What does it mean?

August 29, 2005

The Constitution of Iraq

Some optimism from Mark Steyn:
What the naysayers cite as the main drawback of Iraq -- it's not a real country, just a phony-baloney jurisdiction cobbled together to suit the administrative convenience of the British Colonial Office, never gonna work, bound to fall apart -- is, in fact, its big advantage: If you want to start an experiment in Middle Eastern liberty, where better than a nation split three ways where no one group can easily dominate the other two? The new constitution provides something for everyone:

The Shia get an acknowledgment that Islam is "the official religion of the state," just as the Church of England is the official church of that state -- though, unlike the Anglican bishops, Iraq's imams won't get permanent seats in the national legislature.

The Kurds get a loose federal structure in which just about everything except national defense and foreign policy is reserved to regions and provinces. I said in the week after Baghdad fell that the Kurds would settle for being Quebec to Iraq's Canada, and so they have.

The Sunnis, who ran Iraq from their days as Britain's colonial managing class right up to the toppling of Saddam, don't like the federal structure, not least because it's the Kurds and Shia who have the bulk of the oil. So they've been wooed with an arrangement whereby the country's oil revenue will be divided at a national level on a per-capita basis.

If you'd been asked in 2003 to devise an ideal constitution for Iraq's very non-ideal circumstances, it would look something like this: a highly decentralized federation that accepts the reality that Iraq is a Muslim nation but reserves political power for elected legislators -- and divides the oil revenue fairly.
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August 28, 2005

Re-engineering Islam

Nellodee wants to memetically re-engineer Islam:

When I talk to my muslim friends, they always condemn the actions of the terrorists, and then they say "but....". Then they always bring up the history of colonialism and a score sheet of grievances, in as much to say they understand the motivation for these acts, while they do not approve them. I think this is tied to the integral concept of justice in Islam. The Qu'ran is emphatic on justice. What do muslims want from their religion? I think, a hope for justice and a meaningful life.

This is one meme complex we could possibly engineer. We need to strengthen the meme complexes preventing taboo acts, like the killing of children and non-combatants. I don't think the analogy should be anti-virals, chemo or radiation therapy, but gene-therapy. The ailing meme-complex needs to be re-engineered.

And we need to acknowledge that the behavior of the West has been unjust, in order to enlist moderate muslims in our cause. It would be where I would start.

I think that the main problem is the importance Islam (as it is currently culturally transmitted) places on victory.

Compare Judaism and Islam, they are architecturally very similar to each other, and different from Christianity: Both religions are emphatically monotheistic. The Qur'aan (ْقرآن) - Koran and the Miqra' (מקרא) - Bible (notice that the two words share the root q-r-', "read") are similarly revered as the literal word of God. Sharii`ah (شريعة) - Islamic law, is similar to Halakha (הלכה) - Jewish law, both in style and content. Yet, the structures the two religions build are radically different! I think it gives us a hint at what might be done.

Those of us with normal psychologies should be able to understand the attraction of victory. The question is: At what price? And by this I don't mean pain and suffering to the "other"! How much are you willing to sacrifice just to win, when the alternative is to cultivate your garden, build a better life, and find happiness in your children?

I don't think that any admission of guilt (justified or not) on the part of the West will achieve anything. The only thing that will redirect the energy of Islam away from victory is to demonstrate conclusively that that way will give no satisfaction.

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August 27, 2005

Man does not live on bread alone

This Shabat's Tora portion, `Eqev (עקב), which begins at Deuteronomy 7:12, contains a famous line which I have, evidently, never paid attention to, since I just realized today that I've never properly understood it. Here it is in context:

וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת הַמָּן
אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ
לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה' יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

Vay`ankha vayar`ivekha vaya'akhilkha et haman
Asher lo' yada`ta v'lo' yad`un avoteykha
L'ma`an hodi`ahka ki lo' `al halehem l'vado yihye ha'adam
Ki `al kol mosa' pi H' yihye ha'adam

And He made you suffer, and He made you hungry, and He fed you the manna
That you didn't know, and that your forefathers didn't know
In order to make you know that Man does not live on bread alone
That on all that came out of the mouth of the Lord does Man live

Deuteronomy 8:3

In other words, it does not mean that Man lives on bread, and something else too (though that, of course, is also true). It means that bread is not the ultimate source of Man's life. God created everything (through speech, hence "out of the mouth of the Lord") and it is He who is its ultimate source.

This is my answer to anyone (theist or atheist) who thinks that evolution, or science, or any earthly notion of causality is a challenge to belief in God. God is not a scientific hypothesis because it is not falsifiable! (Though I have pointed out before that the current state of science has a loophole just big enough to fit God's will on a day-to-day basis.) Which is not to say that it doesn't matter: to most human beings, and to any non-earthly beings who might be able to perceive the true whole, it matters a whole lot.

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August 15, 2005

Chris Warren

One of the great pleasures of having a blog is that it gives people the ability to find and contact you. I have just been contacted by a long lost friend. We shared an apartment a long time ago in Jerusalem. He's an artist, poet, and musician, and he has a site of his own. Check it out.

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August 14, 2005

The Destruction of Jerusalem

The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way. A certain man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out. Said the other: Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink. He said, I won't. Then let me give you half the cost of the party. No, said the other. Then let me pay for the whole party. He still said, No, and he took him by the hand and put him out. Said the other, Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against then, to the Government. He went and said to the Emperor, The Jews are rebelling against you. He said, How can I tell? He said to him: Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar]. So he sent with him a fine calf.  While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. Said R. Zechariah b. Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death? R. Johanan thereupon remarked: Through the scrupulousness  of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.

Gitin 55B

אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעל דבביה בר קמצא עבד סעודתא אמר ליה לשמעיה זיל אייתי לי קמצא אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא אתא אשכחיה דהוה יתיב אמר ליה מכדי ההוא גברא בעל דבבא דההוא גברא הוא מאי בעית הכא קום פוק אמר ליה הואיל ואתאי שבקן ויהיבנא לך דמי מה דאכילנא ושתינא אמר ליה לא אמר ליה יהיבנא לך דמי פלגא דסעודתיך אמר ליה לא אמר ליה יהיבנא לך דמי כולה סעודתיך אמר ליה לא נקטיה בידיה ואוקמיה ואפקיה אמר הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מחו ביה שמע מינה קא ניחא להו איזיל איכול בהו קורצא בי מלכא אזל אמר ליה לקיסר מרדו בך יהודאי אמר ליה מי יימר אמר ליה שדר להו קורבנא חזית אי מקרבין ליה אזל שדר בידיה עגלא תלתא בהדי דקאתי שדא ביה מומא בניב שפתים ואמרי לה בדוקין שבעין דוכתא דלדידן הוה מומא ולדידהו לאו מומא הוא סבור רבנן לקרוביה משום שלום מלכות אמר להו רבי זכריה בן אבקולס יאמרו בעלי מומין קריבין לגבי מזבח סבור למיקטליה דלא ליזיל ולימא אמר להו רבי זכריה יאמרו מטיל מום בקדשים יהרג אמר רבי יוחנן ענוותנותו של רבי זכריה בן אבקולס החריבה את ביתנו ושרפה את היכלנו והגליתנו מארצנו

גיטין נה/ב

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Trackback from Kesher Talk, Temple Mount blogburst: Tisha B'Av:
Tisha B'Av Temple Mount blogburst main page. Tisha B'Av is the 9th day of Av, the 11th month. This is the original 9-11 of the Jewish people. . . . 1.1 million Jews were murdered by the Romans during the...


Today is Tish`a B'av (תשעה באב) - the Ninth of Av, the day Jews commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Temples, plus many other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, such as the Spanish Inquisition. Kesher Talk is hosting a blogburst on the subject, in addition to some related subjects.

On Tish`a B'av Jews fast from sundown to dark the next day, sit on the floor, and, in general, mourn. And, we have plenty to mourn (though I would never claim exclusivity on that subject). But this year I find it particularly poignant, considering what else is going on. And to think, we are still being characterized like this, not by political partisans, but casually, as if by "common knowledge":

Though a victim in the past, you've learned very little from this and have encouraged a cycle of violence in your life and the life of many you know. You're a little paranoid and somewhat schizophrenic, causing you to promote both hatred and hope in cycling intervals. Some of the paranoia is justified, as a lot of people don't like you, but more people are helping you than you'd ever really admit to. At this point, you live on some valuable property and would benefit greatly from just giving peace a chance.

Valuable property? Perhaps we are being confused with such enlightened neighbors as Saudi Arabia? Or perhaps Egypt (remember the Nile)? In fact this whole paragraph accurately characterizes pretty much every country in the region except Israel! Have you ever heard these sentiments applied to any of them? I haven't.

On Tisha` B'av we read qinot (קינות) - lamentations, and in particular, Eykha (איכה) - the Book of Lamentations. It begins like this:

אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד הָעִיר
רַבָּתִי עָם הָיְתָה
רַבָּתִי בַגּוֹיִם שָׂרָתִי בַּמְּדִינוֹת הָיְתָה לָמַס
בָּכוֹ תִבְכֶּה בַּלַּיְלָה וְדִמְעָתָהּ עַל לֶחֱיָהּ
אֵין לָהּ מְנַחֵם מִכָּל אֹהֲבֶיהָ
כָּל רֵעֶיהָ בָּגְדוּ בָהּ הָיוּ לָהּ לְאֹיְבִים

Eykha yashva vadad ha`ir
Rabati `am hayta
Rabati vagoyim sarati bamdinot hayta lamas
Bakho tivke balayla v'dim`atah `al leheyah
Eyn lah m'nahem mikol ohaveyha
Kol re`eyha bagdu bah hayu lah l'oyvim

How does the city sit alone
That was full of people
Like a widow
Great among the nations, a princess among cities, she is gone to tribute
Cries, she cries in the night and her tears are on her cheek
She has no comforter among all her lovers
All her friends betrayed her, they have become like enemies to her

Lamentations 1:1-2

(Here's what I wrote last year.)
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August 10, 2005

Is there a crisis in Islam?

Psychiatrist: Tell me about your mother.
Patient: She was crazy.
Psychiatrist: And your father?
Patient: Insane.
Psychiatrist: And your brothers, sisters?
Patient: Mad, all mad.
Psychiatrist:Do you mean to tell me that everyone in your family suffered from mental illness?
Patient:Oh, no! They enjoyed it.

That joke went though my mind when I read this quip from David Warren:

So to the question, “Is there a crisis in Islam?” -- the answer might be a droll, “No, it is flourishing.”

He also gives "five unanswerable reasons to despair about the future of the Middle East". Here's #1:

One. Iran is about to go nuclear. The same Iran that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, abroad through Hezbollah, and at home through its Revolutionary Guards. The ayatollahs are only a little more responsible than the North Korean politburo; but compensate for this with a more vicious ideology. Nuclear weaponry may preserve them for at least another generation in power, as it did the Soviet Communists; while much improving their ability to do mischief far beyond their borders. Neither America nor Europe “has a plan” for dealing with this, beyond diplomatic talk. Talk is useless.
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August 04, 2005

The End of Evolution?

What will happen when genetic engineering becomes commonplace? Will it be the end of evolution?

No, it will be the merger of genetic and memetic evolution.

For a glimpse of the future, look at China. Or baby names. Ideas are subject to fashions, and balancing selection is ubiquitous - one reason why fashions change every year. But what will happen when fashion is written in our flesh? When all babies are blond and blue-eyed (the girls,at least) I strongly suspect that the result will be their unexpected devaluation.

Not only that, from the point of view of a professional coder (computer programmer), the genetic code is the worst imaginable spaghetti. It is an axiom of good programming that code should minimize "side effects" i.e. it should do "one thing". But the genetic code is all side effects, meaning that our explicit selection for one feature (e.g. blondness) will inevitably select for other things as well (e.g. Belyaev's foxes).

Personally, I am not looking forward to it. But it certainly will be interesting when we attempt to encode memes in our genes.

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August 01, 2005

A Constitution for Israel

Robert Bork wrote a letter to Azure, in which he gives some very interesting constitutional advice for Israel (mirrored here). Excerpt:

Daniel Polisar is undoubtedly correct in his assessment of the serious defects that characterize Israel’s present governmental structure and practice (“Israel’s Constitutional Moment,” Azure 20, Spring 2005). An American observer may perhaps be pardoned for making that judgment, however, because many of the flaws he describes are characteristic of the United States as well. Written constitutions are not cure-alls; they can create perils and encourage corruptions of their own. The U.S. Constitution, and its Bill of Rights in particular, has proved over the past fifty years to be the means of a steady erosion of democratic self-government and of judicial imposition, without constitutional warrant, of an ideology of radical personal autonomy and hence of a culture well to the left of that desired by a majority of Americans.  The struggle between legislatures and courts is, of course, a class struggle, one that goes by the name of “the culture war.” The courts everywhere are on the side of the intelligentsia, what Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak calls “the enlightened community in Israel,” while the legislature is, generally speaking, on the side of the general public.

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