Let's talk about . . . pipelines, baby

Let's talk about you and me
Let's talk about all the good things
And the bad things
That can be
Let's talk about pipelines.
Let's talk about pipelines!

Those interested in the continuing saga of The Thirsty Chasidim Of South Orange County should hie their way to an on-line chat (now concluded, but read the transcript) at the Times Herald Record, where Chris McKenna, their crack reporter on the story and all things Satmar, fielded questions from readers. It turns out that the good people of Kiryas Joel do pay taxes after all! (And no, they don't have horns.)
Yuschenko and the Jews

Who did the Ukrainian Jews vote for?

Beats me. This nicely detailed JPost article gives context and background, but the facts don't lead to any clear conclusion. (1) A large chunk of people won't say who they voted for. (2) The young Jews, those tending more to Western Europe, might plausibly have voted for Yuschenko. (3) The older Jews, those preferring stability, might plausibly have voted for Yanukovitch. In conclusion, who knows? The most interesting point in the article is buried in the last paragraph: "Only 3,106 out of nearly 40,000 eligible Ukrainian voters in Israel cast their ballots." First of all, the turnout's low, but that's not what caught my eye. Forty thousand? That's all the Ukrainian Jews there are in Israel? There have to be more than that, don't there, if a million-plus Jews have immigrated to Israel in the past ten to fifteen years? I guess they don't care enough to register to vote in Ukraine.

Question two: is Yuschenko an anti-Semite? Beats me. The JPost article mentions the worry of some Ukrainian Jews that in the past he "has allied himself with politicians openly expressing anti-Semitic views." In another incident mentioned in the press, a leading Ukrainian newspaper, Silski Visti, published the slanderous, anti-Semitic claim that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews joined the S.S. during the German invasion of 1941. Yuschenko joined with other Ukrainian politicians opposing government efforts to shut down the newspaper.

On the other hand, Yuschenko visited a Ukrainian Jewish group before the election and promised to combat anti-Semitism. And who's to say how many anti-Semites his opponent, Yanukovitch, has associated with?

Another troublesome aspect of contemporary Ukrainian anti-Semitism is its anti-Israel roots (shared by a number of liberal politicians in Western Europe). From the article linked to above about the anti-Semitic Ukrainian newspaper:
The wave of anti-Semitic agitation in the Ukrainian media began in 2002 with the publication of defamatory articles in the magazine Personnel, published by the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, a university-like institution offering leadership training to 35,000 students on more than 10 campuses across the country.

Although the school's board includes such respected figures as former President Leonid Kravchuk and former Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, its academic leaders have taken a strongly anti-Western political line, fostering close ties with Russia and the Islamic world. The academy's president, Georgi Schokin, has addressed three conferences in Saudi Arabia, and the American anti-Semite David Duke has appeared at three of the school's conferences in Kiev.

The Interregional Academy, which financed Silski Visti's publication of Yaremenko's article as a paid advertisement, has published his books and aggressively promoted his writings.

What this has to do with any anti-Semitism from Yuschenko himself -- again, I don't know.

I asked the opinion of a writer from the Forverts, who pointed out that opposing Jewish oligarchs (who have supported Kuchma and Yanukovitch) is not necessarily the same thing as anti-Semitism.

Update: Jonathan Edelstein, over at The Head Heeb, has followed up on this issue with his customary thoroughness. The accusations of anti-Semitism on Yuschenko's part seem more and more to be unfounded. Also worth reading is the editorial in this week's Forward, reminding us why the Ukraine is important to Jewish history yet not often remembered by name, and why Ukrainian nationalism is not something that Jews should uncritically embrace.


Consequential imagination

Nor are rigour and precision enemies of the imagination, any more than they are in mathematics. Rather, they increase the demands on the imagination, not least by forcing one to imagine examples with exactly the right structure to challenge a generalization; cloudiness will not suffice. They make imagination consequential in a way in which it is not in their absence.
Some words meant to apply to philosophy, but equally applicable to poetry, epidemiology, or any endeavor of the mind. From the essay "Must Do Better," by the philosopher Timothy Williamson. (Via the euphoniously named Glaikit Feartie.)


