Maccabee's Wars

A venting rage against the ills of our society with some hopeful observations.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Pope’s Visit to Auschwitz – What Can One Expect?

A Holocaust survivor, who lost her family at the death camp, met with Pope Benedict, asking the Pope to apologize on behalf of the German people and, one would expect, on behalf of Christianity as well. It was not forthcoming. One should not be surprised. Neither has the Church truly recognized Israel, nor the return of it’s people as rightful heir to their land, though the previous Pope did visit Israel and prayed at the Western Wall.

Moreover, just as we find that current Islamic and Arabic regimes find Israel and Judaism to be an anathema to them, so has Christianity long held their Jewish origin in contempt.

Commenting on R’A. I. Kook’s concept of ‘Orot Genuvim’ (Stolen Lights), R’Bezalel Naor in his translation of Orot makes reference to the idea that the nations of the world will abandon the notion of the “Judean-Christian” tradition because they will recognize that the Judean traditions which they have incorporated into Christianity is antithetical to their own religion.

This will result in a massive increase in anti-semitism whereby the Jewish element of their religion will be thrown out. As a result, Judaism will ‘take back’ what rightfully only belongs to Judaism. In turn, the mass of Jews who abandoned their Judaism will find their faith, and Jewry as a whole will become stronger.

In a letter written in 1947 by R’ Kook’s disciple, R’ Ya’akov Moshe Charlap to Holocaust survivors, one can see how the above has come into fruition. Yet as R’ Naor interprets R’ Kook’s statements to ‘Ha-Milhamah’ (The War) to include World War II as a continuation of World War I, what is to prevent us from including in this amalgam the current Israeli-Arab conflict as well as the War on Terror?

If one examines the following excerpt from R’ Charlap’s letter and adjusts the Christian references to Islamic, one can see how R’ Kook’s ‘predictions’ still hold true today. We can only hope that in ‘the end of days’ the Jewish people will be the better for it.

“At that time they will be nauseated by every glimmer of light and will choose to live in darkness and the shadow of death. They will vomit that which was bestowed on them of Israel’s influence and discerning light. The beginning of their way of folly will be shaking off all contact they had with Israel – blow after blow, in order to be separated from Israel and all its qualities. This itself will be their curse, for every disengagement from Israel is a disengagement from life. For us, Israel, His holy people, it will be a blessing. Thereby will be fulfilled the prophesy, “I shall separate you from the people to be Mine.” To be separated from them and their multitudes, and also to salvage all the good, the pleasant fields of Israel, which were damaged and spiritually lessened by entering into the territory of strangers; to purify them and return them to the source of their holiness.”

The Charlap Letter, Imrei Noam, Jerusalem: Beit Zevul, 5707/1947, pp.14-16, pgs. 253-254

note 135 to page 109 of Orot, the Orot Inc. Edition, 2004

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Truth, Justice and the Chassidic Way? Look Up In the Sky. It’s Supermen!

Recently a Chassidic newspaper published an article with derogatory remarks against the author of a 3 volume work regarding the Vilna Gaon. Unfortunately the article and its author is the one deserving of the remarks while the author of the 3 volume treatise deserves accolades.

Dr. S.Z. Leiman, in his most recent shiur, said the vitriol against the Vilna Gaon books stem, in large part, from its author’s contention that the Vilna Gaon was correct in his battle against Chassidism, and in part to its author’s belief that R’ Ya’akov Emden was displeased with Chassidic practice. The newspaper said that this last notion was an outrageous fabrication.

It is not.

R’ Emden published at least 2 works indicating his dissatisfaction with Chassidic practice. In one, entitled Mishna Lechem, in a comment on the first Mishna in Meseches Peah, which states that the learning of Torah has no limitation, R’ Emden was extremely critical of those that insist on learning Zohar and Kabbalah to the exclusion of much else. At first, R’ Emden referred to the followers of the false Messiah Shabbsai Tzvi, but then to a lesser extent, R’ Emden began his critique of certain groups of Chassidim who do the same and pray for extended periods of time and move about during prayer as whirling dervishes.

Of course, today, Chassidism is well accepted and considered on equal footing with Misnagdim and the battle with the Vilna Gaon is no more. Moreover, R’ Emden, despite his aforementioned objections, is well respected in Chassidic circles. In fact, a commentary of his on Pirkei Avos was recently published with Haskamos from great Chassidic scholars. Copies of the alleged siddur of R’ Emden can be found in many Chassidic homes and their bookstores.

The issue, at hand, then is not who was right when the “war” began, but historical accuracy and the respect of Jews for each other.

Dr. Leiman, ended with an anecdote told to him personally by, I believe, the Shkolyer Rebbe. When the Ba’al Shem Tov’s soul was told to come down to earth to be born, the Ba’al Shem Tov asked, who would be alive during his lifetime. He was told that the Penei Yehoshua would be one of his contemporaries. The Ba’al Shem Tov was impressed. Additionally, he was told that the Node BeYehuda would be the leader of the Prague community. Again, the Ba’al Shem Tov was heartened. Finally, he was told that R’ Ya’akov Emden would be a contemporary during his lifetime. The Ba’al Shem Tov replied, ‘Oib Azoi, Ich Fir Zich Nisht’ i.e. “If so, I’m not going.” He knew that R’ Emden would have great fortitude in the “battle” for Torah and he did not want to be involved with him in a lengthy adversarial role.

The Ba’al Shem Tov was told not to worry. He had nothing to fear from R’ Emden. R’ Yonason Aybshutz would also be a contemporary and he would be taking up all of R’ Emden’s time.

In the end, R’ Aybeshitz was vindicated, as was the Ba’al Shem Tov, as well as the entire Chassidic movement.

Monday, May 15, 2006

We're Off To See The Wizard

Today is the 150th birthday of L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard Of Oz, and the 50th Anniversary of its appearance on television.

It seems people are so in love with the story that they will go to any length to find meaning in it, as well as in their own lives.

The following are some examples of the above with some "drush" or jewish interpretation of Baum's classic:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Choices -- Do We have Bechira?

In the latest issue of New Scientist, one can find another "theory" regarding quantum physics in which we may not have control of our actions. Why have morality? Why have laws? Why have mercy? No more justice, no more science?

Read on.;jsessionid=JAAEGFGLAKMO

Free will - you only think you have it

04 May 2006

Zeeya Merali

'"WE MUST believe in free will, we have no choice," the novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer once said. He might as well have said, "We must believe in quantum mechanics, we have no choice," if two new studies are anything to go by.

Early last month, a Nobel laureate physicist finished polishing up his theory that a deeper, deterministic reality underlies the apparent uncertainty of quantum mechanics. A week after he announced it, two eminent mathematicians showed that the theory has profound implications beyond physics: abandoning the uncertainty of quantum physics means we must give up the cherished notion that we have free will. The mathematicians believe the physicist is wrong.

“Abandoning the uncertainty of quantum physics means we must give up the cherished notion that we have free will.”

"It's striking that we have one of the greatest scientists of our generation pitted against two of the world's greatest mathematicians," says Hans Halvorson, a philosopher of physics at Princeton University.

Quantum mechanics is widely accepted by physicists, but is full of apparent paradoxes, which made Einstein deeply uncomfortable and have never been resolved. For instance, you cannot ask what the spin of a particle was before you made an observation of it - quantum mechanics says the spin was undetermined. And you cannot predict the outcome of an experiment; you can only estimate the probability of getting a certain result.

"Quantum mechanics works wonderfully well, but it's not complete," says Gerard 't Hooft of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1999 for laying the mathematical foundations for the standard model of particle physics. One major reason why many physicists, including 't Hooft, yearn for a deeper view of reality than quantum mechanics can offer is their failure so far to unite quantum theory with general relativity and its description of gravity, despite enormous effort. "A radical change is needed," says 't Hooft.

