Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Every day a bas kol...

A long, long time ago, when I was still in school, or perhaps when I was attending yeshiva, or NCSY, or camp, or something, I heard a story about an old Rabbi who once irritated a librarian while bentching and, because of the events that followed, later sent her an anonymous note, a note that quite unintentionally convinced the librarian to cancle her plans to marry a non-Jew.

The story was presented as true. And naive teenager that I was, I saw the old Rabbi's note as a wonderful illustration of the famous saying from Chagiga 15: "Every day a bas kol, a heavenly voice, calls "shuvu banim shovavim, return to me my wayward sons."

I should have known better. Rats.


Ben Bayis slanders your devoted and poorly paid host:
...you dislike all conservatives equally.

As with all things, there is a heirarchy here: Among all conservatives, I dislike theocons most of all.

Neocons are bloodthirsty, big spenders, but otherwise bearable. Paleocons are mostly harmless, except when they are anti-Semites, which is too often.

But the theocons? Dangerous, dangerous people are they.

Here's a small secret: If the GOP ever managed to jettison the theocons, the anti-Semites, the homophobes, the rascists and the fat, selfish business leaders who are happy to crush the common folk in pursuit of profits, I could possibly be tempted to vote Republican (again.)

Catch of the day!

Hannidate is an Online-Dating-Service for Conservatives, a place where those of you who vote GOP can go to find your soul mates.

Here is today's Hannidate catch of the day (all errors are SIC)
General Information
I have a lot of muney because I am a fund raser for the Repubican party heer in the hert of dixy which is Alabama. I need a nice gurl to spent in on bying nice stuffs.

I'm tall and taned from werkin on my land. My best featuresis my large head full of blond hare. I weer reely consevetive cloths like rebel flag shirts & hats, and bluegenes.

Looking for
Lookin fer a hot young conservative honey - like a hootersgurl. She's gotta accept the Lord as her savyour. She's gotta like hunting - maybe goin on ham shootsor deer huntin.If they live in north Alabama or Tennessee, or Missipippi would be ok - my Ford f-100 leeks alot of oil & needs atranmision & can't go to far
Note: I'm reasonablly certain this is a hoax, but who can tell?

[Hat-tip: JG]

Happy Birthday National Review

The National Review (which bills itself as "America’s premier magazine and web site for reaching Republican/Conservative opinion leaders who affect and shape policy on a wide range of issues") is celebrating a very special birthday: 50 Years!

By way of congratulations let's trot out a quote from 1960
In the Deep South the Negroes are, by comparison with the whites, retarded. . . . Leadership in the South, then, quite properly, rests in white hands. Upon the white population this fact imposes moral obligations of paternalism, patience, protection, devotion, sacrifice."
Though I'm tempted to say that not much has changed in 40 years that would be unfair. American conservatives have come a very long way and this must be acknowledged.

For example, if this quote appeared today it quite obviously would be modifed to read: "...the people who are not white are, by comparison with the whites, retarded. . . . Leadership, then, quite properly, rests in white hands. Upon the white population this fact imposes moral obligations of paternalism, patience, protection, devotion, sacrifice."

Fie on you (and you know who you are) who refuse to see how much more inclusive conservatives have become.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Wall Street Journal, a Paper You Can Trust

I was thumbing through the current Atlantic (March 2006) recently, when I found this very angry letter to the editor from one Bob Bronson:
"I picked up the December issue at the airport because the article Why Iraq Has No Army by James Fallows caught my eye. Before I got to it, however, I read the Wall Street Journal editorial that mentioned the article and asserted that Mr. Fallows had not only never visited Iraq but had never interviewed anybody in either the U.S. or the Iraqi governments prior to writing it. After reading that, I decided not to invest the time in reading the article. If I want unknowledgeable anti-American propaganda, I can watch the network news.
What's this? An act of dishonesty at my favorite magazine? Well, no. Replied Fallows on the very same page:
About the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page: the allegation that Bob Bronson mentions was and is preposterous. The Journal’s editorial cited an unnamed source in the Multinational Security Training Command in Iraq—the organization responsible for training Iraqi troops—and claimed that I “didn’t even contact them while reporting the article or at anytime during at least the past nine months.” That is flatly untrue. I interviewed many members of that organization (among other civilian and military officials I spoke with), including its then commander, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus, and his deputy. The Journal’s editorial writers would have known this claim was false had they checked with me or this magazine before publishing, which they did not do. Indeed, they would have known this if they had even looked at my article before criticizing it, since it contained lengthy quotes from Petraeus and an explanation of which interview requests the Pentagon press office had approved and denied. Mr. Bronson would have known all this if he had seen the next day’s issue of The Journal, which published a retraction of the false claim.
I wonder how many other people missed Fallow's article due to the Journal's baseless slander (and I wonder how I missed this story from last December? ) Anyway, it's all just a day at the office for the Wall Street Journal which, unlike the Times, won't even employ a columnist from the other side of the aisle. There's no equivlent of Brooks or Teirny over at the Journal, you see.

Tanya, Penthouse and... David Irving?

Only at the Back of the Hill.

Soul Wrap-up

Shortcomings of the PMS* theory of souls:

1 - PMS doesn't explain how the soul and body interact. PMS says that the soul can influence our actions, and that our actions can improve our souls. But it provides no mechanism which explains how this occurs.

2 - PMS invites abuse from people who prefer to focus on the next world, rather than this world. For instance, some people imagine that so long as they pray or keep shabbos their ticket to the next world is punched no matter how they treat their fellow men.

3 - PMS is embraced by people who are looking for shortcuts. "Why bother busying myself with the hard work of studing and acting ethically," some seem to say, "when my soul can also be elevated by eating kugel or listening to music, or by the rote recitation of tehillim or other prayers?"

Shortcomings of MTS (my minimized theory of souls):

1 - MTS doesn't explain how the soul is improved. We believe that God rewards or punishes the soul after we die, but in order for this final judgement to have any meaning, our actions in this world need to have some influence on our souls. For a time, I thought the Rambam offered a solution, but I was wrong. The Rambam teaches that the soul is nothing but our developed intellect (He holds that those of us with undeveloped intellects aren't punished at death, per say; rather we cease to exist.) This view explains how the soul is improved through our actions, but it doesn't tell us how the developed intellect achieves immortality. I also thought epiphenomenalism might get around this problem; but epiphenomenalism only explain how the body influences the soul without the soul influencng the body, we're still left with the question about how immortality is achieved.

2 - MTS doesn't explain how free will operates. If the soul isn't influencing our thoughts and actions, how can we avoid saying that every event (human thoughts and actions included) is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences? This denies free will. And though many Jewish thinkers (notably Rav Y.B Solivetchik and Eliyahu Dessler) argue that a great deal of out thoughts and actions are the product of circumstances, not free will, I can't find anyone (save Hasdai Crescas and some Chabadniks) who advances a Jewish doctrine of predestination. Neither the Rambam nor epiphenomenalism offer any help here: The Rambam held that the developed intelect/soul influences our actions and epiphenomenalists deny free will. Compatabilism solves the problem but only by redefining free-will; under compatabilism our actions aren't the product of an actual choice, but a reflection of our characters. This falls short of the Rabbi's definition of free will.

Takeaway points
Ultimately choosing one theory over the other is to express a preference for one mystery over another. PMS can't tell you how the soul and body interact, neither can MTS. If anything recommends one view over another, it is this: MTS leaves less to faith, and it provides a world-view that de-emphasizes shortcuts to spiritual growth.

Final thought
We'll give it to Aristotle who wrote that "To attain any assured knowledge of the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world." No kidding.

*The PMS (Popular Meaning of Souls) theory holds that souls have their own agency: They make choices and decisions, they have desires and needs, they can affect what happens in our brains, and they can be inspired or otherwise affected by kugel, music and so on. MTS (my Minimized Theory of Souls) says most of that can't be proven, and therefore should be rejected.

A guest post from Charlie Hall

Charlie Hall writes:

I am not someone who is at all romantic about the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. He invaded neighboring countries with no provocation. He used weapons of mass destruction against opposing armies and against his own citizens. And the general reign of terror under his rule compares favorably only to places like North Korea. As I just posted here, even if he did not have weapons of mass destruction at the time of the US-led invasion, he certainly had had and used them in the past and it is not credible to believe that he would not have jumped to get them again at the first opportunity. I am not unhappy to see him out of power.

But from the beginning I suspected that the Bush administration was making a mistake in invading the country. The combination of arrogance and incompetence will certainly go down in history books as one of history’s major blunders. We just don’t know whether the blunder will have major long term consequences yet.

