Monday, November 30, 2009

Random Picture of the Day: Ginger Ale

I took this pic (click to enlarge) in my local CVS with my phone back in March but the sign is still there, I believe.

Anyway, I appreciate a company that understands it's place in the universe. Here Canada Dry is showing that they know they're imbibed only by sick people (or, on airplanes). It's a truism and they have the guts to say, "we don't taste good except when mixed with gin or when you are ready to yorq."

Today's Backposts

  1. March 2008 - Bruce Lee Films
  2. April 2008 - I Throw Ill-will on Do The Right Thing.
  3. April 2008 - I Throw Love on Never Say Never Again.
  4. June 2008 - Fun piece from McSweeny's
  5. January 2009 - Obama and the Steelers
Late Update:
  1. Recent - Fun with spam
  2. July 2009 - Rabbi Broyde about Women Clergy
  3. Feb 2009 - Some Thoughts about UFOs

Joke of the Day

I see from back here that I started a minhag of The Joke of the Day, yet there was only one entry. So here's number 2, one of my favorite jokes of all time:
Two astronauts make the first manned flight to Mars. Upon landing, they find themselves face-to-face with a couple of green Martians.

"How do we make contact?" asks the first astronaut.

"They look pretty primitive. Let's impress them with some of our technology."

"OK." says the first.

He reaches into the pocket of his spacesuit and pulls out a laser-torch. The Martians look interested.

"I think it's working - light it!" says the second.

The first astronaut presses the button and a flame shoots out. Immediately the faces of the Martians turn from green to red.

"Wow!" says the first, "they must really be impressed."

Then one of the Martians reaches out his little green hand, points a finger at the men, frowns, and says very sternly, "Shabbos!"
There's important Torah to this joke as well, but I'll leave that to another time. Thanks to here for the basic text (I changed it a bit to my taste).

Pic is of everyone's favorite Martian.

Back When I Cared About Krugman

As you can tell, I'm heavily into cleaning up my backposts and I felt this was timeless enough to post in real-time. It's a peek back to the bad Bush years and the temporary hero of the moderate-progressive majority of America.

The link below was originally posted on Monday, November 06, 2006 11:34 PM, back when the Times was behind a pay-firewall and the only thing I cared to read was Paul Krugman. Ironically, it was the last column of his relevancy. Because after the 2006 Midterms, we discovered that the country actually hated the GOP (and by extension Bush) and Krugman's role as lone crusader was replaced with his anti-Obama hate. Ah well, good times to remember the Bush Dystopia of 2004-2006.
Hey, I managed to get the Krugman today! Here's the basic text. Yummy:
"Limiting the Damage" By PAUL KRUGMAN.

President Bush isn’t on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office."
When will Krugman be redeemed? Maybe, if as I predicted, he'll become the next Secretary of the Treasury.

Chelsea Clinton Is Engaged (to a Tribesman)

The NYTimes is announcing that "Chelsea Clinton Is Engagedto her longtime boyfriend, Marc Mezvinsky..." The story goes on to say:
Mr. Mezvinsky, 31, works at Goldman Sachs and is the son of two former Democratic members of Congress, Edward Mezvinsky of Iowa, who served from 1973 to 1977 but was later convicted of defrauding investors and sentenced to seven years in prison, and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania, who served from 1993 to 1995 and lost re-election after voting for President Clinton’s budget program.
A quick wikkiing, shows that shver Ed is Jewish (and I assume Margolies is, duh).

So, will Chelsea pull an Ivanka? Maybe if Hillary were still a NY Senator, she would.

But along with Gore's daughter, and Howard Dean, this is an interesting 'high-placed Democrats marrying Jews' thing. That and Gore's elected VP, makes a nice pattern of the party and Jews. True, Bush was grrrrreat for Israel, but there's more to listen to than assertions of ignorant Fox-News-Frummies.

Pic from the Times.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today's Backposts (Regular)

  1. Oct 2006 - Fun Site of the Day
  2. Oct 2006 - Letter to TPM
  3. Oct 2006 - Daniel Pipes and Iraq Partition
  4. Nov 2006 - Letter to Sullivan about the Democratic Party
  5. Jan 2007 - AJC Paper about Liberal anti-Zionism
  6. Jan 2007 - TNR Story by Tony Grafton about Princeton and the Military
  7. May 2007 - Proof that the Onion is Written by Me (and my brother)
  8. May 2007 - Proof number 2
  9. July 2007 - Letter to Sullivan about Nasrudin & Muslim humor

Today's Backposts (2008 Primaries Edition)

As said a few days ago, I'm working through a bunch of my 300+ backposts. Today, I'll start with the ones from the Obama-Hillary Battle (a.k.a. the 2008 Democratic Primary)
  1. December 2007 - Bill Clinton and Andrew Young
  2. December 2007 - David Broder about Obama
  3. Feb 2008 - Red & Blue State Nonsense
  4. March 2008 - James Fallows and the OODA Loop
  5. March 2008 - Hillary and Lewinsky Scandal vis-a-vis McGreevy & Spitzer (got that?)
  6. April 2008 - GOP and Campaigning vs. Governing

Video of the Day: Evolution of Dance

This is such an awesome clip - I've mp3ed it and listen to it often. My favorite part starts at 2 min, 42 sec.

Late Update: My middle child was watching this with me one day and he started to dance like an Egyptian... so amazing.

h/t, this awesome site. Backpost - I meant to put this up over a year ago, November 21, 2008! Better late than never.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Today's Backposts

  1. An early 2008 election analysis that went nowhere.
  2. A 2007 criticism of James Watson's racism.
  3. Fun randomness: Nickname generators.
  4. Musings about I Love Lucy and inter-racial couples.
  5. Proof, from Canada, in 2007 that the US tortured.
  6. An appreciation of Herb Alpert, via Casino Royale (1967).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Today's Backposts

  1. Important intro to a blog feature - Song Hall of Fame (first entry - Suite Judy Blue Eyes)
  2. Trivial post (and dancing pickle)
  3. About Bush's unpopularity
  4. Video of the Day (back in Feb 09)
  5. My favorite Onion feature.
  6. My second favorite Onion feature.
  7. Awesomeness about the Atari 2600. A must read for gen-xers.
  8. Laser weapons, back from 2006.
  9. The Styx reviews recent Simpsons episodes (which wasn't fun) from 2007.