For more than a decade now, 't Hooft has been working on the idea that there is a hidden layer of reality at scales smaller than the so-called Planck length of 10-35 metres. 't Hooft has developed a mathematical model to support this notion. At this deeper level, he says, we cannot talk of particles or waves to describe reality, so he defines entities called "states" that have energy. In his model, these states behave predictably according to deterministic laws, so it is theoretically possible to keep tabs on them.

However, the calculations show that individual states can be tracked for only about 10-43 seconds, after which many states coalesce into one final state, which is what creates the quantum mechanical uncertainty. Our measurements illuminate these final states, but because the prior information is lost, we can't recreate their precise history.

While 't Hooft's initial theory explained most quantum mechanical oddities, such as the impossibility of precisely measuring both the location and momentum of a particle, it had a major stumbling block - the states could end up with negative energy, which is physically impossible. Now, 't Hooft has worked out a solution that overcomes this problem, preventing the states from having negative energy ( "It was an obnoxious difficulty," he says. "But having solved it I am more and more convinced that this is the right approach."

Essentially, 't Hooft is saying that while particles in quantum mechanics seem to behave unpredictably, if we could track the underlying states, we can predict the behaviour of particles.

Others are impressed. "This is a very beautiful theory that tells us about the world on the smallest scales," says physicist Willem de Muynck at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. "But these are scales that current experiments cannot reach, so if anything the theory is before its time."

As enticing as 't Hooft's theory may be to physicists, it has an unexpected and potentially frightful consequence for the rest of us. Mathematicians John Conway and Simon Kochen, both at Princeton University, say that any deterministic theory underlying quantum mechanics robs us of our free will.

"When you choose to eat the chocolate cake or the plain one, are you really free to decide?" asks Conway. In other words, could someone who has been tracking all the particle interactions in the universe predict with perfect accuracy the cake you will pick? The answer, it seems, depends on whether quantum mechanics' inherent uncertainty is the correct description of reality or 't Hooft is right in saying that beneath that uncertainty there is a deterministic order.

Conway and Kochen explored the implications of 't Hooft's theory by looking at what happens when you measure the spin of a particle. Spin is always measured along three perpendicular axes. For a spherical particle, the particular axes that you choose and the order in which you carry out the measurements are up to you. But are your choices a matter of free will, or are they predetermined?

What the mathematicians proved is this: if you have the slightest freedom to choose the axes and order of measurement, then particles everywhere must also have the same degree of freedom. That means they can behave unpredictably. However, if particles have no freedom, as implied by 't Hooft's theory, the mathematicians proved that you have no real say in the choice of axes and order of measurement. In other words, deterministic particles put an end to free will (

Arguments about free will are as old as philosophy itself, and ever since quantum mechanics was proposed people have attempted to connect free will to the indeterminacy at the heart of this theory. "We're proud because this is the first solid proof relating these issues," says Conway.

Kochen and Conway stress that their theorem doesn't disprove 't Hooft's theory. It simply states that if his theory is true, our actions cannot be free. And they admit that there's no way for us to tell. "Our lives could be like the second showing of a movie - all actions play out as though they are free, but that freedom is an illusion," says Kochen.

“Our lives would be like the second showing of a movie, playing out as though we are free, but freedom is an illusion.”

Since the mathematicians believe that we have free will, it follows for them that 't Hooft's theory must be wrong. "We have to believe in free will to do anything," says Conway. "I believe I am free to drink this cup of coffee, or throw it across the room. I believe I am free in choosing to have this conversation."

Halvorson says the debate really boils down to a matter of personal taste. "Kochen and Conway can't tolerate the idea that our future may already be settled," he says, "but people like 't Hooft and Einstein find the notion that the universe can't be completely described by physics just as disturbing."

For philosophers, both arguments can be troubling. "Quantum randomness as the basis of free will doesn't really give us control over our actions," says Tim Maudlin, a philosopher of physics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "We're either deterministic machines, or we're random machines. That's not much of a choice."

Halvorson, however, welcomes the work by 't Hooft, Conway and Kochen. "Philosophy has separated itself from science for far too long," he says. "There are very important questions to be asked about free will, and maybe physics can answer them."

From issue 2550 of New Scientist magazine, 04 May 2006, page 8

Woe Onto Us

Arutz 7 is showing a video from Israel-TV channel 10 on its website. It may appear to some as if those who are in soildarity with Yesha are orchestrating their removal from Gush Katif for the television cameras.

Particularly problematic is a man being carried a few feet and then put down.

Sad to say it doesn't look good. However, giving the man the benefit of the doubt, he may have been slightly injured, recovered quickly and asked to be put down.

I don't know.

The left wing Israeli media would be ecstatic if Yesha Council is shown in a bad light.

You be the judge.

The Looney Letter

Here is an interesting comment on the letter by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Bush with the the actual translated text.

The Bad and The Ugly -- There Is Nothing Good Here

After having seen first hand the stupidly, arrogance and thievery in Romania, it should come as no surprise to see what Diane Sawyer and Nightline presented last night regarding the horrific treatment of abandoned children.

Read the report but more importantly watch the video:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Listen and Weep

A long time ago in a place far, far away, BBC radio understood news reporting.

Listen to this audio found recently in the Smithsonian archives.

Thanks to Debbie Schlussel who first presented it on her blog on May 5th.

Disengagement vs. “Engagement”

With all the talk of disengagement or convergence in Judea and Samaria by the Israeli government, the “disengagement” from talks with the Palestinian Authority has been promising. Without talks there is little movement of financial aid, business transactions, cultural exchange or travel without restriction. As sad as it might be for individuals when there are shortages of supplies for their basic needs and care, that responsibility falls to the “benevolent” Hamas regime who give out confectionaries when there is a suicide bombing.

If Hamas would be less interested in destroying Israel and more focused on the needs of their populace, there wouldn’t be any humanitarian crisis. But as with all anti-Semitic Arab regimes, once blood is smelled, once the regime feels that its adversary is soft and weak, the Arab regime will scream for bloody murder and act accordingly.

Is it possible that the US and the Israeli governments are finally taking this lesson to heart? Even Shimon Peres, the ultimate “paper tiger” is threatening to destroy Iran.

Yet the United States, Israel and Shimon Peres in particular have had a long history of engaging in talks which proved disastrous; Israel with the Arabs, the US with Iran. So what’s a country to do? Engage in “peaceful” talks or “disengage” from peaceful notions with nations who thrive on their adversaries’ apparent weakness?

For an interesting take on how the US should handle Iran and its failure to do so in the past, see the article below from today’s Wall Street Journal:


The Perils of Engagement

Calling for talks with Iran is just cheap talk


Tuesday, May 9, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

Something interesting is happening with regard to the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Slowly the blame is shifting from the mullahs to the Bush administration as the debate is redirected to tackle the hypothetical question of U.S. military action rather than the Islamic Republic's real misdeeds. "No War on Iran" placards are already appearing where "No Nukes for Iran" would make more sense.

The attempt at fabricating another "cause" with which to bash America is backed by the claim that the mullahs are behaving badly because Washington refuses to talk to them. Some of this buzz is coming from those who for years told the U.S. to let them persuade Iran to mend its ways. They include German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his British and French colleagues in the European Union trio that negotiated with Iran for years. Preparing to throw in the towel, they now say the U.S. should "directly engage" Iran. That would enable them to hide their failures and find a pretext for blaming future setbacks on the U.S.

The "engage Iran" coalition also has advocates in the U.S. Over the past few weeks they have hammered the "engagement" theme with op-eds, TV soundbites and speeches. Some have recommended John Kennedy's "sophisticated leadership" during the Cuban missile crisis as a model for George W. Bush. The incident has entered American folklore as an example of "brilliant diplomacy," but few bother to examine the small print. The crisis, as you might recall, started when the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, something they were committed not to do in a number of accords with the U.S. Kennedy reacted by threatening to quarantine Cuba until the missiles were removed. The Soviets ended up "flinching" and agreed to removal.

