Thursday, May 29, 2008

Urban Legends, Besyata D'Shemaya

For some reason I remembered a story, probably apocryphal, about these Arab guys that were caught cheating at the Technion. They had a בס"ד at the top of every page of homework...

Hitler the Atheist

One of my pet peeves is when religious people bring up the Nazis as the example of how atheism leads to atrocities:

"And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord."

Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf


This morning is a bit depressing. First, I read David Guttman's latest (I am not linking to it because frankly I don't feel like getting into a discussion on this):
Rambam understands that even the suggestion that the cosmos is controlled by “spirits” and therefore these spirits have an impact on how things are in our world is forbidden. It is nonsense and lies and whoever believes that is a fool. When we try to understand how the cosmos works, we can explain it as a physical phenomenon or as a spiritual one. Starting from a standpoint that there is no such thing as “spiritual” or non-physical powers, one is forced to look for explanations that can be proven empirically. It is the belief in “spirituality” which is the greatest obstacle in the scientific understanding of our world. It is much easier to explain things by attributing phenomena to “spiritual” powers.

Contrast this to, say, the Ramchal in "Derech Hashem" who basically says that every natural phenomenon is controlled by an angel (a "non-physical" being). I don't want to rehash this, but short of some serious kvetching, I cannot see these two opinions reconcile. They cannot both be right.

On another note, some commenter on Hirhurim afterlife thread mentioned that the phrase "Na'aseh Adam" in the Torah clearly implies a Heavenly Court:
It's quite clear from the Torah- right from the start- that there's a heavenly Court. ("Na'aseh Adam" etc.) Why wouldn't righteous neshamot go there?

(Not sure if this counts, but the New Testament takes it for granted. That's still hundreds of years after the era of Tanach, but it would seem to indicate that it was a common belief among Jews then.)
I don't know if he means that the New Testament takes the idea of a Heavenly Court for granted in general, or because of the phrase "Na'aseh Adam". I think it is ironic, because that phase had always been used by Christians to "prove" the notion of the Trinity - who else can the Bible mean when it says "Let us make man"? And it is further ironic that the same phrase is used by anti-religious people to "prove" that this language is a vestige of polytheism.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"God save us from our own stupidity"

In response to my "Converts..." post, I received the following comment from Wandering Convert:

I would warn anyone who wants to convert that I converted 25 years ago, and the "orthodox world" has gone bonkers. There is no search for truth, only uniformity in action and in appearance.

Where has the brilliant and inspiring mixture of so many Jewish cultures, united in one God and one Torah, but following their own ancient practices gone? Like the rainforests of South America, we may never realize what we have lost. It reminds me of the years after the Roman conquest, when so many branches of knowledge were lost for ever.

I have known may converts, very sincere Orthodox Jews, some with years of learning, who have turned their backs on the community, some returning to their former lives. They all have shared with me the lament of Eliza Dolittle, "Where am I to go?"

I have long considered where it is I will go. I regret my conversion because I consider it an unbreakable obligation to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, yet I find myself and my children tied to this craziness. And it is only getting worse.

I do not "daven with the penguins" anymore, and seek out more modern Orthodox settings, but over time more and more of those have hired "black hat" rabbis, and are leaning to "the Wrong."

God save us from our own stupidity.

Two things I am curious about:

1) Are you saying that the Orthodox world has changed in the 25 years since your conversion or is it that you were "sold a bill of goods" and what you thought was the Orthodox world was really not the case at all?

2) I am curious what number of converts are reverting back on their conversions due to disillusion with the Orthodox lifestyle.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Smoke on the Water in Japanese?

Funniest thing I've ever heard...

Foucault First Impressions

Started familiarizing myself with Foucault's work and ideas. I have not attempted to read his books, as they seem quite dense and daunting, and I have little free time currently. So I thought a more prudent approach would be to dip my toes in the water and read an introductory book about him first, and then follow that up with The Foucault Reader which contains interviews and excerpts of his work.

My initial impression of Foucault, after reading Foucault for Beginners, was negative, but upon further reflection I think it was due to the way this book was written. As I read the Foucault Reader, this impression is changing.

Some initial impressions and unresolved questions:

1) I was impressed that Foucault separates the search an explanation of a phenomenon, with the act of identifying a phenomenon. I understand him to mean that before we try to come up with an explanation, we need to truly understand all the aspects of a problem.

