Friday, May 31, 2013

Jack Vance (1916-2013)

Sad news: Jack Vance passed away on Sunday. He may have been the most brilliant sci-fantasy writer I've ever read. His "Dying Earth" series is so filled with creativity and brilliance that I've never seen it's peer. He had a huge effect on Dungeons & Dragons as well, and that echoes far.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

What is Wohlberg Thinking?

I was just searching the intertubes for any updates of the Broyde scandal, when I came across this recent sermon by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg. I don't think I've ever met him, and I remember one of my NYC congregants talking positively about his sermons - and recommending that maybe I should self-promote like he does. Well, while I am terrible at self-promoting, I also refrain from it from a deep belief that it is against kavod-ha-Rav & kavod-ha-Torah. Also, most of the people I know who indulge in self-promotion are either (1) looking for a job (a rationale we can all support) or (2) are not good people. It's a yellow flag, mos' def'.

What's not good about it? Again, aside from the people who need to self-promote in order to eat, the others who indulge do so to feed different appetites. Generally they possess an itchy ego that will not ever be scratched enough. As Avot 4:1 states: "Rebbe Tzadok says... Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig." In my studies on Avot, I try to analyze each statement as if it were prescriptive or descriptive, i.e. whether the Sage is teaching an observation or advice. In this case, R'Tzadok could be saying "if you use Torah to dig it will lead to bad things" based on his perception of how that plays out, or he could be saying "according to Tradition, Torah mustn't be used like an adze, were it not for this law, you could adze away."

Either way, I am wary of the adzers, and people like Boteach, Schneier (pere du fils), and a bunch of the goobers on Tina Brown's list of fame, are guilty of digging their effigies with Torahs as shovels.

I didn't know if Wohlberg is on this list, but the first paragraph of his sermon popped the yellow flag to orange, at best:
The recent behavior of two rabbis caused me to email one of our synagogue’s “wise men,” Searle Mitnick, and ask him if it is possible that I am the only moral Orthodox rabbi in the world? It took Searle a while to respond, but his response was: “You may be the only one left standing.” Yes, I’m still standing!
One could argue that his last line shows he's being jocular or sarcastic. That don't hold up, I'm afraid. Because if you EVER hear anybody asking his question "am I the only moral rabbi?" you should run away to hide your children while holding your wallet.


Again, I don't know him, so maybe he's so self-deprecating that he doesn't know he's coming across as dangerously arrogant. However, as the rest of his essay shows, he possesses questionable moral reasoning skills. Examples:

1. It's facile to compare Broyde to the rest of the rabbinic scandals. While I don't know what exactly Broyde did, I have said for many years that guilt must be determined through due process. The slavering jaws of internet journalists and anonymous commenters on blogs does not substitute for real evidence. What Broyde did does not actually make sense to me - he actually has real talent, unlike regular fabulists - and that means I need to hold judgement. When the RCA and Emory Law School conclude their reviews of his behavior, I will be able to feel secure in knowing his fate. Wohlberg doesn't think this way, probably because he can't.

2. I say this because he decides to compare the rabbinic scandals to the Boston bombers and their guilt. [Buzzer]

3. The rest of the sermon is equally facile and equates the possession and usage of a quote book with research. It's also aggressively triumphalist. And, hey, I remember giving weekly sermons, and I know there's nothing better than telling the audience they are better than everyone else. But I was cheap to do it, and so is he.

4. If I needed any further proof of how low Wohlbgerg thinks, its from this "proof":
I recall a wonderful comment from Dennis Prager. He said that when his child was 4 years old, he was playing one day in the playground and another child, a 7 year-old, came along and for no reason hit his child and knocked him down, and bashed his head on the pavement. The 7 year-old’s mother came over, picked up her child and said to him, “What’s troubling you, my darling? What is it that’s making you feel so hostile?” And Dennis said, “I knew immediately that this mother must have gone to graduate school, because only a person who went to graduate school at a Liberal Arts college could say to a child who is beating up another child ‘what’s troubling you, my darling? Why do you feel so hostile?’ Anybody else would have given that child a frask, and said, “Behave yourself!” But not if you buy into the liberal perspective on life!
OK, let's review what's wrong with this. Well, simply put, I myself have a graduate degree from a liberal arts college - in Sociology nukh - and while it didn't train me to coddle bullies, it did train me to recognize terrible arguments.* Do I really need to elaborate on how stupid Prager's comment is? I mean, anyone who actively supports the Republican party and their cruelty, brutality, and bullying cannot claim moral dudgeon.**

And if Wohlberg calls this story "wonderful," then I really have all I need to know about this clown.