In exchange they got two things. First, the U.S. agreed never to take or assist hostile action against Castro, offering his regime life insurance. The second was to remove the Jupiter missiles installed in Turkey as part of NATO's defenses. Instead of being punished, Castro and his Soviet masters were doubly rewarded for undoing what they shouldn't have done in the first place. And Castro was free to do mischief not only in Latin America but also in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, often on behalf of Moscow, right up to the fall of the U.S.S.R. Applied to Iran, the "Kennedy model" would provide the mullahs, now facing mounting discontent at home, with a guarantee of safety from external pressure, allowing them to suppress their domestic opponents and intensify mischief-making abroad.

Believe it or not, the second model for engaging Iran is actually Jimmy Carter's policy towards the mullahs. Mr. Carter has called for a "diplomatic solution," and Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser, has published an op-ed blaming the Bush administration for the crisis. He writes: "Artificial deadlines, propounded most often by those who do not wish the U.S. to negotiate in earnest, are counterproductive. Name-calling and saber rattling, as well as a refusal to even consider the other side's security concerns, can be useful tactics only if the goal is to derail the negotiating process."

Let's forget that the "artificial deadlines" have been set by the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council, and that most of the "name-calling and saber rattling" has come from Tehran. But let us recall one fact that Mr. Brzezinski does not mention--that the Carter administration did "engage" with the mullahs without artificial deadlines, saber rattling and name-calling. The results for the U.S. were disastrous.

In 1979, soon after the mullahs seized power, Mr. Carter sent Ayatollah Khomeini a warm congratulatory letter. Mr. Carter's man at the U.N., a certain Andrew Young, praised Khomeini as "a 20th-century saint." Mr. Carter also tapped his closest legal advisor, the late Lloyd Cutler, as U.S. ambassador to the mullarchy.

A more dramatic show of U.S. support for the mullahs came when Mr. Brzezinski flew to Algiers to meet Khomeini's prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan. This was love at first sight--to the point where Mr. Carter approved the resumption of military supplies to Iran, even as the mullahs were executing Iranians by the thousands, including many whose only "crime" was friendship with the U.S. The Carter administration's behavior convinced the mullahs that the U.S. was a paper tiger and that it was time for the Islamic Revolution to highlight hatred of America. Mr. Carter reaped what he had sown when the mullahs sent "student" fanatics to seize the U.S. embassy compound, a clear act of war, and hold its diplomats hostage for 444 days. "The Carter administration's weakness was a direct encouragement to [anti-American] hard-liners," wrote Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the hostage-takers, years later.

Mr. Brzezinski's op-ed took the title "Been There, Done That," meant as a sneering nod to events that led to the liberation of Iraq. A more apt title, however, is: "Been There, Done That, Learned Nothing"--a nod to Mr. Brzezinski's failure to learn the lessons of Iran even three decades later.

The third model for engaging Iran is the Clinton model. Beating his own drum, Bill Clinton has rejected the threat of force and called for "engaging" Iran. This is how he put it in a recent speech: "Anytime somebody said in my presidency, 'If you don't do this, people will think you're weak,' I always asked the same question for eight years: 'Can we kill 'em tomorrow?' If we can kill 'em tomorrow, then we're not weak." Mr. Clinton's pseudo-Socratic method of either/or-ing issues out of existence is too well-known to merit an exposé. This time, however, Mr. Clinton did not ask enough questions. For example, he might have asked: What if by refusing to kill some of them today we are forced to kill many more tomorrow? Also: What if, once assured that we are not going to kill them today, they regroup and come to kill us in larger numbers? We all know the answers.

Mr. Clinton did not reveal that in 1999 he offered the mullahs "a grand bargain" under which the Islamic Republic would be recognized as the "regional power" in exchange for lip service to U.S. "interests in the Middle East." As advance payment for the "bargain" Mr. Clinton apologized for "all the wrongs that my country and culture have done" to Iran, whatever that was supposed to mean. The "bargain," had it not been vetoed by the "Supreme Guide" in Tehran, might have secured Mr. Clinton the Nobel Peace Prize he coveted, but it would have sharpened the mullahs' appetite for "exporting" revolution.

President Bush can learn from the Kennedy, Carter and Clinton models by not repeating their mistakes. What the U.S. needs is an open, honest and exhaustive debate on what to do with a regime that claims a mission to drive the U.S. out of the Middle East, wipe Israel off the map, create an Islamic superpower, and conquer the world for "The Only True Faith." The options are clear: retreat and let the Islamic Republic advance its goals; resist and risk confrontation, including military conflict; or engage the Islamic Republic in a mini-version of Cold War until, worn out, it self-destructs.

With the options clear, Messrs. Carter, Brzezinski and Clinton along with other "engagers" would have to tell us which they favor and, if they like none, what alternative they offer. Calling for talks is just cheap talk. It is important to say what the proposed talks should be about. In the meantime, talk of "constructive engagement" is sure to encourage President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intransigence. Why should he slow down, let alone stop, when there are no bumps on the road?

Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).

Monday, May 08, 2006

As Some Nincompoop Said to Mr. Spock “Bashert, Bashert What Is Bashert?”

A recent article in New Scientist pointed out how to choose a mate. It was more enjoyable than the Halachic version espoused in the current issue of the RJJ Journal.

Read away.;jsessionid=CCIMGEJDBHNH

Love special: How to pick a perfect mate

29 April 2006

From New Scientist Print Edition.

Martie G. Haselton

Martie G. Haselton is in the Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles

SELECTING a mate is the most crucial decision of our lives. We spend a huge amount of time and energy trying to find that special someone. Our appetite for a relationship fuels a billion-dollar industry of match-making services, lonely hearts ads and online dating. Yet we're often not satisfied. A survey in 2005 of more than 900 people who had been using online dating services found that three-quarters had not found what they were looking for. We seem as much in the dark as ever about who is a suitable match for us.

As a scientist studying human behaviour, I am not too surprised by the mysterious nature of how we go about choosing a partner. Mate selection is a highly complex process. We are consciously aware of only part of it; the rest is either inherently unpredictable or operates outside our awareness, which leads us to the perception that love is about ineffable chemistry.

Let's start with the conscious part. There are some things we all find attractive. Men tend to desire women with features that suggest youth and fertility, including a low waist-to-hip ratio, full lips and soft facial features. Recent studies confirm that women have strong preferences for a virile male beauty - taut bodies, broad shoulders, clear skin and defined, masculine facial features, all of which may indicate sexual potency and good genes. We also know that women are attracted to men who look as if they have wealth, or the ability to acquire it, and that both men and women strongly value intelligence in a mate. Preferences for these qualities - beauty, brains and resources - are universal. The George Clooneys and Angelina Jolies of the world are sex symbols for predictable biological reasons.

Of course, we don't all fall in love with super-mates like these. An average person who did would be headed nowhere, because super-mates are inaccessible to all but a few. This is likely part of the reason why love evolved: to bond us for cooperative child rearing, but also to assist us in choosing, so that we don't waste time and energy falling for someone who is unattainable. Instead, people tend to fall for others who, on attractiveness, intelligence and status, are of a similar "ranking" to themselves.

So much for outward appearances. What about the less obvious cues of attraction? Fascinating work on genetics and mate preferences has shown that each of us will be attracted to people who possess a particular set of genes, known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which play a critical role in our ability to fight pathogens. Mates with dissimilar MHC genes produce healthier offspring with broad immune systems. And the evidence shows that we are inclined to choose people who suit us in this way: couples tend to be less similar in their MHC than if they had been paired randomly.

How do people who differ in their MHC find each other? This isn't fully understood, but we know that smell is an important cue. People appear to literally sniff out their mates. In studies, people tend to rate the scent of T-shirts worn by others with dissimilar MHC as most attractive. This is what sexual "chemistry" is all about.

The message here is trust your instincts - except that there is an alarming exception. For women taking hormonal contraceptives, the reverse is true: they prefer men whose MHC genes are similar to their own. Thus women on the pill risk choosing a mate who is not genetically suitable (best to smell him first and go on the pill afterwards). This is a prime example of how chemical attraction can depend on your circumstances.

Here's another example: attraction can fluctuate over the menstrual cycle. Men evaluate women's scents as more attractive when they are near ovulation, and in our studies at UCLA we have found that men are more loving towards their partners as ovulation approaches. Women's preferences for certain male scents and other male features change over their cycle. Near ovulation, they prefer masculine traits; at other phases of their cycle they prefer less sexiness and more stability. All this suggests that the path to love can be somewhat random, particularly for women.

Having sex can also complicate the way you perceive a potential partner. After sex, the brain releases oxytocin, which results in that warm, companionable feeling of love and the creation of the social bonds that facilitate cooperative child rearing. Watch out: sex on a whim can lead to feelings of love for a person who is entirely wrong for you.

Sex, of course, is not love. For scientists, love is a conundrum: strictly speaking sexual desire takes care of reproduction, so what could be the purpose of love, especially since it makes us believe we have found our one true "soulmate" in a world filled with billions of alternatives. How would our ancestors have been served by such behaviour? One possibility is that feelings of love act as a "stop rule" that terminates our search for a mate, even if only temporarily, so we commit to one person and get on with the business of mating.

But that still poses the question, if the roads to love are so varied and random, how do we decide on a particular mate? It turns out that the problem of choice under uncertainty can be described and solved mathematically. Evolutionary psychologists Peter Todd at Indiana University in Bloomington and Geoffrey Miller at the University of New Mexico used a computer simulation to determine how a person might best choose from a number of potential partners. They set it up so that the person first assesses a number of the options before them to decide what is the best they can aspire to in terms of attractiveness, and then goes for the next person they come across who meets their aspirations out of those they haven't already encountered.

The researchers found that the optimum proportion of possible mates to examine before setting your aspirations and making your choice is a mere 9 per cent: so at a party with 100 possible mates, it's best to study only the first nine you randomly encounter before you choose.
Examining fewer means you won't have enough information to make a good choice, examining more makes it more likely you'll pass the best mate by. No doubt, the models underestimate the complexity of real mate choice, but the fundamental insight is clear: don't search indefinitely before choosing lest you miss out on all the good mates or run out of time altogether.

Who we fall for is determined by a mix of factors, some of which we are aware of, some of which we experience indirectly. Happenstance can play a major role, especially if we meet someone just after calibrating our aspirations, or at a particular stage of our hormonal cycle. There may be that special someone out there - but they're not necessarily the only one.

Martie G. Haselton is in the Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles
From issue 2549 of New Scientist magazine, 29 April 2006, page 36

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Judas Within Our Own Midst

Watching two reports on Dateline NBC and 60 Minutes about Ethanol 85 (E-85), a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, it seems that the oil crisis can be solved immediately.

What was disheartening was that venture capitalist Vinod Khosla expressed the long held sentiment that oil companies are keeping gasoline prices inflated for large profits.

Mr. Khosla expressed that E-85 could be made available for about $0.70 a gallon and that it would only cost a relative small pittance for oil companies to make it available. (Approximately $20 million in distribution costs vs. tens of billions in yearly profits.)

Mr. Khosla had been told by one oil executive to be very careful and to tread lightly. The executive was adamant in stating that the price of gasoline can be lowered to well below the price of E-85.

Imagine, pricing of gasoline going for well below $0.70 a gallon. It’s not the Arab petroleum producers we have to worry about but rather our own price gouging profiteers.

See the sites below for info from the two shows:


A new children’s book on the value of saying Amen has just been published. It is an English version of the original Hebrew edition which came out 4 years ago.

Its anonymous author also published a Halachic volume on the recitation of Amen 2 years prior to the previously mentioned Hebrew edition. The Seforim have a number of Haskamos attached and the Halachic Sefer was also published anonymously.

Almost certainly, the Author is a fine man who has devoted his life to this subject and publishes anonymously so that no one gives him undue credit for his work.

However, Dr. S.Z. Leiman in his latest Shabbos Shiur points out 2 major errors in the use of source materials.

Firstly, the author presents the story of the Ger Tzeddek, who as Polish nobleman converted to Judaism under pain of death. At his execution, a great Rabbi hid in the branches of a tree and responded Amen when the Ger Tzeddek screamed out with his last breath Baruch Dayan Emes.

Unfortunately, there is no substance to this story. All accounts put a Jewish child at the scene who dressed as a gentile and then gathered up the remains of the Ger Tzeddek for burial. Any Rabbi hiding in the branches of a tree would have been immediately spotted and executed.

There was no mention of Amen.

Secondly, the author of this children’s book quotes his own Sefer, saying that one is obligated to forfeit his life if he is not allowed to say Amen Befarhesya with 10 men in attendance. The original source is from an obscure Sefer published in 1913 without any Haskamos.

According to Dr. Leiman, of all those who disagree with the Rambam, such as the Rosh,for example, who say that you may forfeit your life for a Mitzvah other than the original three of Avodah Zorah, Shfichas Domim and Gilui Arayos, no one says that forfeiture is allowed for a Shev V’al Tasah situation such as being forced not to say Amen.

It doesn’t even follow as a Chilul Hashem situation since you aren’t being forced to do anything. Moreover the quote from the 1913 Sefer is misconstrued, since that author uses a Kal Vachomer, an a priori inference, to make a point. There is no absolute psak to say Amen under fear of death.

In actuality, the new Ger Tzeddek story was adapted by the author from the Sefer Hereh V’aaino Nireh, which referred to a blood libel which took place in 1790 in Grodno, where people responded Amen to the dying declaration of R’Elezar ben R’ Shlomo Verblover Z”TL who was brutally murdered after being quartered at the site of his execution.

Dr. Leiman concluded by reading from the text of a letter written recently by the Admor of Slonim in reference to the adjustment of stories for the sake of making a point.

See the end of these previous posts for his conclusion:

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Scary Stories

The cold war is not over. In fact, political games are being played where it could get a lot hotter.

It seems that China and Russia are very happy with Iran developing atomic weapons. Couldn’t be, you say? It would be madness, you say? Take a look at these two articles and decide for yourselves.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Whatever Goes Around Comes Around - Quotes From Around the World

After a reading an article by Charles Krauthammer in today’s Washington Post, I came across a few quotes that have been made recently and over the years; the article and the names attributed to the quotes are found at the end of my post.

1. "Western countries know that they are not capable of inflicting the slightest blow on the Iranian nation because they need the Iranian nation. They will suffer more and they are vulnerable."

2. “Our strength lies in our intensive attacks and our barbarity...After all, who today remembers the genocide of the Armenians?”

3. “Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

4. "China appreciates and supports the diplomatic efforts of all parties and call on the international community to exercise patience and restraint in order to give more time to diplomatic efforts.''

5. "We are convinced that there is no military solution to this crisis. The same, I believe, is the position of the UK and Germany as publicly stated by their ministers. And I don't think sanctions as a means to solve a crisis have ever achieved their goal."

6. “However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that.”

Never Again?
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, May 5, 2006; Page A19

When something happens for the first time in 1,871 years, it is worth noting. In A.D. 70, and again in 135, the Roman Empire brutally put down Jewish revolts in Judea, destroying Jerusalem, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and sending hundreds of thousands more into slavery and exile. For nearly two millennia, the Jews wandered the world. And now, in 2006, for the first time since then, there are once again more Jews living in Israel -- the successor state to Judea -- than in any other place on Earth.

Israel's Jewish population has just passed 5.6 million. America's Jewish population was about 5.5 million in 1990, dropped to about 5.2 million 10 years later and is in a precipitous decline that, because of low fertility rates and high levels of assimilation, will cut that number in half by mid-century.

When 6 million European Jews were killed in the Holocaust, only two main centers of Jewish life remained: America and Israel. That binary star system remains today, but a tipping point has just been reached. With every year, as the Jewish population continues to rise in Israel and decline in America (and in the rest of the Diaspora), Israel increasingly becomes, as it was at the time of Jesus, the center of the Jewish world.

An epic restoration, and one of the most improbable. To take just one of the remarkable achievements of the return: Hebrew is the only "dead" language in recorded history to have been brought back to daily use as the living language of a nation. But there is a price and a danger to this transformation. It radically alters the prospects for Jewish survival.

For 2,000 years, Jews found protection in dispersion -- protection not for individual communities, which were routinely persecuted and massacred, but protection for the Jewish people as a whole. Decimated here, they could survive there. They could be persecuted in Spain and find refuge in Constantinople. They could be massacred in the Rhineland during the Crusades or in the Ukraine during the Khmelnytsky Insurrection of 1648-49 and yet survive in the rest of Europe.

Hitler put an end to that illusion. He demonstrated that modern anti-Semitism married to modern technology -- railroads, disciplined bureaucracies, gas chambers that kill with industrial efficiency -- could take a scattered people and "concentrate" them for annihilation.

The establishment of Israel was a Jewish declaration to a world that had allowed the Holocaust to happen -- after Hitler had made his intentions perfectly clear -- that the Jews would henceforth resort to self-protection and self-reliance. And so they have, building a Jewish army, the first in 2,000 years, that prevailed in three great wars ofsurvival (1948-49, 1967 and 1973).

But in a cruel historical irony, doing so required concentration --putting all the eggs back in one basket, a tiny territory hard by the Mediterranean, eight miles wide at its waist. A tempting target forthose who would finish Hitler's work.

His successors now reside in Tehran. The world has paid ample attention to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that Israel must be destroyed.

Less attention has been paid to Iranian leaders pronouncements on exactly how Israel would be "eliminated by one storm," as Ahmadinejad has promised.

Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the presumed moderate of this gang, has explained that "the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world ofIslam." The logic is impeccable, the intention clear: A nuclear attack would effectively destroy tiny Israel, while any retaliation launched by a dying Israel would have no major effect on an Islamic civilization of a billion people stretching from Mauritania to Indonesia.

As it races to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran makes clear that if there is any trouble, the Jews will be the first to suffer. "We have announced that wherever [in Iran] America does make any mischief, the first place we target will be Israel," said Gen. Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani, a top Revolutionary Guards commander. Hitler was only slightly more direct when he announced seven months before invading Poland that, if there was another war, "the result will be . . . the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."

Last week Bernard Lewis, America's dean of Islamic studies, who just turned 90 and remembers the 20th century well, confessed that for the first time he feels it is 1938 again. He did not need to add that in1938, in the face of the gathering storm -- a fanatical, aggressive, openly declared enemy of the West, and most determinedly of the Jews -- the world did nothing.

When Iran's mullahs acquire their coveted nukes in the next few years, the number of Jews in Israel will just be reaching 6 million. Neveragain?

1. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

2. Adolf Hitler

3. Adolf Hitler

4. Director of the department of Arms Control, Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhang Yan

5. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

6. Neville Chamberlain, In Search of Peace (1939), p. 393

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Do We Still Remember?

In reference to a Yom Hazikoron post on "The Zionist Conspiracy," I made the following comment which I post here as well:

1. In a pre-pesach issue of Hashavua, a weekly religious paper, there was an interview of David Hatuel, the husband and father of the murdered Hatuels.

Since the murder of his wife and children, he has been meeting with Victims of Terror giving them Chizuk.

The article makes note of a visit to a woman who lost a family member and refused to speak to anyone. Mr. Hatuel, when visiting her, made mention of what would be his feelings if only one member of his family survived. At that point the woman's depression began to ease.

Mr. Hatuel has recently remarried.

2. On a recent trip to Scotland, I spoke to Yoni Jesner's mother. A few weeks prior to speaking to her, I saw a documentary where she met the Arab family whose daughter received Yoni's organs in a life saving procedure.

This documentary, entitled "Real Life: A Mother’s Journey" was quite moving and raised serious questions and provided insightful answers.

3. The Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills with Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld and the OU led a solidarity mission to Israel prior to the Sabbaro bombing.

I watched the horrific scenes on the Thursday when it took place, as I prepared to go on the mission a few days later on Sunday.

In Israel I attended an impromptu memorial service at the site. It pains me to even think about it.

Many of our group paid a Shiva call to the Roth's and Raziel's home, which were only a few houses from each other.

There were many people, so I was only able to enter the Roth's home. The father of Malki Roth displayed tremendous inner strength and fortitude.

Mr. Roth read a composition that Malki had written at age 11, stating that no Jew should ever give up hope, that each and every loss should be felt by each Jew as their own loss; not just another number.

A Mr. Schonbrum told Mr. Roth, that people in his shul were talking about the loss of Malki as if it was their own loss.

Mr. Julian Yudelson, showing tremendous compassion, told Mr. Roth of his own 14 year old daughter, who died at a Shabbaton.

Upon leaving, Mr. Yudelson vigorously took Mr. Roth's hand and tried to give him true chizuk. He told Mr. Roth, that he must be very strong because the pain will never completely go away.

Rabbi Schonfeld concluded by saying how the phrase of Hamokom took on new meaning with all the Availum in Yerushalayim.

Hashem Yikum Es Domom.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Hayom Haras Olam

A friend of mine reached her 35th birthday on Shabbos. On the same day I came across the most recent issue of the RJJ journal (Pesach 2006) which had an article by Yerachmiel Schapiro entitled "Birthdays in Halacha." As an aside it mentioned that “Chazal tell us that actually man (not the world) was created on Rosh Hashana, and this is in part what gives the day its unique and holy significance.”

Thus if our counting of the world only begins from Adom Harishon, what exactly took place during those earlier “days” and why weren’t they counted?

I can’t begin to answer such a question since we really don’t understand how Hashem built this universe or what existed prior to it.

But a recent article published in last week’s issue of New Scientist, featured an hypothesis by Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog which indicated we should look at the creation of the universe through a quantum theory “looking glass” using a “top-down” analysis.

For the uninitiated let me explain.

Quantum Theory can be explained through the Heisenberg Principle. If you were told to find a ping pong ball in a darkened room, the only way you would be able to find it without the assistance of light is to feel for it. If you happen to find it, you would have moved it ever so slightly and it would no longer be in its original place.

When we ”look” for items on the subatomic level, whatever instrument we use, will “change” the item we are looking for, either from it’s place, or change it into some other particle.

Hawking’s and Hertog’s new theory states that our actions within our own universe influenced how the universe originated. We just can’t see how it’s happening because we would have to be outside our own universe in order to “see” it. We can't "see" the beginning because our universe is like the surface of a sphere, with no definable starting point.

According to their theory, named the no-boundary proposal, there are a number of different types of universe possibilities which averaged out to what we “see” today. But they all stemmed from one singularity which according to Hawking we know nothing about, because we have no knowledge about the starting conditions.

But looking at the average of the possible types of universe, we can say that our universe went through an early burst of rapid expansion from one singularity. In fact, “when the universe was small enough to be governed by quantum mechanics, it had four spatial dimensions and no dimension of time;” sounds like Sohu U’vohu to me.

Hawking further states that “observations of final states determine different histories of the universe. A worm’s-eye view from inside the universe would have the normal causality. Backwards causality is an angel’s-eye view from outside the universe." Can this have anything to do with our Bechira? Does this have anything to do with our actions in this world having an effect in the celestial world? Can the Machlokes regarding the situation of Ya’akov's Ladder be explained using this theory? I’ll leave that for the brighter minds and stars out there.

But for your perusal, see the article below:;jsessionid=OMICIAEGCDBC

Exploring Stephen Hawking's Flexiverse

20 April 2006

Amanda Gefter

How to build a universe

HERE'S how to build a universe. Step one: start at the beginning of time. Step two: apply the laws of physics. Step three: sit back and watch the universe evolve. Step four: cross your fingers and hope that it comes out looking something like the one we live in.

That's the basic prescription for cosmology, the one physicists use to decipher the history of the universe. But according to Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge and Thomas Hertog of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the steps are all backward. According to these physicists, there is no history of the universe. There is no immutable past, no 13.7 billion years of evolution for cosmologists to retrace. Instead, there are many possible histories, and the universe has lived them all. And if that's not strange enough, you and I get to play a role in determining the universe's history. Like a reverse choose-your-own-adventure story, we, the observers, can choose the past.

This bizarre state of affairs has its roots in Hawking's work in the 1970s. Early in his career, Hawking, along with physicist Roger Penrose, proved a theorem showing that our expanding universe must have emerged from a singularity - a place where gravity becomes so strong that space and time are curved beyond recognition. In this situation, general relativity - our best description of how space, time and matter interact - no longer applied.

So what rules did apply? Hawking and Hertog suggest that the universe was so small at this time that quantum effects must have been important. We don't yet have a quantum theory of gravity, so we can't be sure exactly what the rules were, but the principle still stands, they say. "The real lesson of these so-called singularity theorems is that the origin of the universe is a quantum event," Hertog claims. And that, of course, opens the whole universe up to some very strange phenomena.

The famous double-slit experiment highlights the bizarre reality of how a universe born in quantum mode might behave. In the experiment, a screen with two open slits faces a sheet of photographic film. When light is shone through the slits the film registers where it lands. If the light goes through both slits the film shows an "interference pattern" of light and dark bands. Such a pattern is typically produced by interfering waves - one from each slit. What's spooky is that even when a lone photon is fired at the slits it still creates a pattern of light and dark bands - as if it were two waves.

In 1983, Hawking and James Hartle of the University of California at Santa Barbara, took up this picture and applied it to the evolution of the whole universe. They did that using the "sum over histories" interpretation of quantum theory, first set out by the late Richard Feynman. Feynman suggested that the way to interpret quantum phenomena such as the double-slit experiment was to assume that when a particle travels from point A to point B, it doesn't simply take one path - it takes every possible path simultaneously; the photon travels through both slits at the same time and interferes with itself, for example.

In this scheme, when a photon travels from a lamp to your eye it moves in a straight line, but it also dances about in twists and swirls, travels to Jupiter and back, and ricochets off the Great Wall of China. The obvious question, then, is why do we see only ever see one path, straight and simple? Feynman's answer was, because all the other paths cancel each other out. In the sum-over-histories interpretation, each path can be mapped out as a wave. Each wave has a different phase (effectively a starting time), and all the waves added together create an "interference pattern", building upon one another where their phases align and cancelling each other out where their phases are mismatched. The sum of all the waves is one single wave, which describes the path we observe.

Applied to the universe, this idea has an obvious implication. Just as a particle travelling from point A to point B takes every possible path in between, so too must the history of the universe. In one history, the Earth never formed. In another, Al Gore is president. And in yet another, Elvis is still - well, you get the idea. "The universe doesn't have a single history, but every possible history, each with its own probability," Hertog says.

But there is a twist: the history that we see depends on the experimental setup. In the double-slit experiment, it has been shown time and again that if we use a photon detector to find which of the two slits the photon went through, it no longer creates an interference pattern, just a single spot on the film. In other words, the way you look at the photon changes the nature of its journey. The same thing happens in Hawking and Hertog's universe: our observations of the cosmos today are determining the outcome - in this case, the entire history of the universe. A measurement made in the present is deciding what happened 13.7 billion years ago; by looking out at the universe, we assign ourselves a particular, concrete history.

If true, this is no mere curiosity; Hawking and Hertog have tossed the notion of a unique, observer-independent cosmology out the window and thrown the sacred laws of cause and effect into question. But they're not exactly being violated, Hawking says - it's all to do with perspective. If we could stand outside the world, we would be able to see the present affecting the past, as when an observer affects a photon's path through the universe. From inside the universe, though - from the only place we can possibly be - no observer sees causality violated. What we observe in the present, the "final" state, is one entire, causally consistent history or another: from within any given history, cause and effect proceed in the usual manner.

"Observations of final states determine different histories of the universe," says Hawking. "A worm's-eye view from inside the universe would have the normal causality. Backwards causality is an angel's-eye view from outside the universe."

So the idea is that to unravel the past, we must sum together all possible histories of the universe. What does that mean?

Hawking and Hertog equate the cosmic histories with how the geometry of the universe evolves in each possible case of going from point A (the beginning of time) to point B (now). To start with, this seems straightforward enough. We can specify the state of the universe at point B by making certain observations of the world around us - the universe has three large spatial dimensions, its geometry is close to flat, it is expanding, and so on.

What about point A, though? Mapping out the paths of a photon from a lamp to our eye is not too hard because we know the beginning point - the lamp - and the final point: our eye. We know nothing about the universe at the beginning of time, however. After all, that's what cosmology is supposed to tell us.

This is where the sum-over-histories interpretation comes into its own. The mathematics behind this approach to quantum theory contains an oddity: the answers only come out right when the calculation is done in imaginary time. That doesn't mean make-believe time, but rather a time dimension that is expressed using complex numbers. This is not an entirely esoteric idea: electrical engineers routinely use complex numbers, which are split into "real" and "imaginary" parts, to design electrical circuits. In the hands of cosmological engineers, imaginary numbers turn out to have profound consequences.

Hawking and Hartle's original work on the quantum properties of the cosmos suggested that imaginary time, which seemed like a mathematical curiosity in the sum-over-histories approach, held the answer to understanding the origin of the universe.

Add up the histories of the universe in imaginary time, and time is transformed into space. The result is that, when the universe was small enough to be governed by quantum mechanics, it had four spatial dimensions and no dimension of time: where time would usually come to an end at a singularity, a new dimension of space appears, and, poof! The singularity vanishes.

In terms of the universe's history, that means there is no point A. Like the surface of a sphere, the universe is finite but has no definable starting point, or "boundary". Hence the idea's name: the no-boundary proposal.

This has led Hawking to define a new kind of cosmology. The traditional approach, which Hawking calls "bottom-up" cosmology, tries to specify the initial state of the universe and work from there. This is doomed to fail, Hawking says, because we know nothing about the starting conditions. Instead, he suggests, we should use the no-boundary proposal to do "top-down" cosmology, where the only input into our models of the universe comes from what we observe now - together with the idea that our universe has no boundary in the past.

Improbable tuning

The result of this process, he says, solves a long-standing problem of cosmology: fine-tuning. Most cosmologists think, for example, that the universe went through an early burst of rapid expansion, or "inflation". There is some evidence to support the claim, but there's also a problem. Standard inflationary models require a very improbable initial state, one that must have "finely tuned" values that cause inflation to start, then stop in a certain way after a certain time: a complicated prescription whose only justification is to produce a flat universe without any strange topology, and so on - a universe like ours.

Such a prescriptive method makes hard and unsatisfying work of producing the universe we see today. While a cosmologist can put these values into the equations "by hand", it is not exactly a satisfactory way to develop our model of how the universe works. In the no-boundary theory, however, there simply is no defined initial state. "In the usual approach it is difficult to explain how inflation began," says Hawking. "But it occurs naturally in top-down with the no-boundary condition. It doesn't need fine tuning."

To do top-down cosmology, Hawking and Hertog first take a whole raft of possible histories, all of which would result in a universe with features familiar to us. "We then calculate the probability for other features of the universe, given the constraints," Hertog says. Specify a universe that is three-dimensional and flat, for instance, and you can have histories that involve inflation and histories that don't. "Top-down cosmology does not predict that all possible universes have to begin with a period of inflation, but that inflation occurs naturally within a certain subclass of universes," Hertog says. The process creates a probability for each scenario, and so Hertog can see which kind of history is most likely. "What we find is that the inflating histories generally have the largest probability."

In many ways, top-down cosmology is an unsettling idea. Usually, science demands that our observations come out as output - we certainly don't expect them to be the input. That, after all, denies us the chance to see if the theory matches up with observations. What's more, the sum over histories is formed by calculating the various probabilities for a universe like ours to arise out of literally nothing: that means we can never know anything for certain about how our universe got to be as it is.

We shouldn't be surprised, Hertog says: quantum theory has long shown us that it is impossible for us to know everything about the world around us. In "classical" physics, we can predict both the exact momentum and position of a particle at any time, but quantum mechanics doesn't allow it. No one suggests that quantum mechanics is wrong because of this, Hertog points out - and experiments have shown that it is not. What quantum theory has given us now, Hertog says, is some indication about the nature of inflation, where before we had none. "Before, we had no prediction at all - and indeed no notion of likeliness - on this issue."

For many, it remains a difficult argument to swallow. Science since Copernicus has aimed to model a universe in which we are mere by-products, but top-down cosmology turns that on its head, rendering the history of the universe a by-product of our observations. All in all, it is very like the "anthropic landscape" argument that is causing controversy among string theorists (see "Putting the you into universe").

Princeton University physicist Paul Steinhardt is certainly unimpressed by Hawking and Hertog's scheme. "It's kind of giving up on the problem," he says. "We've all been hoping to calculate things from first principles. Stephen doesn't think that's possible, but I'm not convinced of that. They might be right, but it's much too early to take this approach; it looks to me like throwing in the towel."

Stanford University's Andrei Linde is similarly unconvinced. There are a number of technical assumptions that make him sceptical. "I don't buy it," he says.

The past is out there

The merits of Hawking and Hertog's new approach to cosmology might be decided by experiment. The theory predicts specific kinds of fluctuations in two cosmological phenomena: the cosmic microwave background radiation produced just after the big bang, and the spectrum of primordial gravitational waves. These fluctuations arise from applying the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics to Hawking and Hertog's scheme: in this scenario, the universe's shape is never precisely determined, but is influenced by other histories with similar geometries.

If Hawking and Hertog are right, quantum uncertainty will manifest as slight differences from what standard inflationary theory predicts for the CMB. The top-down predictions only differ from the standard cosmological model at a level of precision that has not yet been reached in observations, however. The top-down signature in the gravitational wave spectrum should be easier to differentiate, but since we haven't yet detected any gravitational waves, we'll have to wait for that proof too.

For Hawking and Hertog, there's simply no doubt that top-down cosmology is the only answer. It's simple: if you can't know the initial state of the universe, you can't work forwards from the beginning: the top-down approach is the only one that works.

Hartle agrees. Hawking and Hertog's scheme may seem strange, but it is the only way forward because we are part of the experiment we are trying to observe. "It's a different viewpoint, but it's sort of inevitable," he says. "Colsmologists certainly should be paying attention to this work."

The trouble, of course, is that if they are right, we're involved in the making of that history. In that case, we have a new set of instructions for building a universe. Step one: look around you. Step two: find the set of all possible histories that end up as a universe like the one you see. Step three: add them together and create a history for yourself.

From issue 2548 of New Scientist magazine, 20 April 2006, page 28

Putting the you into universe

Hawking and Hertog's cosmology adds an interesting twist to the ongoing debate in physics about the existence of multiple universes. At issue is the fact that string theory, physicists' most popular candidate for a "theory of everything", describes not just one universe but a near infinity of them. Some physicists are willing to accept that these theoretical universes actually exist, both because string theory doesn't seem to favour any particular universe over all the others in the bunch, and because their existence could help explain the apparently fine-tuned features of our universe.

Take, for example, the value of the cosmological constant, the force that appears to be causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. It is a very small force, and no one has yet explained why it should be so. The trouble is, its size happens to be a number that sits in a very narrow range of values that would allow life to exist. This coincidence has compelled some physicists to make the so-called anthropic argument: maybe there are multiple "pocket" universes that branch off from one another, and within each the constants take a different value. In that scenario, there is bound to be one universe with a cosmological constant like ours and we should not be surprised to find ourselves in the one universe hospitable to life.

Many physicists argue that this is just giving up on the problem of explaining why our universe is the way it is - it is not, they say, science. Hawking and Hertog's new idea adds fuel to this fire. The picture of a never-ending string of pocket universes is only meaningful from the perspective of an observer outside any one universe, Hawking says - and that, by definition, is impossible. Parallel pocket universes can have no effect on a real observer inside a single pocket, so, according to Hawking, they are theoretical baggage that should be eliminated from cosmology.

But Hawking has a replacement in mind - and it is just as mind-boggling. His view is that the string theory landscape is populated by the set of all possible histories. Rather than a branching set of individual universes, every possible version of a single universe exists simultaneously in a state of quantum superposition. When you choose to make a measurement, you select from this landscape a subset of histories that share the specific features measured. The history of the universe - for you the observer - is derived from that subset of histories. In other words, you choose your past.

Rationalism -- Understanding of Conflict and Cooperation Through Game-Theory Analysis

Looking a the latest map of Israel, printed by Mapah, I saw that Gaza was now completely colored in a shade of brown indicating that it was all under Palestinian authority.

Unsurprising as this may be, I did notice many of the names of settlements listed on their approximate locations without streets and written in very small print. Next to the small print was, in parentheses, the word Harus spelled Hay Reish Vav Samech.

I wasn’t familiar with this word. After checking a dictionary, I saw the definition as broken or destroyed.

Why couldn’t they write Churban or Shavur, openly. Better yet, why couldn’t they use a better definition – expelled or abandoned.

Where’s the rationality?

Prof. Robert Auman who received the Noble Prize in Economics spoke of rationality at the One Israel Fund Dinner last Wednesday night.

He said the actions of homicide bombers are more rational than those of the Israeli government. The definition of rational is one consistent with attaining a goal; consistent with, or based on, or using reason. The Palestinians are then rational because their goal is for Israel to give up. Israel politicians, such as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speak of being tired of fighting, tired of everything; unless his goal is to give up and accommodate the Palestinians, there is no rationality on the part of the Israeli leadership.

When you are in a mine full of toxic gases or climbing Mt. Everest and freezing out in the cold, the last thing you do is to say you’re tired and that you need a rest. If you decide to take a rest at that point, it most likely will be your last.

Maybe the word Harus was appropriate after all. We are broken and destroyed. But not dead yet. Let’s hope we find the will to be rational; to find the will to live.

Revisiting George Costanza

On Tuesday March 28,2006 I discussed an article entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," by the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer.

Though I personally felt the article was so full of flaws that it did not even merit a response, much less to have it put in the limelight, I decided to bring it to your attention because the article was making its way around the internet and there were many who were giving it credence.

Having thought that it would lay in the dustpans of forgotten research, I was surprised to find two articles in the Jerusalem Post commenting on it.

Thankfully, there are still people out there who are not fooled by manipulation of the facts. Surprisingly, even Noam Chomsky, no great lover of Israeli policy, found major flaws within the assumptions made therein.

I leave the websites and the JP articles for your perusal:

Updated Apr. 26, 2006 2:04

Think Again: First come words


Are we Jews too sensitive to what non-Jews say about us? The Haggada, which we just read on Seder night, hints at the answer. The telling of the story of our enslavement in Egypt begins "the Egyptians [spoke] evil about us" (usually mistranslated as "the Egyptians did evil to us"), followed by Pharaoh's exhortation to the Egyptians to deal cleverly with the Jews lest they grow too numerous and betray Egypt by joining forces with its enemies.

The Haggada hints that Jews ignore the way they are spoken about at their own peril. Actions too often follow words.

For that reason the recently published published paper, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," by the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer deserves to be taken seriously. The authors claim that a powerful pro-Israel lobby has for decades subverted American interests in favor of those of Israel, a nation that can lay no strategic or moral claim to the massive support it receives from the United States.

Walt and Mearsheimer's core concept of an "Israel Lobby" proves hopeless as an analytical tool. In their telling, this amorphous lobby includes those who disagree on every aspect of American and Israeli policy: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial page; the Brookings Institute and the American Enterprise Institute; Ehud Barak's leading supporter, billionaire toymaker Haim Saban, and neo-conservative supporters of Binyamin Netanyahu. In short everyone, who does not call for Israel's dismantling.

(Though Walt and Mearsheimer offer the usual pro-forma assurance that they too do not question Israel's right to exist, they offer an Elysian vision of a world without Israel, and use fabricated quotes to portray Israel's birth as an instance of ethnic cleansing. They mention no threat to America other than those caused by Israel's existence - neither a nuclear Iran nor Islamic fanaticism. The Nixon administration's airlift of arms during the 1973 war, when Israel's existence hung in the balance, is cited as an example of the Israel Lobby's undue influence.)

As former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens noted in The Wall Street Journal, the alleged conspiracy includes, or has infected, nearly all Americans - 66 percent of Americans who follow foreign affairs support Israel, as opposed to 9% who are more sympathetic to the Palestinians. The Walt/Mearsheimer thesis sounds like nothing so much as the 1950s sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

CURIOUSLY, the one group immune to the machinations of the lobby is American Jews. The war in Iraq is the coup de grace in Walt/Mearsheimer's indictment of the lobby's kidnapping of American foreign policy on behalf of Israel. Yet American Jews opposed the war in higher percentages than any other group.

Their best evidence of an all-powerful Israel Lobby consists of the self-serving claims of past and present AIPAC officials, who consistently overrate their own efforts and downplay those factors that predispose Americans to support a strong Israel.

HOWEVER WEAK as an analytical tool, the "Israel Lobby" is a potent rhetorical device. Walt and Mearsheimer accuse supporters of Israel of attempting to squelch debate on American policy toward Israel, but it is they who seek to suppress debate.

They prefer to dismiss such renowned scholars as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami as members of the lobby than to engage their arguments; to portray President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (not to mention former president Bill Clinton) as helpless dupes of the lobby than to discuss their policy choices.

In particular, Walt and Mearsheimer seek to secure the predominance of anti-Israel views on university campuses, which they note, in a rather large understatement, remain the last bastion into which the tentacles of the lobby have not reached. Indeed if there were an Israel Lobby, and labeling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic were its tactic, the steady drumbeat of criticism of Israel on elite campuses and in the elite press would be the clearest proof of its inefficacy.

AS AN example of the lobby's attempt to intimidate critics, the authors cite Daniel Pipes's Campus Watch project, which publicizes the classroom statements of anti-Israel professors. They do not explain, however, why the classroom statements of professors should be any more immune from scrutiny and criticism than those contained in their published works.

Walt and Mearsheimer cite the documentary Columbia Unbecoming, exposing the biases of Columbia University's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), as a particularly egregious example of attempted intimidation. They rely on the "findings" of an internal Columbia University committee to exonerate MEALAC. But they fail to note that the committee was hand-picked to whitewash the charges: Two of its five members had signed a petition calling on Columbia University to divest from all companies connected to the Israeli military, and the university vice president to whom the committee reported was one of the petition's initiators. A third committee member served as the thesis advisor of one of the professors most criticized by the documentary.

Walt and Mearsheimer complain of a handful of university Israel Studies departments, chiefly financed by Jewish philanthropists, but ignore entirely the far more numerous and larger Middle East Studies Departments, dominated by pro-Arab professors and supported by Saudi and other Arab oil money.

By raising the spectre of an "Israel Lobby," Walt and Mearsheimer have laid a trap for the American Jewish community: the more the Jews protest the more they "prove" the existence of a lobby. And we have fallen into the trap. With the exception of James Taranto of the on-line Opinion Journal, the most effective responses to Walt and Mearsheimer have all come from prominent American Jews: Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, Elliot Cohen, Martin Peretz, Dennis Ross, Bret Stephens, Martin Kramer, Cong. Jerrold Nadler, CAMERA and the New York Sun (a remake of the old Forward).

The Jewish community has repeated the same mistake that it made over The Passion, when instead of letting Christian New Testament scholars carry the ball, the ADL took the lead in attacking Mel Gibson's film. Non-Jewish academics should have been allowed to take the lead in exposing the rot at the heart of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper. But the paper cannot be ignored. It provides a potent alert to what Jewish students face on America's elite campuses, and the poisons being fed the next generation of American leaders.

Noam Chomsky, champion of Israel?


What do Noam Chomsky and the neocons have in common? They both stand accused of protecting the enormously powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington from legitimate criticism. That's right, hell has frozen over. Professor Chomsky - the far-left MIT linguist who has consistently (and often quite viciously) criticized Israel since the early 1970s - is apparently a big softie when it comes to Zion.

Or so say assorted left-wing critics.

The brouhaha began in late March when two American academics published in The London Review of Books a paper critical of the Israel lobby. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that neither idealism nor hard-nosed practicality justified American support of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, a "loose coalition of individuals and organizations" has been steering US policy in that direction for years.

Though hardly a novel idea, the essay caused a wave of controversy because the authors were not your run-of-the-mill, paranoid kooks. Mearsheimer sits on the international academic advisory board at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at Bar-Ilan University, and both he and Walt are leading lights of the realist school of international relations. Their critique simply could not go unanswered.

Indeed, following the publication of the article, professors and pundits of all stripes took to their keyboards.

Now, I will not address the many errors of the M-W piece or explain how arguing that lobbies drive foreign policy upends the whole realist paradigm; that's been done elsewhere and by people far smarter than me. What's interesting is where Noam Chomsky stepped out on the controversy.

Writing in Z Magazine, the aging anarchist commended Mearsheimer and Walt for their "courageous stand" but then attacked their notion of an informal, far-flung lobby as an empty label. "M-W focus on AIPAC and the evangelicals," wrote Chomsky, "but they recognize that the Lobby includes most of the political-intellectual class - at which point the thesis loses much of its content."

Max Boot, a neoconservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted the very same thing when he quipped, "In Mearsheimer-Walt's telling, the Israel lobby seems to include just about every American politician, think tank and newspaper." Now who could have imagined Chomsky manning the same barricade as the neocons?

BUT NOT to worry, he won't be joining the GOP or Likud anytime soon. He still thinks Israel serves as the brutal attack dog of American imperialism - having first helped the oil companies back in 1967 when it smashed an uppity Nasser and, thus, discredited secular Arab nationalism. Likewise, Chomsky still bleeds for the Palestinians. It's just that he objects to the part about capitalists needing to be goaded into regional domination. And, the MIT linguist is not alone on this point; radical journalist Salim Muwakkil and Columbia professor Joseph Massad also dismiss the blame-the-lobby argument. In the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, the latter wrote, "The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groups… Why then would the US support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain."

The problem is that, while Muwakkil is African-American and Massad is Palestinian, Chomsky is a Red Sea pedestrian - and that raises suspicions in some left-wing circles.

Veteran pro-Palestinian activist Jeffrey Blankfort, for example, has taken issue with Chomsky's early experiences in the Marxist-Zionist Hashomer Hatza'ir movement, saying that they somehow blinded him to the political machinations of his fellow American Jews.

Amazingly, Blankfort - himself Jewish - has lambasted Chomsky as "a boon for AIPAC" and, by extension, "Israel's position in the United States."

Like Blankfort (and post-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe), James Petras also disagrees with Chomsky on the M-W paper. In fact, the Marxist sociologist gets downright nasty in his critique, suggesting that Chomsky's analytic skills "are totally absent when it comes to discussing the formulation of US foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly the role of his own ethnic group, the Jewish pro-Israel lobby and their Zionist supporters in the government."

Once again, Chomsky is covering for the tribe.

One would think that the Jewish anarchist has already paid his dues. Chomsky has attacked Israel time and again; described French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort"; commended the scholarship of the late Israel Shahak, author of the vile Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, and claimed that the charge of anti-Semitism is used to stifle criticism of Israel.

Yet the tragedy of Chomsky is that, for people like Blankfort and Petras, all this counts for nothing. The latter still accuses him of playing with the evidence in order to hide the role of the pro-Israel lobby and the "ZionCons" in hatching the current Iraq war.

Though Chomsky never answered the e-mail I sent him, I asked anti-Zionist firebrand and DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein what he thought of these unseemly attacks on his mentor. "I see no point in probing motives," he told me, "One should judge any argument on its merits."

All true, and still the fracas with Chomsky proves that, if you're Jewish, no matter what you say and do, you're always just one essay away from being labeled a pro-Israel lobbyist.

The writer is a former Jerusalem Post military reporter