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Ranting and Raving

Thursday, July 7, 2016

11:55PM - Philandro Castile

I don't often weigh in on this things but this one is special.

This is the exact opposite of the Jamar Clark case.

Phil Castile's encounter with the police should NOT have been fatal.  It was, according to his girlfriend, upon whom I am relying, a routine stop for an equipment violation.

The challenge in this stop was the registered gun that Castile was legally carrying.  As I listened to Valerie Diamond's account, I placed myself  in the shoes of both Phil Castile and the officer.  I will share here what I imagine each thought, and why this ended so tragically.

Officer: License and Insurance please.

Castile: Thinks: My License is in my wallet, I have to get past my gun to get it.  If he sees the gun, he may freak.  I had best set his expectations so there are no surprises. Officer, I am carrying a registered, concealed weapon.

Officer: Oh Shit!  Dude just threatened to pull a gun on me! Put your hands in the air.

Castile: Confusion - he asked for license  and insurance, should I give him that first and then put my hands in the air?

Officer: Panic - he's reaching for his gun!  I don't want  to die! [Shoots]

This is how I imagine the encounter went.

So, would it have played out differently if Castile were white?  It's difficult to know for sure, but I do think that a white man would have had a better chance for survival in this encounter.

White privilege is real, and does result in an officer giving a white suspect the benefit of the doubt.

About a year ago an officer in Mendota Heights died from white privilege.  Again, a routine traffic stop.  The suspect was white, but also a fleeing criminal.  He killed the officer.

I do not believe for a minute that Phil Castile posed any threat to the officer, but it would not surprise me if his blackness exaggerated the officer's sense of threat.

I do not believe that the officer was out to kill a black man either.  I think he just wanted to go home at the end of his shift.  I think he panicked, and I am not sure he would have done so if the suspect was white.  Although, if he had remembered what happened in Mendota Height, race might NOT have made a difference.  Hard to know.

And this is what makes it all so tragic; a man is dead, and another is certainly guilty of manslaughter.

It sounds like Phil Castile was a good man; may his memory be for a blessing.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

4:53PM - Prince

It was just last week that Morgan and I walked into a  Caribou Coffee  in St. Paul.  The trivia question was "Where is Paisley Park?"  I was able to correctly answer Chanhassen.  He had just given a concert the night before and one of the Baristas had been there.

So today's  news of his death took  me by surprise.

I don't have much to say about him really.  His music was part of the environment I grew up in, but I never quite fancied  it.

The juxtaposition of that trivia question and the news of his death is sort of a memento mori, I guess.  It strikes close to home when you share a metro area with someone that high profile.

Current mood: pensive

Saturday, September 26, 2015

10:10PM - So, Volkswagen thing.

For those who may not know, VW is having a scandal because the software controlling the TDI engine was written to note when it was being emissions tested, and operate the engine in a way that it would pass, but under normal operating conditions, it was out of compliance, emitting 40x more of some pollutants than permitted.

I can only imagine that this happened because someone concluded that driveability and compliance were mutually exclusive.  At this point, US sales of TDI equipped vehicles are on hold while VW fixes the software.  In my eyes, if VW did not think that it could produce a driveable, compliant diesel engine, it should have said to the EPA, "your requirements are unreasonable; waive them or no TDI for the US Market."  Instead it created an ECU that behaved well when being watched.

Now VW President Winterkorn has stepped down, despite saying that he had no awareness of the program.  There are those who will say that it was his responsibility to know.  That is true.  But now that he does know, isn't it his responsibility to investigate?  What does his resignation do to advance the goal of making this right?  It seems to me that this particular move crosses the line from drama into melodrama.

Are EPA Standards for passenger vehicles too stringent?  Probably; diesel's selling point has always been higher mpg than gasoline.  It's certainly not cleaner. But VW has taken a pass on making that argument.  Instead, by choosing situational compliance, it not only cheated at the game, but it also participated in the fiction that the standards were achievable at the time they were set.

Where do things stand now?  Owners are afraid that any fix will cost them either mpg or performance or possibly both.  VW may need more than a software patch to achieve compliance.  It will cost them a lot if they need to upgrade these cars to include Urea injection, but that may be where things go.

