• About Me

    I’m an opinionated Grumpy Old Man. I enjoy the intellectual give and take that goes along with that, but have very little patience for stupid people (Note: there is a big difference between “stupid” and “educated”. Some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met have a PhD…). Beside arguing, I like to build things in almost any media. Right now I’m mostly building in wood, Lego, and a bunch of different electronic media. I teach in a number of different venues - from preschool all the way through graduate school. Subjects range from talmud to neuroscience to engineering.

    For fun, I like to bash people with swords (OK, so they’re made of foam. It’s still fun). Although I spend a lot of my time in a wheelchair, I manage to keep pretty active (Like bashing people with swords). I am a libertarian, and have a hard time finding anything good to say about government or politicians. OK, politicians might make good sausage, but that's about as good as it gets.

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Minority Politics

After hearing a rather interesting news blip on NPR the other day, I decided to do a bit of surfing and see what was going on. I was driving somewhere, and the NPR newsreader did a very quick passing mention of a library that had identified White Men as the minority that they would be discussing in that weeks discussion (I think this month is supposed to be some sort of “acknowledge a minority for PC” month or something like that).

This one sentence news story got me thinking. Statistically, white guys are almost certainly a minority. China probably claims the top ranking for number of people (that would be the Chinese), and I think Indians are probably in second. Could be wrong on the Indian one though. No matter how you slice it though, if you count up all the white guys, and then count up everyone else, the white guys are gonna definitely NOT be the biggest racial population. As far as the whole male thing, chicks have outnumbered the guys for a long time.

OK, so now things get really interesting. See, here in the USA, we’ve got all kinds of minority entitlement programs. These programs are supposed to make up for some sort of deficiency that minorities have that makes it impossible for them to compete against the majority. TO make up fro the deficiency, universities have lower entrance requirements for minorities, many financial assistance programs target minorities, and certain minorities (but not all) are allowed to have exclusive “(insert minority here) clubs”.

really. While the women have been going crazy taking the knights of Columbus, the elks, and other fraternal organizations to court to force them to admit women, most college campuses have black-only clubs, women only clubs, and so on. I’ve never seen a white boys only club, and don’t ever expect to – if one was ever created, the other minorities would go crazy and tear it apart. So here’s the question: If the white male minority is treated differently from other (more politically correct) minorities, what ever happened to equal rights?

In an interesting turnabout, the women’s, black, asian, gay, etc etc etc minority groups that have been lobbying for inclusion in all aspects of the white male world are the very same organizations that are claiming that THEY have to have exclusive (meaning only members of their minority are allowed) organizations, clubs, and so on. Not only that, but they argue that it would be discriminatory to extend the same special programs and privileges that they get as minorities to white guys. Because in their minds, discrimination is OK as long as it doesn’t take away their special status.

Now, I’m somewhat realistic, and I know that white guys aren’t ever going to get equal treatment, but wouldn’t it be cool if people who claim to fight for ‘equality’ really did?

Then, when you see a gay black woman in a high paying job, you wouldn’t have to wonder if she was actually qualified, or was just filling an Equal Opportunity Employer position? And before you get your shorts in a knot, this does happen. Frequently.  I’ve worked at companies where it was openly admitted that certain staff members were hired specifically because of their race, and everyone knew that the people in question were given do-nothing jobs because they simply weren’t qualified for anything else. In the worst cases, even the EOE hire knew it, and for years sat there sucking up a big fat paycheck while doing nothing – simply for belonging to the right minority (one particular woman collected a six figure salary, and her job was to go through the corporate phone bill every month and make sure that the company phone log matched the one the phone company gave us – about 2 seconds of work for a computer). Come to think of it, maybe the white guys ARE better off without equal rights…….

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Why Conservative Judaism is a Failure

Hmmm.. a glance over the past few posts makes it look like this is a blog about the abject failure of the cops in the US.  To correct that, I’ve decided to blog about one of my favorite organizational failure: Conservative Judaism.

Now don’t ge me wrong, I dig the whole Jewish thing. Really. So much so that I became a Jew, although it took me over a decade to finally knuckle down and do it.

So, some fairly sarcastic background for those of you that aren’t familiar with the major categories of Jews:

First, ya got the “Orthodox”. These range from the radical right black hat crowd to the more centrist Lubavitch (who still dress funny). Wouldn’t think of eating a non-kosher meal. These are the ones that TV shows make fun of.

