Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jewish Jews and Irish Catholics

It is a generally accepted fact that Judaism is both a culture and a religion. This, of course, raises a host of issues. Where does Judaism as a religion end and Judaism as a culture begin? Is Judaism a racist religion? (This is a more complicated issue then traditional apologetics would indicate.) What should be the attitude of religious Jews to those Jews who do not practice Judaism at all or not to the extent deemed suitable by the individual? Who is a Jew? In what sense should Israel be a Jewish state and who should be eligible for the law of return?
I would suggest that these issues have less to do with Judaism in of itself, as a religion or as a culture, and is more a matter of linguistics and the fact that we lack large scale examples of the Jewish religion being practiced in the absence of Jewish culture. We do not have different words for being Jewish (cultural) and being Jewish (religion). This creates an ambiguity every time one uses the word Jew. Furthermore, since we do not have many non-cultural Jews practicing Judaism (People who convert to the Jewish religion tend to take on Jewish culture as well.) we simply take it as a given that practicing Judaism means being culturally Jewish as well. This needlessly confuses the issue and creates problems where none should exist.
Take the Irish for example. The Irish are a distinct cultural group. They have their own country (Ireland), they have their own language (Gaelic), and they have added their fair share of artists, poets, musicians, revolutionaries, scientists and intellectuals to the cause of Civilization. The Irish have their own history of being persecuted both within their homeland, at the hands of the British, and in this country. Today there are millions of Irishmen who do not live in Ireland but live in the Irish "Diaspora" in such places as Boston, New York City and Chicago. In addition to Irish culture, there is an Irish religion, Catholicism. Catholicism plays an important role in Irish history and one can even talk about Irish-Catholicism as a distinct school of thought. An Irishman's approach to Catholicism is not the same as a Spaniard's or an Italian's approach to Catholicism. And many of these differences come out of the distinct Irish experience. For example, Irish Catholicism has traditionally lacked the hostility to nationalism found in other Catholic countries. On the contrary, Irish Catholicism has always been strongly nationalistic. The reason for this was that Irish nationalism was a Catholic movement fighting against the Protestant English. Nationalism in France, Spain, and Italy, in contrast, was a secular movement that fought against the Catholic Church.
While Catholicism plays an important role in Irish culture, being Irish is clearly distinct from being Catholic and even from being Irish Catholic. There are Irish Protestants, Irish Muslims, Irish Buddhists, Irish Jews, and Irish Atheists. No one is going to object to an Irish Catholic telling an Irish Buddhist that he is not an Irish Catholic. This is a fairly simple issue not because Irish Catholicism is so different from the Jewish religion, but because we are used to thinking of Catholicism as something distinct from being Irish. We use two different words to describe Irishmen and Catholics and we are used to thinking about Catholicism outside of the context of Irish culture. The vast majority of Catholics are not Irish.
Since the largest concentration of Irishmen live in Ireland, it is perfectly reasonable for one to look at Ireland as the Irish homeland. It is perfectly reasonable for the government of Ireland to see itself as the protector of Irish culture and of Irishmen throughout the world. If the Irish government chose to offer citizenship to all those of Irish descent and they included non-Catholic Irishmen or people who only had Irish fathers no one would say that the Irish government is threatening Catholicism. Ireland is a secular, democratic country that happens to be 90% Catholic and has the highest per capita rate of church attendance in the Western world. The government is not a Catholic theocracy and it does not exist to advance the cause of Catholicism. Irish Catholics are free to be as Catholic as they wish. They do not have to marry non-Catholics or let them into their churches. The government is free to advance the cause of Irish culture and none of this has to have anything to do with Catholicism.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Camping for Haredi Christians