A Tour of Jewtown
Backsliding from my blog silence only after a few days. But I couldn't resist...

Nelly Rosario on hip-hop Hasids and other Willie phenomena.


Me Against The Thesis: Round Zillion

I am not allowing myself any non-dissertational thoughts (well, davening. And eating. And the more-or-less daily more-or-less blat of Gemore. And poetry. But not blogging!) until Thanksgiving.

So: wish me luck!

*Your Host's head disappears and the manhole shuts down tight.*


More driving on Shabbat

Last year, I wrote about the responsum of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (the law committee of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly) which permitted driving to the synagogue on Shabbat as a method to combat the ignorance and non-observance then prevalent (in the opinion of the authors) among American Jews. My opinion, then as now, is that the teshuvah was halachically well-justified and understandable at the time, but events have not borne out the authors' approach.

A few months ago, Avi of Am Echad, in a comment which I just saw now, mentioned that he had scanned in and posted on his Web site the contents of the Spring, 2004, issue of Conservative Judaism, which includes a discussion of the teshuvah. Thanks, Avi!

So go and learn.



This post will hearken back to the early days of traditional blogging which I never participated in: snatches of colorful life experience scrawled hurriedly with a chunk of blackened stick, in between chaws of campfire-warmed mutton thigh. How simple we were then! How uncorrupted!

* * *

On Shabbos, I heard a representative from Ukraine talk about Project Kesher, a group of Jewish women in the former Soviet Union furthering Jewish education, promoting women's health, and fighting anti-Semitism and domestic abuse. (A propos of nothing, one of the testimonials on the home page makes reference to Birobidzhan: "My grandfather was a revolutionary sent to Siberia . . . I see the need to organize the Jewish community. I hope to be a revolutionary of another kind." I would bet the speaker's grandfather was sent to Birobidzhan against his will.)

At kiddush, I suggested to one of the speakers that some women's health researchers (e.g. breast-cancer epidemiologists) might enthusiastically welcome access to an Eastern European cohort of mostly Ashkenazic Jewish women. Although there are an awful lot of studies of breast cancer among American Ashkenazim (see here for a review of BRCA1 -- the "breast cancer gene" -- and its influence on public health [I hope the link works; you might have to be part of the Medical Library Cabal]), in an admittedly cursory search, I only found one such study among Russian Ashkenazi women. As you can see from the abstract, it was more a small-scale genetic typing project than a large-scale epidemiologic study. (Warning: Jargon-heavy excerpt follows.)

We have screened index cases from 25 Russian breast/ovarian cancer families for germ-line mutations in all coding exons of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In addition we tested 22 patients with breast cancer diagnosed before age 40 without family history and 6 patients with bilateral breast cancer. The frequency of families with germline mutations in BRCA was 16% (4/25). One BRCA1 mutation, 5382insC, was found in three families. The results of present study, and those of a separate study of 19 breast-ovarian cancer families, suggest that BRCA1 5382insC is a founder mutation in the Russian population. Three BRCA2 mutations were found in patients with breast cancer without family history: two in young patients and one in patients with bilateral breast cancer. Four novel BRCA2 mutations were identified. (Tereschenko IV et al. Human Mutation 2002;19(2):184.)

Anyway, if any breast-cancer epidemiologists are reading this, first: hi! Second, maybe you'd like to take a look at this cohort.

Postscript: I know, it's not a cohort, just a group of Russian Jewish women. But someone could make a cohort out of it.

* * *

On Saturday night we (me, my wife, and a blogger friend visiting from out of town) made the acquaintance of a fresh-faced idiot, a veteran of the Great War. Our new friend, appearing on stage at the Theater for the New Audience, is no other than the hero of Jaroslav Hašek's unfinished comic novel Good Soldier Švejk (1923). (Since the novel itself was never finished, I don't feel bad admitting that I picked it up and never finished it. Not because it wasn't entertaining; my attention span is just undergrown.) Though the first act sags a little, the play is by turns witty, funny, stupid, profound, moving, and whimsical. You should go see it.

Would you like to see the little hat on the "s" again? Šure thing!

Postscript: Of course, Švejk (or one of his translators) has a blog.

* * *

I have to go keep finishing my thesis. Back later.

* * *

I'm back!

