Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Why Guys are Superficial

"Guys are superficial, they only care about looks," so goes the common refrain. True or not, ask many Orthodox Jews in their early twenties, and they'll admit to hearing it, if not believing it. But is it true?

I'm not so sure. Or rather, I'm not sure that's the right question.

A few weeks ago, Josh posted his reasoning on why there are more good girls than guys. In order for a girl to be good, she needs to have middos (everyone seems to have good middos), open her siddur once in a while, and refrain from certain actions. On the other hand, to be a good guy, he needs to be able to hold down a job, have a chavrusa every night, daven with a minyan 3x a day. On top of the good middos and living on 3 hours of sleep. In short, girls have a longer "checklist" than guys. One (female) friend summed it up nicely "it's easier to be a good girl, you don't have to do much, just not get into too much trouble. Whereas a guy has to actively be a good guy."

A couple of days back, Nephtuli posted on whether guys are more superficial than girls (its short, so read the post and the comments). In response to my comment that men are just more honest about their superficiality, Miriam, in a well written and well thought out comment (comment here too Miriam!) said that even if true, women base attractiveness on personality as well as looks, at least to a higher degree than men.

While I lack a background in cognitive psychology and biology, and regression analysis is beyond my mathematical ken, I'd like to disagree. It's not that guys put less emphasis on personality, or girls more, rather, the questions are asked at different points in the process. There are external factors which relegate when a guy or girl ask about looks. I'd like to put forth the following analysis:

You're a girl. You've narrowed down 100 guys to 2, who fit all of your criteria. Ask whether the guy is cute and you're down to 1, or maybe none. You can't ask the question, if you do, you'll never date.

You're a guy. You've narrowed down 100 girls to 99. You can spend the next 3 months going out with them, or you can narrow down the field. Presumably you want her to help raise the kids, so while job aspirations are important, they won't shed much light. Also, given current demographics, you might only reduce those 99 girls to 90. Not really a big dip. So, you ask if the girl is cute. A very subjective question, and one, like middos, is easily muddled. But still, you can get physical characteristics. You know the type of look you're generally attracted to, etc. So you've decreased those 99 to 20 or less.

Much more efficient. Are you being "superficial" about looks? Well, you're deciding who you want to go out with based on how they look, so perhaps you are. But, just like Miriam said in her comment, if you find her lacking in personality and annoying, its likely you'll find her less attractive, for all her good looks and there'll be no second date. That ability is not in the exclusive purview of women. In addition, girls are just superficial about other things. Some want a rich guy. Hardly the stuff of personality. Or, rather, someone to support her lifestyle. Others want a certain yeshiva or hat style. Again, I've met nice guys and total jerks from almost every category.

So are guys more superficial when it comes to looks? I don't know. Y'see, if the girl asks about looks, since she's being superficial about other things, she'll go out with no one. Ironically, the refrain of no good guys would only become worse. She can't ask about looks. She's trapped, forced to go on the date. Once that happens, if the conversation goes well and she has a good time, she'll become more attracted to him.

On the other hand, the guy will be able to go out with girls anyway, his checklist, his list of superficialities, is much shorter. Oh, so she likes hats instead of wigs. Whoop. Di. Do. So he throws in looks. Might as well. And, as happens often, if the shadchan or friend was wrong and he doesn't find her attractive, yet has a great time, he may come to find her attractive. Just like Miriam claims girls do.

Its not that guys are more superficial about look than girls, they're just able to ask about it. Or I could be wrong. After all, you never heard a girl ask "Is he a REAL 5'7?"

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dubai and Port (In)Security III

Charles Krauthammer penned a great piece in the Washington Post on Friday.

The Democrats, in particular, are in full cry, gleeful to at last get to the right of George Bush on an issue of national security.

Gleeful, and shamelessly hypocritical. If a citizen of the UAE walked into an airport in full burnoose and flowing robes, speaking only Arabic, Democrats would be deeply offended, and might even sue, if the security people were to give him any more scrutiny than they would to my sweet 84-year-old mother.

Democrats loudly denounce any thought of racial profiling. But when that same Arab, attired in business suit and MBA, and with a good record of running ports in 15 countries, buys P&O, Democrats howl at the very idea of allowing Arabs to run our ports. (Republicans are howling, too, but they don't grandstand on the issue of racial profiling.)
Wait wait wait. Democrats are engaging in racial profiling? No way. My faith in the world. Shattered.