During Tisha B'Av afternoon, I watched a documentary titled Jesus Camp. It was about a Christian fundamentalist summer camp. It was a scary film. You get to see kids being indoctrinated to reject evolution, global warming, and Harry Potter. These kids were being trained to missionize their friends and neighbors. You could just see, and this was the film's main point, an army of future Republican foot soldiers ready to go out and fight to ban abortion, put prayer back in public schools, nominate conservative judges and make this a "Christian" country.
I admit that this film scared me and made me uncomfortable, which was is what this film was supposed to do. But here is the difficult issue. What was it about the people in the film that bothered me? Was it that they are trying to turn this country into a theocracy or was it that their beliefs were so opposed to mine?
An atheist friend of mine, a while back, made the argument that the university allowing a group of anti-abortion protesters onto the campus violated the first amendment since these protesters were clearly Christians. His thinking was that because these people opposed abortion for religious reasons they were attempting to overthrow the separation between Church and State. I countered that if we were to follow through with his thinking then it would be almost impossible for a religious person to take an active role in politics. Religion tends to affect how you handle just about any issue in your life. In my mind, there is a difference between making a law that bans abortion and a law that says that people must go to church on Sundays. Abortion in of itself has nothing to do with advancing the cause of religion. It is quite plausible for one to be an atheist and still believe that abortion is murder and it is plausible for one to be a theist and be pro-choice.
To go back to our Christian summer camp, is there a difference between Christians seeking to be politically active as Christians and Christians seeking to create a theocracy. I admit that the line between these two is blurry nevertheless I believe that it is very real.
Saying that these people are out to create a theocracy is the easy way out. It means that you can force them out of the political arena and everyone will be protected from their "wrong" ideas. You have to ask yourself what are these people doing to force people to believe like they do? Unlike the kids in Palestinian summer camps, these kids are not being trained to use firearms or to kill unbelievers. What is the worst that they can do to me? Walk over to me and ask me if I believe in Jesus. Maybe they will succeed in putting prayer back in public schools and outlawing abortion. I may oppose such things but such policies do not interfere with my ability to live as a Jew and raise my kids as Jews. Living in a free society means having to put up with people whose ideas make you uncomfortable.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mourning the Destruction of the Temple

The afternoon is ticking bye and, in a few hours, it will all be over. I have a difficult relationship with the fast of Tisha B’Av. We are mourning the destruction of the Temple but what do we wish to accomplish? Are we hoping to rebuild the Temple? I have not bothered to go watch the Chofetz Chaim video presentation as it is the same every year. If we work on our smirat ha-lashon and some other flavor of the week issue then this horrible golus will soon be over and we can go back to those good old days. This may sound heretical but I have no particular desire to restore the Temple and those good old days. For one thing, as anyone who has bothered to read the Bible, the book of Maccabees and Josephus knows, the Temple periods were a mess. So we have no good old days to go back to. Of course, Haredim have the advantage of being able to ignore the Bible, Jewish History along with any other inconvenient body of information.
It is funny how all the talk is focused on the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E. We always hear how we have been in golus for two thousand years. But what about the First Temple? As someone who loves the work of Isaac Abarbanel, this is particularly disturbing. Abarbanel was constantly arguing that the important destruction was the First Temple and that the Second Temple was of little to no importance. As such, we have been in golus for over 2500 years. This was important to Abarbanel because he had to argue against Christians who claimed that the promise to redeem the Jews was fulfilled with the Second Temple. Our focus on the Second Temple makes no theological sense.
Above all that though is the fact that I have no interest in animal sacrifice. I cannot imagine getting any sort of spiritual fulfillment out of it. People in biblical times may have been able to appreciate animal sacrifices and felt closer to God by doing so. I find Tehillim, classical music, and Heschel to be spiritually fulfilling. Killing animals no. Imagine if next Thursday you were to come into shul and after the reading of the Torah they would bring in a bull, slaughter it, and sprinkle its blood over the bimah. I would have a much easier time imagining services with strippers dancing around a pole, a mosh pit, and kegs of beer making me feel closer to God. Maybe our idol-worshipping ancestors back in those “good old days” were on to something.
Truth is, as a Maimonidean, I am free to believe that sacrifice is a less than ideal way to serve God and that in the future we are going to get rid of it. Of course, this Maimonidean side to me makes it all the more difficult for me to stomach speeches about how Moshiach is going to solve all our problems and that everything is going to be wonderful. When Moshiach comes life is going to continue as normal with all the normal human problems. Call me cynical but I have complete faith in today’s Jewry to have all the necessary sinat hinam that made the Second Temple so much fun. If only God would give us a Temple. I just cannot wait.
I suspect that even the most rabid Haredim understand this. My proof is that we have not tried to rebuild the Temple. The notion that we need Moshiach to rebuild the Temple as a lie. If we could come to a halachic decision as to where the altar and the kodosh ha’kodoshim are supposed to be, found ourselves a red heifer and a pure kohen then we can rebuild the Temple tomorrow. The fact that the Temple Mount movement has failed to become mainstream within Orthodox Judaism shows us that most Orthodox Jews today have no real interest in bringing back a sacrificial cult. Jewish theology has restructured itself and moved on.
I am going to wake up tomorrow to study and do as many mitzvoth as I can. I am a soldier in Hashem’s army and I will do my duty. Let Hashem worry about Moshiach and the end of days.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Final Goodbye to Harry Potter

