Monday, June 30, 2008

Why working in the US sucks

How about this email from my clients in Sweden:

Dear all,

I'm on holiday from today until 1st of August.

I will not read my COMPANYNAME mail on daily basis. I will not be available on my COMPANYNAME telephone.

Please call me on +00 000 000 000 if you need to contact me.
Email on which I read (almost) every day.

Have a nice summer


When is this movie coming out??

Shakespeare and Vampires?

"I gotta tell you something: I can't die. This is terrible timing for me; I'm playing Hamlet right now!"

h/t Iyov

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Jimi's Catfish Blue Monday

Friday, June 27, 2008

Interesting Post...

Very interesting stuff about Boethusians on Drew Kaplan's blog!

Now I just have to figure out how to get my hands on a copy of Dr Hariri's PhD presentation he's referring to...

Perception is Inference

A new scientific understanding of perception has emerged in the past few decades, and it has overturned classical, centuries-long beliefs about how our brains work—though it has apparently not penetrated the medical world yet. The old understanding of perception is what neuroscientists call “the naïve view,” and it is the view that most people, in or out of medicine, still have. We’re inclined to think that people normally perceive things in the world directly. We believe that the hardness of a rock, the coldness of an ice cube, the itchiness of a sweater are picked up by our nerve endings, transmitted through the spinal cord like a message through a wire, and decoded by the brain.

In a 1710 “Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge,” the Irish philosopher George Berkeley objected to this view. We do not know the world of objects, he argued; we know only our mental ideas of objects. “Light and colours, heat and cold, extension and figures—in a word, the things we see and feel—what are they but so many sensations, notions, ideas?” Indeed, he concluded, the objects of the world are likely just inventions of the mind, put in there by God. To which Samuel Johnson famously responded by kicking a large stone and declaring, “I refute it thus!”

Still, Berkeley had recognized some serious flaws in the direct-perception theory—in the notion that when we see, hear, or feel we are just taking in the sights, sounds, and textures of the world. For one thing, it cannot explain how we experience things that seem physically real but aren’t: sensations of itching that arise from nothing more than itchy thoughts; dreams that can seem indistinguishable from reality; phantom sensations that amputees have in their missing limbs. And, the more we examine the actual nerve transmissions we receive from the world outside, the more inadequate they seem.

Our assumption had been that the sensory data we receive from our eyes, ears, nose, fingers, and so on contain all the information that we need for perception, and that perception must work something like a radio. It’s hard to conceive that a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is in a radio wave. But it is. So you might think that it’s the same with the signals we receive—that if you hooked up someone’s nerves to a monitor you could watch what the person is experiencing as if it were a television show.

Yet, as scientists set about analyzing the signals, they found them to be radically impoverished. Suppose someone is viewing a tree in a clearing. Given simply the transmissions along the optic nerve from the light entering the eye, one would not be able to reconstruct the three-dimensionality, or the distance, or the detail of the bark—attributes that we perceive instantly.

Or consider what neuroscientists call “the binding problem.” Tracking a dog as it runs behind a picket fence, all that your eyes receive is separated vertical images of the dog, with large slices missing. Yet somehow you perceive the mutt to be whole, an intact entity travelling through space. Put two dogs together behind the fence and you don’t think they’ve morphed into one. Your mind now configures the slices as two independent creatures.

The images in our mind are extraordinarily rich. We can tell if something is liquid or solid, heavy or light, dead or alive. But the information we work from is poor—a distorted, two-dimensional transmission with entire spots missing. So the mind fills in most of the picture. You can get a sense of this from brain-anatomy studies. If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals. When Oaklander theorized that M.’s itch was endogenous, rather than generated by peripheral nerve signals, she was onto something important.

The fallacy of reducing perception to reception is especially clear when it comes to phantom limbs. Doctors have often explained such sensations as a matter of inflamed or frayed nerve endings in the stump sending aberrant signals to the brain. But this explanation should long ago have been suspect. Efforts by surgeons to cut back on the nerve typically produce the same results that M. had when they cut the sensory nerve to her forehead: a brief period of relief followed by a return of the sensation.

