything, they have a superior attitude, and are smug and arrogant. Even the ones that are religious Jews are only pretending that so that their "fellow" coreligionists will be led into the trap of believing in science (chas v'sholom).

I know, I know, some of you are skeptical. "Where's the evidence?," you're thinking. (See how science has infiltrated your thinking?!) Well, as a card-carrying member of E.A.R.S., I have access to the top-secret monthly meetings. At the most recent meeting I snuck a tape recorder in under my black hat and recorded the keynote speech by the president of E.A.R.S.. I took great risk to attain this information; the meeting place is so bugged that even the walls have E.A.R.S.. I offer this gift to you doubters to once and for all show you the wisdom of the gedolim in warning you to stay away from these arrogant scientists. (Also, DovBear's paying me extra for this post. You didn't think I'd have written my last post for free did you?)

So steel yourself, and when you're ready to peel back the facade and see what scientists are like when they think no one but their own are listening click here and download the mp3. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

P.S. That commotion at the end is my cover to escape. Don't be alarmed, no one was hurt; it was blanks.

Xenophobes or Missionaries? We Report, You Don't Know

Headline: Missionaries Accosted in Meah She´arim
(while missionizing)
Headline: Haredim assault Christian tourists

Today, either those nasty charedim (you know, those ultra-religious types) attacked a peaceful group of 50 Xian tourists who just happened to be wandering by, or a group of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refused to stand by and watch a large group of Xian missionaries approach their children in the most strict orthodox Jewish religious neighborhood in the world.

So which is it? Well, depends on the news you read. What is not in dispute between the competing articles is this, a group of 50 Xian's with provocative Xian messages on their shirts walked straight in to the center of the most strict ultra-orthodox Jewish community that exists.

For those who have never been there, Meah She'arim is physically narrow and confusing, the community is extremely strict on appearance and custom (and all aspects of Judaism), and has very large signs on every neighborhood entrance and around the neighborhood (in 4 languages) warning visitors that community standards of modest dress and Jewish lifestyle should be strongly respected.

So while I don't know what actually happened, it's hard to end up where these 'tourists' were by accident, signs clearly warn about inappropriate dress not being acceptable there, and any person on entering will clearly know (from everyones appearence) that they've entered a unique area. I wouldn't stand by and let my children be missionized.

Another quality guest article by Akiva of Mystical Paths.


When Ezzie called me a liberal on his roundup of the guesters here, I pretended to get all indignant about it.

I obviously don't care what people call me, and I try to let my opinions speak for themselves, even if it means people will think I'm a liberal because of it.

Then last night, catching up on some recorded shows on my DVR, I cought an old episode of Boston Legal, where the main character, after winning a case he would have preferred to lose said something like this:

"Why do we have to be for them or against them, republican or democrat, red state or blue state? Why can’t we decide what’s right and then do that?"

And so I wonder, why all the labels? Why do people insist on piling others (and themselves) into neat little groups? Whether its conservative vs. liberal, democrat vs. republican or even yeshivish vs. modern, why do we insist on defining and labeling ourselves?

It turns friends against each other; once defined, we need to stick to the platforms of our definition. But why should that be?

During the run-up to the 2004 election, I made a small mental list of issues and whose position I agreed with. It was half and half. And so I found myself having to prioritize. I'm sure this isn't a wildly unique situation, but I found it hard. Especially when a particular friend of mine was pressuring me to "vote to re-elect the president" (and I was thinking, I can't find Al Gore on the ballot j/k). And when I argued that I thought Kerry's position on Stem Cell research and energy policy more closely mirrored mine, and that my conscience was telling me that until Bush has a coherent policy on energy and dependence on foreign oil, I couldn't vote for him. But I was getting attacked with party lines on Israel and national security, and I really was made to feel that a vote for Kerry was a vote to let the terrorists kill us all. (Not that it mattered, I could have voted for Donald Duck and Kerry would still have carried NY. I'm not saying who I ultimately voted for. DovBear might take away my keys.)

Then there's the blogosphere. Maybe people are really always convinced that they are right, but so rare is the post or comment that says, "he guys, you've made some strong arguments. I'm inclined to think differently about this issue. Your perspective is one I hadn't considered before, and shall give thought to now." Everyone so tightly clings to their definitions, that they refuse to see the other side.