2) Foucault recognizes that ideas in his earlier works had evolved. He readily admits to have misunderstood concepts, and does not dogmatically stick to his original thinking. As a matter of fact he often seems very self critical for not recognizing the error in his thinking.

3) It will be interesting to see if Foucault turns the lens on himself and attempts to analyze how his own biases, political, or sexual, for example, influence his thinking.

4) I was struck with how heavily the terminology of "political struggle" figures in the thinking of European intellectuals. I had forgotten about this, living in the US. I don't really recall any mainstream American intellectual whose worldview is so heavily predicated on concepts of political struggle. In general, whereas the Europeans seem heavily influenced by Marxism, the Americans seem to treat it very abstractly, if at all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fou-tchou-li vs Foucault

In 1904, a French photographer documented the Chinese practice of lingchi, a form of execution that involved slicing off limbs and pieces of flesh. Europeans recoiled from what appeared to be a gruesome, lingering death, citing it as evidence of a uniquely Oriental ruthlessness. (New Yorker, May 05, 2008)


On 1 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned "to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris", where he was to be "taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds"; then, "in the said cart, to the Place de Grève, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and claves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds" (Pièces originales..., 372-4).

"Finally, he was quartered," recounts the Gazette d'Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. "This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch's thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints...

"It is said that, though he was always a great swearer, no blashemy escaped his lips; but the excessive pain made him utter horrible cries, and he often repeated: 'My God, have pity on me! Jesus, help me!' The spectators were all edified by the solicitude of the parish priest of St Paul's who despite his great age did not spare himself in offering consolation to the patient."

Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: "The sulphur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

"After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient's body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

"Monsieur Le Breton, the clerk of the court, went up to the patient several times and asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not; at each torment, he cried out, as the damned in hell are supposed to cry out, 'Pardon, my God! Pardon, my Lord.' Despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly. The cords had been tied so tightly by the men who pulled the ends that they caused him indescribable pain. Monsieur le [sic] Breton went up to him again and asked him if he had anything to say; he said no. Several confessors went up to him and spoke to him at length; he willingly kissed the crucifix that was held out to him; he opened his lips and repeated: 'Pardon, Lord.'

"The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

"Finally, the executioner, Samson, said to Monsieur Le Breton that there was no way or hope of succeeding, and told him to ask their Lordships if they wished him to have the prisoner cut into pieces. Monsieur Le Breton, who had come down from the town, ordered that renewed efforts be made, and this was done; but the horses gave up and one of those harnessed to the thighs fell to the ground. The confessors returned and spoke to him again. He said to them (I heard him): 'Kiss me, gentlemen.' The parish priest of St Paul's did not dare to, so Monsieur de Marsilly slipped under the rope holding the left arm and kissed him on the forehead. The executioners gathered round and Damiens told them not to swear, to carry out their task and that he did not think ill of them; he begged them to pray to God for him, and asked the parish priest of St Paul's to pray for him at the first mass.

"After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.

"When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

"...In accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes. The last piece to be found in the embers was still burning at half-past ten in the evening. The pieces of flesh and the trunk had taken about four hours to burn. The officers of whom I was one, as also was my son, and a detachment of archers remained in the square until nearly eleven o'clock." (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish:The Birth of the Prison)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"People of the Book"-burning

News of this slowly making it's way out of Israel...

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.

Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a
neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.

After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it.

"The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue," he said.


Earlier this year, the teenage son of a prominent Christian missionary was seriously wounded when a package bomb delivered to the family's West Bank home went off in his hands.

Last year, arsonists burst into a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews and set the building on fire, raising suspicions that Jewish extremists were behind the attack. No one claimed responsibility, but the same church was burned down 25 years ago by ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists.
What has become of us? What has become of us!

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Teretz" in the Urban Dictionary

I always thought the Urban Dictionary is where you go to look up terms like "Turkey Slapped", but here is an entry for the term "teretz":

A Hebrew word which means "answer," yet also means "excuse."

One can only give a teretz to a "kasha" - a "difficulty", something which needs an answer. One cannot, however, give a teretz to a teretz!


Are there any statistics out there which show how many conversions to Judaism are done each year? I am curious because, anecdotally it seems like a large number...

