Monday, November 30, 2009

Events this week include several movies

Events of Jewish interest this week in NYC include a musical review and limited screenings of several movies.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Internet vices (thanks, Nicholas)

Internet Vices: Illustrator Patrick Moberg compares the most popular social networks with some legal and some controlled substances.

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NYTimes Opinion: two views of a weakened public option

An editorial argues that even a diminished public option expands choices, while Op Ed contributor Paul Starr argues in Fighting the Wrong Health Care Battle that the public option has been so weakened it would be better to trade it for effective regulatory authority to prevent insurers from engaging in abusive practices and subverting the new rules. I wish we could have both, but the senate lacks sufficient votes.

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NYTMag: redefining sexual desire

Two women sexologists find the current definition of desire (an innate urge) too male and are replacing it with a new female definition (receptivity): Women Who Want To Want

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asters in our garden

Asters in our garden 11/29/2009

Asters in our garden 11/29/2009

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RT @dianavilibert on writers (& all artists) needing their life partners to be their biggest fans

A Love Story

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a lot for which to be thankful including everyone who reads this. To all my fellow Americans have a safe and festive Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Surprise! Your Skin Can Hear | LiveScience

We not only hear with our ears, but also through our skin, according to a new study.

The finding, based on experiments in which participants listened to certain syllables while puffs of air hit their skin, suggests our brains take in and integrate information from various senses to build a picture of our surroundings.

Along with other recent work, the research flips the traditional view of how we perceive the world on its head.

"[That's] very different from the more traditional ideas, based on the fact that we have eyes so we think of ourselves as seeing visible information, and we have ears so we think of ourselves as hearing auditory information. That's a little bit misleading," study researcher Bryan Gick of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, told LiveScience.

"A more likely explanation is that we have brains that perceive rather than we have eyes that see and ears that hear."

With such abilities, Gick views humans as "whole-body perceiving machines."

The research, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada and the National Institutes of Health, is detailed in the Nov. 26 issue of the journal Nature.

How we perceive

Gick's work builds on past studies showing, for instance, that we can see sound and hear light, even if we don't consciously realize it. Other studies show if you�observe another person's lips moving and think that other is speaking, your brain's auditory regions would light up, Gick said.

Scientists had explained such sensing prowess as the result of experience, as we see and hear people speaking all the time and so it'd be only natural to learn how to integrate what we see with what we hear.

The alternative would be an innate ability. And so Gick and his colleague Donald Derrick, also of the University of British Columbia, studied two senses that aren't generally paired — auditory and tactile — to figure out the root of perception.

How skin hears

The team focused on aspirated sounds, such as "pa" and "ta" that involve an inaudible burst of air when spoken, as well as unaspirated sounds, such as "ba" and "da."

Blind-folded participants listened to recordings of a male voice saying each of the four syllables and had to press a button to indicate which sound they heard (pa, ta, ba or da). Participants were divided into three groups of 22, with one group hearing the syllables while a puff of air was blown onto their hand, the other had air blown onto the neck, and the control group heard the sounds with no air.

About 10 percent of the time when air was puffed onto the skin, participants mistakenly perceived the unaspirated syllables as being their aspirated equivalents. So when the guy said "ba," such participants would indicate they heard "pa." The control group didn't show such mistaken perceptions.

A follow-up experiment in which participants got a tap on the skin rather than a puff of air showed no such mix-up between aspirated and unaspirated sounds.

Next, Gick is working with scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, to figure out how the brain allows such multi-sense integration.

Our synaesthetic senses; how about that!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

NYTimes: DNA evidence can be fabricated (thanks, symian)

DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

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JTA: What's missing from the Gilo construction coverage

The Gilo announcement—more than just an announcement

Lara Friedman at Americans for Peace Now writes in to correct me about the nature of Israel's Gilo announcement...Lara makes another important point:

I know this may see far down in the weeds but it is important stuff and worth getting right, especially when we are dealing with an issue where people rely mostly on gut impressions (like, "but this is just construction inside Gilo! How can that be a problem?!") rather than facts (like, "this is construction on new ground that expands the footprint of Gilo toward Wallajeh and dovetails with another plan for a huge new settlement straddling the Jerusalem/West Bank line")

This is fundamental: There are plenty of arguments over how to define Gilo and other "new" neighborhoods, but this expansion appears to have little to do with how one defines Jerusalem's borders; it's about spilling over into the West Bank.

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Le Monde: Sarkozy wants to rebury Albert Camus in the Pantheon (merci, @myriam)

Sarkozy souhaite faire entrer Albert Camus au Panthéon

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Events: singles; author talk; meet artist; Ugandan Jews; musical; Maccabi Film Festival

NY Jewish cultural events in the coming weeks include singles events; an author talk; gallery show and meet the artist; a talk by a representative of Uganda's Abadayuda Jewish community; a musical theater work; and the Maccabi Film Festival (Jewish sports movies).

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Healthiest and Unhealthiest States on Yahoo! Health


States in New England top a new set of rankings, while the South still lags. 

If you want to be healthy, live in Vermont--or at least act like you do. It is the healthiest state in the country, according to a new report from the nonprofit United Health Foundation.

The annual ranking looks at 22 indicators of health, including everything from how many children receive recommended vaccinations, to obesity and smoking rates, to cancer deaths. (The foundation is funded by the insurer UnitedHealth Group.)

Vermont ranked first this year thanks in part to its low rate of obesity, high number of doctors and a low rate of child poverty. New England in general sets a benchmark for the country, the report found: All six New England states are in the top 10. These states have favorable demographics and an excellent public health infrastructure, including a large number of doctors per capita.

Eight of the 10 bottom-ranked states are from the south, with Mississippi coming in dead last for the ninth consecutive year. Mississippi has a sky-high death rate from heart disease and high infant mortality. In general, residents of these states are more likely to be smokers or to be obese, the report found. They also have worse health insurance coverage, fewer physicians per capita and live in areas with high violent crime and more child poverty.

UnitedHealth Group Executive Vice President Dr. Reed Tuckson says the report is meant to draw attention to public health issues, particularly the twin challenges of smoking and obesity. While the smoking rate has decreased in the past 20 years, nearly one in five Americans still smoke. More than one-quarter of American adults suffer from obesity, a condition that the report estimated will cost $344 billion in annual health care costs by 2018. "We are about to deliver a tsunami of preventable chronic illness that will come pouring into the medical care delivery system," says Reed.

The Results
Scores for each state are determined by gathering data from a variety of government and nongovernmental databases and then calculating how much each state is better or worse than the national average for each measure. The scores take into account a broad variety of health measures, including rates of infectious diseases, number of preventable hospitalizations and even levels of air pollution.

Christine Finley, the state's deputy commissioner for public health, says Vermont's performance in the rankings reflects its demographics. The state is 96% Caucasian, and research has shown that health outcomes can be worse for racial and ethnic populations as well as those with lower incomes and education levels. It also helps that every pediatrician in Vermont accepts Medicaid and the benefits extend to families who earn up to 300% of the poverty line.

Vermont fell short in some categories. Only 74% of children between 19 and 35 months have received recommended immunizations, compared to a national average of 78%. Vermonters also drink more than most Americans; 18% admit to binge drinking, while the national average is 16%.

For the states with the worst rankings, Dr. Tuckson says the news isn't all bad. Mississippi's child poverty rate decreased by 28% since last year, and its incidence of infectious disease decreased by 36% since 2003. In Louisiana, ranked 47th, preventable hospitalizations decreased by 11% since last year, and the smoking rate is down five percentage points in five years.

5 Healthiest States
1. Vermont
2. Utah
3. Massachusetts
4. Hawaii
5. New Hampshire

Click here for the complete list of The Healthiest and Unhealthiest States

So the red state opponents of health care reform want us to emulate their states?

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Harry Wu to Obama: Summon the Courage | Laogai Research Foundation

Tomorrow morning, President Obama will meet with President Hu Jintao in a series of talks which will set the trajectory of US-Chinese relations for the remainder of his tenure in office.  We applaud the President for beginning his State visit by speaking yesterday in Shanghai concerning religious freedom and freedom of expression.  However, in order to make true progress in the human rights debate with Chinese leaders, the President must fully integrate human rights into the larger discourse concerning our strategic partnership.  

Many in the West have become enamored of the narrative that China is slowly plodding towards political liberalization.  Thus far, the Obama administration’s dealings with China have been in this vein, focusing on issues of so-called “strategic interest,” largely to the exclusion of human rights.  Secretary Clinton went so far as to declare we wouldn’t let human rights, “interfere” with dialogues on issues like global climate change and the financial crisis.  This may be appealing, but in the long run the choice between human rights and strategic interests is a false one.  China’s central government may sign on to global climate initiatives, but local officials will continue jailing journalists for reporting on lead poisoning in children.  Should the US and China reach favorable trade agreements, this does not ensure clarity with regards to the growth rates issued by the Chinese government (7.1% for the first half of 2009 despite falling energy use and tax revenues for the same period). Does it stand to reason that a government that can’t enforce its own domestic environmental regulations will enforce international agreements on the same subject?  Is it sound economic practice to stake our own financial recovery on a state-run economy with murky statistics?  Although conversations on “strategic interests,” may seem relatively simple compared to human rights dialogue, the Obama administration would do well to remember, with China there are no easy issues.   (Read more after the jump)

However, there is one fact about China that remains certain: should the regime’s gross violations of human rights go unchecked by the international community, the abuses will continue.   The Chinese Communist Party’s disregard for human dignity is endemic at all levels. Women who breach the One-Child policy by having a second child, a child out of wedlock, or by neglecting to apply for a birth permit in their first trimester, can be subjected to crippling fines, destruction of their homes, and even forced abortions (as late as nine months) and forced sterilizations.  Roman Catholics, Protestant Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists, among many others,  are unable to practice their religions freely.  

Finally, there is the Laogai system, a network of “re-education through labor” camps where three to five million people currently suffer.   This system is modeled on the Soviet Gulag, but unlike the Gulag, it exists today.  I spent 19 years interred in these camps, and now bear witness to the evils of this system where inmates are forced to labor long hours in unsafe working conditions for no pay, little food, and with abysmal medical care. In a country where the judicial system is in shambles—the use of torture to extract confessions is common, and literally anyone can be imprisoned for up to three years without trial or charge—this system exists as a means of repressing those who stand in opposition to the Communist regime.   

Human rights should not be boxed away, taken out only to make campaign promises.  Indeed, human rights are a matter of life and death the world over, and China is no exception. My story is one among millions. Remember, Mr. President, the names on that prisoner list you have with you are not merely names, but symbols of freedom, people who had the courage to stand against oppression and had no fear of the repercussions. Remember, also, that dozens were detained or placed under house arrest in the days leading up to your arrival; their freedom was taken away simply to ensure that your visit goes smoothly. By bifurcating dialogue on “strategic interests” and human rights, you ignore the crux of the problem in US-China relations and dishonor those who give their freedom for the cause of a better China.  Indeed, a free and fair China is in everyone’s strategic interest.  I ask you, Mr. President, when you meet with leaders in Beijing tomorrow, to summon the courage to ask, “What about human rights?”   

Harry Wu to Obama: Summon the courage to raise the issue of human rights with China's leaders| Laogai Research Foundation (

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Soldiers of Fortune | Newsweek Innovation and Technology

Soldiers of Fortune

How the Israeli Army became the most prolific innovation engine on earth.

Johnathan Torgovnik for Newsweek
Soldier/Civilian: Israeli innovation benefits from the mix.
By Dan Senor and Saul Singer | NEWSWEEK
Published Nov 14, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Nov 23, 2009
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    How does Israel—with fewer people than the state of New Jersey, no natural resources, and hostile nations all around—produce more tech companies listed on the NASDAQ than all of Europe, Japan, South Korea, India, and China combined? How does Israel attract, per person, 30 times as much venture capital as Europe and more than twice the flow to American companies? How does it produce, for its size, the most cutting-edge technology startups in the world?

    There are many components to the answer, but one of the most central and surprising is the Israeli military's role in breaking down hierarchies and—serendipitously—becoming a boot camp for new tech entrepreneurs.

    While students in other countries are preoccupied with deciding which college to attend, Israeli high-school seniors are readying themselves for military service—three years for men, two for women—and jockeying to be chosen by elite units in the Israeli military, known as the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.

    As selective as the top Israeli universities are, certain commando, intelligence, Air Force, and high-tech IDF units are even more so. The prestige of these units makes them the national equivalent of Harvard, Stanford, and MIT for the Israeli tech world. Even outside the elite units, the military experience of Israeli job applicants tells prospective employers what kind of selection process they navigated, and what skills and relevant experience they may already possess.

    For Americans, the idea that military service can be great training for business is surprising. "Innovation" is hardly the first word most people associate with the military. "Improvisation" is even less likely to come to mind. And "flat"—as in anti-hierarchical and informal—would be completely counterintuitive. Yet these are exactly the attributes that employers have come to expect from young people emerging from their stint in the IDF.

    Talk to an Israeli Air Force pilot and you will see why. "If most air forces are designed like a Formula One race car, the Israeli Air Force is a beat-up jeep with a lot of tools in it," one pilot told us. A U.S. Air Force "strike package" often consists of four waves of specialized aircraft: a combat air patrol to clear a corridor of enemy aircraft; a second wave to suppress enemy antiaircraft systems; a third wave of electronic-warfare aircraft, refueling tankers, and radar aircraft; and, finally, the strikers themselves—planes with bombs. In the Israeli system, almost every aircraft is a jack-of-all-trades. "You do it yourself," one pilot noted. "It's not as effective, but it's a hell of a lot more flexible."

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    The IDF's flat hierarchy and an emphasis on individual initiative and improvisation prepare Israelis for success in technology and business.

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    Zeek: Rabbi Jill Hammer on ancient Israelite priestesses (thanks, Jeff)

    Priestesses, Bibliomancy, and The Anointing of Miriam

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    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Life is where plans and improvisation overlap

    planimproviselife I found this on someone's blog. It's the visual equivalent of the John Lennon line "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." The father of improvisational cinema John Cassavetes was fond of saying "Planning is the most evil thing in the world," but that's only true if your plans don't adapt to changing circumstances.

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    Brooklyn rabbinic student becomes first Israeli world boxing champion

    Brooklyn rabbinic student Yuri Foreman became the first Israeli to win a world boxing title Saturday night when he defeated Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico by unanimous decision to take the WBA super welterweight (154 lb. weight class) boxing title.

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    Friday, November 13, 2009

    I got my H1N1 flu shot

    I got my H1N1 flu shot at NYC Dept of Health's clinic in Coney Island this afternoon (the Fort Green clinic ran out of vaccine doses at 8:30 this morning). Once I got there I had to wait for and hour and a half, but private practices don't have it, so I had little choice. I qualify for the shot because of several chronic conditions and brought an MD's letter, but when my turn came all they wanted was my name, date of birth, address, and health insurance card (which they photocopied and returned to me). The antibodies become effective in one to two weeks (just in time for Thanksgiving).

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    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Rainy Day Foliage: The View From Our Front Door

    Rainy Day Foliage, 17th St and Terrace Place, Brooklyn, NY, 11/12/2009


    17th St and Terrace Place, Brooklyn, NY, 11/12/2009



    Rainy Day Foliage, Prospect Ave at Seeley St Bridge, Brooklyn, NY, 11/12/2009


    Prospect Ave at Seeley St Bridge, Brooklyn, NY, 11/12/2009


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    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Tonight: Rabbis for Human Rights and playwrights read from their plays

    The executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights will speak and answer questions followed by two playwrights reading from their politically engaged plays this evening in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. For details read my article.

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    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Flowchart to chose which religion to follow (thanks, BS)

    Jeffrey Goldberg: How to Choose the Best Religion for You

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    Teabaggers attack Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (thanks, Ty)

    Teabaggers attack Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel
    Ugly, ignorant replies to Elie Weisel who criticized a Teabagger protester in Washington, DC this week who held up a sign showing dead bodies from the Dachau concentration camp stacked in a pile, and compared this to the Democrats' health care reform plan.

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    I have Google Wave (thanks, Marilyn)

    I'm not sure what I'll do with it; suggestions?

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    after 6 months a friends' cat finally discovers their HDTV

    One of our friends' cats, Britt, finally noticed the big HDTV that had been lurking in their living room for the past 6 months.  Animal Planet’s broadcast of “Cats 101” sparked her interest: 



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    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Pakistan models defy Taliban with 1st fashion week - Yahoo! News

    I usually find fashion rather shallow but in the context of a cultural conflict with puritanical misogynists who would repress female sexuality and its expression I enthusiastically approve of runway shows and the associated decadence.

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    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    phased out google pages are downgraded to google sites and my websites are less handsome

    Two websites I created with Google Pages have been converted to the more primitive Google Sites resulting in a less professional look:

    my personal website


    I Am My Beloved's

    As an experiment I tried creating a google sites website by copying the html from Shoshana's earthlink website into a google sites template which resulted in this new website.


    Your feedback and suggestions are welcome in the comments section below.

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    Health care bills fail to cover pelvic exams, STI counseling, and contraception (thanks to LBB)

    Where's the Birth Control?

    None of the bills emerging from either the House or the Senate require insurers to cover all of the elements of a basic gynecological "well-woman" visit leaving out essential care such as pelvic exams, STI counseling and - yes - birth control.

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    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    My poetry ebooks are now on BookRix:

    The bio page of JFK: Lines of Fire:


    BookRix makes one chose between a G and X rating, and though Glued To The Sky's content and language are really R rated it gets the following warning:


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