Monday, October 31, 2005


I plan on beginning a non-Jewish related blog, primarily for legal, technological and political issues. So the posts from the last few days dealing with politics and law will be moved shortly.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Terrorists Win 68-32!

Last week a NYC jury found the Port Authority liable for negligence in not putting up security barriers to prevent the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Here's the kicker; the PA was 68% liable, the terrorists only 32%.

So the PA was more responsible than the people that built, drove, and detonated the bomb. If I leave my door open and you rob my house, is it 68% my fault?

Since the PA was more than 51% responsible, they are obligated to pay the entire $1.8 billion verdict. That's money that we (the taxpayers and transit riders) pay. Money that would otherwise go to tunnels and bridges, including for security.

Hat tip: Overlawyered

Kabbalah Center Director Arrested

Shaul Youdkevitch, head of the Kabbalah Center in Israel, was arrested Sunday. He is suspected of taking money from a cancer patient under the pretense that such a donation would cure her illness.

The "Rabbis" at the Center told her to purchase holy water (at inflated prices). As her condition deteriorated she donated more (over $50,000 in total). When her financial resources were depleted, the "Rabbis" recommended that her husband leave his job and devote himself to working at the Center.

I haven't found any comments by Madonna yet....

Perhaps this bizayon (embarrassment) will finally be shut down.

Elitism's Place

Parents make decisions for their children. Which schools to send them to, what they eat, who they can be friends with. Curfews are set too. As a general rule, those who don't set down rules and let their children run wild are viewed as irresponsible. Yelling without constructive criticism, lacking support are generally frowned upon. Parents know more than their children, and thus are better suited to making the decisions. We accept this despite its elitist bent.

Yet, when dealing with the RW community, elitism is frowned upon. Look at the J-blogosphere's reaction to all the bans, the various "takanos" (she'ain hatzibur yachol la'amod bo). Why not argue that the rabbonim are parents directing their children. They know more about the issues (or so we assume) than the laity and should be followed. Why do we not give these talmidei chachamim the benefit of the doubt?

Because parental elitism is different. With a goal in mind, to raise their child, ideally so the child is self sufficient, parents make rules. Rules protect the child in his or her formative years, until they are ready to go out and be part of the community.

But the bans and takanos don't seem aimed at producing a self sufficient society. In fact, quite the opposite. The bans keep society pinned down. We don't hear about Lakewood support systems for those who are addicted to the internet's seedier side, for those who have to use the internet for business and are at greater risk. We don't see an attempt by the rabbonim there to act as parents, to raise a responsible community.

They're treated like children who can never cross the street. The "parents" keep yelling at them, criticizng them, putting down new rules. Attempts to question are ignored, or worse yet, banned. The parents should realize that to make the community better, to make it more responsible, they need to do more than just yell.


I've been added to the blogroll at JudeoPundit. Yitzchak writes that he links to the following types of J-Blogs:

1) Defector/Rebellion blogs: Not me
2) MO blogs who are comfortable with the Internet and bash people like him: Haven't read him enough to figure out who his people are, but I guess I'd fit his version of MO
3) Intermittent Desultory way and not well written: Most likely me.

But he says that they're entertaining nonetheless. So I guess there is a silver lining.

Prima Incorrect

PrimaImpressionis, a man whom I usually agree with, errs in his analysis on why Rove should resign.

Why he's wrong will follow shortly, but for now I must get some sleep.

Stupid Answers

Brooklyn Wolf relates a story about his younger son. I strongly suggest that you read it.

When I was in 10th grade, my rebbe told us how upset he was when his son came home from yeshiva, the son's rebbe having informed him that food tasted better when you made a bracha on it. My rebbe was speechless. Its one thing to do what the rebbe did with Brooklyn Wolf's son. As stupid as the answer was, its harder for the child to comprehend the fallacy in the argument (both in the specific and more general points that Wolf makes). But kids forget to make brachos. Many adults do too. Does the food taste any better?

Can you actually say it does with a straight face?

Big Bad Drug Companies

The NYTimes engages in more of its typical "journalism."
"Congress Weighs Big Cuts to Medicaid and Medicare"
Craig L. Fuller, president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, a trade group, said he did not understand how House Republicans could cut payments to pharmacies and increase co-payments for poor people without requiring drug manufacturers to make any contribution to the savings.

But Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying organization for brand-name drug companies, said the price concessions required by the Senate bill could hurt Medicaid recipients and other patients by forcing drug makers to "reduce research and development of life-saving medicines."
(emphasis added)

The NASD is a trade group, whose website includes information on meetings with members of Congress about speeding up generic drug production. They're just a trade group.

