Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Now this is just silly...

Fritolaysia Cuts Off Chiplomatic Relations With Snakistan | The Onion

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

my kind of party

I’ve always loved watching how people interconnect with each other. The most obvious example of this is my interest in genealogy. But there are many others. As a kid I always liked the midrashim that explained who the unknown people in Tanach stories are, and how they appear in multiple legends. And l’havdil, when we studied Greek mythology in English class, I was fascinated with who was related to whom. As I mentioned, I had my own version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” before that game was invented, and pre-IMDB. In general, I liked studying history when I could see the connection between individuals and generations.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that pre-elections is one of my favorite seasons. I love to watch people joining parties, switching parties, creating parties. In 1996 we were still in the States, but by 1999 I was in a classic position to watch this spectator sport. First of all, I had a job that allowed me to listen to the radio as much as I liked. Yaron Dekel was an excellent political commentator in election time. (He’s good in Washington now, but it would be nice if he’d come back every election.) Also, I got to listen to the show HaMila HaAchrona on Galei Tzahal. Back then it was one of the few opportunities to hear people with different opinions without them shouting at each other Popolitika style. (I haven’t had a job that allows me to listen to them for 5 years - and I still miss the show.) I also read HaAretz daily, and enjoyed the writing of Akiva Eldar and Yossi Verter (even if I didn’t agree with their politics.) I would follow the developments in all the parties, read every name on all the lists, and even organized a debate between Rav Yehuda Gilad (Meimad), Rav Benny Elon (Ichud Leumi), Nachum Langental (Mafdal) and Yechiel Lasri (Merkaz - anyone remember him?).

The 2001 elections were pretty boring since they were only for the Prime Minister. But in 2003 I was good to go again, and this time even better, because I was working in a government ministry, so I could watch developments close up.

And now, with the “Big Bang” of Israeli politics in full swing, I can watch it to my heart’s content. Who will leave Labor, Likud and Shinui to join Sharon? Who will be on the Mafdal-Ichud HaLeumi list? Will Avigdor Lieberman join Likud? I can’t wait.

Monday, November 28, 2005

well, i was inspired

On Shabbat, I heard a dvar torah in a haredi yeshiva. While the speaker tended to mix various midrashim and use them as proofs instead of relating to them as individual drashot (something that usually bothers me), the idea was nice.

He discussed the importance of inspiration. He asked why did Avraham’s servant (who he naturally called Eliezer) first give the gifts to Rivka and only then ask her name. His point was that the servant was inspired, realized the hashgacha in Rivka’s actions, and needed to act. He compared this to the actions of Lot’s sons-in-law, who more or less refused to be inspired, even by the miraculous actions by the angels. Another example he gave was Yitro’s inspiration by the splitting of the sea vs Amalek’s decision to ignore the opportunity.

While I’m sure the speaker intended to inspire his audience - I don’t think he expected me to get the message I got out of it. Because as I looked around the crowd in that yeshiva, I couldn’t help wondering - how many people in the room chose not to be inspired by the miracles and hashgacha present in the return of the Jewish people to their land and the founding of an independent Jewish state?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

comedy and theology

I've always believed that you can learn a lot about something by a good question, even if the answer offered along with it isn't anything special. This applies very much to Judaism. I'm willing to deal with questions asked by anybody - that doesn't mean I have to accept their answers. And one of the best places to get good questions - and be entertained in the process - is from humor.

Jokes about the Bible or religion are great ways to focus on the apparent contradictions and difficulties that religious belief entails. The Simpsons does a great job of dealing with religion in a humorous way.

I happened to get a couple of very funny items this week that help show how humor can focus our questions on religion.

The first is this Sunday's "Pearls Before Swine" strip by Stephan Pastis. As the name of the strip implies, Pastis often hints at religious themes, but not in an offensive way like B.C.

This strip deals with the very important issue of how our name can survive, and the meaning of immortality. It's an issue I've thought of often, sort of developed my own theory, and recently read a great article about it here. But Pastis does it in a way that makes you think and laugh:

The second item was a quote I got in an email today. It's by the comedian Emo Philips, who I wasn't very familiar with. Turns out he's very funny. Here's his quote:

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, didn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me.

Besides being very funny - isn't that incredibly thought provoking? It brings up some very important issues about the nature of both tefila and teshuva.

I've discussed my thoughts about "asking God for a bicycle" a couple of times already. But I recently went to a very intersting shiur where the Rav had a pretty bold - but hard to deny - thesis: that there is no Teshuva before punishment in the Chumash. It appears in the Nevi'im, and certainly in the Oral Torah (and makes its way back into our view of the Torah via midrashim.) But in the punishments of Kayin, the flood, the Tower of Bavel, Sdom, Mitzrayim, the Golden Calf and more - the people getting punished never were given a warning and a chance to repent. Even the section of the Torah which deals with teshuva, in Parshat Nitzavim, only comes after the curses of Ki Tavo.

Of course that approach has changed over time, but that only makes the questions raised by Emo so much more fascinating.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Dilbert Blog: Unfair Stereotypes

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert has a new blog. And today he had a rather funny insight into the recent bombings in Jordan:

The Dilbert Blog: Unfair Stereotypes

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager

Type in your first name and see its distribution over time:

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A logic riddle

Someone posed this logic riddle to me this morning:

If Shimon Peres were to enter a loser contest, would he win or lose?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

at least listen to milo

I have a number of friends and family members who adhere to the Atkins diet. They're convinced that it's a great way to lose weight and stay slim. I have a number of reservations about the approach, but I'm not usually comfortable discussing it with them directly. So I figure, I'll write about it here, and maybe by chance one of them will happen to come across it...