Does this affect my attitude toward VW?  Not really; it's a corporation, corporations are all sociopathic, and failure to comply with EPA regs does not lead directly to customer's deaths, so in my book they're ahead of GM with its ignition switches, and FCA with it's remotely hackable CAN bus.

Friday, September 26, 2014


The Israeli Palestinian Conflict: Not a Civil Rights Issue.

I want to get a few thoughts down here. American liberals tend to view the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a Civil Rights issue. It's a narrative we are comfortable with, that we understand well, and that we know how to pick sides in. The basic assumption is that the Palestinians are fighting for a right to self determination that is a threat to Israeli hegemony, and if Israel would only give them this freedom, there would be peace. If this were true, the Oslo accords would have resolved the conflict. But there are larger goals in play here.

It is important to understanding the current condition of the conflict to read Hamas' charter. It is a thick read, written in lovely regal language. But its thesis is clear. I will distill a few things here that I think are pertinent.

1. What does Hamas mean by liberation and resisatance? We liberals love these words. We hear them and our sympathies are immediately awakened to poor, hungry masses yearning to be free. But it is not people that Hamas is looking to liberate. It is land. (Article 6 and Article 15). The land is "every inch of Palestine." And that would be Palestine as it looked at the time of the British Mandate. Liberation of the land entails bringing the land under Islamic rule, as Hamas understands it (ibid).

2. Where does Hamas fit among Islamic movements? Hamas is a unit of the Muslim Brotherhood, specializing in the Liberatioan of Palestine (article 2). What this means is that the goals of Hamas are in service to the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. What about the two state solution? Article 13 of the charter should be read in its entirety to understand why this will not work so long as Hamas holds poltical power, but here is a brief quote."There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are a waste of time and a farce."

So, what we should be noticing here is that what Hamas wants for the land it calls Palestine (which is to say the 1947 borders) is the same Islamic rule that, over the past few years was selected and rejected in Egypt, the Egyptians ultimately preferring the political oppression of a military government to the religious oppression of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The next question is what do the Palestinians want? I can't answer that. The Palestinians, if offered an election, will find themselves in the unenviable position of choosing between Hamas and Fatah. I am convinced that the election of Hamas a decade or so ago was less about alignment with Hamas' goals than it was about throwing the Fatah bums out. I think that during a period of calm, throwing the Hamas bums out would be a real possibility, but that during a time of live fire, there is a tendency to cleave to the more belligerent party which would work in Hamas' favor.

Eliminating Hamas is essential to being able to give the Palestinians the freedom to explore their desires. Achieving this would mean reoccupying Gaza without settling it, and subjecting it to the political oppression now found in Egypt, while working assiduously to improve prosperity. When there is a strong, moderate Gazan majority, it should fight, and win, a war for indepedence that would culminate in its having its current borders with, depending on Egypt's goodwill some additional land in the Sinai. The West Bank could be part and parcel with this or not depending how West Bank and Gaza Arabs feel about each other.

Current liberal attempts to influence the peace process or to coerce Israel into yielding too much too soon do not ultimately support core liberal values like equality or self-determination, because they enable Hamas, for which these values are best relegated to the dustbin.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

11:04PM - Sandy Hook: Why this is not about gun control.

With an inevitability that is not unlike clockwork, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, I have received petitions calling for the reversal of the second amendment.  I have not yet seen, mostly because I have not looked for the inevitable assertion that this would not have happened in an armed society. 

Gun control advocates hold that stronger gun control laws would have prevented the shooter from obtaining the gun.  Well, we have pretty strong drug control laws.  Banning guns would make them about as hard to obtain as pot.  There is no reason to believe that a shooter who is planning something like this would hesitate to buy a gun illegally, and no evidence that we could make them any more difficult to obtain than drugs.  All we would do is reify what I think of as Edelman's* Law: outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns.

Gun access advocates hold that "an armed society is a polite society,"* because the prospect that anyone you might seek to harm has the power to kill you will serve as a deterrent.  The problem with this ideal in our context is that it presupposes that the shooter values his life, when in fact many shooters are playing out a narrative that culminates in their death.  It is part of the plan that they will be shot or shoot themselves.  An armed society cannot deter against someone who is determined to die.  Can an armed society mitigate the damage that a shooter can cause?  Maybe, but this risks to such a defender would be enormous.  If he succeeds he will be hailed as a hero  and tried for murder.  He will most likely be acquitted of the murder charges, but the civil wrongful death suit brought by the shooter's family will be a bit more of a crap shoot.  In the event that such a defender should harm a bystander . . .  well what seemed morally clear when the defender pulled his gun, becomes a lot less morally clear then.

To a certain degree I have been wasting my time talking about gun control to make a simple point.   This is an easy debate to have.  The gun control advocate can say his piece, the gun access advocate can say his piece, and none of it really matters.

There is another conversation that arises too when these occur, and that is access to mental healthcare.  It's a good discussion to have, because it has power to help people in a general sort of way, people who can identify that they have a problem and find the humility to seek help for it, assuming they have the resources.  But perhaps not our shooter.

 We build civilizations in order to mitigate risk.  But the reality that none of us want to live with is that however much we mitigate risk, and by whatever means we do so, it is beyond our power to eliminate it entirely.  What ultimately makes an event like this so tragic is that the event that is unforeseen, and therefore unpreventable.  We might rush to condemn ourselves for our failure of imagination, for not banning guns, for not arming school adminisrators, for not getting this guy the mental help he needed, but these are all ways of imagining that we are in control of things that are beyond control, and while that does not let us off the hook for preventing the preventable, it also places limits on our culpability for the actions of actors beyond our control.

*Edelman's Sporting Goods bumper sticker

** Heinlein, Robert A. Time Enough For Love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I would have preferred
If he came on eagle's wings
Than for this ransom

How does one of us
Redeem a thousand of them?
Here he is, with us.

The willow branches
The sweet scent of the etrog
Gilad Shalit free

יותר שמחתי
אם בא על כנפות נשר
מפדיון הזה

איך יפדה אחד
ממנו אלף מהם
כאן הוא אתנו

ערבי הנחל
ריח מתוק של אתרוג
שליט בן חורין

Monday, November 22, 2010

11:20PM - How many of these books have you read?

Ganked from DovBear

How many of these books have you read?
Here we go with another absurd blog meme.

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Instructions: Bold those books you've read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or those from which you've read an excerpt.

See my resultsCollapse )

Sunday, May 16, 2010

3:39PM - Beth Jacob Pickup Location


Be sure to let Mike know you would be interested in picking up at BJ.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

11:40PM - וידבר בירחטנוט - Byrhtnoth Spoke

It is late at night
I encountered a CD of Jess Bessinger reading OE Poetry.
And now I find myself translating Byrhtnoth's speech from the Battle of Maldon from Old English in very literary Modern Hebrew.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

8:39PM - In Brief: Il Gatto

Went to Il Gatto (The concept that has replaced Figlio in Calhoun Square) two Fridays ago after temple.

The warm, inviting colors and comfortable seating have been replaced by something that looks like a set for a Stanley Kubrick movie.  White and black and very clinical.  The seating is also more dense, the dining room unnavigable.  It is, however, worth the battle to the bathrooms to see the signs - a catboy and a catgirl with the caption "litterboxes."  This is something I might have designed for Cat-Tharsis when I was drawing it.

The menu.  Well.  If you don't eat pork or shellfish, there's very little to choose from.  Figlio's menu had birds and swimmy-fish and cows and veggies.  I ended up with an OK mushroom Pizza and M. got a pasta she found passable by deleting the meat.

There are those who might contend that I simply miss Figlio.  To them, I will say that if Figlio's eclectic bistro menu had been expanded upon, and its atmosphere made more inviting by Il Gatto, I would not miss Figlio.  But since neither is true, I will concede that yes I miss Figlio.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

8:47PM - Delivered a D'Var Torah this weekend

It viewed the Exodus from Egypt through the lens of emergence from depression.