Video of the Day: If Woody Had Gone Right to the Police...

Holy macaroni, I finally tracked this down. One of my favorite cartoons of evah, and a Woody Woodpecker nukh: "'Bunco Busters'" (1955) by the Walter Lantz peoples. Contains much humorousness and the classic line that if you don't know about, you gotta:
"If Woody Had Gone Right to the Police, This Would Never Had Happened."
So true, for WW him/herself, and for others. It's a lesson I learned from this 'toon and have applied in many circumstances with or without a bowler wearing 6 foot vulture. Enjoy.

Sullivan Off the Rails, Cont.

Andrew Sullivan has been going off the rails (or off his meds) for a few months now. I think it's an elastic snap-back from his years attacking Republicans that he feels a need to just lash out brainlessly. I've detailed my misgivings about his most recent foray into anti-Zionism (it's in a backpost, be patient). But just today he shows the true reason why a sane person (like me) needs to be wary of anybody in the press. Obsoive:
"Maureen Dowd's column today hits on something she's been tuning into for a while. Dowd's instincts about human character are foolish to bet against. She has essentially read every recent president correctly from the get-go as types.
OK, pause for a second... do you get that? Sullivan is praising Maureen Frickin' Dowd! As being always right! Dowd may be the only person in the press corps who is *more* of a screaming splitting borderline hysteric than Sullivan. They're birds of a feather. I guess I always knew that but to see him actually praise her, and for something totally stupid, is just too much:
And she has always seen Obama as a bit of a cold fish, aloof, too unwilling to punch back, too arrogant to explain himself too much.
Get this: Modo's nonsense vendettas are validated because of her childish belief that Obama is just too aloof? This is the same complaint about Obama made by the insane Right Wing - which should tell you, immediately, how much into crazy town we've gotten. But the real proof is in his last line (emphasis mine):
MoDo worried about that in the campaign as the Clintons brought more raw human emotion to the trail and Obama often seemed to coast too cockily only to right himself, usually with some spell-binding speech or shrewd piece of campaign management. I generally trusted Obama's instincts. In the campaign, MoDo was nearly right (Obama did let the Clintons get back off the mat a few too many times) but in the end, wrong (look who got elected). But in government? The coolness has yet to be proven effective - as Kissinger has noted."
You know just how bad Sullivan has gotten when he uses Henry Kissinger as support for Maureen Dowd. Barf.

Pic from here, note - I am only one of millions that think Dowd is a silly person who is given too much of a platform.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twitter Tax

I'm usually up-to-date, give or take a few months, of new technology except for those which require large expenditures of time or money (e.g. hence why I'm about 20-30 years behind video games). But communication tools are my wheelhouse and that's why I'm an avid email/web/cellphone/blog user. I haven't been able to upgrade to a blackberry because I don't have the money (same thing with an iPhone, although my bad experience with the iPod, specifically the incompatibility with PCs, have militated me against mapple).

Yet there are two current tech-trends that I have not leapt on: texting and twittering. Texting is possibly a generational thing, or manual-dexterity thing, but I have a feeling it's also from personality difference. Despite my fishbowl professions and my public presence, I am jealous about my time-management and private space. So even back in the 90s, when texting was called "IM," I didn't do it. It's against my brainworks to be at someone else's schedule or hierarchy of topic importance. IMing also would crash my OS.

True, because I don't value IM/Text/Twit, I then expand that devalue to disdain - for the mechanism and even for its advocates. The message quality of IM/Twit is meager and made more for speed than comprehension.* Who needs that.

But that brings us to Twitter. As some random dude I read on a blog comments page (I think Balloon Juice, who have great commenters) Twitter exploded because the iPhone made it easy to do - that 'platform' is a key gateway to technology acceptance (an example, from me, for this is why DVDs caught on swiftly even though they replicated the {much more expensive} laserdiscs). So no iPhone for me, no twitting.

But it appears to be a slightly expanded form of Instant Messaging and I say the hell with it. [See the second pic to get the reference] And I think Twitting has been accepted by the mainstream codgers with a relish that feels creepy; it's almost as if journalists scoffed at blogs, found out that soon blogs were eating their lunch, and didn't want it to happen again so they vowed to indiscriminately accept the next new tech tool. Twitter was next up the pike, so they grabbed it.

A different theory is that journalists and politicians actually do think in 140 character bursts.

In either case, I'm annoyed by any reference to twitter, twitting, tweeting, twooting, or what-have-you, and I've decided to add a Twitter Tax to any company that broadcasts proudly that I should follow them on Twitter. Yeah? You really think I'm so dim that I will eagerly invite you to pour 140-character spam into my phone/laptop? A tax on you!

*=link to a good NYer article by Louis Menand on text-culture. Pic from here, a similar curmudgeon. Second pic from here but originally from NewYorker.

Matt Taibbi on Polticial Reportage

I concur with John Cole that this article by Matt Taibbi about the behavior of political reporters is just filled with win: Yes, Sarah, There is a Media Conspiracy. The whole thing is great (by which I mean, Taibbi agrees with me).

h.t. Cole, pic from here showing the Press Corps for President Teddy Ro.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Incredible Online Resource

Free Primary Jewish Sources and Resources On The Internet from this guy.

This is an insane collection of all the online Torah available. I put my own list like this together, but Melech whups my version tenfold. Hooray! (Pic from Melech's site).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today's Backposts

Big blogging day:
  1. Yankees World Series Win
  2. Quote about movies
  3. Eisenhower and the Holocaust
  4. Fun Sci-Fi site.
  5. Inglorious Basterds Trailer.
  6. Robert Wexler steps down.
  7. SNL Videos.