(Hat tip: Stephen Bainbridge)

Dell and Caller-ID

The other day I had to call Dell tech support. If you purchase a machine through Dell Home the support stinks. Invariably, you're connected with a man named "James" whose actual name probably has 15 letters, 12 of which are consonants. Ezzie recently linked to a NYTimes article on the matter, so here are my thoughts.

Luckily, I knew just what the problem was. I'm almost 25, and have been using computers since I was 9. I don't mean plain using. I've spent, on average, over 6 hours a day on a computer, including during elementary school and high school. Ever since I began taking notes on a laptop, the average has just gone up. I also majored in computer science.

So what did I do? First, I called DELL, keeping track of every number dialed. Then I asked for the person's extension, in case we got cut off (they asked for my cellphone number).

Before setting up the service call, I needed to verify who the computer was registered to. Unfortunately, I didn't know *exactly* who it was registered to, my friend, her parents, or a sibling. After going through half a dozen names, she put me on hold, saying she would speak to her manager to make sure enough information had been verified. By this time, I already had the case number.

On came the music. After 2 minutes, it stopped. It remained quiet for about 5 minutes. So I decided to call back. I called, dialed the extension, the music promptly disapeared. Realizing I was back where I had been before, I called back. Again.

This time I blocked Caller-ID. Lo and behold, this time I was successful. I got someone else, named Francis. And here the fun began. I explained the problem to Francis, a nice man who told me, at the end of the call, that I'd be a good tech (duh).

I never did what he told me to do. I just made the noises, told him to hold down, and closed the lid a bunch of times. I knew the problem, had suggested the solution. After 5 minutes of tests, he agreed.

So, next time you call back Dell, block caller ID. And don't buy a Dell. More expensive? Yes. But I use an IBM.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ken Livingstone Suspended

"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy...elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law." --London Mayor Ken Livingstone

So cried Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, in reaction to his four week suspension after comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Is he right? As a Jew, I'm conflicted. The suspension by the Adjudication Panel for England, might create a martyr. Jews run the world and what not. Plus, a stronger message would be sent, if Livinstone was trounced in the next election. A rejection by the voters. But, on the other hand, the guy's suspended. Good. He won't be able to blame his election loss on the economy, through the suspension he'll know he was punished directly for his comments.

But really, should an elected official be removed from office, or even temporarily suspeneded, for making insensitive remarks? Yes, this is in England, but look at it through American law. In a way, speech is even more protected when it comes from elected officials. Anything said on the floor of Congress by a Member, is protected. When it comes to the decisions of democracy, we don't want to chill speech.

On the other hand, Congress has the right to censure, throw out, or keep Members from taking their seats, all of the above having happend numerous times. That's hardly a direct decision "by the voters." Furthermore, impeachment and removal of the President from office (the former having occured twice, and the latter never) are also not at the direct decision of the voters. Indeed, according to some, "high crimes and misdemeanors," the standard for Presidential impeachment, doesn't mean anything more than "you're being politically troublesome, so we'll kick you out." But try writing that in the Constitution.

He knew what the rules were, and should have known that statements such as his could result in consequences. My only fear is that the door has been opened a bit more, that now people will believe they have a right not to be offended, even at the expense of someone else's speech. Better he be recalled or thrown out at the next election. So, in a way, he's right. It would have been a bigger slap in the face had this come from the voters. But he's also lying just like a politican, we've long recognized that actions do not always need to come from the voters.

False Frumkeit

R' Harry Maryles has a must read post over at Emes Ve-Emunah

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Neutrino Judaism

I just finished watching an episode of Nova, "The Ghost Particle," which aired on Feb. 21st at 8PM. Its the story of two scientists, Raymond Davis and John Bahcall and their hunt for the neutrino. A must watch, even if you're not into science.

John, who first thought of becoming a rabbi, came up with the model of how the sun works. (Interestingly he went into physics and astronomy because he felt it best suited his "quest for truth). Raymond used an experiment to try and figure out whether John's model was correct. What happend? The experiment only detected 1/3 of the neutrinos that John's calculations predicted.

They both spent the next 30 (yes, 30) years on the problem. Raymond, despite being told that his experiment was flawed, persisted, attempting to improve it, yet found no errors. John spent over 30 years defending his calculations, getting into heated arguments at conferences. No errors.

Imagine that. The experimental results contradict your calculations, or the entire scientific community says your experiment is flawed. Yet you can't find an eror. So what do you do?

