June 27, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Iraqi strongman had political commisars monitor scientists

Not satisfied with authorizing torture and declaring himself above international agreements his country ratified, the supreme leader of Iraq insisted that his government's scientists must be vetted for political loyalty before participating in international meetings.

Unfortunately, this took place in 2004, at which time the leader of "free" Iraq was George W. Bush.

From the LA Times, via The Washington Monthly:

The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency.

Is it possible that Dubya went native when his father was posted to Communist China?

June 24, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Want to make a railgun?

Science Toys helps you "Make toys at home with common household materials, often in only a few minutes, that demonstrate fascinating scientific principles."

June 17, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Wise words from a Conservative rabbi

Gerald L. Zelizer makes an important point in USA Today: Clergy in danger of being left behind:
[The Left Behind] books are just one instance of religion bursting big-time into the media on both sides of the faith ledger. But too often, we clergy don't know how to handle this phenomenon. We either treat the media suspiciously, as when the pope said recently that the media should be "regulated," or we regard it, as with Madonna (news - web sites)'s love fest with Kabbalah, as "religion lite." Much of what's happening is serious and pervasive. The religious community had better figure out why it's occurring and what to do about it, or we may be left behind.
(Reb Yudel)

Reb Yudel's Assignment Desk

What's up with the Reform movement's Kallah next month? Word has it that numbers are down deeply this year. Could new blood at hq not be supporting it wholeheartedly?

For those unfamiliar with the Kallah, check out my 1988 article on Reform Judaism where I use the Kallah as my lede in a piece on the movement's embrace of tradition.

(Reb Yudel)

Yossi Klein still doesn't like Jerusalem Mayor Lupolianski

From The Jewish Week article about Jerusalem's first haredi mayor, a year after his election:
"He'll let the pubs be open. He'll let the gays march once a year. So what?" said Yossi Klein Halevi, an author and associate fellow at the Shalem Center. "Lupolianski is not going to restrict secular life in Jerusalem. The problem is augmenting Orthodox power in Jerusalem."

A haredi mayor faces built-in limits about granting money to secular causes or dealing with non-Orthodox representatives, Halevi said.

"Whenever it comes to [public] meetings with Reform or Conservative representatives, the mayor of Jerusalem is suddenly plagued by 'scheduling problems,' " he said.

"A haredi mayor who has to pay attention to haredi norms cannot by definition be the mayor of the capital of the Jewish people," said Halevi, who is part of a group of parents who last year sought city funding for an alternative school with a "combined secular-religious" curriculum. The city denied the money, he said.

(Reb Yudel)

What's your mileage?

The Union of Concerned Scientists are organizing a Fuel Economy Citizen Survey. How many miles are you really getting per gallon?

(Reb Yudel)

Happy Passover! Jesus loves you! Drive safely!

Ebay auction: 6102342531 (Ends Jun-17-04 14:16:59 PDT)

A haggadah published by the Israeli Government Office for the Prevention of Road Accidents, featuring the classic Hebrew text and ample road safety tips ("the wise son knows .... that you give right of way, you don't take it).

But what really strikes the fancy of the seller is the cover: "If you look closely, you will see a nice Jewish family gathering together with all the members of the family, presumably to celebrate the Passover festival in Jerusalem. BUT, this is not just any ordinary family! Why who else but our former co-religionists (Mother mary, baby j, Joe and the 3 wise men) are depicted on the cover of this Israeli haggada! With halos and all around the 3 main characters in the story!"

(Reb Yudel)

Medicating our children into asthma?

New Scientist suggests:
The increasing use of antibiotics to treat disease may be responsible for the rising rates of asthma and allergies. By upsetting the body's normal balance of gut microbes, antibiotics may prevent our immune system from distinguishing between harmless chemicals and real attacks.

June 16, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

He had such a sunny disposition!