Identify this Great Line?

I remember reading this line a decade or so ago. Do you know who invented it... because it's so true:
"Sometimes being an adult is exactly what you imagined it would be when you were five: staying up late and eating Lucky Charms for dinner."
(One source)

Why Palin Matters

For reasons I can't understand, Left Wing bloggers are trying to act like Palin shouldn't matter. E.g. Steve Benen stating: "I have deliberately steered clear of writing posts about Sarah Palin this week, in part because I don't think she's worth the obsessive media attention, and in part because I find myself struggling to care." And others who say that Newsweek had a sexist cover (which I won't reprint here) of Palin in jogging shorts, or that it's excessive for AP to have 11 fact checkers of her book (which they didn't, but whatever). Here's my take:
  1. I am happy that the somnolent, stenographic news-establishment has finally woken up and realized that someone, in this case Palin, is an existential threat to the United States. The press was sleeping about Iraq, about Abu Ghraib, about the Patriot Act, about almost everything dangerous and catastrophic that the Bush Administration perpetrated, in real time - except for the brief, quickly-snuffed, outrage over Katrina. But, Cheney is still treated as an authority of matters that don't just exist in his fantasy dungeon; McCain is jokingly called "President McCain" by my favorite bloggers because of his retained authority and ubiquity on Sunday talk shows. The press is relentlessly market driven to the point of self-inflicted triviality. But now they have woken up about Palin and are treating her like the threat to our country that she is. That's at least one aspect of my spin on their obsession with her.

    To be honest, they're motivated more by her popularity - positive on the GOP end, negative on the Rest of The World end - and her sexpot tabloid trash image sells units. So she is good for business. But I am willing to say that the press has also realized that we almost had her for president.

  2. Plain is the presumptive GOP nominee in 2012. That's just the way our election cycles run: the VP candidate of the losing ticket becomes the presumptive nominee next election. Lieberman led the polls for the 2004 primary back in 2001-2003. Edwards was presumed to be the front runner from 2005-2007; even Quayle thought he had a shot in 1996. So by structure alone, Palin is the presumed nominee. And, not to push to hard on this, it doesn't matter that she stepped down from the gov., Edwards was out of the Senate after 2004 as well.

  3. In a real sense, Palin is the face of the GOP right now. True, the de-facto heads of the party are Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, but Palin actually was on a national campaign and millions of people pressed the lever with her name in November 2008. She is real, while the others aren't.
Her popularity with the GOP base is why I characterize her as an existential threat: she could very well be the nominee in '12, and (as others have coined) the "Any Given Tuesday" weirdness of election day could put her in office. And she is dangerous, stupid, crazy, and religiously convinced of her inerrant rectitude.

Whatever made Bush bad, she has, without anything that made Bush good. I've said this before, I believe, but it bears repeating - as un-meritocratic and elitist it may sound, there's a benefit to electing a person who comes from a political machine. They are usually surrounded by professionals who have experience. Sadly, the Bush machine's experience was all in Evil. And they were bad at it. But his candidacy in 2000 rested on the barely unspoken premise that, yeah, he's a moron but he has good advisers. This over-confident bluff cannot be said for Palin. So Bush without expertise is a clear recipe for catastrophe.

The last point, especially about Palin and Bush, is this: for most of America (and the world) George W. Bush was a disaster. Most people, therefore, would hate and fear another Bush and we have learned to recognize the symptoms of another Bush. Hence, this is why most thinking people detest and fear Palin. However, the gnarled nub of the GOP who remain, the teabaggers and Birthers and Christers and Beckters, by definition, loved the last 8 years. If they have any complaints, its that Bush wasn't conservative (read: crazy) enough! And thus they really want Palin - for the same reasons we don't want her.

First two pics are all over the place and are undoctored stills of Palin in public debates; the last Bush-Palin pic is from here.

Jewish English: Distinctive Lexicon

This was compiled by a friend of mine whose a professor of linguistics and Jewish Sociology: Jewish English: Distinctive Lexicon (Jewish Language Research Wiki, direct link).

The pic is the cover of The Cat in the Hat in Yiddish and has nothing to do with the website.

Plane Minyans

I've been saying for years - much before 9/11 - that it's a big problem to organize minyans on planes. It's an inconvenience for all the other passengers, especially those who don't understand halakha. Then, after 9/11, it looks like a bunch of religious crazies, wearing black leather straps and shaking back and forth, are congregating to follow their Ancient God's will. I'd be scared, were I not frum.

So I'm glad to see that other rabbis came on my bandwagon, even if it's a decade late: Manchester Rabbi Says Don't pray in a minyan on a plane. (Jewish Chronicle).

Pic from here, of a miyan of tefillin Barbies.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The theme of the recent issue of the New Yorker is 'food' - a topic I know little about, being a penny-pinching, congenitally hypertensive shomer-kashrut consumer. This eliminates many food options that most of the world lusts over (pigs, alcohol, fat, sugar, shelled-seafood). But I truly love food (see my anguished posts about fasting to see the transposition of this obsession).

Anyhoo, Anthony Lane (one of my favorite NYer writers) deals with the versatility of eggs for those hungry people who can't cook but who need a quick meal (Improvisations: Eggs"). An example of egg necessity, described by Lane:
"... oeufs en meurette, a recipe where eggs are poached with onion, carrot, mushrooms, bacon and a half bottle of red wine. It is a classic ad-libber’s meal, in that, even when it goes right it looks like something that has gone terribly wrong."
I know the truth of which he speaks not from this random disquieting French recipe but from my encounters with Shakshuka (pictured above).

I confronted Shakshuka often during my years in yeshiva in Israel. Do let the appearance fool you - it was often as disgusting as it looked. As far as I could tell, the de-factor recipe was fried eggs with tomatoes. Sounds fine, no? Yet, as Lane says, "when it goes right it looks like something that has gone terribly wrong."