Well? If, for 30 years, almost daily, you were confronted with the Documentary Hypothesis, or other "proofs" that Judaism is wrong, what would you do? If, for 30 years you were subjected to ridicule for your beliefs, what would you do? Could you stand up to it? Is Godol Hador's "Science of Judaism" enough?

One day, about 6 years ago, they were proven correct. They were both right. 30 years of work, 30 years of being told they were wrong, that the Standard Model of physics was correct, and in one night it all changed. Both were correct (Davis's experiment was only designed to detect one of three kinds of neutrinos, it took almost 10 years to build a detector that would detect all three kinds, thus accounting for the discrepency), and the Standard Model wrong.

Bahcall passed away a few months ago from a rare blood disorder. Davis has Alzheimers. Two men, who despite everyone saying they were wrong, were right.

Dubai and Port (In)Security II

[Updated to reflect details from the article]
The AP (via Drudge) is reporting that an agreement between the Dubai corporation and the federal government required the Dubai corporation to participate in future investigations and disclose internal operations records. Included are records about "the design, maintenance or operation of ports and equipment."

While this doesn't fully address by previous concerns, it does somewhat alleviate it, if true. Internal operations probably include hiring criteria for the ports, disclosure policies relating to port operations, and security protocols for the protection of data. Requirements to participate in investigations presumably means that they'll need to give more assistance than a standard corporation, else why the agreement?

That the higher ups in this corporation are probably more likely to have fewer levels of separation between them and the terrorists still concerns me. But with any corporation, the terrorists can learn the names of the managers and blackmail them, or, insert someone into the company with the requisite skills to lift the information.

It also bothers me that copies of business records and an American citizen to act as a liason with the federal governmnet weren't included, though the former is the larger concern. According to the article, these are routinely required in other foreign transactions. But again, provided they must cooperate, and the risk of being nationalized by the US government is a good incentive for that, as are Congressional laws against them, the concern is somewhat mitigated.

On the political side: That the federal government has taken steps to insure cooperation and US security should teach everyone, both on the right and left, politicans and the media, a lesson. Namely, there's always more to a story than what breaks at first, and it behooves you to wait, think about it, and be responsible. Else you end up with egg on your face. Not that they ever learn.

[Update: It seems DovBear lucked out by waiting to post. With details beginning to emerge, and fodder for both sides, I'm sure his post will be interesting. I'm curious what his take is on my concerns (linked above), what he views the real issues to be, and how the recent information impacts that. Of course, without some partisan bickering it just wouldn't be a DB post.]

What are you, stupid?

Small actions can have very large consequences. Actions like moving your wagon to the side of the aisle in the supermarket, helping a woman carry her baby and stroller up the stairs, or
moving away from the table after taking your food at kiddush, can have a profound impact, albeit subtle. On the other hand, a snide remark can forever influence someone's view of the speaker, or of the speaker's people.

Yesterday I found myself in a pizza establishment at lunchtime. Two customers behind me was a woman, in her late 40's or early 50's, who wanted her pizza well done. After the employee took her slice out, she said she wanted it more well done. Immediately before placing the pizza back in the oven, the woman decides to switch slices. So far, so good. The employee takes the pizza cutter, cuts the slice (it hadn't been fully cut) and accidentally cuts off a tiny sliver of the slice.

"What are you doing?"
"You want this slice, no?"
"Yes, I want that slice. But what are you doing?"
"I'm putting this slice in the oven."
"I want that slice. But I want it with the little piece you cut off. What are you, stupid?"

I, along with the girl standing behind me, groaned. Is it really worth getting upset over something so small? To call someone stupid, out loud, in front of hundreds of people? Not to mention what this poor man now thinks of Orthodox Jews. Would it have been too hard to say "I was wondering if you could give me that sliver too?" or just forget about it?

In retrospect, I should said something. The lack of dignity which she conducted herself, the lack of respect displayed for a fellow human being, was just appalling. A short word or two might have prevented the man behind the counter from thinking that all people (or Orthodox Jews) are scum.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Dubai and Port (In)Security

Senator Schumer and others berated the Bush administration recently over doing nothing about the takeover, by a Dubai based company, of another company which was in charge of security at NY harbor. Essentially, following the corporate chain, you have an Arab Muslim run corporation, located in the Middle East, responsible for security at one of the nation's busiest harbors.

We all know politicans pass the buck whenever they get a chance, so Congress blaming the White House and vice versa shouldn't surprise us. But what is the real concern? Is it really that the worker's paychecks will come from a different bank? Or is it something else?