But the PRMA is a "lobbyist" group (a word fraught with negative connotations). Those big bad drug companies.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Kabbalos Shabbos on Yom Tov

When Shabbos and Yom Tov coincide, or it is Shabbos Chol Hamoed, the minhag (according to R. Scroll/Uncle Arty) is to begin kabbalos shabbos from Mizmor shir liyom haShabbos.

My shul doesn't.

Instead, we start from Mizmor L'Dovid. And then we say the first two paragraphs in Lichah Dodi (Shamor and Likras), the last two (Yamin and Bo'i) and continue until the end.

I've always wondered why. Does anyone know where this minhag comes from?

Dirty Laundry

My computer crashed, resulting in a lost post. (Un)fortunately, new material has come to light which allows me to quickly reconstruct said post.

This is why those who argue that we shouldn't wash our dirty laundry in public are wrong. Our laundry gets out there anyway, we might as well control it and channel it to the best of our ability. Of course, if you think the Internet and newspapers are asur you won't realize its out there.

Hat tip: DovBear and Miriam

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Toldos Aharon Censorship

Marc Shapiro is wondering what it will take to get his book banned. That's the statement made by a number of bloggers (and, I believe, the Purim Commentator), albeit half jokingly.
In the ensuing discussion, some have suggested that Shapiro just doesn't pose a threat. R. Nosson Kaminetzsky and Nosson Slifkin, having come from within the community, and more importantly, still claiming to be part of the community, are therefore a larger threat. Your average Moshe Chaim may not be interested in Shapiro, but Kaminetzsky and Slifkin...they're my next door neighbors!

Alas, that answer doesn't seem to apply here. I haven't done more research, but it seems that a man "infiltrated" the Toldos Aharon sect, and after years of research, wrote a romance novel. The chasidim are (understandably) upset, though I strongly disagree with how they are pursuing the author (throwing mice into his house seems a bit much). The arguments are the same, corruption of youth, exposing of the community to the public, etc. But what strikes me is that this author is not from within the community. Let him publish, who from Toldos Aharon will actually read it?


So far, ever since Yom Kippur, things have been going very well:

1) Had a bris today/2nd day yom tov (not me)
2) Had a nice conversation about kapparos
3) Great shmooze about Internet pornography and Lakewood (have a couple of good posts coming up on that, stay tuned!)
4) Gorgeous weather. When's the last time Succos was like this?


See that little "Flag" thing on the upper right corner?

Not really sure I like it, soon Hirhurim, GH and others could face problems because of kanoim attacking their sites. I won't have any problems, something tells me my dozen regular readers aren't too crazy about shutting me down...

Monday, October 17, 2005

(Jewish) Papal Infallibility

The Slifkin Debacle has given the Jewish blogosphere a "great" boost. Hirhurim, Godol, Lamedzayin, OntheMainLine, and dozens of blogs have written about it. Rabbis, hitherto immune from any criticism, find themselves eviscerated on the Internet by frum Jews, placed on par with clowns. Defenses of these rabbis are so weak that its (sometimes) a waste of time debunking them.

An outside third party, looking in, would think that "Rabbis" of the "Big Yeshivas" are fools, laying claim to expertise in every area which they haven't studied. After all, anyone without a college degree and who pushes for meager secular and english education, is an expert on biology, chemistry, and physics. PhDs and years of intensive research and schooling mean nothing when you have someone who has never thought about why an apple falls from a tree.

To the other 6 billion people in the world, our loud, famous, vocal leaders are stuck in the 17th century. Christians realized Gallileo was right. For the most part they've gotten over the initial clash between scientific study and relgiion. They realize their leaders can be wrong.

We haven't. Or rather, they aren't our leaders.

Which is worse?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Poll: Americans Getting Ruder...

Poll: Americans Getting Ruder
...No, there are just more of us New Yorkers...

This poll seems to fall prey to the "Glory of Yesteryear" syndrome suffered by many.

Devil's Advocate

Devil's Advocate

Playing devil's advocate is usually fun. The best part, of course, is when the other person kindly explains how *your* opinions are wrong. When informed that you haven't said anything about your personal opinions, and are just pointing out inconsistencies with their views, your opponent is left befuddled.

But it can get you into trouble, precisely because many do not differentiate between opinions from arguments. If you are pro abortion, every anti abortion argument is wrong and every pro abortion one is correct. The same with most political issues.

A similar argument is going on between myself and Enigma4U over at OnTheMainLine. Engima put forth a faulty argument, namely, that because at least 2 children were reported to get sick due to MBP, the practice, which is disgusting, should be stopped. However, driving, an innocuous activity, is perfectly ok.