I finished reading Deathly Hallows and am now coming to terms with the fact that this is the end. I feel personally indebted to J. K. Rowling for all the good times she has given me over the years. I got into the series when I was sixteen back in January of 2000. I waited along with millions of others for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire. I endured three years waiting for Order of the Phoenix and another two years for the Half-Blood Prince. Now, after waiting seven and a half years, the story has been told and it has run its course. Voldemort has been defeated and the survivors (the bodies do pile up in this book) go on to build new lives for themselves. As a final chapter, Rowling sticks in an epilogue taking place nineteen years down the road in which some of our favorite, and not so favorite, surviving Hogwarts students are now parents themselves taking their children to King's Cross station 9 3/4 to catch the train to Hogwarts.

I could not think of a more definitive way to end the series, barring going Dr. Strangelove on people. (Speaking of Dr. Strangelove, I would imagine he would particularly approve of Wormtail's fate.) The world has moved on and it is now time for a new generation of children to experience Hogwarts. The story of Harry, Ron, and Hermione is finished. The only purpose to be served by writing more Harry Potter adventures would be for the author to make more money. Not that I have a problem with authors making money. Rowling deserves every penny she has earned. The problem is that writing for the bottom line is seldom going to put out books that authors and fans of a series can be proud of. Look at Brian Jacques' Redwall series. I truly wish that it ended after six books. Instead, Jacques has simply told the same stories over and over again pouring out pale imitations of his first books. (I do recommend his early books though.) While there is nothing further to do with Harry, the wizarding world is a rich one and I for one would love to still explore it if the story is right. I am not sure though what kind of story would work. It would be tempting to do prequels about James Potter at Hogwarts. The problem though is that we already know the story of James Potter and his friends. Furthermore, such stories would lack a Voldemort to keep some purpose to the stories. Without Voldemort the stories would simply be repeats of the first two Potter books; kids at school getting into and dodging trouble.

In truth, I was always much more interested in the wizarding world itself than I was with Harry. In a sense, my biggest disappointment of the final four books was that Rowling did not do more with Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. The story remained firmly about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I suspect though that Rowling may have done the right thing. Part of the charm of unexplored horizons is that they remain unexplored as unrequited desires.

I would never claim that Harry Potter is the greatest series of books ever written. If one wishes to put them under a critical lens one can find plenty to attack. If you doubt me read Prof. Harold Bloom. That being said, I have never had so much fun reading a series of books as I have had with Potter. I do not even know why this is the case, it defies logical analysis. I suspect people will be debating this issue for decades. What made Potter so special? There are plenty of fantasy writers out there who on the surface would seem to be as talented or even more so than Rowling. Take authors like Garth Nix (Abhorsen Trilogy and Keys to the Kingdom) and Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials) for example. They both deal with similar types of material to what you find in Rowling and, on technical grounds, one can make a pretty good case that they are stronger writers than her. Neither of them has sold 300 million copies. They have written some great books, which I enjoyed immensely, but neither of them ever grabbed me the way that Potter's universe did.

Goodbye Harry and Thank You, J. K. Rowling.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yeshiva Hogwarts: Why Wizards are Really Haredim

The wizarding world of Harry Potter, incredibly enough, is a lot like the Haredi world. To the extent that if you are not paying close attention you might easily confuse the two.

1. Wizards and Haredim both live in isolated communities, rejecting the modern world around them. They do this despite the fact that they often live in close physical proximity to some of the major cultural centers of the surrounding society.
2. They have their own legal systems handling the full life cycle of issues to the extent that it is expected that one would go from birth to death without making any recourse to the legal system of the outside world.
3. These communities have their own newspapers which focus on what is going on in the community while ignoring the outside world around them.
4. These communities have well-developed entertainment industries, particularly in regards to music, so that members of these communities usually know little about the popular entertainment culture.
5. Both groups send their children to special schools that focus on subjects of interest to themselves but not people outside their communities.
6. Neither of their school systems have much use for math, science or literature. As a result graduates of these school systems do not have the equivalent of a high school diploma.
7. On a good day members of these communities dress as if they were living in the nineteenth century. Other times one would think they had gone all the way back to the Middle-Ages.
8. Most of the men sport long unkempt beards.
9. These are both very bookish cultures, particularly for large volumes of arcane knowledge.
10. Neither of these groups seems to have much use for movies and television. Radio seems to be the furthest they go.

