Sunday, July 30, 2006

Movies, War, and World Pride

In the movie dept., I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2. It was great if you can put your brain down on the seat next to you while you watch. Try thinking about it, and you are left with a filler made because we live in the post-sequel era of the trilogy. Anything good must be not doubled but tripled. Anyway, many people do enjoy leaving their minds on the side while they watch a movie, so don't take my comments as a knock to the film.

Also saw Luck Number Slevin. I liked it. Leaving Josh Harnett's shirt off for the first 39 minutes of the movie was an excellent call by director McGuigen. The movie was a little lopsided; they needed a lot of time at the end to sew up the plot and close loose ends. There were a lot of killings, but not much real action scenes. Some of the punches and plot lines were trite, stereotypes of Blacks and Jews abounded, but it had a feel-good kind of feeling to it and a hot lead actor that pretty much make it worth watching.

World Pride Jerusalem is coming up next week. I'm trying to decide whether to offer to host visitors. I have room, but you know how Mom always said never to talk to strangers. I mean, I'd love to be nice and offer a place. I'd really love it if I found a hot guy to offer it to ;-) , but I'm a New Yorker. You just don't invite strangers in; they rob you blind. It's really a shame, though.

I think it's better in J-lem than NY (it feels like we're all family here - amazing), but just the other day I was printing a big file at the university computer center and someone snatched my print card from the card reader while the machine was printing and I walked back to my computer to wait. Luckily, there was only about 5 shekel left on the card ($1.15), earlier I had had as much as 30 (~$7).

The Pride Parade and some events were cancelled, but much of the itinerary will go forth as planned. At this point, I'll stick in my feelings on Gay Pride: Cut it out. There is no need to parade around being proud to be gay and show off your sexuality in the streets of city after city. Sex is something private; do what you enjoy, but where is the "pride"? Is being gay an achievement that you are proud of it? Did you work hard to make yourself gay and now have increased self-esteem because you succeeded in becoming gay? I'll spare you the science of homosexuality and the nature/nurture debate, but point is you probably are gay by no conscious effort of your own. Even if you were, what is there to be proud of? We don't see heterosexuals showing off their "Straight Pride". So let's be clear, the Pride is not over a choice of sexual orientation, but rather "pride" as in not being embarrassed or discouraged from beng open about it. The idea is faulty. The real emotion here is not pride, but some mix of assertiveness, self-assuredness, and independence. This wouldn't sell to a mass market, so the Gay Lobby created this Pride thing which does us somewhat of a disservice even as it furthers our cause.

I, personally, would have trouble marching in a Pride parade on ideological grounds. I disagree with the idea of Pride (see above). My feeling is that people who are in touch with themselves and know their emotional attachments and sexual attractions, let them hook up with those people. Have a good time, do what you like. That is the Western ideal of individuality and the pleasure principle. But, there is no need to put sexuality on parade. It degrades the person; makes him/her nothing but a sex object. I see this with some of my gay friends who become nothing but "gay. It subsumes their whole identity. I prefer to have a whole personality, one part of which is my sexual orientation. But I am much more than gay. To submit to Gay Pride is to lose your identity, not to flaunt your individuality as some would have you believe. IF YOU DISAGREE, PLEASE TELL ME. I would love to hear from the other side on this debate.

As far as the ongoing War in Lebanon, I think a lot of us thought it would blow over by now, but it is still going strong. It hasn't been felt in J-lem, but up North, they are taking it pretty hard, living in bomb shelters, getting hit by Katyusha rockets. The poor Lebanese have been hit very hard. I feel bad and want Israel to stop, but realize that they are working to protect my safety and that the fault ultimately lies with Hezbolla. Yeah, the Israelis are behind the trigger, but they wouldn't be there if Hezbolla would leave them alone.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In the Trenches

The violent conflict here is frightening and unfortunate, but Israel is still awesome. Though parts of the country are confined to bomb shelters, life has gone on as usual in J-lem. We all got a kick out of George dubya Bush's comments to PM Tony Blair in St. Petersburg, "what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh*t, and it's over."

On the topic of humorous comments by political figures, Arab MK (Member of Knesset) Ibrahim Sarsur addressed the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee regarding the upcoming gay pride event in Jerusalem. reports: A ripple of laughter went through Israeli parliament meeting when Arab MK Ibrahim Sarsur said, "I have never had to participate in such a discussion, because in Muslim society we don't have this problem."
(credit to this place: I don't know who it is or how I even got there)

But it is not all fun and games. People are dying and being blown up, rockets and missiles are hitting towns and cities. Soldiers on both sides are risking their lives and sometimes losing them. Parents are worried about their children. It is crises like these that often inspire a desperate recourse to God as the only source left for comfort and order in a terrifying, painful, unpredictable, and uncontrollable world.