And now one of the most prominent conservative voices in America is regretting the failed mission. In his article on National Review Online, William F. Buckley, Jr. writes in part:
Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans.
Think about that number: 130,000 Americans. Consider that it takes a police force of almost 40,000 uniformed officers to keep order in New York City, a mostly orderly place with a low (by US standards) crime rate where people mostly get along with each other – and the NYPD doesn’t even have to worry about border controls. Did the Bush administration really believe that three times as many soldiers could keep order in a country three times as large – and control the borders – in a country that has not known the rule of law in two generations?

Mr. Buckley points out that the administration was postulate-driven, rather than empirically driven. He lists two postulates they believed in:
…the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

…the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.
But he points out:
…the postulates didn't work….Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.
The Bush administration is the most ideologically driven at least since that of Woodrow Wilson – and the comparison is not flattering. Wilson’s idealism helped win a war – and lose a peace, with horrendous consequences. Many admire President Bush as a model of moral clarity who sticks to his beliefs. But much of that alleged clarity is at the expense of avoiding unpleasant reality that contradicts his ideology – and so far I see no evidence that he has changed any of his ideas on this issue. Maybe he would do well to remember Emerson’s warning about foolish consistency?


The current* TNR has an important article by Jeffery Rosen about wiretapping and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales pitful performance on February 6 in front of a Senate committee. (What was pitful about it? For starters the AG, as you've no doubt heard, told the senators that "President Washington, President Lincoln... have all authorized electronic surveillance." )

Money quote:

Gonzales's argument is dangerous as well as unconvincing, since it has no obvious limitations. Would the use-of-force resolution authorize the president to open mail or to conduct "black bag" operations, breaking into the homes of citizens without warrants, and conducting secret searches, asked Senator Patrick Leahy? Gonzales, typically, said he would not discuss these "hypotheticals." (In his confirmation hearing, Gonzales also called domestic wiretapping a hypothetical scenario, even though he knew that it was all too real.) But, in its official defense of the domestic spying program on January 19, the Department of Justice was not so coy. If courts interpreted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (fisa) to prevent the president from doing whatever he thought necessary to protect the nation during a congressionally authorized war, the Justice Department declared, the law itself would be unconstitutional. In short, Justice's answer to the black bag question is "yes."
This is just another variation of Bush's "trust-me" argument, an argument he's made since day one. David Corn says more:

Enacting tax cuts for the wealthy? Oh, don't worry about the fiscal implications (like the long-term, humongous national debt); everything will work out. Our energy plan? We don't have to tell you which energy industry executives we met with because we know we're doing what's best for the country. Can't you take our word? The war in Iraq? Our classified intelligence—which we can't show you because it's, eh, classified—says Saddam Hussein has WMDs and is ready to use them? You'll just have to… well, you know. And now we have wiretapping with Gonzales, arguing in effect, that the president must be allowed to prosecute the war without Congressional oversight or the limitations of law. Why don't we have to worry that this great power will be abused? Well, because we can trust the president, of course.

When oh when will this trust-me routine run out of gas?

Side note: According to Rosen "fair-minded Republicans are recognizing in growing numbers, [that the AG's] arguments are also dangerous in suggesting that the president has the constitutional authority to ignore or distort legal restrictions with which he disagrees." That's a bit dissapointing. I was under the impression that CWY and Ezzie, both loud defenders of presidential perogatives, are "fair-minded."

*By current I mean last week's. It arrives at my house on Friday.

[Updated December 24, 2006]

My last theology post (maybe)

Fear not true believers. This week I plan to rededicate myself to the blog's meat and potatoes: Politics, history and social commentary. But before I return to my comfort zone (where I have, with your kind help, won both JIBs and a Koufax nomination) I have one last argument to make about the soul and free will.

Look for it later today.

Friday, February 24, 2006

David Irving

The historian David Irving was, this week, sentanced by an Austrian judge to three years in prison for two speeches he made 16 years ago denying that millions died in gas chambers during World War II. Holocaust denial is illegial in Austria.

I oppose the criminal law on principle, but I've got no sympathy for Irving. He could've stayed clear of Austria, but chose to return to the country knowing the consequences.

I also can't escape parrallels between Irving's career and the anti-Islamic cartoons cooked up as a provocation by some conservative newspapers in Europe.

Though I don't doubt that Irving is an anti-Semitic, Nazi-sympathizer, it can't be denied that his tugging from the opposite, less popular and, dare I say it, non-PC direction has deepened our understanding of World War II and the Holocaust. For all his many faults, he shook up the establishment and forced historians to reconsider old and comfortable ideas.

In much the same way, the cartoonists have forced some Muslims (not the mobs in the streets; I mean the many Muslims who aren't barbarians) to confront and to perhaps re-evaluate their ideas about Islam and the significance of images.

Though neither Irving nor the cartoonists should be regarded as free speech martyrs, both have scored cheap points for free expression.

More Soul Silliness

Lazer Brody: Plants have souls.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Brody bases this startling assertion on the sketchy research of one Cleve Backster, a non-scientist whose work has been thoroughly debunked.

The best response GH can muster:

We need to believe in souls because it feels nice.

(And naturally GH misconstrued my post. I didn't reject the general idea of souls. I rejected one particular theory of souls. But you wouldn't know that from GH's reply.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Soul Silliness

When it comes to souls, I am not committed to believing in their existence. This is to say that I do not reject the general idea of souls, but I do reject one particular theory of souls.

The PMS (Popular Meaning of Souls) theory holds that souls have their own agency: They make choices and decisions, they have desires and needs, they can affect what happens in our brains, and they can be inspired or otherwise affected by kugel, music and so on. This is nonsense. Here's why:

The brain is the source of mental life; our consciousness, emotions, and will are all the products of neural processes caused by those coils of grey matter contained within our skulls. When I make a decision, or walk across a room, or enjoy a slab of kugel those are all physical events both caused and experienced by other physical events, namely the firing of my neurons inside my brain.

The trouble with the PMS theory is it insists that some physical events are the consequence of our souls, but how can something non-physical such as a soul cause our neurons to fire? Proponents of PMS wish us to accept that there are two types of stuff: the physical and the spiritual. They also wish for us to accept that the spiritual stuff can exercise control over the physical stuff. But they offer us no mechanism to explain how the two kinds of stuff interact. It's all a mystery, left to faith.

But why should a Jew leave things to faith when it isn't strictly necessary? Judaism works perfectly well without souls. We are bidden to keep the commandments not for the sake of the afterlife, as if we were Christians, but for the sake of this life. Again and again we're promised that following the law provides benefits in this world. In Tanakh, nothing at all is said about the next world, and what is said in the TSBP can be explained without PMS, much as what the Rabbis said about history, science, medicine and nature has been explained. Be it metaphor, myth, or our misunderstanding or mistake, there's no requirement to take these Talmudic and Aggadic statements literally.

To sum up:

The souls I don't believe in are a particular version, much as I don't believe in a bearded god sitting on throne. I don't feel that expanded definitions of souls fits well with Judaism or our understanding of the world. Furthermore, while a minimized definition of souls does not have these problems, I see no Jewish requirement to invoke them. Finally, even if I'm wrong about their existence, my position on them does not endanger any halakha or encroach on an ikkar or other hashkafic matters.

Robbie sells his port... to Ezzie?

Part I, Part II, Part III.


Akiva is resigning from the Republican organizations he has, to date, supported.

Is Ezzie next?
Jameel is concerned that Amir Peretz, the leader of Israel's Labor Party, is uncomfortable with the English language. [Video]

So what? It's not like bad English has proved to be a liability for George Bush. But I bet that won't keep the same GOP Jews who adore W from saying that Peretz's inadequate English makes him unfit for high office.

My own view? The both of them should go back to school.


I really don't know what to think about Bush's plan to hand managment of our ports over to the United Arab Emirates.

On the one hand, I shrug my shoulders: Not all Arabs are terrorists. In theory, I am sure an Arab company, or even an Arab government can be trusted to run things properly. The ones who would take control of the ports, for example, are probably a bunch of decent, law-abiding oligarchs who, like the average Republican, wishes only to make a buck, with the collateral exploitation of the vulnerable and the ruining of innocent lives being a nice bonus.

On the other hand, I am loving the fact that even Ann Coulter thinks the Chimp has lost his mind. Ann Coulter!!

On the third hand (I was brought up near Love Canal) there is the unmistakable fear that Bush has screwed this up, just as surely as he screwed up FEMA and the war in Iraq. "The Bush Administration," says Jerry Nadler [hat tip CJ-heretic] "has a highly troubling record of handing contracts and lucrative positions to individuals on the basis of personal friendship - not the public interest." If this port deal is anything like, for example, the Haliburton deals [1, 2, 3] we're in trouble. Big trouble. And given Bush's track record (along with the fact that he is suddenly threatening to unleash his veto) there's no reason to trust him.

More bad news (via Atrios)
This port deal was approved unanimously by a board on which Donald Rumsfeld sits. Rumsfeld claims he was unaware of the deal until after it was approved unanimously.The administration didn't do the legally mandated 45 day investigation, and secret terms of the deal include provisions which allow them to escape standard legal scrutiny.

In other words, just another day at the office in the Bush administration.

Michael on my side

Is the devil wearing ice skates? Take that GH. Even my trolls think you were wrong about me and Hume.



(and folks, please keep the jokes at the sophmoric level this deserves)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I've heard this a million-and-one times (I may have even once posted it.) And every time I hear it I fall off my seat and/or loose control of my bladder.

It is that good.


The long promised post on the GMT (gushy-mushy-tushy) theory of souls will be published tomorrow. For those not in the know, the GMT Theory of Souls is how my friend Godol Hador explains his stomach aches and other phenomena.

For example, when a normal person has a kugel-induced bellyache he takes an antacid. Not GH. Instead, our great skeptic interprets the gas bubbles as a sign his soul has been "inspired." Puh-leeze. I hope to explain why this conception of souls - an entity capable of interacting with the physical world - is illogical. GH will no doubt shout that if souls can't interact with the physcial world neither can God, but he forgets that God is omnipotent. Does GH think souls are similarly all-powerful? If so, why call them souls? Call them God (and say good-bye to monotheism.)


The much requested post on GWB's mad rush to sell shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a business controlled by the United Arab Emirates will appear tomorrow as well.

I win


Sasha Cohen and the Power of Kabbalah

Check out what Sasha is wearing on her wrist:

Bonus Giggle: The pic comes from an article entitled "Cohen Breaks Out With Magical Performance."

Hat tip: Mis-nagid


Yesterday's post about my belief in revelation (the one that was well-liked by everyone from RenReb to Suomynona to JesusGirl to Ezzie to Mar Gavriel to Naphtuli (and others who I have left out: Sorry in advance.)) appears to have made the fake Godol Hador a wee bit jealous. ("How dare someone other than me write a well-received post on hashkafa") Because not only did he honor my post with one of his lame song parodies, he also misconstrued my argument for the purpose of discrediting it.

In a long sneering post (ridiculed at length in his comment thread) he managed to misrepresent my reasons for including the thoughts of David Hume (despite a sentance in the original post and several comments beneath it where my reasons for mentioning Hume were made clear) and he also made a hash of my conclusion, which wasn't an argument, or a dodge, but an honest attempt simply to explain my continued acceptance of a belief that isn't supported by a deductively valid argument.

Meanwhile GH goes through life telling people that he believe in God because he "experiences" God, seemigly oblivious to the fact the he thinks it is God he experiences, and not Jesus or Baal or the Heaven's Gate, only because of the way he was brought up. That's right folks, the great GH ridicules me for recognizing the influences of upbringing on my belief, when his own belief rests on much the same factors. What a fraud!

And his fraud, oddly, was enabled in the comment thread by none other than Mis-nagid(!) self-professed chief atheist of the Internet. As Alex asked on my own thread: "I never understood why Mis-nagid always attacks DB when DB is being skeptical. Perhaps Mis-nagid still has warm feelings for Orthodoxy and desires to protect it." Another fraud!

GH's display yesterday has me wondering: Did Gosse and Frumteens and Slifkin's enemies really express the ideas GH put in their mouths? Judging from the hatchet job he pulled on me yesterday, I'm not sure. Caveat reader!

[I need to mention that GH and Mis-nagid are both pals of mine (GH gets more links from me than anyone, in fact) so take my critiscm with a bit of salt. All good clean interblog battling]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Loser of the year

Lindsey Jacobellis of the U.S.m a snowboard rider, raced out to a huge lead in the women's snowboard cross final, and appeared to have gold wrapped up. But she fell after the penultimate jump (because she was showing off) allowing Switzerland's Tanja Frieden to slide in front and take the gold medal.

Video here: http://www.nbcolympics.com/snowboarding/index.html (on the side)

An Explanation of Belief

Why do we believe?

Every morning we expect the sun to appear over the horizon. But according to the philosopher David Hume our expectation is wholly irrational. Why is it irrational? Because we only think the sun will rise tomorrow because we've made an induction (ie: we assume that because the sun has always risen before it will rise again) And we only think that induction is a reliable method of discovering information about the world because of another induction (ie: we assume that all of nature is uniform because the little bit of nature we have seen is uniform) As Hume argues it's circular to use induction to justify induction, and therefore we have no basis whatsoever for believing anything at all about the unobserved. (though many have tried I don't know that anyone has yet managed to defeat this argument.)

So, you might ask: If the thought is so very irrational, why do we all continue to believe that the sun will continue to rise?

Hume had an answer for that, too. He wrote that when we are exposed to a regular pattern we have no choice but to believe the pattern will continue. It's how we're wired. This explanation of the belief gives us no reason to think the belief is actually true, but it explains why we can't shake it.

Matan Torah

My belief in matan torah, though not based on a pattern or an inductive argument, is similar in that I can't escape it. My upbringing and education have conspired to produce a human being who believes that a nation of people - my ancestors - saw the great fire and heard the admonishing voice from Sinai. It's how I am wired.

There are no grounds for my belief in the revelation: No evidence or argument exist to support it. In fact, I have no rational reason whatsoever to think that this belief is true; nonethless I can't free myself of it.

Nor, do I want to.

[Acknowledgment: Those of you who have read Philosophy Gym, by Stephen Law, will recognize parts of this post. Those of you who have not read Philosophy Gym are missing out. You should pick it up at your soonest opportunity.]

UPDATE: In this post I wasn't judging anything. I was simply explaining why *I* believe what I can't prove. Those are *MY* reasons. I never said that they were GOOD reasons for believing. Just that they were MY reasons for believing. (there are no good reasons for believing, btw) This is what my detractors refused to understand. I wasn't claiming that my reasons for believing were as valuable as a formal proof. I didn't say it was a GOOD reason, just that it was MY reason.

More on mass revelation

An outstanding comment: "On the Christianity angle -- The New Testament does say that Jesus spoke to thousands of people at a time, performed public miracles in countless places, was followed around by cheering crowds who believed him to be a prophet, and was publicly executed, at which point the parochet ripped down the middle from top to bottom, darkness fell over the entire land, a rock-shattering earthquake occurred and the dead rose from their tombs and wandered through Jerusalem. The testaments weren't written at the time, but they were written only a century or two later, and were taken as, well, gospel, by many people, including people whose grandparents or great-grandparents would have been in Jersalem at the time of the events and surely would have remembered such a dramatic occurence. Does that mean that all of it happened, and happened as described?"

Monday, February 20, 2006

Who cares about the Jews?

Not Brian Bosma, speaker of Indiana General Assembly.
Last Tuesday, the Indianapolis JCRC's Jewish Lobby Day was held. Around 40 Jews from around the State of Indiana came to Indianapolis to lobby our state senators and representatives on a number of issues. The day ended with a private meeting with Speaker of the House [Brian] Bosma. [He] wondered why we hadn't discussed the controversy surrounding the issue of prayer in [Indiana] House chambers... The end of this exchange left us, the Jewish delegation, in shock. Speaker Bosma, defending the prayer issue, asked, "How many Jews are there in Indiana? About 2%? There are at least 80% Christians in Indiana." [Washington Post article]
If this offends or frightens you (as well it should) you are encouraged to write to Speaker Bosma. Tell him that secterian prayer services in the legislature is exclusive, and represents the official preference of one religious denomination over another. Or as U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton put it: invocations like the ones delivered in Indiana represent "a clear endorsement of Christianity, sending the message to others that they are outsiders and the message to Christians that they are favored insiders."

Blogging the book fair

Went to the YU book fair this weekend to pick up some books.

Like last year, I was very disapointed to find crap titles like Candelight alongside more serious works like From Text to Tradition.

What is it about junkfood self-help books that attract the masses, and why is YU selling them?