Sure, those that call themselves "confident" will now label me "wishy-washy," but I do very often (as I'm sure there are others as well) sit in the middle, taking my time to discern the relative merits of several arguments, sometimes coming out on one side, and sometimes the other. (This is not to slef-promote, just to illustrate).

I don't even know what I'm trying to get at anymore. Whatever, don't mind me. I'm just a wishy-washy liberal Yankee-lover.

Goy, Frei, Curious?

The comments on my Money Matters post contained a few complaints. Some commenters rightly grumbled about my neglecting to include non-Jews in my invitation to donate ("frum or frei, chareidi or chasidic, misnagid or Mis-nagid"). Kyaroko wanted to know why shiksas weren't included (which made me wonder what's alliterative with "shiksa." Answer: "shaigetz" ;-).) This raises a very valuable point: DovBear probably has the highest non-Orthodox and non-Jewish readership of any Orthodox blog.

Yated Ne'eman's web site boasts that it's "a window into the chareidi world." Yated's web site is as much a window into the chareidi world as the PR department is a window into a corporation's world. You can get some info from them, but only as the company/community wants to be seen, not as it really is. A truer online window into the community is its blogs. Instead of press releases, blogs are more like sitting in the company's cafeteria, hearing what the employees are talking about. You get a much richer and more realistic view, something Yated can't countenance.

Some Orthodox Jews think their actions and words can still go unnoticed. Some Orthodox leaders are still surprised when their "minor" talks become the source of major online controversy. Offensive "local" pashkevil are posted to for all to see. Some Orthodox bigots still talk of saying things about non-Jews "behind their backs" in an era of ubiquitous recording and communication. They're chuckling behind their homemade ghetto walls while satellites zip overhead. DovBear's under no such illusions, and his diverse readership is a direct result of that forward thinking, the realization that transparency is here whether you like it or not.

For every outsider who shudders at Rabbi Shafran's latest repugnant statement, there's DovBear doing his contrarian best to offer an alternative view. For every extremist defending Israel's every action no matter what, there's DovBear showing that one can criticise Israel and still be a philosemite. In a generation where Orthodoxy's lamented slide to the right continues its embarrassing descent, DovBear's a little tugboat pulling with all his might to the left. When newspapers are full of stories of Orthodox Jews acting unethically, superstitiously, or racist, there's DovBear showing that Orthodox Jews are not all unethical, superstitious or racist. DovBear has, through his thousands of posts, shown The Outside World a side of Orthodox Judaism that they can respect and admire, and they've responded by engaging.

So welcome y'all to the DovBear show. All are invited and encouraged to participate in his cause, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

A Word of Torah

Torah Torah Torah Torah Torah Mishnah Mishnah Gemorah Gemorah
Torah Torah Torah Torah Torah Mishnah Mishnah Gemorah Gemorah
Torah Torah Torah Torah Torah mishnah mishnah gemorah gemorah

Halacha, Mishneh Torah, Tur, Shulchan Aruch
Halacha, Mishneh Torah, Tur, Shulchan Aruch

Mussar Mussar Chassidus Chassidus Kabbalah Kabbalah
Chassidus Chassidus Mussar Mussar Kabbalah Kabbalah

Just adding a word of Torah to the conversation.

An oath is administered to him (before birth): "Be righteous and don't be wicked, even if the whole world tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as if you were wicked." - Niddah, end of Perek Gimel

"Don't be wicked in your own estimation." - Pirke Avos, chapter 2

It's a Challenge. An Ultimatum, Even!

Isaiah Thomas certainly has his failings (what? no!) and his share of failures (ok, maybe).

But say this about the man: he's got, uh... well, it's a family blog, but you get it. (And it would have made a great pun, too. Alas. I am a guest in someone else's house.)

