Saturday, March 31, 2007

I had forgotted a female saint is after all a woman. That is to say: man's enemy.

I've decided to push the envelope and put up a totally esoteric link which combines August Strindberg, balloons, animation, and absinthe!

Enjoy it here!

Friday, March 30, 2007

War Song

Sorry, can't translate :(

Мы из дома писем ждем крылатых,
Вспоминая девушек знакомых.
Это ничего, что мы, солдаты,
Далеко ушли теперь от дома.

Тишины в сраженьях мы не ищем
И не знаем отдыха на марше.
Это ничего, что мы, дружище,
За войну немного стали старше.

Наши ясноглазые подруги
За письмом не спят сегодня тоже.
Это ничего, что мы в разлуке -
Встреча будет нам еще дороже.

Будет еще небо голубое,
Будут еще в парках карусели.
Это ничего, что мы с тобою
До войны жениться не успели.

А пока мы писем ждем крылатых,
Вспоминая девушек знакомых.
Это ничего, что мы, солдаты,
Далеко ушли теперь от дома.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Advent of Christianity in Russia - Part I

(My) Translation of a fragment from the Primary Chronicle, also known as the Tale of Bygone Years - a manuscript compiled in Kiev in the early 1100's.

In the year 6494 (986) came Bulgars of the Mahometan faith, saying "You, prince, are wise and clever, but don't know the law. Believe in our law and bow to Mahomet". And Vladimir asked "What is your faith like?".They then answered: "We believe in G-d, and this is how Mahomet teaches us: to perform circumcision, not eat pork, not drink wine, but after death, he says, you can commit fornication with women. Mahomet will give each one seventy beautiful women, and will select one of them to be the most beautiful, and will place upon her the beauty of them all, and she will be a wife to him. Here, one should give himself to all kinds of fornication. If one is poor in this world, so will he be in the other" and all types of falsehoods they said, about which it is even shameful to write. Vladimir listened to them, since he himself liked women and all sorts of fornication, that is why he listened to them with pleasure. But here is what he found distasteful: circumcision and refraining from swine meat, and about drinking, he opposed, saying "For Russia it is joy to drink: we cannot be without it."

Belafonte singing Hava Nagila

The pronunciation is quite good!

Listen to it here.

Inspired by Teruah

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nobody loves this blog but his mama, and she could be jivin' too

So the good news is that hits are up. The bad news is that people seem to get to this blog looking for something other than what they find. I still get a huge number of hits from people looking for 'Young Goodman Brown', 'frum sex', Oedipus, etc... I guess I may be weird in than most of my posts have some type of quirky thing going on that may not be apparent immediately, that may require going one step further to google something or follow a link.

I don't think most of the people get that. So I posted about Le Marais because I thought it was funny that the guy misspelled 'Beetles' in his invective. Instead I got comments about the kashrut fight. I could care less about some upscale steakhouse in NY.

So, here we go. I'll make it explicit.

This post is two cats making out on the couch to the famous controversial duet by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birken - "Je t'aime, moi non plus"

This post is the last line of "Portnoy's Complaint", one of the best books ever written.

Anything else? Just ask!

God - no myth?

The one thing that strikes me as unique about the Torah is the fact that it tells us almost nothing about God. Compare this to pretty much any other ancient culture where the actions of the gods are described in elaborate details - the myths of Osiris and Isis, the Sumerian myths, the Greeks...

In some ways God is almost a supporting actor in the Torah. Why is this? Some argue that this was not the case - that echoes of this mythology exist in the Tanach, in Genesis mostly, then in Isaiah, in Tehillim. If this is true, was it actively expunged from the Torah?

Symantics can be confusing. Midrashim are certainly part of the Jewish Oral Tradition - but is all their content handed down word by word from the revelation at Sinai? If so, then the myths that are missing from the Torah are alive and well in the Midrash where all of a sudden, the stories about God become very similar sounding to some of these other myths. Or maybe that's just how it sounds to me...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Windows to the Soul?

