Monday, March 22, 2004

Re Israel's assassination of Sheik Yassin: Terrorists be warned, Israel is now playing hardball. For three years now you have indescriminately killed innocents, flouting your power and showering terror. For three years Israel restrained itself, leaving your leaders alone, going after only the pundits, meting out punishment but not retribution. Those days are over.
No longer will Israel show you any level of mercy, or compassion. You will not be safe anywhere, and you will know the meaning of terror. For 56 years, the olive branch extended to you has been met with the sword. Now you will fear the sword that is extended to meet yours.
Israel is coming for you. God have mercy on your filthy souls.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Gee I haven't posted in quite a while...anyway, here's a thought: What makes any religious myth more legitimate than another? Why do Christians believe in the story of Jesus' resurrection more than the story of Muhammed's ascension? Why do Muslims believe in the story of Muhammed's ascension more than they believe in the story of Jesus' resurrection? Why don't Jews believe either? What makes one more compelling than the other? Suddenly, belief in any of them seems foolish, because at some point they become mutually exclusive, and there's no way to show one is any more true than another. Both are the source of both incredible and terrible things in this world, so how can we evaluate them?
Just a thought.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

How exactly is Israel supposed to deal with the Palestinians in power, when they are closely tied to the same people that are blowing themselves up in Iraq? The suicide bombers in Iraq are targeting the Americans, true, but more often than not, they are blowing up their own people. How is anyone supposed to make peace with a group of people who love death and hate any percieved enemy so much that they are not only willing to kill themselves, but their own comrades?
I read a very disturbing article in the New York Times, detailing an apparent concerted effort to kill the intellectuals in Iraq: lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. I have no idea how much Islam has to do with this, and frankly, I don't think it matters. The fact that Arab society, regardless of religion, is tolerating this is both ridiculous and very frightening. Where are the moderates to counteract the fanatics? Don't tell me they have been silenced; the time has come for them to speak at the risk of their lives, because if they don't, then we are left to assume they are all fanatics.
And when you are dealing with fanatics, you have very very limited options. Combined with the power of today's militaries, that is a recipe for catastrophe.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

A note about the Massachusetts High Court ruling concerning homosexual marriages: I was a fence-sitter on this one, until I read the majority opinion, and realized, "Duh." Anything short of equal protection under the law for homosexuals to marry when they love each other and want to commit is discrimination, no less than the "separate yet equal" crap that came during the civil rights era. Further, having had to fight so long for recognition, I will not be at all surprised if statistics down the road reveal a lower divorce rate among homosexuals than among heterosexuals. Chew on that.
Column (unedited version) to be published February 6:

Sometimes, treehouse is just a treehouse.

We all know about treehouses; if we didn’t have one when we were little we probably knew someone who did. They could have been anything we wanted them to be: a clubhouse, a spaceship, a fort, a place to hide…but always a place to have fun. The allure of the treehouse has not waned much now that we are in college. Treehouses now are a novel place to study, hang out, or for the more adventurous, get some nookie, a throwback which reminds us of younger days, even while we grow older. A treehouse is a quintessential representation of what it used to mean, and can still mean to have fun.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, the simplicity of what it meant to have fun as a child is being tempered by the reality of litigation. Sometimes, a treehouse is a liability.

The loss suffered by this fact runs deeper than the very real possibility that the treehouse in the academic quad will probably be removed soon. The truth is that such a simple thing as a treehouse erected by an anonymous crew purely for the fun of it is unfairly tainted by the nature of today’s society, and is symbolic of the direction our country is headed.

Perhaps instead of a treehouse, you had a rope swing over a waterhole when you were young. Perhaps one day someone took a tumble, let go too soon, or too late, and hurt themselves at that waterhole. Back then, everyone probably felt sorry for the kid, but no one thought of suing anyone. Danger was part of the deal; it was, in fact, part of what made swinging on that rope such a thrill. If someone got hurt, it was a shame, but that was life. We would learn to be more cautious, and move on.

