Thursday, December 31, 2009

Salute the Lady with Clear Vision

Mushkie is a soldier in the Rebbe's Army. She's both scrupulous and meta-scrupulous. All females are encouraged to go to her blog and give her a virtual pat on the back

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm Moving out of the Ghetto!

Some of you knew already. Some of you didn't. But now all of you will know. I found a new residence near Brooklyn College. I will begin paying rent there February first, exactly 13 months after moving into my current residence in the Heights.

Some FAQS:

Why are you moving out?

I want to get out of the ghetto.

But aren't you moving into another ghetto?

Yeah, but it's a ghetto where not everyone knows my name, history, and which city my grandfather urinated in. (It was Nevel.)

Why'd you choose this location?

It was cheap.

How much less than your current abode?

Negative 100 dollars a month.

Huh?

Listen, if you don't understand negative numbers, I'd be thrilled to tutor you for a nominal fee.

Are you transferring to Brooklyn College?

I dunno. It'll be painful to pass the Brooklyn College campus every day while walking to the subway station for an hour-long ride. But I like City College. I dunno.

We'll miss you in Crown Heights!

The feelings are mutual. I shall come by to visit.

In unrelated news, here's a comic:

Thanks Mottel for telling me about this site

Monday, December 28, 2009

Metametametametametametaism--AURGH!!! Gödel, Escher, Bach!

(Dowy: you once said that you don't like when posts have too many links. Don't feel the need to click on all the links. The links are just examples but don't really make a difference.)

There are songs. And there are songs which sing about other songs.

In the prayerbook, there are ostensibly praises to God. Many of those praises consist of saying, "Let's praise God."

Chassidus talks about all sorts of cool stuff. One of the cool things that chassidus talks about is chasidus.

On Facebook you can talk about your life. Part of your life is Facebook. So part of Facebook is discussing Facebook.

Of course, there are also youtube videos about youtube.

As this is a blog, let's discuss blogs that blog about blogging.

There are those bloggers who write things like, "There I was thinking what to blog about, and I thought that maybe I should blog about what I blogged about yesterday. Or maybe I'll blog about the impact of the blogosphere in politics. Oops! My mom's calling me. Gtg. But I'll be back tomorrow, to blog some more."

Then you have comments about comments.

"Oh what a funny comment that was! You always leave funny comments!"

"Well, why don't you comment on my blog?"

"I would, if you'd follow my blog."

(Now the blogger who's hosting this scintillating conversation chimes in.)

"Wow! Look how many comments this post has garnered!'

"wats garnered/"

"http://lmgtfy.com/?q=garnered"

"Sheesh. learn to spell. that;s 'What's,' not 'wats.'"

"Watch your own typos. According to Strunk and White, a semi-colon is not an apostrophe."

All these comments are just about comments.

The self-referential nature of comments and blogs leads to an interesting question: what is the point of a thing that only discusses itself? However, my point now is not to answer that question. I shall move on to the next exhibit: blogging about blogging about blogging.

I once blogged about blogging about blogging.

Now I'm blogging about blogging about blogging.

Now I'm blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging.

Now I'm blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging.

Now I'm blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging.

Now I'm blogging about blogging about blogging blogging about about blogging about blogging about blogging.

Aurgh! When is this going to stop? (Fyi, that previous sentence was blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging.)

Hey! Guess what? That previous sentence was blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging.)

The following sentence is true.
The previous sentence is false.

You can't resolve this kind of stuff. You just gotta pull the plug, or else your brain will keep trying to execute an endless loop.


You may also be interested in "What the Tortoise said to Achilles."

The real place to get information about this type of stuff is Gödel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter. He's the guy who invented Hofstadter's rule: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."


Added 1/13/10:
This comic is much more relevant. I know half of it is cut off. I can't be bothered to play with it, considering that the fifteen minutes of this post's fame are long gone. If you want to see the entire comic, click here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

From the Man who Redefined what it Means to be Chasidish...

Succeeding Miserably
from the man who redefined what it means to be chasidish
(with only the most moderate of editing by your truly)
The obedient boy
A reluctant non-rebel
Freedom is his daydream
A glorious future awaits him

If he can do what's right

He lacks the courage to follow his mind
Like a bee flies about the window
Because he is afraid of darkness
Uncertainty and difficulties
Hopes that time will change things
The pieces will fall in place

They never do

Resigns his destiny to fate
Locks himself with invisible chains
Does everything he loathes
Beats and chokes his soul
Until it flies away and dies
Imprisons his intellect
Adjusts his scruples to match his appearance
And fakes the rest

He has settled down, his peers think

Alone, he walks among the crowd
Keeping his opinions to himself
Shying away from controversy
Biting his tongue

Raises children to worship bullshit
Lives a dull and meaningful life,
For purposes not worth a damn
A happy life, he thought

Old, broken, and ill
Lies on his deathbed
Feels like shit
Like Ivan Ilyich
Hasn't accomplished anything
Nothing to be proud of
Worked all his life to become The Unknown Citizen
And succeeded miserably
Oh! He won't go gentle into that good night

Or will he?

What's done is done
If he knew back then
How life would end
Perhaps he would have packed up,
And left

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Priorities

Yesterday, I was walking to my domicile from the Presdient Street 2 station. As I was walking between New York and Brooklyn, I noticed that the sidewalk had been shoveled in front of every single house on my side of the street, with one exception: the vacant house on the block. The snow had been shoveled off the porch and the part of the front walk nearer the house. But the rest of the walk and the sidewalk in front of the house was covered in ice.

Who spent his or her time shoveling the porch, but couldn't be bothered to shovel the sidewalk?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Near Disaster Nearly Averted

A mere twenty minutes ago was the linear algebra final. In brief, he's what linear algebra entails: you do simple things like add, subtract, and multiply. But you gotta deal with a bunch of numbers at once (usually nine [because they like to use three by three matrices]). This drives me crazy. When you're dealing with all these numbers, you're bound to make a silly mistake somewhere. And good luck catching your mistake.

So there I was, trying to evaluate simple determinant, and for some reason I thought that 30*10 was equal to 40. Aurgh!!! Nothing was making any sense. I was stuck trying to solve this quadratic equation that had no solutions. And if I couldn't solve this equation, then I'd need to get the next two problems wrong, because they were based on this equation. So after many long torturous minutes of wasting precious exam time trying to solve this insoluble equation, I went of the teacher and asked him what to do. Said the wise teacher, "You've got the hard part right. Just look more carefully." (He said "got" rather than "gotten" because he's German and speaks British English.)

So I sat down and sweated some more, until the light bulb went off in my head, and I said, "Oh!!! 10*30 is not 40! It's 400!"

I resumed my scribbling but things still weren't making sense. I looked and looked for other simple mistakes, but none were to be found. The teacher saw my frantic squirming and came over to me. "You look like you're in a rut. Continue with the other problems, and get back to this one later."

"I finished all the other ones." said I, "I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I already realized that 10*30 is 400 and not 40, but the quadratic still makes no sense."

"Are you listening to what you're saying?"

The light bulb went on again! 10*30 is not 40. Nor is it 400. It's 300!

The quadratic equation suddenly became simple, and everything worked out nicely. I know I got that problem (and the ones related to it) right, but I'm still not so sure about the others. Who knows what other silly mistakes I made without realizing it? If I was nervous enough not to know that 10*30 = 300, then I could have made all sorts of silly mistakes. So I'm sitting tight, waiting for him to post the final grades.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yud-Tes Kislevs of My Youth

were a 48-hour haze of farbrenging, learning chassidus, doing mivtzoim in the cold, and late-afternoon naps. And this year? We kicked off Yud-Tes Kislev with a nice hullyenish at the TRS-LE7 residence. 'Twas quite the fun.

Tonight there's another hullyenish, but we'll talk about that later.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thinking is so 80's

So Chelsea Clinton is engaged to a Jewish guy, which leads to the great questions like: Will she convert? Is this "good for the Jews"?

This article quotes all sorts of people whose "expertise" ostensibly makes their musings more relevant than other people's musings. But after all the musings, the article doesn't tell you anything you couldn't have thought up while hanging around and chit chatting with friends.

Is this the function of an article? To replace chit chatting with real people? Or should articles tell us something we didn't know before and challenge us to think?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Word of Wisdom from Alan Watts

If the universe is meaningless then so is the statement that it is so. (The Wisdom of Anxiety, page 114)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Non-Miracle Story!

Mushkie posted about how she wrote the Rebbe and didn't get an obviously miraculous answer.

I do not want to ridicule Mushkie. I just want to point out that this is an excellent example of the non-miracle stories which play very non-prominent role in people's beliefs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear Sir or Madam,

To all my dear friends,

I'm sorry to inform you that I will no longer be accessible through this medium. If you wish to contact me, you can call 413 497 0071.