Friday, March 23, 2007

George, Paul, and Ringo found at Le Marais... their salad.

As alleged by this guy (which I found through Hirhurim):


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jane and Serge never sounded better...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Halacha review

Though Pesach is approaching rapidly, and no doubt many of us are reviewing the myriad halachot connected to the holiday, I thought that it may be a good time to also review the halachot of another holiday as well.

Operation Crossword

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Red Dragon Rising

WHICH I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to explain.

(Plain Language from Truthful James, Francis Bret Harte)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fundamentalism may be a good thing

So, my second grader mentioned in passing that they learned that a child is not allowed to remove a splinter from his parents' finger because it may make the parent bleed which would be against halacha. And he goes to a fairly middle of the road MO day school.

About twenty years ago, there was a movement in Computer Science to try to apply a mathematical concept known as Fuzzy Set Membership, or in more common parlance, Fuzzy Logic. It stemmed from the fact that while computers are really good at regular boolean logic, they are terrible at situations where there is a gray area. For example, you tell a computer, if the temperature reaches 75 degrees, turn off the heater. If the temperature reaches 65 degrees, turn on the heater. But if you tell the computer, when the temperature gets too cold turn on the heat, and vice versa, they are not able to interpret this simple rule that even a child could follow.

Something analogous happened to our religion. I don't know how to tease it out, but somewhere we have lost the ability to apply common sense. G-d stopped talking to us a while back, so we don't know exactly how we should live our lives. If you go back to the sources, to the first time when people tried to figure it out, to the Tannaim of old, you will see it in their conversations, the disagreements, the arguments, the conflicting opinions, the desparate attempts to recollect forgotten traditions.
The concept of a fence around the Torah makes sense. As soon as one starts living a Halachic lifestyle, one begins to see the wisdom of this approach. However, like anything else, it can be taken to to level of absurdity. The absurdity develops gradually, accreting over the centuries, and exarcerbated by the fact that at each opportunity to get back to the core, we burden ourselves more. At some point, we need to be able to trust ourselves to say that we know that as much as we are not sure of exactly what G-d wants us to do, it probably isn't THIS.

A (now seemingly defunct blog Meanderations) blew my mind when the young woman(?) writing the blog turned off comments lest she be unwittingly engaged in conversations with men. Once again, at some level there is something to the fact that frivolous conversations between members of the opposite sex can lead to undesirable outcomes (whoa, I've turned into a Victorian schoolmarm), but is it really necessary to avoid all conversation so as to not risk doing something immoral? Do we not have the ability to control ourselves and use sound judgement?

On another blog, Tobie mentions the fact the the purpose of the Seder, to tell the story, is these days so masked that it is almost impossible to discern.

So, oftentimes, the corner of the JBlogosphere that I frequent bashes the so called fundamentalists. But I would argue that they are not fundamentalists in many respects. The true fundmentalists would not be afraid to remove the crud that has grown on our beloved Judaism over the centuries and allow the beauty to sparkle and shine once again.

The Accretion of Tiny Marvels

An excerpt from Kevin Kelly's We are the Web article in Wired 8/2005:

The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers - all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works.

This view is spookily godlike. You can switch your gaze of a spot in the world from map to satellite to 3-D just by clicking. Recall the past? It's there. Or listen to the daily complaints and travails of almost anyone who blogs (and doesn't everyone?). I doubt angels have a better view of humanity.

Why aren't we more amazed by this fullness? Kings of old would have gone to war to win such abilities. Only small children would have dreamed such a magic window could be real. I have reviewed the expectations of waking adults and wise experts, and I can affirm that this comprehensive wealth of material, available on demand and free of charge, was not in anyone's scenario. Ten years ago, anyone silly enough to trumpet the above list as a vision of the near future would have been confronted by the evidence: There wasn't enough money in all the investment firms in the entire world to fund such a cornucopia. The success of the Web at this scale was impossible.