Remembering Reagain: Editorial Cartoon by Kirk Anderson

(Reb Yudel)

Kerry Blasts Bush's Space Vision

Democrats for Mars: Kerry Criticizes Bush for Space Vision
"NASA is an invaluable asset to the American people and must receive adequate resources to continue its important mission of exploration," Kerry wrote. "However, there is little to be gained from a '˜Bush space initiative' that throws out lofty goals, but fails to support those goals with realistic funding."
(Reb Yudel)

Speaking of parallel universes....

Imagine one where parallel parking is a game!

(Reb Yudel)

Kerry Rocks!

In 1961 John Kerry and some friends formed a band that played at school dances. They also cut an album and pressed 500 copies that they sold at gigs. Only a few copies still exist and we managed to get one.

As they say on American Bandstand ,"He's got a good beat and you can dance to him". We think Kerry Rocks!

See also the Washington Post:
"They weren't tearing our clothes off," Kerry remembered. "But we enjoyed it, absolutely." So the Electras went into the studio. Or rather they went into the band room at St. Paul's, where they rigged up a state-of-the-art Ampex reel-to-reel machine owned by a schoolmate. Over the course of a couple days, the boys recorded a tape, which they shipped to the custom recording division of RCA to have it turned into LPs.
(Reb Yudel)

Today In Alternate History

On this date in some other dimension....

In 1934, uranium is smuggled into Germany by Nazi time-travelers even as the Greater Zionist Resistance is battering at its borders. Plans for nuclear weaponry follow in short order, but Zionist sympathizers among the German scientists funnel them to the GZR. There will soon be a mushroom cloud over Berlin......

That's from Today In Alternate History, which tracks the history from a handful of other timelines.

By contrast,  Timelines - This Day in Alternate History tracks more than a thousand timelines, with more added daily, from a Confederate victory or an invasion from Mars to Pete Best's '60s superstardom and the 1977 deput of Saturday Night: Filmed Before a Studio Audience.
(Reb Yudel)

After all these years

Seth Rogovy is at this summer's opening Simon and Garfunkel concert:
Early in the opening show of their summer reunion tour at the Pepsi Arena on Thursday night, Art Garfunkel noted that he and Paul Simon are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their friendship, which began when they met in a sixth-grade musical version of Alice in Wonderland. Simon picked up the thought, and added that this year marked the 47th anniversary of their first argument.
(Reb Yudel)

Honey, I Shrunk the Settlements

From the Fark contest, "If Walt Disney was still alive, what kind of movies would he be making?"
(Reb Yudel)

Global Guerrillas test tactics in Iraq

John Robb's Global Guerrillas site is tracking how the ongoing attacks in Iraq and Saudi Arabia aim to -- and are succeeding at -- create massive destabilization with relatively little effort.

A sample from a current post, Global Guerrillas: JOURNAL: Global Guerrillas test tactics in Iraq

* The [Iraqi electric] system's complexity as well as the American tendency to centralize production with efficient, expensive equipment is also working against rapid repair. Some Iraqis also complain that Western engineers have been unable to grasp the complexities of a creaky electrical grid that is a patchwork of ancient Russian, German, Yugoslavian, Chinese and American equipment. The Iraqis say that the engineers, often Americans, reflexively reach for fancy new gear costing tens of millions of dollars that can take months or years to order, ship and install.

* Before the war, Baghdad had 20 hours of power today. Currently power is allocated is spread across the country evenly at 8-12 hours a day.

Power infrastructure is key to almost all forms of reconstruction and development. Again, Iraq is proving to be the test lab of global guerrilla warfare.

(Reb Yudel)

Mischievous Raccoon Wreaks Havoc On International Space Station

Another exclusive from The Onion

June 14, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Just because we're polytheists doesn't mean we can't be homophobic!

Hindu Mobs Attack Indian Cinemas Over Lesbian Film
Hardline Hindus hurled stones and damaged cinema halls in India Monday to stop the screening of a Bollywood film about a relationship between two women, saying it violated Indian culture.

Nearly 100 activists of the student's wing of the Shiv Sena group smashed window panes, ripped up posters and burned effigies at a hall screening the Hindi film "Girlfriend" in Bombay, capital of India's prolific movie industry, witnesses said.

Sincere outrage? Or just an effort to endear themselves to sheitel-wearers?

June 13, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Putting the mitchering into the mitzvah...

Today I am a 501(c)(3) organization: Andrew Silow-Carroll takes on the Bar Mitzvah tzedakah project:
...As you know, Sarah is interested in space exploration and recently learned that supplies of toiletries and other sundries are becoming uncomfortably low on the International Space Station. Sarah is collecting hotel-size shampoos and conditioners and warm socks for the astronauts and cosmonauts currently orbiting the Earth. She will deliver them when she and her father travel aboard the Space Shuttle Navigator later this summer. Please leave your donations in the boxes in the synagogue lobby...
(Reb Yudel)

Learning the tools

One day I want to be able to post photos to this blog. In this first step, you can click here to see a picture of Ruthie and Grandpa.
(Reb Yudel)

Get back! Beatle songs animated on the web

Thanks to Melon Dezign, I Feel Fine and
Come Together are now available online with psychedlic animation.

Who says that fun is the one thing that money can't buy?

(Reb Yudel)

Beatles for sale, a new conspiracy

From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Using what he calls "analytical techniques" and "historical methodology", Mason has examined the lyrics of every Beatles song. What emerges, he says, is a pattern not evident in any particular song. He claims Lennon and McCartney held conversations through their songs, each using their lyrics to rebut or challenge what the other had said.
(Reb Yudel)

Teaneck animal fashion news....

AllHipHop.com has the rather strange story about rapper DMX, Teaneck animal welfare violations, and a clothing company:

DMX was hit with a lawsuit stemming from his involvement in the canine clothing company Boomer 129.

Amusing Divisions Inc., the company behind Boomer 129, recently filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court, saying they weren't aware of DMX's 13-counts of animal cruelty charges, to which he pleaded guilty in 2002.

June 10, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Coke rising

Coke adds flavor, price
Asked why Coca-Cola has recently started selling its soft drinks in 1.5-liter bottles instead of the old 2-liter size, but charging the same amount, Knauss said it's both a response to inflation and to "maximize revenue for the customer."

"We're testing a couple of different price points, we'll see where it nets out," Knauss said of the new bottle size, which is being tested in New York.

He said Coca-Cola is trying to determine if 1.5 liters is a better portion size for consumers, who complain that soda in a 2-liter bottle often goes flat in the refrigerator.

Sorry if I'm not impressed, Mr. Knauss; I guzzle my diet coke by the gallon. I don't refrigerate it. And if you're going to charge me the same as Pepsi for a quarter less, then I'll take my business elsewhere.
(Reb Yudel)

Blood on our hands

Don't let this week's warm fuzzy memories of the Reagan era, with the massacres of nuns and peasants, distract from the present glory that is America. Josh Marshall in The Hill concludes:
Isn't it about time that we just come clean with ourselves and admit that those half-dozen reservists really probably were just following orders?
And Brad deLong proffers a report of a recent speecy by Seymour Hersh in which Hersh
said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, 'You haven't begun to see evil...' then trailed off. He said, 'horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.' He looked frightened.
(Reb Yudel)

Dylan lyrics in Hebrew

The rhymes they are a'changin': Yoram Aharon of Hod-HaSharon has prepared an excellent page of Hebrew translations for Dylan lyrices.

And yes, they're suitable for singing to the original melody. Yasher koach, Yoram!

(Reb Yudel)

How America created its media and its media created America

James Fallows reviews 'The Creation of the Media': The American Information Revolution for the New York Times:
'It is a particular argument of this book that the United States has followed a distinctive developmental path in communications ever since the American Revolution,'' he writes. This path has led to American media more technically advanced, in some ways more varied and with a wider audience than those in many other Western countries, but also with distinctive blind spots and excesses. Most of Starr's book examines three long and overlapping ''constitutive moments'' when political choices and technological developments shaped the media's growth.