Thank you very much for your understanding. I apologize for any inconvenience this way have caused.

e

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Bad Book Supporteth Mushrooms

38 And John answered Him, saying, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, but he followeth us not, so we forbad him because he followeth not us."
39 But Jesus said, "Forbid him not, for there is no man who shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly speak evil of Me.
40 For he that is not against us is on our side.
41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Beginning of My Career as a Criminal in NYC

Back in 2005, I was on the train around midnight. I found an old newspaper on a seat. This was the Q train, and I was sitting in a forward-facing seat. So I put my foot on the side-facing seat in front of me to hold up the paper. At Cortelyou Rd, the train stops and isn't starting again. A police man comes over to my car.
him: Sir, can you come off?
me: (wondering what the heck is going on) sure, uh, why?
him: You have your feet on the seat.
me: (in disbelief) You can't have your feet on the seat?
him: Yes.

So I got off. There was also a scared-looking Spanish-speaking delinquent there. Anyhow, these two cops take our IDs, write us tickets, the whole works. It took me a while to realize they were serious. Apparently you can't take up more than one seat because it blocks other passengers from sitting down. I tried telling the cops that I wasn't blocking anyone and the train was empty, but they wouldn't listen. Then I got pissed. There are crimes happening all over the city, and the police have nothing better to do than make sure people keep their feet on the floor?

When the next train came, the policemen motioned to the driver to wait and proceeded to go from car to car and look through the windows. My fellow ticketee and I got on the train and moved on.

In the end it wasn't too bad, because I was in Oholei Torah at the time, and didn't at all mind taking a day off from seder to fight the ticket. I had given the cops my Illinois address, and had a whole list of reason to tell the judge why I didn't deserve the ticket:
1. The car was empty.
2. I had just come from Illinois the week before. (That was the truth.)
3. I didn't know that you can't put your feet up.
4. I'm really tired, so I can't remember what else I had up my sleeve, but the point is that I had a bunch of excuses, and they were all decent. I spent the days before the hearing thinking which one was the best, because you can't go to the judge with five different excuses. That doesn't sound nice.

So I finally got in front of the judge, and before I could open my mouth, he hits the record button on this old-fashioned tape recorder (they're still using those old tape recorders in 2009) and starts spewing legalese about who he is and who I am and what I'm accused of and when I allegedly did it and that the ticket cannot establish a prima facie because it doesn't say how I was blocking people so the case is dismissed. He turns off the tape recorder and invites me to leave.

I waited a little longer in the waiting room to get transcripts of the hearing and hopped back to yeshiva, where I had my fifteen minutes of fame telling everyone the story.

That was just the beginning. Since then I've gotten two more tickets while riding the MTA, one parking ticket, and I've been accused of a criminal offense which is still pending. But my other tales of crime will have to wait for another day.

Thanks Sarabonne for the idea.

Limited Time Only! Read this Post for the Opportunity of a Lifetime!

I want to write a post, but I don't konw what I should write about. I usually don't like people telling me what to write, but right now I'm out of ideas. What do you think I should write about? Perhaps I'll post something tonight.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Nice People Want to Give You Vocational Training

I got this email yesterday:

Hi-

I ran across your blog and thought I’d challenge you, since you appear to actually care about the fact that most young bochurim are usually broke.

I’ve got a $5000 grant for each and every Chabad bochur that uses it for tuition at a vocational course that will bring him a profession that he can earn a living at. No strings attached, at all.

If they need help finding a career, I can help. Likewise with finding schools and courses. Also with writing resumes, getting GED’s , and so on. No strings, no BS, and all very very confidential.

Can you write about it?

Yossi

CH-CAP

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Эх Люли Люли: The Jewish Faith

Hat tip to Mottel for pointing out this video:



Here's an very poor English translation:
The Jewish faith, like this, like this, like this
Gotta get up early in the morning
Ech, lully, lully al lu lay, gotta get up early in the morning
Say Modeh Ani, Ech, lully, lully la lu lay, say Modeh Ani
Pour out (?) negel vasser, Ech, lully, lully al lu lay, pour out negel vasser
[In this version, the next line is "Run to the mikveh, Ech lully, lully, la lu lay, run to the mikveh.]
Run the the Beis Hamidrash, Ech lully, lully la lu lay, run to the Beis Hamidrash
Put on "tallis un tefillin," Ech lully, lully la lu lay, put on tallis un tefillin
Next comes a rant which I can't really understand
Put on tallis un tefillin...
We never close our eyes...
and everything which happens, until the end...
We look at the world...
Some more vehemently recited stuff of which I only got the words, "nothing" "for sure" "none" "what you feel like"
you musn't wait
in the meantime, other people will do our job for us
Even if yesterday was early, tomorrow will be late
Must be here and now...
more rant
concrete...
feel the moment...
One can be a realist and an optimist...
Our grandfathers knew this
and they won
we come down their road
and we go to freedom
...song
Now the regular tune comes back
Say l'chaim
[In the other version they say "pour a _____ of vodka"]
ech lully lully la lu lay.

While I was writing this, the video woke up my niece, so the last half of the transcription is from memory and from looking at a chat in which I discussed this Mottel.

It's cute to see totally fry guys talking about negel vasser and "hama'aseh hu ha'ikkar." In the other version, the dude's singing with a non-tzniusdikly dressed lady. It's cute, but it's also obnoxious and meta-scrupleless. If you're not frum, who gives you the right to rant about mikveh and treading on our grandfathers' path?

It's also possible that I totally misunderstood the rant because my Russian ain't that great.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why doesn't he get the hint?

A certain guy who I barely know just friended me on Facebook for the fifth time. What is he thinking? Did he forget that he did this four times before? Does he like getting ignored?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Metascruples

A few days ago, at the most ridiculous Shabbos table, someone mentioned that she didn't know what 'the metascruple' is. The circumstances then did not allow we to explain, but here, where you all come to hear me hold forth, I figured I can do this topic justice.

We encounter all sorts of things in life (e.g. pork, MOTOGs, rainbows, etc.) Scruples are principles that help us relate to the things we encounter (don't eat it, don't talk to it, say some Hebrew words but don't stare at it).

We encounter all sorts of scruples when going through life. A frum Jew, who is subject to a constant barrage of scruples, may find him or herself with a bunch of contradictory scruples (the tefillin daters) or lots of scruples which he or she cannot implement (e.g. stay up all Thursday night AND go on mivtzoim all Friday afternoon AND farbreng Friday night AND say tehillim Shabbos mevorchim morning AND learn Chassidus before davening AND daven b'avoda AND farbreng Shabbos afternoon AND go on tahalucha AND learn Chitas Rambam AND meseches Sota [if it happens to be shabbos mevorchim Iyar]) or one especially difficult-to-implement scruple which he or she breaks regularly (e.g. not listening to non-Jewish music, not talking to MOTOGs, and not killing millions of unborn and unconceived children).

A metascruple is a principle that allows us relate to the scruples we encounter. "I'll act the way I was raised," WWJD, and "let me call my mashpia" are all examples of metascruples. I think the Rebbe believed that for people coming closer to Judaism, a good metascruple would be not worry too much about the consistency between one's scruples; rather one should focus on making as many of one's actions as possible fit with as many of the Torah's scruples as possible.

If one is completely metascupleless, a common affliction is guilt: without a metascruple to sort through your different scruples, how can you avoid breaking some of them now and then?

My personal metascruple, which I often inaccurately refer to as 'the metascruple' is good at eliminating guilt. It is: If you will have a scruple, then implement it; if you won't implement a scruple, then don't have it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is Facebook Messed or is it Me?

For the past couple days, I keep on getting error messages when I try logging into facebook. Is anyone else having these problems, or is there something wrong with my account?

Update: Facebook does not want you to contact them. This discussion would be funny, if it wasn't so serious.

The Hyperbolic Poet

So there we were, at the poetry slam, and everyone was having a fun time pressuring everyone else to go up and perform. So I decided to write a poem on the spot, to express my deep, innermost feelings, which were evoked by the assemblage of the greatest poetic minds of the heights.

The Hyperbolic Poet

by e

Walking down the lane
Treading towards
His domicile, his abode
Inhaling the heady scent
Of the blood-red bloom
Its tender tendrils
Clinging
Grasping
Hanging
To the rough wooden grid
Climbing towards light and life

And now in English...

On his way home, he smelled a rose growing on a trellis.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Look Ma: I'm a Big Boy!

Apparently, Chabad.org is big enough that spammers thought it worthwhile to steal their logo!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Anecdotal Evidence: Seductive but Unreliable

As I was in the car heading back from the airport after the TRS-LE7 wedding, I had the following conversation with Meir, the driver:

M: Would you like to put your suit bag in the back?
E: No.
M: (surprised)
E: I have the Rebbe's kapote in here. I can't let go of it.
M: Oh wow! Can I touch it.
E: No.
M: (surprised)
E: Actually, go ahead. Touch it. I don't think it'll get ruined if you just take a peek and give a pat.
(This was followed by a discussion of Reb Yisroel's kapote-related scruples.)
M: Well, maybe this will help me get a shidduch. The Rebbe gave me his beracha twenty years ago, and I'm still waiting.

And then the conversation turned to other things, such as the super-cool symbolism of the number 5770, and my mathematics studies. (The guy remembers that I'm a math major from when he drove me to the airport before Pesach!)

