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Thu Feb 16, 2012 at 11:18 AM PST

Dear world: I'm not beaten

by Shaviv

(Written yesterday. I don't have an internet connection at home, so here I am at the library.)
Dear world,

I've come home from my first day of work. I signed on with a temp agency, and I've been sent out to work in a warehouse - unloading product from boxes, tagging it, and reboxing it. My shoulders hurt and my ears are still ringing - I guess I had never been in a modern mechanized warehouse before - but I feel good. I earned money today, doing so honestly and with no false assumptions.

You might think it's silly to remark on it this way, but for the past twenty months, I've had three jobs, each of which lasted about three months before I got dismissed (or, in the one case, fired). When my brother died just two weeks after I got engaged, taking his own life after nearly twenty years of struggle with severe mental illness, it wrecked me. I hated who he had become, because of his sickness, and I had given up hope of ever really seeing the man I knew as my brother again, but among other things... it made the possibility of suicide more real to me. It forced me to question my assumptions about myself and ask if, perhaps, I should also take my own life. I decided not to, but only partially because I'm attached to existence. The rest of it was that I defined myself in terms of how others thought of me.

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Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 10:37 AM PST

Iran is not a nuclear threat, and why

by Shaviv

So there's lots of fuss about how Iran is pursuing development of a nuclear industry, whether it's for the purpose of generating electricity, manufacturing helium and medical radionuclides, manufacturing specialty anti-armor weapons (i.e., depleted uranium shells) or for the purpose of building nuclear weaponry.

There's talk, in the USA and in Israel, possibly in other allied countries, of attacking Iran to halt their progress in refining fuel and doing interesting things with it, whatever those things might be, lest it turn out to be manufacturing nuclear bombs to be used against Israel, ships in the Persian Gulf, whatever.

For many reasons, this would be a bad idea. It's logistically difficult, which raises the likelihood of things going horribly wrong for the attacking force. It's difficult in terms of applying force, because as I understand it, the targets are distributed and well-protected. Plus, Iran has a reasonably well-armed conventional (non-nuclear) military and is strategically placed to retaliate by cutting off shipping through the Gulf. Deliberately provoking them by attacking targets on their soil is essentially asking for a war to break out. You'd have to be stupid, delusional, or flat-out evil.

But here's another thing to consider: Iran is not a nuclear menace to Israel or the USA or Russia or anyone else, really, since nuclear powers don't use nuclear weapons in first strikes.

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[Warning: whining ahead]

I've just been phoned by my boss (who is a family member! Nepotism is awesome!) to tell me I've lost my job (not awesome) due to poor performance, or as she put it, "poor fit" (super-non-awesome). I can't say I've been doing the job well, to be honest - if I were more organized and more focused... but I haven't been able to take the medication that was supposed to help me with that. It's amphetamine, and I can't deal with the obsessive behavior and heart problems that come with it.

Oh well. Shit happens.

My wife and I are planning a move to Maryland, because we can't afford to stay here. We're hoping a 25% cut in rent will help us afford things, but... now that I've lost my job, I don't know if we can actually get the apartment we want. (Cheap, reasonably sized 1br, you know? Nothing outrageous.)

So add that to the stress of packing stuff up to move, plus the fact that this would be the first time I've really moved my place of living outside of this town. (I've gone to college in other places, and had rooms on or near campus, but it isn't the same.)

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Extreme Alert
Civil Emergency in this area until 1:24 PM EST Take Shelter Now U.S. Govern.

If you own an Android phone you may have gotten this message yesterday. For many who did, their screens were locked for a minute or two while displaying this message.

A few hours later, though, Verizon admitted it had screwed up:

"This test message was not clearly identified as a test," Verizon spokesman David Samberg said in an e-mailed statement. "We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused."

Local and state authorities got a large volume of inquiries as to what the hell was going on. Eventually, though, they started to distribute messages like "THERE IS NO EMERGENCY. The 'take shelter' message that Verizon sent IS NOT a VALID message. DO NOT CALL THE POLICE." or, more simply, "CURRENTLY THERE IS NO EMERGENCY!!!"

It all had a happy ending.

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An acquaintance of mine just published a blog rant saying, "The job situation isn't so bad as everyone thinks." Her main argument is as follows: she looked in the classified section of a newspaper mistakenly delivered to her (I understand she isn't able to afford it and therefore doesn't subscribe), and there were tons of jobs being advertised. Therefore, it isn't that there aren't any jobs for all those unemployed people, it's just that employers with good jobs to offer don't want to hire them. Why not, she asks? Because the unemployed people are unemployed. If only the unemployed people would take poor jobs, or do volunteer work or take unpaid internships, they would be able to get good jobs!

I find this logic questionable, to say the least.

I have to say I'm only acquainted with this person through her writing. Reading her fiction work is a guilty pleasure of mine.

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Wed Oct 19, 2011 at 07:48 AM PDT

On Charity: a Jewish perspective

by Shaviv

It isn't going to surprise you, probably, to hear that the Jewish religion - which, apart from standing by itself, also provided inspiration for Christianity and Islam - has rules about charity. When I say "charity" I specifically refer to aid to the poor.

