Monday, April 30, 2007

Recent searches

- "Friar Yid." At your service.

- "Satmar April 13 2007." A day that will live in infamy. Something involving the rebbe's ghost, no doubt.

- "Buckner Brothers." Not too bright.

- "Meir Gross New York NY." I had a cousin whose last name was Gross. His dream was to open a restaurant where he could be head chef. He was going to call it "Gross Foods." Strangely enough, this never got off the ground.

- "Jerusalem Essene Lag B'Omer." Nothing says fun times like getting a haircut without washing your hands.

- "Question Game for Lab Baomer 2nd grade." Why on this night do we light things on fire? And whose bright idea was it to combine a pilgrimage holiday with bow & arrows?

- "Twelve-year old boy decapitating American spy video." I heard about this. I'm not a fan.

- "Passover Observances Ripping Toilet Paper." Look, I'm just going to come out and say it. Either you can eat cardboard for eight days, or you can pre-rip toilet paper so you don't rip on Shabbos. But it's really unfair to make people do both, especially since following the first one necessarily means you have to do much, much more of the second one. Can the new Sanhedrin work on this?

- "Religious Jews Bleach." Is this bleach kosher for Passover? I'm afraid that my Shmuley might drink it and thereby accidentally eat kitniyot (may it not happen for 120 years). Oh, it's certified Tablet K? Sorry, we don't hold by them.

- "Sayed Imam Abdul-Azziz el-Sharif." Wrong blog, dude.

- "Demonizing the Mentally Ill Virginia." You know what really demonizes the mentally ill? Discriminating against them by denying them their constitutional right to carry a gun. At the very least, they should get a sling and very sharp rocks.

- "Yid." I find that offensive. Maybe they tolerate that kind of language over at Heeb or Kike-Monthly, but not here, dillhole.

- "David T Friar Mac." This sounds like the worst rap duo over. Even worse than the improv troupe that once came to my high school to teach us the importance of recycling and looking both ways before we crossed the street.

- "Lazer Abir." I have a forthcoming post about Abir. I have a source on the inside who's going to help me break this whole stupidity wide open.

- "Will Farah." Joseph's younger, hopefully significantly less douchebaggy brother. You've seen the rest, now try the best. Try our new, mustacheless model!

- "Robert Spencer Inaccurate About the Crusades." Pretty much. I perused one of Spencer's books in a Barnes & Noble once. He seemed to suggest that the Jews and Muslims had that whole getting-massacred-by-Crusaders thing coming, which makes me suspect he has his head up his ass. Not to be biased or anything.

- "Tremoglie Change the Culture Save Some Lives." Because unlike Conservatives, Liberalism would be happier if we were all dead. Just like on that bumper sticker I saw.

- "How Christians Are Treated Within the RIAA." I'm going to assume that the RIAA treats everybody like dirt regardless of whether they're stealing Christian rock or the newest pearls of wisdom from Jeff Foxworthy.

- "King Harold and Masada." Few people know that the actual site of the Battle of Stamford Bridge was Masada. This has long been covered up, but thanks to a new documentary by the History Channel, "Harold or Chaim? The true story of Masada," this will all be revealed soon.

- "Original Aish Nude Poses." Just when I thought the Internet couldn't get hotter.

- "Bobover Toilet Paper." What is it with you people and the shit jokes? Get a hobby.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Good, but...

Chabad commemorated the 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by airlifting 16 Jewish children from Ukraine and Belarus Israel.

Not only is this a super-snazzy way to make aliyah (in your face, Exodus!), it's also potentially life-saving:

Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl (CCOC) airlifted 16 Jewish children from the irradiated danger zones in Belarus and Ukraine to Israel Wednesday.

“We are marking this sad anniversary by taking action,” said CCOC Director Yossie Raichik. “While the world has moved on to the latest headline, radiation from Chernobyl is still wreaking disease and death. The world has forgotten these children. Today, we gave 16 of them a healthy lease on life. We must relentlessly focus attention on their plight. Tomorrow, we must, and we will, continue to alleviate their pain.”

That's very nice, but I can't help wondering something: what about everybody else there? Do they at least get radiation suits? How about cooperating with the Ukrainians and Belarussians to help evacuate the residents of the radiation zones (whether Jewish or not) so at least they aren't getting SICKER? If this is really the humanitarian crisis you're making it out to be, why not just help them MOVE?

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate helping kids not die of radiation poisoning as much as the next guy, I just don't see why they're only saving the kids. If these areas are so dangerous, why not get everybody out of there? I assume that's what they'd do if these people were living near an active volcano.

Is the article exaggerating the actual danger in order to justify Chabad's presumably apparently extremely cost-ineffective aliyah drive (which, I'm sure entirely incidentally, makes for great publicity)? Hard to tell. I'm just saying: if it's really that bad, why aren't they taking the parents too? Why split up the families? If you're already chartering planes to Israel, why not just toss grandma in the back with the luggage? And this way, you'd save money on care-givers!

I just don't get it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Post-Disengagement Questions

As some of you may know, I supported (from afar, of course), the Gaza Disengagement in 2005. For a number of reasons, I thought that the idea was good, in theory (but then most things are), and thought that if nothing else, it might demonstrate to the world that Israel was serious about wanting peace. I did not hold much hope about it turning the Palestinian tide, though I had been optimistic that at least it would lead to an improvement in relations.

This has obviously not happened. Mortar attacks on areas bordering Gaza have increased dramatically, and there seems to be little indication from the Palestinian government that the Disengagement has improved Israel's standing in their eyes.

This is very unfortunate, and speaks to Sharon and Olmert's strategic assessment. Even if you believe, as I do, that the Disengagement, in some ways, was necessary, because Israel needs to get used to the idea that it's not going to be able to hold on to all the land it has, that one day, it will need to give the Palestinians large sections of the West Bank, there are still very large problems with what happened here.

The biggest issue, in my view, is the treatment of the evacuees after the Disengagement. The fact that many of them have yet to receive permanent housing almost two years after the fact is simply shameful. Even if you thought the Disengagement was the best thing ever or the most important decision in Israel's Palestinian policy since 67 (whether because it was a necessary step towards achieving peace with the Palestinians, or, in Sharon's view, because it helped put "formaldehyde" on the Road Map and other international pressure), the fact is, that the government has forgotten, deliberately, about thousands of its own citizens. Citizens that it encouraged, economically and politically, to live in Gaza in the first place. It has been pointed out that when Begin organized the withdraw from Sinai, he built homes for the settlers FIRST. Why was this not done? Even if everything had gone the way it has, Israel could at least hold its head high if it had made a place for the Gazans. But it did not. This is a violation of trust. I could justify forcibly evicting the settlers, I could justify crushing their dreams of settling the land, in destroying their homes and livelihood. I could even justify the lack of any real national debate or referendum. It was a bad situation, but I could live with it, especially since I didn't have to look them in the eye. They couldn't stay there any more; that was it.

But shafting them once they were back in their home, being lied to and given the run-around by their own government? That's unacceptable. You can't take them out of Gaza and dump them in a tent village and leave them to their own devices. There is an obligation here. And, yeah, plans take time to implement, etc. But come on. It didn't take this long to build settlements in Gaza or the West Bank. The government's only too happy to give assistance when it's strategically advantageous to them (Ma'alei Adumim, anyone?), but on this, nothing. It's crap. The government has a chance to live up to its promises, get some brownie points, and actually build housing somewhere where they WON'T get yelled at for a change. What's the hold-up? Are you worried the Bedouin will start suicide-bombing because you're taking all the good desert?

Here's an idea: why not house the settlers in kibbutzim? It worked for Elei Sinai. We all know the settlers know about agriculture, and they aren't afraid of hard work. Maybe I'm wrong, but I've been under the impression for a while that the kibbutzim are mostly dying, largely sustained by donations, tourists and Americans in Israel for a year or a few months who work for free. Surely it would be better for all involved for the former Gazans to live in real homes and recreate communities and lives, and in return they could help sustain the kibbutzim, if only until permanent housing is built for them. No, living in kibbutzim wouldn't be ideal, particularly not when people are so eager to get their lives back on track and have their own homes again. But it would be a job, a roof, and a community. It wouldn't force the Gazans to become criminals.

This isn't a left or a right thing. It isn't a religious or secular thing. It isn't an American or Israeli thing. It's not even a Jewish thing.

This is about integrity and not being a total soulless bastard. This is about keeping the promises you make. Israel gains nothing by lying to itself and everyone around it. At this point no one believes anything from the government, and in part because they're always talking out of both sides of their mouth. Give the settlers homes. Enforce the rule of law. Show you mean what you say.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I almost officially join the J-blogosphere.