Which is great. For one thing, it eases the in-breeding. For another, it's good to have kids that don't look like Jews. Which, by the ways seems to be some kind of American thing - even Jews by birth don't seem to look like the jews from Der Alter Heim. Maybe be it's the fluorine in the water. I look at the kids running around in shul (the Ashkenazi kids) and they all look like little Aryans - blond hair, blue eyes. This is also great. The jews that survived the Holocaust were the ones that could pass for the gentiles.

In my neighborhood, there seem to be a ton of converts - and those are just the ones I know about. There's got to be more - most don't advertise it on their forehead. And the blogosphere seems to have a large number of converts posting. Often they are the ones who are passionate, questioning, struggling...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Badass Biblical Verses

I love the story of Elisha being taunted by those rowdy kids. Read a somewhat unorthodox summary of that story as well as some of the other ones here.

Here is another sample. I hope some of the debaters on XGH take note:
[Story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal]

That is how they used to do religious debates back in the day.

The situation was that people of Israel had taken to Baal worship, a faith that added a lot of whores to its rituals and thus gained immediate popularity. Elijah (not the one with the bears, that was Elisha) decided that the people had to choose between Baal and God.

Rather than write a series of books or give a bunch of boring speeches, Elijah invited 450 Baal prophets to a contest, where both sides would set up an animal sacrifice. Whichever God could rain down fire on its sacrifice would be the one everybody worshiped.

It's brilliant in its simplicity, and we're surprised religious debates were ever carried out any other way after that. You can raise all the intellectual challenges you want about faith and the origins of the universe, but at the end of the day, you have to worship the god who can set you on fire. It's common sense.

We like to think Elijah stood in front of the howling column of heavenly fire, straightened his robes, turned to the crowd and said, "Thus, my opponent's argument falls." Then, he finished the debate in the way that all debates should be finished: by having the losers slaughtered.

[ hat tip to Simon Holloway]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kant - Think what you want, but do what you must...

Kant defines two essential conditions under which mankind can escape from its immaturity. And these two conditions are at once spiritual and institutional, ethical and political.
The first of these conditions is that the realm of obedience and the realm of the use of reason be clearly distinguished. Briefly characterizing the immature status, Kant invokes the familiar expression: "Don't think, just follow orders"; such is, according to him, the form in which military discipline, political power, and religious authority are usually exercised. Humanity will reach maturity when it is no longer required to obey, but when men are told: "Obey, and you will be able to reason as much as you like." We must note that the German word for used here is rasonieren; this word, which is also used in the Critiques, does not refer to just any use of reason, but to a use of reason in which reason has no other end but itself: rasonieren is to reason for reasoning sake. And Kant gives examples, these too being perfectly trivial in appearance: paying one's taxes, while being able to argue as much as one likes about the system of taxation, would be characteristic of a mature state; or again, taking responsibility for parish service, if one is a pastor, while reasoning freely about religious dogmas.

Michel Foucault, What is Enlightenment

Hawk Roosting

by Ted Hughes

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

Friday, May 16, 2008


In 1994, Mukantabana's husband and five of her children were hacked and clubbed to death by marauding Hutu militias. Among her family's killers was Jean-Bosco Bizimana, Mukanyndwi's husband.

"In my heart, the dead are dead, and they cannot come back again," Mukantabana said of those she lost. "So I have to get on with the others and forget what has happened."

Forgetting and forgiving everything she lost, everything she witnessed.

"Women and girls were raped, and I saw it all," she told CNN. "The men and boys were beaten and then slaughtered. They told others to dig a hole, get in, then they piled earth on top of them, while they were still alive."

Yet today, Mukantabana shares her future and her family meals with Bizimana, the killer she knew, and his wife, her friend Mukanyndwi.

Bizimana did spend seven years in jail. He then went before a tribal gathering, part of a return to traditional ways by the new government in 2002 with Rwanda's justice system unable to cope and process hundreds of thousands of imprisoned perpetrators.

The government decided that the master planners and worst perpetrators would face formal justice. But lower-level killers were allowed to publicly confess and apologize to the families of their victims at gacaca courts, where elders would hear grievances and decide on the punishments.

When I read this story on CNN, for some reason I recalled a Talmudic statement that the death penalty was abolished because the number of murderers increased greatly. I remember how when I first encountered that in the Talmud, how incredulous I was that such a situation could happen. Could it be possible that there is such a proliferation of murder that the courts could not keep up with it? Apparently it is possible.