Demolishing dumb arguments (The mass revelation argument for the Torah's Historical Veracity)

The fact that Judaism in ancient in times regarded the Torah as having been the product of a divine revelation is taken by many as proof that the revelation occurred. Their argument, in brief:

"How can you explain a group of people who claim to be descendants of millions of people experiencing... the Revelation at Sinai? How did the first generation start believing it? A charismatic leader? A slowly evolving story? Mass hypnosis?
Could a leader rewrite the oral history of a people and get them to believe it happened to their own ancestors? Imagine Napoleon telling the French "In the year 750, G-d [gave] your ancestors... a set of all-encompassing laws, and they passed that experience down from generation to generation." The people would say "What? Dad never told us that! Hey, Grandma, did your grandparents ever tell you about this?"
A clever argument, but one that is deeply flawed.

First Error: For this argument to work, we need to presume that ancient people were as deeply skeptical as we are today. But this is a mistake. Ancient people were famously gullible, and over the centuries, lot of bad ideas were widely accepted. For example, Celts believed in fairies, Irishmen believed in leprechauns, Polish peasant women believed in all manners of demons, ghosts and witches. Even today, roughly 2 billion people think Jesus is god. Consider this: Suppose 3000 years from now, some Christian-missionary of the future tells his prey that 2 billion people were once convinced of Jesus's divinity. Will that make it true?

In fact, (and this is ironic) the two authors of the Book of Kings and the Book of Nehemia show us just how credulous people once were. In both books a leader discovers a scroll which contains ideas previously unknown to the people. In Kings, Josiah tells the people about "commands, regulations and decrees;" and if, as is suggested, Josiah's book is Dueternomy, he also told them about the revelation at Sinai. In Nehemia, the people are introduced to the "book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel " and told by Ezra that God wants them to "dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month." At either time, do the people laugh out loud and accuse Josiah or Ezra of forgery? Do they say, "We're not keeping those new laws. That book can't be divine. If it were, our fathers would have mentioned it!" No! Instead, there was a great religious awakening.

Second Error:The argument supposes that the charismatic leader who introduced the Torah began by telling people that their ancestors had been present at the revelation. But is this necessarily true? Suppose he just told people that "something" happened at Sinai, and only generations later, after people had accepted this first notion, did they reach the conclusion that their own ancestors must have had been present at the revelation. Later on, with this second idea firmly in the minds of the people, the Torah was written. Is there anything, aside from the testimony of the Torah itself, which precludes this possibility? (The testimony of the Torah itself on this point can't be accepted because of the fallacy of circular reasoning. It would be akin to saying, "We know the Torah is true, because the Torah says it's true.")

Third Error: The argument assumes that all of us had different ancestors at Sinai (ie: that your great, great grandmother who was at Sinai is not the same person as my great, great grandmother who was also at Sinai.) But is this so?

In a 1999 paper titled "Recent Common Ancestors of All Present-Day Individuals," Joseph Chang, a statistician at Yale University, showed how to reconcile the potentially huge number of our ancestors with the quantities of people who actually lived in the past. He has found that 80 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 are direct ancestors of every European living today. More recently, researchers determined that about 3.5 million of today Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four women.

As impressive as the idea of millions of independent family traditions stretching back to Sinai might seem, the reality, based on this research into geneology, is that there probably aren't more than one or two: all Jews alive 1000 years after Sinai likely shared the same small handful of ancestors; all the other lines having died out over time. However unlikely it may be that millions of families became convinced of a lie at the same time, this isn't necessarily what happened.

At the begining, there might have been just a handful of people who accepted the story of the revleation. Given what we now know about the mathmetics of geneology, four or ten devout believers in the year 1200 BCE could have easily produced, within 1000 years, a large nation of descendants who all accepted the original family belief. When you recall that the absence of any kind of media made people almost entirely reliant on their families for information, the idea suggested here becomes even less unlikely.

Tomorrow: Why I, nonetheless, still believe in the revelation at Sinai.

[Related: Mind Without Borders has an additional point.]

Friday, February 17, 2006

No Hirhurim, no Godol Hador, no DovBear, no OrthoMom, no Robbie, no Treppenwitz..

... yet they call this an article about Jewish blogs?


Hat tip: Enchantress, who was also omitted.

Bright side: JIB winner and chest-thumper press release distributor Yaakov Mencken (and they call me a self promoter?) was also excluded

More problem for Bones

Earlier, I pointed out that a hammer job on Clinton, recently published by The Dry Bones, was riddled with errors. Turns out I missed the most important one.

Dry Bones: "This is Art" said then President Clinton. [about] "Piss Christ" [a] National Endowment for the Arts-funded piece consisting of a photograph of Jesus submerged in a bottle of urine.

But as Lee D has pointed out: "Clinton did not fund 'Piss Christ'. It was created in 1988 (funded by Reagan's NEA via a North Carolina museum). The controversy erupted in 1989, with George H. W. Bush in the White House. (Clinton was still Governor of Arkansas.)

I'd like to see someone provide hard documentation of Clinton praising 'Piss Christ'. I doubt it exists, as the controversy had mostly blown over by the time he took office. (Besides, he was much too savvy a politician to say anything like that, regardless of his own opinion.)

Without it, this whole 'hypocrisy' claim is a charade.
11:48 AM "

Will Bones apologize to Clinton? The world waits and wonders.

Great minds think alike

OLBERMANN: This contradiction, and I know it seems like splitting hairs, Harry Whittington is a friend, or is he an acquaintance? And he answers, “An acquaintance,” then he calls him a friend, then he calls him a good friend, then he says he‘s known him for 30 years.

Did the man grow in the vice president‘s esteem over the course of the interview, or are these the kinds of little details that can undermine somebody‘s credibility? If you were in court or were making a statement to the police, and you gave the same description of the same person in three different emotional terms, somebody‘d be saying, Mr. Vice President, you have to pick one or, at most, two of the above.

Support the Troops!

...well in words anyway.

For fiscal 2007, the Pentagon is seeking a 2.2 percent pay raise for troops, the lowest increase since 1994 and well below the average for the last 10 years.

Remember boys and girls: When the military opted to shutter bases back in the late 90's, Bill Clinton was personally responsible for that, as part of his secret plan to invite 9/11. And when John Kerry criticized the war, that was part of his secret plan to undermine troop morale.

But when Rummy and Bush nickle and dime the soldiers by cutting their raises (and their body armor) well, that's just the military operating with fiscal responsibility. It should in no way reflect poorly upon President Bush when it comes time to start pointing fingers after the war really spirals out of control.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney's T-Shirt

Also: One beer?

And see how Alan Dershowitz answers this question: Why would a media-savvy and clever man like Dick Cheney delay notifying the press and the police about an accident when
(a) he knew it would eventually be covered by the press and (b) he knew he would be criticized for delaying release of the story?

Does the truth matter?

As you know, yesterday Dick Cheney subjected himself to the comfy chair and other unspeakable act of torture at the hand of noted foot massager and GOP lickspittle, Brit Hume.


Q: Would you describe him [Harry Whittington] as a close friend, friendly acquaintance, what --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, an acquaintance.

But, a little later, Dick says:

"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And I say that is something I'll never forget."

So which is it? Friend or aquaintance? Perhaps it just doesn't sound as good to say, "Yup, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot an acquaintance."

Also of note was this rather specious claim, made by the Vice President:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I thought that [it] made good sense [to let Katherine Armstrong break the story 20 hours after the shooting] because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting...

Oh, accuracy was your concern was it? Accuracy? I see. So why, in her original account, did Armstrong say "

"This is something that happens from time to time," Armstrong said. "You know, I've been peppered pretty well myself."

Oh, I see. So getting your heart shot full of bullets is no big deal, an experience Katherine herself has enjoyed. Is that "accurate?"

The "accuracy" continues:

"It broke the skin," she said of the pellets. "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open."

The way Katherine tells it, this heart-attack causing episode was little more than a bruise, a skinned-keen. "He was fine. He was talking." Now contrast her "accurate" portrayal of the events with the Dick's own words:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He didn't respond. He was -- he was breathing, conscious at that point, but he didn't -- he was, I'm sure, stunned, obviously, still trying to figure out what had happened to him.


Q His eyes were open when you found him, then, right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. One eye was open.

Yes, indeed. What a good thing the VP waited 20 hours to ensure accuracy. Lord only knows how those unscrupulous Washington spin machines would have framed the story if they had gotten to it first.

Who said it?

Who said it?

"We need to react [to the Hamas election] with some care. Hurting the Palestinian people will reward terrorist regimes like Syria and Iran which seek to exploit the suffering of the Palestinians for their own selfish reasons."

(a) Nancy Pelosi (D-California)
(b) Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
(c) Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
(d) Henry Hyde (R-IL)

Hint: The speaker also voiced disapproval this morning for Con. Res. 79, a Congressional resolution calling for the US to withhold all assistance from the PA, until Hamas recants it's position on Israel.

