Friday, June 19, 2009

Still no Bacon number, though

Today's xkcd inspired me to investigate my own Erdos number, and I have determined that it is at most 7!

According to this site, Rudolph Marcus (winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) is 4.
Therefore, John R. Miller is 5, Andrew R. Cook is 6, and I'm 7!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cesspool on the Potomac

This summer, Mah Rabu is relocating its base of operations to the DC area! More precise details on when and where are still to be determined.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

על ידי חופה וקידושין

Assuming an egalitarian* Jewish paradigm, what do you see as the conceptual differences between kiddushin (eirusin) and nisuin? Should there be a difference?

* defined here as one in which there is no substantive distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex marriage

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The new Koren Sacks Siddur (which is, apart from the nitpicking in this post, an impressive work) has a section in the back entitled "A Halakhic Guide to Prayer for Visitors to Israel". Among other things, this includes the various opinions regarding what 2-day-yom-tov observers should do about yom tov when they're in Israel. One of these opinions is (in part):
On the day after Shemini Atzeret (Simhat Torah in the Diaspora, Isru Hag in Israel), one abstains from labor, but says weekday (or Shabbat) prayers (putting on tefillin in the morning, if not Shabbat).

5 points to the first person who catches the error.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Conspiracy Unmasked

For the last four years, I've been certain that my students had never discovered this blog. The reason I was so certain was that I figured if the students had seen it, they wouldn't keep quiet about it (but, rather, would be quick to show off their sleuthing). Therefore, by the contrapositive, since I hadn't heard any students talking about the blog, I could be sure they hadn't found it. QED.

Then today, my last day teaching high school for the foreseeable future (last day of classes, that is; we still have exams and such), two students (graduating seniors) told me that they had been enjoying my blog. As in, they've been aware of it for some time (they may even be reading this post) and hadn't mentioned it until now. So I had underestimated their self-control, and/or forgotten that seniors aren't the same as freshmen.

There isn't actually anything incriminating here. As I've said from the beginning, there has always been a possibility that students would find this blog, and even though I don't use my real name on the blog, it's not particularly anonymous (there are plenty of places elsewhere on the Internet that connect my name to this blog). So I don't talk smack here about my students, colleagues, or supervisors, and I don't discuss anything personal that I would worry about falling into the wrong hands. So the biggest consequence of this discovery is that it means the students will find out that teachers have lives outside of school. But it's ok, since they're about to graduate anyway.

Lesson for teachers: Never underestimate your students.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Soon by you

Being engaged means that, at family weddings, when people say "You're next!!!", it doesn't come off as obnoxious anymore, but just as factual.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Phish 6/4/09 Jones Beach: commentary

So first of all, my predictions were completely off. It seems that my whole premise (picking songs that hadn't been played since the second hiatus) was off; I only got 3 songs right, and 2 of them were among the 3 I chose that had been played since the hiatus. In the actual setlist, the only songs that hadn't been played since the hiatus (besides Drowned, which I nailed) were Dirt and Meatstick.

Even my realtime predictions were wrong; during Ghost, I could have sworn that they were teasing Seven Below, but they didn't go there.

I was right about the ocean/beach theme, though wrong about the specifics. In addition to Drowned ("Let me get back to the ocean / Let me get back to the sea"), there was Squirming Coil ("Tried yesterday to get away and hitchhiked to the beach"), NICU ("A slipper of sand dollar day at the shore"), Punch You In The Eye ("I come from the land where the oceans freeze /
Spent three long months on the open seas", etc.), and Water in the Sky ("Rising tides and ocean walls"; this song was also no doubt connected to the rain that fell throughout the first set, though by the time they played it to open the second set, the rain had stopped).

Anyway, beyond this little game, it was an amazing show. Phish is really back! Since they've been gone for almost 5 years, I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the scene. I've always had an arm's-length relationship with the scene. I'm into veggie quesadillas, but I don't use drugs or alcohol. (Though if I had to choose between being surrounded by drunk people or stoned people, I'd definitely pick the stoned people. And I'd choose the smell of pot smoke over the smell of cigarette smoke.) The people who changed our flat tire at Coventry get a thumbs up; the people who push and litter get a thumbs down. Anyway, as soon as we arrived in the parking lot, I couldn't get over my shock. It was as if the last 5 years had never happened -- everything was back as it always was (for good and for ill, though probably not as much for ill). I was sort of expecting everyone to be 5 years older (and certainly, many of us are), and figured that the 18-year-olds wouldn't be there, since they were 13 when Phish last played and wouldn't have heard of it. Nope - they were there, and fully acculturated. How did that happen? Have they been selling grilled cheese in the lots of other bands during the interim?

As far as the music, my relationship is not so arm's-length. And all five members of the band were really on. They went to 11 on Divided Sky, which seems to be continuing to develop in that direction - that was how I felt about the "last Divided Sky ever" at the Tweeter Center 8/11/04. Drowned is by The Who, which already went to 11 on everything, so I'd have to say that Phish took it to 13. (So much that the Live Phish release split it into "Drowned" and "Jones Beach Jam". This seems arbitrary, since Ghost also had a Type II jam, but is just listed as a single track. I think it's for copyright reasons -- Drowned is a cover of someone else's song, but Phish can claim Jones Beach Jam as their own composition.) I approve of the two new songs (Ocelot and Time Turns Elastic), and I'll have to listen to them more (especially the latter) to really get them.

Next stop Maryland 8/15/09!

Phish 6/4/09 Jones Beach: setlist

The Divided Sky
Squirming Coil
Punch You In The Eye

Water in the Sky
Birds of a Feather
Drowned >
Time Turns Elastic
You Enjoy Myself

Rock and Roll

* glowsticks

Commentary to come later. For now, just wow.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Phish 6/4/09 Jones Beach: predictions

A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing
The Wedge
Fast Enough For You
Scents and Subtle Sounds
The Divided Sky

Walls of the Cave
The Lizards
Billy Breathes
Col. Forbin's Ascent
The Famous Mockingbird
Run Like An Antelope
Golgi Apparatus

The Mango Song

(All but three songs on this list have not been played since the second hiatus.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Chicken over rice

I'm a frequent enough patron of the halal food truck near where I work that they recognize me and know my order (falafel). I don't eat the meat, but I find myself wondering about it as an intellectual question. I don't have enough information to answer the question, and even if I were to answer it in the affirmative, I'm not sure I would actually act on it -- as a flexitarian meat-reductionist, I don't feel like I need to give myself more opportunities to eat meat. But it's still an interesting question to ponder.

As I understand it, kosher meat and halal meat both must be slaughtered by a particular process and the processes are similar, and both must have the blood removed. So the question is: can someone who keeps kosher eat halal meat (from a kosher species)?

The most obvious answer is "No, of course not!" This is because kosher meat must be slaughtered by a Jew, a requirement that is obviously not met by halal meat. But what if we weren't concerned about this particular requirement? This change might be motivated by a sense of inclusion: Muslims are "people of the book" (as it were), and their slaughter is also performed in the name of the One God, and not idolatry. Or it might be motivated by the opposite sentiment: outside of Hazon conferences, liberal Jewish communities generally don't do their own slaughter, and so the Jews who slaughter the meat that we eat are far outside our communities, and are so alien that it wouldn't make much of a difference if they were Muslim. Or some linear combination of both reasons. So if this requirement were to be lifted, would it be ok to eat halal meat?

For beef or lamb, the answer is still no. In mammals, the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) and cheilev (the fats that would have been offered on the altar) are not kosher and must be removed. (This is done by the butcher before selling the meat.) Halal meat has no such rules, and therefore must be under the presumption of containing these forbidden parts. Most of us casual meat-eaters can't look at meat and identify what part of the animal it comes from (especially when it's in shwarma form).

But what about halal chicken? Gid hanasheh and cheilev don't apply to birds, and my recollection is that the regulations for slaughtering birds are less strict than for mammals. So the question is whether the procedure for slaughtering halal birds would qualify under the rules of slaughtering kosher birds, and likewise for the procedures for removing blood from halal/kosher meat. I can't answer these questions; I haven't studied shechitah in any depth (beyond the Mishnah, and that was a long time ago), and don't know the specifics of halal slaughter. (And if I'm going to study any masechet in the next few months, it's going to be Kiddushin.) So can anyone with more knowledge on the subject weigh in on this question?