Assuming security procedures at the ports are open, that anyone who wanted them could get them by asking the local dockworkers, what's the problem? In the event of a national emergency, the US Government would just nationalize harbor security. The Dubai based company would be kicked out, and we'd be back where we are today. Shiploads of Muslims from the Middle East won't be flown in to replace the unionized harbor worker.

But its unlikely that all security measures are public. Surely DHS, CIA, and the FBI have connections with port security. Certain intellegience methods might be known to managers at the port, game-theoretic scenarios, theoretical modelling, disaster control, all closely guarded secrets which are (presumably) available to those in the upper echelon of management.

Therein lies the problem. Its not, as Senator Schumer publicly stated, the fact that a Dubai based company would scan incoming shipments. Rather, that a Muslim Arab company, from the Middle East, will be privy to disaster control and other sensitive procedures. Upper management and directors, who might have terrorist sympathies, are more liable to pass on this information. Indeed, its not the UAE government, rather, its where they're located. I'm sure that's Schumer's concern too, he just can't say it because of political correctness.

I doubt they'd get the press being received now if the company was Arab-American. Americans, as a whole, don't judge American Muslims as dangerous (though they may give them more scrutiny). Had the 9/11 hijackers been American, had American Muslims been involved in suicide bombings on a weekly or monthly basis in America, a Muslim company would have been given more scrutiny. Even then it wouldn't be that bad. Instead, violence by American Muslims is the exception, not the norm.

Essentially, the concern is that the ultimate controller of port security in NY Harbor (and others), resides in a place where anti-American sentiment is the norm. Where a few years ago, 19 of their brothers hijacked 4 planes and slaughtered thousands and chanting "Death to America" is learned with a baby's milk. That they are now closer to sensitive procedures and information. How sensitive is that information?

That's the real concern.

Brooklyn Jews & Israel

Should-read essay by Hillel Halkin in the Jerusalem Post. I disagree with him on parts, and if I have time, will blog more about it later. Meanwhile, read. comment.

Ethical Systems

Not all of the questions are choices are great, some I left out. They do bring up interesting issues. Like most of these polls, I'd want to see how they're scored. But here goes:

Judeo-Christian Ethics (The Golden Rule)

Essentially this ethical school of thought can be summed up in 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Only do something to someone which you would like to have done to you in return. This is the ethical principal which is least prone to criticism.

How you scored, compared to others taking this quiz:
Other Quiz Takers
Kantian Ethics
Ethical Egoism
Ancient Greek Ethics

'What ethical system do you fit in with?' at

Anyone get ethical egoism?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brutal Beatings

There I was, in shul, listening to the rabbi's speech. Something about Moshe telling Hashem that Bnei Yisroel knew not to go to the mountain, but then Hashem told him "lech reid" and something from R' Nachman m'Breslav. Not the point.

As many rabbis are wont to do, the speech shifted to current events, specifically the heroic resistance of youths to armed police, enforcing legal orders, children, who were "brutally beaten" with "heads split open" (his words) by the officers.

He did raise the question as to whether parents should let their children go to such actions. Claiming that there was a "battle for the soul of both the Land of Israel and Jewish people", he quickly dismissed it, implying that parents who allow their kids (and the kids) who do such things were correct. Nevermind that you can be an ardent (religious) Zionist and still think that the settlement should have been evacuated.

What was missing in his one sided speech? Maybe the police did overreact, though if true, they did a bad job, suffering casualties and all. And when they don't react, aka Gaza, look what happens. Paint and cinderblocks, torched vehicles. Acid. Injuries, called "light" by the same who would call them "serious" if done by Palestinians. Who is really to blame? The 25 year old who doesn't want to go home, scarred for life, by acid? Or with stitches from a brick? Or the mother who lets her child throw acid at the officer? Shouldn't they go into Amona thinking the same would happen?

Parents have a duty to make sure their children don't go to these violent "demonstrations." If they do, the police have to react. If a 10 year old Palestinian throws a rock, soldiers have a right to react. The same applies here. That they are children doesn't give them special immunity. No reaction courts anarchy, there's no need to listen to the lawful orders of the government if you won't be punished. And if you really believe resistance is warranted, then you must be prepared for the consequences.

And maybe, just maybe, the Rabbi's message would have resonated with more people if he didn't provide such a distorted, one sided view on what's happening. Maybe he should have spoken about parental responsibility instead. God knows we need more of that.