But if we have learned anything in the past decade, it is the plausibility of the impossible.


I have real problems accepting nice things that are done for me, which is really just one of the threads in the ball of neuroses that makes up the core of my personality. Of course, who do I have to blame but my parents for this...

My father's birthday is last Friday. Every year I call him to wish him a happy birthday and the conversation goes something like this:

E-K: Dad, I wanted to call to wish you a happy birthday...

DAD: Yes, thank you. And I want to wish you lots of happiness and nachas from your children and may you live a long time to enjoy them and you should be healthy and good things should happen to you [etc, etc...]

So then I hang up and try to figure out how it happened yet again that he used my own weapon against me. My dad should have been a judo instructor. But really it underscores a basic trait that both he and my mother possess, and her mother possessed, which is the inability to just accept a kindness from someone without immediately needing to reciprocate, as some kind of weird quid pro quo system that seems more strict than the Cosa Nostra. And I think that it is really dysfunctional, but can't quite put my finger on why I do.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fun with Gothic Scripts

>"All these materials were written in many different hands in the Gothic German script of the nineteenth century, which even highly educated native German speakers today cannot make heads of tails of." (and the footnote makes clear that the author himself required someone to transcribe these pages into Latin alphabet for him--I think it took me an hour to learn how to read Gothic script, not to say that I know German )

This comment from On The Main Line triggered an old memory.

The text says:
"Mimi numinum nivium minimi munium nimium vini muniminum imminui vivi minimum volunt"
or in English:
"The very short mimes of the gods of snow do not at all wish that during their lifetime the very great burden of the wine of the walls to be lightened"

This is an example of a game that scribes in the Gothic era would play with creating verses which are almost impossible to read. This particular verse is from a letter of complaint by short actors, sent to the Senate in Rome, pointing out their desire to continue distributing to the actors wine acquired from particular vineyards near the walls.

(from 'Medieval Calligraphy' by Marc Drogin)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Proprioception and Consciousness

The Feb 12 New Yorker article on the Mind/Body problem quoted the Princeton philosopher Thomas Nagel, who once published an essay "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" In it he argues that though we can imagine being a bat, having fur, wings, hanging upside down, eating insects, we are limited by our human-ness. "'Insofar as I can imagine this (which is not very far),' he wrote,' it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat.'"

I wound up eating dinner by myself at Ken's tonight. And as I was sitting there alone in a booth, I looked at the diners surrounding me at for some strange reason I tried to imagine being in their bodies.

We all have a sense of proprioception, an awareness of our own body. Most of the time, we do not realize that we can sense our own body, our blood rushing through our arteries, how we breathe, where our body parts are in relation to one another. But the thought that entered my mind was what it would be like to sense the proprioception of someone else's body. Do women feel themselves differently then men, just like bats are different from humans? Like the old question about whether what I see as blue, you see as green, does each individual have a unique sense of proprioception altogether? A proprioception unique to e-kvetcher that no one else shares and hence no one truly understands?

The Morality of No Holds Barred Arguments

Is it proper to debate aggressively with someone when the person you are debating is not necessarily debating you on purely intellectual grounds.

For example, say you are having a debate with someone about the efficacy of prayer or the existence of the Afterlife, and you discover that they are terminally ill. On a purely rational level, this realization should not affect your argument, but is it the right thing to do from a human perspective. Or is it better to either acquiesce or just drop it altogether?

Another example. Say that you are arguing about some aspect of the Holocaust, and you find out that the person is a survivor.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Blue Notebook №10

Don't believe people who liken the mind to a microprocessor. The mind is associative in nature, not computational. For whatever reason, I find the writing style of certain bloggers to be reminiscent of Daniil Kharms, the (somewhat) well know Russian surrealist and absurdist writer.

One of my favorites, titled same as my post, translated by me:
There was a certain red-haired man, who didn't have eyes and ears. He didn't have hair either, so he was called red-haired hypothetically.
He could not speak since he had no mouth. He didn't have a nose either.
He didn't even have arms and legs. And he didn't have a stomach, and he didn't have a back, and he didn't have a spine, and no innards. There was nothing there. So it's not clear about whom we're speaking.
Perhaps we better not speak about it any more.

Friday, March 09, 2007

An Ethical Will - WOW!!!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

J' veux pas finir mes jours à Tombouctou...

C'est vrai, c'est vrai...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Memories of Der Alter Heim

Found this charming bit of memory in an Internet archive:

Among those who kissed the Torah scrolls that were held in the hands of those honored with the hakafa were the women and girls, who bent their heads over the benches to kiss the Torah scrolls. This time, they were granted permission to kiss the holy Torah, and they made haste to place their soft lips upon the silk coverings of the Torah scrolls. The older boys, who already knew in their hearts the meaning of the kiss of a girl, would cunningly, during the crowding, place their hands between the Torah covers and the lips of the girls, so that they would receive the kiss. Laughter would break out among those who witnessed this, and the face of the girl would redden from shame.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Control Freaks and Widgets

So I headed to Meanderations, since some of my fellow bloggers have been giving it a nod, and found a post on "Letting Go". Of course, this is one of the key aspects of Zen, and why samurai can fend off an attacker without any warning, but that's not important right now.

Back about 15 years, I spent some time being a guinea pig for some industrial psychologists at the University of Illinois. They were willing to pay me $18 an hour and I was willing to accept their money. It later turned out that the parking tickets that I received while participating in said test cost me far more than the money I earned, but that's not important right now.

I won't go into the details of some of the grueling psychological testing that was done on me, except to reminisce about a certain experiment that was performed on me and which left an indelible impression on my outlook on life. A certain computer program was presented to me which modeled a widget factory with multiple conveyor belts moving widgets through the factory. At various stations, robot arms would move the partially assembled widgets from belt to belt, until finally, completed widgets would drop into a bin and a tally would be incremented.

The factory ran itself. What was asked of me was to improve the production output of this setup, which I could do by manipulating various dials to control the speed of the conveyors, the robots, etc. I also had the option of leaving it alone as well.

Of course, as the astute readers have probably already surmised, the factory ran best whenever I left it alone. No matter how hard I tried, adjusting the various dials would always have a compensating negative effect elsewhere in the system, either neutralizing any improvement, or even worse diminishing it.

Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Velveteen Mishnah

A clever, fitting analogy found here:

Usually Mishnah is called the first code of Jewish law, but as my rabbi pointed out to me, it doesn't exactly match what we think of as a law code. (Imagine, if you will, a Massachusetts state law that began, "What do we do upon reaching a red light? Stop entirely; this is the opinion of Joe. Jane says that a rolling stop is acceptable. In the opinion of Sue, the answer depends on whether there are other cars on the road. Once, Joe's sons were coming home from a party in the middle of the night, and they admitted to their father that they had neglected to stop at a stop sign...") Mishnah is less a code of law, in the modern sense, than it is a collection of authorized tradition about how to do mitzvot.

Is anyone feeling spiritual today?

I don't. I am just hungry. And guilty-feeling for not feeling spiritually afflicted.

I just feel no connection to this fast. Why are we fasting (I don't mean it literally)? Yom Kippur is big. Very spiritual. Tisha B'Av - ditto. Gedalia - could care less.

Curious about everyone else. Am I in the minority?

Nothing like a fast... really point how much snackage I consume at work on a regular day.

Knowledge of the Creator through Coleoptera

There are many religious philosophies that posit that the Creator is unknowable. When the great biologist J.B.S Haldane was asked by a clergyman, after devoting his life to studying the work of our Creator, which of his attributes he found most remarkable, Haldane replied "His inordinate fondness for beetles" - 350,000 species.