In unrelated news, as Reb Yisroel was deciding to make an exception and send the kapote with me, he told me the story of the only other exception he ever made to his kapote-related scruples: The son-in-law of the shluchim to Cleveland needed a lung transplant. After six months of waiting, the doctors said that if the young man doesn't receive a lung transplant within 24 hours, he will need to spend the rest of his life on a respirator. The Shlucha to Cleveland frantically called Reb Yisrel, and asked him to send them the Rebbe's shirt. They tried to find someone driving from New York to Cleveland, but couldn't. So Reb Yisroel UPSed the shirt (and insured it for $10,000 I think. maybe I forgot the amount). Meanwhile, some dude got killed in a motorcycle crash. As the shirt was going to Cleveland from one direction, the dead guy's lung was heading to Cleveland from the other direction. Needless to say, the son-in-law lived happily ever after. He was hoping that the second time he violated his scruples (and sent the kapote with me) another miracle would happen. It didn't

Last story: a yungerman was sent on shlichus to California in 1951. As Chassidim are wont to do, he consulted with the Rebbe before every move. He followed the Rebbe's advice to the letter... and everything turned out for the worst. For example, there was a building which he had wanted to buy--and he had ba'al habatim ready to pay for it--but the Rebbe told him not to, because it would be too risky. Shortly afterwards, the government bought the building to make a road there. Had Chabad bought it, they could have sold it for a huge profit. I don't remember what other disasters happened, but the point is that the the shliach soon came back East, and spend the rest of his life bouncing around, teaching in Talmud Torahs, shechting animals, and doing nothing too spectacular, while some other young shluchim went to California, did lots of risky things and had tremendous success. He is still mekushar to the Rebbe, but is bitter and confused why the Rebbe didn't let him have success in California. His story is not well known, but I know it because I am related to him.

Do you see a pattern here? The Rebbe gives a guy a beracha and it's fulfilled after twenty years, and it's published in Kfar Chabad magazine and everywhere else. The Rebbe gives a different guy a beracha, and it's never fulfilled, and no one hears about it.
A shliach follows the Rebbe's advice and sees miracles, and the whole world knows about it. A shliach follows the Rebbe's advice and fails, and his own family barely knows about it.
The Rebbe's shirt wreaks a miracle, and Yisroel Shemtov tells and retells the story. The Rebbe's kapote wreaks nothing, and nobody hears about it.

I'm not saying people should start publicizing non-miracles. Who would want to hear the exciting story about the time the Rebbe's kapote didn't make the heretic repent or about the time when the guy didn't find a shidduch? I'm just saying that you should be wary of accepting anecdotes as proof of anything, because you can be sure that there are lots of less exciting anecdotes that you aren't hearing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We Miss You, TRS!

I understand you're married and all that, but don't you have time for the important shtuff?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yisroel Shemtov has a big heart, II

Quick recap: Yisroel Shemtov and I had made up that I would take the Rebbe's kapote to Milwaukee, and TRS called the rabbi to cancel.

Meanwhile, I was at my sister's house doing laundry. I figured, even without the kapote it still makes sense to rent a car. Otherwise we'll need to pay a fortune to take taxis to and from the airport and to and from the wedding. I figured I would need a car for two days, which would cost around $100. I called all the bochurim who were flying from New York, and they all agreed to chip in for a car if I drove everyone to the airport. I made my reservation, and moved on.

A few hours later I get a call from TRS. He had left Yisroel Shemtov a voicemail saying that he regretfully would be married without the kapote. Yisroel Shemtov called him back and refused to hear of it. The good rabbi would pay for the car, and TRS would need only to pay the $100. I told TRS that Yisroel's paying for the car wasn't really necessary, because that bochurim had all agreed to pay for it. We decided to tell the bochurim the whole story, and ask them to please give what they had pledged towards the car to cover the kapote.

At 3:25 I stood in front of the Shemtov residence and called Yisroel's cell phone. A minute later he stood at the door.
"What time is your flight?" he asked.
"7:00," I replied.
"So why are you here so early?"
"Well, I want to take public transportation, so I need to be on the train at 4:00."
"You can't take public transportation. The kapote might get lost."
"Fine," I acquiesced, "I'll take a taxi."
"If you're driving, you can sleep for another few hours. Come inside."

So, he showed me a bed in the back of his house, which I joyfully inhabited until 5:10, when he woke me up to go to mikveh. After mikveh, it seemed that everything was settled besides for one small issue. "I don't have enough cash to pay for a taxi... Perhaps you can lend me..." I stammered.
"What taxi?" Yisroel retorted, "I have my own limo."

So we drove to the airport, while Yisroel regaled me with tales of how the kapote was almost lost and how I better watch myself. When we arrived, he gave me $20 "just in case," and told me that he would pay for my taxi back from the airport. Because of me, he now has a new rule for kapote carriers: no public transportation!

The trip to Milwaukee was lovely. It was nice to be back in the Midwest where people are friendly and the roads are drivable. The five bochurim each contributed $20, and TRS got his kapote for free. We checked out the Chabad house in Mequon (freaking huge!), the Miller Beer factory (free beer!) and some Art Museum on the lakefront (shaped like a boat, right off of Wisconsin Ave.). The wedding was even better. We danced our hearts out, and only knocked over the mechitzah three or four times. But whatever. Back to the main thread of our story.

Upon arriving in Crown Heights (driven by the Moshe, the most reliable and cheapest taxi driver out there--call him at 917.951.1973) I immediately went to Yisroel Shemtov's office, to give him the kapote. I felt pretty horrible asking him to pay for my taxi from the airport. After all, even without the kapote, I'd need to get myself back from the airport. I figured I'd have him pay only half that ride and tell him that there was another bochur with me in the car.
Here was my cheshbon:
$100 --kaopte fee
-$58 --car rental
-$15 --taxi
So I'd give him $27 bucks, plus the $20 he had lent me.

I gave him the kapote, safe and sound, together with $47.
"Are you giving me too much money? Don't mess with me. By me, a deal is a deal. I said I'd pay for the taxi. How much do you really owe me?"

All plans about saying there was another guy with me in the car flew out of my head. I let him give me back $15.
"Don't forget about the other part of our deal [i.e. the scrupulous behavior I gotta do tomorrow]. If you cheat me and do more than we made up, I'll only love you more. No. It's not possible for me to love you any more than I already do. Just you'll make me very happy.

As Zaphod Beebblebrox would say, Yisroel Shemtov is one hell of a guy. Normally he'd enjoy some pleasant banter with a bochur, give him the kaopte the morning of the wedding, and get $100. For this particular customer, he first farbrenged for around an hour. Then got up at 3:20, let a bochur sleep in his house, got up again at 5:10, gave the bochur a ride the airport--after attempting to give him a cup of coffee--leaving the precious kapote in the hands of an unscrupulous young man. And for all this, he made a grand total of $12--and refused to take a penny more.

Of course the wedding was stupendous, but this post is already too long to squeeze in any more. Mazal Tov TRS and Le7! Many happy years together!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Yisroel Shemtov has a big heart

A word of background for the snags among us: Chassanim wear the Rebbe's kapote at their chupah. Some guys also wear the Rebbe's shirt, as a kittel. Rabbi Yisroel Shemtov has a kapote and a shirt of the Rebbe's, which he lends to chassanim.

A couple weeks ago, TRS asked me to take the Rebbe's kopote to Milwaukee for him. The day before the wedding, I was a bit concerned that TRS hadn't mentioned the kapote to me when he saw me over Shabbos, but I figured that he had enough on his mind as it is, so I didn't call to confirm that he still wanted my services. I called Yisroel Shemtov and asked to arrange to take the kapote. As is his wont, he asked to meet me before forking over the kapote.

I met him in his shop and he continued the discussion exactly where we left it off at the TRS-le7 l'chaim, with the scintillating topic of my beard or lack thereof. This quickly segued into a discussion of my general lack of scruples, and a mutual outpouring of hearts.

While we were pouring out our hearts to each other, I happened to learn some of Rabbi Shemtov's kapote-related rules:

A member of the wedding party cannot take the kapote, as he'll be too busy with other stuff to worry about the kapote.

The bochur who takes the kapote must go to mikveh beforehand.

Nobody is allowed to touch the kapote besides for the bochur to whom it was given. The bochur puts it on the chosson before the chuppah and takes it off after the chuppah. The rest of the time, the kapote sits in the trunk of a car to which only the bochur has the keys.

There are a bunch of other rules, but here's the most important one: if you lose the kapote, you owe Yisroel Shemtov $50,000. There's some impoverished Jew who owns another one of the Rebbe's kaptoes, and he's willing to sell it for $50,000. So if you lose Yisroel's, he wants you to give him money to get a replacement.

It goes without saying that among the rules is the requirement that the kapote carrier be a scrupulous, G-d-fearing young man, which I plainly told Reb Yisroel that I am not. For reasons I shan't disclose in public, he decided to give me the kapote anyways, with the condition that I engage in certain scrupulous behaviors this coming weekend.

He only gives the bochur to kapote on the way to the airport, so we made up to meet at his house at 3:20, when he would give me the keys to the mikveh near his house, I would dunk, get the kapote, and hop off to the airport.