Hattip: TTC

Chiding the cartoonist

Far be it from me to argue with a JIB-winning cartoonist, but to my regret, the irrepressible ache is rising inside me. I fear I won't be able to keep myself from pointing out that the Dry Bones blog has recently published two rather silly mistakes.

First off, Hitler did not become leader of Germany through an election!!

Though this stupid argument has become the darling of the undemocratic right, it is 100 percent wrong. Hitler became Chancellor, not through an election, but through a series of back-room deals. The very best Hitler did in an honest election was 37 percent.

Next, Mr. Dry Bones tries to beat up former President Clinton using some words and ideas provided by the Super Fun Power Hour.

Unfortunately, all those years hunched over a drawing board appear to have damaged the cartoonist's eyesight. SuperFunPowerHour, you see, attributes the damaging remark to Hillary Clinton, but Mr. Dry Bones puts it in Bill Clinton's mouth. Are Bill and Hillary the same person?

Bones also makes the mistake of assuming that president Clinton personally approved of a particular work of art, simply because a Federal agency helped fund it. That's a little like saying that Bush personally approved of Cheney shooting that poor guy in the face, which is of course absurd. Federal agencies, like vice presidents, have some lattitude and independance: it simply isn't reasonable (unless you have a grudge) to say that the fact that the NEA funded something is proof positive that Clinton liked it.

More on the larger problem with the second post later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Quick! Someone give CYW and Ezzie some new talking points!

CNN.com - Cheney: 'It's a day I'll never forget' - Feb 15, 2006: "'It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."

Fear not CWY and Ezzie: I'm sure the Vice President appreciates your support all the same. Perhaps if you write him a letter detailing the patriotic and impassioned defense you offered here on his behalf, you'll be invited along on the next hunting trip.



"Do you think the Bush administration was right or wrong in wiretapping these conversations without obtaining a court order?"

50 percent said he was wrong.

USATODAY.com: "Based on what you have heard or read, do you think George W. Bush (a) definitely broke the law, (b) probably broke the law, (c) probably did not break the law or (d) definitely did not break the law? "

49 percent chose "a" or "b."

Like you, I am wondering where in the world did USATODAY find so many terrorist-loving, America-hating people? Syria? Harvard? France?

As Ezzie will be quick to note, all this proves is that the spy program is justified; after all, if 50 percent of Americans think the president is a lawbreaker, shouldn't we be keeping an eye on them?

Quail hunting

Try your luck, but be warned: Shooting tame, pen raised animals for fun isn't nearly as manly as it seems. In fact, it's more like going into a petting zoo with a rifle, which is to say that it's a form of cheating, more mass slaughter than hunting.

Come to think of it, that might be why a man like Big Time enjoys it so much.

Muslim infighting

All of us know that Mahmud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran and certified nutjob, has gone on the record denying the holocaust, and, though some of my friends on the right may deny it, the so-called Israel-hating media straight-out condemned him for it. But did you know that a Muslim group has also joined the chorus of condemnation? That's right. Germany's leading Islamic group wants Ahmadinejad to put up or shut up.
Muslim cultural institute in Germany on Monday criticized Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad for disparaging the Holocaust, daring him to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp.

"In this place of horror he can again deny the Holocaust, if he has the courage," a spokesman for the Islam-Archiv-Deutschland Central Institute told the German Catholic press agency KNA.

In recent statements, the hardline Iranian president has dismissed the Nazis' systematic slaughter of mainland Europe's Jews as a "myth" used to justify the creation of Israel and called for the state to be "wiped off the map".

By denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad not only denigrated the Jewish victims of the genocide but also the 200,000 Roms and Arabs murdered in the "gypsy camp" of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps, the institute spokesman said. The fact that the president of an Islamic state repeated Nazi anti-Semitism was harmful to the image of Islam and "a disgrace for all the world's Muslims", he added.
Ok, right wingers: How does this fit into your "boo-hoo-hoo the whole world hates us" narrative?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


RenReb repeated her Tu B'Shvat post from last year so I will, too:

Renegade Rebbetzin: Tu b'Shvat higiyah....: "Let me ask you this - why is it that NONE of my children have learned the 'Tu b'Shvat higiyah' song in school?? None of them. Not even one. What's happening to Jewish education??? They come home with little cups of dirt in which a few grass blades are growing (or in one case, a few leaves, since they planted orange seeds), and they proudly tell me that they planted them in honor of Tu b'Shvat, and they tell me how they ate figs and dates in school and they tell me that it's the special 'Rosh Hashanah for the trees,' but they don't know the song. If I weren't already paying almost nothing for tuition (seeing as how, thank God, the school is well aware of where, precisely, rabbis' salaries rank in the scheme of things), I would demand my money back."

DovBear: DOVBEAR DOUBTS YOU: Sure, Ren Reb, it's a great song, and yes, yes its a biblical tragedy on the level of frogs and locusts that neither your kids nor mine learned it in school this year, but do you know the words?

Not just the 'Tu b'Shvat higiyah' part.

The words.

Note to the non-Jewish readership

If you're out shopping for last minute gifts, please be sure to demand that the store clerks wish you a Happy SAINT Valentine's Day.

We don't want to give O'Reilly anythng else to cry about.


The olam is advised that TDS was much the funny last night.

Note to Ezzie and CWY: I'll advise you both to skip this one. You won't find it funny, and your subsequent complaints will just make us feel sorry for you.

Monday, February 13, 2006

How many died during darkness?

Lots of people quote as inarguable fact the Midrash which says that 20 80 percent of the Jewish people were killed during the plauge of darkness. The Ibn Ezra has something important to say to them:
This is a lone opinion, which is debated, and is not at all a received tradition [which would be binding]. We already have been given enough grief by the Moslem scholars, who say: "How is it possible that fifty-five men who went down to Egypt [with Yaakov] could be the ancestors, over 210 years, of 600,000 men over the age of twenty?"...In [every] plague that consumed Egypt, the Jews were spared. Most of the Egyptians' cattle died during dever (the plague of cattle-disease), while not one of the Jews' cattle died (Shemot 9:6). In the Plague of the Firstborn, not a single Jew died. In the Plague of Darkness, it says, "There was light for all the Jews" (Shemot 10:23). In the plagues in which Egyptians died, Jews did not die. So in a plague (darkness) in which no Egyptian died, how could Jews die? [Besides, that would mean] the Jews did not have light in their homes, but the darkness of disease and the pitch-black of death! Since only a tiny part was left from a huge nation, this would not have been redemption for the Jews but a sick evil! That's the opposite of the text. The whole thing is a derash; don't rely on it. Maybe the one who said it at the outset had a hidden reason.
And now you see why the Ibn Ezra is no longer taught in most Yeshivas.

Be veh-wee veh-wee qwiet...

Be veh-wee veh-wee qwiet...we're hunting rich lawyers.

Do I have this straight?

The Vice President of the United States (accidentally) shot a spetugenarian in the face, landing him in the intensive-care unit, and the (so called liberal) media is cheerfully reporting that the poor guy was only "sprayed" or "peppered" with birdshot? And let's not forget the 18-hour news balackout of the event? Had Cheney killed the guy would we have heard about it at all? Ye gods.

Maybe if Cheney had served in Vietnam he would have learned how to handle a firearm.

The word from my Local Hasidic Rabbi

In a moment of nerve, or perhaps bravery, I recently asked my local hasidic Rabbi the following question, "Why is your liturgy (ie: Nusach Sefard) such a mess? The grammar, in places, is rediculous, and you have brackets all over the place. What's up with that"

To my surprise he gave an excellent answer (I can't write the way that he speaks, so nothing that follows is verbatum):

"There is no one Nusach Sefard," he said. "At the begining of the Hasidic Movement, each Rebbe interpreted the liturgy (ie: the Nusach Ari) in his own way, with his own gloss, and produced his own nusach. Each was a little different from the other. Years later, when the siddur was printed, the editor tried to combine all the different variations. The result was the mess we have today. However, any Hassid who davens with a mesorah knows what to say, and what not to say. He uses the printed siddur only as a guide. Anyone who just says everything thats printed there doesn't really know what he's doing."

He continued:

"And you know what else is interesting? Every Rebbe has a ruling which claims that his way of davening is the right way. Lubovitch, Satmar, whoever. They all argue that their way is right to the exclusion of all others, and that you can switch in to their way of praying, but you can't switch out. [DB: Rav Moshe has a famous ruling about Nusach Ashkenaz in which he says the same thing.]"

"It's amazing," my LHR concluded,"how their objectivity just disappears."

What I think about on the way to shul...

