Monday, January 26, 2009

A Pasuk in Action...
"...Swords into Plowshares..."

(And the music is VNV Nation!!)...I had shared a long-standing romantic regard for the actions of groups like the Plowshares Movement, who regularly engaged in the disabling of weapons of mass destruction, typically American-made - often merely symbolic gestures, but powerful nonetheless. Power seems to be the point. But something I read recently regarding the West's nuclear arsenal was a far more significant manifestation of the posuk;

The weapons contain a great deal of uranium enriched to over 90 percent U-235 (ie up to 25 times the proportion in reactor fuel). Some weapons have plutonium-239, which can be used in diluted form in either conventional or fast breeder reactors. From 2000 the dilution of 30 tonnes of military high-enriched uranium has been displacing about 10,600 tonnes of uranium oxide per year from mines, which represents about 13% of the world's reactor requirements.

Further exploration here. Also here on the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You Can Keep the Car...
But you'll have to lose the oil...Absolutely brilliant guerilla artistry.

DIY bike scene is dominated mostly by western urbanites with lots of prefab resources and a consumer cultural setting to pilfer from (one of the more inspiring). But some of the most amazing practical design comes from ingenuity and sheer, and sometimes very raw necessity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Holographic Universe, Wondrous Cool Cont'd.
A continuation of sorts from the previous post; I do not offer the following as a unified theory of anything, but a suggestion for certain, localised phenomena. Suppose the universe has something of this wacked, "holographic" nature to its make up, with ensuing relationships through our now-very-complicated perception (and epistemologies..). As noted before, many materialist integrations of this evidence could be marshalled, as well as could be marshalled for another interesting avenue of research.
The belief that the mind 'rests' some place other than the physical brain is historically a normative idea, but recently defended in research by Andy Clark and Alva Noe. So the mind perceiving this holographic universe is brainbound (the current neuroscience consensus) - but with 'feelers' reaching beyond the physical brain, 'loops' spanning out and back around perceived external environment. This would be the case however aware we may be of the loops, the adhensions, however filtered from workaday our own awareness the connections may be (of course some of these don't escape Advertisers, interrogators or magicians or cult leaders). Perhaps attachments to these other physical 'locations' are made after the brain leaves those 'places' or after the brain dies. I'm not saying that it follows therefore that consciousness "itself" might survive in the physical world or anywhere else after death, adhered to the locations or artifactions like grappling hooks for our mind. It may merely be that some residual fragments of mindedness adhere, and living, present brainbound feelers perceive these mindednesses. It also does not follow that "the mind" - or (more likely, I think) some of the aggregates which it comprises - might not survive via such 'safety lines', not unlike occurs in this brilliant scene from "Jurassic Park: The Lost World";
As luck would have it, it cuts off RIGHT where it begins to approximate my metaphor! At this point, only one of the aggregates of the mind is saved from annihilation. You, know, maybe she's consciousness, with all the other aggregates trying to save her, since she's their 'wireless connection' to the world. Heck, you'll have to watch the movie.
None of this stuff, mind, brain, whathaveyou, should be confused with Nefesh, Ruach or Neshama. I'm wary when psychologists, even frum ones try to do this. The last place I want to see it is on my blog.

Holographic Universe
"O day and night,
but this is wonderous cool!"
Image; Rhawn Joseph

Some 15 years ago I came across a book, The Holographic Universe, in a public library. It touted a "grand unified theory" of normal and paranormal phenomena through the supposition that the universe is holographic - in some sense a projection of a differently dimensioned reality into what we perceive around us and as us; perceptible, 3 dimensional, timed and spaced. Now to a necessary digression.

I've never been comfy with integrating grand unified theories of anything into preexisting metanarratives - Judaism, naturalistic materialism, etc - especially when the given "GUT" reaches beyond the commonly-conceded, scientific parameters in its conclusion. In such settings, I think people redefine theories (as used for a relatively brief period of time), to comport with a/theo-logies or philosophies, thus loosening their moorings in the peer-reviewed, commonly-held settings of methodological materialism. There may be a similar situation in "reaching beyond" sciences parameters in creationism, ID and materialism.

To play the game of science, all of them offer, but cannot state, that the evidence they present of anomalous phenomena (in the ID/Creationism camp), or predictable, integratable phenomena is not compatible with certain worldviews - worldviews being metaschemes that work outside what science/reason can evidence or deny (some examples underline science and reason themselves; they include unscientific, unreason-to-able presuppositions that are where science and reason start from). But there are many examples of critics of Creationism or ID who are fellow theistic-worldview-holders, and even on occasion there have been secularists who oppose the infiltration of naturalistic materialism in the exploration of evolution, where they see naturalistic materialism as actually stiffling investigation and scientific progress. The point being that there can be materialist readings of a seemingly-designed and finetuned universe, and religious readings of the evolution of the universe within the approach of methodological materialism. In fact, those perspectives are the ones held by the majority of people engaged in the scientific venture!

To return , it seems our universe may well be a hologram. There are going to be naturalist materialist readings of it and religious people will continue to seek the compatibility of it with their worldview(s). For everyone who perceives things, it soundeth wondrous cool...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tattoos and Jews
"...the choice was not between upholding an ancient tradition and undermining its authority, but in appreciating the way every practice is different, even if it looks the same from the outside, because every practitioner is different."
Brad Hirschfield, You Don't Have to Be Wrong For Me To Be Right, p. 125-6.

This is a very powerful concept. In context, it revolves around a young woman getting a tattoo that is very much an affirmation of life over death, a laudable concept, not in either/or relationship to the forbiddence of Tattoos, but in deep opposition to the connections to the rituals of mourning and ancient pagan death cults, connected to the very condemnation. The idea that behind an averah may be something that transcends the immediacy of its forbidden nature - the averah is not denied as an averah, but the 'intention' affirms something utterly removed from the averah itself, in fact very close to Jewish ideals. With mitzvot, I find it more powerful; not every mitzvah has the same cause and affect for each person doing it, as each person is different. This is a common theme regarding kiruv rachokim, not so much discussed in kiruv kerovim. Each mitzvah counts, etc. (I, II) The Jewish life of two people from the same community may externally seem very much the same, but one struggles with issues and beliefs while another goes with a flow; but what is the value of each act, each continued belief or practice, each challenged and reaffirmed - and therefore in a sense reforged and refined - belief?

WE can't weigh the averahs and mitzvahs of others, granted cases where it is foolhardy not to (my mothers opinions aside). Intent remains central. There are obligated beliefs, indiscernable to others that, as mitzvot, are the backdrop for the fulfillment of other mitzvot; the six constant beliefs, or R. Yosef Albo's Gimmel Ikkarim. If they are absent, it's far more difficult to speak of 'not judging' the action of another. In 'praying to God', has a Jew who prays to the Trinity prayed to God "give or take two"?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

It Can Happen Here Because it Has Happened Here
Not so long ago, a bigot rabbi named Grama got a book published, people saw its viscious racism and it got out on the Net; the Roshei yeshivah of Lakewood were called out to answer for it, and they 'condemn' it...(though some very-Establishment 'defenders' seemed to contradict those rabbis' "Daas Toyrah" and not condemn the book - but attack the Jewish reporting on it...)though it was ALREADY known that one of those condemning it - gave a haskamah to it! Among the haredim must be those who honestly think goyim are idiotic children. It has quietly faded into 'old news', even on the Anti-Semite sites (they went onto Noah Feldman's "Orthodox Paradox" piece, Rubashkin/Agriprocessors, Madoff, etc, etc).

What if something like this happens again, under this new administration...and a radical Leftist intern or arab-intern-influenced liberal senator were to point out "what the Talmud teaches about non-Jews" and therefore what "secretly influences the Israel Lobby and the NeoCons"...and therefore why all committed jews should be suspect...what would happen?
Immediately, "Aish and associates" would offer its services - under strict counsel from those scholars in Torah they would uphold as the Sages, and "refute" this challenge.
And almost on signal (because our enemies know just what the rebuttals would be!!), sources culled from Daat Emet and Israel Shahak would magically appear in the inboxes of all the key journalists and politicians...and the Aish rebuttal would be exposed as a deliberate fraud (probably not far off the mark). And we'd plotz.

And just like that, America could change overnight.

HOW?!?...Because it happened already.

September 11th 2001, all American muslim groups and individuals were suspect, felt threatened, had to prove their docility and patriotism - 1/5th of the world population, almost 50 nations of fellow Muslims the world over...and still American muslims, arguably more free and safe to practice their faith than anywhere else in the world - were terrified...

...Their Mosques 'surveilled', their organizations 'audited' for extremist views, their bank accounts frozen, etc, etc...

At roughly 13 million the world over, with only one nation that's "Jewish" (at that, Israel is roughly %40 Non-Jewish...), how would American Jews fair in their sense of security? American Muslims would be vindicated by the accusations currently being leveled at them by many Jews ("what Islam REALLY teaches about non-Muslims..." know the stuff)

...and here, it would be leveled against Jews.

"And how can you be absolutely sure that even 'cultural' Jews/Muslims are being honest?"...

I'm not being facetious in juxtaposing Jews and Muslims above. But just notice how apprehensive they've been since 9/11 - despite their position and influence in the world arena; in America, arguably the "safest place for them"...they quaked.

But what about the memory of the Holocaust, to somehow prove that, as the perennial victims, there's nothing to fear from us and nothing for them to feel but pity?

There have been far too many other victims since the Holocaust for Jews to rely on the claim any longer. And Israel's enemies have, honestly, won the media war in portraying Jews as more complex than simply victims. We shouldn't be so comfortable.

Friday, January 02, 2009

parallels in science and Torah are suggested to be here but not there, there but not here, all to the end of showing where they 'match' or one of the two fails.

And if 'here' and 'there' are not the places where Torah and science meet (to duke it out or shake hands, etc)? In science, certainty is suspect; though fundamentals of reality do not change, our picture of it changes, we know more, learn more, there is cumulation, innovation, dead ends, etc - but stasis in the picture is not normative or desireable. Who 'we' are is a matter of agreed upon standards, perspectives are subject to peer review, etc. In current Observant Judaism, is certainty in our picture suspect [posukim from Tanakh, etc]? What of Nevuah and Daas Torah? Is everything under constant, discernable hashgacha pratit? more later, must eat.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Truth and The Facts
I was speculating on how recent polls [sources] indicating that a significant percentage of the American public and children in K-12 public school settings disbelieve in evolution. Maybe public school isn't so unthinkable for Haredim in this economic crisis...

There are billions of people who believe in the given Facts of Reality in their setting, yet live as if these fundamental Givens are irrelevant, if not untrue. Knowing the likely concrete, empirical consequences of any number of actions, countless secular-materialists make empirically stupid decisions, religious Jews commit averot. There are many differences between the two, but there is a certain similarity. Some things of profoundly fundamental importance (ikkarim) can indeed be believed but not lived; no one denies their reality, authority and foundational nature - but at times in the Torah setting, non-compliance in behavior is considered denial of Torah. Where are the "orthoprax", many Sephardim and "classic Modern orthodox" and such in this? Are some more conscionable than others? I think of the many Zeyde's who've made sacrifices for 'yiddishkeit' to the degree they could, poured money into Jewish causes, Jewish education, etc, etc - and driven for years to shul most Shabbatot so that a minyan could be made and a community continued. Haredi kiruv people love to say "and where are the grandchildren of those who chose to be mechalei Shabbos"?... hinting at the 'ultimate consequences' of actions, such as in condemning R. Slifkin's writings on evolution and Chazzal, etc, they need to acknowledge the vast number of such Zeydes that have and continue to support their institutions and communities - and Kiruv centers. The "ultimate consequences", the "big picture", are not things we as humans are privey to. Still chewing on this more later this week I"H

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