"It's challenging," Thomas, the Knicks' president and coach, said Monday after his boss, James L. Dolan, declared Thomas had one year to save his job. "I don't think there's anybody else in the league or in sports probably working under this situation. However, that's how it is." (NYT)

Uh, which situation is that, Isaiah? Having a team full of me-first, shoot-only point guards? (I was a Knicks game last year, and at one point the players on the floor were Marbury, Francis, Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford and Maurice Taylor. Four point guards and a forward. I swear I almost expected Jalen Rose to go out there for Taylor.) Or is it being so strangled by the salary cap that you have no flexibility at all? Of course, as a coach, you can only blame the GM who put this team together! (what's that? oh. right.)

Or is it that now you recognize that this team has no chance of being better next year (especially with you as the coach), and that it is absolutely UNFAIR that you have a one-year ultimatum to make the team better. If anyone knows that it can't be done, you do!

You're right, there is nobody else working under this situation. That's probably why you'll be looking for a job next May, and why you won't find one.

My Imitation Of My Fellow Guestbloggers

Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics.

Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics.

Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics. Politics politics politics politics politics politics politics. Politics politics politics.

(Rest assured I'll have have a non-politics post later today.)

Can Israel Win?

Two articles I read today indicate that Israel will be hard pressed to win the current war in Gaza. Batya Melamed writes in YNET that Israel has no faith in the justice of its cause or its actions.

A moment before we lose more kids, God forbid, in the coming battle in Gaza, we must ask the Israeli government to stop the tanks, ground the planes, call the battleships back to port and silence the artillery. We must do more than ask: We must plead with our government not to go out to this extraneous battle.

Just let us avoid this war. It is doomed to failure from the start.

There are two reasons for this: One, because our weak spot was been revealed for all to see during hostage crises in the past, and Israel's "diplomatic attempts" to bring about the release of hostages in the past. Those who had anything to do with those negotiations (both families and negotiators) now admit our government has been weak of hand and weak of will when dealing with murderers.

Secondly, they will not succeed because when we compare Israel's military power to that of our neighbors – we never talk about the main point. We compare weapons, or talk about the lack in technological advancement between the two sides.

But no one measures the power of the most important weapon a country who wants to live, who is dedicated to defeating its enemies, can have: Faith in the justice of its cause and its actions. The ability to walk upright, and even the willingness "to die for one's country."

Melamed may be right that on a political level, Israel lacks faith in the justice of it's cause or actions. However, on a strategic level most Israelis are resolute that the current incursion into Gaza is the most moral and just mission possible; the rescue of IDF soldier Gilad ben Aviva Shalit, and ensuring the cessation of Qassam rocket attacks against Southern Israel. Whether the political echelons will allow the IDF to fully complete this mission is another story, but you would be hard pressed to find an IDF soldier who would not want to satisfy these 2 objectives.

Daniel Pipes explains Israel's attitude towards war is that of management & containment, not victory. Pipes feels that Israelis don't understand the concept of total victory and therefore they always stop before it is achieved or worse, never try to achieve it in the first place.
Wars are won, the historical record shows, when one side feels compelled to give up on its goals. This is only logical, for so long as both sides hope to achieve their war ambitions, fighting either continues or potentially can resume. For example, although defeated in World War I, the Germans did not give up their goal of dominating Europe and soon again turned to Hitler to try again. The Korean War ended more than a half century ago, but neither North nor South having given up its aspirations means fighting could flare up at any time. Similarly, through the many rounds of the Arab-Israeli conflict (wars in 1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982) both sides retained their goals.

Those goals are simple, static, and binary. The Arabs fight to eliminate Israel; Israel fights to win the acceptance of its neighbors. The first is offensive in intent; the second is defensive. The former is barbaric, and the latter civilized. For nearly 60 years, Arab rejectionists have sought to eliminate Israel via a range of strategies: undermining its legitimacy through propaganda, harming its economy through a trade boycott, demoralizing it through terrorism, and threatening its population via WMD.

Rather than seek victory, Israelis have developed a lengthy menu of approaches to manage the conflict.