It was an interesting conversation, and I was rather excited about the whole business. I hopped over to my sister's house to do some laundry, borrowed my sister's laptop to check the car-rental prices in Milwaukee, and was settling down to check my email, when I saw the following line at the end of an email from TRS:

Also, don't worry about the kapote from shemtov, because I'm not getting it.
Cheers!


I called TRS, and he basically said that he wasn't getting the kapote because it was just too expensive. Yisroel charges $100, plus he'd need to pay for me to rent a car to keep the kapote safe in. And with all the bajillions of other expenses, he just can't afford it.

I said, "Oh well. At least I had an interesting chit-chat with the rabbi. N'nu." In truth, I was a tad pissed. It's no big deal when poverty keeps you from buying sushi or taking a taxi. But wearing the Rebbe's kapote is a big deal. It's horrible that somebody should miss out just because he's a hundred dollars short.

But... The story gets more interesting and cheerful. Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

YAHOOOO!!!!!!!!!

I don't like to post twice in one day, but extreme news requires extreme measures. Everyone's favorite shegetz is now JEWISH!!!!!!

Welcome to the clan, Yonatan Yisrael!

What is Chabad?

Check out this wasome video about Chabad of my beautiful hometown. Who can spot the two bloggers in this video? (I will remove the link in a few days for confidentiality reasons, so make sure to watch it now!)

I'm sure TRS and le7 are gonna post about the wedding, so I won't tell you the whole story from my perspective (in brief, we came, we drank, we danced). But I hope to post later about the saga of the Rebbe's Kapote. So stay tuned!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Two Misconceptions and a Shout Out for the New Blog on the Block (or the Basement)

During hi-how-are-you conversations (which I HATE, as many of you already know), people often say:

"You're studying in City College? Is that a community college?"

I don't know why this is, or which dumbell invented these terms, but "community college" means "two-year college." People asking this question probably don't even know that there are two-year and four-year colleges. They really mean to ask, "Is City college a public college?"

For the record:
The opposite of a private college is a public college.
The opposite of a community college is a senior college.

The other misconception is harder to clear up. People say, "Oh! You're studying math. So what are you gonna be? An accountant?"

AURGH!! All the math you need to do accounting is addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Do accountants ever plumb the mysteries of derivatives, integrals, transcendental functions, vectors, or three-dimensional surfaces? This I doubt. To quote the second greatest computer of all time and space, "Molest me not with this pocket-calculator stuff."

And now the shout out: Big N8t's latest post is good shtuff. Reminds me of my yeshiva days.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

$$$$$

Money really makes a difference in people's lives. All the guys in my apartment are pretty much unemployed. And we sit around all day and talk about how poor we are and how impossible it is to find work. Then when something fun comes up, we obsess about how much money it'll cost. WTF? Can't we just enjoy life? If we could each have work for only a few hours a day, we'd have enough money to do whatever we want and not obsess about bloody money all day.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Matisyahu: Credo Quia Absurdum

Jane: Oh, my boss is so mean! I hate his guts!
John: Don't you ever feel down, thinking how you're always gonna be stuck with this jerk?
Jane: Nope, I know that I'm gonna be his boss one of these days.
Jack: How do you know that?
Jane: Well, since the day I've been hired, I've been waiting and praying for a promotion.

Mark: I'm so damn broke! There's no way I can pay next month's rent.
Mary: What's your plan for the future? Are you maybe gonna get off your butt and start working?
[Mary and Mark are truckers, so pardon the indelicate expressions.]
Mark: Nah, I'm winning the lottery soon.
Mary: Are you certain of that, young man?
Mark: Well, all my live I've been waiting and praying to win the lottery.

Mark and Jane are being stupid. They're saying, "X is true, because I've always thought it to be true." Need I prove the fallacy of this statement?

Matisyahu does the same thing in "One Day":
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around
because
all my live I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
for the people to say
that we don't wanna fight no more
there'll be no more wars
and our children will play


In general, in matters of religious faith, people are allowed to believe things simply because that's what they believe.

John: Why do y'all read the Talmud instead of just reading God's word?
Yochanan: Well, we believe that the Talmud contains God's will and wisdom.

Shabbat Shalom to all, and remember, if you don't eat any cholent, you're a heretic!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Link to an Article that you Shouldn't Bother Reading

This article attempts to promote tolerance and whatnot, but its condescending, I-know-better-than-you-silly-people-who-take-religion-seriously attitude would drive religious people nuts and make them wary of efforts to make them get along.

Basically, they say, "Hmmm. The Koran and the Bible have passages that condone tolerance for outsiders and passages that imply that you gotta kill 'em all. Maybe if we could understand this issue, the religious people could get along."

Of course, their explanation of how these contradicting passages got in there is based on the assumption that the holy books were affected by the circumstances of the people writing them, not the eternal will and wisdom of G-d. The religious people--at least those who are fighting about religion--are never gonna accept any of that, so cut the crap. Just say you're going to expose the pettiness of religiously inspired prejudice.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Defending the True Faith

Borrowing a page from TRS' book, I'm posting something which I wrote back in the day, but never published publicly. I don't really agree with what I assert below, but neither am I sure how to explain the anecdote which I bring to support said assertion.

When we try to determine the halacha, G-d keeps an eye on us and steers us towards the right conclusion. Here's a story which shows us this process at work. This past summer, I toured Israel with a group of friends. At Masada, our tour guide told us a fascinating anecdote: archeologists were digging in Masada and found a pair of tefillin. As you probably know, there is a disagreement between Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam as to which order the parchment scrolls are to be put in the tefillin. When they found the tefillin at Masada, they opened them up and found that... the parchments were arranged according to Rabbeinu Tam. This seemed to imply that Rabbeinu Tam was "right," and Rashi was "wrong." But sometime later, they found another pair of tefillin... which were written according to Rashi.

I find this story amazing. The disagreement between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam centers on how to interpret a Talmudic passage. One would think that either Rashi or Rabbeinu Tam understood that passage. The other must have gotten it wrong, thereby corrupting the Oral Law.

But if one of the opinions was merely a misunderstanding of the Talmud, then why were both types of tefillin used hundreds of years before the Talmud was written?

These tefillin tell us that G-d directs the disagreements of the sages. Both opinions reflect a true method of making tefillin. G-d puts the matters in our hands, but He guides our debate to keep us in line with His will.

This leads us to another question: why does G-d want halacha to be developed in this roundabout way?

Were the Torah, with all its nitty-gritty details, handed to us on a silver platter (or a desert mountain) it would be purely G-dly. G-d would be imposing His will on a bunch of people who weren't related to it. Conversely, were halacha entirely in our hands, it would become a human creation. In realty, Halacha is a little bit of both. A concept only becomes the halacha once a human mind has thought up the concept, played with it, examined it, tried to disprove it, compared it with other concepts, and shared it with other human minds. A true halacha must also be an instance of the will and wisdom of the Creator. It has within it that special spark that transforms physicality into spirituality and darkness into light. Halacha is a synergy of our reasoning and G-d's wisdom. Thus, Halacha relates to man and to G-d. And that's what gives it its power.

Sheesh. I wrote so formally back then. It's been a while since I wrote serious stuff.

Friday, August 21, 2009

AAUURRGGHH!!!

In chassidus, we learned about the prototypical friendship: Reuven understands that by hanging out with Shimon he will gain something (witty words of wisdom, free Starbucks coffee, whatever) and therefore Reuven starts to love Shimon and spend time with him. (The nimshal being that through hisbonenus, one understands how great G-d is and starts to love him. Do not try this at home. It will not work. ואכ"מ)

That's not how my friendships formed. I became friends with people when external circumstances threw us together, even though we weren't especially compatible, and even though we didn't work on maintaining the friendship. Many of my closest friends were roommates. We never chose to become friends. We ended up in the same room by coincidence. But we ended up spending lots of time together and just getting to know each other. So we became friends.

Sorry folks, but I'm going to need to bring another example from the Chassidic masters. The Frierdiker Rebbe says that there are two kinds of mercy: mercy from exaltedness ("romemus") and mercy from empathy ("hergesh," literally "feeling"). The first kind of mercy is what the king feels towards the beggar in the street. Something along the lines of, "I'm the big king. I have a palace and hordes of servants at my beck and call. You have nothing. All you have is a spot on the sidewalk near the subway's air shaft to keep you warm in the winter. I will mercifully give you fifty cents."

The Frierdiker Rebbe does not define mercy from empathy at much length (as far as I can recall), but this is what I think he means: I and my friend spend time together. We share with each other. There becomes some kind of connection, and the line between "I" and "you" starts to blur. He loses five dollars, and parts of his frustration leaks into me. His brother gets engaged, and I experience part of the joy. Why do I care if my roommate's brother gets engaged any more that if some random other guy gets engaged? Will it make a difference to my life at all? It doesn't make a difference. But it makes a difference to my friend. And what makes a difference to him makes a difference to me.

Many years ago my sister got a book out from the library about a pair of Siamese twins. They shared a stomach, so that when one of them drank, they both got drunk. That's friendship. Your alcohol affects my stomach, because we share parts of ourselves with each other.

So don't ask me why I care. I care because I feel for you. Because you're my friend. Maybe it was some silly set of circumstances that brought us together. That's irrelevant. "vi nisht vi" the circumstances were what they were, and we came together. So now we're together, and we share whatever experiences life sends our way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A (Slightly) Off-Color, Super Cute Thing my Niece Said

My mom was holding my two-month old nephew. The nephew started to cry. Said my mother, "I would hold him, but he wants to nurse. I can't help him with that."

Says my four-year-old niece, "Because you nursed Tatty, and Mendel, and Sarah, so it would be germs if Moshe nursed from you."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Is 151 a prime number? Hmm... Let's check

Let X and n be natural numbers. If X has no factors less than n, and X is less than n squared, then X is a prime number.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Break from the Bible: I've got a secret that will fix your life!

A common phenomenon: a kind, caring person meets someone in distress. The kindly soul hears the basics of this person's distress and immediately sees a way out of it. Often the solution is something along the lines of "Adopt my philosophy of life, and you'll be fine." Based on the kind person's knowledge--which is often scanty, having just met the person in distress--this is really a great solution. After all the kind person's philosophy of life works for him or her, why shouldn't it work for his or her new friend in distress?

The problem is that the person in distress can't adopt the kind person's solution. And to make matters worse, the person in distress usually can't explain why he or she isn't jumping for joy and running off to implement the kind-intentioned but unimplementable advice. One who has a deeper understanding of the problem and the personality of the sufferer would see what's wrong about the solution. But the good Samaritan cannot. And the damsel or dude in distress can't explain what's wrong.

I was once the recipient of such well intentioned and unappreciated advice. It was given to me by someone to whom I affectionately refer to as "my shiktzeh." She had it all figured out. I should start living in the moment and relish meeting new people and experiencing new things. And if I'm stuck in traffic with an obnoxious carmate, I shouldn't sit and stew. I should say, "Great! I have another opportunity to get to know this person and understand a new perspective on life! Joy!" I shouldn't just eat ice cream. I should savor it, feel the taste, and smell the texture. I should really eat it. Then every meal becomes a treat and life becomes paradise. This is great advice. It worked for her. But it doesn't work for me. But I couldn't explain to her why it wouldn't work for me.

Yesterday I met a damsel in distress. I instantly saw how she should get out of distress. Although I didn't notice the coincidence at the time, the advice I gave her was basically "Live your life exactly the way I'm living mine." I couldn't understand why she didn't lap up my advice hungrily. And even more amazingly, I couldn't understand why she couldn't explain to me what was wrong with my advice.

What's the lesson? Don't think you know everything. Recognize that you cannot understand someone else's life just by chit-chatting with them for ten minutes. You probably don't understand even your own life after all these years.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Lord thy God is a Jealous God

for more information, read the beginning of Kings II

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh! How we long for for the days of revelation, when God spoke through his faithful servants!

Back in the day it was really simple. God whispered secrets in the prophets' ears, and everyone know what to do, right? Wrong!

Happy nine days to you all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I wanted to find this for a while.

But I just found it five minutes ago, because I just looked five minutes ago. The people who are discussed in that article, are the same people i talk about here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chassidish!!

I just got an email from my nutiritionist (the one who got me started on this gluten-free diet). She says I can't have beer or whiskey, but I can have vodka. Oh darn! I forgot to ask about Everclear.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You are not safe!

I was floating around Google Reader today, and noticed that Reader had some posts from a friend's blog which I had thought said friend had deleted. I scrolled down further and found many more extremely personal posts, which I'm certain said friend had deleted before I ever dreamt of subscribing to his blog.

This reminded me of when a dear fellow blogger posted something nasty about me and immediately took it down. Later that night, I was chatting with TRS about a post which TRS had removed from his own blog:
TRS: It's online, and on the rss feeds...
1:03 AM me: listen, it'll last as long as it lasts, and that's that
TRS: forever
me: is [OTHER BLOGGER]'s post about me forever?
TRS: probably
1:04 AM me: take it down before it feeds into any more feeds and gets cached and all that nasty stuff

In those days of youth and naivete I thought that TRS meant that those who had subscribed already would always have the post in their RSS readers. But seeing those supposedly deleted posts made me think that maybe RSS readers really do keep things forever. I subscribed to the blog in which I had been maligned way back in the day, scrolled down to September 12, and viola! The following was seen:

Sep 12, 2008 2:57 PM E from CENSORED by CENSORED
I have this visceral belief that e is pure evil. Does anybody else feel that way some time?

The point of this post is not to laugh at people whose secrets are buried in Google Reader or to badmouth the guy who thought I'm viscerally evil. The point is that you gotta be careful. In the past I toyed with the idea of posting stuff that might be a tad too personal for public consumption but would be interesting to the friendly regular readers of this here humble blog. I figured I could delete it after everyone had read it, and my confidentiality would be safe. Say I to you, au contraire! Anybody can read anything anybody has ever written on any blog, merely by subscribing in Google reader!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Guys and Girls

To some of you this post will restate the obvious. To some of you, this post will make no sense. But some of you will find this post enlightening. So if you're in that third group, this post is for you.

Guys like girls. Girls like guys. But they can't just meet each other and start romantic relationships. There's a whole game they need to play first. I don't know the rules of the game, but the main idea is that you can't say what you mean.

Now, when you meet someone and there's no chance of any romance developing, you're excused from that whole game. You're allowed to be yourself. A girl can buy a guy a coke. A guy doesn't need to act like Mister Cool. This is what the pick-up artists warn against: the worst place to be, they say, is in a girl's "friend zone." You'll stay "just friends" forever and never get the real sechoirah ("merchandise"). But I don't care. The friend zone happens to coincide with my comfort zone.

VD"L

In unrelated news, I've had ads on the blog for the past two days, and I already made one cent! Soon I'll be rich!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Update about Anti-Sociality and Coco

Last semester I was taking algebra and sitting in on calc I. This semester I'm taking calc II and sitting in on pre-calc. There's this dude who was in calc I with me and in chemistry with me (although that barely counts, because there were over a hundred people in chem with me). Now he's taking calc I again and he's sitting in on pre-calc with me. So we've been seeing each other around the tutoring center and in pre-calc. Polite gentleman that I am, I always raised my eyebrows in greeting when I saw him, and he would nod. We may have even ventured a "hi, how are you?" a few times. Yesterday we actually spoke! A full fledged conversation! The professor in pre-calc was giving an exam, and we discussed whether we should take it, being that we're just sitting in. Then we discussed optimization problems and what a sneaky trick it was for Prof. Destina to ask the calc I students to graph a rational function which had no vertical asymptotes. To those who say it can't be done: I socialized with a classmate, without any preliminary small talk bullsh*t.

In barely related news, below is the paper on which I disproved the Coco theorem. My writing is on the left and on top. Her writing is on the bottom right.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

E vs. Coco (If you don't know math, just skip the mumbo-jumbo. You'll get the story regardless.)

In my school, there's a tutoring center, where you can get help with math and physics. They lady in charge has this nasty high-pitched voice, painted-on eye lashes, and wears the horriblest, loudest, most-mismatched clothes you've ever seen. When you come in she screams, "Sign in! Sign in!" Imagine what would happen if people didn't sign in at the tutoring center... or even worse, they might sign in but leave out the last four digits of their social security numbers... Oh! God save us from such horrors! Thank God we have Coco to prevent such tragedies.

Despite the b*tch at the door, I like studying there. The atmosphere is kind of like a zal, and it's harder to space out or get too involved with checking my email on my phone when I'm with other people.

Anyhow, Coco had just finished screaming at one of the tutors for not offering his help. (That exchange was actually kind of funny.
Coco: Why you don't ask students if they need help?
Tutor: I aksed 'em all, two minutes ago.
Girl on the other side of room: (raising her hand) I need help)

After that exchange, Coco felt like making herself useful before she resumed her post at her computer to look out for students trying to sneak in without signing in. So she moseyed over to me and asked if needed help. I accepted her offer, and we started working through a problem together. My trig is horrible. I learned it all myself, so I'm missing lots of basics.

Me: (hoping she'll tell me the formula) OK, now it's cos2t = 0, so we need the double angle formula...
Coco: (mutters something unintelligible with her foreign accent)
Me: Yeah, the double angle formula, which is...
Coco: (smirking) the double angle formula
Me: which is...
Coco: (smirks silently)
I turn to cheat sheet on the inside from cover, and shamefacedly copy the double angle formula. But I copied the wrong one. So I copy the second one, even more shamefacedly.

I wasn't going to let this slide. I figured I'd ask her a question that's been bothering me since yesterday.