In my first year in yeshiva, when this was often on the dinner menu, it seemed to come direct from the cruel soul of the kitchen-capo, a youthful Sabra named "Shachar." His name literally means "dawn" - which should be pleasant, even pretty - but the combined phonemes just sounded like a spat curse. Much as shakshuka looked like it.

See here for a recipe (it's also where the picture is from).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good Points by JMM on TPM about KSM

Those acronyms: JMM = Joshua Michah Marshall, TPM = Talking Points Memo, KSM = Kentucky Sizzled Mohammad.

JMM has right ideas about why it's good for KSM to have a fair trial (bold is from me):
...This isn't just a matter of wanting to see punishment. It also vindicates our system of justice and values -- and for it all to happen here, the scene of the crime, among the people of this city, not out on some island or in some secret jail.

Listening to the questions at Attorney General Holder's press conference, I'm hearing again fears about giving the defendants a platform "to air their hateful views." But really, who is so cowardly as to worry about what these five say? Is our standing and self-respect so brittle?

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) says it makes New York City more of a target for attacks. And there's at least some logic to the argument. But fundamentally, I don't think terrorists aren't attacking New York because they don't think there's enough reason to do so. And I trust the appropriate officials will keep the city's people safe.

There's a widespread belief that many seem to have that calling these people criminals and treating them as such somehow elevates their status and diminishes the fact that al Qaeda has effectively been making war on the United States. I've never understood this mindset. The key point in World War II is that at the end of the war the Allies would not deign to accord the leaders of Germany and Japan the respect accorded to defeated armies. They were tried as criminals. Because that is what they were.

Whether it's fear that our justice system can't mete justice out to these men, or worry that KSM or the others might mouth off about us at their trial, or concern about future attacks, I am continually surprised that the voices of cowardice and fear manage to convince themselves and others that they speak for courage and determination.
There does seem to be two Americas, the cowards and the brave. And the brave are those who believe, truly, in the Constitution. The cowards seem to be the ones who love America because their mom happened to be on a particular piece of dirt when she gave birth.

Frum Anti-Obamaism

A near-daily read, for me, is the frum news-site Vos-Iz-Neias (pronounced "glayyyvin"). Even though, rumor has it, that it's assur to use the intertubes, VIN gathers news from as many sources as possible to bring news stories of interest and importance to the Jewish community. I was 'converted' to them, as it were, when a friend's synagogue had been vandalized and the story was not on the JTA website but was on VIN.

So what does VIN determine is important to the frum news consumer? On one side I admire them for bringing stories of rabbi abuse, chillul Hashem riots, and general criticism of the frum community. On the other side, they seem to have aligned themselves with the Republican party and will gleefully show anything against Democrats and Obama in particular. For example, it is a-priori accepted by the VIN editors that the Health Care Plan is bad for frum Jews (why? because the GOP - a collection of Christian White Men from the South and/or Mountain West - says so).

And, of course, like any website that allows comments (and is read by more than 2 people, unlike The Styx), the comment section is where you'll find the true crazy. Were I a sociologist (uh, wait a sec...) I'd make a theory about how comments-sections reflect the nature of a website. But, to be honest, I can't go that far. Yet. I will say, though, that a sociologist of the Jews would find the crazy exhibited in the comments fascinating.

Take this crazy example, commented on a news thread about (what else) the friendly psychotic Muslim Doctor mass murderer:
Moshe in Baltimore Says:
The anonymous "gunman" was Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39 year old Muslim. Of course this was a terror attack. And to #9, Barack HUSSEIN Obama grew up Muslim, and will always be a Muslim. He is very on top of the game of Islam infiltrating the US and other Western Countries. Look at Yechezkel 38:2, the word Nasi, "Prince" Gog of Magog ends in an Alef. Count every seventh letter and it will spell Alef, Vav, Bais, Alef, Mem, Hay; "Obama". It's an obvious Torah code he is Gog or a major player. May Hashem hasten the Geula with no negative affect to Klal Yisroel.
Again, I'm not sure how "Moshe in Baltimore"s Rebbe has allowed him to access the interwebs, unless Moshe himself is a Rosh Yeshiva. It could explain his superior gematria skillz.

P.S. The commenters are also wacko about vaccines. Fun times for the dumb frum.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Curmudgeon Alert: Look, I realize that it must be fun to have a powerful motorized kinetic-force-delivering machine strapped to one's back. But holding aside the fuel consumption angle, from the perspective of *noise* - leafblowers are hell. Would it really kill these guys to use a rake?!

Update: An illustrative 'toon from one of my favorites, Citizen Dog:

Top pic from here.

Israel and 9/11

How many other countries have a 9/11 Memorial? Israel does...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Obama's Veteran's Day Speech

A very good speech - part eulogy, part Gettysburg Address (in that Obama is describing the nature of fallen soldiers and the role of the military in American ideals). The full text here.

Lou Dobbs to Quit CNN

From the Times, Lou Dobbs to Quit CNN.

This is excellent news. Dobbs was a bigoted clown and a public embarrassment. He deserves to be on Fox, he's so biased and bad. [Spitting sound]

Update: The Onion, for the win: U.S. Deports Lou Dobbs: CNN Host Had Been Living Illegally In Country Since 1961
Acting on anonymous tips from within the Hispanic-American community, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday deported Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, who for the last 48 years had been living illegally in the United States under the name Lou Dobbs.

Veteran's Day Story

Last year I came to Brandeis via carpool. This year, since my carpool driver left, I've depended on public transportation. Sadly, I've noticed that the quality of the buses has gone down serverly over the past few months. I blame the recession - more people riding and, I believe, budget cuts that have made busses more unreliable (and possibly the drivers as well). Whatever the cause, I have missed connecting buses many times because my main route (the 52) is never on time.

This is a problem especially when I have a 9am class - because rush-hour makes the bus errors even worse. So this morning, like many a Wednesday, the buses just decided not to run, and I needed to take the emergency route, which involves a taxi.