This raises an interesting issue as to the nature of the wizarding world. We know why Haredim live as they do. They view the outside world as a cultural and theological menace to themselves and believe that the only way to preserve their way of life is to isolate themselves as much as possible. Why does the wizarding world isolate itself? Most wizards are unable to operate within the Muggle world. Even Arthur Weasley, who studies Muggles as a hobby, has trouble with basic things like handling money. We are told by Hagrid, back in the Philosopher’s Stone, that the Muggles needed to be kept unaware of the existence of the wizarding world because if people knew about magic they would constantly bother wizards to solve their problems for them instead of handling it themselves. This though does not explain why wizards, for the most part, do not live as Muggles. The wizarding world does not seem to have any special beliefs unique to themselves. They do not appear to have any formal religion. What purpose is served by them going off and living as their own society? This something that J.K Rowling has never explained.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Name of the Wind

I happen to be a very big fan of Orson Scott Card's books, particularly Ender's Game and the two series of books that it spawned. He regularly publishes reviews on various things of interest on his website http://www.hatrack.com/. I enjoy his take on things and take his recommendations very seriously and with very good cause. You can blame him for making me a Browncoat. He said that Firefly was the greatest piece of science-fiction ever to hit the screen and I took him up on it. It was also due to his recommendation that I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Sure enough Jonathan Strange was every bit as good Card said it was. This brings us to Name of the Wind, part one of the perspective King Killer Trilogy, by Patrick Rothfuss. And again I can only echo Card in proclaiming this to be one of the best things to hit fantasy as of late. (Lets leave off the discussion of a certain book to be published July 21.)
Name of the Wind shares certain similarities to Jonathan Strange and I suspect they will appeal to the same crowd. They have very academic senses of humor. Academic, not in the prissy sense, but more in terms of satirizing academia. These are both very atypical works of fantasy in that in both of them the fantasy element almost becomes incidental. A reader could very easily forget that he is reading fantasy. (Jonathan Strange in fact won the Hugo Award for best science-fiction in 2005.) While both of these books deal with the study of magic, they approach magic from an almost science-fiction like perspective. These books are both, above anything else, centered around the creation of well drawn characters. In terms of character these books can hold their own with anything from any genre of literature. One cannot read these books and say that the genre of fantasy has no place as high literature.
Rothfuss is in a very selective league of sword and sorcery fantasy authors in that he has learned all the right lessons from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. This book is not about dark lords, major quests and apocalyptic battles or about wizards and dragons. (There is a dragon in the book but it is more of a dinosaur like creature than a mythological one.) Rothfuss though, probably better then anyone besides for Tolkien, offers that sense of unexplored horizons. The world of Name of the Wind has very rich mythology which Rothfuss only gives glimpses of.
As to what this story is about. I will not be able to do it proper justice and what I say will fail to properly capture the spirit of the book. It is the life story of Kvothe, a famous hero now living under an assumed name in a small village, being told to over a three day span to a chronicler who tracked Kvothe down. Name of the Wind is day one. It covers his childhood as a member of a traveling theater group, how he was orphaned and came to live on the streets and his teenage years studying magic at the university. (I know what you are thinking orphan boy who goes to study magic, sounds like Potter. This is a very different sort book from Potter. Kvothe is not Harry and the University is not Hogwarts.) So far this book has set up an incredible love story which I assume is going to end tragically. It has some great action and a wonderful sense of humor about itself. But above everything else I love these characters and I cannot wait to get more of them.
Since I will not have Potter to be waiting for in another few days its nice to know that I will have another book that I will have to count the days until publication for.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Abarbanel on the Parsha: Maatos

In this week's parsha we read about (Numbers 31:1-13) the war with the Midianites over the fact that they sent their women to seduce the children of Israel and to get them to worship Baal Peor. The famous question about this episode is why did God not also command Moshe to fight against Moab for their role in the Baal Peor incident and for hiring Bilaam.
Abarbanel makes the argument that contrary to the plain meaning of the text, Moab was not involved with the Baal Peor incident. Baalak, the king of Moab, having seen that his efforts to have Bilaam curse the children of Israel had failed, went home in peace and decided not to engage in any further action against the Jewish people. Bilaam though decided to continue the campaign on his own and got the Midianites to go after the children of Israel. In order to protect themselves though, the Midianites pretended that they were Moabites.
For me the idea that Baalak abandoned his campaign against the children of Israel is interesting as it is an example of how we do not always have to battle our enemies to the death. Our enemies are not always Satanic beings determined to fight us to the end but are rational human beings willing to make peace if it is in their interest to do so. Then again though their are some enemies who hate us beyond reason and who will continue to fight us to either we are dead or they are.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter’s Army

