Does the Creation of the world necessitate its destruction?

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This is not the first time I’ve shared something I once wrote for DBH, but I’ll kick off with a short explanation of what’s about to happen for anyone unfamiliar: Over the course of a Jewish year, the entire Torah is read in sequence. Many people study the weekly portion, and sometimes relate what they have learned in the form of a Dvar Torah – literally, a word of Torah.

This post consists primarily of a Dvar Torah related to Bereishit, or Genesis (edited for having been originally written five years ago — but not for content). Those who keep track of such things will surely note that this past week’s portion was Lech Lecha, which followed Noah, which followed Genesis. In other words, this post appears to have arrived three weeks late.

Don’t worry, I have a good explanation: The week of Genesis, the YIHY (Young Israel House at Yale) listserv mistakenly announced it would read Noah. The week of Noah was Noah. And the week of Lech Lecha (i.e. this week), Manhattan pulled its best Noah (i.e. it flooded). And so, by the transitive property of weekly Torah portions, I can safely write about Genesis for another few days without incurring the Wrath of God:

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The dumbest thing ever said about ‘You didn’t build that’

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Almost exactly two years ago, when Moment Magazine featured an interview with conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, the magazine’s cover described him as ‘One of the nation’s most loved/hated pundits’.

This post stems not from a feeling of love, nor from a feeling of hate. I feel no great need to defend Mr. Obama’s remarks – though I agree with them and believe they have been willfully misinterpreted – and I feel no great need to bury Mr. Krauthammer.

But I can say with absolute certainty that Krauthammer wrote the dumbest thing ever written about You didn’t build that not because I’ve read every word ever written on the subject, but because it was so certifiably stupid that it would be literally impossible to surpass. Without further ado, the relevant excerpt:

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Mr. Ahmadinejad goes to Walgreens

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Welcome to national security amateur hour.

I’m almost a month behind on this one (or six years, depending on your count) but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I’m almost a month behind on everything… including The Colbert Report, through which the following information — first broadcast on October 1 — was brought to my attention earlier this week.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited New York in late September, delivering a speech to the UN on Yom Kippur wasn’t the only item on his to-do list. The Iranian President’s 140-person entourage was also spotted “at Payless Shoesource, Costco, Walgreens and Duane Reade [stocking] up on items ranging from wholesale shampoo to a pair of $40 kids’ shoes.”

The only more delicious list of shopping destinations would have included B&H Photo and H&H Bagels.

But where Colbert focused on radioactive yellowcake mix at Costco, the real aim of the shopping spree has gone unreported — even while the clues hide in the open. Specifically, in that quote from the Huffington Post: the Iranian delegation hit the town, and came back with a large quantity of shampoo.

This purchase begs the obvious: how did they plan to transport it all back to Iran? Traveling with liquids in your checked bag is just asking for them to explode and ruin those $40 kids’ shoes. And getting more than 3 ounces of shampoo past TSA ‘security’ is obviously a fool’s errand.

Then again, I haven’t heard about any big shampoo bust out of JFK over the past month. Which brings me to a sobering reality: if Iranian agents have tested the limits of US airport security and come away victorious — that is, managed to smuggle shampoo aboard a plane — who knows what they’ll manage to carry-on next time? In this post-9/11 world, you have to be ready for anything.

Sadly, it is readily apparent that the TSA is not.

All this is to say that New York Times reports indicating Iran may finally be ready to sit down and negotiate – reports denied first by the White House, then by Barack Obama — might make some sense: Armed with the ability to evade TSA, Iran may have come to the realization that further development of nuclear technology is not only damaging to its economy, but an unnecessary step in the neverending war against Big Satan.

After all, just how big can a Satan be if you can threaten it with a bottle of wholesale shampoo?

Refining the TSA dirty thievery results

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There’s a reason you never check a bag with something valuable in it.

ABC recently released information obtained from the Transportation ‘Security’ Administration (TSA), listing the number of employees fired for theft at various airports. Using the information, ABC put out a list of ‘The top airports across the U.S. for TSA employees fired for theft.’ And while that title might not perfectly encapsulate what the list actually communicates, the headline of the article including that list is even more misleading:

The Top 20 Airports for TSA TheftABC News

There are two problems here. For one, the list tallies only the raw number of firings from 2002-2011, not rates, which skews its results in favor of small airports with fewer employees, and fewer passengers from whom they can steal. As a passenger, you’re more interested in how likely a given passenger is to be robbed than in how often it happens, period. And for two, the list tallies employee firings, without accounting for the fact that not every luggage thief is apprehended.

I can’t really address this second point without additional information, but I thought it would be worth trying to refine ABC’s results to at least account for airport traffic.