These include: [updates by Jameel]

  • Unilateralism (building a wall, partial almost complete withdrawals): the current policy, as espoused by Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and the Kadima Party.
  • Lease for 99 years the land under Israeli towns on the West Bank: the Labor Party of Amir Peretz
  • Palestinian Arab economic development: Shimon Peres.
  • Territorial compromise: The premise of Oslo diplomacy, as initiated by Yitzhak Rabin.
  • Outside funding for the Palestinian Arabs (on the Marshall Plan model): U.S. Representative Henry Hyde.
  • Retreat to the 1967 borders: Israel's far left center to left.
  • Push the Palestinian Arabs to develop good government: Natan Sharansky (and President Bush).
  • Insist that Jordan is Palestine: Israel's right. [JATM: haven't heard this one in a while]
  • Transfer the Palestinian Arabs out of the West Bank: Israel's far right.

    These many approaches are very different in spirit and mutually exclusive. But they have a key element in common. All manage the conflict without resolving it. All ignore the need to defeat Palestinian rejectionism. All seek to finesse war rather than win it.

  • In simplistic terms, Israel has no long term vision. The Israeli left believes in short term solutions and hope things will work themselves out over time (even if they don't, like Oslo and the Disengagement). The Israeli right believes in not offering serious solutions at all -- and if they do, they are often for election campaigning only and not for implementation. A serious rightwing proposal is here...but it was from a think-tank, and never considered by a rightwing politician.

    As Israel breathlessly stands together today praying for the safe return of IDF soldier Gilad ben Aviva (Shalit), kidnapped Israeli Eliyahu ben Miriam (Asheri), and the success of the IDF mission into Gaza, I pray that Israel find unity in the belief in the justice of it's cause, and that we are worthy of leaders who can lead Israel together towards unity.

    Once we stand united, as a people and nation -- will victory be assured.

    Cross-posted to The Muqata

    Wherever I may go, my blog always turns towards Eretz Yisrael

    Go Ahead and Doodle

    Nero fiddled while Rome burned, we'll doodle while Sderot is hit.

    Your online Jackson Pollock creator here.

    (Don't forget to left-click now and then.)

    Some tehillim (psalms) for Gilad ben Aviva (Shalit) and Eliyahu ben Miriam (Asheri), captives of our peace partners, would also be a good thing. I truly hope and pray they know the difference between peace and piece.

    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    Democrats Playing Games on Minimum Wage

    As it seems to happen every year, the Democrats are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage. As anyone who has ever taken a course in economics knows, increasing wages for existing workers will lead to higher unemployment because businesses will no longer be able to afford the same number of workers on the same amount of profits. Of course the other possibility is raising prices, but that's hurts poor people too.

    So let's say Congress raised the minimum wage. Take a business like Walmart (the evil empire). As it stands now, Walmart employs a certain number of workers. If they had to pay them more, they'd be faced with two choices: either fire some of the workers and make the rest work harder or (more likely) raise prices. And since the greatest percentage of Walmark's consumers are poor people, those people will have to pay more, thereby giving away any added income the minimum wage increase might have given them. So some workers will lose their jobs and the ones who won't will end up paying back their salary increases anyway.


    Morality is subjective, or blogging toward truth

    NOT THE GODOL HADOR: "Without God all morality is subjective"

    I was enjoying my break from blogging, when I took a wrong turn and stumbled across the sentance cited above. "Without God all morality is subjective"

    This is a familiar argument, but it stops short of the truth. I agree with GH, and his fundementalist friends, that morality sans God is subjective, but what GH's right-wing audience won't ever acknowledge is that morality WITH God is also subjective. Not because of a shortcoming in God, but because of a shortcoming in human understanding: By definition, our understanding must always be subjective.

    Whenver we sit across from our study-partners and attempt to puzzle out what God wants from us, we're engaging in an act of interepatation. As you've heard me say before, any act of interpretation is biased because people are biased. We're not capable of apprehending the whole truth. Only parts of it. This is what the Sages meant when they said the Torah has 70 faces. Every perception occurs from a particular point of view, and every perception is different. We're each a perceiving center, and every perception is different.

    The argument that God is necessary for morality is predicated on the belief that we can conform our minds to an objective truth. Those who make this argument forget that ambiguity is a property of those same minds. Change, therefore, is built into the way truth is perceived. Our understanding of the truth is altered with each perception of it.