Soccer Dad was kind enough to include me in this week's Haveil Havalim, which means something in Hebrew I'm neither educated nor interested in enough to bother looking up (I gather it's something like "smorgasbord", only kosher).

Let's see where this leads.

Ted Byfield, Dishonest Sack of Crap

Conservative Canadian commentator Ted Byfield is pleased as punch at the "Right-Thinking" of a Canadian Lefty, a Mr. Rick Salutin. Byfield saluted Salutin:

Still the media, possibly reflecting the public rage, demanded a culprit. The university administration must have been negligent; fire the president. Or the university security staff; fire the chief. But what can a university do? Expel every "loner" introvert? Deny admission to anyone ever treated by a psychiatrist? Prohibit mental "depression"? Make classes so "secure" that getting in would be like boarding an airliner? None of this made sense. By the week's end, even the Canadian commentariat was acknowledging by its silence that it could neither explain the tragedy nor convincingly blame anybody.

But this is most distressing for them, because along with their new secular society comes the implicit offer: "We will keep you safe in this brave new world, and all social problems will be solved." At Virginia Tech, they didn't, and they weren't. Nor, barring a massive change in societal attitudes, does it ever seem likely.

This thesis was lucidly set forth by a single commentator, and a most improbable one. The experts of our technologically advanced society, he wrote, have proven "ineffective in the crucial task of protecting the community from danger, compared to less professional players of earlier eras: family, friends, community, religion. These societies seemed better than ours at containing the violent, archaic impulses of individuals."

Their control "was based on an entire social fabric that was hierarchical and patriarchal. It included a religion institutionalized in churches and a moral code that tolerated sex within narrow limits. Parental authority was backed by religion (honor thy parents) and by sanctions such as the threat of hell."

"All this was internalized in a sense of guilt and shame over violations. There was reverence for country and a sense of debt to those who died in war 'for us.' There was a penal code that didn't stand much tinkering in the name of civil rights." Great wars provided an outlet for suppressed violence. Lynching was "institutionalized." Even "dissenters – artists, rebels, etc. – could feel a certain security that their acts would not lead to total social breakdown and chaos, frightening even to themselves."

That by-gone society, without doubt, would have blamed Cho himself for the slaughter, attributing it to a single cause: human evil. And that society "worked." What we're doing now may not.

And who was this singular spokesman? Not some rabid, rightwing traditionalist (like, say, me), but none other than Globe and Mail columnist Rick Salutin: ex-Marxist labor union leader and long-time voice of the left. What strange bedfellows these tragic and changing times do make.

This would be more effective (or interesting) if Byfield wasn't cherry-picking his quotes and ignoring the actual argument being made. Your first clue should have been that, per Hughes' strange portrayal of it, Salutin seems to be including lynching (and "great wars") among his list of positive traits about the past.

Let's take a closer look at this. Not surprisingly,
Byfield decided against including a link to the original Salutin article. Check it out.

I tend to agree that there are uncomfortable issues about authority here. Take the role of faculty and staff at Virginia Tech. I found them impressive. They showed concern, identified the risky student and got him to a psychiatric facility. His English profs removed him from class but tutored him. Yet they were ineffective in the crucial task of protecting the community from danger compared to the less professional players of earlier eras: family, friends, community, religion. Those societies seemed better than ours at containing the violent, anarchic impulses of individuals.

I know this sounds awfully traditional. Let me try to save myself from nostalgia for the fifties (or 1500s) by saying what I think "worked" in earlier times. The ability to keep the dangerous impulses of individuals under control was based on an entire social fabric that was hierarchical and patriarchal. It included religion, institutionalized in churches; and a moral code that tolerated sex within narrow limits. Parental authority was backed by religion (honour thy parents) and by sanctions such as the threat of hell.

All this was internalized in a sense of guilt and shame over violations. There was reverence for country, and a sense of debt to those who died in war "for us." There was a penal code that didn't stand much tinkering in the name of civil rights, and a set of formal outlets for violent impulses that had been repressed. These included regular wars on a massive scale, as well as institutionalized racism and lynching. In such societies, dissenters -- artists, rebels etc. -- could feel a certain security that their acts would not lead to total social breakdown and chaos frightening even to themselves. It all "worked" in the sense that it largely kept the lid on menacing impulses, or channelled them elsewhere than the local schoolyard or college. With the breakdown in recent decades of this fabric, particular players can try to impose controls and limits -- parents, schools, teachers, courts, governments -- but they will not be nearly as effective as they were within a total framework that no longer exists.

The human and emotional costs were monstrous. People were dulled to their own experience and each other. I would not want to restore this set of constraints if one could, and one can't. You can't put that lid back on again. You can only try and fail, with further disastrous consequences.

The issue is now: Can our society devise a set of social controls that prevent explosions like Virginia Tech, but do not require severe repression and an impossible return to the undesirable traits of earlier eras? ...Can you have a non-racist, non-patriarchal, non-sexually repressive, non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian yet orderly society that manages to control its potentially aberrant members? What would it look like and how would you get there? That's the utopian project for our time.

Hmmm. Byfield takes the first part of Salutin's analysis, where he sets up his argument, and ignores the rest, where he actually examines what worked about the old forms of social control, why they wouldn't work today, and how we can try to make new ones relevant to modern times. Only an illiterate fool would read Salutin's piece and conclude that he's complimenting the social repression of bygone years. I guess intellectual honesty isn't a big priority for Ted.

Edited to give Ted the correct surname. Thanks to Terry Krepel of ConWebWatch for pointing out the error, and all apologies to Mr. Hughes, who I'm sure was a totally nice guy once you got to know him.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Fun with WND

We can always count on WND for some cheap laughs. Joseph Farah starts us off by advocating a "Christian homeland" in the Middle East, because apparently what that place really needs is another group of folks trying to get a slice of the pie. Farah rightfully decries the disgusting abuse of Christians in Lebanon, Iraq and the West Bank (note to American Christians: this is what REAL persecution is like. Take your complaints about "Happy Holidays" and shove 'em), though it's unclear exactly what his solution is.

The massive exodus from formerly Christians towns like Bethlehem and Nazareth began seven years ago, coinciding with the escalation of terror that came with the 2000 intifada that continues today. It's not just a war on Israel. It's a war to impose Islam as the law of the land.

Well, yeah, except when it's an attempt to create a weird goulash of Palestinian nationalism and Marxism. But I guess that's pretty nitpicky.

Muslim terrorists have intentionally placed Christians in the crossfire between them and Israel. They did that when they seized the Church of the Nativity, nearly destroying it, defecating in the hallways, smashing statues and stealing precious objects.

To be fair, I think the whole pooping in the hallways-thing may have had more to do with them being in the Church for over a month.

It seems like every political, ethnic and religious group in the world today wants – and eventually gets – its own country.

Since we're redrawing the map of the Middle East, I propose we start planning for the creation of a Christian state. That would truly serve the interests of peace and freedom in the region.

Because that's worked so well in the past? And where exactly would this homeland be? And isn't there already a Christian homeland somewhere in Italy? And why, exactly, do Christians need a homeland? Why not just have them move to the "one democracy" in the area, Israel? There are already a bunch of Christians living there, and aside from the occasional stoning, I hear they get along pretty well. Besides, this slippery slope argument can only end badly- before you know it, the Druze and Zoroastrians will start getting grabby, too.

Muslims have their claims to the Middle East, all gained, by the way, through military conquest.

Jews have their claims on the Middle East, their only real homeland, rich in historical and spiritual heritage.

Christians, too, have their claims on the Middle East. It was there that Jesus was born, ministered and died on the cross. It was where His Gospel was first preached. It was there His followers found their first converts.

Wait, wait, so the Muslims' claim on the Middle East isn't cool because they got it through conquest, even though their religion was founded there and the first converts and schools of philosophy were centered around it. Christians, on the other hand, should get a country in the M.E. because their religion was founded there and the first converts and schools were centered there, before dashing off to convert the rest of the world, and, oh yeah, become aligned with the super-power of the age (Rome, anyone?), which then became the mechanism by which they spread Christianity across the globe and back to the M.E., incidentally, through what means, again? Oh yeah, conquest. Brilliant, Joe.

It was from there that they turned the world upside down in a way that ultimately led to the birth of Western Civilization.

In your face, Hammurabi! This is what happens when you write your code on something stupid, like cuneiform tablets, instead of nice things, like gilded onionskin pages. (No word on where scrolls wind up.)

Should we just forget about the Christians of the Middle East?

Should we simply allow them to be tormented and persecuted?

Should we stand by while they are driven from their homes?

Or should we do what we have done for so many other people in recent years – recognize their right to self-determination, freedom and safety and help them to build their own homeland in the Middle East?