News agencies the greatest beneficiaries of war. In wartime, keeping up with the latest news becomes a widespread fascination, even addiction. The mass psychology of crisis and war is really intriguing; everybody goes through predictable, identifiable progression of phases that actually impact events in a big way.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Buffet Gives Billions to Charity Fund

Lets try something short this time.

Warren Buffet to contribute $30 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, bringing the value of the fund over $60 billion dollars. The donation will ensure the BMGF remains one of the world's largest charitable funds. It towers over just about any other private collection of wealth with the notable exception of Harvard's endowment.

Escalation of Violence and Psilocybin

Israel responds to repeated kidnappings of its soldiers with strikes on Hamas positions in Gaza and Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. Parents of students from overseas worry about the safety of their children in an unstable Middle East. The University assures the safety of Jerusalem, warns against travel to the North, and advises students to stay informed of developments and make their own decisions to stay or flee the region.

Unrelated random stuff: Effects of Coffee? Portrayals of Science in Popular Media? Idiot America?

Studies support a role of the psychedelic mushroom and its main ingredient psilocybin in creating positive religious experience which can be studied using neuroimaging techniques. Detractors warn against positive portrayals of illegal drugs. SHAME on them. Your concerns about drug abuse should not be allowed to adulterate scientific research. Science deals with empirical descriptions of what is. How people should behave is studied in separate fields such as philosophy, theology, and ethics. While there is an interaction, a scientific discovery does not imply any change in suggestions for behavior. This point is often confused in popular science which will recommend coffee-drinking because niacin, riboflavin, bioflavanoids, and caffeine have been linked to various health benefits. This does not automatically follow from the science, and other human factors mediate the interpretation and suggestion for action. Further, scientific discoveries of a natural "norm" does not impact the propriety or dispropriety of a given course.

When Your Biggest Fan is Your Worst Nightmare

The paradoxical nature of people is unescapable; it is scary. As part of a seminar the psychology of Israeli-Palestinian relations, my professor brought in several Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank to give their story. I was shocked and astounded to hear them come in so clueless about how to reach the modern university student. Though they spoke a relatively good English, it was like we were speaking different languages. Their lack of critical thinking was horrifying, especially because there are many people who will identify their views with mainstream Israeli opinion. They attributed all morality to God, discrediting completely opposing ethical systems. They saw the Palestinians as non-entities with no legitamate claim whatsoever, and were generally inflamatory and underinformed. My classmates and I tried to listen, tried to understand her perspective, but though many of us share Zionist leanings and ideas, found ourselves turned off to their viewpoint and offended by their declarations. They have a revisionist history and a lack of tolerance and vision. Magical thinking may also factor in here. Theoretically, these settlers should be the greatest ally of the Zionist dream. Until I met these people, I was supportive of some of their positions. Now, though I haven't changed my poitical opinions because of a few hapless souls, I am inclined to see less sympathetically their plight. It should be reiterated, of course, that the majority sentiment is not like this and that most of the settlers are more rational than this small minority group.

In an unrelated story: Random site of the day:

Monday, July 10, 2006

As for America...

Remember the Greenday song, American Idiot? "Don' wanna be an American idiot!/One nation controlled by the media" It is showing up all over. The complacency of America, the way the cash keeps rolling in when Americans don't work for it. The laxity of the education system from the bottom to the top. High school teach so little their diplomas aren't recognized internationally, colleges inflate averages so everbody can walk around sporting 4.0 GPAs. It worked for a long time; the money being made from investments and the internet revolution kept the USA on top of the world without recourse to a stitch of work. But that is changing now thanks to competition form India and China, the European Union and the up-and-coming African Union. It is time to reawaken the sleeping giant. The USA must violently shake itself into action, create goals and ideologies. There is no more WWI, WWII, Cold War. These forces created the push that gave the country no option but to advance. There are also new socio-economic factors at play. A respect for the educated that we once had is gone, along with economic incentives in medicine. Why work hard, when money comes easy? This is the mindset of Idiot America. The good life, midboggling degree of material comforts, take it easy, it's good to be lazy and dumb. Have fun.

Increasing international competition will make this mindset obsolete. It is time to consider our comparartive advantages as a nation and work to contribute to the global economy in areas where we can produce good and services better, faster, cheaper, than others. A SWOT analysis is in order. USA's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats need to be considered and apporpriate action taken. Advertising and propaganda is needed to change the mindset; galvanize the population to value a work-ethic and restore the falling glory of the nation.

The language threat: If the sciences advance internationally to the point of critical mass (Gladwell's Tipping Point), the language of world science will, change, making it harder for American students to joint the world academic community. This is catastrophic because Americans are the only ones in the world who are, as a rule, monolingual. The widespread use of English today not only reflects America's current scientific superiority

The spirit of competition was lost after the Cold War and Americans, who think of their win as some eternal victory that will leave them champions forever. But the title of Superpower is like a boxing title or the Stanley Cup. The winner must repeatedly fend off challengers to retain the award.

Going on a bit of a tangent, here is a great idea. The US has become too soft, focusing on small things that would not be issues at all if there were any larger issues on the table. As Richard Farson explained in his respected writings on management, the response to improvement of a situation is complaints. But the important thing is the quality, not quantity, of the complaints. As in Maslow's Hierarchy Theory of Human Needs, when a lower level need is fulfilled, fulfillment of the next higher level need is sought. Thus complaints arise, but of a different nature than previously. i.e. an employee who complained of low salary, may, after a raise, complain that he needs more vacation time or a private office. This granted, she will demand a promotion. Next, greater influence in the decisions of the company. Note though, that the new sanitary hire at Microsoft Inc. will not complain that he is not VP, will not demand a window suite, and will not ask to influence the direction of research funds or the features included in the new product.

Back to America, citizens used to work hard to fulfill basic needs like sustenance, human rights, national security. When these were more easily acheived in a more prosperous nation, people moved to squabbling over increasingly petty things. Abortion issues, gay-rights issues, feminism, sexual harrassment, tobacco lawsuits, child hyperprotection (in the form of strict policies controlling teacher-student relations i.e. hitting, touching), tax reform, welfare reform, whatnot. These are all issues that should be dealt with. Many are the fabric of our society and what makes us unique as a nation. I don't say they are unimportant. But I point out that they would be total non-issues if we had some higher level concern. When Americans were working hard to feed their families, we did not have tobacco lawsuits. When people appreciated being able to afford quality medical car, we did not have rampant medical malpractice suits. That is not to say higher level concerns should not be addressed. After all, this is the very goal of progress and maturity. Nevertheless, perspective is imperative. If we keep in mind that these needs are indeed high-level, and that they can never be allowed to detract from maintenance of our basic needs, we can acheive a balance. But if we lose sight of the basics and chase perfection, we will ultimately collapse like an upside down pyramid. (Maslow's hierarchy is indeed often drawn as a pyramid, right side up. If we weight the top too much, though, it will tumble.)

Okay, long post. I finally had something to say after a while of being quiet.

Nun.Bet. (Hebrew. Americans use P.S.) I like some of the ideas of Students for Academic Freedom, and the concept of an Academic Bill of Rights. It is unfortunate to have to come to this, and legislation is not an ideal solution, but this is the age we live in. An age of dead ideas and writing-things-that-will-sit-in-a-box. But repeated violations by educators require something to be done. It is silly to think we can legislate a good education, and the guideline will prove killer-hard to draft positively, but some ground rules are presumably in order. It's a pandora's box. But so is inaction.

A few comments on Israel

Studying Middle Eastern history and conflict this semester (Summer). Got interested in a bit of the news, and it's just totally crazy. I was dumbfounded when I saw the long list of anti-Israel resolutions from the UN. It's a long story and it's not the topic of my book (It'll come out one day ;-)), but I thought I'd mention the ridiculous state of double standard and lack of objectivity, ignorance of historical precedent, and misapplication of concepts that goes on in media coverage and world opinion in all things regarding Israel. Two interesting sites presenting unique (but my no means comprehensive) coverage are and On the topic of weird but enlightening sites, try this off-center news source: I take NO RESPONSIBILITY for anything written there, nor do I necessarily agree with or endorse the positions of the writers. That said, there is a wealth of information (judge its accuracy for yourself) on the topic. But look around. Complete understanding comes (never, but to get close to it comes) from critically examining a wide variety of sources from different viewpoints. Unless you just get hopelessly muddled and confused and stop trusting anyone. (One of my maxims has always been, Newspapers always lie. Anyone with firsthand experience or knowledge of any topic covered in the news media already knows this well.) I find it fascinating.

Whoa. Lot of disclaimers up there.^

Before I forget, I wanted to note that an idea has been forming slowly in my head: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for idiocy, evil, discord, and damage to civilization. I could have sworn that is not what Lord A. Nobel wrote in his will. I think the will was more like "benefit for humanity" or something. I have to look it up and follow this up with details from the sources. For now, just a thought. (note: research ElBaradai)

Adversity Drives Creativity

Creative expression in human beings is consistently derived from conflict; an internal or external conflict creates an energy, a storm, a virtual maelstrom, within the psyche; twisting, distorting, and contorting the mind until it has assumed every possible cognitive style or emotiono-philosophical worldview, it is only unrest, disease, discouragement, disillusionment, discomfort, helplessness and spite that contribute to a vital culture wherein the arts may thrive.

I acknowledge that the above is written in only a semi-intelligible manner; it appears more like a prose=poem of sorts than a paragraph. It needs to be qualified and expounded, but this idea I have held for some time and I've seen the evidence over and over. It just came out now on paper (or hypertext, cyberspace, whatever) in a stream of conscious kind of way and I thought I'd preserve it like this. Anyway, I don't have time to give it much more thought tight now.

Loving comments. As always, Me.