Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The War in Numbers

Good summary by the Jerusalem Post: "Operation Protective Edge by numbers". This is remarkable if it can be confirmed:
1,867 Palestinians were killed, according to Gaza officials. Of those, 750 to 1,000 were terrorists, says the army: 253 from Hamas, 147 from the Islamic Jihad, and 603 were militants whose affiliations were not immediately established.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Anonymous Against Israel

This is not good news: "Anonymous Declares Cyber War on Israel, Downs Mossad Site, Many Others" Anonymous is a bunch of anarchist/anti-authority cyber-experts who use very powerful computer tools to attack those they don't like. Now, they've turned against Israel because of the Gaza War. This is bad for two big reasons:
  1. Anonymous is very scary. People committed to destruction are never good guys, and computers are early in their universal usage, so many of us who are dubbed "Zionist" (i.e. all Jews), can be in their cross-hairs and I am not capable of protecting myself from that level of assault
  2. If this group of young tech experts considers Hamas to be the good guys in this conflict, then that's a bad sign for the world, vis-a-vis the rise of a new Communist/Nazi style culture.
That's your morning scare. You're welcome.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Good piece - Why Good Societies Stigmatize Anti-Semitic Language

Why Good Societies Stigmatize Anti-Semitic Language
by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Never heard of the journal or the author before, so I don't know if he's a loony... The piece starts slow and not so deep, but he hits his stride in the middle to the end and it is excellent. This line especially:
Taboos against using certain language against certain groups is always tied to the violence that has been exercised against these groups, because the language is seen, quite reasonably, as both symbolizing and facilitating that violence.

This is also good:
[The Holocaust] is unique, first of all, because it is unprecedented. The Holocaust was the first time that a genocide was designed and executed in a complete, systematic fashion, using scientific, innovative means of destruction. Its goals were universal. It mobilized all of the authorities, civil and military, of the regime, and indeed the whole society. The Armenian genocide sought to kill all Armenians in Turkey, not all Armenians on the planet. The Rwandan genocide did not deploy new founts of human ingenuity to the end of efficient, total massacre. While Communism killed more people, and was occasionally an instrument of racist (indeed, anti-Semitic) violence, its motivating principle was not the extermination of a certain group of people because of who they were. While slavery in the American South was fundamentally racist like Nazism, slavery was not a historically unprecedented event—indeed, slavery is present in the history of every civilization—nor was its goal genocide.

This combination of factors—fundamental racism, unprecedentedness, universality, scientificness, hellish ingenuity, totality of execution—is why the Holocaust justly stands in our collective imagination as unique among all instances of human evil.
A good read, and a good job.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tractate Taanit Thoughts

We finished Taanit yesterday in this Daf Yomi cycle. I'm thinking I should write a post like this when we finish in order to get some of my notes down despite the breakneck speed that dafyomi compels me to follow. Sure, I should write these down on daf day, but I'm always behind...

I thought Beitza was an excellent masekhet: filled with important halakhic concepts. Rosh Hashanah was even better - most of the theological concepts of judgement which I expected with Yoma were analyzed in RH. The Mishna of RH is chock full of great things and the Gemara follows suit. Taanit, however, is a jarring reverse from those 2 in quality; it's beyond just not good, it's pretty scary bad. Why? Because the basic mitzvah is about how we need to fast during difficult times. But instead of the mature theodicy of RH which is about individual judgement and responsibility, Taanit is about a shallow theodicy that presumes God will reward and punish IMMEDIATELY based on clearly defined merits/demerits. This assumption is so dangerous; it's not upheld by (1) most grown-up theology, or (2) everyday observation, nor is it (3) consistent with most of our moral philosophy. Basically said, it is the mentality of Job's friends, and I think I can say confidently that his friends are supposed to be wrong.

All 3 problems are significant. (1) shows that there are opposing views, and that is how I deal with this masekhet. I imagine that the grown-ups left the room for Congressional recess, as it were, and the mystical clowns got ahold of the floor that day and included all this stuff. Or maybe the grown-ups felt that since many of these stories are part of the tradition, even though they disagree with it, they needed to be included somewhere, so might as well put it in this tractate which has the undercurrent of mystical magic.