Moreover, the feelings people experience in their phantom limbs are far too varied and rich to be explained by the random firings of a bruised nerve. People report not just pain but also sensations of sweatiness, heat, texture, and movement in a missing limb. There is no experience people have with real limbs that they do not experience with phantom limbs. They feel their phantom leg swinging, water trickling down a phantom arm, a phantom ring becoming too tight for a phantom digit. Children have used phantom fingers to count and solve arithmetic problems. V. S. Ramachandran, an eminent neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, has written up the case of a woman who was born with only stumps at her shoulders, and yet, as far back as she could remember, felt herself to have arms and hands; she even feels herself gesticulating when she speaks. And phantoms do not occur just in limbs. Around half of women who have undergone a mastectomy experience a phantom breast, with the nipple being the most vivid part. You’ve likely had an experience of phantom sensation yourself. When the dentist gives you a local anesthetic, and your lip goes numb, the nerves go dead. Yet you don’t feel your lip disappear. Quite the opposite: it feels larger and plumper than normal, even though you can see in a mirror that the size hasn’t changed.

The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. We see a friendly yellow Labrador bounding behind a picket fence not because that is the transmission we receive but because this is the perception our weaver-brain assembles as its best hypothesis of what is out there from the slivers of information we get. Perception is inference.


Thursday, June 26, 2008


which black presidential candidate is only three years older than me?

Man- do I feel like an under-archiever!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dr Zaius gets his start

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.

Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans. (more...)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

All Day Suckers

Back of the Hill mentioned all day suckers in a post having nothing to do with candy. Which of course reminded me of one of my FAVORITE Stevie Wonder songs, EVER!

When Stevie says "Get as funky as you can", you can't help but take his advice!


LubabNoMore is struggling with davening.

He needs to daven like this guy!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bitter Waters II

XV. 1 Now Annas the scribe came unto him and said to him: Wherefore didst thou not appear in our assembly ? and Joseph said unto him: I was weary with the journey, and I rested the first day. And Annas turned him about and saw Mary great with child.

2 And he went hastily to the priest and said unto him: Joseph, to whom thou bearest witness [that he is righteous] hath sinned grievously. And the priest said: Wherein ? And he said: The virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord, he hath defiled her, and married her by stealth (lit. stolen her marriage), and hath not declared it to the children of Israel. And the priest answered and said: Hath Joseph done this ? And Annas the scribe said: Send officers, and thou shalt find the virgin great with child. And the officers went and found as he had said, and they brought her together with Joseph unto the place of judgement.

3 And the priest said: Mary, wherefore hast thou done this, and wherefore hast thou humbled thy soul and forgotten the Lord thy God, thou that wast nurtured in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the hand of an angel and didst hear the hymns and didst dance before the Lord, wherefore hast thou done this ?

But she wept bitterly, saying: As the Lord my God liveth I am pure before him and I know not a man.

4 And the priest said unto Joseph: Wherefore hast thou done this ? And Joseph said: As the Lord my God liveth I am pure as concerning her. And the priest said: Bear no false witness but speak the truth: thou hast married her by stealth and hast not declared it unto the children of Israel, and hast not bowed thine head under the mighty hand that thy seed should be blessed. And Joseph held his peace.

XVI 1 And the priest said: Restore the virgin whom thou didst receive out of the temple of the Lord. And Joseph was full of weeping. And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the conviction of the Lord, and it will make manifest your sins before your eyes.

2 And the priest took thereof and made Joseph drink and sent him into the hill-country. And he returned whole. He made Mary also drink and sent her into the hill-country. And she returned whole. And all the people marvelled, because sin appeared not in them.

3 And the priest said: If the Lord God hath not made your sin manifest, neither do I condemn you. And he let them go. And Joseph took Mary and departed unto his house rejoicing, and glorifying the God of Israel.


R' Moshe Feinstein - a poet?

Calling all jew-nerds. Calling all jew-nerds. Found this perplexing line in Wikipedia:

Abulafia’s life inspired a series of literary works such as poems by Ivan Goll, Moses Feinstein and Nathaniel Tarn

Does anyone know what poetry R' Feinstein wrote about Abraham Abulafia?