Note, it is 22 miles from my house to Brandeis. By car, direct route, it should take 20 minutes (17 according to Google Maps). By public transport, if I'm lucky, it's an hour door to door. Many of the "direct" routes (meaning that from the start of the first bus to then end of the last bus, barring schedule mishmash or missing connections) it can take 90 minutes or more. This is nuts. Brandeis is so close to Newton, yet in can take as long to get there as it did to go from New Haven to New York City! Public transportation should not suck! It's better for poor people, better for the environment, better for traffic etc to have good, reliable, common public transport. Rant, rave.

Anyhoo, if I want to go lickity split, then I take the train to the end of the line (Riverside) and then hop a cab to campus. Were there a shuttle bus to campus from Riverside - an idea that's too logical and cost effective to be implemented, this would validate the whole public-travel enterprise. But, as you pessimists have already determined, it don't happen that way.

A main taxi provider in my area is Veteran's Taxi. I once asked where the name comes from and I was told, by the non-vet driver, that the company was founded by veterans. But, luck would have it, the driver I had was an honest-to-goodness vet. USArmy, 1958-1963; good years - he avoided 'Nam (but he was assigned to guard missile silos in Alaska... I wonder who he annoyed to get that assignment). I took extra time allowing him to regale me with his war stories (minus, of course, the war) and I gave him a big tip as a recognition of karma and collective guilt/recompense.

Bad Gun Argument

For those who oppose gun-control, there's a frequently stated concept that these psycho handgun mass-murderers would be prevented were everyone else allowed to be armed. This came up with the Virginia Tech case and in the few hours after the Ft. Hood massacre some gun-control partisans exposed their ignorance by using this argument ironically/mockingly (the fact is that army bases are quite gun-free). The Styx would like to inject some rationality in this debate.

Primary Point: Evolution and Crime

First of all: there may be a fancy sociology-deviance-criminology term for this, I don't know yet, but I'll call it the Adaptability argument (or the Better Mousetrap, Better Mouse argument): that antagonistic agents will adapt to the expected environment. Put in simpler terms: if a psycho gunman knows his future victims will be armed, he will arm himself better. So instead of bringing a handgun, he'll bring dynamite.

I think Gladwell wrote about this with the anti-hijack tactics in the 1960s-70s. There were a high quantity of airplane hijackings in that era; then the law-enforcement tactics got better at eliminating the easy hijacking, which resulted in fewer attempts, but those that were attempted had a much higher casualty result.

Now one can plausibly argue that having a highly armed populace would be the equivalent of the better law-enforcement in the hijacking case. More guns = fewer mass murders. True, if you buy the analogy, then instead of using guns the murderers will use explosives, lets say, but that may be desirable to the gun defender. The fewer number of possible mass-murderers means, probabilistically, that in such a large country, I'll be less likely to be randomly shot. It's sorta why we say that air-travel is better than car-travel - the car accidents are smaller in body counts but far more frequent, while the air crashes are quite rare, but when they happen, they take out hundreds.

Analogies can be fun, you say. But here's the problem with using hijacking as a pro-gun (air-crash) case: ease of access. What does it take for a guy to go on a gun rampage? Uh, a gun. What does it take for a guy to hijack a plane? Much more planning.

In fact, speaking as a social scientist, it would behoove us to analyze why the gun violence occurs and how the crimes are committed. I'd predict, from what I remember reading about the data, that the murderers are often either (a) insane, or (b) on drugs/alcohol. Which means that their brains aren't working right at the time of the crime. Which means that logic & deterrence will have less of an effect than we'd like. If a person kills because the voices in his head tell him to, then he's going to try to kill. And, as I said above, if the voices warn him that everyone will have a gun, then he won't use his gun, he'll use his legally modified sub-machine gun or explosives.

Therefore, when dealing with nutjobs/addicts, the best defense won't be deterrence, it will be arms control. Ipso facto and QED.

Secondary Point

And, as I said in the earlier post, the key point the gun-advocates miss is that we don't know which citizen, when he buys his weapon, is a (potential) criminal or a (potential) whacko or a (potential) hero. Sadly, most of the pro-gun websites I've visited (when looking for good blog-pics) are also disturbingly racist. That means that these pro-gun people are often the same people who will use their guns not against criminals or varmints, but against their fellow citizens! And my Jewish tush will be on the their top 3 hit list.

Sadly, that means that most of the people who are most forceful about their gun rights may precisely be the people I want most to keep guns from.
The best argument for the pro-gun crowd is one that is nearly unassailable: it's in the Constitution. This means that all my logic, or statistics (if I find 'em), or their cries about freedom and crime-control, are meaningless. Because it's the law of the land.

Top pic from here, second pic is frequently seen on the intertubes. Third pic from here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Is Sullivan an Anti-Zionist? Part 2

As I asked below, here, Sullivan's swipes against Israel have been getting more frequent and irritating. It's like he's gone enough to the left because of Bush-Cheney that he now has to hate Israel like a J-Streeter.

So thank goodness Jeff Goldberg has been on top of the case. First here in August 2008 he gives Sullivan some pro-Zion backing:
I know Andrew as a supporter of Israel, a Zionist, even,
Fine, but just a few days later he notices the glimmering of a problem:
But "unregistered Israeli lobbyist"? This is vile, like Pat Buchanan-vile. Robert Wexler is pro-Israel, too. Is he an unregistered Israeli lobbyist? What about Rahm Emanuel, and Barbara Boxer, and Frank Lautenberg, and Henry Waxman, and Howard Berman? Are they dual-loyalists as well? Or is their tribal-based treason excused because they're Obama supporters? I wish Andrew would go back to bashing the Jew-baiters, rather than reveling in their smears.
I'd say that it's one of the early signs that Sullivan is equating the GOP with Israel (a problem that I warned about back in 2001 with the stupid frummie love of the evil GWBush) and thus to repudiate the GOP (like Sullivan's been doing) means also attacking Israel.