So here’s a list of 20 airports that have fired employees for theft, ranked by number of annual passengers per theft. The first column lists the airport, the second how it did in ABC’s primitive estimation, the third adjusts for traffic, and the fourth indicates how much better or worse the airport’s ranking looks when traffic volume has been taken into account. For a concrete example, New Orleans ranked 15th in the number of employees fired for theft, but second when its low traffic volume was taken into account – a drop of 13 spots:

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Windows 8 to spawn a warranty nightmare

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Listen, Microsoft. I’m one of the few people excited for Windows 8 to come out later this week. To be honest, the operating system looks like it was built for phones and tablets and only shoehorned onto a laptop, but it looks new/fresh/hip/what the kids are into, so until I’ve tried it on a PC, I’m happy to give you the benefit of the doubt.

That said, I’m a little concerned about the physical shells you’ve concocted to go with it. The Seattle Times technology blog describes

crazy new Windows 8 hybrids and convertibles PCs that flip, fold and slide into different shapes.

‘Crazy’ is not a word often associated with staid, conservative PC ‘design’, so let’s take a quick look at what you have in store (literally):

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Poor Mitt Romney

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Last week, we explored Mitt Romney’s use of socialist media to spread his message.

This week, it looks like Romney’s advertising campaign has revealed some information he may have preferred to keep a secret:

219 people like Outriggers Restaurant. 1,096,008 like Captain Morgan USA. And exactly 1 person thinks Mitt Romney won last night’s debate.

Poor Mitt Romney. (And I mean that in the most figurative sense possible.)

Well, that was a silly thing to say

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Debate number 2 of 3. Lots of dumb things said, but this one’s quick and easy. Romney says:

I ran the Olympics and balanced the budget.

Good job, Mitt. Remind me, how did you manage such an impressive feat?

Oh right, with “enormous spending and services of the federal government.” (Romney’s words.) More specifically, “with $342 million in direct federal funding and an additional $1.1 billion in indirect financing from Washington.” (Huffington Post and CNN’s words.)

So what’s the plan when the budget you’re trying to bail out is the federal government’s?

Post-debate cognitive dissonance check: Round II

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I hope you enjoyed the first post-debate cognitive dissonance check, because (as you may have gathered) it’s time for the second. That’s because the second Presidential debate is nearly upon us, and I have yet to briefly address the first. So here we go:

ROMNEY: And the challenges America faces right now — look, the reason I’m in this race is there are people that are really hurting today in this country. And we face — this deficit could crush the future generations.

Here we have Mitt Romney demonstrating a basic understanding of ‘responsibility toward future generations’. But that same Mitt Romney also feels comfortable saying things like this:

ROMNEY: Mr. President, all of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land. On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half. If I’m president, I’ll double them, and also get the — the oil from offshore and Alaska. And I’ll bring that pipeline in from Canada.

And, by the way, I like coal. I’m going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal. People in the coal industry feel like it’s getting crushed by your policies. I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.

More natural gas. More oil. More Arctic Wildlife Refuge. More Keystone XL. More clean coal. “I like coal.”

Now, now, you might tell me. These aren’t necessarily horrible ideas. Even Obama publicly supports an ‘All of the above’ approach to energy generation. Maybe Mitt means to supplement these dirty sources of energy with increased investment in solar, in wind, in efficiency – you name it.

That’s certainly plausible. So let’s see what he has to say about green energy:

 I — look, I’m all in favor of green energy.

Wonderful. I’m sure it appreciates your favor. But how would you transform this favor into action? What do you think is a good idea? What do you think doesn’t work? What would be your ultimate goal?

Oh, right. The full excerpt:

ROMNEY: You put $90 billion into — into green jobs. And I — look, I’m all in favor of green energy. $90 billion, that would have — that would have hired 2 million teachers. $90 billion. And these businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in have gone out of business. [...]

And in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world. Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. And you say Exxon and Mobil. Actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth. [...]

But don’t forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of breaks, into — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right?

I’m going to ignore the obvious math fail in that last paragraph, the disingenuousness built into Romney’s complaint about hiring teachers (federal funding for public employees was cut during the recession, when it should have increased), and that his facts are misleading at best, totally fabricated at worst. (He vastly overestimates the amount Obama’s spent on green energy and understates the extent of government subsidies to big oil. Of course, for a man of his wealth, all those millions are a rounding error.)

Instead, let’s assume for a moment that what he said is true within broad outlines: Obama invested in green energy, in green companies, didn’t (yet) greenlight Keystone XL or drilling in Alaska, and so on.

That these allegations are considered attacks is astounding – and a depressing comment on the political climate of climate change.

Mitt, you just said “this deficit could crush the future generations,” so I know you understand that actions we take today can impact future generations. I know the deficit you’re worried about consists of actual, tangible, real money that you can hold in your hands and stick into your suit jacket.