Music Monday - Yael Naïm

They are beginning to play her other song - "New Soul", which was used in the new Apple commercial, all over the radio, but I really like this one: I like fact that it's a waltz, that it is inventively orchestrated, the way her voice hits the notes in unison with the electric slide guitar towards the end...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bitter Waters

Later, she wished she had made Obierika’s cousins drink his mmili ozu before the oracle. She had witnessed this once, when a wealthy man died and his family forced his rival to drink his mmili ozu. Nwamgba had watched an unmarried woman take a cupped leaf full of water, touch it to the dead man’s body, all the time speaking solemnly, and give the leaf-cup to the accused man. He drank. Everyone looked to make sure that he swallowed, a grave silence in the air, because they knew that if he was guilty he would die. He died days later, and his family lowered their heads in shame. Nwamgba felt strangely shaken by it all. She should have insisted on this with Obierika’s cousins, but she had been blinded by grief and now Obierika was buried and it was too late.
[The Headstrong Historian]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


This is a picture of Marc Andreesen and his wife Laura. Marc, who as a computer science student, worked at NCSA, went on to fame and fortune as the co-inventor of the Web Browser. Meanwhile, your humble servant, who during the same time worked in a different lab about a block away, is still slaving away for his retirement...

But I am not bitter. No.

But what is the deal with the double cross around her neck? Super religious? Terrified of vampires?

Halacha - Ghengis Khan style

For those not familiar with Yassa:

(Interestingly, Mongols were fairly tolerant of religions, so the "First Commandment" seems a bit puzzling)

1. "It is ordered to believe that there is only one God, creator of heaven and earth, who alone gives life and death, riches and poverty as pleases Him-and who has over everything an absolute power

2. Leaders of a religion, preachers, monks, persons who are dedicated to religious practice, the criers of mosques, physicians and those who bathe the bodies of the dead are to be freed from public charges.

3. It is forbidden under penalty of death that any one, whoever he be, shall be proclaimed emperor unless he has been elected previously by the princes, khans, officers, and other Mongol nobles in a general council.

4. It is forbidden chieftains of nations and clans subject to the Mongols to hold honorary tiles.

5. Forbidden to ever make peace with a monarch, a prince or a people who have not submitted.

6. The ruling that divides men of the army into tens, hundreds, thousands, and ten thousands is to be maintained. This arrangement serves to raise an army in a short time, and to form the units of commands.

7. The moment a campaign begins, each soldier must receive his arms from the hand of the officer who has them in charge. The soldier must keep them in good order, and have them inspected by his officer before a battle.

8. Forbidden, under death penalty, to pillage the enemy before the general commanding gives permission; but after this permission is given the soldier must have the same opportunity as the officer, and must be allowed to keep what he has carried off, provided he has paid his share to the receiver for the emperor.

9. To keep the men of the army exercised, a great hunt shall be held every winter. On this account, it is forbidden any man of the empire to kill from the month of March to October, deer, bucks, roe-bucks, hares, wild ass and some birds.

10. Forbidden, to cut the throats of animals slain for food; they must be bound, the chest opened and the heart pulled out by the hand of the hunter.

11. It is permitted to eat the blood and entrails of animals-though this was forbidden before now.

12. (A list of privileges and immunities assured the chieftains and officers of the new empire.)

13. Every man who does not go to war must work for the empire, without reward, for a certain time.

14. Men guilty of the theft of a horse or steer or a thing of equal value will be punished by death and their bodies cut into two parts. For lesser thefts the punishment shall be, according to the value of the thing stolen, a number of blows of a staff-seven, seventeen, twenty-seven, up to seven hundred. But this bodily punishment may be avoided by paying nine times the worth of the thing stolen.

15. No subject of the empire may take a Mongol for servant or slave. Every man, except in rare cases, must join the army.

16. To prevent the flight of alien slaves, it is forbidden to give them asylum, food or clothing, under pain of death. Any man who meets an escaped slave and does not bring him back to his master will be punished in the same manner.

17. The law of marriage orders that every man shall purchase his wife, and that marriage between the first and second degrees of kinship is forbidden. A man may marry two sisters, or have several concubines. The women should attend to the care of property, buying and selling at their pleasure. Men should occupy themselves only with hunting and war. Children born of slaves are legitimate as the children of wives. The offspring of the first woman shall be honored above other children and shall inherit everything.

18. Adultery is to be punished by death, and those guilty of it may be slain out of hand.

19. If two families wish to be united by marriage and have only young children, the marriage of these children is allowed, if one be a boy and the other a girl. If the children are dead, the marriage contract may still be drawn up.

20. It is forbidden to bathe or wash garments in running water during thunder.
21. Spies, false witnesses, all men given to infamous vices, and sorcerers are condemned to death.

22. Officers and chieftains who fail in their duty, or do not come at the summons of the Khan are to be slain, especially in remote districts. If their offense be less grave, they must come in person before the Khan."