But in the year since, Sullivan has gotten worse. 'Goldblog' is still defending him, be in doing so we brings up some disturbing counter-proof:
I've gotten a fair number of hostile e-mails for stating that Andrew, in my understanding, is a Zionist. Here's Andrew on his own understanding of what "pro-Israel," or "Zionist," means:
My own definition of pro-Israel would simply be, I think: support for the existence of a secure Jewish state in Palestine. That's my position, and it is as deeply held as it is open to all sorts of arguments about what is best for its security and the interests of the US. I think it should easily be enough to earn one's credentials as a Zionist, as I proudly and passionately remain.
I would make only two points about this. One is small (but actually consequential); the word "Palestine" was invented by the Romans as a deliberate attempt to erase the word "Judea" from the map. So I wouldn't say that Israel is a Jewish home in Palestine; if anything, the future state of Palestine could be called the Arab state in Judea. I know this sounds like a nitpick, but names matter, and chronology matters.

The second, larger point: Zionists generally hold Israel to the same standard they hold every other country. People who don't like Israel very much hold it to a special standard, created for one scapegoated country alone. On this count -- and only this count, so far as I can tell -- Andrew sometimes fails the test. There are times lately when he seems to single out Israel for special excoriation, and times when he holds Israel to a double-standard. By the way, this doesn't make him an anti-Semite, as some marginal figures claim he is. It makes him, if anything, normal. Most of the world holds Israel to a higher standard than it does other countries. Many Jews do, as well. One of our specialties is self-criticism. But even when it comes from Jews, it isn't fair. Context is everything. I'll continue with these profound thoughts on Andrew later on.
I'm not as charitable as Jeff here. Just off-the-bat anybody who casually uses 'Palestine' like Sullivan does is the first strike (he also does a related strike by constantly referring to an 'Israel Lobby' as if it exists as the bogeyman the Looney Left desires it to be). Sullivan's well-known friendship with the scummy anti-Semite Christopher Hitchens is strike two.

And while I have growing respect for Goldberg, I definitely break with him about self-hating Jewish anti-Zionism (J-streetism, for now, until they redeem themselves). Jstreeters hate Israel because it makes them look bad to their imagined goyish friends and neighbors. It's not OK when they do it and definitely not when it's done by goyim.

I'll take this up more later, but there's just something very British about Sullivan's take on Israel - it's a combined paternalism and moral hauteur, as if the Europeans (any of them) have taken the proper moral path on anything.

Backpost finished 2009-12-02.

Is Sullivan an Anti-Zionist?

Quick answer: Evidently not, but its complicated. In the past few months, really ever since Cast Lead, he has been getting more an more crazy about Israel. He's bought straight into the canard that the settlements cause Palestinian violence, and he seems to knee-jerk respond *against* Israel. This is bothersome.

But this is sort of the price I pay when I read Sullivan.

So why do I? Why should I care about him? Especially since he does no reporting and holds many ideas I find stupid, annoying, and/or just plain wrong. So, here's something I wrote about him for another blog's comments:
The thing about Sullivan is that when he gets an idea, he clings to it with fierce tenacity. And the tenacity results in massive amounts of near real-time linkage that comes as close to reporting as an opinion blog will get.

Examples: he hates Hillary with a weird rancor, so he was great in links to support Obama; he hates Palin even more than Hillary so he was the go-to guy for that; he hates that the US tortured, so he gave great linkage for that.

So when I agree with his obsession, his website is gold, because he gives me enormous amounts of info. But for all those things that he's wrong about, no matter of facts will sway him, and I just skip those posts.

Caveat: Nothing will sway him - except his own tortured mind. That's why it's hard to predict where he'll wind up on an issue, because of the above-mentioned personality quirkiness (British Catholic Gay HIV-Positive Thatcherite). His load of cognitive dissonance is enormous and it's now cracking into pieces. Somehow, I think he hates being associated for so long with the Democrats...
So I still read him, and send him letters (which he has never, nor will ever, respond to), because I still think he's an important resource. He's the purest form of blogger, and as such, the purest expression of the power of the internet. And so far his weirdness about Israel hasn't undermined that; I just put it in the same category as his worship of Ronald Reagan and his British drag equivalent (Thatcher).

Backpost finished 2009-12-02. Pic from around the 'net.

Backposts Today

  1. Redheads and Painkillers
  2. Obituary, and movie, for Patrick Swayze
  3. Have an Easy Fast!

New Backpost Policy

This was originally in this post, but I separated them for OCD reasons.

New backpost policy. Rather than file a finished 'draft' (a backpost) as new material, or leave it unstated in its rightful place (i.e. the date when I first started writing the draft), the new policy is to use a mass update (like this) on the publication date, referring you, the treasured reader, to the proper earlier date. Simple.

Update: All of the Backpost Clusters will feature the above blog-pic, which is entitled "Temperal Paradox" by Patrick Hoff.

Styx Unbound?

All you regular readers (both of you?) are likely asking, is this the blogpocalypse? Will there be an unleashed torrent of old Styx posts?

Maybe. I have about 350 blog posts in 'draft' status. There's a lot to write.

From Whom To Learn Ethics?

I said below that I do not look to journalists for ethical lessons. This is not a specific swipe against that profession - even though I do think that journalists, especially in the post-CNN era, have overreached in terms of their claims of knowledge and moral authority. "Ethics" is the applied field of knowing the correct thing to do. In olden days, this was considered the domain of the societal elite - clergy, nobility and the elderly. Emancipation, enlightenment, democracy etc have taken that authority away and transferred it to everybody. But instead of being a meritocracy of access - saying that anybody can be a 'sage' if they met certain universalized criteria - the democratic principle has been exaggerated, so now in 21st Century America, every individual considers him/herself to be the ultimate moral authority.

This democratization of ethics has certain pluses; it may even be an inevitable result of opening access. Moreover, in a anti-clerical, anti-noble age, moral authority doesn't go to the educated or saintly but often to the rich, popular or famous. Yet it is this democratization that makes the title question necessary.

The empirical question 'Who do people turn to for ethics?' while interesting, doesn't answer my prescriptive question of 'who *should* you turn to.' Above, I ruled out journalists as a class (more to why in a moment), but a natural next answer would be professional ethicists.

Ethics as a Profession

Theoretically, that is a field I could go into. But I hope I won't; because it's my experience that the people who go into the field are often clueless, hopeless, and/or unfit for other duties. Note, there are a number of professions like this and it changes through time (e.g. I believe that for decades in the early 20th Century, the men who became Orthodox pulpit rabbis, were just unfit for anything else). I have had scary encounters with these pros... so, no, professional ethicists are not the target.

Note, for example on both categories, probably the worst person to ask ethical questions is a professional ethicist journalist. Best proof: Randy "The NYTimes Ethicist" Cohen. Why is this guy considered an authority on anything? He's a freakin' comedy writer!! (Letterman, OK, props for that, but...)

Criteria for Ethics Mastery

In fact, I believe that there is no class of people who can be given this type of moral authority. Heck, not even my favorite go-to group, rabbis. Sorry to say, not every rabbi - not even every posek - can be counted on to know correct ethics. So no class category. What does that leave us? Well, we need to judge case-by-case and use empirical qualities.

Some could say specific training in ethics is key. Hence Randy Cohen is disqualified because - I mean c'mon. But, what is this training? Reading philosophers? Or would law be better? Rather, I have a more functional formula for who qualifies.

Moral Authority Comes from Wisdom

The key criterion is wisdom and that is a function of perception times experience. Your ideal ethical authority should be someone who's:
  1. Benevolent (i.e. a good person) - this is determined as wanting to maximize mitzvot; and if you don't like the mitzvah system as a universal ethical matrix, tough luck - it's the best there is, on purpose, sez God. Harumph).
  2. Perceptive - this is what rules most ethicists out; cluelessness in fact leads to a high quantity of evil; more on that later.
  3. Experienced - Age is an important determining factor but it will undermined by being evil, clueless or a bigot.
  4. Educated - As the blue collar slob will attest, book learning is no substitute for life-knowledge/school-of-hard-knocks. Indeed. But they're not mutually exclusive. And book learning is an experience multiplier. How will you know what has happened in the past or all over the globe? You need to read, go to museums, travel, or just talk to many many people.
  5. Intelligent - just as being 'experienced' requires 'perceptive,' education requires intelligence. And, again, it is certainly not enough. When I was in college (Princeton), I met many smart people who were ethical dunces. In fact, I claimed that the term 'idiot' should be specifically applied to an intelligent person who lacks wisdom. And that's often how I use the term 'til this day.

  6. Diligence- this is a catch-all term for the need to be concerned with ethical questions; to have these issues constantly in one's mind. An ethicist who 'takes a break' from ethics is disqualified. The best ethicisits are the ones who dwell on these problems constantly; look for a person who is critical and unsatisfied with their own behavior, as well as the state of the world.
What does this matrix leave us with? How useful is it to just say "it's case by case" especially when most people lack the inclination or ability to come up with this conclusion on their own - which in turn means that they may be incapable of knowing who has these traits!

The Torah's Answer

All of this verbiage can actually be distilled to a simple answer (which, yeah, I should have said from the beginning): Asei lecha rav. Avot 1:6:

יהושע בן פרחיה אומר: עשה לך רב
You need to embark on a long process of testing (and I advise that these tests use the criteria above). It's an important task. Everyone needs to have a 'rav' - in this case, a moral authority - who can give them guidance.

And, as a final, crucial caveat, never ever trust a person who does not have a separate person as a moral authority. A person who is their own moral authority is amoral and often dangerous.

Who Advises the Styx?

Who's my moral authority? My mentors. Plural. I ask different mentors different questions. I made these people my mentors after a long process of determining whether they had the above criteria. But, I admit, that I also spend enormous time on these problems as well (hence why I'm both clergy with a Masters in philosophy and in a doctoral program in social science). You don't have to accept me as a moral authority - even though I believe I know every reader of the Styx personally - but I understand the criteria of wisdom because I believe that they are universally plausible standards.

Warning Signs? What Warning Signs?

Sigh. "No warning signs"...

See the NY Times story: Fort Hood Gunman Gave Signals Before His Rampage. Or these 2 via Sullivan, from the Telegraph, and NPR.

NPR reported:
The psychiatrist [who worked alongside Hasan] says that he was very proud and upfront about being Muslim. And the psychiatrist hastened to say, and nobody minded that. But he seemed almost belligerent about being Muslim, and he gave a lecture one day that really freaked a lot of doctors out.

They have grand rounds, right? They, you know, dozens of medical staff come into an auditorium, and somebody stands at the podium at the front and gives a lecture about some academic issue, you know, what drugs to prescribe for what condition. But instead of that, he - Hasan apparently gave a long lecture on the Koran and talked about how if you don't believe, you are condemned to hell. Your head is cut off. You're set on fire. Burning oil is burned down your throat.

And I said to the psychiatrist, but this could be a very interesting informational session, right? Where he's educating everybody about the Koran. He said but what disturbed everybody was that Hasan seemed to believe these things. And actually, a Muslim in the audience, a psychiatrist, raised his hand and said, excuse me. But I'm a Muslim and I do not believe these things in the Koran, and then I don't believe what you say the Koran says. And then Hasan didn't say, well, I'm just giving you one point of view. He basically just stared the guy down.
Note, this may not be true (why would the Feds investigate some things Hasan said online but not when he gave an unprecedented religious rant about the Joy of Murder?), but hey, when you need to reduce the 'warning signs' to zero, some evidence gets thrown out.

Yet, back on The Styx's planet, it's predictable: every time there's some massive disaster or mass murder, the news agencies are quick to say that there were no warning signs. Besides the problem of retrojecting warning signs (Hasan was quiet! Killers are quiet!) there happen to be in almost every case huge red flags. As we saw with the VTech killer (a psychotic off his meds who published videos and stories about mass murder) Hasan gave numerous signals. Sure, most people seem to be dense, and it would have been nice had he told people explicitly - like John David Stutts - that he was about to go nuts. But honestly, what more do we need?

New Rule of Debate

I guess one step is to make it harder to buy a gun, but that would be unconstitutional. And guns don't kill people - nutjobs who easily buy guns do. And anyway, the media people - including most blogs I read - have emphasized that it is unseemly to use a mass murder (using handguns) to advance my partisan position of gun control.

Except, uh, two things: (1) In general, I don't take ethical lessons from journalists, and more importantly, (2) I am not a partisan on gun control. Were I to have an emotional connection to guns (e.g. an innocent loved one was gunned down, or I was saved by a gun) then you can say that I am partisan. But when do the Grand Ethicists allow a neutral person, like me, use evidence to make a decision about gun control?

In fact, the only people who demand that an incident not be used as evidence are the partisans themselves. So, OK - you can accuse me of being a partisan, but when that can be demonstrably gainsaid, then I claim that the incident is fair game.

Application of this Rule

So here goes: (1) I am neutral about guns. I happen to like them and would love to own one, shoot one every day, and if the opportunity presents itself, to kill someone who - if allowed - would have killed me or someone I care about.

(2) Yet, as an intelligent, judicious, and educated person, I have determined that the chances of my using a gun correctly is low while the possibility of inadvertent tragedy is high. I have three kids.

(3) It appears, from numerous major tragedies, that easy access to firearms has led to mass murder. As such, I believe that our gun rules are more likely to hurt me than to help me.

(4) When a new mass murder occurs, I see ways to prevent another one. Hence in this case, I want to bring up - as it is very relevant - that the killer used a handgun to destroy innocent people.


To be honest, I think - beyond the gun control issue - the real 'cause' of this - and the reason why the warning signs were ignored - is from the breakdown of resources in the military. If we weren't stretched to our limit, it's more likely that this guy would have been stopped earlier. But, IRONY ALERT, because we needed mental health professionals to help with crazy soldiers, this crazy solider was forced to keep his crazy.

Quick Update

A quick clarification, and prediction: I predict that we'll discover (and if not, then it's a probable coverup) that Hasan would have been diagnosed as a security risk had it not been for our insane need for active-duty retention. The army paid a lot of money to make this psycho a doctor and they were not going to allow his being psycho make them lose their money. Even if we find out that he was convinced to go on a suicide mission by a Crazy Cleric, all that will show is that the crazy clerics could recognize the warning signs. As such, if we *was* recruited, it will show that his psychosis was even more evident. Take it from me, there are always warning signs. I'll expand on this with my long-awaited "Jaws" Essay.

First pic was self-made, second from this site.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thoughts on the Ft. Hood Massacre

As you've heard, a nutjob shot up 50 people in 3 minutes in Ft. Hood, Texas. A few thoughts:
  1. The moment I read he was a Psychiatrist, not just a guy with a Muslim name, I thought that this is another Baruch Goldstein. The pattern is familiar. Two motives of BG (yimach shemo) were (a) as a doctor he was driven nuts by the trauma of his patients, and/or (b) he was nationalist scum going for a big score via 'collective punishment.
  2. I'm not a pure mental health professional (despite being on the front-lines, as it were, of the nutjob world as a pulpit rabbi), but I am training to be a behavioral scientist; and I've been fascinated, for years, on how most people don't know the warning signs of these mass murderers. I claim, and we'll see what we find about yesterday's (and now today's) mass murdering mamzers (MMM), but I'm certain there were warning signs. Remember Virgina Tech.
  3. Connected to the 'warning signs,' I've also hoped that one day we'd catch one of the MMMs alive, and it looks like we've done that for both shootings. This is good - because, especially with the Hood shooter, who's was not only a psychiatrist, but he's also a client! Who better to give insight as to why these crazy men (and it's almost always men) snap and decide to kill random strangers.
  4. Related to that, maybe by talking with Hassan Hassan Hassan, we can find out the best way to convince these budding MMM to just straight out commit suicide, first, before the rampage. Because, as I claim, these guys are usually giving off many warning signs. Yet since there is, as a guest teacher confirmed for me in pastoral psychology, a "license to be crazy" in America, we can't do anything for the MMM before he takes out his family/coworkers/random innocents. So my idea is to create a stress kit for mental health professionals who can convince the pre-MMM that suicide is the best option. In the long run, we'll save many lives. I'm only slightly joking.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Nice line about movies

By Zack Handlen in the November 2, 2009 Onion AV Club review of The Seventh Seal:
"I’m coming to realize that the difference between a good movie and a great one are those moments of intense personal connection where it seems like the filmmaker is reaching out to you through the screen and whispering (or yelling, or cajoling, or demanding, or pleading) in your ear. As if there is no real distance between you and the director, time has changed nothing, and the moment remains as pure as it was on the day it was filmed."
Note, the same can be said for any of the narrative arts (books, theater, uh, tweets).

Backpost, finished on 11-20-2009.

Evidently the Yankees Won

So I hear the Yankees won the World Series. [Insert 30 second long yawn here]. While I am the mildest possible Mets fan (Let's Go Mets! Or Not!), I don't hate the Yankees. I know I'm supposed to; I know they are the baseball cognate to the Dallas Cowboys; but I would need to care more about baseball as a sport to muster the emotional will to hate a particular team. I just find them, and the sport that houses them, filled with meh.

Pic from here. Note, the pic was made by a Yankee *fan.* This is a backpost, finished on 11-20-2009.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Area Code 770

Someone called me a few weeks (months) ago from Atlanta, area code 770. I wonder, as a modern sociologist of Orthodox Jewry and Associated Oddness, whether the Lubavitch community will start buying cell-phone plans from Atlanta? Has it already happened?

Pic from here.