Crichton Technique

I read State of Fear by Michael Crichton over the weekend.  It was an interesting book, but I noticed something strange.  Male character were always referred to by their last name (not including dialogue).  Female characters were always referred to by their first name.  Even weirder, characters from “exotic” countries like Nepal are also referred to by their first name (e.g. “Sanjong Thapa” is “Sanjong” throughout the book).

Does this mean anything?  Is there something going on here?


Essay on Gaza Withdrawal

This was written by Rabbi Chaim Eisen, who I had as a teacher in 1996-1997, and 2000. He is brilliant and extremely rational, and I value his opinion greatly. I'm not going to write any of my own opinions on the subject, since I really don't know enough about either side to argue one way or another. I've never been to Gush Katif, and I don't know what exactly the disengagement is meant to accomplish, or how. I do know that I have a lot of respect for Rabbi Eisen, and find his arguments both convincing and devastating. Anyway, without further ado…

Our Move to Gush Katif

by Chaim Eisen

Having just moved to Neve Dekalim, my family and I consider ourselves truly privileged to be among the newer members of an extraordinary group of people — the residents of Gush Katif. I refer not only to the oft-stated verities. We all know that the lands upon which the Gush was built were liberated with the Gaza strip in the wake of the Six Day War in 1967, precipitated directly by unilateral Egyptian aggression. This land, well within even the most restrictive interpretations of the borders of the Biblically ordained Promised Land, was a desolate wasteland. All of it was either previously owned by Jews (like Kefar Darom), state-owned, or ownerless — and legally unclaimed by any sovereign country. Our nation has lived here since Abraham and Sara and Isaac and Rebecca, at least 37 centuries ago. Even during two millennia of exile, Jews subsisted here almost continuously, until the British expelled them from Gaza, during the Arab pogroms and massacres of 1929. During the 1948 War of Independence, Kefar Darom heroically defended the fledgling state against the attacking Egyptian army, but eventually it was overrun. It was courageously reestablished immediately after the Six Day War. The resettling of the entire area was conceived by the Labor government of Golda Meir 35 years ago, as part of a network of Jewish villages, to impede Arab terror emanating from the Gaza strip. Some of the most dedicated idealists of this generation lovingly built the 21 towns and villages here over the intervening years, with reiterated encouragement by successive governments on the left and on the right. Overcoming daunting odds, the quiet farmers of Gush Katif not only caused the desert literally to bloom but also established a vast agricultural and industrial base, generating thousands of jobs and revenues of several hundred million shekalim annually. In doing so, they also provided employment and infrastructure for their Arab neighbors, which raised the latter's standard of living immeasurably — until the Arabs launched a genocidal war of death and destruction to drive all the Jews from their midst. The true greatness of the farmers and workers of Gush Katif, however, was tested and proved with incomparably greater force in the crucible of suffering, during the past five years' war of unrelenting terror.

Indeed, coming here only recently, I concede that arrogating to ourselves the status of Gush Katif residents is unconscionably pretentious on our part. After all, the brunt of the Arab terror war that has thus far rained down almost 5,900 mortar shells and Qassam rockets upon the Jews here is, we pray, behind us. We were not here when the men, women, and children of the Gush were left to cower in inadequate shelters as, on some days, the shells fell almost incessantly. Nor did we live daily with the mind-numbing anxiety of a routine, daily commute to Kissufim, knowing it could explode at any moment into the nightmare of a sniper attack or a roadside bomb, amid a maelstrom of broken glass, splattered gore, and shattered lives. Perhaps most hurtful of all, we were not forced to endure the effective disenfranchisement — the institutionalized insults, marginalization, and demonization — inflicted upon the people here by a demagogic, self-serving government. Finally, if — G-d forbid — Jews are once again expelled from their homes, the people of Gush Katif will be homeless; we (for the time being, at least) still have our flat in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, we are here now, in awe — not only of the breathtaking landscape and glittering sea. Since we arrived, we have learned, like the locals, to ignore the background din of exploding artillery shells and the thunderous boom of Qassam rockets (all shot exclusively at us, since the government has forbidden the army to return fire). We have grown accustomed to the town's public address system announcing nonchalantly, sometimes several times each day, an impending controlled detonation (of an unexploded shell) or advising the good citizens to seek cover in a sheltered area because of an imminent barrage. The ongoing daily miracles of survival notwithstanding, last week a couple of people were wounded when a private home suffered a direct hit. Saturday night, the one exit road was closed, after middle-aged grandparents, visiting their children for Shabbat, were ruthlessly murdered in a hail of bullets. (Even then, the army remained under orders to refrain from any response; the terrorists were eliminated only by the swift intervention of the local civilian security chief, who was wounded in the process.) Moreover, relentlessly, we see and hear the tales of unprovoked police brutality and deliberate degradation, even against law-abiding women and children. Nonetheless, through it all, we bear witness to a tenacity of the people here that defies the imagination. When circumstances are so utterly extraordinary, the ordinary itself becomes extraordinary. The quiet dignity of the people here, in maintaining a routine as if nothing has changed, is humbling.

We walk through Gush Katif as if in a dream. Little children (apparently, by far the largest age group) laugh and play. The town center of Neve Dekalim evinces the hustle and bustle of small city life. People shop, make and keep appointments, and altogether go about their business. Yeshivot are filled with students engrossed in study, and the list of Torah classes offered for adults — already impressive by any standard — only continues to grow. The dozens of magnificent, ornately decorated synagogues (presumably, slated by the government for, G-d forbid, either destruction or conversion into mosques or worse) are full three times a day for regular services as usual. Garbage is collected, streets are meticulously cleaned, and gardens are manicured and watered. The vast majority of the farmers prepare for next year's planting withal.

But the tension, for me at least, is palpable. We are teetering on the brink of a precipice. Relentlessly, the police, acting on government orders, tighten the noose. The “closure'' becomes more and more a siege, a stranglehold. Upstanding citizens are subjected to humiliating searches at proliferating checkpoints, where even grandmothers have been dragged from their cars and beaten mercilessly. Close relatives are denied permission to visit their loved ones. Some supplies have begun to disappear from the supermarket's shelves as inventories are depleted. Regular bus service into and out of the Gush is reportedly being discontinued. Yesterday, we heard that plainclothes police officers have begun infiltrating communities to seize and peremptorily expel anyone without satisfactory papers, including people who have lived here for months. Daily government threats rain down upon us like Arab artillery shells. According to the declared schedule, soon the health clinic, the post office, and the bank will shut down. Later, they plan to disinter the dead and dismantle the cemeteries. Then, they will come for all of us. On the one hand, repeatedly, we invoke the Talmudic dictum, “Even if a sharp sword is put to a person's throat, he should not withhold himself from [beseeching G-d for] mercy'' (Berachot 10a). We believe earnestly in miracles — such as the one, in the Six Day War, that liberated these lands in the first place. Yet, on the other hand, we have no guarantee that we will merit being the beneficiaries of such extraordinary intervention again, in this new war being waged against the people of Israel, this time by its own government.

Still, we try to remain hopeful. The recent replacement of regular soldiers manning the blockades by higher-ranking officers was undoubtedly intended to increase the pressure on the people here. However, it also betrays the government's cognizance — and fear — of growing unrest among the rank and file whom it has charged to execute its decrees. Even left-leaning newspapers like Ma`ariv have confirmed that thousands of people have entered Gush Katif since the government imposed its “closure” order. Our own observations fully corroborate that conclusion. Presumably, some of the best-trained soldiers of one of the most skilled armies in the world could have done a “better job'' on behalf of the government, had they felt motivated to do so. When we entered Gush Katif (with valid permits), we plainly saw how halfheartedly and lackadaisically ordinary soldiers were enforcing the directives they had received. Our teenage sons, who were all present at the standoff in Kefar Maimon, all reported that most of the soldiers they saw took every opportunity to express (surreptitiously) their heartfelt support for the protesters. The universally acclaimed, exemplary conduct of the protesters obviously further reinforced these sentiments. More generally, the brutally antidemocratic and manifestly illegal tactics of the police have appalled most of the country. The tide of public opinion that once seemed, in the wake of the government's slick campaign of slander, implacably set against us, has by all accounts shifted dramatically in our favor.