The original moment, which Starr calls ''America's first information revolution,'' stretched from the Colonial era through the eve of the Civil War. Its distinctive trait was the intentional expansion, through cheap postage, cheap schools and cheap newspapers, of the population included in communications and therefore able to take part in public and political life. A surprise hero of Starr's book is the early Post Office, which differed from post offices in Europe in two crucial ways. It reached into the American hinterland at low rates, closing the information gap between city and countryside. And American postmen, unlike their counterparts in France and England, did not double as spies and security agents for the central government. Starr also shows how the public schools of the Northern states steadily broadened their enrollment, while those in the South did not. He has a long and detailed explanation of the policies that made books and newspapers radically less expensive in America than in Europe -- and of the political and cultural effect of the world's first truly mass circulation press. Collectively, Starr says, such measures indicated a concern ''with building not just a continental nation but a republican one.'' They were designed to make America's communications system broader and less centralized than Europe's, and they worked.

June 8, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Would you trust your government with these toys?

The Sacromento Bee reports that Invisible beam tops list of nonlethal weapons
Test subjects can't see the invisible beam from the Pentagon's new, Star Trek-like weapon, but no one has withstood the pain it produces for more than three seconds.

People who volunteered to stand in front of the directed energy beam say they felt as if they were on fire. When they stepped aside, the pain disappeared instantly.

(Reb Yudel)

Teaneck store victim in prohibition crackdown

According to this AP story in the Boston Herald, Teaneck liquor store (with lots of kosher wine) has commited the heinous crime of shipping alcohol across state lines:
BOSTON - At the direction of investigators, underage college students ordered dozens of bottles of beer, wine and alcohol from online retailers and had the booze shipped to their homes - helping the state crack down on Internet liquor sales to minors.

From that sting, four online retailers that did not have state licenses were sued by the state this week for failing to verify the ages of their customers. And three shippers - FedEx, UPS and DHL - now face an administrative hearing for allegedly delivering the alcohol to minors, Attorney General Thomas Reilly said Tuesday.

While I know we're all supposed to be sober suburban litvaks here in Teaneck, I can't help but wonder: What would the Ba'al Shem Tov say about this?
(Reb Yudel)

What Reagan Got Wrong - Liberty is not the absence of government

Slate's William Saletan says that Reagan was wrong: Liberty is not the absence of government:
For too many Americans, captivity is the inability to pay bills, save money, or go to college. For too many, the local tyrant is a company or religious majority. Government can impose worse captivity or become a greater tyrant, but not with the predictability of a law of physics.

Liberty doesn't necessarily contract as government expands. Sometimes, you need more government to get more liberty.

So Reagan was wrong. In clarifying his own views, he clarified mine: I'm not a conservative. If he has done the same for you, this would be a good day to thank him.

June 7, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

The voice of Philip K Dick from beyond the grave

Boing Boing brings us pointers to MP3 interviews with Philip K Dick

A friend loaned me a bunch of tapes, and one of them turned out to be an audio interview of Philip K. Dick, interviewed in his home. You can hear the television on and his kids playing in the background. Very relaxed and chatty. I transfered it to mp3s. Everything you hear is exactly what was on the tape.
(Reb Yudel)

Speaking of the Reagan years: The fun of nuclear confrontation

The Moscow Times brings this frightening tale of Armageddon Almost Not Averted
Petrov was watching horrified as a warning system he had helped create reported five U.S. missiles launched and headed toward Soviet territory.

Blair says this was the closest we've ever come to accidental nuclear war. "By all rights we should have blown ourselves to bits by now, but good luck and good judgment up and down the chain of command have spared us this fate ... so far."

All the data checked out; there was no sign of any glitch or error. Yet Petrov says, "I just couldn't believe that just like that, all of a sudden, someone would hurl five missiles at us." And: "I imagined if I'd assume the responsibility for unleashing the Third World War -- and I said, 'No, I wouldn't.'"

(Reb Yudel)

The best government money can buy

From the Washington Post: Pioneers Fill War Chest, Then Capitalize (washingtonpost.com)
The Pioneers have evolved from an initial group of family, friends and associates willing to bet on putting another Bush in the White House into an extraordinarily organized and disciplined machine. It is now twice as big as it was in 2000 and fueled by the desire of corporate CEOs, Wall Street financial leaders, Washington lobbyists and Republican officials to outdo each other in demonstrating their support for Bush and his administration's pro-business policies.