Untitled #17

So, Rokhl wrote about a showing of the movie "Jewish Luck" this week. The movie is significant in many ways. To me it symbolizes the hope of the Soviet Jews to finally be accepted as part of a new society, to be able to tell their own stories, and the ironic betrayal of that hope by the Stalinist/Communist regime.

The screenplay, based on the Sholom Aleichem stories, was written by Isaac Babel, and the main character, Menachem Mendl, was played by the famous Solomon Mikhoels.

Here is an interesting anecdote of how the screenplay was written. I found the article in Russian, and translated for posterity :)
Babel disappeared and was not heard from for more than a month. The film crew began to worry, talks began about inviting another screenwriter, but Mikhoels said: "Give me three days, and one of three things will happen: either I will bring back Babel with a screenplay, or will bring a screenplay without Babel, or finally, if there is no screenplay, there will be no Babel."

For three days nobody saw Mikhoels. On the fourth day he called the theater and said: "Get the crew together, Babel will come and read us something". Later it was discovered that Babel wandered a long time in the backstreets of the Dorogomilovsky Turnpike. He found an old Jew who spent 30 years as a matchmaker before the Revolution. This person never read Sholom-Aleichem, but he spoke the language of his characters. Babel passed himself off as an old bachelor.

Menachem-Mendl from the Dorogomilovsky Turnpike took Babel along with him to Malachovka, then to Cherkizovo, then to Perlovka, in hopes of marrying off the "old bachelor". At the same time, the old man sold black pepper in Malachovka, which he bought in Cherkizov. In Perlovka, he sold matches which he obtained in Malachovka. The old man was amazed by Babel's behavior: " How can you get married if you can't even remember the bride's name. As soon as I introduce you to her, you are already writing something down... I can make a list of brides without your help. Your business is to make yourself a future!"

Poor old man - he did not know he was becoming the star of the screenplay...

Monday, June 16, 2008

The "Silent Heroes"

Found this comment on a Hirhurim thread:

"There is a voice that is not being heard in this discussion. It is a view shared by respected Orthodox professors of Bible and of Jewish History, Orthodox graduate students in Bible and ANE, Orthodox Tanakh teachers in high schools and even in elementary schools. They are 100% committed to halakhah and are devoting their lives to Jewish Education. In their own quiet way they have examined the evidence produced by academic scholarship and find it convincing. But they don't evangelize, they don't debate, so you will only find out what they really think if you get into a one-on-one."

Is this really true? If so, don't the implications of this situation bother anyone?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blue (Oyster Cult) Monday

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound
He pulls the spitting high tension wires down

Helpless people on a subway train
Scream bug-eyed as he looks in on them...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Koreans dominate in Bible studies at Hebrew U.

Like many other humanities disciplines in Israel, biblical research has suffered from a steady decline in popularity, and few students seek advanced degrees in that field. Among the six students who did receive a doctorate, two are Israeli, one is American, and three are Koreans, who have become the dominant group among the department's graduates this year.

Young Sik Cho wrote a doctorate about "concepts of wealth in the Book of Proverbs." Yun Ho Chong examined the "factors which created a negative stance toward the Golden Calf cult in the Bible." Song-Yun Shin investigated the "language of Hagai-Zecharia-Malachi and its place in the history of the Hebrew Bible." In addition to them, Song Dal Quan completed a doctorate in the Hebrew Language Department which pertained to "use of 'haya (to be)' syntax in biblical language."

The roster of newly awarded doctorates expressed the large number of Korean students in the Hebrew University Bible and other departments, particularly those which offer Jewish studies.
(link) through PaleoJudaica

Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte

A truly haunting song, by the great Marlene Dietrich...

A Very Boethusian Shavuos

The fact that the Pharisees and the Sadducees disagreed on when Shavuos should be celebrated is well known. To me this disagreement is yet another nail in the coffin of the "unbreakable chain of mesorah" argument. How could Jews disagree on when to celebrate such an important holiday as Shavuos? I mean, it would be like the Republicans and the Democrats disagreeing on when to celebrate Independence Day. If there was a tradition, there should not be an argument at all - everyone would agree on when you start counting. You would not need to rely on "drash", like the Pharasees did, to figure out the date.