Hmm. Could this be the dawning of a new political movement? Will Farah be the Christian Herzl? Will this induce him to grow cooler facial hair? We'll keep an eye on it. (Frankly, I prefer these guys for awesomely loopy Christian homeland ideas.)

WND gives us a few more examples of Conservatives using the VT massacre for their own pet gun arguments. Which I'm informed is totally different from what liberals are doing, apparently because Hal Lindsey says so. In addition to bashing libs for gun control AND exploiting the tragedy, Hal manages to get a shot in at violent video games, comparing them to the flight simulators that the 9/11 hijackers trained on to blow up the WTC.

In the same way, many of the computer games played for hours on end by some young people teach the tactics and reflexive skills needed for killing large numbers of people.

These games are much worse than the violent movies and TV series that feature violence. At least they have a script that attaches some semblance of rationale for why the killings are taking place. But the violent computer games bring no ethics or morals into the equation. You win by blowing apart in bloody gun battles as many people as possible. Normal human sensitivities and compassion are dulled over time by this simulation.

This is especially true in the case of disturbed and alienated young minds that have not been taught any concept of parental discipline, love and biblical morality.

Sounds like an army recruiter's wet dream. Why do you hate the military, Hal?

Lindsey concludes his analysis, if you can call it that, by throwing a bunch of statistics at his readers he clearly cribbed from an email list somewhere. Maybe it's just my intense dislike of Lindsey tainting my evaluation, but his list of "coincidences" reads like not-particularly-convincing faux-fulfilled prophecies, whether from the Bible, Nostradamus, or that homeless guy down the street. No kidding, gun control helps totalitarian regimes kill people. So does totalitarianism. So do guns. So do boots. Does that mean boots are bad and are likely to lead to government-sanctioned genocide? You can make the case for the Second Amendment without invoking specters of the gulag and Khmer Rouge. I absolutely agree that the most important component to stopping- or at least diminishing- school shootings and the like is to focus on the individuals who are likely to commit these crimes- terrorism, as some astute commentators have called it. But saying the way to do this is "by seeking to reform the minds of our citizens with biblical morality and ethics" seems sort of out of left field. Teaching the Bible in school probably isn't going to do much on this issue, Hal. Better to try to ID disturbed kids and try to get them counseling, therapy, or, worst comes to worst, institutionalized. I'm not saying preaching at them might not help, too. I'm just not willing to risk somebody's life on it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ongoing Idiocy

Conservatives are now yelping about how liberals are "abusing" the Virginia Tech tragedy to agitate for their anti-gun agenda. This would be more effective if Conservatives weren't doing the same exact thing. Cut the B.S., guys; we can all be exploitative jerks together.

Fred Thompson: The problem was VT's no-guns-on-campus policy.

When people capable of performing acts of heroism are discouraged or denied the opportunity, our society is all the poorer. And from the selfless examples of the passengers on Flight 93 on 9/11 to Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who sacrificed himself to save his students earlier this week, we know what extraordinary acts of heroism ordinary citizens are capable of.

Stay tuned next week, when Fred will propose letting us all get concealed-carry permits for airplanes.

The Baltimore Sun has another example of this sort of argument. And here's another.

Then there are the weirder examples. Supreme Bozo Michael Tremoglie blames the massacre on liberalism.

The first evidence that liberal ideas either contributed to, or were the cause, of the VA Tech tragedy is that of the very words of the murderer, Cho Seung-Hui. A videotape and some writings he made before, and during the killing spree, which he sent to NBC, revealed his motivation. Among his reasons were his resentment of "rich kids," and their "Mercedes," their "golden necklaces," their "trust funds," their "debaucheries" and their "hedonistic" lifestyle.

This hatred of the "rich" is right out of the leftist and liberal Democratic Party philosophy of class warfare. It is they who are always demonizing the wealthy - claiming they want to starve the poor, or send the poor to war for oil so they can profit from it. Democrat leaders like Charlie Rangel, Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean, among others, routinely portray the wealthy as greedy and evil.

The second substantiation that liberal concepts caused the massacre was that the murderer, despite having a history of criminally insane behavior, was not incarcerated. Almost 18 months ago, a Virginia court order, dated December 13, 2005, stated the murderer "is mentally ill and in need of hospitalization, and presents an imminent threat to self and others as a result of mental illness..." He was taken by police to a psychiatric facility, Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center, where the next day Dr. Roy Crouse, a psychiatrist found that he was "mentally ill," yet did "not present an imminent danger to himself/others" and did, "not require involuntary hospitalization." (This is contradicted by another form signed by a Judge Paul Barnett which states the murderer is a danger to himself, yet recommends outpatient treatment).

The killer was represented by an attorney at that time. This was a requirement established "civil libertarian" attorneys. Indeed the "danger to himself or others" sole criterion for involuntary hospitalization is the direct result of the "civil libertarian" philosophy of not placing mentally ill people in institutions. Indeed, "civil libertarians" are quite proud of the fact that they changed these laws. They rejoice that they caused millions of mentally ill people to roam the streets and make it difficult for them to be arrested. This was essentially codified by a 1975 Supreme Court ruling.

The third proof that liberalism was responsible for the Virginia Tech carnage was the leftwing policy that Va. Tech's campus was a "gun free zone." Guns were not permitted to be carried on campus. Consequently, the students were unable to defend themselves and kill the murderer.

So, because liberals want higher taxes and wealth distribution, support people's right to an attorney, and are uneasy with the thought of everybody packing in a classroom, it's their fault Cho did what he did. Brilliant. Also, is it just me, or don't Republicans also throw around some of that class warfare BS rhetoric, too? I'm especially thinking of the trust fund, fancy-car, debauchery, hedonism stuff. No? Must be my bad memory.

A bunch of commenters are following suit, ridiculing the students for not using their telekinetic powers to stop Cho in his tracks. See X-Men, this is why we have a Danger Room.

Limbaugh blames PC, saying that if Cho was white somebody would have stopped him before he flipped. No news yet on where Rush is getting is information from, aside from his ass.

Michelle Malkin
says Universities have coddled students through such egregious institutions as segregated dorms, PC academic departments, and "safe spaces" for student groups. Those bastards!

Instead of teaching students to defend their beliefs, American educators shield them from vigorous intellectual debate. Instead of encouraging autonomy, our higher institutions of learning stoke passivity and conflict-avoidance.

And as the erosion of intellectual self-defense goes, so goes the erosion of physical self-defense.

You know, as far as prevention arguments go, this one's really terrible. At this the pro-gun doofuses can at least claim that having a weapon could have ACTUALLY changed the situation. Maybe it's my enlarged bleeding heart, but I don't see how co-ed dorms or more intellectual/political diversity (including, I suppose, many more angry debates between College Dems and Reps) on campus would have changed a damn thing here. Would they have quoted the Constitution at him? Robert's Rules? Get real.

Mark Steyn stoops even lower, challenging the masculinity of dead students.

Point one: They’re not “children.” The students at Virginia Tech were grown women and — if you’ll forgive the expression — men.

...Nonetheless, it’s deeply damaging to portray fit fully formed adults as children who need to be protected. We should be raising them to understand that there will be moments in life when you need to protect yourself — and, in a “horrible” world, there may come moments when you have to choose between protecting yourself or others. It is a poor reflection on us that, in those first critical seconds where one has to make a decision, only an elderly Holocaust survivor, Professor Librescu, understood instinctively the obligation to act.

I guess that makes all other Holocaust survivors nothing but girly-men?

And of course, there's John Derbyshire, who blames the victims for not "rushing the guy".

Thank God for Conservatives with brains (and hearts) who police their own.

Incidentally, last night O'Reilly was trying to walk a fine line by yelling (repeatedly) that the federal government should have a court-mandated database which puts violent people on a "no buy list" when gun stores run background checks on them. Frankly, I'm impressed- if a tad amused. I guess the government's good for something, after all.

P.S. Some Conservatives seem irked by the fact that killer was neither Muslim nor an illegal alien, so they're trying their hardest to make him a convenient ideological enemy. Good luck, guys.

Hat-tip: Too Sense.

I spy Al-Zawahiri!

Oops. Wrong one. Oh well, I should still get half-credit. (I wonder if I could use that argument with OBL's sibs?)

Sayed Imam Abdul-Aziz el-Sherif, 57, is leading the "review" which, if concluded with an unequivocal disavowal of violence, could lead to the release of some 3,000 members of Islamic Jihad, Egypt's most violent militant group, according to a lawyer familiar with the process.

In a wider context, the renounciation of violence by a key extremist group like Islamic Jihad would take a big chip off the ideological base of Al Qaeda, although the terror network has dismissed similar reviews in the past as meaningless on the grounds that they took place under the pressure of incarceration.

Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the younger brother of bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, is among the Islamic Jihad leaders advocating the review, according to Montasser el-Zayat, a prominent Islamist lawyer who is familiar with the review by the Islamic Jihad.

The younger al-Zawahiri has been on death row since 1999, but el-Zayat said his sentence was expected to be commuted following a second trial.

Good news? Or disingenuous lip service in exchange for leniency?

Also some interesting parallels to an old post. Not pseudo-Kabbalah cool, but a little weird.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

No, Bad!

Look what you did on the Internet! No, bad loopy Kabbalist blogger! We do that outside, in the bushes, where no one can see.

Seriously, I'm trying to respect people's views on Godly plans and "freaky" coincidences and stuff, but... GAH!

Lag B'Omer marks the 33rd day of the Omer, when R' Akiva's students stopped dying. The 32 days prior to Lag B'Omer are a time of judgment. Historically, following the time of judgment, when the students stopped dying, R' Akiva began building up a new student body from only 5 students who survived the dying time. 24,000 students of R' Akiva died.

There were 32 deaths, 33 deaths including the shooter, at VA Tech. One of those 32-33 deaths was an Israeli professor, Livui Librescu, a shoah survivor, who died protecting his students during the dying time - unlike R' Akiva, whose students died while he survived the dying time. The number of deaths ends at 33 - like Lag B'Omer.

Perhaps Livui Librescu, in some manner, is the tikun of R' Akiva. Thousands of Akiva's students died. Livui's students lived - all of them. Professor Librescu rescued all his students.

You have officially poked me in the eye with your Divine Phallus. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Colbert owes me money somehow, I'm sure of it

Sex, Lies and Video Games

In June 2003, two teenage brothers, William and Joshua Buckner, shot up several cars driving along a Tennessee highway. One person was killed and several others seriously injured. While the boys accepted “full responsibility”, the victims’ families were quick to blame another culprit: Grand Theft Auto Three, a video game the brothers said they were emulating. The families immediately filed a lawsuit against the company that developed the game. The families’ lawyer, Jack Thompson, told reporters at a press conference that they wanted to “send a message to …the…video game industry that if they're going to…market adult-rated games to children…then we're going to take their blood money from them.” Some nay-sayers were quick to “pooh-pooh” this theory, saying things like, “You shouldn’t blame someone’s lack of intelligence or moral fiber on a video game”, or “Money won’t bring back your loved ones,” or even, “You’re a real scumbag, Mr. Thompson, how do you sleep at night?”

I, however, disagreed with this consensus; whether we want to admit it or not, video games do influence us. I remember back when I first played “Doom”. It was a different time, then, and children were more innocent, without a care in the world- except for me. I was convinced that I was the last surviving member of a futuristic Marine force, with a vendetta against homicidal aliens. It’s painful to recall that for months, no man-killing Martian within two states of me was safe. Things didn’t improve with time: shortly after beginning “Streetfighter”, I found myself constantly picking fights with foreigners- it didn’t matter if they were Chinese, Russian, or developmentally-challenged mutates from Brazil, somehow I knew I had to beat them up for the betterment of mankind. Don’t even get me started on “Wolfenstein: 3D.” I know, we all thought killing Nazis was a good thing, but it can come back to haunt you- for instance, at your murder trial.

Some argue that violent games have always existed; after all, Baby Boomers grew up playing with real guns and other weapons, and they never had trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality. This argument is flawed, however, because today’s games have something that didn’t exist in the 50’s: Graphics. Yes, while little Timmy and Bobby may have spent hours playing “war” by throwing bricks or shooting BBs at each other, they never sat in front of a TV and shot an alien’s head off, watching pixilated blood splatter everywhere. Sorry, folks, but killing animated Demons in “Diablo II” and playing “Salem Witch Trials” in your backyard are two very different things, and it’s obvious which one is worse: Diablo II.

If only America had followed Australia’s lead and banned GTA 3 outright, this tragedy might have been avoided. Instead of imitating a game involving shooting cars, the Buckner brothers might have chosen something more wholesome, like the classic Atari 2600 game, “Custer’s Revenge”. Yes, while it may not have been big on graphics or plot, it did have something all decent and moral Americans could support: General George Armstrong Custer sexually assaulting a Native-American woman (coincidentally named “Revenge”) tied to a cactus. Not only did this ground-breaking game show that romance has a place in video games; it also taught men about persistence- Custer doesn’t just “get the girl”; he has to avoid arrows, too. Back then, companies cared about releasing a quality product, and the developers worked hard to make the game historically accurate by thoroughly researching and including specific details from Custer’s fascinating life; for instance, his noted passion for hot, steamy cactus sex. (Hear that, GTA 3? It’s a little thing called taking responsibility.) Experts note that in the twenty years since Custer’s Revenge was released, it has never been linked to a single crime.

But don’t just take my word that GTA 3 is “evil” – let’s ask the objective folks over at “Christian Spotlight”. According to Scott, their “Christian gaming reviewer”, GTA 3 urges players to commit “virtual sins.” Not only does it have “sleazy-looking gang leaders”, but also “immoral gunplay”- as opposed to the other kind, found exclusively in Charlton Heston movies. While the game’s graphics are good, “all the work involves committing some kind of atrocious sin for profit”, and therefore Scott was forced to give it a lowly “1 out of 5 Christian rating”, much less than Christian-friendly games like “Marble Drop” and “Luigi’s Mansion”. While Luigi’s Mansion did contain “questionable” things like ghosts and Italian people, they were apparently not offensive enough to violate the “Christian Gamer Code”. I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but it’s your call, Scott.

So pay attention, parents! Monitor your children’s games! Keep them away from violence, sex, swearing, drugs, lying, or anything else resembling reality! ...After all, that’s what the news is for.

I was doing Colbert Schtick before it was cool.

Check it out.

Revere-Ageism Hard at Work

I’ll admit that when I first heard senior citizen criminals claiming they couldn’t get fair trials because of discrimination, I didn’t take them seriously. I didn’t believe that “ageism” was a real problem. But apparently I was wrong. Some time ago, in New York City, a certain special-interest group was able to circumvent the law and keep a reprehensible felon out of jail. This time, however, it came from an unfamiliar source: the powerful Children’s Lobby.

While many have not heard of them, they have in fact been working for years to give children special legal advantages, many of which are clearly discriminatory. Thanks to the Children’s Lobby, hardworking multimillionaire rock stars like Lars Ulrich have been shafted yet again, as a chronic criminal-offender is let off with a slap on the wrist. The perpetrator? One Brianna LaHara, age twelve. Ms. LaHara admitted to sharing over 1,000 music files over a three-month period, yet was allegedly “shocked” to find out that she had been named as a defendant in a 261-person civil suit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America.

What I can’t decide is which is more outrageous: that LaHara thought she could get away with flouting the law or that the media and millions of sympathetic Americans actually believed her. Within days, the country was in an uproar, and the media was quick to show its pro-children bias; for instance, multiple news sources used the highly inaccurate description of “Little Brianna”, despite the fact that LaHara is actually considered to be of average height for a twelve-year-old. Additionally, many seemed to blindly accept her “story” that she thought that it was “OK” to download music simply because her mother paid a service fee. Had any of those so-called reporters actually investigated her background, they would have found that LaHara was an honor student at St. Gregory the Great Catholic School. Did LaHara really expect us to believe that an honor student wouldn’t know that file sharing was declared illegal under the 1984 Supreme Court Sony Betamax case? Or were we to believe that St. Gregory’s simply doesn’t teach that in seventh grade? Once again, the Children’s Lobby was trying to play us for fools, implying that simply because LaHara couldn’t watch the movie “Holes” without an adult that she shouldn’t be held responsible for her actions.

But even more shocking was the public support of this admitted delinquent. All of a sudden, it seemed that age is supposed to be a major factor in determining guilt. Wow, what a great idea, Children’s Lobby! Forget evidence and justice; let’s just let criminals off the hook because of their age. Sorry, but if a 14-year-old can get the death penalty for murder, then I think “little Brianna” should be able to face the music, too. Instead, in a mockery of justice, the RIAA was shamed into settling for a pathetic $ 2,000 fine. That comes out to an insignificant two dollars a song- laughable, when one remembers LaHara broke the law an incredible one-thousand times. Imagine what would happen if a sixty-year-old had accidentally crashed his car into one-thousand Seven-Elevens? The outcry would be deafening. Yet somehow, because LaHara is a “minor”, and she “only” stole from the music industry, people are acting as though she should get a free ride. There’s a word for that: sickening.