The aforementioned soldiers who were in Kefar Maimon have thus far refrained from explicitly disobeying orders. We nevertheless hope that, on the day of reckoning, these and the other soldiers will see with their own eyes, before it is too late, the evil that their government has summoned them to perpetrate. Then, we pray, they will inexorably heed the voice of their consciences and follow their many comrades who have already informed their commanders that they cannot and will not execute the orders they were given. In the same vein, we can only admire Timor Abdullah — a decorated Druze sergeant, court-martialed and imprisoned for his opposition to expelling Jews from their homes — and his father Nazia, who publicly expressed pride in his son's refusal to commit this “crime against humanity.'' Granted, a deliverance mediated by a breakdown of some of the most fundamental institutions of law and order carries a terrible price. Yet, when a cynical oligarchy hijacks those very institutions in attempting to perpetrate a manifest crime, we are left with no choice. As the philosopher Edmund Burke noted, “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.'' The alternative to the institutional breakdown — a breakdown of morality and decency, instead — is immeasurably more terrifying still.

This, in the end, is why we are here. Granted, we had many important reasons to come. On a cosmic plane, we came — without exaggeration or cynicism — on behalf of Western civilization, however thankless it often is. One can scarcely imagine a greater boost to international Islamic terror than requiting an unrelenting five-year terror war against innocent men, women, and children by expelling them from their homes and awarding those homes to their attackers. The inevitable consequence — a recidivist terror state of an emboldened Hamas in Gaza — is almost too horrific even for nightmares. On the most intimate plane, we came to demonstrate tangibly our support for and commiseration with our brothers and sisters and close friends in Gush Katif. To indulge in understatement, they have already suffered far more than enough. And, on a national plane, we came on behalf of the nation and State of Israel, the most insidious threat to whose survival lies in sundering the elemental sense that we are, after all, one people. It is difficult to conceive of a more conclusively fatal blow to that abiding sense of nationhood than the willful ruin of one segment of society by another. It is harder still to see how a nation thereby compromised and demoralized could possibly persevere in the face of the ongoing threats to its very existence. “Disengagement” — which has already proven mere divestiture, in exchange for nothing — is aptly named indeed. It entails disengaging from our G-d-given heritage, disengaging from our brethren, and, in the end, disengaging from our future.

Yet, on the most fundamental plane, apart from all these cogent considerations, we came here, simply, because we must. There is no middle course. Burke famously observed, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.'' Inaction is equivalent to acquiescence, which is tantamount to collusion. Maintaining a routine today in Gush Katif exemplifies heroism; elsewhere, it betrays indifference and complicity. And complicity with evil — however tacit — is always evil. In the worst event, G-d forbid, who on the day of reckoning will be able honestly to declare, “Our hands did not spill this blood, and our eyes did not see'' (Deuteronomy 21:7)? Conversely, as Rabbi Menachem ibn Zerach Tzorfati commented, “A little light dispels a great deal of darkness'' (Tzedah LaDerech, ch. 12). We pray every morning, “May You shine a new light on Zion, and may we all speedily merit that light.'' May we all, like the brave men, women, and children of Gush Katif, demonstrate the tenacity to fend off despair and persist uncompromisingly in our just struggle to kindle that light. Whatever you do, do something! Only by our doing everything incumbent upon each of us, we may hope to merit the divine blessings that will crown all our efforts, individually and collectively, with success in advancing that ultimate goal.


For almost a quarter century, the author has taught at various yeshivot in Israel and lectured extensively on Jewish thought and Jewish philosophy throughout Israel and the US. As founding editor of the OU journal Jewish Thought, he also wrote and edited numerous essays in these fields. He currently teaches at the Seymour J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center and in the Torah Lecture Corps of the IDF Rabbinate (res.). When he is not living in Gush Katif, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three sons.


New RFID Privacy Threats

Another Slashdot
story.  They want to use RFID tags to track foreigners and dead
people.  Of course, from there, the next logical steps are
prisoners (which they're probably already doing anyway), patients in a
hospital, children, government employees… after a while there won't
be many people NOT being tracked by these things, if any.  Bad,
bad, bad.


Mmmmm… FemBot

Saw this in Slashdot. We are one step closer to the Stepford Utopia. Ahh….


p.s. Please don't hurt me.

The Kids Are All Right

A while back I wrote about Steven Johnson's “Everything Bad is Good For You”.  Previous posts of mine demonstrate my mixed feelings about video games .