There are a number of flaws in his argument; First, what is the likelihood of transmission and infection is. The mohel has to have it, it has to be transmitted to the child, and the child has to get sick. Since one virus strand generally won't cause illness, a sufficient amount must pass to the child. But what are the numbers? I'm willing to bet that more

than 2 children have been infected over the course of history. But how many? Afterwards, you would need to compare it to the number of car accidents resulting in injuries. You could then do a comparison to see, from an empirical standpoint, which is more dangerous.

While it seems like a lot of work, people quote studies all the time, and there is definitely data on this. Especially on vague claims, where the average person doesn't know the information, to make a logical (and not emotional) argument, you need data.

That MBP is disgusting (for the sake of argument, let's accept that) doesn't relate to its danger. That relates to a social (or political) motive. But, by combining the two, the horror story of those two children, along with the fact that people find it disgusting makes for a stronger emotional plea.

From a rhetoric standpoint, Enigma makes a good point. A disgusting practice, only required by those in a cult, has caused severe harm and trauma to children and their families. It should be stopped. But an empirical argument, a more logical one, though it may exist, was not made.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Mashiv HaRuach...

My area is expecting rain until tomorrow night. Yom Kippur should be fun with sandals and shower shoes, rain, and flooded streets. If Succos is like this I don't think anyone will be spending time in their succah...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Average Struggles

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur make for scary times. The righteous are immediately inscribed "for life", the wicked "for death", while the average fellow (beinoni) dangle, neither here nor there. What really makes it troubling is the famous Gemara, where Rava(?) says that he is an average person, an ish beinoni.

If a great scholar and tzaddik like Rava is a beinoni, well, either we're all on the evil side of the scale or there's a very wide range for the middle ground.

The Ba'al HaTanya gives an answer. He says that a tzaddik and rasha face no struggles. The tzaddik faces no struggles with evil, and always does good, while the rasha is evil through and through, not even thinking about doing good. The beinoni, the average man, struggles. Sometimes you do good, sometimes bad, but you're always fighting.

In this light, the statement of Rava makes a lot more sense. He was struggling, just as we do. The strugglers are judged on Yom Kippur.

[Update: Yitzchak from JudeoPundit points out that the Gemara is located at Berachos 61a and the Ba'al HaTanya's statement is the very first thing in Tanya. Thanks.]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Skipping Words

Its not unusual for a chazzan to mumble (read: skip) words while at the amud, particularly for shmoneh esrei. The race to the finish stops by the three dots in the Artscroll siddur, where the chazzan belts out, in his loudest voice, the last sentance or two. Not to mention that some words (lo, etc), when skipped, can change the meaning of the sentance.

B"H we didn't have that this year on Rosh Hashana.

Shofar During Mussaf

Our shul blows shofar during the silent shmoneh esrei of mussaf. A cousin of mine, who hails from a shul which does not blow, disapproved. If you went too slow or too fast, your concentration would be disrupted. If the ba'al tokeah wasn't up to snuff, a quick shofar blowing could turn into a long, drawn out production, and a rather painful one at that.
I didn't find it that distracting, then again, I've always davened in a shul that did blow shofar then...

Of course, there's also the discussion on whether you blow inflected or straight...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Benefit of the Doubt

Most of the criticism towards Miers seems to flow into two categories:
1) We don't know if she'll be conservative on the bench
2) If she is conservative, Bush should have named a known conservative.

But there's something that hasn't really been mentioned. Bush knows Miers. Presumably, she hasn't been a candidate for the court in all of the years Bush was governor of Texas and the last few years in the White House. During those frank and candid conversations, Bush could very well have learned her actual views on issues. However, judges seeking promotion may have tailored their opinions, seem more conservative or liberal, to stand out from the crowd and get the coveted nomination.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sand and Bans

The latest ban (covered by GH, Yeshivishe News, Zionist Conspiracy, and others) brings something to mind. When you go to the beach and pick up a handful of sand, you cup it in your hands. If you try holding it in a fist, the sand falls out of your hand and through your fingers, leaving you with a lot less, more compacted, but still diminished.

These bans accomplish the same thing. The small core, which will listen to everything, is further compacted. Through outside (read: peer) pressure, a core, with a strong sense of community remains.

That core retains a respect for those who issue bans. The others lose all respect. The blame for this loss rests at the feet of the issuers.

Bans have a place. But the more they are used, the less force they have. Eventually they become a laughingstock to all of us, who have long since fled the enclosing fist.