Today, Americans seem less and less willing to face up to that fact. Rather than accept the responsibility of risk as part of life, and often times a part of fun, many choose to blame someone else for their pain, claiming that they should have been looking out for their safety. In some cases, the plaintiff is completely justified. But too often, it is a simple refusal to take responsibility for the pain and discomfort which is an integral part of living.

That something as simple as the treehouse in the quad can represent so well this situation shows just how far things have gone. It is commendable that the administration did not immediately remove the treehouse, recognizing that it is “representative of Rice’s character.” I think they should be bold and brave, and take it one step further. The treehouse is sagging as it settles on its ropes, and this should be corrected, but other than that, why not leave it alone? Just for once, let’s make the people who use the treehouse responsible for themselves, instead of holding the university liable. A safety railing would detract from the authenticity of the treehouse. The builders did all that was necessary by placing rules for its use at the base. If people decide not to obey those rules, they have no one to blame but themselves should anything unfortunate happen.

True, it is a concern that someone could fall off and hurt themselves. But how much fun is something when your safety is completely guaranteed? I don’t mean to suggest that something need be dangerous to be fun, but one of the reasons it was built was, appropriately, to “remember the art of play,” according to one of its builders. Enjoyment is being choked by too many rules and regulations, and eventually, there will be so many that most of us will say ‘to hell with it’ and go do something else. It would be a shame to see the treehouse taken down because of this.

The treehouse need not be permanent, in fact, part of its appeal is that it is a clandestine project by students, and not an official construction by the university. Its placement is discreet enough that its characterization as an eyesore is overstated. In short, why not leave it up? Who knows how long it will last, but as long as someone, perhaps the builders, are responsible enough to check the ropes periodically to ensure they are not about to snap, I don’t’ see why it should come down. It is representative of a different time, an arguably better time, when fun was fun, without being held down by lawsuits and safety considerations. If we are all willing to say we accept the risk if we choose to use it, then there is no reason for the treehouse to be removed.

For better or for worse, Oregonians have spoken. And they have spoken volumes.

The legislature showed itself to be incapable of action when they spent months arguing and finagling and sitting in multiple special sessions and still could not come to consensus on what to do about the budget. Instead of looking into the excesses of PERS or other such government programs, finding and eliminating money sinks that we can do without, our representatives in Salem instead decided to refer to the voters a temporary tax increase.

The voters then defeated Measure 30, letting it be known once and for all that the legislature needed to get it together, because we, the tax paying public, were not going to bail them out this time.

In reality, however, Oregon as a whole has been shamed by the entire episode. The bottom line is this: when push came to shove, when priorities needed to be made, and when we had the choice of deciding what really mattered, the legislature refused to ensure that basic services like education, police protection, and services for the poor and elderly would go untouched. I don’t know the details of the budget nor about the many instances of excessive spending that I keep hearing about, and I don’t need to. The legislature’s priorities are clear, and they are not good.

The voters are no better, because their priorities are now clear as well. Whether true or not, Measure 30 was touted to be the only way we would save basic essential services. The truth of that statement is really irrelevant; clearly, the legislature is incapable at the moment of finding another way. Would Measure 30 have excused this shameful deadlock? No, but it would have ensured that that deadlock would not cost us things we really can’t do without. When the legislature failed us, we had a chance to cut our losses, and we refused.

I write this from my dorm room at Rice University in Houston, Texas, a little more unsure now of where I’m going to live. I had always assumed I would return home to Portland, where the land is still green, the city is vibrant, and people seem to have their heads screwed on a little straighter. But now I am not so sure. I understand that we are in tough economic times, and that those voters are being forced to make tough choices concerning money, and that Measure 30 was one of those choices. But what does it say about Oregonians if they are willing to let education and care for the poor and elderly go lax when the going gets tough? Shouldn’t these be the services we fight to protect?

Now the issue goes back to the legislature, where they get the chance to “retool” the cuts and maybe save face. But it will take a lot of work to make me confident in Oregon’s priorities again. I only hope that I have reason to be confident in Oregon again soon.