(2) is a problem because many cases of "off the derech" for mature thinking adults are as a result of reacting to these types of childish, and UN-NECESSARY, theology. I have historical cases but I've also seen it in my own rabbinic counseling career. It's self-inflicted wounds.

(3) Because the stories are just horrible after horrible. They are such chillulei Hashem that I cannot even cite them in good conscience. These stories cannot be serious contenders in our moral philosophy, and this can be seen in the over-time effort put in by the Aggadah scholars, especially the Maharsha, who do their best to render these terrible stories anodyne.

Now, it's possible that I'm wrong about the inconsitancy of the theodicy presented in the story. Only recently did I hear a similar concept labeled in modern times as "hashgacha pratit" - which I thought just meant God's constant scrutiny, but which I've now heard means God will give immediate messages and reactions to an individual's behavior. HP isn't nearly as bad as what we see in Taanit (anybody saying something like the third chapter in Taanit would be laughed at and vilified) but HP suffers from the same 3 objections as above.

There are some redeeming qualities. Taanit has some interesting and even invaluable points about science and public policy - for the same reason we have all the stuff about theodicy, i.e. how to assess what is a public threat. So the set reaction - fasting - leads to the philosophy issues above, but the need to know what to react to requires knowledge of what is threatening to the public weal. So they need to define the 'rainy season' but also how crops grow and what rains are the best for each. They define the types of calamities which are 'normal' (wolves) and abnormal and thus indicative of Divine punishment. This latter category helps me understand the 'public health' knowledge of 1500 years ago, which is interesting to me as a historian and social scientist.

There's so much I have written in the margins of my gemara and it's not possible to deal with them all in the time frame I want to devote to this, sorry. One last brief point, the bad theology of this tractate reminds me of 'samurai morality' i.e. it reflects a culture of strict honor. This has implications on life-and-death questions, my bread and butter, so I may return to this further.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

It's Been a While

As a person determined to stay both sane and un-angry, I stay away from the New York Times articles on Israel.  They are stupid and offensive, hallmarks of modern journalism.   But since there's a crisis in Israel, and I have the Times open in my browser, I see the front page headline: "Israel Steps Up Air Offensive in Gaza" with the sublede: "Israel on Tuesday bombed about 50 targets in airstrikes that Hamas’s military wing called “a serious escalation.”"

This level of bias is almost comical. Israel has been under constant rocket attack for the past few days from Hamas in Gaza. Rockets now have been able to hit Tel Aviv - which is the capital of Israel for those who reject Israel's right to exist. So how is this an offensive? It's clearly under the definition, of any normal dictionary, of 'defense.' Then the Times quotes a Hamas official?! Whaaaaat? Hamas is a terror organization that openly calls for Israel's destruction. How are they even credible?

And even with the NYT's shoddy journalism, I'd expect there to be 'the other side', i.e. from the Democratically elected Israeli government or something, but... nope. Maybe it's in the article, which I won't read because of the sane/angry thing. But according to the stupid journalism handbook, are you allowed to have both bits of data, the headline and the sublede, be of one "side"? Especially so when the one side is a criminal organization committed to mass murder, no?

Ah well. I do look forward to the day when these news agencies go back to the good side. But considering that there actually is no credentials, or training, necessary to be a journalist, I don't think that day will happen any time soon.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chuck Noll, Dies at 82

Barukh Dayan ha-Emet: Chuck Noll, Coach of Steelers’ 1970s Dynasty, Dies at 82. Noll was, by definition, the greatest coach of the Superbowl era. Very sad.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Waiting for the Power to go Out

As I've mentioned before, it used to be that being inside on a bad weather day was actually kind of fun. But in the past decade or so, I've lived in places with abysmal power grids and bad weather just means an inevitable loss of power. And so I live in fear every time the wind speed goes over 10 mph. This is nearly intolerable, given our country's wealth and resources. We haven't lost power yet which is remarkable given this horrible winter (3 snow-days for my kids in 2 weeks), but our luck must run out some time.