As if keeping a twelve-year-old out of jail wasn’t bad enough, now LaHara’s supporters are trying to discredit the RIAA and convince people that somehow it is at fault. Wayne Rosso, president of a “peer-to-peer” Internet service, even stooped so low as to compare RIAA executives with Joe McCarthy and Joseph Stalin. This despite the fact that the RIAA has repeatedly stated that it doesn’t “have any personal information on any of the individuals” named in the lawsuit. I.e., not only was the suit not biased, it was the most not biased it could possibly be! What more do kleptomaniac-lovers like Rosso want?

To add insult to injury, just days after the RIAA settlement became public, the Child Lobby struck again: in a scant five hours, an online raffle raised enough money to pay for all of Brianna’s RIAA fine- thereby leaving her free to contemplate further online thievery with no fear of punishment. It’s clear what lesson pre-teen criminals are going to glean from this: if you whine about your birth certificate and pander to the media, you can commit nearly any crime and get away with it. Where does this slippery slope end? Today, it’s a twelve-year-old getting off for file-sharing. Tomorrow, it could be a nine-year-old avoiding prison for decapitating a nun. End reverse-ageism now!

(Paid for in part by the AARP.)

Stuff from Israel I missed

I've been busy lately. It should improve within a few weeks- a month, tops. (Fingers crossed.)

Anyway, a quick google search reveals interesting stuff going on in Israel while my mind's been otherwise occupied. Like this:

Rabbis in Israel have announced that the prohibition against kitniyot- legumes- on Passover, which Ashkenazi Jews follow but Sephardic Jews do not, does not apply to Jews in Israel. Why?

In a ruling that was published a few days ago, the rabbis of the institute, David Bar-Hayim, Yehoshua Buch, and Chaim Wasserman, claim that citizens of Israel are neither Ashkenazim or Sephardim (Jews of Spanish or North African descent), rather they are “Jews of Eretz Yisrael”, and therefore they should abide by the custom of the land and not by former customs.

Wait, what? Ok, fine, that seems kind of weird, but whatever gets people out of subsisting on cardboard for a week.

“When a person moves to a different place his old customs become invalid, and he accepts the customs of his new place” Rabbi Bar-Hayim told ynet. “And such it should be with all the Jews who have come to Israel in the previous generations”. The rabbi emphasizes that the prohibition of kitniyot is dependant upon the place and not the person.

Really? Because that's not what I've heard. I've always been under the impression that you're supposed to honor your family's customs regardless of where you end up.

Rabbi Bar-Chaim also claims that the Ashkenazi authorities are trying to repress this information. So there's a cover-up and he's a dissident. How exciting.
According to him the leading Ashkenazi rabbis, such as Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, refuse to allow kitniyot for philosophical reasons and not because of their halakhic (legal) outlook.

“They maintain that Ashkenazi Jews have to remain this way on every matter forever, as if we were still in exile” says the rabbi. He claims that when it comes to Jewish law the rabbis can and should make rulings and the public has to listen, but rabbis do not have the power or legitimacy to determine a person’s identity. “If someone wants to see himself as a Jew in Israel and not as an Ashkenazi Jew - he is permitted to change directions”.

And even though the custom has not cracked in over 800 years, Rabbi Bar-Hayim is not waiting for the approval of the major rabbis. “The custom became invalid with the immigrations to Israel, they simply forgot to tell the Ashkenazim” he says, “ We are just letting them know”.

The Religious Court of Machon Shilo feels that there is a need to redefine the identity of the citizens of this country as “Jews of Israel”, so that we will be a nation and not a collection of exiles. According to them, this is not just the case in the matter of kitniyot, but also with regard to the paschal sacrifice and the rebuilding of the temple.

See, you guys are always doing so well, and then you go and throw me curveballs like that. Damn.

Also, the haredim think this guy's nuts.

Rabbi Benjamin-Salomon Hamburger, a haredi historian who heads the Ashkenaz Tradition Institute, represents the haredi approach that calls to preserve the customs of the exile. Hamburger, who defines himself as "super-conservative," has devoted his professional life to researching and maintaining Ashkenazi customs.

"Jewish customs are imbued with the holiness of those who adhered to them throughout the ages," says Hamburger...

Really? Even the Essenes? Well, I guess I don't have to worry about pre-ripping toilet paper before Shabbos...

"Secular Zionists had the tendency of skipping over or ignoring large chunks of Jewish history that did not fit in with their ideology," Hamburger said.

Oh. Wow. That is HYSTERICAL.

However, even he rejects some of the more exotic traditions adopted over the past few centuries by certain Hassidic sects, certain of whom abstain from fish, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and even garlic... But, Hamburger explains, these added prohibitions were products of the times.

"Jews of Galicia lived in horridly squalid living conditions," says Hamburger. "They lacked basic hygiene...Today there is no reason to cling to these stringencies."

Products of the times? Squalid living conditions? Hey Rav Big Mac, surely you realize the horrible slippery slope you're straddling here, right? Once you admit that some of these laws are time and hygiene based, you basically can collapse the whole system!

Ex: With modern refrigeration, there is no reason to fear getting trichinosis from improperly preserved pork. Ergo, bring on the bacon. Similarly, now that people understand that flax and wool ended their bloody gang war back in the 1400s, we really don't need to worry about shatnez.

And speaking of Mordechai Eliyahu, it appears he's decided to join the ranks of other illustrious rabbinic nutballs and opine on how Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves. Eliyahu says the Holocaust happened because Reform Jews pissed God off. Outrageous, of course. Why couldn't he more inclusive like Ovadia Yosef and say it was because of "sinners"? Why do Reform Jews get all the fun? What about all the frum folks who died? Are they just supposed to be collateral damage? Obviously, Eliyahu needs a speech writer- and it doesn't look like Shmuel is a very good one.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Mordechai's son, who is also the chief rabbi of Safed, said his father had no regrets about his comments.

"It is not a coincidence that the Holocaust began in Germany," said Shmuel Eliyahu Tuesday. "Whenever Jews try to act like goyim they are punished. It happened during the Spanish Inquisition and it happened during the Holocaust."

Yeah, and that's totally what brought on, say, the Roman conquest, right? I mean, nothing could be more assimilationist than a Jewish kingdom with Jewish land under Jewish control. I bet those Masada guys didn't even use a mechitzah.

The Reform Movement in Israel filed a complaint against Eliyahu with the police.

Commenting on the police complaint against his father, Shmuel Eliyahu said it reminded him of how German Jews disparaged their Eastern European brothers


Ok, A- your dad's from Iraq by way of Jerusalem. Don't try to co-opt Ashkenazi modes of infighting; use your own history, doof. (Incidentally, check out this comment over on DovBear.)

B- What about when the frumies disparaged, kicked out, or murdered Reformers? Are we going to talk about that? No? I guess not.


Democrats can be Asshats, too.

I try to be even-handed. Usually I fail, more often due to lack of time or interest. But I certainly deplore it when Democrats act badly- particularly since it gives ammo to Republicans.

So let me briefly weigh in on the following issues:

- Don Imus. World-class jackass. Possible misogynist, racist, and general dislikeable douche. IMO, didn't deserve to get fired. Or at least not by coercion through popular outrage. By the same token, wasn't apparently smart enough to help himself avoid it.

