A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Israel Photography Trip from Boulder

I will likely lead another trip to Israel in 2011 but for those who have a particular interest in photography, Byahad Trex is leading a great trip in April.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Golem

Thanks to R, who sent me a great article on Professor Henry Makram's Blue Brain project to create consciousness from a computer. You can read it here.

The obvious point of reference for thinking about the meaning of artificial consciousness from a Jewish perspective is the golem. These legendary early animated non-human beings were imagined in the talmud. Significantly, they could be created only by righteous and learned rabbis. This introduces a measure of control over the animated being. Still, though, the golems that were created could wreak havoc. The presence of the world "emet" (truth) on their foreheads is significant for two reasons: one, it suggests that the being is subject to the normal laws of reality (this is my reading of this part of the legend) as we know them. Second, when the first letter of the word emet is erased, it becomes "met" (dead), and the being dies.

A good article on Golems here, Wikipedia entry here.

My tiny brain is not equipped to deal with the Jewish or ethical significance of this now real prospect. I'm going to do some reading on this over the next few months.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Economic Pressure on Israel....from the US

Interesting. George Mitchell (administration envoy for mideast peace) indicated in an interview (transcript is here) that one of the tools in the administration's belt in dealing with Israel is preventing loan guarantees.

As I've written before, I think that Israel's long-term security can only come from peace and stability - something that in my opinion its government is moving away from. Nonetheless, the administration must not use Israel's economic vulnerability against it - not good policy, not good for Israel.

If you are pro-Peace, and pro-Israel, as I am, and you think this is a good option for the US to wield, just think about how it could be used. If we go down the road of the US putting serious economic pressure on Israel, one can imagine Israel being put in a totally untenable position one day. Having to act against its security interests in order to avoid the danger of the loss of US aid.

The Administration is trying to walk it back by saying that he was taken out of context; that clearly, Mitchell was simply talking descriptively, not proscriptively, about the mechanisms that the US could use as leverage. That is, he was just saying that this was technically possible, and nothing more, in response to Rose asking him about possible options.

The transcript itself makes that pretty hard, if not impossible, to defend. My read is that he threw out there, in very careful terms, a very mild and vague warning. He even suggests – depending on how you understand his subsequent remarks – that this is something that the Administration is “discussing.” Obviously it’s not to be understood as a suggestion he’s making for US policy, but a subtle message to the Israelis, “we’re not screwing around.” I just think a guy as diplomatically experienced as Mitchell – which is to say, very – doesn’t throw around such things by accident.

What's strange is how little play this is getting in various media. I can't find anything on it from NYT or CNN. It is very big news in Israel. Reuters has a good read on the Israeli reaction here. The article notes that Israel doesn't intend to use guarantees at least for the next two years.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Time Out for Fun - Miles Davis Quintet, 1966, "Footprints."

I've rediscovered a Miles Davis album I had forgotten about: Miles Smiles. This is a live performance from one of the great combos in music.

The Tehilim (Psalms) were set to music, regal religious music. This to me feels like religious music: I like to think of them accompanying King David.

Pluralism Gone Wild

This article could have appeared in satirical pages of The Onion but it is an actual editorial that appeared this week. It is the idea of western pluralism taken to absurd extremes. If pluralism is so pluralistic that it can't place blame on axe-wielding murderers but rather on their victims, then it can't survive.

As a religious person, I would like to state for the record that I'm offended by the author's supposed defense of religion. Set aside for the moment that the term "religious people" lumps together radical terrorists and people like me. If religious people can't be expected to act rationally, to accept criticism and satire of their culture, without resorting to murderous violence, then they can't be defended.

The author's vision of the religious/secular divide would make it impossible for religion to exist in a pluralistic society. This is how pluralistic/liberal societies consume themselves and become anti-pluralistic: insisting that anti-pluralistic, anti-modern, anti-democratic violence is a legitimate political expression.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tiger, Save Yourself: Abandon Buddhism!

That's what Brit Hume, in a moment of contemplative babble, tells the world. What can one even say? Nothing, so we'll let Brit speak for himself):