At the other extreme, you’ve got Reform Jews. Think Unitarian, but with a bit of Hebrew thrown in. Thinks the idea of Lobster Bisque appetizer and pork chop main course is fine. Never heard of kosher.

Then ya got the Conservative Jews. They are a lot harder to describe, because they are everything in between. Some of them would fit in just fine with an orthodox community, but have decided to be a bit more mainstream, and call themselves conservative. Some of them are really reform Jews, but know that mom and dad (or maybe gramma) would freak out if they knew.

Of course, that exposes the real root of the problem with conservative Judaism – they identify themselves by what they are NOT. The most common description I hear from conservative jews is “I’d be reform/orthodox, except for (insert whatever pet peeve you care for here)”. Conservative Jews know that the Rabbi should keep kosher, and follow all of the rules that an orthodox Jew would follow, but as longa s the rabbi does, no one in the congregation has to bother. The Temple’s Hebrew School has to teach the kids to read and speak Hebrew, know the Torah inside out, and be able to expound on the history, culture, and rituals of Judaism, but as soon as the kid is 13 and has their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they can forget it all. Oh yeah, and don’t expect to see/hear/experience/ or discuss any of it at home, because “thats why we send you to Hebrew School”.

In the past few years, conservative Judaism has crashed. While the Orthodox and Reform populations have continued to grow, Conservative Judaism is withering. Congregations are shrinking, and temples are being forced to merge or close down. There is an old saying among non-Conservative Jews that conservative Jews are on a stepping stone to assimilation, reform, or orthodoxy. Why? Because Conservative Jews have set themselves up to be as orthodox as they choose, but to also be as mainstream as possible. Reform Jews had the good sense to simply admit that they wanted tobe mainstream, and punted the majority of the “baggage” that orthodoxy carries with it, and have openly admitted that they are more interested in being “normal” than in being Jewish. The conservatives tried to walk a middle line.

The end result is that the Conservative Jews that were truly interested in continuing to live a more traditional Jewish life were scorned, and pushed out. The folks that were comfortable with the fact that they wanted to be mainstream went reform to start with, or slowly wandered out of the conservative temples where the services had too much Hebrew, expected at least token following of ritual (at least in the synagogue), and were simply too traditional for the truly “liberated” jew.

What is left of Conservative Judaism? There ARE a few left after all:

The families that are so invested in the local temple that they simply can’t walk away from all that money spent to get the family name plastered on the windows, door frames, pews, and whatever other random bit of furniture was big enough to hold a name plaque.

The people who still need to feel that they are “better Jews” or “more Jewish” than those reform Jews over there (even though the only difference is that the “conservative” Jew goes to high holiday services at a conservative shul, whereas the reform Jew goes to the reform shul).

The otherwise orthodox Jew that has some issue with Orthodoxy in general, and chooses to affiliate with a Conservative shul, even though they know that they’ll always be outcasts and viewed as extremists.

Of course, the fact that Reform Judaism is moving towards being more traditional is also eating into the Conservative Jewish population. As the Conservative movement has moved more left, the Reform movement has moved more right, so there really is very little (if any) difference between the two – at least in reality. There are all kinds of  “real differences” that people will pontificate about, but when it comes right down to it, there really isn’t much difference. Walk into a conservative shul one weekend, and try a reform shul the next. Once you’ve tried a half-dozen of each, you’ll realize that many of the reform shuls are much more traditional than many of the conservative shuls, and many of the conservative shuls are much more liberal than many of the conservative ones.

So there ya go. Conservative Judaism is failing because of an identity crisis. They’re really (mostly) reform Jews that are simply unwilling to admit it, and as they admit (or die off, and their kids admit it) Conservative Judaism is fading away.

border guards beats up author Peter Watts

Check it out here:

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/11/dr-peter-watts-canad.html

and here:

http://www.injusticeeverywhere.com/

Turns out simply asking why you are being detained and/or searched is grounds for being beaten by the US border guards. Then getting charged with assault for allowing said guards to beat you up.

Constitutional rights? Nah, he’s a Canadian after all.

Basic civil rights?  Civil? in the united states? What cave are you living in?