    I am a pluralist not because I am liberal, and not because I believe in peace, love and understanding. My pluralism is based entirely on my own self-interest. I believe that every person's perception has something to offer every other's. This belief flies not in the face of Jewish tradition but of recent Jewish tradition. When the Sages "accepted the truth from wherever it came" they were acknoledging that no one system -not Rabininc Judaism, nor any other - can explain everything. They were being pluralists.

    You approach the truth from your angle, I see it from mine, and what we see is forever incomplete, but if we put our perceptions together we both draw closer to the reality. This is why I hold that revision, critisim and dialouge are far more relevant to truth-seeking than conformity to dictation from above. This is why I write the sort of posts I write. This is why I invited such a mix of personalties to guest-blog. And this, finally, is why I read blogs.

    Now back to the secret mission.

    Yankees Fans Are Mets Fans This Week

    All you Yankee-Loving-Met-Haters are ALL METS FANS THIS WEEK.
    HAhahahahaha - click

    Money Matters

    First I'm going to get personal. Then I'm going to ask for money.

    When I was growing up, my family didn't have a lot of money. We weren't poor by any stretch of the imagination but no one would confuse us for rich. Luxury items weren't unknown, but I didn't get a new weekday hat for my bar mitzvah. I was thick, and all these distinctions went right over my head. Material things have never flagged my interest, so I was oblivious to money matters. I didn't realize why my father "volunteered" for the yeshiva's fundraising until I was old enough to...well, let's just say it's embarrassing how long it took me.

    My father is a baal tzedakah to the core of his being. He could no more say no to a request for help then he could flap his arms and fly. It physically pains him to see someone suffer. When I was in my early teens my father was a volunteer for a local food delivery tzedakah. The organization delivers food for Shabbos and Yom Tov to local families that need it. Every Thursday night my father would take the family car for many, many hours, coming home late at night tired from shlepping boxes full of food and soul-weary from seeing suffering. For a few of those weeks, he took me along.

    My father didn't really need the help. I couldn't drive and he was more than capable of carrying the food to the door, but he knew what he was doing. I wasn't helping him; he was helping me to a life lesson. I was too young and immature to truly understand the lesson, but every detail stuck with me until I was old enough to.

    I quickly learned that the job was not just deliveryman and that not just anyone could do it. Like the chevra kaddisha, it required someone of a certain maturity, ethical sensitivity, tactful discretion, and lack of squeamishness. During my short tour of duty I saw apartments bare to the peeling walls with a carpet of dingy mattresses for the kids to sleep on. I saw widows left helpless and yungerleit at wit's end, all in neighborhoods you'd never guess contained such things. I was pressed silent by the rush of awareness of my own lot, never again to be taken for granted. Quiet is how I remember it; my father allowing the experience to speak for itself. But the incident that's indelibly seared into my memory is one delivery to an unassuming-looking home.

    It was towards the end of our shift, late at night. My father and I carried the boxes to the door, rang the doorbell, and shuffled the weight around in our arms while waiting for an answer. We heard scuffling and the door was yanked open. In the doorway was a very tired-looking middle-aged woman with eyes that said "Hurry." But before she had a chance to even greet us, the night's stillness was pierced by a shocking shriek. Her daughter, a girl of maybe fourteen, was screaming at her mother with ferocity to behold, yelling at her for taking the food from tzedakah. The daughter was embarrassed and furious and screamed and screamed right in her mother's face. "I DON'T WANT IT! WE DON'T NEED IT! WE'RE NOT TAKING TZEDAKAH!"

    The mother tried to talk her daughter down, to explain to her that they desperately needed it, think of your brothers and sisters, but the screaming just got louder. The whole incident had thus far taken less than 10 seconds, but I was so shocked I was frozen to the ground. My father knew what to do. He leaned over, whispered something into the lady's ear, and briskly walked back towards the car. That snapped me out of it and I gratefully followed him.

    In the car, he said something to me, but to be honest the exact words were lost on me. I was still shaken up, my ears were still ringing, and my head was still swimming. We finished the rest of the route without saying much.

    That night at 3AM, my father got up, got dressed, took the car, and delivered the boxes he had told the lady he'd be back at 3:30 for. He didn't ring the doorbell.

    Have you ever been caught short at the grocery checkout and been embarrassed while putting stuff back in front of the whole line? Like sleep is one sixtieth of death is that pain compared to humiliation of asking for food. Unfortunately, as my father was wise enough to show me, there is poverty in our communities, hiding just below the sight line. It's hard enough to overcome the shame of needing help, and in a community where stigma remains a powerful negative force, asking for help is tremendously difficult. The Rambam understood this when he formulated his levels of tzedakah, which are sorted entirely by the issue of the recipient's dignity. See how wise was the Rambam, whose each improved level of tzedakah leaves the ani with more of his or her dignity:

    8. Giving begrudgingly.
    7. Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
    6. Giving after being asked.
    5. Giving before being asked.
    4. Giving when you do not know the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity.
    3. Giving when you know the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn't know your identity.
    2. Giving when neither party knows the other's identity.
    1. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant.

    From a NY Daily News article:

    Desperately embarrassed that she needs help feeding her family, a young Orthodox Jewish mother put on dark sunglasses as she approached one of the city's few kosher soup kitchens.

    Inside, the woman, a victim of domestic violence, sat behind a row of plants set up to shield diners who don't want to be seen at Masbia, a restaurant-style free kitchen that opened in Borough Park a year ago.

    "My kids don't know it's a soup kitchen," said the mother of four teens who would not give her name and comes alone so there is more food for her children. "They think it's a restaurant - I don't want them to be ashamed."

    When I read those words, I was instantly transported back to that night with my father, and my donation wasn't far behind. The founders of Masbia clearly know what my father taught me about the preciousness of dignity; that no one should have to choose between being hungry and being ashamed.

    As the Rambam showed, Judaism's concern for charity is nuanced and well-developed from long years of philanthropic activity. From Ruth's author using charity as a setting familiar to his audience to tell his tale to the story of Avraham receiving guests and greeting them with food, Judaism has long concerned itself with charity. Judaism has had the mitzvah of tzedakah for far longer than it's even had the name "Judaism." Charity is so central to Judaism that it shares the word for righteousness. There's no doubt about it: charity is a 100% factory original part of Judaism.

    We of the jblogosphere love to debate. There's probably at least a mezuman of you right now thinking about debating that last sentence. But hunger can't be debated with. In the face of hunger, debate must cease and action be taken. Let's put the power of the jblogosphere to productive purpose and support a charity in the way of Judaism. Please click the image below and give what you can to allow the hungry to eat with dignity. Don't even pause to add a comment before donating. If you have a blog, please add a link to this appeal--right after you've donated. No matter if your frum or frei, chareidi or chasidic, misnagid or Mis-nagid, show me that you've absorbed the ethos of your forebears, those rachmonim bnei rachmonim, by aiding those in need. Tizku l'mitzvot.

    The Rascist State of Israel

    As you've read on this blog before, the Jewish State has done some terrible, awful let's continue on with that thread.

    In addition to my esteemed colleage, Noyam's posting about Israel's arrogant refusal to accept degrees from Yeshiva College, here are a few more things to bash the Zionist State with:

    Rascism Against Jews (Hebrew Speakers/Readers)

    Energy drinks are an inseparable part of the night life scene. Red Bull, Tempo's XI, XL, and other similar drinks compete for the drinkers' pocket change. One very popular trend is to mix an energy drink with alcohol, so you not only get buzzed but also energized. However, not everything common is always recommended.

    The XL energy drink, for example, imported by a company from Nazareth, has an explicit warning written on the can in English: "Do not mix with alcohol." However, the importing company didn't bother translating this bit of information to Hebrew, and the can lacks a warning for Israeli drinkers. (YNet)
    Rascism Against Arabs (Arabic Speakers/Readers)

    Ever notice that every bus in Israel has signs all over it in Hebrew and English, "Please Be Aware of Suspicious Objects"

    Why isn't this important message in Arabic as well?

    Give Em The Dead Bodies

    David Bernstein over at Volokh argues that Israel should execute terrorist murderers if any harm comes to Shalit. This is a proposal I've been thinking about ever since the Iraq situation began and terrorists started beheading civilians when their demands weren't met.