Comedians and commentators interviewed over the past several days offered numerous explanations for why Mr. Imus failed the funny test so spectacularly this time, after years of dealing in the same kind of material.
For one thing, they said, the danger was more acute for his show because it confused the kinds of expectations that humor needs to succeed. While Howard Stern’s guests, for example, tend to follow the stripper-bum-drunk-fallen-celebrity continuum fairly closely, Mr. Imus made his name by making his show a forum for serious thought and serious thinkers.
“It really is about expectations when you get down to it,” said Larry Wilmore, a longtime comedy writer who is a correspondent on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” (He is billed as the show’s “senior black correspondent” though he is also its sole black correspondent, and he often uses raced-based humor.)
“I mean you just can’t say, ‘So let’s talk about what’s happening to the economy this week, and up next, nappy-headed hos!,’ ” he said. “People get confused.”
He added that while Mr. Stern and many other white comedians trafficking in race-and-gender-based humor — Sarah Silverman, Sacha Baron Cohen — make it clear to one degree or another that they are playing a role, Mr. Imus has presented himself more or less as Don Imus, a craggy-faced contrarian in a 10-gallon hat.
And while he might have been trying to sling street lingo for its discordant comic effect — as if to say, “Isn’t it ridiculous to hear this coming from a guy who looks like me?” — he was not able to pull it off. Instead, it seemed merely provocative, another sop thrown to his more Neanderthal fans, the kind he has been throwing for years.
“I have a mathematical equation for all this,” said Mr. Wilmore. “White guy plus black slang equals comedy. But here’s where the equation breaks down. White guy plus black slang minus common sense equals tragedy.”
“I think he failed comedically more than anything else,” he added.
As many people have remarked, he also fumbled badly in choosing a target for his joke — a specific and sympathetic target, a come-from-behind women’s basketball team that had just lost a tough championship game. He did not level his lampoon at all black people or all women or, alternately, the kinds of supposedly bulletproof figures used for target practice by the comedy world all the time — politicians, reality-show contestants and celebrities like, for example, Jennifer Lopez.
“That kind of humor works pretty well from below, when you are blasting people who are powerful and rich and who can’t be hurt much,” said Victor Raskin, a professor of English and linguistics at Purdue University and an editor of the International Journal of Humor Research. “But here, it doesn’t work, racist or not.”
Or as the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., put it: “If he had decided to parody the hip-hop world or whomever he got this lingo from, then maybe that would have been funny. But I think his primary goal was to elicit shock, not to make people laugh.”
Some people interviewed suggested that Mr. Imus’s career might have had at least a slim chance of survival if he had parried the attacks by simply being really funny, instead of making the customary rounds of repentance and apologia.
Mr. Kelly cited the example of Ms. Silverman, who was criticized for using an epithet offensive to many Asian-Americans in a joke during “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in 2001. She never apologized and even worked the incident itself into a new comedy bit that continued to use the word — in essence, defending her comedy with comedy (though many viewers were not placated and will never find the joke funny).
Mr. Wilmore said that instead of apologizing Mr. Imus probably “should have said, ‘You know, it’s hard out here for a pimp.’ Or something like that. Say something really funny.”
“It’s his job to remind people that he’s irreverent, and he’s a satirist,” he added. “I certainly would have done that. I’d have tried to entertain my way out of it.”
While I don't think Imus deserved to get fired, from a strategic point of view, his responses all but ensured he'd get canned. This is not to say I'm opposed to people apologizing when they've done wrong, but the trend seems to support folks who act like Ann Coulter- if you refuse to acknowledge you did anything wrong, you've got a better shot of weathering the storm. The real blame here is less on Imus and more on whatever idiots he's got giving him advice, and letting folks like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson (I'm not a fan) control the discourse. Incidentally, lest anyone start ranting about how it's just the left that wants to control speech, I offer you this gem from FOX. Conversely, here are a few examples of liberals who still believe in free speech. Not conclusive, but not to be ignored, either. Ironically, Rosie O'Donnell defended Imus' right to be a jackass, but her enemies at FOX and elsewhere have used the Imus incident as another weapon to beat her over the head with. Interesting. Some more analysis here and here.

Of course, let's also not forget that while we're all wanking off about Imus, real problems in the black community are still getting ignored. Put some of that righteous anger to some good use for a change. Take home message- at the end of the day, free speech good, national distractions bad.

- On the other side of the coin- no, I don't agree with Rosie O'Donnell's 9/11 comments, hopefully for obvious reasons. However it occurs to me that the Fox News crowd is beating this story to death. Yes, Rosie has a following, but there seems to be little indication that her legions of fans are becoming recruited into the 9/11 truth movement or other such nonsense.

- Duke Rape Case. I paid no attention to this. I have much more interesting things going on in my life. However, it looks like Nifong took America for a ride and the media swallowed it whole. Not cool. Throw the book at him. (I'm not fond of ambush journalism, though, but that's a personal thing.)

- And of course, there's Congress being a bunch of dill-holes. Hey guys, I know that compared to the Republicans' last spending jag, you guys are still in the chump change range, but this really doesn't look good (oh yeah, and you're wasting our money). Combine this with your post-election muzzling of the Republicans, and we really aren't off to that good a start. Traveling on Congressional business (when it's ACTUALLY business) is fine. Five-star resorts? A bit much. Throw us idealists a bone and rise above this stuff a little.

Hat-tip: Boker Tov, Boulder.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In Loving Memory

To the Lost:

Rifka, and her children, Sheinka, Nehama and Moses bat Yitzhak Enoch.

Faygella, her husband and three children.
Sheina Devora bat Yonkel, her husband and children.

Yacob ben Ruven and Sura Rifka, his wife.
Hatskell, Esher and Haicha, their children.
Ruchel bat Ruven and her husband Chaim.
David ben Ruven.
Esther ben Ruven, her husband and three sons.

Herman ben Lev and his wife Bella. Deported to Auschwitz in their 80s.

Yitzhak Yonah ben Eliezer, Auschwitz, age 47.

Yakov Hillel ben Yosef, Auschwitz, age 41.
Yisrael ben Yosef and his wife Ida, Auschwitz, ages 36 and 38.
Yitzhak ben Yosef and his wife Chaya Esther, Treblinka, ages 51 and 55.
Tauba bat Yitzhak, Treblinka, age 32.
Hendla Kayla bat Yitzhak, Treblinka, age 27.
Reizel bat Yitzhak, Treblinka, age 24.
Yosef ben Yitzhak, Treblinka, age 22.

Yisrael Shlomo ben Eliezer, age 40.
Zyskind ben Yankel, Auschwitz, age 48.
Shlomo Yisrael ben Yankel, Auschwitz, age 41.

Esther bat Abraham Meir and her husband, Gershon, Treblinka, ages 36 and 52.
Leib ben Abraham Meir, Gross-Rosen, age 46.
Rivka bat Abraham Meir, Auschwitz, age 42.
Yitzhak Aharon ben Abraham Meir and his wife Sura, Treblinka, ages 60 and 56.
Their children, Markus, age 32, and Yanka, age 13.

Malka bat Shlomo and her husband Moryc, Treblinka, ages 50 and 32.
Esther bat Shlomo, Treblinka, age 48.

Esther bat Shmuel, age 21.
Miriam bat Yeshayahu, Treblinka, age 37.
Frania bat Yeshayahu, Auszhwitz, age 71.
Polla bat Yeshayahu and her husband, Abraham, Auschwitz, age 43.
Their son, Shaya, age 27.
Leah bat Yeshayahu, Auschwitz, age 52.
Dr. Yitzhak ben Hirsch, his wife Lola, and son Herman. Auschwitz, ages 37 and 5.

Tauba bat Tzvi, her husband Koppel, and their children Bronislaw and Irena. Treblinka, ages 42, 48, 21, and 19.

Esther bat Amiel, her husband Eliezer, and their sons David and Bronislaw. Treblinka, ages 50, 54, 20 and 15.
Lola bat David, Treblinka, age unknown.
Zygmunt ben Amiel, his wife Sala, Treblinka, ages 47.

The Children:

Frymeta bat Moshe, age 13.

Yakov Yosef ben Moshe Yehiel, age 10.
Tzipora bat Moshe Yehiel,, age 11.
Dvora Leah bat Moshe Yehiel,, age 9.
Hirsch Meir ben Moshe Yehiel, age 3.
Chaim ben Moshe Yehiel, age 1.

To those who almost made it:

Dr. Eliezer ben Yitzhak Aharon, Buchenwald, age 35.
Shaya ben Hirsch, Buchenwald death march, age 28.

And to the 17 survivors and more than 100 relatives whose fates remain unknown to this day.

We will remember and honor you. Forever.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Who is a "Real" Survivor?

View from a Height had a very interesting post on Yom HaShoah and some problematic things he heard at a drash recently.

First, he brings up the issue of whether Hitler can be seen as a tool of God, and the difficulties in answering in the affirmative. As VFaH puts it,

To put Hitler in the Tisha B'Av context is profoundly disturbing to people who are the close relatives of victims and survivors, because they saw up-close a monster and a pathological people, not the hidden hand of God's will.

Pretty much, or to people who just can't relate to the Orthodox interpretation of great tragedies being contextualized as "Acts of God". While I understand this is how Orthodox Judaism deals with this stuff-"we can't know God's plan, but as an omnipotent and omniscient God it must be his will"- I personally cannot accept this. I realize full well that my beliefs about God and Judaism are far from Orthodox, but this appears to be a basic fallacy to me- a God that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good cannot kill 6 million people. There is no sin I can fathom that can justify such an atrocity, and various attempts to do so by certain Orthodox leaders (the late Satmar and Lubavitch rebbes, specifically) strike me as nothing less than callous and unconvincing. No God worth believing in would kill 1.5 million children because of "Reform Judaism", or "Zionism"- claims which are all the more problematic given that many of the 6 million were "untainted" Orthodox Jews (and it is a relief that many Orthodox Jews, such as Rabbi Norman Lamm, reject this view). The Chabad rebbe once compared the Holocaust to an operation and God as a surgeon- making the Nazis the scalpel. He argued that if one came into an operating room and saw a man cutting into another, without understanding the purpose, one would be horrified.