Unlike the summer brown-outs, which can be avoided (we're told) by reducing energy use, the winter weather blowouts are unavoidable. I still have the summer habits as my initial thought, i.e. "if I turn off all the lights, maybe the power will stay on!" But no. In fact, I should do the opposite: use as much energy as I can before the shaky trees and 50 year old made-in-Burma transformers implode.

And unlike the summer, where at least the roads are accessible during an outage, in the winter we're stuck indoors with no heat, no power, no fridge, and I get flash-memories of The Shining.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Why I Want the Broncos to Win

There's a thread over at SteelersDepot about how to survive a Superbowl without the Steelers in it.  They asked the question about whether people were Steelers fans or football fans, the nafka mina is whether you could watch football when the Steelers fate is sealed. Since I'm an expatriate Pittsburgher, I have had to live for years without my favorite NFL team to root for.  So for me this is an easier prospect than for the Western PA locals.

I am a sports fan, especially in the past few years when I've soured on Hollywood and TV, and my answer is easy (see below for what that means).  But even with the Steelers out, I can still root for them, in a roundabout way.  Because the Steelers are an elite team, we fans can take a very long view, at least in the Superbowl era.

We root for overall Superbowl record.  See what I wrote last year before the nightmare of SB47 for more on this, but basically I root for the Steelers to have the most SB appearances, SB wins, and if possible the best SB record.  For example, last year's Superbowl was a nightmare because I needed to root for the Ravens (ugh) so the 49ers could lose and ruin their 5-0 record.  If SF won, then they'd have as many rings as Pittsburgh but no losses.  Thank goodness they lost (you should have heard me at the end of the game, after the 'mysterious' blackout).

So for this year, I again take a long view, and it may be even longer than most. I'm rooting, seriously, for the Broncos.   Here are the reasons, with the biggest at the end:
  1. Both teams are artificially inflated because they have the two most egregious home-field advantages.  The Seahawks' 12th-man bull-spliff is infuriating - it's basically cheating.  But that also makes them likely to be worse when they're on a neutral field.  The inflated stats/wins skew the data, and that kinda stuff fools people (see my rants about the 2000 election and Spygate), but I expect to see it on display Sunday.  Same holds for Denver.  They got to 3 Superbowls in the 80s on Elway's arm, Browns being the Browns, and the home-field advantage which inflated their numbers.  Both teams this year are actually talented, so I expect a good battle, but I don't like either team because of the home-field cheat.
  2. Richard Sherman's insane rant after the NFCCG doesn't affect my rooting interest.  He was classless and remains so, but a lot of athletes act that way.  Although, I don't ever remember an unhinged rant like his.  Muhammad Ali was controlled, Sherman was actual crazy.  If you recall, Sherman was busted for taking Adderall, and while it may be that he was abusing it to get the crank boost (like many highschoolers), it could also be that he has ADHD.  I know people with ADD and Sherman's rant falls into the category of someone with that condition.  The reason people were repulsed is because unmedicated abnormal psychology is disturbing.  But it's a real condition and he needs meds.
  3. The reaction to Sherman went racist very quickly, another scary sign of what America remains even years after the Civil Rights Act.  Hence why I want to emphasize that while Sherman was classless and unhinged, my tack against the 'hawks is not racially based.  If it were the 'hawks against the Patriots, Ravens, Bengals, Raiders, Browns (ha), or Texans, I'd be rooting for them.
The biggest reason I'm rooting for Denver, is because I need Manning to win for the Steelers sake.  Follow me here: Manning winning will add more wood to the fire of Spygate. Brady is given more credit than Manning because of their head-to-head match-ups, which could/probably have been Manning wins. If Manning wins Sunday, on a new team against a #1 defense and in the cold, then it'll help him - sure - but will finally convince hold-outs that Brady was propped by cheating.

And then, oh I hope, we can convince people that the Steelers should have been in the 2001 and 2004 Superbowls as well.

Look at how long they make Jerome Bettis wait to get into the Hall.  The Patriots cheated to win the AFC championships in 2001 and 2004.  If the Steelers went to Superbowl 36 and 39 as well as 40 with Bettis, he'd be in on the first ballot. We'd have maybe one more ring (over the Eagles, which would have been Pennsylvania sweet, but the Rams were too tough IMO) and our team would have been the legitimate dynasty, helping get Faneca, Cowher and Hines into the Hall as well.