The other thing I thought of when I read the story about the Rwandan woman is the idea in Judaism that if everyone is impure, then everyone is pure. This also seems to apply to the genocide in Rwanda.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Money Honeys

So one of my clients is a trading firm and, like many financial environments, has TV sets on the floor tuned to the financial networks. CNBC is a popular one...

If you watch CNBC, you will notice that there is a bevy of young attractive female reporters, lead by one Maria Bartiromo. Funny how their male counterparts tend to be older balding men.

Maria was a trail blazer in the field, and for this she has earned many nicknames. Some call her "Econo Babe", but the most popular one is "Money Honey(tm)".

So why am I writing about this? Because I just found out that the term "Money Honey(tm)" has been trademarked. by none other than Maria Bartiromo! Didn't bother to check if she also trademarked "EconoBabe"...

Goods and Services IC 038. US 100 101 104. G & S: Providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for the transmission of messages among users in the fields of children's education and entertainment
Standard Characters Claimed
Serial Number 77084001
Filing Date January 16, 2007
Current Filing Basis 1B
Original Filing Basis 1B
Published for Opposition August 28, 2007
Owner (APPLICANT) Bartiromo, Maria INDIVIDUAL UNITED STATES c/o Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz 488 Madison Avenue New York NEW YORK 10022
Attorney of Record Edward H. Rosenthal
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

A bit of poetry

It's a little odd how indifferent my fellow Americans are to poetry. The Iranians will quote Rumi from memory, the Russians have a whole pantheon, the Chinese, the Indians...

Anyway, my spoof of Robert Frost a few posts ago got this poem into my brain... It is one of my favorites, and I would like to share it with you:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Intentions and Deeds

I started thinking about whether someone who intends to perform a mitzvah correctly, but is really done invalidly from a halachic standpoint, still gets "credit" for this mitzvah. i am sure there are lots of sources that deal with this issue, but has there been consensus reached?

One example would be someone who puts on tefillin everyday, but in reality, the tefillin is not kosher. I want to treat this from a purely theological perspective, so lets say for the sake of argument that the person never finds out and it is purely a matter of God's judgement.

The opposite case - of someone performing kosher actions or using kosher ritual objects but for theologically heretical purposes - the rabbis rule their actions completely void of any theological value. For example, Rabbi Faur (in a fascinating article which I hopefully will be writing about soon) talks about the rabbinical position towards minim.
The law stipulates that a Scroll of the Torah written by minim – probably Judeo-Christians – ought to be incinerated together “with the names of God it contains (because even the Tetragrammaton, representing the holy of holiest, is contaminated with their idolatrous schemes). Addressing this law, they cited the verse: “and behind the entrance at the door-post (mezuza) you (i.e., the minim) have placed: your remembrance” (i.e., your idolatrous
schemes) (Is. 57:8). Meaning, they are using the mezuza – a sacred Jewish object – to package inside it their idolatrous doctrines! To put this less ponderously: appearances may be deceiving! The manifest reliance of the minim on the Torah and their use of Jewish values are a ploy intended to deceive and corrupt the dull-witted.

I was thinking of this in conjunction with the idea of a more heterogeneous Jewish society, such as advocated by evanstonjew. In this society one issue would be how much could the Orthodox trust the less than Orthodox in terms of intermingling with them, for fear of un-knowingly transgressing some halacha. If the real issue is intent, then the intermingling is more likely. For example, the Orthodox family inadvertently broke halacha, perhaps by being served food that was not kosher by a Reform family because the Reform people , while well intentioned did something against halacha while serving the food. However, if the real issue is deed, then the Orthodox family would need to take all precautions to make sure that they do not accidentally ingest any non-kosher food, thereby making the mixing of orthodox and non-orthodox truly problematic...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hit the road, Jack!

...But I have promises to keep

And hours to code before I sleep

And hours to code before I sleep...

Walked passed this giant Costco sized bottle of Jack Daniels and really felt like having a Jack and Coke. (I already had a glass of Coke in my hand). Unfortunately, alcohol and programming do not mix, so I just kept on walking...

The bottle is almost half gone, which is hilarious, since despite our guests thinking we are alcoholics, most of the Jack Daniels goes into some kind of glaze that my wife puts on her sweet potatoes.

Euphemisms and Forbidden Divine Names

Mississippi Fred had a great post on Samaritans a few days ago. In it, he used the term 'euphemism" to describe the practice of using another word (such as Hashem) for the Tetragrammaton. I had never heard this usage, so I asked him whether that is the right word to use. The only meaning of the word "euphemism" I've encountered was the substitution of an inoffensive word for an offensive word or concept.

However, Fred was insistent that his term was correct, so I set out to do a bit more research. I've checked a few dictionaries and none of them had any other definitions than what what I've known. However, Wikipedia mentioned the following:
The word euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemo, meaning "auspicious/good/fortunate speech/kind" which in turn is derived from the Greek root-words eu (ευ), "good/well" + pheme (φήμη) "speech/speaking". The eupheme was originally a word or phrase used in place of a religious word or phrase that should not be spoken aloud; etymologically, the eupheme is the opposite of the blaspheme (evil-speaking). The primary example of taboo words requiring the use of a euphemism are the unspeakable names for a deity, such as Persephone, Hecate, or Nemesis.
In some languages of the Pacific, using the name of a deceased chief is taboo. Amongst indigenous Australians, it is forbidden to use the name, image, or audio-visual recording of the deceased, so that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation now publishes a warning to indigenous Australians when using names, images or audio-visual recordings of people who have died.
In a similar manner, classical Chinese texts were expected to avoid using characters contained within the name of the currently ruling emperor as a sign of respect. In these instances, the relevant ideographs were replaced by homophones. While this practice creates an additional wrinkle for anyone attempting to read or translate texts from the classical period, it does provide a fairly accurate means of dating the documents under consideration.
The one thing that is still a bit vague for me is that even in the sense of the word that means "Substituting another word for a sacred name or phrase that should not be spoken aloud", it seems like there is still the notion that the original name or phrase is evil or demonic and so using it will somehow focus the attention of the evil entity on the invoker of the name. For example, the Greeks would not mention the Furies by name, nor as Wikipedia notes, Hecate and Nemesis. The one thing that was a bit puzzling to me was why Persephone was mentioned in the list. Looking further in Wikipedia revealed the reason:
Of the four deities of Empedocles's elements, it is the name of Persephone alone that is taboo— Nestis is a euphemistic cult title— for the Greeks knew another face of Persephone as well. She was also the terrible [Queen of the Dead], whose name was not safe to speak aloud, who was euphemistically named, simply as, Kore, "The Maiden", a vestige of her archaic role as the deity ruling the underworld.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I realized just as I was about to post a Monday music video that I've been posting during s'fira. Hard to keep Judaism when your memory doesn't work! So for a change of pace, I am going to post about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip.

As most of us know, the assassination of the Archduke was the event that triggered World War I, but I for one had never read the detailed account of what happened that fateful day. Until today...

What a comedy of errors. I almost dropped my drink. Here's the story according to Wikipedia:

General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina had invited Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie to watch his troops on manoeuvers. Franz Ferdinand knew that the visit would be dangerous, knowing his uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, had been the subject of an assassination attempt by the Black Hand in 1911.

Just before 10 o'clock on Sunday, the royal couple arrived in Sarajevo by train. In the front car was Fehim Čurčić, the Mayor of Sarajevo and Dr. Gerde, the city's Commissioner of Police. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were in the second car with Oskar Potiorek and Count von Harrach. The car's top was rolled back in order to allow the crowds a good view of its occupants.

The seven members of the group lined the route. They were spaced out along the Appel Quay, each one with instructions to try to kill Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first conspirator on the route to see the royal car was Muhamed Mehmedbašić. Standing by the Austro-Hungarian Bank, Mehmedbašić lost his nerve and allowed the car pass without taking action. Mehmedbašić later said that a policeman was standing behind him and feared he would be arrested before he had a chance to throw his bomb.

At 10:15 A.M., when the six car procession passed the central police station, nineteen-year-old student Nedeljko Čabrinović hurled a hand grenade at the archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him and the bomb exploded under the wheel of the next car. Two of the occupants, Eric von Merizzi and Count Boos-Waldeck were seriously wounded. About a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb splinters.

After Čabrinović's bomb missed the Archduke's car, five other conspirators, including Princip, lost an opportunity to attack because of the heavy crowds and the high speed of the Archduke's car. To avoid capture, Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the River Miljacka, but was hauled out and detained by police.

Franz Ferdinand later decided to go to the hospital and visit the victims of Čabrinović's failed bombing attempt. In order to avoid the city centre, General Oskar Potiorek decided that the royal car should travel straight along the Appel Quay to the Sarajevo Hospital. However, Potiorek forgot to inform the driver, Franz Urban, about this decision. On the way to the hospital, Urban took a right turn into Gebet Street.

Princip had gone into Moritz Schiller's cafe for a sandwich, having apparently given up, when he spotted Franz Ferdinand's car as it drove past, having taken the wrong turn. After realizing the mistake, the driver put his foot on the brake, and began to back up. In doing so the engine of the car stalled and the gears locked, giving Princip his shot. Princip stepped forward, drew his pistol, and at a distance of about five feet, fired twice into the car. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen, and they both died before 11am.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Two Speakers

I listened to two speakers this Shabbos. One was Dr. Marc Shapiro and the other was Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Av Beis Din of the CRC. Perhaps coincidentally, both men touched on related themes. Dr. Shapiro was speaking on subjectivity in Halacha, and Rav Schwartz was speaking on the qualities of a Posek.

In the course of their talks, both men brought up many stories and examples from halachic literature and history - Dr Shapiro as more of a polemical aid for his arguments, R Schwartz more in a conversational way and as I was listening to them, I found myself gaining a very strong appreciation of the concern and responsibility that the various poskim had for their communities throughout the centuries. For some reason, it seems to me that as the Jewish community became less autonomous, the boundary between the kehilla and the wider gentile world became more porous, that sense of relating to their community as human beings versus abstract cases of law became more diluted.

Perhaps the one case that is an exception is rabbis in the state of Israel. In some sense, the giant bureaucracy of the Rabbanut is corrupt and stifling, yet it seems like that many rabbis, including R Goren and R Yosef had regained a sense of being responsible for guiding and governing the lifestyle of the entire Jewish nation.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fuashizumu jidai no shionizumu

Fuashizumu jidai no shionizumu is the title of the Japanese translation of Lenni Brenner's book, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators.

Came across Brenner on some vaguely anti-semitic site while looking for statistics on Jewish assimilation.

While reading some of his stuff I started to despair that there is any hope of finding any writing that is not biased and idealogical in nature. I feel like I am walking through a Turkish bazaar and everyone is shoving their wares in my face. "Buy my apples, they are the juciest!".

The term ideology, btw, was coined by Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, whom Karl Marx called a "fischblütige Bourgeoisdoktrinär" -- a "fish-blooded bourgeois doctrinaire."

How ironic.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Israel kicks Druze off their land - get ready for a Druze intifadah

Some 6,000 members of the Druze community rallied along Route 70 in northern Israel on Saturday in protest of the government's plan to seize lands belonging to the community in order to place a natural gas pipeline in the area.
Not a lot of this in the news for some reason, but does Israel really need to piss off the Druze, who have been loyal to them, served in their Army, etc... Apparently, unlike the displaced Arabs, the Druze won't even get any land somewhere else in the country...

Some good pics from a Russian-Israeli reporter here... I especially like the banner "B'dameinu nishmor al adamateinu"



Two completely unrelated blogs (one Jewish skeptic, one Icelandic philology student) mention Baudrillard on the same day - what an uncanny coincidence.

I am often surrounded by conversations of five year olds these days. It seems that they must be hitting some kind of developmental milestone because there is strong focus on confirming what is "real" and what is "not real".

Raccoons are real. Harry Potter is not real. Monsters are not real.

Tikkun Olam

It is interesting when reading "skeptics" how much they lament the loss of the positive aspects of living in an Orthodox community, the closeness, the chesed, the kids that respect their parents, etc., that none of them has ever suggested attempting to bring that to the rest of the world. There doesn't seem to be the kind of thought process that says "I know how to build a community where these positive things will exist, and I want to show you how it's done". Kind of a selfish view, unless they think that such a community can only be built with Orthodox people, I guess...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A new blog find - Oh boy is this great!

This blog is going to provide me oodles of enjoyment!

An excerpt:

In the 13th chapter of Rabelais's Gargantua, the eponymous hero discusses with his father the merits of various torcheculs or arse-wipers:
But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains.
It's an appealing thought, and it turns up again in the most unlikely place. In 2000, one Ted Kessler for the NME interviewed Liam Gallagher of the rock band Oasis, putting readers' questions to him and his bandmate, Alan White. Asked about his 'fascination with Elvis Presley', Liam retorts:
Liam: "My fascination with Elvis? Just the wiping his arse with gooses' necks does it for me, man. That just kills me."

Alan: "What d'you mean; wiping his arse with a goose's neck?"

Liam: "That's what he did, apparently. He'd have a big fuckoff box of or bucket of gooses' necks that had just been chopped off and he's a proper yellowbelly from down South (Dixie accent momentarily), 'That's me boy', and he'd wipe his arse out the window with gooses' necks. The dirty fucking. . . he is the king. That's what kings do, innit? You know what I mean? They do, don't they?"
Notice, incidentally, in amongst Gallagher's Mancunian vulgarity, the daintiness of 'box of or bucket of'; one wonders if this is indeed an accurate transcription. Still, how on earth does a jest from Rabelais wind up as urban legend about Elvis? I must confess myself unfamiliar with the written literature and oralia of the King; perhaps one of my readers has a clue.

Monday, May 05, 2008


So, I came across this email from a certain professor Wichman at Michigan State which he wrote as a response to the Muslim Student Association in response to their protest about the Muhammed cartoons. He writes:

Dear Moslem Association:

As a professor of Mechanical Engineering here at MSU I intend to protest your protest. I am offended not by cartoons, but by more mundane things like beheadings of civilians, cowardly attacks on public buildings, suicide murders, murders of Catholic priests (the latest in Turkey!), burnings of Christian churches, the continued persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, the imposition of Sharia law on non-Muslims, the rapes of Scandinavian girls and women (called "whores" in your culture), the murder of film directors in Holland, and the rioting and looting in Paris France.

This is what offends me, a soft-spoken person and academic, and many, many, many of my colleagues. I counsel you dissatisfied, aggressive, brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems to be very aware of this as you proceeded with your infantile "protests." If you do not like the values of the West — see the 1st Amendment — you are free to leave.

I hope for God's sake that most of you choose that option.

Please return to your ancestral homelands and build them up yourselves instead of troubling Americans.


I. S. Wichman, Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Apparently, this has made it's way through the various right wing (Jewish and non-Jewish blogs) and of course everyone is hootin' and hollerin' in support...

Here is what I don't understand. Clearly, the cartoons in the papers were intended to insult and provoke. We always complain about, is the fact that the Muslims always react violently to these types of provocations, yet here is the case where they are planning a peaceful protest and what is the message they get - get out of our country, you crazy barbarians? This is the positive re-enforcement we give them?

I don't blame the professor - he says that it was a private email and he regrets sending it. But the way the right wing media is disseminating this as a rallying cry, really baffles and frankly disappoints me.

Derrida Derision :)

From - Derrida for Beginners:

Derrida is one of those annoying geniuses you can take a class on, read half-a-dozen books by and still have no idea what he’s talking about. Derrida’s ‘writing’ is definitely confusing (it’s like he’s pulling the rug out from under the rug that he pulled out from under philosophy). But beneath the confusion, like the heartbeat of a bird in your hand, you can feel Derrida’s electric genius. It draws you to it; you want to understand it…but it’s so confusing.

Hubba Hubba, Žižek

Whereas Kiekegaard's philosophical works were heavily influenced by his disasterous relationship with Regine Olsen, Slavoj Žižek seems to not have any problems in the ladies department, having married a Lacanian scholar, who also happens to be an Argentinian model.

Music Monday - L'Italiano

Modern American music is based on a substrate of African drums, and so the melodic aspects have always been dominated by the rhythmic. This selection from Toto Cutugno is definitely more in the melodic tradition.

Toto is singing "Lasciatemi cantare", you can translate it as "Let me sing", but what it really means is "Leave me alone, so I can sing" because this is what I do naturally, because I am an Italian and this is in my soul.

Let me sing
With the guitar in my hands
Let me sing
I’m an Italian

Good morning Italy, the spaghetti al dente
And a partisan for president
With the car radio always in the right hand
And a canary over the window

Good morning Italy with your artists
Too much America on the posters
With songs, with love, with heart
With more women less and less nuns

Good morning Italy, good morning Maria
With eyes full of melancholy
Good morning my God
You know that I’m here too

Let me sing with the guitar in my hand
Let me sing a song softly softly
Let me sing because I’m proud of that
I’m an Italian, a real Italian

Good morning Italy that is not afraid at all
With the mint shaving foam
With a gessato dress in blue
And the moviola on Sunday on the TV

Good morning Italy with espresso coffee
New socks in the first drawer
With the flag in the laundry
And a Seicento with an old bodywork

Good morning Italy, good morning Maria
With sweet eyes of melancholy
Good morning my God
You know that I’m here too

Let me sing with the guitar in my hand
Let me sing a song softly softly
Let me sing because I’m proud of that
I’m an Italian, a real Italian

Pa ra ra ra ra ra ra
Pa ra ra ra ra ra ra
Pa ra pa ra ra pa ra pa
Pa ra pa, pa ra pa

Let me sing with the guitar in my hand
Let me sing a song softly softly
Let me sing because I’m proud of that
I’m an Italian, a real Italian

Friday, May 02, 2008

Two Nations in Your Womb - Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

Pretty interesting book by Israel Jacob Yuval

Since it was first published in Hebrew in 2000, this provocative book has been garnering acclaim and stirring controversy for its bold reinterpretation of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the Middle Ages, especially in medieval Europe. Looking at a remarkably wide array of source material, Israel Jacob Yuval argues that the inter-religious polemic between Judaism and Christianity served as a substantial component in the mutual formation of each of the two religions. He investigates ancient Jewish Passover rituals; Jewish martyrs in the Rhineland who in 1096 killed their own children; Christian perceptions of those ritual killings; and events of the year 1240, when Jews in northern France and Germany expected the Messiah to arrive. Looking below the surface of these key moments, Yuval finds that, among other things, the impact of Christianity on Talmudic and medieval Judaism was much stronger than previously assumed and that a "rejection of Christianity" became a focal point of early Jewish identity. Two Nations in Your Womb will reshape our understanding of Jewish and Christian life in late antiquity and over the centuries.

List of Illustrations
Preface to the Hebrew Edition
Preface to the English Edition

1. Introduction: Et Major Serviet Minori
(And the Elder Will Serve the Younger)
The Thematic Framework
The Early Typology: Esau Id Est Edom
The Late Typology: Edom Id Est Roma
The Conciliatory Approach of Modern Research
The Mother, the Daughter, and the Sister

2. Rome or Jerusalem: The Foundations of Jewish-Christian Hostility
The Sons of Ephraim and the Son of Joseph
Vindicta Salvatoris (The Vengeance of the Savior)
Legends of the Destruction–Anti-Christian?
The Passover of Egypt and the Passover of Jerusalem
Development of the Stories
Parallels between the Jewish Haggadah and the Christian "Haggadahs"
The "Midrash" of the Haggadah
A Note on the Research

3. The Vengeance and the Curse: Hostility to Christianity
among Ashkenazic Jewry
Vengeful Redemption
Proselytizing Redemption
The Curse
The Curse on Yom Kippur
Pour Out Thy Wrath
The Impression of the Curses on Christians

4. Intersecting Stories: From Martyrdom to Ritual Murder Accusations
The Blood
Sacrifice of Children
The Libel
The Impact of the Blood Sacrifice on Christians
The Libel of Blois and the Story of Bristol

5. Inverted Ceremonies: The Host, the Matzah, and the Quarrel
The Great Sabbath
The Burning of Leaven
The Eruv of Courtyards
The Afikoman

6. The End of the Millennium (1240): Jewish Hopes, Christian Fears
Calculations of the End at the Turn of the Jewish Millennium
Messianism, Immigration to the Land of Israel, and Settling the Land
Fulda 1235, Paris 1240: Christian Reactions?
The Mongolian Threat: The Ten Tribes? Gog and Magog?
A Synchronic Overview
A Jewish End and a Christian End

Thursday, May 01, 2008

In the town where I was born, lived a man who sailed to sea...

So, a few years back, my dad told me a story of what he did when he got drafted into the Red Army back in the late 1950's. Apparently, as the Soviets were switching their submarines to nuclear power, and hence giving them the ability to stay underwater much longer, their military made the decision to never allow the subs to surface where they could be detected by US spy satellites. Instead, secret underground bases would be built where the subs could dock. My dad was conscripted to dynamite out the inside of a mountain for one of these bases. Wild - like something out of a James Bond movie!

Anyway, here are some pics from an abandoned Soviet submarine dock inside a mountain. Pretty amazing...