* Can I put my JIBs on a resume?
* Does Mis-nagid wear a hat?
* Will Robbie ever settle down with Mr. Right?
* Is Toby Katz for real? Or is she a clever and devious parody of Ann Coulter?
* Do the Babbits of the Five Towns know they have a leftie in their midst?
* When GH writes his book, will he mention me in the acknowledgments?
* Have I taught Ezzie anything?
* Where in the word is SurahMalka?
* How much longer can I keep blogging?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Stop the presses!!

Apparently, Yaakov Mencken has distributed a press release to all the major newspapers, announcing that his blog, (you know, the one about the Cross) performed well in the JIBs.

According to the JIB polling pages, perhaps 1500 votes were cast in the Best Overall catagory. If we assume that most people voted two or even three times over the course of the contest, perhaps 650 people participated. Does Yaakov Mencken really expect the newspapers to be interested in such a small contest? And will he scream media bias when his accomplishment is ignored by the AP, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal? (Hint: Of course, he will.)

Also, of note, is the way in which Yaakov's press release frames his accomplishment:

Countering portrayals of the Orthodox as technological Luddites who have banned the Internet..

Um, you mean it's not true that Lakewood banned the Internet? That's just a media fabrication, something the mean old anti-orthodox papers invented? And real nice touch, criticizing the media in a press release which begs for media attention. Ladies and genetlemen, we call that chutzpah.

...Cross-Currents, sponsored by the Jewish outreach organization Project Genesis, won the gold as both the Best Group Blog and Best Designed, while finishing second only to the Jerusalem Post’s own Dry Bones cartoon in the Best Overall category.

Oooh. More chutzpah! Not only does Yaakov trash the media in the release's opening sentance, he also trashes the award sponsors by suggesting they assisted their "own Dry Bones cartoon." And in case you think he isn't really accusing the Post of cheating, here's what he said in the post itself:

Now in Overall, I’ll admit to being surprised. At the close of balloting we were over 30 votes ahead of Dry Bones, and 15 ahead of Gil. The “certified” results indicate that enough votes were denied by the JPost to give the JPost’s own Dry Bones the title. Hmm. Now I’ll ask fellow bloggers and commenters to recall that the last time I said something was funny, I wasn’t being paranoid,
Unreal. Only at Cross Currents. [Update: Now he's claiming his swipe at the contest was just a joke. Uh huh. A joke.] And the release continues :

The ten contributing writers at Cross-Currents represent a broad diversity of views, dismantling the stereotype of the Orthodox as single-minded with every internal debate

More jokes! Broad diveristy of views? Hahahaha! Everyone who reads Cross Currents knows that the blog is almost nothing but boiled over GOP talking points, with Shira Schmidt and Rabbi Feldman thrown in for cover, and Toby Katz around for comic relief with her shrill and offensive Ann Coulter routine. Who does he think he's fooling by claiming to represent diversity? Unreal.

More stupid hall of fame business

Today we induct a new class to my Hall of Fame, to go along with yesterday's charter class, a class which was made up of bloggers who I read regularly before I started blogging my own. Introducing the...

Chessed Ne'urayich Class: The bloggers and commenters who helped me with links and comments and chizuk when I was young.


Some of the charter class belong in the chessed ne'urayich class, and vice versa. Detailed mathmatical calculations were used to determine who went where, and though I have no plans to share those calculations with you, I assure you they make perfect sense.

Sometime next week, I plan to induct the Summer of Love Class (The commenters who made this blog rock during the Summer of 2005) but I don't want to leave anyone out, so I am depending on you for nominations and reminders.

Foot in mouth disease

CJ Heretic writes
Apparently Lt. Governor Oreo Cookie, [DB: ie: Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele of Maryland] who is going to be the GOP candidate for Senator from Maryland just put his foot into his oral orifice by comparing stem cell research with the work of the good Dr. Mengele. Before a Jewish audience. Someone needs to enlighten the Christian fundies that the Jews, even the Jewish fundies, have a different take on fetuses than they do.
What the Lt. Gov said was this: "You of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool."

Sure, because, as we all know, life saving research using stem cells is exactly the same thing as sadistic inflictions of pain on adult prisoners. Killing people, experimenting with cells - all the same, am I right?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Now, it gets serious

I was only kidding around earlier this week when, in a flash of unrivaled arrogance, I created DovBear's Hall of Fame, and foolishly tried to list every single commenter in creation.

Now, however, an enterprising young man has gone and created a sidebar badge (left) so I guess it's official: I have a Hall of Fame.


Ok, first order of business, I suppose, is to initiate a charter class. Should I select blogs that are worthy (like Hirhurim) blogs that might pay me for the privilege (like Ezzie) or blogs that might actually put the badge on their blogs (like GodolHador)?

Okay. Got it. Here's what we'll do:

Today, I am going to name a charter class. All of the members of this first class meet the following conditions:

(1) They are older than me
(2) They have been good to DovBear
(3) They make a good read
(4) They are not Robbie.

In the far-off future, when I can't think of anything to blog about, I'll name some new members, for any reason I choose. But here's the key and very important thing: If you ever get named to the Hall and you don't put the badge on your blog (or pay me) I will feed you to Toby Katz ritually expel you from the Hall in a gothic ceremony involving bonfires, animal sacrifice, and branding irons. Ok? Good.

In the name of the blog, I am pleased to introduce the first inductees into the DovBear Hall of Fame:

ChayyeiSarah (token girl)
Hirhurim (token nerd)
Velveteen Rabbi (token irreligious Jew)
Psychotoddler (token bass player)
MoChassid (token Hassid. [Admit it Mo: This is better than getting honored by Ohel, right?])
Burry Katz (token lunatic)
Mis-Nagid (token atheist)
BlogHd (token father/daughter team)
RenReb (token RenReb)


Thank you. Thank you all very much.

The JIB counting has finally finished, and we're very pleased to announce that, with your help, DovBear has medaled in three events:

Culture: Bronze
Politics: Bronze
Post: Bronze

I am also declaring victory in Religion, where I came in fourth behind Hirhurim, Cross Currents and Lazer Beams, despite the fact that I am not really a religious blog. (But, then again, neither is Cross Currents. so ::shrug::)

Ok, now all I need is a a soaring yet chauvanistic anthem and a uniform designed by Reebock for the medal ceremony.

[Thanks to Aussie Dave for organizing this little popularity contest.]

On the riots

It needs to be said that the UO Jews who are inveighing against the barbarism now on display in the Muslim world have identified the wrong culprit.

The trouble isn’t that the rioters are Arabs or Muslim, but that they are benighted primitives, who are unacquainted with the gifts of the enlightenment.

It’s instructive to remember that all of Europe once behaved as they behave today in Pakistan and Indonesia. That changed only after the ideas of the enlightenment took hold and Christians became more skeptical toward their old religion. If Islam is going to be cured of barbarism Muslims, too, must embrace skepticism. They must become modern.

Meanwhile, the UO Jews who condemn the certainties of Islam, while simultaneously rejecting the skepticism of other Jews are playing a dangerous game. They forget that when they dismiss “modernity” they are also dismissing the only known tonic for the sort of barbarism that once engulfed Europe and threatens to engulf us again.

PSA from Mar Gavriel

Mar Gavriel writes:
A few weeks ago, the president of the Old Broadway Synagogue told me that if I could somehow procure sifrei nevi'im on qelof for the schul, he would let me leyn haftorôth out of them. Mind you, though, the Old Broadway Synagogue is an ailing old schul, just barely holding on to itself, and it certainly does not have enough money to buy sifrei nevi'im.... Please tell me of any institutions in New York that own qelofin of sifrei nevi'im. I recognize that my dream of owning sifrei nevi'im (and kethuvim, and Torah) will not be fulfilled in the near future-- though it will אי"ה be fulfilled eventually, for I will write them myself. However, with a little help from you internet personalities, I hope very soon to fulfill my dream of regularly leyning haftorôth (and, when relevant, meghillôth) from full qelofin.
If you have any idea what he is talking about, and would like to help please respond directly to the Mar, himself, at margavriel@yahoo.com.

Note: It appears Mar Gavriel wishes to read the haftarot from a klaf in shul, and would like to either do it in your shul, or in his shul using klafin which he is hoping you can supply. But you'll have to ask him to be sure.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Today's "Well articulated Torah perspective on the events of the day."

Toby Katz: "Arabs are brutal insane murderers whose mothers have nachas when their kids grow up to be terrorists, and Jews and Arabs are very, very different."