    Ignoring the legal problems, what is wrong with Israel executing these terrorists? In a pure domestic, criminal legal system, ex post facto applications of punishments is probably immoral, since the criminal did not know of the punishment when he commited the crime. But in the case of war (and let me remind you that Israel is at war), what is wrong with executing illegal combatants when their compatriots are responsible for executing one of your own? What could possibly be a greater deterrent than killing whomever the terrorists demand in exchange for the kidnapped soldier?


    Israel would be a great place to live if it weren't for the Israeli government:

    Education Ministry still not recognizing Yeshiva U. Degrees

    Let me get this straight: Columbia University, the State Bar of New York and my current employer have no problem thinking of me as Noyam, BA, JD, even though the BA was from YU and included a year at Yeshivat HaKotel.

    But, the Israeli Ministry of Education has higher standards, evidently.

    I can't tell if this is an anti-American reaction to the influx of Olim, or this is an anti-Orthodox response to (American) teenagers learning in Israeli yeshivot.

    Either way, I can't imagine that either group are worth alienating, considering what they bring to the Israeli economy. (Education Ministry: "What do you mean, 'what they bring'? They're all barely high school educated!")

    Credit: Dan T

    (Cross posted at The Noy G Show)

    News Flash: IDF Leaps in to Action!???

    News Flash- Southern Israel, um, Palestine, um, Israel:

    Israeli Defense Forces took the unprecidented action of delivering a sternly worded letter to Palestinian authorities, well, actually, to an Arab guy with a keffiah herding sheep who happened to be passing by (being that no authority could actually be found).

    With the world news media in attendance, they then launched a successful attack on the undefended Palestinian tunnel which the Israelis have accused of being used in legitimate Palestine defense actions. After action reports state that this important Palestine construction project, funded by US Aid and the European Union International Assistance Institute, was completely destroyed.

    In related news, Palestinian hospitality is on display with the reported hosting of now 2 Israeli's in separate luxurious locations.

    (Via the Mystical Paths news network, Akiva reporting.)

    Rules? of Engagement?

    Greetings, esteemed readers of the DovBear blog.

    I was kindly asked by DovBear to share some of my thoughts on this blog during his absence. Please allow me to introduce myself -- I'm Jameel from the Muqata, blogging at you (now) from Jerusalem.

    Right now in Israel the drama of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad (ben Aviva) Shalit is unfolding as the IDF is poised to re-enter Gaza. Palestinians are continuing to lob rockets at Southern Israel, and there is an additional unconfirmed report of yet another Israeli kidnapped by terrorists in the West Bank.

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pressuring Israel to avoid using military force and would much rather this situation is calmed and resolved using diplomatic means.

    "There really needs to be an effort now to try and calm the situation, not to let the situation escalate and to give diplomacy a chance to work to try to get this release" YNetnews

    If Israel were dealing with a country or a population that adhered to the Geneva convention, then perhaps there could be room for diplomacy.

    It's worthwhile noting that today's Maariv newspaper reveals that the 2 IDF soldiers killed in the Sunday morning attack were not killed in battle, but were first wounded, removed from their tank and then shot at point blank range. (The source is in Hebrew, sorry there's no English link)

    It would be nice for Rice to stop lecturing Israel how to defend it's soldiers and citizens, and let us get on with the job at hand, however best Israel sees fit.

    Wherever I may be, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael.

    The Wisdom of Kabbalah

    Our illustrious host would probably say that's a contradiction of terms, but since he's away...

    G-d's supreme unity is the foundation of faith and the root of wisdom...the entire Wisdom of Truth, Chachmat HaEmet, the Kabbalah, comes only to demonstrate the truth of Emunah (faith). It comes to explain how all the created realms and beings and everything that happens in the universe all emerge from the Supreme Will (HaRatzon HaElyon). It shows how everything is the One G-d...

    The component details of this wisdom provide detailed understand of all the laws and processes by which the universe is governed... G-d alone makes and does all this, and He governs everything. The purpose of this wisdom is to explain the ways in which He acts to make and govern the creation.

    A chassidic Rebbe spouting off to prove that his blabberings are meaningful? Nope, the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Opening 1 of Klach Pitchey Chochma.

    DB has argued in the past from the Rambam, that Hashgacha Pratit, divine providence, applies only to the actions of man. The Baal Shem Tov states that even the landing of a leaf to shade a worm is actions of divine providence. Clearly the Ramchal, author of the Mesilas Yesharim, would not accept a position of random actions in the world. Do you?

    ...Another fine kosher article brought to you by Akiva of Mystical Paths.

    Monday, June 26, 2006

    Good Riddance

    University of Colorado's Interim Chancellor Philip DiStefano yesterday recommended that Ward Churchill (he of the "little Eichmans" statement) be fired. His recommendation comes two weeks after an investigation turned up evidence of serious research misconduct.

    Is Ward Churchill an abberation or a symptom of the excessive Leftist influence in our universities? Are legal scholars like Brian Leiter the exception or the rule?

    In the legal sphere the answer is fairly obvious. While the Federalist Society has made some headway, most law school professors are Democrats and on average the ratio is 7:1 Democrats to Republicans.

    Liberal bias in our universities has the effect of training the younger generation to view the law through a liberal lens. And while that isn't bad in theory, in practice one-sided interpretations of the law are unhelpful.

    So while Churchill should not be fired for his political statements, I'm not shedding any tears over the fact this cretin needs to find another job.

    Moral Imperative or Madonna?

    I had a law professor once (I didn’t like him at all[1], but that’s not relevant, really) who was fond of asking, “If you could feed the entire world by pushing a button, at no cost, would you?”

    His point was in response to the arguments for copyright law, and used as an analogy. His next point was that, because digital music copying had gotten to the zero-marginal-cost point, and therefore, artists (or whoever held the copyright) shouldn’t be able to recover money for that.

    I argued then (and still do) that the analogy failed. Essentially, if you could feed the world’s hungry at zero cost, you’d have a moral imperative to do so. No such moral imperative exists to bring Madonna or The Backstreet Boys to everyone.

    What got me to wondering about this moral imperative was a throwaway in an article about Johnson and Johnson buying Pfizer consumer health division. The line said that Pfizer wanted to focus on the prescription drug division. Why?

    “The company said it wanted to divest the unit so that it could focus on prescription drugs, its most profitable business line.”

    Prescription drugs are the most profitable unit? I thought part of the argument for the high prices of prescription drugs was that while their marginal cost was so low, the cost of research and development was high, and needed to be amortized over the life of the production run.

    But that’s not the whole story, is it? Clearly, Pfizer is making lots of money on their prescription drugs. Presumably, that profit incorporates the large cost of research and development. Presumably, even for the failed drugs, the ones that don’t generate revenue. Obviously, those need to be factored in, as the incentive for continuously researching and promoting is the possibility of making money on them, even if they might fail.

    But should Pfizer’s most profitable division be the very that likely has the strongest moral imperative attached? Shouldn’t Pfizer, factoring in all the costs of research and development, and taking into account even future research projects, have the moral imperative to then pump any other profits generated by those drugs into reducing their costs? To make life-saving drugs available to anyone who needs them.

    Make as much profit as the market will allow on the little blue ones. But then, if someone who can’t afford to control their own hypertension or cholesterol, lower the cost so that they can still prolong their lives with Norvasc or Lipitor, at a cost they can afford.

    [1] One reason: He limited our papers to 1,000 words, based on the reasoning that “anything important that needs to be said can be said in 1,000 words,” while assigning as a reading his own article that was 3,500 words long (not including footnotes), among other things he’d written, which were longer.

    Yet Another Capitalist Taking Advantage of the Poor

    Before I start I'd like to thank DB for continuing the long-standing liberal tradition of affirmative action by giving a poor conservative blogger get a chance. Thanks, DB, I couldn't have done it without you.

    Yesterday came the news that Warren Buffet has decided to give away billions of his massive fortune to the Gates' foundation (yet another rich guy who received a tax cut under GWB). Today he explained that he opposes dynastic wealth and wants to give the money to people who are better suited to dispense it than he is.

    Why do people assume that rich people want to hoard their money and don't give charity? The two richest men in the world are giving away billions to help the world's poor. The rich pay the vast majority of the taxes in this country. Why do they get such a bad rap among the Daily Kos liberals?