∫ e^[ln(2x)] dx Looks like a scary integral. It's not.
∫ e^[ln(2x)] dx = ∫ [e^ln(x)]^(2) dx
= ∫ x^2 dx
= x^3/3 + c

But suppose you didn't simply it first, could you still solve the problem by taking the ln of both sides? Here's what I did yesterday:
y = ∫ e^[ln(2x)] dx
ln(y) = ln ∫ e^[ln(2x)] dx
= ∫ ln e^[ln(2x)] dx
= ∫ [ln(2x)] dx
u=2x; du=2
= 1/2 ∫ [ln(2x)] 2dx
= 1/2 ∫ ln(u) du
using integration by parts, you get
1/2 [x*ln(2x) - x] + c

remember, that all this is ln(y). To get y, we raise that whole mess to e, so the final answer is:

e^(1/2 [x*ln(2x) - x] + c)

This is obviously not the right answer. But what had I done wrong? Perhaps the mistake was taking the ln of both sides?

I showed Coco the original expression.
Coco: That simplifies to X^2.
Me: Yeah, but if I don't simplify it, could I get the integral by taking the ln of both sides, and then raising everything to e?
Coco: Don't do it.
Me: I understand it's harder, but is it allowed?
Coco: Don't do it.
Me: Yeah, but could I? Suppose you have an integral that you can't evaluate, are you allowed to take the ln and then raise it to e?
Coco: Yes, but-
Me: Great. So I want to see how you would do that here.
Coco: No
Me: But I want to see how it would work out. Could you show me?
Coco: No

There I was, thirsting for knowledge, and she was refusing and making me feel like a spoiled child who wants the parent to give it unnecessary stuff.

So I bided my time and thought evil thoughts about Coco. And thought about this rule some more, and realized that Coco was wrong. Here's a simple proof:
∫2^x dx
According to the Coco Theorem, you proceed as follows:
∫2^x dx = y
∫ln 2^x dx = ln(y)
= ∫ x*ln2 dx
ln2 is a constant, so you take it outside:
= ln2 ∫ x dx
= ln2*x2/2 + c. That is complete BS. The Coco theorem is wrong

But by now Coco was ensconced near her computer, heavily engrossed in Yahoo news. I showed her my work and asked her what I had done wrong? Each step had been legal, according to her, but the answer was wrong. Everyone knows that ∫2^x dx = 2^x/ln(2) + c. Where had we gone wrong? She got all confused. She started to scribble, pulled a bunch of u-substations but couldn't get anywhere. She asked for my book, and started to flip through chapter 7. I calmly reminded her that Logarithms and exponentials are discussed in chapter 6. She violently flipped to chapter six, where they were discussing the derivatives of exponentials. I knew that the formula for integrating exponentials was on the next page, but I kept quiet. Let the master of the tutoring center plumb the mysteries of mathematics in peace.

She scribbled some more, and decided that ∫2^x dx is in fact 2^x/ln(2) + c, as I had predicted. So what was wrong with what I had done? Is it possible that you're not allowed to take the ln of both sides and the raise the equation to e? Eh? Was I perhaps misinformed a few minutes ago? Oh yeah, I had suspected as such. Well, Coco, don't feel bad. I hear you got the double-angle formula down pat.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm anti-social

So, it's already a month into the semester, and I've had a total of three conversations: (1) with Prof. Destina about Hebrew language and Judaism, (2) with Prof. Mboup (my math teacher last semester) about what I'm studying this semester, and (3) with Prof. Destina about what I'm studying this semester. Aside from that there have been a bunch of friendly nods to various classmates, a few "hi"s, and a lot of business-like conversation with the library staff. And I had some math-related conversations with the teacher and the guy in the tutoring center. But that's it. I don't think I said a word to any of my classmates besides for salutations. Oh yeah, I also had a quick hi-how-are-you conversation with this former-Satmar girl whom I haven't seen around since then. So that makes a grand total of four social conversations on campus in one month.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Read shall you all read this article

which explains the origins of a Jewish linguistic quirk. (Hint: I just expressed myself in said quirky manner.) It doesn't say anything earth-shattering; I kind of suspected its main point all along, but it's nice to hear an expert say it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

~[(P => Q) => (Q => P)]

If jack drives into a brick wall at 90 MPH, it is highly likely that he will die. But if Jack dies, it his not at all likely that he drove into a brick wall at 90 MPH.

The fallacy of the above inference is obvious, but people make this mistake all the time. Kids often say things like, "Someone stole my pencil! I can't find it anywhere." I used to get nervous when my classmates would say that. If someone stole your pencil, it's likely that you won't be able to find it. But if you can't find your pencil, it is still rather unlikely that someone snuck into your cubbie, rummaged through your markers, tzedakah pennies, candy wrappers, and tickets, and stole your chewed-up pencil.

People say, "You know why they haven't developed feasible alternative fuels? Because the oil companies won't allow them. Big oil controls everything. They don't allow the scientists to make any progress." Ignoring the question of who exactly "they" are, there's a bigger issue. A Big-oil conspiracy makes alternative fuels unlikely, but lack of alternative fuels does not make a conspiracy likely.

My darling little nephew (who is picted in my Facebook profile picture) had bronchitis, poor thing. Said his mother on Shabbos, "Yankel is sick. Sarah is sick. It must be that Junior's disease is contagious." Thought I, as I sat at the table and contemplated writing this post, "Junior's disease being contagious makes it likely that Sarah and Yankel would be sick at the same time, but does their illnesses' coincidence mean that Junior's bronchitis is contagious?"

Now for the point of this whole exercise:

People say, "Do you know how unlikely our universe is? And then imagine how much unlikelier our beautiful planet is? And the human being is the most unlikely of all! Such magnificent coincidences cannot be the product of random chance. Obviously, G-d created the world and has plan for it. Certainly we human beings play a special role with cosmic significance.

Say I, certainly the existence of a G-d with human-centric plans makes our circumstances likely. But do our circumstances make G-d likely?

Friday, June 19, 2009

I am not responsible for this post.

I hate those bloggers who post about posting. Even worse are the bloggers who post to tell us all the wonderful things about which they're not posting. To these Cretens I say, "Don't you have anything beter to share with the world that your silly cicular thoughts?" But the worst are the bloggers who don't prrof read and leave typos in theire final porduct. If you want me to read your stuff, can't you at least read it youself to make sure it's well written. But today, I'm gonna commit all the sins I've jsut mentioned. I wanted to post today, and I didn't get around to it until now when I'm too tired to think straight and too lazy to type everything right hte first time and too lazy to go back and correct the mistakes. so there. Take that. This post sucks. Sorry for making you read it. It really sucks.

But I can be proud of myself that 12:45 is now crazy late and WAY after my bedtime. It means that in general I'm going to sleep on time.

HELLO??? So much has happened in the last few days, is htere really nothoing better to post about than my bedtime? Yeah, this is one of htose horrible, self-refrential posts. Aurgh. I'm not proud of this post at all. And yess, I'm about to hit "publish post," and I didn't read this post even once. And I see lots of red lines. And they're gonna stay there. Forever. too bad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Is Your Religion, Part I: Healing Clothes

Here's one of those "yeah-right" things, of which Judaism is abundantly blessed, loosely translated from the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, 228:29.

First, some background: grinding is prohibited on Shabbos. The Sages were concerned that if people could take medicine on Shabbos, they might grind fresh remedies on Shabbos. So, they prohibited doing anything which heals on Shabbos, even if the cure does not include any grinding, such as taking non-ground medicines, massaging oneself, gargling vinegar, etc.

Says the Alter Rebbe:
It is permissible to put a dry sponge or dry pieces of cloth on a wound if they are new, because they do not heal; rather they ensure that the [injured person's] clothing do not scratch the wound. Old clothes are prohibited, because they heal. When does this apply? when the [old] clothes have never before been on a wound. But if they were already on a wound, they will no longer heal--even though they are old--and they may be placed on a wound on Shabbos.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Internet is evil

There's a new mishega'as in Lubavitch. The websites post pictures of l'chaims and weddings. There's no privacy. A private citizen goes to l'chaim, and the next day there are pictures of him online. This is a case in point. I saw the photographer there, and moved away after I saw him aim his camera at me. Apparently he didn't want to post the picture of me giving him a dirty look and turning away from him. But he didn't mind post a rather non-flattering picture of me. What kind of craziness is this? Do I need to guard myself from paparazzi when I go to a l'chaim? The point is that today there is no privacy. Suppose somebody wants to see a picture of me, and he knows that my cousin or friend recently got engaged or married. That person can go snoop on me, unbeknownst to me.

Most people with whom I've discussed this phenomenon agree that it's evil, but they all look at these pictures anyways. Like all forms of gossip, everyone says it's bad, but everyone wants to engage in it themselves.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

e and the Muslims

Perceptive readers have noticed that I like Islam. Before explaining why, do the following: Forget about current events. Go back around eight hundred years, when the Christians were butchering heretics and the Muslims were inventing algebra. Also, keep in mind that my liking Islam does not mean I think it's true. I'm talking about an aesthetic appeal.

1. Islam is focused on the main point.
Muslim's are fanatically anti-idolatry. No icons, no pictures of Muhammad, no nothing. That's why Muslim art is mostly calligraphy and flowers, not Jesus getting crucified (gross) or grotesque Where-the-Wild-Things-Are-type godlets (think Hinduism).

When Muslim's pray, they face the Kabbah in Mecca. It's just a big black square rock, which they claim Daddy Abraham erected. Unfortunately, they idolatrous pre-Muhammad Arabs later put idols around the Kabbah, but Muhammad got rid of idols and reminded everyone that the Kabbah is where it's at.

This is kind of like what the Rebbe says in "B'yom Ashtei Asar": forget the BS. Remember the ikkar.

2. There's less of a "yeah right" reaction
Face it. There's some stuff in Judaism, to which the natural response is "yeah right." I like to minimize the public kefira, so I won't go into examples. Christianity also has lots of "yeah right" doctrines (virgin birth, infallibility of the Pope, "No man cometh unto the Father except through Me," to name a few). With Islam, you have much fewer. The Koran was written recently, so it's not hard to believe that it was actually dictated by Muhammad. The Koran doesn't include a hard-to-believe-ancient history. So believing Muslims don't need to argue with mainstream scientists and historians.

3. There's less "crazy stuff."
Judaism has lots of crazy stuff, eruv tavshillin, kappores, sha'atnez, wacky holidays, etc. And we also get really OCD. Open up a Shulchan Aruch and you'll be amazed at what the rabbis think up. Muslims have "normal" rituals (relatively). No crazy long prayers that are impossible to pay attention to. No writing scrolls that nobody's gonna read (think tefillin and mezuza). No refraining from electricity to help you "rest."

I don't know if this really does justice to issue. I think there's a more underlying and more essential property of Islam that appeals to me, but this is the best I can come up with.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

N'nu, Yiddish is always better.

This heimishe yungerman declares: if you think someone has been molested, don't waste time with the rabbonim. Take it straight to the police. In the past we have relied on the rabbonim and askanim (activists) to deal with the epidemic of abuse. And they did a lot--they protected the abusers' reputations.

If you understand Yiddish, check out the link above. If you don't, you can hear a much less juicy version in English.

Once we're talking about abuse, here's a vitally important email I got:
Some of you might know that there was a serious upset in the NY State legislature today (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/nyregion/09switch.html), which makes it even less likely for the Markey Bill to be passed. According to the SFJ blog (http://survivorsforjustice.blogspot.com/), what this means is that the main person who has the ability to get the bill passed is Senator Dean Skelos, the presumptive Senate Majority Leader. Therfore, if anyone is able to, it is vitally important that they contact Senator Skelos to impress upon him the importance of getting this bill passed into law.

I'll just quote the blog post here:

Today's surprise upheavel in the New York State Senate puts the fate of the Child Victims Act of New York (the "Markey/Duane Bill") in the hands of Senator Dean G. Skelos of Long Island. Senator Skelos has been supportive of some legislation designed to protect our children yet may be opposed to the Markey/Duane Bill.

Please call Senator Skelos' office and tell him that you are a supporter of the Markey/Duane Bill and that you are counting on him him to allow it to the Senate floor for a vote. Explain that you and your neighbors will support any member of the Senate who votes in favor of the Markey/Duane Bill and will likewise vote against any Senator who chooses to play politics with our children's lives by voting against a bill that protects children.

Senator Skelos needs to hear from us daily in order to understand how important this bill is to our children.

Albany Office
Legislative Office Building
Room 907
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: 1-518-455-3171

District Office
55 Front Street
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
Phone: 1-516-766-8383
Email: skelos@senate.state.ny.us

Friday, June 5, 2009

Some Muslims are cool.

Like this one, who converted a robber to Islam and gave him free food and money.

Hatip to Mottel.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Facts are stubborn. Hasids are stubborner.

You always gotta respect other people and their opinions. But when you're in your own bedroom, lying in your underwear, I think you can voice all your nasty thoughts about others. If some nut wants to listen in on your private conversation with yourself, that doesn't make you rude. I'm now talking to myself. If you folks want to listen in, that's your issue.

Every morning, we bless G-d for not making us a Goy, a slave, or a woman. Straightforward blessing. Yay God: He didn't make me a woman.

I have an issue with the phenomenon of clearly defined halachos getting pushed aside by minhagim which we do because "azoy firt men" ("that's how we do it") or because that's how the Rebbe did it. The prime example
is was davening shacharis right before sundown, after waking up at noon and kratzing around until six.

But yesterday I heard one the really took the cake. Get this: in beis harav the women say "shelo asani isha." I suppose I wouldn't want to posit that I know better than the ladies of beis harav. But this certainly looks like one of those beis-harav-only minhagim. Whatever.

Anyhow, this chassidisheh maidel who was telling me this, explained to me the reason: the beracha is for the extra mitzvos we get. That's why an eved ivri says "shelo asani eved." He's not free, but he has all the mitzvos of a freeman. (The "eved" mentioned in the beracha is an eved Kena'ani.) Now a woman could do all the man's mitzvos. Therefore she can thank G-d for giving her the opportunity to do said mitzvos, by reciting said beracha.

My first reaction was "PUUUUUULLLEEEEEEZZ." But I understand that that does not an intelligent response make. So I'll try to support and defend my initial gag.

1. A woman--even in beis harav--does not do all the mitzvos a man does. Did you, aidel maidel, ever put on tefillin? wear tzitizis? Do you say krias shema b'zmana? Do you eat in the sukkah religiously? Do you have your own seder plate at the seder? Do you light your own Chanukah menorah and make kiddush for yourself? Technically you could do all these things. But you don't. When Rashi's daughters want to say "shelo asani isha," then we'll talk.

2. Actually, we won't talk even then. Doing everything a man does will not make you obligated to do everything a man does. Sorry daughters of Rashi. It's "she'asani kirtzono" for you.

3. Suppose you'll say, "forget about obligations. Look at what the lady is actually doing." To this I say, the blessing is for G-d
making you the way you are. Even a ger, who is a full-fledged Jew, does not say "shelo asani goy" (according to the non-kabbalistic opinions mentioned in the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch 46:4) because he was indeed created a Goy. Certainly a woman, who was created a woman and always will be a woman (to quote the Alter Rebbe, "A woman cannot become obligated in all the mitzvows like a Goy who can convert and a slave whose master can free him" [ibid. 5]) can't thank G-d for not making her a woman.

By the way, in case you folks are wondering what "she'asani kirtzono" means, the Alter Rebbe says it is "k'mo shematzdik alav es hadin al hara'ah" (loosly translated as "like one who declares the justice of G-d's seemingly evil judgement.") The expression "tzidduk hadin" ("declaring the justice of God's judgement") is usually used in connection with someone's death. So you know what kind of "evil judgement" being a woman is.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I'm trying to be open-minded and non-judgmental.

But, these Muslims are making it awful hard.

Hat-tip to Crawling Axe for the polygamy post.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mottel=the Bomb

So, I'm starving hungery, and Mottel offers to make me salad. As I type, he's puttering around the kitchen and dressing a heap of chopped up lettuce. Yay him!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Isn't this cute?



Why am I getting so into guy-girl issues? Maybe it's delayed adolescence.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reinforcing the Old Scruples

Check out this mathematical proof that girls are evil

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Living Scruplessly

So, tonight I broke a bunch of scruples with which I was raised. I also learned that I really do speak with Yiddish syntax and intonation. I also learned that Smirnoff ice really does taste like Sprite. I also learned the Oholei Torah bochurim can be rather scrupless. I also learned that I don't know what. I'm actually a bit under the influence, so don't expect me to make sense. As we were embarking on our journey of scruplessness, we said that we would blog about it. So here I am, blogging as I have said. The end.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Do yourselves a favor and learn how to type!

I used to type while looking at the keyboard. I would tell people that I used all ten fingers. But when I started to think about it, I noticed that I used all the fingers on my left hand--almost in the way you're supposed to--while my right forefinger would hop around the right side of the keyboard like a woodpecker, and the rest of my right-hand fingers stood idly by.

Then one fine day I told myself, "If you (I?) are (am?) going to spend so much time in front of a computer, might as well learn how to type." So I did. I used goodtyping.com. And when I finished their lessons, I practiced at keybr.com And the rest is history.

I consider the decision to learn how to type properly one of the few wise things I have done in my life. It made life so much easier. Among other things, it transformed my online chatting experience. In the pre-touch-typing days, I was always rushing to get my thought across before my chatting partner said something which would render my thought irrelevant. And as I typed, there was always this pressing question: what if he already wrote something? What if I'm too late?

Now I can read and write at the same time. Chatting is purely pleasurable.

Now, whenever I see people pecking at their keyboards one letter at a time, instead letting their fingers flow to the sound of graceful tapping, I feel like shouting at them, "Go to goodtyping.com! Release yourselves from the bondage of staring at your keyboard, when the real action is on the screen!"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inspired by Mottel, I Riddle Y'all Some Riddles.

I met a man in the rain
He tipped his hat and drew his cane
In this poem I've mentioned his name.

What is it? (Don't google it, or you'll find out right away.)

Here's a question:
Ten people--five couples--(non-shomrei negiah) go to a party. One statistician among them asks everybody how many hands he or she shook. One person says he shook no hands. Another shook one hand. Another shook two, another three, another four, another five, another six, another seven, and another eight. The question is how many hands did the statistician shake?
Hint: you don't shake your own hand and you don't shake your spouse's hand.
Another hint: try to think who is married to whom.