How do you like the sound of this merry little tune? Psychiatry, obstetrics/gynecology, neurology, surgery, medicine, pediatrics, advanced medicine, ambulatory care, critical care medicine. Those are the rotations I will be starting, God willing, in January, assuming I successfully defend my thesis next month.

Perhaps I might blog in the future about the spicy & engaging elements of medical education. Or perhaps not.

* * *

I should mention in passing two more reviews of mine, in the on-line version of Verse magazine, of a couple of poetry journals: Skanky Possum #10 and Fence 7.1.


Arcana and Actualities
The art of poetry is the art of knowing language and people equally well. It is an art whose focus is in two directions at once: toward the inert technical arcana of syllables and sounds and syntax and metaphor as well as toward the animated actualities of human nature and human expectation. The knowledge of the way a reader will react when a technical something is done to him is what controls the poet's manipulation of his technique. To do something to the reader is the end of poetry: a poem is less a notation on a page or a sequence of uttered sounds than a shaped or measured formal effect that impinges upon a reader or hearer. The reality of the poem is its impingement. [. . .] No element of the poem is more basic--and I mean physical--in its effect upon the reader than the metrical element, and perhaps no technical triumphs reveal more readily than the metrical the poet's sympathy with that universal human nature--conceived as a system of physiological and psychological uniformity--which exists outside his own, and to which the fullest understanding of his own is the key. The poet whose metrical effects actually work upon a reader reveals that he has attained an understanding of what man in general is like. It is thus possible to suggest that a great metrical achievement is more than the mark of a good technician: it is something like the signature of a great man.

from Paul Fussell's Poetic Meter and Poetic Form


Honesty underground

What MTA subway drivers used to say when the train had to stop for some reason:
We apologize for the unavoidable delay.

What they say now:
We apologize for the delay.


We are not wrong

The New Republic has two post-mortems of Tuesday's anti-liberal revolution worth reading and quoting. One, though anonymous, is written (I confidently aver) in the hyper-literary, sometimes tortured style of Leon Wieseltier, though it does at times manage to stumble over eloquence on its way to the heights of purple prose:

There is honor, moreover, in a certain kind of loss. In our distracted and accelerated and gamed society, with its religion of winning, we sometimes forget this. But the many millions of Americans who believe that the tax code should be more fair; and that one of the ends of government is to bother itself about its neediest and least fortunate citizens; and that the morality of the market is not all the morality that a society requires; and that the Bible is not the basis of a democratic political order, or of our political order; and that robust stem-cell research, and science more generally, is a primary social good; and that gay marriage is a question of equality and not the beginning of the end of civilization; and that American troops must not be sent to war ignorantly or dogmatically, or without the means to win; and that the good reputation of the United States in the world is one of its most powerful historical instruments--the many millions of Americans who believe these things are not wrong. They are merely not a majority. But they are a very large minority.

The other is by TNR's editor, Peter Beinart:

[C]ultural sensitivity is one thing; principle is another. In their attempts to win rural voters, Democrats have already essentially abandoned gun control. That doesn't keep me up at night. But gay marriage is different. The fact that it is widely unpopular cannot obscure the fact that it is morally momentous and morally right. Liberals once lost elections for supporting civil rights as well and now look back on those losses as badges of honor. Eventually, since young people are far more tolerant of homosexuality than their parents, gay marriage will stop hurting Democrats at the polls. Until then, the party should try to win elections on other issues--and look forward to the day when conservatives apologize for trying to deny yet another group of Americans their full human rights.