When it comes to losing weight, I always remember the advice from this classic 1987 Bloom County cartoon:

I might add "eat right" to "eat less", but the basic message is incredibly solid.

My weight now is far from ideal, but I have successfully lost weight in the past, and from what I've seen the most important factor (I suppose besides genetics) is will power. (However, as Toad points out here [ignore the footnotes], sometimes a cake is preferrable to will power.) When I have committed myself to eating less and exercise, I've lost weight. When I don't do that - I gain weight. Pretty simple.

Fad diets have been around for a long time, but for some reason Atkins has come across as very attractive.

For the red-blooded American male (or immigrant to Israel) what’s more attractive than a diet that says eat as much meat as you can, and labels carbs as devil’s food (and devil’s food cake as carbs...)?

What’s my problem with it? Well I need to return once again to the 1980s - pre-Atkins. I got a copy of the book Jane Brody’s Good Food Book - Living the High Carbohydrate Way. She paints a picture of how a high carbohydrate diet is the most healthy way to live and will keep weight down as well. It fits well with everything I learned about nutrition and physiology in school.

The misconception that many people have that carbohydrates are fattening stems from the fact that we often put fattening things on top of our starches. But starches, particularly those that are full of fiber, are very healthy, and create a sense of satisfaction that reduces our appetites.

Brody brings many scientific studies that show the advantage of a diet high in fiber and carbohydrates and moderate in proteins and fats. But what convinced me most was her explanation of how man is designed. She entitled the chapter “Dietary Lessons from Human Evolution”. I won’t go into a discussion of evolution, but suffice it to say that if I can conclude that there are lessons from the way God created us, then they are much stronger!

She writes that “our teeth are structured more for grinding, like those of herbivorous cattle, than for tearing meat, like the teeth of carnivorous cats and dogs.” Also, “our long and convoluted intestinal tracts are better designed for the slow digestion of fibrous plant foods, rather than the short, straight, fast tract needed by carnivores to process meat”.

She describes how ancient man had relatively infrequent access to meat, while most of the time would eat starches, fruits and vegetables. When a meat meal would become available, he would eat as much as he could. We still have that passion today, but we end up eating much more meat than necessary. This is also the view of the rabbis, who wrote that “one should not eat meat unless he has an appetite for it (Hullin 84a).”

So instead of working with what the body is supposed to do, a high-meat, low-carb diet basically induces ketosis. That might not seem so bad, but I worked in a refet for a year and a half, and I saw what happened when the cows got bovine ketosis. Not pretty. It doesn’t seem appropriate for a person to bring it upon himself.

Additionally, it would seem that an Atkins type diet isn’t great for the kidneys. This site describes the process:

When amino acids are "burned" as a fuel, ammonia (NH3] is the waste product.
Ammonia must be carried to the liver, converted to urea and excreted by the

(This is why it’s not a good idea to eat protein before a fast. The water you drink beforehand is used to pass the urea instead of helping you out the next day. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, preserve water, making the fast easier. Since I’ve learned this tip, my fasts have been much easier.)

So a very high protein diet makes the kidneys work overtime. That seems like a risk that isn’t worthwhile, even for the chance to lose some weight.

So what do I recommend? If you won’t listen to me, at least listen to Milo…

The Pop vs. Soda Page

With my wife hailing from Chicago, and me having grown up in Rochester and San Francisco, we often have "debates" about the proper terminology for flavored carbonated beverages.

Well, here's a page that discusses in detail the geographic distinctions of that controversy:

The Pop vs. Soda Page

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

extra, extra, read all about it

My first three years of high school were spent in a school that allowed the students a great deal of choice in which classes to take and their schedules. It was more like a university than most high schools (at least at the time.)

Due to this flexibility, in the second semester of my junior year, I was able to finish school before noon! One of the things that enabled me to accomplish this feat, was the fact that if you worked on the school paper, it was considered as a class in English (which was required.) I worked as one of the editors of the political section of the paper. The hours were flexible and I could come and go as I pleased.

While now that same paper is done with fancy computer editing and graphics, back then we had to do a lot of the work by hand. We’d send the files (yes, there were computers back in 1989) to the printer, they’d send back us the material, and we’d cut it up and paste it to the boards, and from there back to the printer. Or something like that.

The paper came out once a month, and my favorite day of the months, was just after the paper came out. After everyone had been working hard on writing and editing for weeks, we could now all sit back, relax and review what we had done. And together with the insightful comments, there were a lot of laughs at the mistakes.

(I was to repeat this fulfilling experience years later, when I spent a few months working for the Jerusalem Report.)

Well, I don’t work on a newspaper now, but I have two web sites that allow me to experience it vicariously:

  • Even though I’m not a big fan of Jay Leno, I’ve always enjoyed his Headlines. Every time I remember to go back to his site, I’m always in for a few good laughs. I only wish I still had some of the mistakes from our high school paper to submit…

  • I recently found a new blog, BAGnewsNotes, “a progressive blog dedicated to the discussion and analysis of news images”. While many of the photos discussed relate to issues that I’m either not that associated with or even familiar with, the author and the commenters do a great job of understanding the meaning behind the news photos.

Now I know what it's called...

For a while, I've been thinking about writing about the significance of changes in the internet - blogs, wikis, RSS, etc. I had a feeling it represented a significant change, but I didn't know that there was already an official term for it: Web 2.0

Here's an article that explains the term and its significance:

O'Reilly: What Is Web 2.0

And as fits the era, here's the Wiki article: