Monday, September 29, 2008

Of wars, white papers and science education

Today in 1923 the British mandate over "Palestine," under the auspices of the League of Nations, officially came into force (source: Britannica Online). Incorporating the Balfour Declaration, it obligated Britain to establish in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people. Jews in "Palestine" and elsewhere entertained high hopes that a Jewish state would soon become a reality. The Arabs of Eretz Israel had other ideas, and their rioting soon prompted the British to issue a White Paper severely restricting Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel, even as the Nazis were making the Jews' position in Europe increasingly untenable. The British, of course, were fighting the Nazis and the Jews of Eretz Israel (the hilonim [secularists] at any rate) had no intention of sitting on their hands while the Jews of Europe were being slaughtered. They joined the British army in droves (thereby gaining valuable experience for the War of Independence that would be fought later), vowing to "fight the war as if there was no White Paper and fight the White Paper as if there was no war."
Today we American Jews are in a somewhat similar situation politically. For the first time, I find myself a "one-issue voter" and I gather I am not alone. It's not the economy, stupid. It's the war. I intend to vote for John McCain, because he strikes me as the candidate most likely to prosecute the war against Islamic fascism to victory and thereby keep us safe. Indeed, only he seems to understand that we are fighting not two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, but one war on, for the time being, two fronts. The enemy is the Islamic Mafia, whose various subgroups are forever at one another's throats but united in their determination to destroy the Little Satan, Israel, and the Great Satan, the U.S.A. However, his prospective Vice President, Gov. Sarah Palin, is a Christian conservative who has expressed support for teaching a pseudoscience called "Intelligent Design" in biology classrooms as science. Like many of her ilk, she is ignorant of science and her policy would perpetuate that ignorance in the next generation. But McCain's victory, and even Palin's accession to the Presidency should the 72-year-old McCain not live out his full term, would not be a new departure. President Bush also expressed support for teaching "Intelliget Design," at least before a federal court found it merely religion in disguise and therefore unconstitutional to teach. I voted for President Bush in 2004, bucking my own union. When the President came out in favor of teaching pseudoscience in science classes, I sent the following letter to John Marburger, the President's science advisor:

As a high school biology teacher with a doctorate in the subject, I am outraged by the President's recent statement endorsing the teaching of the pseudoscientific concept of "intelligent design" in science classes. You have gone on record stating correctly that the theory of evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology and that intelligent design is not a scientific concept. It is your job to set the President straight before he makes a fool of himself and a laughingstock of our country. As for me, if I am ever required to teach astrology, flat-earth, geocentrism, intelligent design or any such nonsense as science I will not do so. Fire me if you will (I and my union will fight vigorously); my academic integrity and the standards of my profession are more important than any job.

So, if McCain is elected, and certainly if Palin becomes President, we science educators will have our work cut out for us. Even as we support the President's conduct of the war, we will vigorously fight him or her on injecting religion into science class and we will uphold our academic and professional intgegrity. Fight the war as if there was no White Paper and fight the White Paper as if there was no war.

I wish all my readers a ktiva v'hatima tova. May we see only good in the coming year.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pass the Oxygen

I recently sent the following letter to the Jewish Press (referenced here), responding to one of the anti-evolution diatribes that they publish every now and then:

To the Editor:

Regarding Dr. Yaakov Stern’s (no relation to me) letter in last week’s issue, for someone who writes so often about science, he ought to know that scientists test their ideas against nature, i.e. against objective reality, not against this or that holy book or the opinions of this or that Torah scholar. Evolution is successful because it explains a vast corpus of observable reality better than any competing theory. In fact, there is no competing theory that comes under the heading of science, in that it can be tested against nature. God wrote both books, nature and Torah, and, as Pope John Paul II observed, truth cannot contradict truth. It is not the Torah’s purpose to serve as a textbook of natural history, or to tell us how or when He got the tzelem Elokim into the human species, or how long the process took. Torah is focused on the here and now; today human beings possess the tzelem Elokim, therefore we must relate to fellow human beings with basic decency. That means, inter alia, that a Jew must, at a minimum, treat his workers, Jewish and Gentile, according to the requirements of the law, and that a Rosh Yeshiva must protect his students from pedophile teachers.

Zev Stern, Ph.D.

The Jewish Press did not publish my letter, perhaps the reference to the late Pope was treif, never mind that the Rambam said to accept the truth from whoever said it. However, in this week's issue it published the following beaut by a Martin D. Stern, also no relation to me, stating in pertinent part:

As regards the evolution of species, the theory is much less convincing on purely scientific grounds. It claims that more complex species have evolved from simpler ones through random changes, which appears to be inconsistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics which asserts that, in the absence of outside intervention, systems tend to become more chaotic.
Also, most of the proofs brought for it depend on observed changes within species such as the preponderance of melanistic [sic] moths in industrial Manchester, England, as opposed to the lighter colored varieties previously prevalent. This is a far cry from evolution from one species to another distinct one - a phenomenon that has never been observed.

Reading it, I did not know whether to laugh or to cry. The Second Law of Thermodynamics? Good God, where did this clown go to school? The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to a closed system. The earth is not a closed system; it constantly receives fresh energy from the sun. It is that energy that allows living systems to order themselves at the expense of their surroundings; the total disorder of the universe indeed increases. And the Jewish Press publishes this garbage! As for one species evolving from another, this usually does not happen within a human lifetime, but it has been produced in the laboratory and it is the inescapable conclusion inferred from a vast body of observations; see my letter in Intercom. If the writer knows nothing about science he should pick up some books in the public library and educate himself before writing about a subject he knows nothing about, and playing his readers for fools.

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Monday, September 22, 2008


For Gentiles tomorrow, Tuesday September 23, will be just another day, perhaps marked as the first full day of autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere, spring down under). For us it is 23 Elul, the seventh yahrzeit on our calendar for some 3000 good Americans whose lives were snuffed out by Islamic barbarians who still seek our destruction. A time to reflect on the blessings that accrue to us in a land of freedom, blessings that are not without cost; as President Kennedy said, "The price of freedom is always high and Americans have always paid it." As Rosh Hashana approaches, we must ask ourselves if we made maximum use of the freedom and security that we have in this country, and if we demonstrated the appropriate hakarat hatov for the brave men and women who keep it free. If you see a soldier, police officer or firefighter, take the time to make him or her feel appreciated. Observe basic safety with all the candles, hot stoves and such that will be in use during the coming holidays. Our firefighters and Hatzalah volunteers work hard enough; they don't need extra business and they do deserve to spend time with their own families.

אל מלא רחמים שוכן במרומים המצא מנוחה נכונה תחת כנפי השכינה במעלות קדושים וטהורים כזוהר הרקיע מזהירים לנשמות אלפי אנשים נשים וטף שנהרגו ושנשחטו ושנחנקו ושנשרפו ושנקברו חיים על ידי הערבים הרוצחים ימח שמם בעבור שאנחנו מתפללים בעד הזכרת נשמתם בגן עדן תהא מנוחתם לכן בעל הרחמים יסתירם בסתר כנפיו לעולמים ויצרור בצרור החיים את נשמתם ה' הוא נחלתם וינוחו בשלום על משכבם ונאמר אמן.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Zakhor - Remember

No, this isn't Purim Torah. This Shabbat we read Parshat Ki Tetze, whose maftir is the injunction, read again on the Shabbat before Purim, to remember Amalek. And tomorrow is the anniversary (on the civil calendar) of the attacks on America by today's evil Amalekites. We still have a score to settle with them. Pray for our brave men and women in uniform. If you live in New York, the weather is expected to be clear so view the Tribute in Light between sundown tomorrow and sunrise on Friday. And anyone who still thinks that the barbarians who did this are people we can talk to, do business with or bargain with, anything but devil-worshipers who cut themselves off from humanity - take a look at this video.