"This is the most impressive, organized, focused and disciplined fundraising operation I have ever been involved in," declared Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, who has been raising money for GOP candidates since 1980. "They have done just about everything right."

June 6, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

The quintessence of Israel, succinctly put?

So says Doron Rosenblum in Haaretz:
Television anchorwoman: "The Chief of Staff cut short his participation in "The March of the Living" in Auschwitz in order to follow the search for body parts in Rafah. In the course of the mission, which the IDF defined as 'pikuah nefesh' (saving a life), two soldiers were killed.
(Reb Yudel)

Security through dylanology

Scotsman.com offers good advice on How Bob Dylan can keep your password safe and sound

So how do you create a password that is easy to remember and hard to crack? I am grateful to Scott Granneman for this suggestion from an article on the Security Focus website (securityfocus.com). Granneman is senior consultant for Bryan Consulting in the US.

He recommends using the lyric to your favourite song as the basis for a password. His example is based on Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, which probably tells us a lot about him, but it will work with any wordy and memorable song.

For instance, using Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone, take the opening letters of the first line: "Once upon a time you dressed so fine." That gives you "ouatydsf", which is not a bad password. But it can instantly be made more complex by using title case for the long words so the short ones, "a" and "so" are lower case - "OUaTYDsF". That is even better.

(Reb Yudel)

Another fine flash game

Bowman: a little blood, lots of trig.

(Reb Yudel)

Coke -> Soda -> Pop -> Soda, or, Why I'm messed up, part 39

According to this wonderful chart on "generic names for soft drinks by count", I was born to "coke"-raised parents, spent my formative years first in soda and then in pop territory, finally moving to soda world as an adult. (Link via Neil Gaiman)

(Reb Yudel)

Dylan says: "I believe in you!"

It's a new tour for Bob Dylan, and a chance for we Dylanologists to look at the new season's set list to ascertain roadmaps to his soul.

So, with two concerts under his belt (Friday and Saturday night) here's the report: First, no Christian spirituals as the opening number (unlike some other recent tours); in fact, no covers at all.

Secondly, his 13th song -- the penultimate pre-encore number -- has been one of his nondemoninational religious classics: I Believe in You on Friday night, and Every Grain of Sand on Saturday.

As always, Bob Links is the place to go follow the bard.

June 3, 2004

June 2, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Iraq: The late '70s rerun

Bill M. at the Whiskey Bar compares the new Iraqi government to a classic Saturday Night Live routine:

MR HANDS: Is it OK if my friend Sluggo stays here in Iraq with you, Mr. Bill?

MR BILL: Ooo, I don't know Mr. Hands. That Sluggo sure can be mean.

MR HANDS: Thanks Mr. Bill. I knew you'd agree!

(Reb Yudel)

Debating Shalom Carmy

Over on the Hirhurim website, a discussion is underway about a new paper by an old teacher of mine:
R. Shalom Carmy was contacted by a former student who confessed that he lost his belief long ago and has become a confirmed Orthoprax Jew. Can Rabbi Carmy help him recover his faith?
Alas, the comments section on Hirhurim is to short to contain my reply. Herewith, therefore, my comments:
One serious problem lies in the of R' Carmy's paper (confession: I have only skimmed it), which assumes that the culture of Modern Orthodoxy (aka Teaneck) is taken for granted. The question is what should the former student believe in the privacy of his own soul.

He is not questioning his commitment to paying synagogue dues to support a rabbi who may well be morally problematic, or raising his children in schools where eisav soneh et ya'akov trumps tzelem elokim.

He is not even considering other varieties of Orthodoxy, let alone other modes of Jewish or religious experience; Carmy assumes that his teachers have all the answers, rather than suggesting, pace R' Brill, that the drop-out emulate the Vilna Gaon and become a vegetarian.