This is true, and fair. But it is also a pat answer. What did the Jews do, what sin could they have committed that was so monstrous that 6 million of them had to be killed? Again, I point to the presence of children and Orthodox among the victims. What was their crime? God-as-a-surgeon may work for some people, but for me, any suggestion that God was complicit in the Holocaust makes him a monster. I cannot approach it any other way (this is my larger problem with theodicy as a whole).

VFaH's second point is more interesting, evaluating the different ways in which Israelis and Americans view and remember the Holocaust, as well as the victims themselves.

The less obvious problem is that the Yom HaShoah context isn't the Tisha B'Av context. The Tisha B'Av context is essentially passive when it comes to the outside world. It comes from millenia without a country, without a homeland, and without power. It comes from accepting a subordinate role in the world and in history, one where the primary actors are not Jewish, or Jews acting on behalf of non-Jewish powers.
Yom HaShoah, in Israel, is actually called Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. It, along with Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut (stay tuned for next week) stress the importance of taking positive action, as a people and as individuals, to prevent evil and promote good. This means prayer and study, but also means picking up a gun and defending your country and your family. It is a message that is compatible with, but different from, the message of Tisha B'Av.
I'm afraid that the fact that Israel focuses on the Heroes and that American Jews tend to focus on the Martyrs says something unsettling about American Jewry - that we haven't really overcome the Galut, or Exile, mentality. That we are more comfortable seeing the world through the lens of victimhood than the lens of self-reliance. Which pretty much condemns us to relive that experience, too.
The fascinating, and in my mind problematic, part of this interpretation is that it assumes that the problem with how Americans and Israelis remember the Holocaust is not the trend to try to place survivors in specific categories and to establish preferences of one group over another, but the fact that Americans are backing the wrong group. I would agree that the weak Jew/strong Jew dynamic present in US/Israeli interactions is definitely present in who they choose to assign preferred status to- Americans seem more comfortable with concentration camp survivors, while Israelis seem to be more comfortable with those who "actively" resisted- the ghetto fighters, the partisans, etc. Now you even hear of various rabbis who engaged in forms of "spiritual resistance"- Rabbi Menachem Zemba, Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapira, Rabbi Shem Klingberg of Zaloshitz, the Klausenberger rebbe, etc.

This is fine. But we're kidding ourselves if we think that the Israeli desire to venerate the fighting Jew doesn't have serious consequences, both to historical truth, as well as the human subjects it affects and (potentially) distorts.

The fact that in America it is a taboo for someone who lived through the Holocaust to have been a fighteror a killer, is shameful. I hope that this attitude will change, and sense that it is. Americans are becoming more nuanced in their understanding of how different groups of Jews lived out the war years, including fighters and partisans. The publication of various memoirs (link, link) and documentaries seems to confirm this shift.

It also should be noted that the idea that the camp survivor was "passive" is itself a construction and oversimplification. There might have been some passive people in the camps, but in many cases, the mere act of surviving from day to day required an extremely ACTIVE will to live. To say nothing of the appropriateness of us attempting to judge the justification of a starving, exhausted traumatized person being too passive after years of ghettoization and incarceration.

Tom Segev's "Seventh Million" chronicles a number of particularly disturbing episodes in the Labor Zionists' interaction with survivors after the war, both in European DP camps and then later in Palestine. The survivors were too individualistic, they didn't subscribe to party discipline or to Labor principles about settling the land. Some party leaders even blamed the refugees for their own survival, saying that it was their egoism which had allowed them to live through Auschwitz. Ben-Gurion wrote that "had they not been what they were- harsh, evil and egotistical people- they would not have survived, and all they endured rooted out their souls." Zionists saw the Shoah as a confirmation of their claim that there was no future in exile- an almost divine punishment of the Jews who had chosen to remain behind. Survivors who were neither fighters nor Zionists did not fit into the Israeli model of heroism. This was seen at Eichmann's trial in 1962, where Gideon Hauser hammered witnesses, asking them why they had not resisted being pushed onto cattle cars. Hauser also emphasized Jewish resistance, even when irrelevant to Eichmann, wanting the first major public event commemorating the Shoah to be one that reflected the Israeli paradigm of the fighting Jew.

Israel has, in its own way, also contributed to the delegitimization of survivors. If you were not a partisan, if you did not resist in the ghetto, if, God forbid, you actually engaged in some form of collaboration to try to save yourself or the people close to you, you were viewed as a pariah. This was certainly the case with Chaim Arlosoroff and Rudolf Kastner- have things changed today?

The problem with the American and Israeli models of categorization, IMO, is the fact that they are exclusionary, that they limit who can claim to be a legitimate survivor, and in this way, they also dehumanize the very real people that are being discussed in the first place. The fact that former partisans do not feel that they are seen as "real" survivors in the US is deplorable, but I can't imagine that a similar phenomenon doesn't occur in Israel, where the very name of the Memorial Day only seems to recognize/legitimize Martyrs or Heroes. What about the millions of people who were neither?

Let me conclude with a story: As a Jewish genealogist with roots in Eastern Europe, I have spent a fair amount of time poring over Holocaust-era records. I have confirmed that about sixty-five of my relatives were killed by the Nazis, with another eighty-five or so with fates unknown. That is just from two maternal branches. That is just the ones we know about. In viewing pages of testimony from Yad Vashem, I came across several written by a particular relative. I was shocked when, at the bottom of the page, under the question, "Are you a survivor", he had checked off "NO."

I knew a little about this man. He had been a prisoner at Buchenwald- no small potatoes. But compared to his mother and brothers who had wound up at Auschwitz, I supposed he felt he didn't deserve to be considered a survivor- even though in my eyes, he most certainly was.

This is the real danger that comes with the categorizations. The internalization that somehow, there is only one kind of "right" Holocaust experience- if you weren't a fighter or a partisan, or a docile camp inmate, or whatever, you don't count. I think this way of thinking has to change. For those survivors still with us, and for the generations that are still to come. If we want to engage with real questions of action and resistance, let us. Let us probe all the different kinds of resistance, let us investigate every kind of experience that happened during the Shoah. But this endless division into "good" and "bad" survivors or victims will lead nowhere good, and we should be very wary of rewriting other people's history, especially one so painful, in order to make it mesh with our own political ideologies. Not every person in the Shoah was a fighter, a martyr, or a victim, and these labels seem to exclude and invalidate far more than they inform or contextualize.

There were all sorts of kinds of people, and they did all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, not all of them as noble as we might wish. The sooner we all come to realize this truth and stop retroactively using the Shoah for our own ends, the better.

The perils of Dual Loyalty

Bush Appoints new Secretary of Homeland Security

The White House announced a new head of Homeland Security last Tuesday: Ravdon Bzil of Texas, formerly Solpan Four in the Scorpius Nebula. Bzil is a longtime friend of the Bush family, and, reportedly, was affectionately dubbed “Ravdon Bush” by the President several years ago. Very little is known about Bzil’s past, aside from the fact that he arrived on earth sometime in the mid-1960s, attended Yale with George Bush and was also apparently a member of the Skull and Bones society. Repeated requests for interviews have been denied.

Some critics have been quick to charge that Bzil, as an extraterrestrial, is unqualified for the post, but such comments have been shrugged aside by the White House as “racist and xenophobic.” Spokesman Tony Snow said, “Mr. Bzil came to this country as an immigrant and worked his way up, just like everybody else. He is an American citizen, and we feel he is uniquely qualified to head up Homeland Security.”

The move comes following the abrupt departure of former Secretary Michael Chertoff. Chertoff has not been seen by the press in several weeks, but his letter of resignation cited, among other things, “lack of hair” and “excessive gas” as reasons for his quitting the post. “Don’t expect to see me too soon, fellow Earth-friends”, the letter continued, “I’m going on a spiritual retreat to Israel, or maybe Tibet. One of those hard-to-reach places. Yeah. Don’t even bother looking for me, I’m sure I’ll be fine. Please welcome whoever it is that winds up filling my supplemental feet-skins.”

Bzil’s politics are a general mystery; although many assume that he will fall in line with the President’s past Homeland Security Secretaries, there is suspicion by some that he may, in fact, have his own agenda. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explained, “Look, we just don’t know where he stands. For all any of us know, he’s just waiting to sell us out to the highest bidder, be it Iran, North Korea, or the Solpanian Imperial Empire.”

Bzil’s personal secretary, Hiram Donovan, responded angrily. “That anyone feels they have the right to criticize Mr. Bzil’s motives or patriotism is a sad statement on the state of public discourse in America today. Mr. Reid should be ashamed of himself for launching into ad hominem attacks on a fellow public servant who has yet to even be given the chance to prove himself. Simply because Mr. Bzil has acid-skin and compound eyes, some people assume he isn’t capable of his job, or that his loyalty should be questioned! I’m sure Mr. Reid and his ACLU friends would be up-in-arms if a Republican suggested that we require some sort of loyalty-test from any other ethnic group, but when it comes to a Solpanian, it appears discrimination is just fine.” Donovan also accused Reid of being “Earth-ist,” and concluded, “Perhaps Mr. Reid would better serve the American taxpayers by focusing less on Mr. Bzil, and more on ending his decades-long love-affair with the filibuster.”