It may be viewed at: http://reformbaaltshuvah.blogspot.com/2010/01/kick-my-people-out-challenge-of.html

Comment there or here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

5:58PM - Challah

I like to make home baked challah for Erev Shabbat whenever feasible. The use of a bread machine for creating the dough has been a tremendous boon in this, because it means that once I get the ingredients in and the doughball to the right consistency, I can pay attention to other things. This recipe has been working pretty well for me, though I find the crumb can be a bit dry the day after it comes out of the oven. I wonder if more oil can fix that. Advice would be appreciated.

Anyway, here is the Recipe as it stands:


1: Sponge

1C Warm Water
2tbsp Sugar
2tbsp Flour

2.5tsp Yeast

 Combine and let floof for ~20min

2: The Bread Machine.

Put in the sponge, three eggs, 1.25tsp Salt, 2tbsp Honey, 1/3C Olive or Grapeseed Oil

Measure out 3.25C, including 2tbsp. gluten, flour by pouring the flour into the cup to avoid packing. (One day I will weigh this out so that this won't be a worry, but now I don't have a scale.) Add to Bread machine. Run the dough cycle. Add flour/water as necessary for proper dough ball consistency.

3: Shape and proof.

Set a skillet with water on the stove to boil while you shape the dough

Remove completed dough and punch down. Divide into however many strands you want and braid. Put on a floured baking sheet.

Remove skillet of steaming water to bottom of oven. I have an oven with a pilot light which keeps the water steaming. Put the loaf on the middle rack and let proof in the humid ofen for ~40 minutes.

4: Brush and bake

Remove loaf and water-pan from oven. Preheat to 450 Degrees.

Brush with an egg wash comprising a half cup water and an egg. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seed.

Bake for 20 Minutes.

It comes out looking very much like this:

And it goes quite nicely with my Simple Shakshuka, shown here garnished with asparagus and chiffonade of basil.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

9:37PM - Simple Shakshuka

The shakshuka at Cafe Hillel leaves one feeling nostalgic, so I've been tinkering with the concept and after a couple of tries came up with this. It doesn't have much in the way of exotic spicing, but goes from kitchen to table with about 5 minute's knifework and 30 minutes stovetop.

Simple Shakshuka

One medium onion, medium dice.
1C Non-Green Bell Peppers, medium dice.
One Can (28 oz/800g) diced or crushed tomatoes.
A splosh of lemon juice (probably two Tbsp)
Four eggs.
One clove garlic, minced
One half tsp Salt
One half tsp Black Pepper
Olive or Grapeseed oil sufficient to saute in a 10" pan

Heat a 10" pan (I prefer cast iron for this) and add oil.
Saute the onions with the salt and black pepper.
As they become translucent, and the garlic, then the peppers.
Deglaze with the lemon juice, then add the tomatoes.
Simmer uncovered to reduce the liquid by about half.
Break the 4 eggs over the sauce and cover until eggs reach desired doneness (tradition dictates a set white with a runny yolk-about 4 minutes).

Serve with Pita or Challah. A garnish of steamed spinach creates a nice contrast on the plate

Serves 2. Parve.

Monday, October 12, 2009

5:25PM - StrangeThought

What would a Star Trek TOS/Gilligan's Island crossover look like?

Friday, October 2, 2009

2:34PM - Life as a Jew in Minnesota in Haiku

מזג האוויר
קר, אפור, ויש גשם
זמן לבנות סוכה
Weather conditions:
It's cold, it's gray, and there's rain
Succah building time.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

10:06PM - D'var Tzav

This is the second year running that I have had the privilege of drashing on parshat tzav, and it has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to uphold R. ben Bag Bag's saying "turn it and turn it for everything is in it." Our parsha deals with the Standard Operating Procedures for each of the sacrifices, and while we may not, to borrow the words of the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, expect "the return to a sacrificial system of worship under the sons of Aaron," we owe it to ourselves to seek the lessons that even these passages have to teach.

One of the ways we can learn from these passages is to look at the types of offerings brought brought and why they are brought.