Whoever answers these riddles gets thirty points. Ha! I'm outdoing mottel.

Here's a cute one, although not a riddle:
Translate into Yiddish, "The stars disturb Shtern's forehead."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Inescapable Problem

So, I was using this Mac in the computer lab, and the "v" key was broken. "No problem," thought I, "I'll just copy a 'v' from elsewhere and paste it wherever I need a 'v'." (The punctuation and the end of the previous sentence is correct.)

Little problem: to paste you need to hit cntrl-v, which you can't do without a 'v' key. And I couldn't paste with the mouse, because I was on a Mac and had no right click.

I'm sure this can be used as a metaphor for life: there are some problems which have solutions. But sometimes, the problem affects the solution also. For example, disease is a problem. The immune system offers a solution. But what if the disease is that your immune system is shot? I'm sure y'all can think of other examples.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Punctuation matters!!

Compare these two statements:

Stupid cancer survivors rule!

Stupid cancer, survivors rule!

For more of these pithy pearls of wisdom, read the kids' version of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

This is Beautiful



Maybe I'm I'm certainly being presumptuous by assuming that I know enough and am intellectual enough to find the trigonometric unit circle beautiful. But whatever. I'm also under the influence of Christopher Alexander's The Nature of Order, in which he argues that beauty is an essential and objective property of something, not merely an opinion. So even if I'm too ignorant to appreciate the unit circle's beauty, Alexander would assert that the circle is still beautiful.

My niece is so cute!

There's this song we used to sing when we were kids:
Red, orange, green, and blue
Shiny yellow, purple too
All the colors that we know
Live in the rainbow

So today my niece sang:
Red, orange, green and blue
Pink, purple, yellow too
All the colors that we know
Live in the puzzle.

After all, she has a puzzle with all different colored fish. But when was the last time she met a color living in the rainbow?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Language Shmanguage! You Shouldn't Know from it.

There are two languages: Yiddish, and Yiddish-in-English. Although they appear to be the same language, these two languages actually have completely different vocabularies and are spoken by completely different segments of the population. To lessen the miscommunication between the Yiddish speakers and the Yiddish-in-English speakers, I have prepared definitions of the most easily confused words.

Mamzer (noun)
Yiddish: a bastard. That mamzer salesman tried to rip me off!

Yiddish-in-English: a smart, shrewd individual. My genius nephew! Such a smart little mamzer!

Chutzpah (noun)
Yiddish: insolence, impudence, the least desirable of character traits. Then he has the chutzpah to tell me that I need to pay for shipping!

Yiddish-in-English: guts. My nephew has the chutzpah it takes to be a good salesman.

Oy Vey (interjection)
Yiddish: Oh no. His check bounced? Oy vey!

Yiddish-in-English: I'm Jewish! You also read Phillip Roth? Oy vey!

Goy (noun)
Yiddish: non-Jew. My neighbors are all Goyim.

Yiddish-in-English: a pejorative word for non-Jew. Speakers of Yiddish-in-English never use the word "Goy" themselves. They only refer to other people using the word "Goy." The Hasids act aloof around the "Goyim."

Shvartze (noun)
Yiddish: African-American. My Mexican cleaning lady was deported. But I found a new one, a shvartze.

Yiddish-in-English: Like "Goy" this word is only used when quoting a Yiddish speaker. And then my old senile mother started to scream, "Get that shvartze out of here!"

Meshuga (noun)
Yiddish: crazy. That guy is meshuga.

Yiddish-in-English: crazy, but not just crazy. It's like... ummmm. You can't explain it in English. It just what we call in Yiddish "meshuga." That guy is meshuga.

That's all folks!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Simple Theorem

if Ax + b = 0, then x = -b/a

This is not a huge surprise. They probably teach this to high school kids.

But until today, when faced with an equation like the one above, I would do it step by step, like so:

2x + 3 = 0
2x = -3
x = -3/2

Of course I'm not a yukel. I noticed that the constant term always ended up being the numerator and that the coefficient ended up being the denominator. I just never thought about it long enough to start using a formula to solve equations instead of the step-by-step approach.

So I guess the point of this post is that today I thought of something which there's no excuse for me not thinking of before.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Muslim Mechitzahs

This week at CCNY is Muslim awareness week! That means that Muslim students are doing mivtzoim all around the campus. Tonight there was a lecture titled "The Veil Unveiled: Women in Islam" or something like that. There was a "sisters' side" and a "brothers' side" which was separated by a genuine mechitzah made out of black cloth hung over poles. The lecturer sat at a desk in front where he could see both sides. It was really mechitzahlike. Afterwards there was free food. Just like any respectable kiddush, the men and women--ahem, brothers and sisters--ate separately. I thought that was kind of cute.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stam

These joint-writing projects reminded me of an anecdote.

When my mother was little, she and her siblings decided to make up a song together, each one supplying a few words. Here is their final product:

You can dig it with a shovel
You can dig it with a spade
You can even dig it with a rusty old blade
Even though they don't sell 'em any more
For free.

Hahahahahaha. Those little kids thought they were hilarious. I do too.

Words

What do people mean when they say, "But that's neither here not there"?

Anyone who comments, "Why don't you look it up will have his comment swiftly deleted.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

They're Both Right

Reuven and Shimon come to the rabbi with a court case. Reuven explains to the good rabbi why Shimon owes him $100. (Chauvinist footnote for the non-Yeshive educated: Reuven is always claiming that Shimon owes him $100. Either that, or his cow is goring Shimon's cow.) Says the rabbi, "You're right!"

Shimon explains why he absolutely doesn't owe Reuven the $100. Says the rabbi, "You're right!"

The rebbitzin, who was cooking chicken soup, pregnant, but not barefoot because she was a tznius lady, says, "They can't both be right!"

Thinks the rabbi for a minute and says, "You're also right!"

My dear friends, farwhy do I tell you this oft-repeated joke?

Nameless Faceless rails against the evil of Tefillin Dates, and Frum Satire extols them. If the circumstances demanded it, I could passionately argue in defense of both of these position (although not at simultaneously). What do I really think? I don't know. It's a moot question, so I'll probably never find out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Uncle Sam will Abandon Me, but New York State will Gather Me In

So my father prepared my taxes for me, and it came out that I owe the government $906. This was quite a shock. I always thought that in this country we believe that poor people don't pay taxes. But here I am, struggling to live the American dream of hard work and higher education, and those snot-nosed bastards in Washington think I'm rich enough to get taxed out of my pants? Harumph. They also said I was too rich to get Pell grants. What about President "Let's spread the wealth" Obama fighting for the struggling Americans?

And then, on top of this, I'm supposed to give New York State money also? After they raise the subway fare by 25%?

Anyhow, my father just wrote back to me that he figured my New York State taxes, and NYS will give me $545. So I guess I'm not doing too bad. I can afford to pay next month's rent and my taxes, and sill have money to put bread on the table (but not much more than bread).

In unrealated news, I'm getting into Der Erlkonig, by Franz Schubert and Goethe. But I find that when I sing the lyrics to myself, the German turns into Yiddish.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This is not whatś important

Nor is it much of a kuntz. But I´m number one!

What´s really important in life

(in no specific order)

friends

family

financial stability

an understanding of the past

hope for a better future

self-worth

a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The problem is that it´s hard to figure out how to attain the last three.

Futility of Futilities: the Security Guard's Utility (or lack thereof)

Do you ever think what it's like to be a security guard in a school? All you do all day is check ID cards. "ID, young man!" and "ID young lady!" is all these people say--around a bajillion times each day.

Suppose the unthinkable happens, and terrorists decide to blow up City College. They could waltz right past the security guards by flashing a B. G. Karalenkavo Kharkov Scientific Library card, which looks just like a City College ID card (I have such a card at home). They could also use the ID card which formerly belonged to the kid they killed as he was parking his car behind the Marshak building. The guards never look at the photo anyways--I often show mine with my finger on the picture. Or they could walk through one of the many doors which our building administration deems impervious to terrorists, because they have "EXIT ONLY" clearly printed on them.

When the security guard gets out of bed in the morning and hurriedly brushes his teeth to be on time for work, what does he think? Does he say, "Oh joy! Another day of foiling terrorist plots and saving innocent young scholars' lives"? He probably says, "Oh brother. I bet that red-haired kid is gonna have to dig in his wallet for twenty minutes for his card, while tens of unidentified students rush past. Can't that kid get his act together?" which is a really silly situation, because if he knows the kid by face, it's a probable that the red-haired trouble-maker is a registered CCNY student.

The real question concerns the security guards who don't ask for ID. In the North Academic Center we have a lot of those (which is stupid because it's the biggest building with the most doors and makes the most tempting terrorist target). What do those security guards think every morning? It's probably along the lines of "Another day of standing around and staring at nothing. Maybe today will be an interesting day, and somebody will ask me for directions." When he arrives at 9:00 a.m., how can he bear to think about the long, boring hours until 5:00 p.m.?

The only thing that makes this non-"ID young man"-shouting security guard more fit for his job than a stone is that the security guard can be blamed if terrorists ever do blow us up.