This video was produced - I must say rather amateurishly - not by us but by the barbarians who perpetrated the brutal murder it depicts. They are proud of what they did. They celebrate it and they celebrate the people who do such things the way we would celebrate someone who found a cure for cancer.

Shortly after the attacks, my daughter came home from school with tapes from idiots posing as Orthodox rabbis urging teshuva and suggesting that America somehow deserved it. Since the Jewish date is 23 Elul, exactly one week before Rosh Hashana, perhaps it was inevitable that rabbis would relate the attacks to the teshuva theme. But any suggestion that our good, decent and free country deserved to have 3000 innocent lives snuffed out makes my blood boil, whether it comes from leftist crazies or right-wing Orthodox crazies with or without rabbinical titles. . בסדם אל תבא נפשי בקהלם אל תחד כבדי The barbarians who committed this butchery deserve to be erased from the face of the earth, and this country is called by God to do it.

Thank God for our families, our communities, our country and for each day He gives us. Celebrate life the way the barbarians celebrate death.


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Monday, September 08, 2008

Sarah Palin and the role of government in a free society

Emes Ve-Emuna has a discussion of Sarah Palin's candidacy for Vice President and her being a role model for morality among political leaders. This is a rare case where I disagree with most of what Rabbi Harry Maryles (the author of that blog) is saying. If I understand him correctly, he is advocating governmental action to enforce moral norms that I do not believe should concern the government in a free society. Since my comments are too lengthy for the comment section there, I am posting them here and referencing them there.

This is a rare instance where I must disagree with most of what R. Maryles wrote. First, besmirching the memory of President Kennedy . John F. Kennedy kept our country and the rest of the free world free when the Communists were hell-bent on destroying our way of life. We were blessed to have a man of his vision and courage in the White House, and to the best of my recollection, unlike Bill Clinton, he never charged his private sins to his public credit card. We did not know of his sexual indiscretions until well after his murder.

I believe in separation of church and state almost as a secular religion. Justice Frankfurter once said that we have staked the very existence of this country on the proposition that keeping religion separate from the state is best for religion and best for the state. It was the unique genius of our founding fathers, many of whom experienced persecution at the hands of the established Church of England. It is not the function of government to regulate how adults (as opposed to children in school) dress or what they watch on TV or see in theaters, or indeed whether they should own TVs or go to theaters. That is the individual's business, and his or hers alone, as long as it does not physically harm others. The only harm I suffer from women's immodest dress is in becoming jaded; visual stimuli that should be sexually arousing no longer are. I do not believe that this "harm" is sufficient to justify state action. I know that my summer running outfits offend some people; some people have said as much. But as long as no one is harmed, the police power of the state may not be brought to bear, as it is in unhappy lands like Saudi Arabia. Once we start down that slippery slope, it is but a small step to banning books that are out of harmony with the prevailing official ideology.

I intend to vote for John McCain, despite his being 72 years old and not in the best of health. If God takes him from us before four years are up, Sarah Palin must be ready to step into the Presidency. She has about as much experience in foreign affairs as Barack Obama, maybe less. She will be the leader not only of our country but of the entire free world, and she does not know the difference between science and belief. If she has her way, students in science classrooms will be taught a hash (kil'ayim) that does violence to both. This does not augur well for our global competitiveness. Finally, call me sexist but at this juncture in our history I do not think we can afford a woman President. We are in a war to the death with an implacable enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy us. Waging such a war requires a ruthlessness and cold-heartedness that I do not believe most women have. True, there are Golda Meirs and Joans of Arc, but they are few and far between, and Sarah Palin does not impress me as being one of them. The same testosterone that makes an alpha male fearless in battle also impels him to spread his sperm far and wide; see Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal (2006). Hence the sexual indiscretions that so often typify powerful men - and if the men are not Jewish and their paramours not married, it is doubtful whether such indiscretions are in any way assur. To err is human, to forgive divine.

Of course, all this is water over the dam, and in the absence of an option to vote for McCain and Biden we have to make the best of what we have. May McCain win and may God preserve him.

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