The conclusion to reject rationalist atheism and search for spiritual experience is a sensible one (but, for another view, make sure to check out The Raving Atheist). But that is not a defense of Orthodoxy; it is a defense of religion in an already Orthodox world.

(Reb Yudel)

Yossi Klein Halevy discovers America: Pt I

Rather belatedly, a link to Like a Prayer, Yossi Klein Halevy's New Republic cover story on the Kabbalah Center which proves, once again, that he can find new information even in a seemingly old story:
A group of children appears and begins singing Kabbalah songs. They are students at the Kabbalah Children's Academy--part of a nationwide network of Centre schools. "At first I was afraid/I was petrified," they sing, to the tune of "I Will Survive." "I was living life alone/with no Zohar in sight/Weren't we the ones who brought/all this chaos to our lives/come on, let's convert it/Let's knock this darkness to light." Men and women are requested to sit on opposite sides of the room, and then the Megillah--the Book of Esther--is recited. Typically, it is a traditional reading, but with a twist. Instead of responding to Haman's name with noisemakers and jeering, which Jews do symbolically to erase Haman's memory, the crowd meditates on a divine name, becoming silent when Haman's name is read and contemplating the "roots of chaos."

After the reading, hundreds of celebrants gather for a buffet. People hug and call out to friends across the room. There are advertising executives and hairdressers and filmmakers and realtors. How many Los Angeles synagogues could boast such successful outreach among young Jews?

Of course, the Centre has been helped by glamour: Britney Spears was recently photographed on the cover of Entertainment Weekly wearing a red Kabbalah thread and in Us Weekly reading a Kabbalah book while lounging near a pool in Florida. Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Courtney Love, and Roseanne have all been involved with the Centre; after Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall divorced, each reportedly sought the Centre's guidance.

Still, there's a mystery here. Why have so many apparently intelligent, successful people fallen for magical trinkets like blessed candles and red strings? Is there some promise of redemption that those of us who've tried to understand this phenomenon have missed, some distortion greater than simply turning Kabbalistic wisdom into grist for supermarket tabloids?

I get the beginning of an answer at an evening prayer service in the "war zone." The Rav leads his disciples in the Kaddish prayer, shouting its words as if in a rage. Then he interrupts the conventional service and begins chanting "Chernobyl" and other names I can't identify. A devotee explains, straight-faced, that these are all names of nuclear power plants: The Rav is trying to heal the problem of nuclear waste, which the Centre's devotees believe is spreading aids. "Whooo!" calls out Berg and his followers, waving their hands as if to send the healing vibrations onward. Pointing up toward heaven and then down to Earth, they shout the word "immortality" in several languages. Why immortality? I ask another devotee. "Because each person is potentially a messiah," he replies. "Immortality isn't just in heaven. It's possible right here on Earth."

Question: What is the Kabbalah Center actually selling? Can other Jewish groups sell it too?

And if people want immortality so much, why has noone in the Conservative movement noticed that leading rabbis in its Talmud and philosophy departments have written books about life after death?

(Reb Yudel)

Spreading the word

The Indianapolis Star's Media and the message column discovers my Bob Dylan web site:
This Web site typifies the way the Internet brings us encyclopedic information on the narrowest of topics.
Thanks for the truly encyclopedic daily Expecting Rain Dylan news site for the heads-up.

June 1, 2004

(Reb Yudel)

Bush policies pave way for future boom!

Business is booming in the mining zone that supplied uranium for the atomic bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki despite a decree by Congo's president banning all mining activity here.
--Miners Drawn to Illegal Congo Uranium (AP)
(Reb Yudel)

Saddam's handgun and the criminal leader

The aptly-named rude pundit asks: Exactly how may laws, federal and D.C., might the President be breaking with his possession of that firearm? More than one, it turns out.
(Reb Yudel)

Worth reading?

Two articles with interesting titles in the new issue of Jewish Social Studies:
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern
Hasidism, Havurot, and the Jewish Street

Simeon D. Baumel
Weekly Torah Pages, Languages, and Culture Among Israeli Haredim

Comments from those who've read the papers are welcome!