But I also know you’re a smart guy. You went to Harvard Business School and also some second-rate affiliated law school. I think you’re capable of transferring your concern from strictly literal dollars and cents into other, more abstract types of debt – ones that stand to crush future generations in ways every bit as real as, if not more than, the kind of debt you’re used to.

I know this post is titled ‘cognitive dissonance’, but I don’t think Romney is incapable of understanding climate change. In fact, I’m fairly certain he does understand. But I also suspect that he just doesn’t care.

It used to be that – broadly speaking – both Democrats and Republicans agreed climate change was an issue, and simply disagreed over how to address it. But when Democrats threatened to actually do something (adopt the free-market cap-and-trade solution originally favored by Republicans) the disagreement shifted to whether there was any issue worth addressing in the first place. You can’t agree on a solution if you don’t agree there is a problem. Don’t want a solution? Deny the problem.

And Romney isn’t helping. Just over a month ago, he told Meet the Press:

The reason I’m in this race is to help people. I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet. I’m in this race to help the American people.

Nevermind that the American people live on the planet, and are surrounded by the ocean.

In high school, I was asked to represent President Bush in a mock school-wide Presidential debate. I included the following line as a sort of depressing joke:

President Bush is not as concerned with the environment as he is with your economic well-being because you are a human, not a tree.

Eight years later, the Republican party still forces its candidate to toe that line.

No, Obama hasn’t done much for the environment. He pushed Obamacare over climate change, and now rarely mentions it. He’s established few national monuments, is likely to approve Keystone XL, and has generally done his best to shy away from any big issues.

But running in place is preferable to going backwards. Or, in a metaphor that may one day become all too real in Mitt Romney’s America (what with rising sea levels and all that): treading water is preferable to drowning.

Obama’s got a pretty funny idea of what a man looks like

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Welcome to the apparel section of the Obama for America website.

I draw your attention first to the line indicating ‘Home > Apparel > Men’. Then drop down a few pixels check out the models. By my count, it’s 3 for 9, with one borderline.

Unsurprisingly, he has similar problems (with the percentage roughly reversed) on the women’s side of the store.

At least he seems to have a firm grasp of what children look like:

The significance of Gangnam Style, maybe

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Gangnam Style is nearing 440 million views on Youtube, PSY taught Britney how to dance on Ellen (“Dress classy and dance cheesy“), and I’m still surprised whenever I meet someone who hasn’t heard (of) it.

But none of that approaches what I consider the song’s greatest achievement: getting play on American radio.

Granted, its 16th-ranked position on the Billboard ‘Radio songs’ chart is low compared to its #2 showing on the Billboard Hot 100 (which also measures singles sales, downloads, and other measures of popularity), or its #4 spot on the iTunes Official Music Chart (which measures what you think it does).

But that still puts it ahead of some other songs that seem like they’re always on the radio (see, e.g., Call Me Maybe, What Makes You Beautiful) and only one spot behind another song you may have heard of (Somebody That I Used to Know). And it shouldn’t stop you from appreciating the fact that radio stations are choosing to play an entirely foreign-language song in the first place.

Sure, you can turn on the radio anywhere in this country and hear music from international singers, but that music is almost always going to be in English. French/Israeli Yael Naim sings New Soul in English. Icelandic Of Monsters and Men sing Little talks in English. French/Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen sings Call Me Maybe in English. Colombian Shakira sings Waka Waka in… English? Ricky Martin. Enrique Eglesias. And so on.

You get the point: ‘I don’t always listen to the radio… but when I do, the songs had better be in English.’

The situation here stands in stark contrast to what you hear abroad. Last summer, I spent two weeks driving around Germany, listening to English songs on the radio – and have had similar experiences in Israel and Nepal. And I think it would be nice if the exchange started to go both ways.

Living in United States, it’s all too easy to get caught up in an English-speaking, America-centric bubble. If you so chose, you could go days without hearing a word of a foreign language – longer, if you don’t count Spanish as a foreign language. That language gap means Americans are rarely forced to acknowledge that there is a whole world out there, where people dress differently, think differently, speak differently – and maybe have something to contribute.

And don’t try to tell me American preference for English music is because our music is ‘better’. The same foreign artists who are popular in this country often sing in their native tongues abroad – but you’d never know that from listening to American radio.

Admittedly, I’m not all too familiar with international music, but from my limited contact with Hebrew and Hindi, Nepali (& Co.) music, I know there’s no shortage of catchy international tunes that anyone – even Americans – could appreciate without understanding a single word.

And I know that because I listen to them on my own time. The internet is an amazing thing.

No, radio no longer plays a huge role in the national consciousness. But at the end of the day, DJs play what they think their listeners want to heart. And thanks to Gangnam Style, what they want to hear might just sound a little less English than it did yesterday.

I’ll conclude with one of my favorite Hebrew songs. You just might like it, even if you don’t understand a word: