Friday, September 11, 2015

The Daisy Ad

This advertisement from 1964 is one of the reasons that Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in the presidential campaign with the largest majority in over 140 years.

According to Wikipedia:

Though only aired once (by the campaign), it is considered an important factor in Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater and an important turning point in political and advertising history.

The Tagline was:

These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.

I wonder whether an ad like that would have the same impact in today's world.

Just for the record, the ad was remade in 2010 (but I don't feel that it has the same impact)

There is also a 2 second reference to it in the Simpson's episode "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming" (and 17:01) but I can't find a clip of those few seconds to place here. You'll have to believe me that it shows Lisa pulling the petals off a daisy, then a close up of the pupil of her eye. Then a nuclear explosion.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mike the Headless Chicken and Pesik Reisha

The BBC has a good article about Mike the Headless Chicken. Seventy years ago today a legend was created:

On 10 September 1945 Lloyd Olsen and his wife Clara were killing chickens, on their farm in Fruita, Colorado. Olsen would decapitate the birds, his wife would clean them up. But one of the 40 or 50 animals that went under Olsen's hatchet that day didn't behave like the rest.
"They got down to the end and had one who was still alive, up and walking around," says the couple's great-grandson, Troy Waters, himself a farmer in Fruita. The chicken kicked and ran, and didn't stop.
It was placed in an old apple box on the farm's screened porch for the night, and when Lloyd Olsen woke the following morning, he stepped outside to see what had happened. "The damn thing was still alive," says Waters.
"It's part of our weird family history," says Christa Waters, Troy's wife.

[Troy Waters standing in front of a statue of Mike the Headless Chicken]

Some people think that Mike the Headless Chicken poses a problem to the halakhic concept of pesik reishei. This phrase is used by the Gemara in many places (e.g. Shabbat 75a and Ketuvot 6a) to refer to an inevitable unintended consequence.

But Abaye and Raba both maintain: R. Simeon admits in a case of 'cut off his head but let him not die!

Here is Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 1:6)

When one performs a deed that results in the performance of a forbidden labor, and it is a certainty that this deed will cause [that labor] to be performed, one is liable even though one did not intend [to perform the forbidden labor].

What is implied? A person needs a fowl's head to serve as a toy for a child, and therefore cuts off the [fowl's] head on the Sabbath; although his ultimate purpose is not merely to slaughter the chicken,15 he is liable. It is obvious that it is impossible for the head of a living being to be cut off and for that being to survive. Instead, the [fowl's] death came about because of [this activity]. [Therefore, he is liable.] The same applies in other similar situations.

The truth is that we know that even when the Gemara states a principle in specific terms, it does not necessarily mean that it is 100%. It means that it is true the overwhelming number of times. Look at Maharsha on Shabbat 120b (s.v. ve'od de'im ken) where he explains that Rav considers an event to be pesik reishei if it will occur almost every time. See Yam Shel Shelomo on Chullin chapter 3 se'if 80 who writes that something that will occur less than one time in a thousand is considered as a certainty by the Gemara.

And with Mike, they certainly did try to make another headless chicken many, many times, all without success.

Troy Waters suspects that his great-grandfather tried to replicate his success with the hatchet a few times.
Certainly, others did. A neighbour who lived up the road would buy up any chickens for sale at an auction in nearby Grand Junction, Colorado, and stop by the family farm with a six-pack of beer for Olsen, to persuade him to explain exactly how he did it.
"I remember [him] telling me, laughing, that he got free beer every other weekend because the neighbour was sure he got filthy rich off this chicken," Waters says.

There are about 50 billion chickens killed every year for food. I would say that an event which occurs once in 50 billion (times 70 years) times is equivalent to something that never happens at all. Alternatively you could call it a miracle. Which would be better for ticket sales.

You can even watch a video about Mike the Headless Chicken on youtube

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I'm trying to read Omar Barghouti's book entitled Boycott, Divestement, Sanctions. It is really not easy reading such material. But even in the first few pages there are some sentences which should be publicised to all those who think that BDS is interested in creating peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

He writes:
The fact that the United States got mired in a seeming indefinite "war on terror" (which should aptly be called "the mother of all terror," as it is the most egregious and immoral form of state terror, shedding any veneer of respect for international law, and simultaneiously a cause of much terror by fanatic groups in many countries), causing death and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan of genocidal proportions...

Clearly there are many Americans (and others) who do believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wrong, or have failed in their goals (which were never really made clear from the outset). But how many actually believe that the USA is the mother of all terror, or is the most immoral form of State terror, or is to be blamed for terror of fanatic groups? How many remember that the "War on Terror" was only launched AFTER 9/11. Is America also to be blamed for 9/11? What about other groups that existed before 9/11?

Barghouti also writes:
In a historic moment of collective consciousness, and informed by almost a century of struggle against Zionist settler colonialism, the overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society issued the Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Leaving aside the bald-faced lie that BDS represents the overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society, Barghouti here admits that BDS is a continuation of almost a century of struggle against Zionist settler colonialism. A century ago was 1905. There was no State of Israel. There was no call for a Palestinian State (since at that time "Palestine" was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1922 it passed to British control, and the British separated the land into "Palestine" and "Transjordan"). There were no Zionists, no settlers, no colonialism.

Barghouti couches this goal in language of "A secular democratic state" in place of the current Jewish State of Israel and the Palestinian territories. However, when you read the actual words he writes, you see that his intent is that all the Palestinian refugees (who according to him number in the millions) would be entitled to vote, but the Zionists who colonized the country after 1948 would not have the right to vote. And the exitence of a Jewish state is itself a demonstration of apartheid according to Barghouti (but please don't mention to him that there are many Muslim states in the world, and many Christian countries. Apparently it is only a Jewish state which is inherently racist - not that he is anti-Semitic or anything).

Except that it is all bluff. BDS does not oppose specific policies or Jewish control of certain territories. BDS opposes the existence of a Jewish State, their aim is the destruction of the State of Israel. 100 years is perhaps an oblique reference to the Arab riots of 1920, 1929 and 1936, where the Arabs sought to end "Zionist colonialism" by massacring Jews. This is the ultimate goal of BDS.

Is that something that most of their supporters agree with?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hello again. I haven't blogged in over two years. I didn't really have very much to say that hadn't been said by others many times over. However now I have begun working on something completely different, and I wanted to share some thoughts with the world (or at least the few people who read this blog).

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It is a movement which seeks to dismantle the Israeli state, in the same way that boycotting South Africa eventually led to the end of apartheid. It is based on the (obviuosly) false premise that Israel practices apartheid.

I have a lot to say about BDS in general, but I wanted to comment now on a fairly good post about Mattisyahu being disinvited from Spain's Rototom Sunsplash music festival (and subsequently being reinvited).

Vox Posts discusses the background of BDS and the reasons why Mattisyahu was booted from the program. He points out that in this case BDS has overstepped the mark, because BDS claims to be only anti-Israel (and anti-Zionist) but not anti-semitic. However Mattisyahu was singled out and kicked off the program solely because he was Jewish (he is not Israeli, does not affect Israeli policy in any way, and has more or less tried to keep out of politics and focus on his music).

He writes:
The controversy speaks to a much bigger fight over the growing international campaign to boycott Israel, and if that campaign can overcome the extremists in its ranks — or whether it even wants to.

He ends the article with the following:

Much of the support for BDS comes from anger at Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. "The main reason for [BDS's] continued growth ... is the failure to end the occupation that began in 1967 and achieve Palestinian national liberation and sovereignty," Matt Duss, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, said in recent congressional testimony.

Yet BDS has also attracted members who want to do more than just stop Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. While the movement takes no official position on how to end the Israel-Palestine, one of its co-founders, Omar Barghouti, has called for unifying them into a single state, which would mean dissolving Israel as a Jewish state. This has fed suspicions that at least some proponents of BDS do not see it as just a means to pressure Israel to change its policies, but a means to ending Israel itself.


That said, it would of course be wrong and unfair to judge an entire movement by the policy positions of a few of its members, or to judge all of BDS based on the statements of a few proponents in a protest. And indeed, many BDS proponents stress their support for a two-state solution that preserves Israeli statehood and protects Israeli interests.

In this he is partially correct and yet totally wrong. Unfortunately it is true that many of the supporters of BDS want Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders and allow for the creation of a Palestinian State on the West Bank. They believe in Two States for Two People. This is an admirable goal (regardless of whether you believe it is achievable in the current political environment). And that is the kind of people that BDS wants to attact to its protests.

However that was never the goal of BDS. From the outset Omar Barghouti (who is described as one of the co-founders, but he also serves as the head of BDS and has done so since its inception) has seen BDS as a mechanism for destroying the Israel as a Jewish State. He has stated so on many occasions. The "Occupation" that BDS seeks to end is not that of the West Bank, but of the entire State of Israel (pre 1948). The initial call for BDS is signed by 170 organisations and the first on that list is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine. This is the group listed first on the current body of BNC, the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

This Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine is made up of many groups: Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, DFLP, PPP, FIDA, PPSF, PLF, PIJ, ALF, PAF, PFLP, Islamic National Salvation Party and Popular Liberation War Pioneers. I know that this sounds like something out of Monty Python's "Life of Brian", but in fact it is a list which includes several terrorist organisations (on the US terror list) and the main thing that almost all of these groups share is their desire for the destruction of Israel. Conveniently, this committee is led by Marwan Barghouti, a cousin of Omar. BDS is another tool in their war against Israel.

Since most people in the west do not support terror, nor do they wish for the desctruction of the State of Israel, BDS couch their language in terms of human rights (blatantly lying about the facts). Unfortunately, many well meaning individuals end up supporting BDS, but if they knew what it really stands for they would oppose it bitterly.

It is not "some proponents of BDS" who see it as a means to end Israel itself. That is the reson d'etre of BDS. If you don't believe me, google it yourself. Look up who supports BDS and what they have said about Israel. Do your research before judging them favourably.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Medieval Theory of Vision

This post may have relevance to a book I am working on, so if anyone has any ideas or comments or explanations I would very much welcome them.

The ancient Greeks were basically divided into two camps of how vision works. One camp held with the theory of Emission (or extramission) in which visual perception comes from light beams which come out of the eyes. This view was held by Socrates, Plato and many others.

The opposing view held that miniature replicas of objects entered into the eye. This is the intromission theory and was an opinion held by Aristotle, Galen and others. These miniature replicas were called eidola and somehow represented the 'spirit' of the object being viewed.

(In fact there are another couple of theories which are kind of sub-categories of these, but I'm not knowledgable enough to explain the distinctions fully. Here are a couple of interesting articles that I found.

It seems to me that there are several examples in the Gemara which appear to side with the first opinion, that sight comes from light emmitted by the eyes.

For example:
The verse referring to Elisha states (II Melachim 2:24)

וַיִּפֶן אַחֲרָיו וַיִּרְאֵם, וַיְקַלְלֵם בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה; וַתֵּצֶאנָה שְׁתַּיִם דֻּבִּים, מִן-הַיַּעַר, וַתְּבַקַּעְנָה מֵהֶם, אַרְבָּעִים וּשְׁנֵי יְלָדִים.

And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore forty and two children of them

The Gemara explains this in Sotah (46a), stating:
מה ראה אמר רב ראה ממש כדתניא רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר כל מקום שנתנו חכמים עיניהם או מיתה או עוני

And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. What did he see? — Rab said: He actually looked upon them, as it has been taught: Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel says: Wherever the Sages set their eyes there is either death or calamity

In other words, it seems that sight has power to cause damage. This source is not conclusive, but how about the story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai when he and his son came out of the cave (Shabbat 33b):

נפקו חזו אינשי דקא כרבי וזרעי אמר מניחין חיי עולם ועוסקין בחיי שעה כל מקום שנותנין עיניהן מיד נשרף

So they emerged. Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, 'They forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal!' Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burnt up.

Similarly, when Rabbi Shimon saw Yehuda ben Gerim, who was the one who informed the Romans of his words the Gemara says (ibid. 34a)

נפק לשוקא חזייה ליהודה בן גרים אמר עדיין יש לזה בעולם נתן בו עיניו ועשהו גל של עצמות:

Then he went out into the street and saw Judah, the son of proselytes: 'That man is still in the world!' he exclaimed. He cast his eyes upon him and he became8 a heap of bones.

It seems that according to Chazal there is a fire that comes out of the eyes, which is normally weak, but when coupled with strong spiritual force it can become an actual fire and burn things up.

The truth is that I understand that the concept of ayin hara is also based on this worldview. I know that nowadays we tend to explain it as based on jealousy of others, but if so, why is there no concept of 'ozen hara'? It seems that actually looking at something has power to cause damage. Conversely there is a saying that:

וא"ר יצחק אין הברכה מצוייה אלא בדבר הסמוי מן העין

R. Isaac also said: A blessing is found only in what is hidden from the eye, for it is written, The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy hidden things. The School of R. Ishmael taught: A blessing comes only to that over which the eye has no power, for it is said, The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy hidden things.

All of these sources imply (to me) that the eye emits some force which can cause physical damage if not channeled properly.

(I know that Superman had similar powers - where do you think he got the idea from?)

Rashi in Chumash is explicit that this is how sight works. In parshat Haazinu (Devarim 32:10) the verse states:

יִמְצָאֵהוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְבָּר וּבְתֹהוּ יְלֵל יְשִׁמֹן יְסֹבְבֶנְהוּ יְבוֹנְנֵהוּ יִצְּרֶנְהוּ כְּאִישׁוֹן עֵינוֹ

He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye.

Rashi explains:

"כאישון עינו" - הוא השחור שבעין שהמאור יוצא הימנו"

as the pupil of his eye: This refers to the black part of the eye, from which the light comes outward.

I haven't yet found the source of Rashi's statement in Chazal. Perhaps one of you knows whether Rashi took this explanation from an earlier source, or it is his own chidush. Also I have looked, but not yet found, whether any of the commentaries on Rashi manage to explain this in accordance with modern theories of sight (i.e. that light comes from a light-source, is reflected off objects, and then enters the eye).

And what is also interesting is that both Rabbeinu Bachye (on the verse) and Meiri (in his commentary on Tehillim 17) seem to side with the other theory of sight, and say that the word ishun means pupil because of the 'little man' (ish) that can be seen within it. This seems to be the theory of eidola, that reflections leave the object and enter the eye. Again, I cannot find a source in Chazal for their commentary, but I would be glad if someone could find one for me.

It apears that the modern theory of sight first developed in the end of the 10th century and beginning of the 11th by Abu Ali Mohammed Ibn Al Hasn Ibn Al Haytham, whom we know today as Alhazen. However, since he lived mainly in Cairo, and wrote in Arabic, his works would have been unknown to Rashi, Rabbeinu Bachya or Meiri. But they should have been known to those who came not much later. Which is why I would expect later commentaries on Rashi (particularly) to explain him according to the 'modern theory.'