Reid responded by issuing an apology, explaining that he was merely criticizing Bzil’s recently-publicized background as a member of ASPAC, a shadowy grass-roots Solpanian-American lobbying group, and that his comments “were not intended to refer to Solpanians in general.” ASPAC, among other things, has come under attention in recent years for its efforts to pass a nation-wide “Bright-Skies Initiative”, as well as its outspoken stance against amateur astronomers.

In Mr. Bzil’s first press conference, he thanked the President for his support, and then tried to connect with the crowd through humor: “On my home planet, the days are interminably long, and the nights filled with glorious explosions of hot air. So clearly, you can see why I belong in Washington.” Bzil also tried to reassure the American public, particularly the young. “With me in charge, you should all feel safe to once again let your guards down. Children should walk to school un-chaperoned; dogs should be let off leashes; household cleansers left precariously close to baby food containers… in short, my fellow Americans, I urge you to return to your carefree, pre-9/11 existences…and while we’re at it, perhaps we might even reconsider that Missile-Shield Idea. After all, why on earth would we need lasers in space? Ha... Ha.”

When asked to comment, several Washington reporters remarked that Bush’s decision really wasn’t terribly out of the ordinary. “I mean, think about it,” said veteran newsman Tim Russert. “Since his re-election, he’s given Presidential Medals of Freedom to Tenet and Bremer, and appointed or supported Gonzales as Attorney General, Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank, a ‘Safari Club’ lobbyist as director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and sent John Bolton to the UN... compared to that other stuff, this pick seems almost sensible.”

Russert speculated that other possible Bush appointments could soon include Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly as Drug and Porn Czars, respectively.

Humor V

Written after the 2004 election. Most research ever put into one of these. Not sure it was worth it.

Canada to Americans: Stay Oot!

The Canadian Parliament met in Ottawa yesterday to discuss a controversial plan: In response to growing rumors of a mass American exodus following President Bush’s re-election, some law-makers, thought to be backed by the Prime Minister, Paul Martin, have proposed building a massive border-wall along the 49th parallel. The plan has mass support among Parliament.

The debates began with a short speech from the Minister of Defense, Bill Graham: “The time is now, and the issue is dire. According to our intelligence services, there has been a lot of “chatter”, particularly over the Internet, since 11/02, and we have little doubt that these teeming American hordes pose a real and credible threat to the well-being and security of Canada.”

Other cabinet ministers also defended the wall. “Canada considers herself to be an ally of the United States,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Pettigrew. “That’s why we signed a pact with President Bush that, in the event of a draft, we would be sure to keep potential draft-dodgers out. What is this but taking that agreement to its logical conclusion?”

Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan also mentioned that “‘wall’ has such a negative connotation. Many MPs I've spoken with would prefer to call it a ‘mutual-separation enforcement aid’”. The issue of what the ‘structure’ would eventually be called was tabled for further debate.

Not all Canadians support the plan, and some private citizens came forward to plead their case in front of Parliament. Guy Jenkins, a retired bacon farmer, has been running an Immigrant Integration boot-camp out of his renovated farm in rural Manitoba for the past few months. “The Americans have definite potential; all they need is the right conditions. The only better motivator than threatening to lock them in the woodshed is having that wackjob being their President for another four years.” Jenkins noted that after only four months in his program, three out of eight American immigrants were ready to “graduate”, and go to work in a local ice-skate factory. “They even remembered what ‘B.C.’ stands for! They can be productive members of society, if we just give them a chance.” Jenkins pointed out that restrictions on American immigration will drastically affect his and thousands of other “Integration-camp” instructors’ livelihoods.

But some charged that this missed the larger picture: “That’s all well and good for Monsieur Jenkins”, said MP Gilles Duceppe, leader of the separatist Bloc Québecois, “but what about the fact that these Americans are going to be taking away our people’s jobs, Canadian and Québecois alike? The lumberjack industry has been hit particularly hard ever since the invention of mechanized saws. Bringing in a new source of cheap labor will wipe my constituents out entirely.”

Conservative MP Rob Anders commented, “Let’s not forget what we already know about Americans: they’re stubborn and arrogant little buggers who are always convinced they’re right. I doubt they’ll be interested in assimilating. Instead, they’ll create little ethnic ghettos, where they’ll continue to butcher the English language and resist the metric system. Do we really want another Québec?” In response, Duceppe angrily stormed out of the room, spending the remainder of the afternoon sulking in the hallway.

Another Conservative, Stockwell Day, questioned whether the potential immigrants were really “the kind we want coming here, anyway”. “Think about it,” Day argued, “these people feel like they’re the most marginalized members of their society, and what’s their answer? To quit! To give up! If I had that attitude, I’d never get anything accomplished; I’d just have to bend over and let the same-sex couples have their way with me!” Day continued: “What happens if things go badly in Canada? Are these folks going to turn tail and run to Greenland?” Day concluded by reiterating the Conservative Party’s strict and long-standing “no riff-raff” policy.

Support for the wall is not limited to the right. Notable left-wing New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said, “I fear these Americans are just coming here to take advantage of Canada’s many benefits, like cheap prescription drugs and high-flow toilets. They don’t really care about our proud national history. I bet not a single one of them could tell me anything about the Battle of Montreal! They think Canada consists of hockey, Dudley Do-right, and Tom Green. While these are without a doubt an integral part of Canada’s culture- and economy- they are by no means the sum total, and I for one am skeptical that Americans are willing-or able- to understand this.” Layton added that he felt that the entire debate was a waste of Parliament’s time and energy, and made a heartfelt appeal that the MPs quickly approve the wall plan and return to more “crucial” matters, like carrying on the NDP’s crusade against Trans-fatty acids, which Layton has characterized as “the real global threat”.

Former NDP MP Svend Robinson, who attended the meeting as a private citizen, added, “Think of what a large influx of Americans might do to our crime rate! We all saw Michael Moore’s little home-invasion jaunts in Bowling For Columbine. What is that but encouraging American hoodlums to rob our citizens blind?”

Conservative opposition leader Stephen Harper used the discussion as an opportunity to lecture his political opponents: “I told you all that this polite, mild-mannered ‘neighbor to the North’ crap wouldn’t work. You naively thought that if we just laid low and didn’t provoke them, we’d be fine. This conclusively proves what our top scientists have been saying for years: Americans are not bees. Now we’re reaping the whirlwind.” Harper also pointed out that if Canada had just followed the Queen Mother’s advice and used high-tech earthquake technology to physically separate Canada from the North American continent in 1952, “this whole mess could have been avoided. But noooo, you damned Socialists said seismic stimulators were too expensive! Do you think a 2,878 kilometre (4631 mile) wall is going to be any cheaper? Congratulations; you’ve ruined the budget yet again. I hope you're happy.” Responding to charges that he and his party were “flip-flopping” from their traditional pro-American stance, Harper angrily countered, “That’s absolute nonsense. We admire the American government very much; it’s the people we can’t stand. You can hate a government without hating the people, and vice-versa.” Harper then alleged that it was in fact the left-wing MPs who were “co-opting” the Conservative Party’s ideas in order to steal away their voters, and declared that “we were being passive-aggressively contemptuous of Americans before it was cool”.

Independent researchers have calculated that the wall’s estimated cost will be approximately $ 5.5 billion Canadian ($ 4.6 billion US), or about $ 1.9 million CAD per kilometer ($ 993,000 US per mile). To avoid further costs, the various water boundaries (adding up to 3,538 km.) will not be walled-up, but instead mined with depth-charges and canvassed with high-voltage nets. Some MPs also discussed the possibility of dispatching unmanned drones to “keep a close eye” on Hawaii.

The Right Honorable PM Paul Martin summed up the day’s sentiment in a short press conference: “Please understand, Americans: we are not entirely without sympathy for you. We would be willing to accept a symbolic number of you as refugees, but that will be it. The rest will simply have to go through the legal immigration process and wait their turn.” When pressed for details, Martin said, “Well, obviously the ones most at risk would get priority. In fact, we’re willing to send helicopters into American airspace right away if Ralph Nader or Barbara Lee give us a call.”

Martin continued, “We’ve also thought it over and decided that perhaps another good thing to do is to just take Guam off your hands. It’s not like you’re doing much with it anyway, and it would probably only be a matter of time before you ruined that, too.”

The White House declined to comment, stating only that Americans would be kept informed of any future changes to Guam's status.