My class in the history of the Bible is presenting some interesting challanges, and I think I'm coming up with interesting answers for myself. The class is presenting, among other things, modern criticism of the Bible. That is, it is examining the Bible as a historical document, and is revealing some very interesting things.
First, the Bible is not, contrary to popular knowledge, the oldest piece of literature. Furthermore, it closely resembles many other such documents from the time and place where it originated. The implication is that the Bible is not an original and singular historical record, but a compilation of older stories synthesized to work as the history of the Israelites.
Second, the Bible as a historical document is challenged by those other sources from the same time and place.
Third, and this is more common knowledge, the Bible most likely has multiple authors, and while it is possible it is divinely inspired, is most likely simply written by man, building on older legends and stories.
Fourth, those authors, like the in the New Testament, came much later after the events they describe. The Bible in its entirety then is mostly not based on eyewitness accounts.
Where does this leave a Jew who has been raised in Sunday School like everyone else to believe this is the history of the people? For a long time I was skeptical of the Bible as history, since it fixes the world's age at around 6,000 years, while science fixes it at the billions of years. One of the two had to mistaken, and I had always thought the Bible must have been a simple story for simpler people.
Now, it is not just the age of the world that is being challenged, but the authenticity of the entire text. But I have come to realize that whether the Bible is "fact" or not hardly matters. What matters is the tradition that Judaism has grown into, a tradition of education, social justice, and belief in one God. The belief in one God can be arrived at fairly easily by logic if one has problems with science's inability to answer questions like, "When did time begin?" "What came before the Big Bang?" "What is love?" Science was never equipped to answer the philisophical and emotional questions of life, only the ones governed by the laws of the world we live in. So the Bible not being fact does not negate the existence, truth, or need of God.
I admit I am very much influenced by a book I am reading right now (which you should read too) called Nothing Sacred by Douglas Rushkoff. In it, Rushkoff claims that the natural endpoint of a singluar and unknowable God is emphasis on social justice, and to a lesser extent inquiry and education. I agree.
So where does a Bible of fiction leave me? Just as secure in my faith and affiliation as before, because I realized the Bible is not important to me as proof of God and as a record of the miracles he performed. Rather, it is valuable to me as the starting point for the tradition of Judaism that I now adhere to, one that emphasizes deconstructing that Bible and determining how it applies to how we live and how we treat each other. In other words, as the basis for the Talumud, and modern rabbinic scholarship.
Like Rushkoff, I also believe Judaism is deviating from its traditional values in modern times, but that is a different issue.
The basic point here is this: It is foolish to base one's faith on God or anything else on a document, because any document can be fabricated or modified, and documents as old as the Bible are most definitely not transmitted to us in the exact same form as they were originally written. Choice of faith is not a measure of a person's ability to evaluate the evidence, but rather a demonstration of one's values. If you believe in Christianity, it should not be because you believe the Gospels are fact, because they are not. Like all of the historical record, they are influenced by the people who wrote them and the audience they were writing them for. Rather, if you believe in Christianity, it should be because something about the faith speaks to you, whether that be the idea of a savior, or the emphasis on loving one's neighbor, etc. The same applies for all religions.
The endpoint of all this is if the Bible is fiction, then its possible there never were the kind of miracles that are described in it. Perhaps the Bible was written for a time when people still needed to believe in those miracles, perhaps we still do today. But I think we are approaching the point where we can start believing in our own miracles.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Read this article first:

In case the hyperlink doesn't show up, the address is:

This is something new. And that new something is the Jewish people for the first time being in a position to express rage against those who hate us. It can be seen in the envoy's actions, it can be seen in the policies of the Sharon Administration in Israel. The odd thing is, we are doing no better now that we have this power than anyone else in history. Israel is slowly but surely losing the moral high ground in the conflict with the Palestinians. Hopefully this will be reversed soon, but who really can tell.
When I read this article I was immediately ashamed of the envoy, that an Israeli representative of the government be so immature as to sabotage an art exhibit. Then I realized I myself am guilty of the same kind of reaction; I was the source of an barely contained outburst at a recent pro-Palestinian rally on my campus. On the one hand, it is hard to imagine containing the rage that comes with seeing those who are killing your fellow Jews glorified and excused. On the other hand, if we fall to allowing ourselves to vandalism and disturbing the peace, how are we any better than any one else? I feel that in the past, Jews would have either simply kept away from such an exhibit as the one in Sweden, or would have simply refused to dignify it with a response at all.
Perhaps God really does have a reason for keeping the Jewish people small and powerless. Perhaps we are only worthy to have power when we have the wisdom of Kings like David and Solomon to guide us. Even though I still maintain Israel is handling the situation it is in better than any other nation would, I don't think we are quite living up to our mandate of being a "light unto the nations." The real shame, however, is that it appears we are not trying to aspire to that mandate either.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Just reading the news about the Supreme Court accepting the case of the Guantanamo my opinion, any and all prisoners should be under the auspices of the same laws as any US citizen. Further, we should not be sacrificing freedom for security. I know its a scary prospect to not make it as hard as possible for the bastards to maim or kill us, but I think its more important to protect the values that make this country a target. Otherwise, as Denzel Washington points out in The Seige, the terrorists have already won.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Column to be published November 6:
Heard of Nathaniel Heatwole?
I hadn't either, until he was arrested a few weeks ago after he blew the horn on himself, telling federal authorities he had hidden box cutters, bleach, and matches on two commercial aircraft. No big deal, right? Well, that depends. The majority of us know what a hassle it is to travel by plane these days. Heatwole exposed how useless all that hassle might be.
Consider first that the airports involved are Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. These are not your small backwater airports, but major airports that service millions of people. If security is the concern, we should expect that the larger airports should be more secure than the others,. Yet it appears that this is not the case.
Second, while bleach might not be a big deal, matches potentially are, and box cutters are certainly of grave concern. Box cutters were used by the 9/11 terrorists in their hijacking. That box cutters got through not once, but twice at major airports shows a severe deficiency in the integrity of our security systems.
Third, the smuggled items remained undetected for a month, and might have gone undetected longer had Heatwole not alerted authorities of his actions. All of this is very unsettling. The strategy implemented by the federal government involves the employment of thousands of security personnel with the intent of preventing any dangerous materials or potential weapons from finding their way on-board a plane, yet it is clear the system needs improvement. Heatwole is not the only person to successfully get a knife or other dangerous object through security; ABC News correspondents have also gotten similar materials onto a plane. At the same time, the government is training 5,000 new air marshals to keep us safe in the air. I would say this is unnecessary redundancy, but such a statement assumes the security checkpoints are working every time. As it stands, they clearly don't.
What is of concern is that if a terrorist gets a knife through, he could potentially be the only one on the plane with a weapon, since such common items as pocketknives aren't allowed. In this post-9/11 era, it is doubtful any group of passengers would sit idly by while a terrorist made a repeat attack, but they might be hard-pressed to fight back if they were at the mercy of a knife-wielding madman and had nothing but a plastic fork. Air marshals are the obvious solution, but what then is the purpose of such extensive security on the ground, which eats up millions in funding and requires travelers to arrive hours before their flight and submit to rigorous searches? Such redundancy arguably doesn't improve security at all, and certainly doesn't alleviate the frustrations of the traveling public.
For example: As a member of Rice's Cross Country team, I travel quite often, and on a recent trip I forgot about the Leatherman Micra I carry on my keyring. The Micra has, among other things, a small penknife. I had on previous occasions been forced to mail it to myself. Knowing that if I got caught I could simply do this again, I tucked it into my bag. The Micra, with its knife, got through. This was at Bush Intercontinental Airport. On the way back, the knife was found at the much smaller Fayetteville, Arkansas airport. I was forced to endure a search through my entire carry-on bag and a rigorous screening with a metal detector wand. I understand the need for security, and that a penknife hidden in a small side pocket makes me suspicious, but would I really be a danger to anyone if an air marshal, armed with a pistol, was on the plane?
In short, the federal government should drop its charges against Heatwole, and we should all thank him for showing where our security is lacking. Further, if we continue to decide that security is a greater concern than freedom, we should at least do ourselves the favor of making that security effective by ensuring standards are met at all airports. Even better would be putting an air marshal on every flight. They would be much more effective than any security check and would allow us to relax security a little- saving ourselves a lot of unnecessary frustration come Thanksgiving and Christmas.