* Note: Attacking higher education has officially become a 'yellow flag' - it's not a good sign.
** The irony is that Prager's story illustrates his own behavior - the mother in the story isn't a liberal, she's a selfish solipsist.  And people like Prager attack other's for behavior that is perfectly OK when they do it - especially bullying.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is this a Joke? (Updated)

This is the headline from VosIzNeias: History Unfolding In Belz As Monumental Wedding Takes Place. I read the article. Evidently an 18 year old chussid is marrying a 19 year old woman. Maybe that's the history? The article hints at the history when it says: "The chosson, eighteen year old Shalom Rokeach, who bears the name of the first Belzer Rebbe, is the son of the Belzer Rebbe's only son, Rabbi Aharon Mordechai Rokeach and is the heir apparent to one day lead the Belzer dynasty." Seriously, what am I missing? Does this not happen often in chassidic communities? The hyperbole is a bit disquieting.

UPDATE: Here are pictures from the wedding. Holy macaroni! I hate to say that my first thought was "that poor girl"

Friday, May 10, 2013

Styx Rule #5

When another's behavior is illogical, most likely you're missing the key facts that would make it logical.

Corollary: people are more often crazy than stupid.
Corollary: people are more often stupid than evil.

Note: I shouldn't have to say this, but as I'm making rules, I should try to be thorough: this all depends on context. I'd say that was a Styx Rule, expect it's so necessary, and so obvious, that I feel it would arrogant to claim it as my rule. It's like trying to claim "Know Thyself." Both are above and beyond my creative ability.

The corollaries are there to modify the issue of logic. I.e., When someone does something illogical, it's common for observers to assume the person is stupid or evil (and depending on the action, they may jump to crazy, especially if it's a heinous crime). I want to add in the "crazy" - and, sorry for the political correctness, I'm subsuming all forms of neurological disorders under that term (aphorisms are terse, and "abnormal psychology" is more friendly than crazy, but you can't make an aphorism without breaking some eggs).

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Which Wins, British or Genius? Hawking Proves it's British

The British seem to harbor an inveterate anti-Semitism. It probably comes from their long-held racist colonialism. Who knows, but it's something wise people have noticed for years: when faced with a decision, a Brit will opt to hate, and hate Jews.

Hence we should not be surprised that arguably the smartest man alive, Steven Hawking, is boycotting Israel. He may be a genius, but he has to hate first, because that's the British way.

Look, I like it when people out themselves for what they are. I'm sad to see Hawking is one of them, but he can now join T.S. Eliot and others like him in the hall of shame.

Bonus quote from the above article:
"“If Israel wants peace, it will have to talk to Hamas,” Hawking said at the time. “Hamas are the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people, and cannot be ignored.”"
Which confirms another basic piece of wisdom - an expert in one field should not be consider an expert in another one. Put another way: stick to Physics, bigot.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Nifty Idea: Prius

It came to me in a flash: we should make the Prius the new "punch buggy"!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Richard Dawkins is a Jackass

I saw this quote on Facebook, attributed to Richard Dawkins: “Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colours.”

While this sounds like him - because it's arrogant, dismissive, and actually wrong - I also know that I can't trust anything on the internet, especially Facebook. So I googled it and luckily found a quote website that did a rare deed - it stated the book where the quote came from!.

So, OK, he did say it right? Well, I'm a scholar and I still needed more evidence before calling Dawkins out on his ignorant British BS. So I checked googlebooks, and sure enough, he said that quote, in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution p. 147!

And it shows you the contempt you need for Dawkins that I'm more surprised that a random humor graphic on Facebook is correct than that Dawkins is wrong.

Oh, so why is it wrong? Because the fossil record is itself the constitutive data for our knowledge of prehistoric species. You can't say a conclusion is proved from its own data-set! Moreover, our concept of evolution is independent of the fossils - they don't prove anything because if a fossil is found "out of order" all that would do is add more data to the data-set about our knowledge of dinosaurs, not evolution.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Star Wars Day?

Someone just said that today was Star Wars Day... May the Fourth be with you

(h/t Jonathan Baker)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Styx Rule #4

Before I forget, I decided to assign a number to this long standing rule: "Yellow flags always lead to red flags." It's not really the same as "when there's smoke there's fire" - because that's about one-to-one causality. The yellow to red is about my dealings with people and seeing personality troubles that I categorize as troubling (yellow) that almost inevitably show themselves over longer exposure to be actual dysfunction (red).

This, this is China

My brother and I talk about what we fear most about China, and it's stories like these: Rat Meat Sold as Lamb in China Highlights Fears (NYTimes)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Sequester Madness, Firemen First

The damned Sequester is a grand example of Republican cruelty (similar to Thatcher the Milk Snatcher). It's disturbing that the Democrats yet again roll over and play dead on this issue, but that's a topic for another day. However some have been wondering about why they've allowed exceptions, for example in relieving air travel. James Fallows, of the Atlantic, linked to this story which explains that this is a technique used by legislators who are against budget cuts - they make it clear that "budgets" actually fund important thiings. According to the article, from 1976!, this is known as the "Firemen First" gambit.