Update: CWY has a great post, with great commenting by Ezzie, Chardal and others, on this very subject. I wouldn't go so far as to say the protesters should consider themselves lucky they weren't shot, but its not out of the realm of possibility. I know if someone threw a brick at me and I had a gun, I'd pull the trigger as soon as I had a target.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Science & Torah - 2nd Edition

As mentioned previously, the new edition of Making of a Godol is available at the YU Seforim Sale. Notably, neither MOAG (2nd edition) nor Anatomy of a Ban have caused much controversy.

Also, as Gil noted, he's working on R. Slifkin's Science and Torah before a new version/reprinting of Mysterious Creatures is done.

So, will the new Science and Torah cause as much controversy? I'll bet not.

Those who came out against Slifkin for political purposes, to protect their status and stature, will be able to point to previous actions, say they tried, and leave it be.
The others, the true believers, those who truly want to burn his books, they've been minimized. Shown to be out of touch. Sure, we'll get a couple of small outcries, it might not even appear on the radar.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

SOY Seforim Sale

Last night I stopped off at the SOY Seforim Sale, where I had the pleasure to meet a couple of bloggers from the J-Blogosphere. There's a new translation (copyright 2006) of Kol Dodi Dofek out. The spine of the book even has the new YU not-a-logo-logo, aka the YU "flame." Not that this is an example, but to paraphrase a fellow blogger, anything with the name of the Rav on it will sell well, no matter how bad the book.

I haven't made my purchases yet, but there did seem to be many interesting books. Making of a Gadol is an obvious choice, if you have $105 to spend. The new JPS mikraot gedolot translation for Shemos is there, as is the Ariel chumash, which translates Onkelos too.

More blogging to come soon. Lot of things happening.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Birthright II

I'd like to dissect the comments from Heshy and the Sabra on my Birthright? post of last week. I encourage all to read what they wrote (Heshy, the Sabra).

Heshy says Birthright is worth it because, if even one person becomes religious, the program will have been beneficial. For argument's sake, we'll assume that Birthright has never driven someone off of becoming frum (and since our Yeshivas do that regularly, its by no means a simple assumption to make).

Is it really worth it? Let's say only one person becomes religious out of it. Couldn't the millions of dollars spent have been used to lower tuition, provide currently religious children with a better education, feed the poor, or address other social concerns? Perhaps instead of being mekarev one individual, the money could have helped 10 children not go off the derech.

I mean all of this in two ways: The first, is that if one child became religious from Birthright, I'm not sure it would be worth it, assuming it were a kiruv organization. The second is that the money could be used in a much better (more efficient) fashion, even if making one person frum was the end result of all Birthright.

theSabra argues that we'll never know the impact that Birthright might have on a single individual. Of course we don't. But we also don't know the impact you'll have on leaving your house in the morning, buying that bagel, or skipping your chavrusa. It might have great consequences, or it might have terrible consequences. Birthright can also be both a positive or a negative experience. But we generally don't operate on the slim possibility that one individual might have an experience which changes him or the world. We use averages, we balance.

Heshy also misses the point that the money may not be spent on non-Jewish causes otherwise, but may be used more efficiently in other Jewish causes (I'm not addressing whether the funding of only Jewish causes is a good idea or not).

Generally, I think Birthright is worth it. But its by no means a simple answer.

Lost Voice

I managed to catch a cold over Shabbos. No stuffy nose, just a headache and chills, along with difficulty sleeping motzei shabbos. By Sunday all that remained was a headache, and a voice which disapeared.
Today I still can't talk much. Of course, that meant that I had to get called on in one of my classes. To the question of "Can you help out X (a fellow classmate)" I had to repeat "Not really" a couple of times before the professor heard me.

But anyway, the next post or two will respond to comments on my Birthright post...stay tuned

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Recently I caught up with two friends who went on Birthright in January. Married, but not religious, it was the first time they had gone to Israel. The most impressionable moment? The Western Wall.

So we met. We exchanged pictures (I brought pictures from recent visits), discussed Israeli culture, where they had been, etc etc. Towards the end, I asked the one question I really wanted an answer to.

"So, do you plan on going back to visit?"
"Well, its expensive. But we definitely want to bring our kids there." When they have kids, that is.

Is it worth it? Thousands of dollars spent on these just these two, millions of dollars collectively, so that what? In 20 years they show up again with their kids? They just spent ten days touring, on buses and in motels, unable to speak (for the most part) with locals. Heritage? Yes. But really just a fun trip.

Some may return. Some may even move. But to many others its a free ten day vacation, filled with partying and drinking, while visiting their "heritage".

Worth it?