Friday, November 28, 2008

Holding onto fading hope in Mumbai

JTA is reporting that the seige at the Chabad House in Mumbai is over and that local media is reporting that all the hostages are dead. This is not yet confirmed, so let us hold on to that last glimmer of hope and daven for all the hostages and all their families.
Update: It looks like the worst has likely happened - the deaths reportedly include the Chabad Shaliach, his wife, and others. Please daven for their families and for their orphaned son.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nurse, um, I mean Doctor

My wife and I were recently driving somewhere and the song “Patience” by Guns ‘N Roses came on the radio. Upon hearing the lines:

Said woman take it slow
It'll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience

I, being an incorrigible punster, quipped to my wife “He’s a doctor singing to his nurse that their practice will pick up – all they need is just a little patients.”

My wife said “Why is the man the doctor and the woman the nurse?”

She’s right. This isn’t a big deal in the greater scheme of things, but it shows that as egalitarian as I think I am, I still have preconceived notions in my head about what roles men and women have when it comes to some jobs, probably implanted there during my childhood in the 70’s.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pardon Pollard?

There is a big push on, in the final days of Bush's presidency, a time when lame duck presidents traditionally hand out some pardons, to obtain a pardon for Jonathan Pollard, who's been sitting in a US Jail for 23 years, serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

I'm not going to discuss whether what Pollard did was right or wrong or whether the punishment, life in prison, fit the crime. Nor do I wish to explore whether Pollard may have unintentionally sabotaged some of the past opportunities for his release. The only point I want to make is that those who are pushing for a pardon may be pursuing an unattainable prize and that they should reconsider their tactics and ask for a commutation of his sentence instead.

There are still many in the US military and diplomatic communities who are extremely loath to see Pollard released. Their power is waning over the years as new faces rise in the Pentagon and State Department, but make no mistake, it's still there. Bill Clinton considered doing so in 1999 but was quickly advised against it. It's unlikely that an effort to get him pardoned would succeed today, even with the sympathies of President Bush.

It may be just semantics. Many of Pollard's supporters may be unaware of the difference between a pardon and a commution of sentence. According to Wikipedia:

Commutation of sentence involves the reduction of legal penalties, especially in terms of imprisonment. Unlike a pardon, a commutation does not nullify the conviction and is often conditional.

By pushing for a "pardon" in the public eye, activists may strengthen opposition to his release. Those in the military infrastructure see Pollard as an ultimate traitor, a US citizen spying for an ally. They see a push for a pardon as a slap in the face of the US.

On the other hand, pressing for a commutation of sentence on humanitarian grounds, while admitting that Pollard did something wrong, and acknowleging that the conviction should stand, has a much higher chance of success.
Update at 4:50 pm: Just saw this article which refers to a "Pardon" in the title and in the first paragraph, but refers to a commutation of Pollard's sentence in the second paragraph. Organizations such as Free Pollard Now, which is the main source quoted in the article, should stress "commutation" vs. "pardon". Public opinion can make a big difference in cases like this and public opinion often turns on the phrases used in the press.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Streets of Jerusalem - on Google Maps

I'm a map junkie. I spend a lot of time wandering around different online map systems, like YahooMaps, Microsoft Live Maps, and especially Google Maps. And naturally I often zoomed the maps over to Israel.

For the longest time, the Google Maps of Israel showed a few place names, but when you zoomed in... nothing. Just blank space.

Well, it looks like they've finally added details of Israel. The streets of Jerusalem? All there, in excellent details, to the point of showing which streets of my old neighborhood of Katamon are one-way!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nude pics lost on cellphone end up online

Ark. man left the phone at a McDonald's; he's now suing for $3 million

This guy left his cellphone with nude pictures of his wife in a McDonald's and they ended up online, so now he and his wife are suing McDonald's.


1) Women: don't allow compromising pictures of yourself be taken. By Anybody. EVER.

2) Everyone: If you do have private images or data on your cellphone, MAKE SURE IT'S PASSWORD PROTECTED!

3) How on earth is this guy's stupidity McDonald's fault?? ("Your honor, the hydrogenated fat in their fries went to my brain and made me forget the cellphone...")

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


How bad is cheating among students today? How about helping someone else cheat?

A college-age blogger whose blog I often read, casually and unselfconsciously mentioned, in a post about something else, that she got “into the business of writing papers for this one guy” and that he owes her money for the service. I was surprised that she would mention helping someone cheat in such a casual way, so I hoped I misunderstood her. I challenged her on this:

“Please explain what you mean. Do you mean writing school papers for someone else? Basically cheating for someone else?”

She replied:

“yes. I ‘cheat’ for him. I don't believe its fair that all these damn colleges feel everyone should be well rounded.”

She went on to explain that he’s in a specialized program where it isn’t important that he be knowledgeable in subjects outside his professional training.

I replied:

“It doesn't matter what you think is ‘fair’ or not. What you are doing is extremely unethical. My respect for you just plummeted…. It puts into question all your judgments on everything else you write about. Not to mention the chillul Hashem that such behavior causes. If you have any self respect at all, you won't take the money he ‘owes’ you. It's just as bad as stolen money.”

Her response?

“I'm sorry u feel like that. but to each his own.”

Cheating isn’t a subjective issue. It’s wrong, period. She’s helping the guy steal a grade he doesn’t deserve, she’s stealing from his classmates if grading is done on a curve, she’s stealing money directly from people whose scholarships are based on class standing and which are messed up because of this, and for a good Jewish perspective on why cheating is wrong, see here.

Am I the only one appalled that someone can approach cheating so casually and justify it with the reasoning she uses? What I really want to know is, how prevalent is cheating among Jewish teens and young adults today, and are they at least ashamed?

I’m not that much older. I’m in my late 30’s. But there seems to be a generation gap on this issue. It’s not like my generation never cheated. But those who did were aware they were doing something wrong and were ashamed afterwards. I only cheated once, at age 13 or 14, on one question on one exam. I felt horribly guilty and ashamed for months afterwards and in retrospect regret not confessing to the teacher.

The casual “what’s the big deal” attitude today is shameful and disgusting. Parents & teachers need to do a better job of imparting ethical values to their children & students in this regard.

Motorcyclists are wimps

I rode my bike 2 1/2 miles to work today in sub-freezing temperatures (bundled up, of course.) In nicer weather, this bike parking area is full of motorcycles. But today, in 24°F weather, all the motor bikers retreated to their nice warm cars. The only brave ones? Me & one other bicyclist.

Disclaimer: This post was mostly tongue in cheek - I don't really think motorcyclists are wimps. Well, not all of them, anyway! :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why is the @$%#* hard drive buried so deep!

This old broken computer was just taking up space. But you're supposed to take out and destroy or wipe the hard drive before putting a computer in the trash.
My question: Why do they make it so hard to get to? Millions of tiny screws for which you need a microscopic screwdriver!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rav Elyashiv bans wigs?

The latest chumrah? Sheitels are too sexy and should not be worn.

My wife doesn't cover her hair & I like it that way. Frankly I think it's a very weak halacha that had more to do with social mores throughout history than with anything the Torah says. (I know I'm going to get hit on that one, but I'll delve into the halachic issues in another post.)

However, many frum women do insist on covering their hair. What Rav Elyashiv doesn't get in the cloistered Charedi world, is that many of these women work, especially in the US. They can't show up at the office with scarves or hats. It's just not done. And I'm not just talking about big league career women. What about all those kollel wives who support their husbands? Surely Rav Elyashiv likes the kollel system? Well, he seems to want to have his cake & eat it too. If you want men not to work, someone has to bring in the money and it's usually the wives. And they need sheitels to work in a modern office.

This is the problem with the idea of "gedolim" as poskim, when they have no connection to and no inkling of what life is like in communities outside their own narrow ones.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Young kids in the white house

Interesting trivia: It looks like Sasha Obama, age 7, will be the youngest child of a president to live in the white house since the Kennedy kids (Caroline, 3 and John Jr, infant, at the start of JFK's term).

But it got me thinking and I realized that as far back as I can track without looking it up (back to the 30's) , only Democratic presidents have had children living with them in the white house.

Upon looking it up, I found that the last Republican president to have kids under 18 upon becoming president was Calvin Coolidge, who had 2 boys, aged 17 and 15. The younger one, Calvin Jr., died of blood poisoning at age 16.

William Howard Taft's youngest son was 12 when his father became president. The last republican to have preadolescent children in the white house was Theodore Roosevelt, whose youngest child, Quentin, was only 3 when Teddy became president.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grappling with fresh fruit

I saw this grape flavored apple at the store today. At first I thought it was some hybrid fruit and considered buying it. Then I looked closer. They actually inject the fresh apple with partly artificial grape flavor!

If this becomes a trend, we'll have to consider the kashrut of fresh fruit for the first time ever. (Outside of Israel, that is.) Imagine going to the house of a friend who doesn't keep kosher and seeing fruit on the table. Can we assume that it isn't injected with flavors that may not be kosher?

Of course, by posting this, I may be prompting a massive new chumrah hysteria in the frum community. If so, I want a cut of the profits from the hechsher industry. :-)

A new day of hope

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


This is a nonpartisan message: GO OUT & VOTE if you haven't already. And vote all the way down the ballot. Democracy means a balance of power between the judiciary, legislature, and the presidency, with similar breakdowns on the state & local levels. Living and participating in a democracy means much more than voting for President. Vote for congress, senate, judges, state representatives, ballot initiatives, etc. If you're not sure who and what will be on your ballot, spend a few minutes on the web, research the issues & candidates, write down your choices, and then go to the ballot booth and register those choices.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Vote Obama to keep Israel safe

I’m taking a brief break on my moratorium of all things political to write down some thoughts that crystallized over Shabbat and try to convince wavering voters who are supporters of Israel that Barack Obama will be better for Israel than John McCain.

It basically boils down to this. To paraphrase the traditional political question “Are you better off than you were 4 or 8 years ago”, I’m asking: Is Israel more secure than she was 8 years ago, when that “great friend of Israel” George W Bush came into office?

Before Bush there was no peace and Israel’s enemies hated her. But the existential threat was kept to a relative minimum. Then Bush, with John McCain’s wholehearted support, attacked Iraq, destabilizing the Middle East. The big winner? Iran and its madman president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran may have been developing nuclear weapons before Iraq was removed as a rival, but the program accelerated afterwards. Iran’s influence and power in the region were kept in check by the balance of power between themselves and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Yes, both regimes hated Israel, but they kept each other too busy.

Once that balance of power was removed, Iran’s influence in the region grew tremendously and in 2005 they elected Ahmadinejad, who swore to destroy Israel. This was far from the first time that an Iranian leader had made that promise. But it was the first time that an Iranian leader had so much power and influence in the region, plus the promise of a viable nuclear weapons program.

In the past, there might have been a strong coalition of countries, both western and eastern, that could have isolated Iran and brought tremendous pressure on it, such as the international coalition of the first Iraq war. But George W Bush, again with McCain’s support and with a foreign policy McCain has promised to continue, shredded the idea of international cooperation, showing contempt for diplomacy and a contempt for the opinions even of Western European allies. Many of those allies may have their own issues with foreign policy, and may be biased against Israel. But that is not a reason to ignore international coalitions that have kept us in good stead for decades and have kept Israel safe despite the shrillness of hatred for Israel by many in Europe.

Without those alliances, and with the now natural reluctance of any traditional allies to help the Bush administration in international crises, and with the America military stretched to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has very little influence left to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

International diplomacy should not be carried out with a hammer. Diplomacy takes skill and an understanding of the realities of the interactions of the world’s regimes. McCain shows very little of that understanding and intelligence, preferring bravado instead, and “talking tough”. Has talking tough helped Israel be safer over the last 8 years?

Barack Obama is untested, true. But he shows great potential and a deep understanding of the intricacies of international relations and threats from rogue regimes. His style of diplomacy shows promise and at the very least it will return America to a time when presidents understood that the way to lead the free world was compromise and rational diplomacy backed up by military might. McCain wants to continue the disastrous Bush policies that spit on diplomacy and centered on now empty threats, since the US military currently does not have the resources to carry out those threats. The US presidency can no longer be called the leadership of the free world.

So I ask you again: Is Israel safer than it was 8 years ago?

Please vote Tuesday for Barack Obama, because at this dangerous time in history, and with an existential threat to Israel, we cannot afford to gamble on John McCain.