Basic Human rights? what, you expect the U.N. or the world court to hold the US responsible for its constant violations of basic human rights? Better crawl back into that cave before a cop finds you…

forget “police state” we’re talking brown shirts here……

4 cops killed: an excercise in perspective

In Washington state today, 4 cops were shot to death while sitting in a coffee shop.  I must admit, that my first thought was to blog about the possibility that this was a response by an individual to some abuse on the part of the police, but a bit of quick research suggested that in this case, that probably isn’t true (or if it is, the shooter had a long history of violent crime, so even if there was abuse by the police, it probably wasn’t the root cause).

The media frenzy has already begun, so instead, I would like to take this opportunity to do some “what-if” and think about how this event would be handled if some of the details were different.

Imagine if the 4 people who were killed lived in a housing project in New York City, and the shooters were cops. Chances are, it wouldn’t even make the news. Things like that are just too common to bother reporting – especially in the New York City slums.

Imagine if all of the people involved were just “normal” people (white, middle class). We’d probably get a bit of a human interest story, and that would be it. Maybe a minute or two of coverage in the morning news.

Imagine if all of the people involved were those same poor folks in the New York City slums. You probably wouldn’t hear anything about it, but it if you did, it would be blamed on drugs or gangs (regardless of the reason).

None of this should be any real surprise. Nobody really cares if some scum in a housing project gets whacked. Sure, if it was a cute kid, the networks may play for a bit of the tear-jerker ratings, but beyond that, it just doesn’t matter. When some middle class action takes place, it hits a bit closer to home, but hey, that was all the way over in Washington. It couldn’t happen here, and it doesn’t really make any difference to our lives.

So why is it so different when its a cop? The press has been displaying a disturbing trend in this regard – there seems to be some pervasive belief that cops are special, and deserve special attention. this is very disturbing. Cops are people – no different from any one else. When we act like a cop is more important than ‘regular’ people, we start down the road to creating a police force that is treated differently from the regular people. We give them special attention, special powers, and immunity from regular rules. history has consistently demonstrated that this is a one-way road. And the road ends with a police state, absolute police authority, and a complete lack of rights for the “regular people”. OK, so we’re not there yet, but we’re definitely heading down that road. (How many of you live in states where the sentences for killing a cop is more severe than the sentence for killing a non-cop? Check you state laws. You’d be surprised how many there are.)

So hey, all you news whores: how about reporting that 4 PEOPLE were killed. The fact that they were cops is irrelevant unless they were killed BECAUSE they were cops. Oh yeah, and start reporting the other cases of senseless killings too.

 

Veterans Day: Enough Sacharin Already!

Yep, Wednesday is Veteran’s Day. You can tell Veterans Day is coming because the editorials and “news” media are gushing with crappy, maudlin poetry and odes to remember our soldiers. How about some reality: To the vast majority of Americans, Veterans day is just another day off school or work.  If you go to church, shul, mosque, whatever, the service leader will probably make some sappy noises to “remember the soldiers”. Maybe we pay some lip service by reading one of those crappy poems or editorials, but probably not. If you’re REALLY motivated (meaning there is a veteran in your immediate family), you might go to a parade or a dinner.

Here’s an idea: instead of either ignoring the holiday or making some motions, how about doing something to remember the ideals that the soldiers are/were actually fighting for. Write you legislators about an issue you care about. Use the day make some sacrifices of your own, and go help out in a food pantry, visit the sick in a hospital, or visit a nursing home. Chances are good any one of those three activities will bring you into direct contact with a veteran. And it will actually mean something.

Our Veterans don’t need poems, sermons, or TV news people spouting crap about them, and little yellow ribbons are meaningless. We need the rest of the country to actually prove that he sacrifices that Veterans have, are, and will continue to make actually have a purpose. It doesn’t matter what your political views about the current or past wars are. Do something for the ideals that he soldiers stand for.

And while you’re at it, stop and think for a moment: in modern wars, more civilians and non-combatants are maimed and killed than military personnel. Remember the innocent bystanders as well.

The New Dark Ages

I’ve been noticing a lot of similarities in some recent news and some not-so-recent history. The dark ages were a fun time: ignorance, poverty, disease, and war were the norm. A powerful christian government work hard to maintain ignorance, as literacy and rational thought were considered to be major threats to the mindless dogma preached by the church. By keeping the masses ignorant, the church was able to maintain power, and use war as a tool to continue that power. Poverty and disease are natural elements in an ignorant, uneducated population, and also served to reinforce the church’s stance (if you were poor, it must mean that god doesn’t like you,so you must have done something bad). A random walk through some of today’s news events shows a remarkable similarity.

Ignorance. The dark ages were rife with ignorance, superstition, and church doctrine. The general populace was not only discouraged from learning to read, but in many cases, it was illegal for them to know how to read. The dominant government (the christian church) decided what was fact, and what was acceptable for the peons to know. The idea was that all law came from the bible. Of course, if the peons could read, they would be able to figure out that most of what was being taught as church doctrine had nothing to do with the bible, so reading was reserved to the “right-thinkers” in the church. This was also a method of ensuring that the church maintained its position of authority – science and critical thinking would erode the church’s “we talk to god, so we know the truth” dogma, so the church did its best to keep people ignorant (this is the same church that threw Galileo in prison, and refused to admit that the Earth rotates around the sun until late in the 20th century). The church as an entity had an official policy of maintaining the ignorance of the populace. Among other things, it made it impossible to do any sort of business without church involvement (and taxation) – the church was the only agency that was allowed to write, so things like keeping track of shipping, sales, and land records was wholly under the control of the church. This provided a handy revenue stream to support wars against those pesky foreigners and heathens that didn’t buy into the church myth.

In the modern world, the church has much less official power – we even pretend in the USA that the church is just another social group. But if we take a look at what is going on, we can find “christian influence” (read: ‘christian ignorance’) in many places. One of the scariest is the influence that the church continues to have on education. While most of the first world laments the fact their children are not keeping up with upstart developing nations educationally, the church is working to continue to stifle knowledge and free thought. With amazing effectiveness. Depending on the surveys, as much as 30-60% of the people in industrialized nations continue to believe that creationism is as scientifically valid as evolution. The majority of people freely admit that most technology and science is little more than magic to them – it is simply beyond their understanding. Of course, in places like India and China, it is very common to find people who not only understand technology and science, but are using it to displace the “industrialized world” as the leaders of new technological developments. The first worlddoes still have the major educational institutions, but a visit to any hard science or engineering graduate program will make it clear that most of the students there are from second or third world nations. A review of the scientific and engineering primary literature shows the same thing. Take a look at journals from 40 years ago, and the vast majority of authors will have anglo-european names. Take a cruise through the journals today, and most of the names are asian, indian, or middle eastern.

Of course, the Dark Ages did end. The church was finally overthrown by internal divisions, and by the influence of educated free thinkers from other cultures – most notably Asia, India and the Middle East. In the modern world, we are faced with many dangers – a much hyped example is the militant extremists from the muslim left that kill a few people every day. A much more insidious danger is the creeping ignorance and denial of science that is so strongly supported by the christian church. So next time the bible-thumpers are at your local library or school board lobbying to get Harry Potter pulled off the shelves (it has witchcraft in it, and the bible says that witchcraft is bad), don’t just sit by and assume that rational thinkers will simply ignore them. Show up, and speak out. Make sure they know that we recognize their idiocy, and that we won’t tolerate it. When you hear or read about a school district that is buckling to the local moral minority, and is pulling evolution and science from their curriculum, go to the school board meetings and make some noise. At the very least, go read some history, and decide if you really want to live through another round of ignorance driven dark ages. We can hope that the developing world will save us from our own apathy and ignorance, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could do it ourselves?

“service coach” – WTF is up with that?

For the third or fourth day in a row, I’ve heard references to school “service coaches”. Apparently, these people are supposed to help the kid’s figure out how to best volunteer to “help out the community”. ‘Scuse me?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for community service and volunteering. What I find a bit odd is that some bozo has decided that our schools are not only the place to teach the kids that volunteering is good, but also to teach them where to volunteer, and what to volunteer for. Remember, these are the same schools that rank as among the worst in the industrialized world. They can’t teach kids to read, write, or perform basic math, but they’re going to spend resources and time teaching them how and where to volunteer? Then there is the whole issue of government sponsored indoctrination brainwashing education. If it weren’t for the fact that the schools are so hopelessly incompetent, I’d be worried about what the agenda of these “service coaches” was. Call me paranoid, but this type of government sponsored subordination smacks of brown shirts and Orwellian “right-thinking”. Parents, it’s time to get off your butts and start being parents. This is YOUR job, not the schools. Get your righteous indignation up, write the school boards a letter and raise some hell. Take some responsibility for raising your kids, and insist that the schools concentrate on teaching the academic skills they’ll need to survive in the modern world. Or not. There will always be a need for mindless sheep. They make good cannon fodder, and are easy to manage and manipulate. They’re your kids. You decide their future.