Over at Cross Currents, Shaw Landres let her have it:
"How is this statement – or the thinking behind it – acceptable by anyone, at any time, whether on Cross-Currents or elsewhere? I trust that the other moderators of Cross-Currents will act quickly to condemn this statement. Otherwise Cross-Currents cannot call itself a Jewish religion blog – at best it will be a Jewish version of the Kevin MacDonald approach vis-a-vis Jews, and at worst it will be just another ethnocentric (racist?) blog."
To which we can only say: hear, hear.

The long awaited Alito post

Ok, here's the scoop on the Alito confirmation. I think it's swell. I think it sucks. And, I don't care. Here's why:

I think it's swell: Confirming Alito brings us closer to the wonderful day when Roe is overturned. What's that you say? Why does DovBear, celebrity uber-Liberal, with to see the end of Roe? Simple. If Roe goes, the GOP goes with it. Because when Roe goes all the nice, sensible, smart Republicans will (finally!) need to choose between (a) following their conscious or (b) following the preachers and pig farmers who wish for the state to insert itself between a woman, her God and her doctor.

My money says people like McCain and Graham tell the pig farmers to go to hell, and I bet many more Republicans will do the same once they aquaint themselves with the poll data which says a majority of Americans support a woman’s right to a legal abortion.

I think it sucks: Can we be blunt? Alito is a pansy. If you review his career one theme continues to assert itself: the "man" never says no to power. Banks, politicians, corporations - whatever: Alito almost always bends over for the big guys. And, sooner or later, we expect the biggest guy of all to come before the Supreme Court. Sooner or later the Court is going to be asked to rule on extraordinary rendition, torture, wiretapping, detentions and all the other juicy special powers Lord George has claimed for himself. Does Alito have it in him to say to a king: "Ha'rozachta v'gam yorashta?!" Doubtful. Very doubtful.

I don't care: The president is permitted to nominate anyone he likes to the Court, and the Senate is allowed to confirm or reject for any reason. By my lights the president could nominate his pet puppy (which he, in fact, one did) and the Senate, if it chooses, can confirm. That's how it works in America. That's our system, with impeachment our only recourse.

Sauce for the goose.

Moishe Q. Public [another great commenter who was inadvertently omitted from my stupid list] shows us why the Islamofascist are a bunch of hypocrites.

(Ever wonder what Europe was like before the Enlightenment? Hint: a heck of a whole lot like any of those Islam-crazy places. Seriously.)

Little Wolf [another great commenter who was inadvertently omitted from my stupid list] shows us why the Islamofascists are a bunch of evil, humorless bastards.

Great Moments in Marketing

Onan Condos. [Warning: Link takes you to Robbie's site.]

Other great moments in marketing

Congratulations CJ Heretic!!

I was bound to leave someone off my list of candidate members for "DovBear's Hall of Fame: Commenter Division," I'm just sorry it was CJ-Heretic, who deserves a spot at the top of the list. Sorry, dude.

Whoops, forgot Robbie, too.

Anyone else?

And can we get a vote together on who the top 3-5 commenters are?

An Eleventh for our Time

Rambam's eleventh principle of faith (old version):
"I believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him."

Rambam's eleventh principle of faith (new version):
"I believe with perfect faith... yadda... yadda... reward... punishment... blah, blah, blah... unless you're wearing a red bracelet or have recently said parshas hamon, in which case you are home free."

The problem with Gaza

Gaza: No roads, no trains, no schools, no electricity; but the stores are all well stocked with Danish flags.

Tip of the keffiya: Mis-nagid, first ballot Hall of Famer, commenter division.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More on Mon

Gil Student said:
I assume the intention of this new practice [Parshas Haman] is to strengthen people's faith in God, not to discourage effort.

Well aren't we optimistic.

Actually, the purpose here is neither to strengthen people's faith in God, nor to discourage effort; rather people believe it works. That's all there is to it. They're not trying to keep you out of college; they're not trying to increase your faith in God. They just think it works.

And, ironically, God has nothing to do with it!! (Not the real God, anyway; just the make believe God, ie: the one who has no choice but to act whenever someone reads parshas haman. That's right the Parshas Haman people are worshiping a God so very powerful he jumps at the command of human beings!)

Sigh. And the detrioration of Judaism into rediculous spells and charms continues....

Segulah Time

Hey true believers, good news!

Apparently, the Tuesday before Shabbas B'shalach (ie: today) is an especially auspicious time to ask God to give you money! (Or "parnasa" if you're one of those extra pious types who refuse to use English for certain words.)

In order to get the money, I mean the parnasa, all you have to do is recite Parshas Ha'mon, (the reading which describes how how God provided mon for the Israelites in the dessert, and no "mon" is not a pun on "money" though that's a funny idea; nor does it have anything to do with Jamaica, also a funny idea; rather manna, the miracle food provided for the Israelites during their journy through the desert.)

Anyway, all you have to do is read Parshas Ha'mon, and you too will receive miracle food! Sustenance will fall from the heavens! Checks will miraculously appear in your mailbox! No need to go to college, or to train for a vocation! No need to do anything at all! It will be like being back in the Garden of Eden before that lousy woman and her pet snake wrecked everything! Haha!

Just read Parshas Ha'mon and presto! instant cold hard cash!!

Or something. Keep your day job, just in case. DovBear makes no guarantees.

Ok, back to the hiatus.

The Hall of Fame (the hiatus continues)

With my secret mission taking longer to wrap up then anticipated, I thought I'd give the loyal members of DovBear nation something new to argue about during my (very temporary) absence...

And so with very little thought, yet a fair amount of fear and trepidation, I am pleased to introduce...

(1) Links fixed.
(2) The Hall of Fame is meant to honor sustained excellence, so I didn't put up any new blogs. Of those on the list only GH and OM are younger than me. Basicly, if you're not GH or OM and you started blogging after October, 2004, you were excluded. If you're older than me, and I left you off it was (a) an error (b) an attempt to upset you (c) a personal attack on your dignity and honor as a blogger or (d) done because I hate you. Or, it could be just that you're still going strong. If you notice, hardly anyone on the Hall of Fame list is still blogging at full power.
(3) If some enterprising artist (AirTime?) would like to design a Hall of Fame banner you can put them on your sidebars. Or now. Whatever you like is ok with me. I am here to serve.

DovBear's J-blogosphere Hall of Fame (DovBear, proprietor)

Members: Blogging Division

Ari Goes Down
Burry Katz
Esther Kustanowitz
Godol Hador
Luke Ford
Renegade Rebbetzin
Steven I. Weiss and Protocols
Team Shaviv
The Shaigetz

Members: Service to the J-blogosphere Division
Air Time - For artistic contributions
Aussie Dave - For the Jibs
Mirty - For teaching us all how to code
SoccerDad - For Havel Havalim

Candidate Members: Commenter Division
Note: This is not an exhaustive list, despite my best efforts.

Air Time
Al Gore
B. Spinoza
bishul akum
Back of the Hill
Classmate Wearing Yarmulka
Esther Kustanowitz
Ger Tzadik
Godol Hador
Holy Hyrax
Jameel Rashid
Joe Schick
Just Passing Through
Mar Gavriel
Mike Koplow
Moishe Potemkin
R' Hyman Krustowskij
Reb Yudel
Seth Gordon
Steven Brizel
Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)
Still Wonderin'
Surah Malka
The Town Crier
Yitzchak Goodman
Uncle Moishy
Velvateen Rabbi

Additional nominees welcome. Let the recriminations begin!

Monday, February 06, 2006

The hiatus continues

Stories we're following for you:

Alito: I am glad he was confirmed; I am mad he was confirmed; and I really don't care. Perhaps later today I'll tell you why.

Aussie Dave: What a job he did on the JIBs, eh? Sure the competition got ugly (as I predicted it would back in December 2004) and, yes, the vote pandering reached new levels of absurdity, but none of that should reflect on Dave and his creation. (Anyway, pandering and ugliness is half the fun, as I also said in December 2004.)

Gary Rosenblatt: Apparently he's full of it Any good Rosenblatt he acquired breaking le affair Lanner is now officially squandered.

A Section Ads: We saw an underwear ad on Saturday! A real honest to goodness underwear ad! In the A section! Unfortunately, no one cares anymore and Kobre's credibility is shot. Oh well.

Amona: I am very sympathetic to the religious people who were brutalized by the Israeli police last week (Don't believe me? Screw you.) However, I find myself in a quandry. For the last 20 years outfits like Honest Reporting and Camera have instructed us to disregard all reports of brutality by the Israeli authorities. There's always context and another side to the story, they say. Reports of brutality, they say, are always exagerated by the "anti-Israel" media.

Ok, so how about now? Do I believe the Times, which sided (in my eyes) with the settlers? Or do I believe the bloggers and the Jewish newspapers who've been telling me for years that Times is not trustworthy?