Postscript: I've read in some liberal blogs (this suggestion is usually made by right-wing commenters, but let's take it in good faith) that we should embrace federalism in the service of gay marriage and other causes we hold dear. Let New York, Massachusetts, and the Blue Brethren move forward, and Wyoming will . . .catch up, or something. ("Heterosexuality forever!" at the courthouse door?) A historian friend, "DRF," made the following comment, which is worth posting separately:
I'm going to tackle the issue of a new federalism that was raised by elf and Zack. I, too, have been wondering if we are headed for a new federalism on social issues, and I'm not yet certain about how I feel about that, if indeed we are. But I adamantly disagree that antebellum federalism on slavery was a bad thing. It's true that antebellum federalism meant that there was a period of two generations (roughly, 1802-1865) in which slavery wa illegal in most circumstances in the states north of the Mason-Dixon line and legal in the states south of it. But the alternative to this was NOT to make slavery illegal throughout the U.S. If the framers of the Constitution had attempted to resolve the issue of slavery at a national level in 1787, the result would have been either (a) no federal union at all; or (b) the continuing legality of slavery throughout the U.S. And if slavery had remained legal throughout the U.S. in the early 19c, I doubt that northerners would have gathered the courage to push effectively for its abolition at a national level. Many northerners who opposed slavery in the slavery 1780s and 1790s were nevertheless anxious about the prospect of living in a multi-racial society; specifically, many feared that a large-scale "race war" would break out if slavery ended abruptly without a national plan for shipping ex-slaves back to Africa. When numerous states abolished slavery within their borders and managed to create peaceful (albeit segregated) multi-racial societies, those who witnessed the process gathered the moral courage and political confidence to push for an end to slavery elsewhere. On balance, then, I would argue that diversity in states' social legislation has often been a liberalizing influence, whether or not it's "fair" in the short run.


The "religious Jewish" voter

What does it mean that a quarter of the Jewish vote went to Bush in Florida and Ohio, and that most of these Jews seem to have been the religious ones? What is it about their religiosity (or their frumkayt, however you'd like to term it) which brought about their vote for Bush? Is it a true reflection, connecting their vote to their religious life? A sociological epiphenomenon? Both?

What should a religious Jew who didn't vote for Bush (don't know any of those around here!) think in the future about the relationship between his politics and his religion? What sort of role should be played by him and those like him? In the Democratic party? the Republican party? Where does the liberal, frum Jew go?

More musings to come.
Jews love a losing cause . . .

. . . so most of them seemed to go Kerry at about the same rate they went for Gore. At least, if you believe the exit polls quoted by this Jerusalem Post article. (These are the same exit polls, mind you, which told us Kerry was going to win. It's them we have to blame!)

But what about the Charedi vote? I have no idea. Here's a fun speculation, though.

Look at the presidential returns from Orange County, New York, where Kiryas Joel is located. In 2000, the county went for Bush/Cheney over Gore/Lieberman by 50% to 46% (total votes: 126,080). This year, though, B/C won out over Kerry/Edwards by 55%-44%. I guess there's probably an awful lot of factors that account for the difference, among them the same factors that made Kerry lose the whole deal, but: this year's vote total in Orange County is 134,966. Increased registration, or the ongoing KJ baby boom? You decide.

Not that Orange County is deciding any statewide election anytime soon. But if it keeps growing?

Postscript: Of course, I need to mention these posts by E.J. Kessler of the Forward, who actually knows what she's talking about. It turns out there was a shift in the Jewish vote to Bush, among the Orthodox in particular.


It's coming from the feel that it ain't exactly real
. . .or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.

It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
Hello from Darfur, II
The second of the e-mails my friend Laura wrote from Darfur.

Hello all.... Had a few free minutes so I wanted to say hello. All's well here.

I feel like I've been here for weeks...and it's only just over a week now! I love speaking to people in the camps and hearing their stories -- I've become a bit braver about asking them personal questions about what's happened to them and their families. It's a confusing 'emergency' because you look at people and it doesn't look like they're starving. But they're living in appalling conditions, under constant fear of attack. Actually, the fear varies from camp to camp. Some feel relatively safe. But yesterday we were in a camp up north, where 3 women had been beaten the night before. Men came looking for their husbands, but they had fled. One of our Sudanese staff members said that they then beat the women to try to lure the men back. Even after that experience, the women told me they feel safer in the camp then they would at home.

I think it's even more confusing here, because Sudanese are so amazingly warm and hospitable. They smile and wave almost all the time. The day before yesterday, at the same camp where the women were beaten, we were shooting some video of the...I don't know what word to use to describe them...huts? shacks? Piles of sticks maybe 5 x 5 in which families live without shelter from the sun or rain. (The people who've been there long enough to have registered with [my organization] have been given tarps to cover their homes...but those who've come more recently haven't been registered, so they have nothing.) Siobhan, Dominic and I were waiting in the shade while Jimmy (cameraman) shot. (It's over 100 degrees here every day...40-45 degrees celsius, they keep saying.) As we rose to leave and walk back through the sand to the car, a woman came up to Siobhan holding out a pen. It seems Siobhan had dropped the pen in the sand at some point, and the woman wanted to return it to her. It was unbelievable. One of the moments I think I'll carry with me.

In Haiti, there is so much anger, it's palpable. Here, most people seem to smile and wave. They seem to appreciate my attempts at Arabic -- in fact, the Sudanese staff here are amazingly good teachers! And yet hundreds of thousands of people here were forced to leave their homes, watched their brothers, sons, fathers, husbands taken, beaten or killed, are subsisting on next to nothing (yet I'm told the reason that there hasn't been mass starvation is that those who get rations from aid agencies share them with those relatives or former neighbors who don't, or people with relatives in relatively unaffected areas are being supported at least in part by their families), and are living in the dehumanizing conditions of an IDP (internally displaced person) camp. Anger and frustration are growing. But from my brief visit, it appears that people are maintaining their culture of hospitality.

Obviously, I'm just a visitor to a culture as complex as any other. I'm so aware that I don't even know what I'm not seeing...what's absent from the landscape, what I can't see. Side by side with the smiles and waves I see are men raping women who go out at 2am to gather wood. Who have ridden their horses into villages and taken land and livestock, poisoned the water systems, and killed the men. It may sound dramatic, but it just reminds me of how all humans seem to have such a capacity for evil, for cruelty.

Hello from Darfur, I
The first of a couple of e-mails written by my friend Laura, who was in Darfur a couple of weeks ago with the aid agency she works for.

Hello all, Here I am in El Geneina. I've been in Sudan about 6 days now...in El Geneina for 4. I can't believe it's been so short! Feels like I've been here for weeks.

Darfur is a dry, forbidding land. There's green brush and short trees...and, near the wadis(which are now basically dry) some larger trees. We had a lovely picnic out by a wadi last Friday -- Friday is the day of rest here, so our Sudanese staff were having the traditional celebration the week before Ramadan begins. They invited all of us to come celebrate and feast with them. It was a lovely afternoon...so cool and breezy under the trees (shade is something much in demand here!) and they made an incredible meal.

As for the humanitarian emergency -- I've been trying to get a handle on what I've been seeing. I've visited 2 camps so far. Mornay, to the south of us, which is home to somewhere between 68,000 and 80,000 people (they've been having trouble getting accurate numbers because so many people are still moving), and Ardamata, just outside Geneina, which is a much smaller camp. There are many, many people who've been displaced -- more than 1 million -- but those who are living in the camps don't seem to be in such terrible shape. The malnutrition rates are not terribly high, so, somehow, people who've been on the move for 6 months to a year have had coping mechanisms that have sustained them. I've been trying to investigate this -- it seems the a combination of food stores from last year's harvest and very strong communities that share resources averted a disaster in the initial months. And now there is tons of food aid coming from the outside world. The problem is that now these people are almost entirely dependent on food aid, as their stores have run out. So the situation is quite precarious. If security diminishes, or the food aid dries up, there could be a very serious crisis.

Right now, there seems to be a bit more of a public health/hygiene danger. There has already been Hep E in Mornay, and with so many people concentrated in small spaces, we're focusing on hygiene education and sanitation facilities.

I have spoken to people in both camps, and they've told me terrible stories of having to flee their homes. One woman told me that her two oldest sons were killed when the janjaweed came. She had her youngest, @ age 2 or 3 in her arms as she spoke. All have told me that they have no plans to go home until they believe they will be safe there. And none of them believe they will be safe.

The Sudanese people are amazingly warm...the children run after us (after all whites) shouting 'hwaja' wherever we go, and their mothers walk behind waving hello. I haven't felt any hostility, although I imagine it when I see men in fatigues (police) or janjaweed on their camels. But, in truth, I haven't felt uncomfortable at all. I am, of course, in a very protected environment. Not to mention that sharia law is in place in Sudan, so no one steals anything -- even a pen used and not returned is returned the next day (I'm told that's not always the case, but that's been my experience).