Read the rest at The Reform Baal T'shuvah

Sunday, March 22, 2009

6:34PM - To form one Mishkan

The book of Genesis tells tale after tale of fraternal relationships gone awry. We begin with the worst case scenario: Cain kills Abel. Then Sarah becomes incensed when Ishmael is playing with Isaac, and he is banished; they reunite only for their father's funeral. Then Jacob buys Esau's birthright and acquires Esau's blessing, they enjoy one reunion, and don't see each other again until they must bury Isaac. Finally we have Joseph and his brothers - who sell Joseph into slavery. In this case, the entire family is reunited, everyone hugs and cries, Jacob and Joseph are gathered to their kin and חזק חזק ונתחזק.

There is a progress, of sorts, through Genesis; each fraternal conflict has a successively better outcome, but it is in Exodus that we finally see siblings dwelling together, by and large, in peace. I'm speaking of Amram's kids - Miriam, Moses, and Aaron.
Read the rest at The Reform Baal T'shuvah

Sunday, March 15, 2009

9:32PM - אני יכול לקרוא

אני יכול לקרוא עברית מודרנית

כמו ילד בן שבע

בעזרת מילון

I can read Modern Hebrew

Like a 7 year old

with the aid of a dictionary.

And I'm proud of this. I've learned the binyanim, have a small working vocabulary, a larger reading vocabulary, and children's lit is teaching me some of the idioms. I am proud to be able to read "Mr. Loudmouth" in Hebrew with a dictionary.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

11:14PM - The Thing which Matza is Not.

Some reflections on Matzah and Injeerah inspired by this week's Parsha can be found on my jblog.

The Reform Baal T'shuvah: Parshat Bo: The Thing which Matza is Not.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

8:33PM - Happy Rebbe, er, Robbie Burns Day

It's the day where the Hillel at Glasgow University makes kosher Haggis. Not difficult, really, given that Haggis is basically sheep entrails and grain, but there's always lots of discussion of it over there. You kind of need to have a good relationship with the abbatoir though so you can get a kashered sheep's stomach.

One day I'll try my hand at Haggis, I suppose, but I want to talk about about something similar. Stuffed Kishke. I made stuffed Kishka today (appropriate to Robbie Burns day in its way I reckon) following a recipe I learned from my teacher Rob Portnoe. The recipe goes very much like this:

1 Package of Ritz crackers or equivalent (ideal to find something Parve (ritually neutral with respect to separation of milk and meat))
4 Tbsp of a parve fat.
5 large Carrots
3 Stalks of celery
1 large onion
Salt and Pepper to taste.

To his teaching I add

4 leaves of fresh sage.

Grind the fat, crackers, and dry spices finely in a food processor. Decant to mixing bowl. Grind the veg in the food processor quite finely. Add to cracker mixture. Knead it all together so it is well blended, form into logs (its better than bad, its good!) and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Put your foil wrapped logs on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for 75 minutes. Let cool. At this point, I rewrap and freeze so I can use it at my leisure, slicing and frying it up when I'm fixing Shabbos dinner.

Now that that's before you (and recorded here so that I won't be at sea if I lose Rob's sheet), lets have fun with language.

Kishkes is a Yiddish word meaning "guts." Literally. So stuffed Kishke should and did mean a beef intestine stuffed with stuffing. The recipe I give above is a contemporary filling. Earlier, more traditional recipes might have made use of some organ meats, would have used chicken fat (schmaltz) rather than a parve shortening or margarine, etc.

But you will note, from the recipe, that no actual kishkes are used. The thing being stuffed is aluminum foil. One might find Parchment called for instead. This recipe is parve, and can be made Vegan with little effort. And when one speaks of Kishke today this is what one means. 20 years ago, if you ordered Kishke in a deli, you got it stuffed in a beef casing. The casing was the Kishke, and the stuff you actually ate was the stuff you actually ate. Now the Kishke has been cast off, and the word "kishke" has come to refer strictly to the stuffing.

The shift is sufficiently complete that one can get from Empire Poultry a Kishke stuffed-boneless chicken breast (similar in concept to chicken Kiev, but stuffed with, well, kishke instead of fat-n-scallions).

This happens, quite simply, because beef intestine is hard for the consumer to come by, and the product wouldn't be parve if it were, and people tended to regard the stuffing as the point of the dish, so that was the thing that became what the word kishke signified in the culinary sense.

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