Here's a good example: The front page of the Times last week (was it Friday?) showed a phalanx of horseback riding police men confronting a group of settlers. There was paint on one of the horses, and the caption said that the settlers had been throwing rocks and paint, but at first glance none of the was obvious from the picture. For all the world it looked like the police were unprovoked and attacking a group of unarmed people.

Had those unarmed people been Palestenians, Honest Reporting and the rest of you would have (perhaps rightfully) criticized the Times for running a picture showing the police responding to violence. You'd have (perhaps correctly) asked why the front page picture wasn't one of Palestenians throwing rocks and paint. So why is it different when the rock throwers and lawbreakers are Jewish?

Don't get me wrong, I am pleased as punch to see so many right-wingers sympathizing for once with the underdogs (as do I in this case. Again, don't believe me? Screw you) and against the armed (and arguably lawful) authorities. But it's odd. It's very odd. Or perhaps not. Maybe it always was a matter, not of principle, but of whose ox was being gored.

Friday, February 03, 2006

No post today

I am on a secret mission. Go read the newspaper instead.

(The haitus ends Sunday or Monday.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gotta hand it to the GOP....

...seems like they picked a real winner to replace Tom Delay.

Today's Cross Current comment that won't see the light of day.

Toby Katz wants to know why nobody thinks Cross Currents is a religious blog. She writes:
We are working in the arena of hashkafa here. My understanding of Torah Im Derech Eretz is that the Torah has something to say about everything, and that it behooves Jews to act in accord with Torah values at all times... What area is outside the purview of politics? Women’s issues? Day school tuition? Crime and punishment? Israel? [...]But I reject the premise that what we are discussing here is “just politics.” What some casually dismiss as “politics” I think of as “life.”
My answer: Perhaps if there was a greater variety of Torah perspectives present, we'd be able to take more seriously your claim of being a "religious blog that talks about important issues."

With only Shira Schmidt here to speak for the parts of Torah that coincide with liberal, democratic, and progressive politics, the result is a blog that speaks about "important issues" from only the conservative, republican and regressive perspectives. (That fact that many of your writers are likely scratching their heads wondering which parts of Torah coincide with liberalism all but makes my point for me.)

A blog that had a religious agenda, and not a political agenda, would reference Torah thoughts from all over the political spectrum. Not just the right. A blog that had a religious agenda and not a political agenda would never have published Eytan Kobre's attacks on the Times, or Toby Katz's obscene celebration of Tookie William's execution. A blog with a religious agenda would be attempting to show us the great multiplicity of opinions that all fall under the rubric of Torah thought, rather than being committed to just one, very narrow perspective. And there are legions of other examples.

As for myself, I reject the idea that God is a Democrat or a Republican, and I acknowledge that a fair amount of Jewish law and belief overlaps with Republican positions. However, if Cross Currents is truely a religious blog, they ought to give equal time to the parts of Torah that don't fit the GOP talking points.


Q Jew's current post has me thinking: Where does morality come from? Is it out there, and absolute; or is it defined by God?

Let's look at the second possibility: If morality is defined by God, doesn't that make morality sort of arbitrary? Wouldn't it mean that, before God said it was wrong, murder was not immoral?

And if it was immoral before God said so, then the argument that religion is essential to morality takes a blow. Because if morality has nothing to do with God, shouldn't atheists be able to tap into it?

Pandering post of the day if not the decade

Click here

[Attention morons: The link above will lead you a work of satire. If you find yourself unable to appreciate or understand satire please DO NOT CLICK THE LINK. The post to which it leads will only make you mad, and then you'll spend the rest of your day writing a pathetic post on your pathetic blog decrying GH for his poor sportsmanship. Ok? So save yourself the trouble, and save us the aggravation. If you have no sense of humor: DO NOT CLICK]

More magic

One of my email correspondents alerted me to an error in yesterday's post about the Egyptian magicians and how they were complete frauds, with no powers.

It has been corrected.

A Section Ads.

Finally! We're pleased to report the appearance of a scantily clad woman in the A-Section of the New York Times! Alas, for Eytan's first premise, it was not an underwear ad or even an underwear wearing woman, but a Lord and Taylor model showing a heck of a lot of leg. Does that count? Judges? Should we throw Eytan a bone, and say that he finally won a day? Or do we stick to the original rules, and count underwear only?

Having spotted an immodest ad in the A-Section, I was, at long last, able to test Eytan's second premise: The idea that juxtaposing near-naked women with serious news stories somehow undermines the Times claim to be a serious paper. To test this theory I stared at the Lord and Taylor ad for thirty seconds, then read the article and asked myself the following questions:

Was I able to understand the article? Yes.
Did the article seem serious to me, despite its close proximity to a black and white picture of an attractive woman's thigh? Yes.
Do I still think the Times is a good paper? Yes.

Now, I admit that I am not be the best test subject for this particular experiment, because I don't accept Eytan's second premise. I don't think that the Times sees itself as a "font of intellectual and moral gravitas." I just think it's a smart paper, with some good writing and analysis on the day's event, so it doesn't strike me as odd to find an unclad woman mixed in among the good writing.

To really test Eytan's argument, we need someone who embraces the second premise. Do any of you, out there in reader land, believe that the Times is produced by (as Eytan put it) "bleeding heart humanists, who fancy themselves exquisitely morally sensitive and committed to truth, justice and (People for) the American Way?" If so, do me a favor and look at Page A3, and see if that Lord and Taylor advert seems inappropriate. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Q Jew explains why the JIBs are even dumber than we first thought.

(Yes, I recognize this looks like a change of course. Previously, I was whoring for votes like everyone else; now I am saying that not only are the JIBs dumb, but dumber than we first thought. Deal with it.)

No, it's not sour grapes. I am doing as well as I could have expected, and currently stand to medal in three categories.

That makes me glad, and happy and proud, of course. But it isn't like I wasn't away that the JIBs are of questionable significance, given how they boil down to not just a glorified popularity contest, but a popularity contest capable of being skewed by an outsider with a very large audience (and the fact that I was one of the prime beneficiaries of this ought to give me some credibility here.)

Now it turns out that a hacker could also skew the totals, making the results even less significant.

Update Again
What we really need is something to augment the JIBs. Here's what I propose. I think the medaists in each category should serve as judges in a contest that rewards not blogs, but posts. Let them choose the best humor post, the best advocacy post, the best Torah post, and so on.

Your thoughts below, please.

Miracles amazing wonders... NOT

Edited Feb 2, 2006

Today's post discusses the Chartumei Mitzrayim, the Egyptian court magicians who attempted to duplicate Moshe's miricales. According to the Sages, these men tapped into legitimate black magic, forces that God built into creation, and manipulated it to create wonders. For a time, these wonders deceived Pharoh into rejecting Moshe's demands.

Except, some Sages says it's all nonesense. Notably, the Abarbanel writes that the court magicians were never able to replicate a single miracle. He says they either used David Copperfield-type illusions to trick Pharoh, or simply spread false rumors of their abilities. (My hunch is that Hasidic-miracle workers operate the same way, and I eagerly wait a James Randi expose of their methods.)

The strongest argument that the Egyptians magicians were frauds is made by Samason Rephael Hirsch and it is a textual argument.

R' Hirsch points out that the Torah never actually says that the magicians were able to turn water to blood, or produce frogs, rather it says "And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments [v'yasu chen... b'latayhem]" According to Hirsch this doesn't mean that the magicians were successful, only that they imitated Aaron, ie: After Aaron hit the water or the dirt with his stick, the magicians copied his action with the powerless tools of their own impotent trade.

He also asks (I'm paraphrasing)"Why would the magicians want more frogs and more lice? Wouldn't it make more sense if they were trying to remove the plauge?" And, in fact, the word the Torah uses to describe the intention of the magicians(l'hotzi) can mean both to "bring up" and to "remove."

Here then are the relevant passages as Samson Rephael Hirsch understands them with my own interpolations in blue:

6 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.

7 And the magicians copied Aaron's with their magic charms, [nontheless] frogs covered the land of Egypt. [How do we know the magicians were trying to remove the frogs, and failed? Because right away Pharoh calls for help. See next verse.]

8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD. [Doesn't sound like someone with much faith in magicians, does he?]

17 ...Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

18 And the magicians copied Aaron's action with their magic charms to remove (l'hotzi) the lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. [This verse is the best proof of the magicians intentions, if you, follow SRH, and read l'hotzi as "remove": Immediately after we're told that the magicians could not "l'hotzi" the lice, the text says they were everywhere.]