But this is not what I want to write about - what I am curious about is how did this theoretical arguement play out in practice during the time when the Temple stood? I mean, I don't think it was possible for the two groups to celebrate the chag on different days in the Temple. So what happened? Was it a situation that when the Pharisees controlled the Sanhedrin, the chag would be celebrated by their calculations, and vice versa when the Sadducees were in charge? Does the fact that most of the Sadducees came from priestly families have anything to do with what happened?

What did the group that was not in power do in those years? Did they acquiesce and celebrate along with their opponents in the spirit of "eilu ve'eilu"? Or did they figure it was better to not celeberate at all than celebrate at the wrong time?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The assault on the sanctity of Shabbos (mode) ovens

From Wolfish Musings:

In our opinion, use of “Sabbath Mode” to change the temperature of an oven on Yom Tov represents an assault on the sanctity of Shabbos and Yom Tov and will lead to deterioration in their observance. We hereby declare that one may not rely on “Sabbath Mode” operation to adjust oven temperatures on Yom Tov despite the presence of a Hechsher on these ovens.

I can see the possibility of disagreeing with other halachic authorities that may have permitted adjusting the temp of the oven through the Sabbath Mode setting. I can see that perhaps a better understanding came to light of how such use may not truly be permitted, but the phrasing of this just really sticks in my craw! Really, the use of Sabbath Mode on Yom Tov is an "assault on the sanctity of Shabbos and Yom Tov"? It will lead to "deterioration in their observance"? What a bunch of drama queens. Yes, it is a slippery slope. First I adjust my Sabbath Mode oven, and the next thing I am eating ham and cheese sandwiches while I mow my lawn on Yom Kippur.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Different Strokes

evanstonjew had a good comment on XGH:

If you talk to older people, check with your parents etc., they say something different. They ALL say "Where did it (the time) go. I was just 50, 30, a teen. I can't believe how quickly it went by." They don't say what is the meaning of it all, what is my purpose? They have all the meaning and purpose they need...they just want more life to do more of what they have been happy doing their whole life. The biggest tzadik who believes the purpose of life is to be davuk bahashem will do anything to delay the onset of that "ultimate meaning."

Teen agers and belated adolescents want to know what they are going to do when they grow up (purpose) or what does it all mean (ideals and values worth living for or internalizing.)When you are grown up you generally almost by definition know what you are going to do or want to do, and hopefully you have a plan which integrates your ambitions and goals with your values and ideals.

The basic mistake imho in looking for meaning as if it is something in front of you that you find or discover or create is that for the most part, meaning is behind you. As you age you see, discover what you did and what you didn’t do, and you find out what was in fact important to you and what was not. Did you marry, did you have that last child, did you take risks for the sake of X. You read/ interpret your own life and discover or maybe create its meaning. Were people more important than books, was looking good more important than money, leisure more important than experiences, which experiences do you cherish and which would you rather forget?
This is very insightful. However, I think that he falls into the same trap that many others fall into as well. One thing I believe is that it is impossible to generalize for everyone. For any human trait, there is a distribution of behavior, and many times the outliers in that distribution are significant enough to stand out from the herd.

What do I mean by this? Well, most people, religious or non-religious are not interested in "meaning", that is highly intellectual, theoretical, theological self-reflection or ruminations. Most people I've met in my religious community are just as materialistic and focused on living the good life as the people in the secular community I left behind. This is a MO community. If I went to a more frum neighborhood, I will probably find more people that are lerners, but I don't personally believe that they are intellectuals any more that an MO attorney is an intellectual. For the lerners, the Gemorah is just like a trade - it is just what they do. They may find it intellectually stimulating, but I don't get the sense it gives their lives any more "purpose" or "meaning" than the others.

On the other hand, you have people that volunteer in soup kitchens, and run "races against hate", and work with the sick in poor countries. Some of them are religious, some of them are atheist hippies. How many of each ETHS graduating class, the kids of the rich attorneys and doctors from north Evanston wind up joining the peace corps, or teaching English in Mali...

People fit into different groups. Some are meaning seekers and some are not. Some agonize over TMS and some don't. Some can live a lie, and some can't. To each his own...

And now a bit of Emily Dickinson:
THE Soul selects her own Society--
Then--shuts the Door--
To her divine Majority--
Present no more--

Unmoved--she notes the Chariots--pausing--
At her low Gate--
Unmoved--an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her mat--

I've known her--from an ample nation--
Choose One--
Then--close the Valves of her attention--
Like Stone--