Today the LA Times printed an open letter to Hillary Clinton about the Grand Theft Auto scandal, written by Johnson.  I personally think it's dead on, assuming his facts are legitimate.

A sample paragraph:

I'd like to draw your attention to another game whose nonstop violence and hostility has captured the attention of millions of kids — a game that instills aggressive thoughts in the minds of its players, some of whom have gone on to commit real-world acts of violence and sexual assault after playing.

I'm talking, of course, about high school football.

Boo-yah!  Read.


Star Wars Galaxies Suuuucks

Good Ol' TheForce.Net has an interesting article called “5 Reasons Why Star Wars Galaxies Is Not Worth Your Time”. I, however, can narrow it down to one reason – it's boring. There's a simple reason for this: it was designed to be boring from the beginning. Huh? Well, since they charge a monthly fee, the longer it takes things to get done, the more money they can potentially make. After all, if it takes me three hours to get to the next level in the Mining skill, then I'm going to spend a LOT of time improving my mining abilities to a level where the skill becomes practical (i.e. where I can start building weapons or selling ore etc). So mining is an artificially slow process that forces you to spend more time on the game, paying real money to do so.

That in itself wouldn't be so bad, but the process of mining itself is extremely dull. There's no skill involved – you scan for minerals, zone in on a reasonably rich deposit, and mine it by clicking the “Mine” button. At that point, about every few seconds, a message appears. Either you got something, or you didn't. But you don't really have to be there to find out. Go to the kitchen, get something to eat, come back, and you probably have at least something mined. What fun. Then, once you finish mining, you have to wait a few minutes to mine for something else. I guess you're just supposed to hang out during that time. You don't have to worry about monsters attacking you while you do it, since monsters always mind their own business unless you attack them first (Warcraft, on the other hand, forces you to kill nearby aggressive monsters first). But that's also boring. It pretty much means that nothing's happening unless you make it happen. That's true of almost any game, but still… the whole process is tedious, for no good reason.

Don't even get me started on the Dancing skill, which can heal other players. That just involves hitting the “Dance” button, pressing the “Flourish” button a few times, and… that's about it. A mini-game where you actually figure out dance moves using different key combinations could have been fun. Pressing a button and basically walking away (which, in jargon, makes your character an “AFK Bot”) is not.

There are many more serious flaws with the game that TF.N discusses, but pretty much all of it would have been forgivable if the game was actually fun. But it's not, and all the balancing and tweaking in the world won't help that.


Biur Chametz Brilliance

Biur Chametz analyzes Ariel Sharon's heavy-handed approach to the withdrawal.  His basic theory is that Sharon is trying to make the Gaza withdrawal so painful as to preclude the possibility of a similar withdrawal from the West Bank.  If that's true, then Sharon is a mad genius.  But kudos to BC for thinking of that.


p.s. The title of his post is “Tearing for the purpose of mending” – a reference to Sabbath law which says that certain destructive acts (such as tearing) are forbidden if they are done for the purpose of facilitating a constructive act (like mending).

John Roberts

rexblog says it all.


Tagging – The Future of IT?

I just found this fascinating article about tagging (it continues here). 
He basically explains why tagging information is far superior to
organizing it in a tree structure (i.e. folders).  GMail uses this approach for organization, making it much easier to find e-mails as your inbox gets more complex.

I wrote about tags earlier, but I think this article does a much better job of extolling the virtue of tags.  Check it out!


Prison Clock


Dear Steve,

I hope you haven't forgotten me. I'm Roger Sutton, the one that is in prison. I'm sending you pictures of the clock I built using your plans. This clock is built out of all paper and popsicle sticks and the gear shafts are wooden pencils. I built this clock with only a razor blade, a pair of tweezers and a fingernail clipper. It sound impossible, but these were the only tools I had to build it with. And I want you to know it took me four months to build it!

I would like to ask you, could I get these pictures on the Internet where people could see my clock? I think it would inspire people to do more woodworking. This is the first clock that has been built like this, especially in prison. It would be nice to get more people excited about woodworking.

I would like to put this clock in a museum. Could you recommend a good place? If so, please send me the address. I would like to have my clock where other people could see it, what old clockmakers can do with little to do it with. You know what patience I had to take with it to build it out of paper.

Best regards,
Roger W. Sutton

Holy —-. Via Make.