For what it's worth, I am deriving my writing here almost entirely from Kitzur Shulhan Aruch, by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried in 1864. The original Shulhan Aruch was written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in 1563. Kitzur means "abbreviation", so this is in effect the "Abridged Shulhan Aruch". When my wife became Jewish she acquired this book and studied it to understand the laws and customs that, if she were to adhere fully and totally to all the rules, she would be required to follow. (Fun fact: virtually no adherent of any religion obeys all the rules to the letter, no matter how observant he claims to be.)

But I get beyond the topic here, which was charity. The basic concept of charity is laid out in the Bible - one should donate a portion of his wealth to the public good, whether tithing for the poor, tithing for the priests (members of the hereditary priesthood did not own land, and those who weren't scheduled for priestly duties were expected to teach for a living) or leaving a portion of one's fields unharvested for the use of the needy, or any other means. But there's more to it than just that.

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Fri May 27, 2011 at 09:47 AM PDT

"My son, my son, Absalom..."

by Shaviv

It was almost a year ago that I got the phone call from my fiancee (now my wife). I hadn't woken up to the earlier phone call. So I said a sleepy "Hello, dear."

"Honey, it's Jon. He was found dead..."

I didn't really hear the rest of what she had to say. I collapsed, swearing and sobbing.

I later checked my voicemail, and found the same message from my younger brother. He had been found dead in the park, near the railroad trestle. We didn't know then whether he had jumped or been pushed, although we strongly suspected the former. He'd hit the ground hard enough to destroy his legs and spine. The forensic inspection showed he had probably died, if not instantly, at most a few seconds afterward. Chronically struggling with schizophrenia, depression, and unresolved issues of sexuality, I think he had finally decided that he'd had enough and wanted to quit. And so he did.

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Other diarists have covered earlier steps in the Passover seder. I'm not going to spend too much time on them, except to point out that seder literally means "order" - the nature of this dinner gathering is that it is ordered and structured and scheduled in a particular way, never mind the ordinary chaos that comes from planning such an event with human beings involved.

Anyway, I am here to describe the parts of the Passover feast that actually relate to, you know, food. It starts with Rochtzah, the second washing of hands - this time with a blessing.

A note on transliteration: it's idiosyncratic and I apologize if there are inconsistencies or it gives you a headache.

Elders of Zion is a general Jewish interest group, open to anyone who wants to learn about Jews and Judaism.  The group was created in order to facilitate such a space.  Discussion of and questions about Jewish religion, ethnicity, history, culture, language, cuisine, music, literature, and identity are encouraged.  Please keep this purpose in mind when commenting in our diaries.  Antisemitism, diary hijacking, and I/P pie fights will not be tolerated and will be troll rated.  For more information, see the inaugural diary.
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We're hearing a lot about releases of radiation these days. The nuclear power station at Fukushima Daiichi is releasing radiation. Radiation has been found in Japanese milk, spinach, seawater, etc. Nuclear technicians wear those white or pastel-colored papery body-suits to protect themselves from radiation. Living near a coal-fired power station exposes you to radiation. And so on and so on.

The problem is, when the word "radiation" is used like this (as it is, colloquially and in news reporting) it interferes with understanding of what is going on inside the power station. So radiation is being released - but that doesn't tell us the danger, that doesn't tell us what's causing the problem, that doesn't tell us how far away people should be before they feel safe.

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Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 09:50 AM PST

Bring on the white hats!

by Shaviv

Back in 2001, the morning of September the 11th, my friends and I were in class. The instructor was, naturally, trying to get us to focus on our studies. We, of course, were trying to focus on events just a few miles away in Manhattan.

I believe that, at this time, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 had just come out. It's an alternate-history-themed wargame. Numerous challenges in the game involved deploying defensive weapons (like Patriot missile batteries) around national monuments, to prevent them from being destroyed.

Around lunchtime, shortly before the rest of the day's classes were canceled and we were all sent home, one of these friends turned toward us as a group and said, only half jokingly, "Maybe, before you become president or anything, you should have to play through a game of Red Alert 2. That'll teach them to defend national sites with AA guns and Patriot missiles."

Sure, it sounds like a joke. But still...

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Carl Paladino has the solution for unemployment and homelessness in the state of New York! He's going to "borrow", although one might also say "kidnap and corrupt", the idea of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal. As the New York Daily News website puts it:

Paladino's plan would convert empty and underutilized prisons into centers where those on welfare and unemployment insurance can receive job training, state-sponsored work, housing and lessons in "personal hygiene."

It's the solution for everything! Ship undesireables off to pris-- sorry, ah, education centers, where they can be taught to... what? Take showers properly? That's frankly quite creepy, to this Jewish kid. "Come to this secluded location, please. And step into this shower."

Who benefits from this? Not sure, given how vague Paladino et al.'s plans on the matter have been. I wonder if it'll be private contractors...! And who's paying for this? Taxpayers. The taxpayers that Paladino is always saying he's looking out for.

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Thu Oct 28, 2010 at 07:32 AM PDT

It's about self-interest.

by Shaviv

Back in the day, popular legend* tells us, individuals and tribes in nomadic Arab culture might've fought hard and fought dirty to resolve their conflicts; but one rule they considered sacred, and it was "Never poison the wells". Anyone who violated that command, in one version of this legend, would be killed on sight if he was caught doing it.

And so it is today, almost. If you were caught dumping poison into the water, you would be hauled before a judge, tried, probably convicted, and sent to jail. Just like that. Even if you had a few people helping you - they might end up in jail with you, that's the only difference.

( * A strikingly untrustworthy source )

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