So, in my mind, Manning winning will help fuel the case for Steelers greatness as well.

1. My biggest proofs for Patriot cheating - aside from their actually getting caught and Goodell burning the evidence because of the horrible damage it would cause the whole sport, cf. Tour de France - is that the Patriots had abnormally high turnovers.  I watched Superbowl 39 recently and the announcers were saying how amazing the Patriots D was at being able to know when a screen pass was coming.  The Pats won all three Superbowls by a field-goal, which shows their lack of non-cheating talent.

2.  For "the Browns being the Browns" see this great video:

Steelers New RB Coach

So far, the Steelers are doing very well in the off-season.  The AFC North was mess this year: Bengals win the division but crash and burn gloriously in the first game, as usual; the Steelers & Ravens are both 8-8, which for the 2013 AFC was actually pretty good, but not up to both team's standards, and the Browns were the Browns.

The offseason has continued the bad juju with coach changes. The Bengals lost their OC (new Redskins HC) and DC (new Vikings HC), the Ravens their OC (new Detroit HC), and and the Browns were the Browns.: they fired their head-coach in what looks like a panicked frenzy, their very talented Coordinators, both Offense and Defensive, walked.  And the Steelers?  So far, we've lost two position coaches, O-line and Running Backs.  The O-line has been a disaster for a long time and not only did we jettison a bad load, but we hired probably the most talented possible person out there, Mike Munchak, making our staff the only one with three former head-coaches, and two Hall-of-Famers.

The loss of our RB coach, Kirby Wilson, doesn't sadden me either.  The guy was ambitious, apparently, and the Steelers aren't a place to rise as RB coach.  We've had only 2 RB coaches from 1972-2013!  Anyway, the running game has been miserable, along with the O-line, for years, so good riddance.   The new fellow is James Saxon, and he may be exactly what we need. According to poster furthur56 at Behind the Steel Curtain:
So you're saying the guy that got to Kansas City the same year that Priest Holmes got there has only "okay" credentials. You know they guy who Baltimore didn’t want, had rushed for only 2000 yards over 4 seasons, and became a huge breakout star after he hooked up with Saxon. The guy who was there when Larry Johnson was drafted and after initial reports on him tended to include the “bust” label, also developed into a huge star. I’m sure James Saxon had nothing to do with that development. In the history of the NFL only 11 times has a running back scored 20 or more rushing touchdowns in a season, 3 out of those 11 times the plateau was reached by a running back coached by James Saxon. The guy has coached 4 different Running Backs and, you’ll love this Steeler fans, 2 different Fullbacks to Pro Bowl Seasons. That’s a little better than “okay” credentials in my book. He’s shown that he can take a Running Back off the trash heap (Holmes) and make him realize his potential. He’s shown what he can do with a young player (Johnson) who has talent, but lacking in fundamentals. He’s shown he can get the most out of older players (Tony Richardson, Ricky Williams) who are in the twilights of their careers. He’s shown what that he can manage a bona fide Superstar (Peterson) through the best season of his career. The only thing he hasn’t done is work for a team with a Quarterback as good as Ben. Every stop Saxon has been, the Running Game was pretty much the entire offense, defenses knew to prepare for it, and still, the running game produced. Those are his credentials. And while you are free to categorize them as merely “okay”, I wonder what a credentials a candidate would need in order to “thrilled by the hire”.

Like Dick Hoak, Saxon has always been a RB coach - Hoak for us 1972-2007 - and Saxon for 22 years over different teams. No (false) ambition to be an OC etc. He wants to do what he does, similar to Munchak who agreed to be an o-line coach after being a freakin' head coach. Shows that's where Munchaks' heart beats, and I think Saxon as well.

I'd even put some money on the possibility that when Saxon became available, the Steelers front office made a calculation and asked for a 'trade.'

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mark of a Modern Fan

How I can prove my bona-fides as a Steeler fan: I'm extremely excited about the hiring of an Offensive Line coach.