I went to see Order of the Phoenix today. There are certain advantages to being friends with the Minister of Magic. You get to see certain movies two days before all the regular muggles. In addition, being friends with the Ministry and its agents, as this film amply demonstrates, is good for the continued health of your hands. So let me raise my hand in salute to Imelda Staunton for playing what is most probably the freakiest villainess in a pink cardigan. We must have order and one must respect those in authority particularly if they have nice little smiles and nice little tittering laughs. One of the main weaknesses of the previous films has been that they rested completely on the shoulders of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. This was a task that, particularly in the first two films, proved to be more then they could handle. (Though they certainly have improved with age.) This was particularly frustrating considering all the talent that was being left to rot in glorified cameo roles. This is the first film in the series in which one of the adults gets to really grab the limelight.

I was pleasantly surprised by Luna Lovegood. I had assumed that, considering the fact that we are dealing with an 870 page book condensed into a two hour film, she would be all but completely removed from the film. A true pity as I happen to love her character. Not only is Luna a major character in the film, with a role almost on par with Ron and Hermione, but they even created two scenes, not from the book, with Harry talking to Luna. Evanna Lynch, with her dreamy voice, captures the role perfectly. She is one kid to come out of Harry Potter so far whom I would really be interested in seeing in post-Potter roles. I would have also loved to have gotten more of Tonks, but that was not to be. Natalia Tena though does a good job with the little that she is given.
The fight at the ministry was brilliantly conceived. I was disappointed though by dual between Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort. The film does not have the statues coming to life to fight Voldemort. Another thing that annoyed me was Grawp. I did not really care too much for him in the books, but in the film he looks like the guy from MAD.

All in all this is the best of the films so far. Oh well ten days to go before Deathly Hollows and I sure am all Pottered up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Response to a Critic of my Aspie Posts II

I admit that I have very mixed feelings in regard to the issue of Aspie rights and tolerance toward Aspies. I feel like a Democrat who denounces Republican tax cuts but then insists on getting his refund. There is nothing unreasonable about this. You may believe that such tax cuts are a mistake and even an absolute disaster but if they are being given out then what is wrong with getting on line and demanding your share. I oppose multiculturalism and diversity at least how they are practiced by the left today. I believe in protecting people’s physical well being. I do not care if people’s feelings get hurt or if they do not feel validated by the rest of society. The very notion that people should be protected from the emotional trauma of being exposed to beliefs they oppose strikes me as a mortal threat to the free society. If race, skin color and sexual orientation really do not matter then they should not matter. If no one can suffer for these things then no one should benefit from them either. If society is allowed to give benefits to people for these things then they should also be allowed to discriminate against those same people. For me, a free society is one in which everyone can say offensive things to everyone else and everyone has to learn to be tolerant of everyone else.
Of course, once we are going to be playing the diversity game then I want to get every possible benefit. If the government, schools, and businesses are, in the name of diversity, going to give certain preferences to people because of their race, skin color or sexual orientation and do everything to make them feel validated then I want those same preferences and validation for the type of diversity I bring. I am an Aspie I have my own unique perspective, therefore, I should be given preferences and made to feel validated.
I am not some sort of Aspie radical. I do not believe that Aspies should be allowed to do whatever they want without any societal interference. Man is a political animal, we are not autonomous beings living on desert islands. This applies to Aspies and to everyone else. Many people may find Aspie behavior offensive and I am not saying they are wrong. Many people may find homosexual behavior to be offensive and I am not saying that they are wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes. When you say that Aspies have to listen to what other people tell them how are you different than the people who say that homosexuals have to listen to what other people tell them.

On a side note. I admit that I often lack due diligence in regards to my grammar. Feel free to point out any mistakes that I make.

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Response to a Critic of my Aspie Posts I

Your sense of humor is remarkable. The following is a quote from your tongue in cheek essay."Anyone who uses the term “Asperger Syndrome” should be viewed as a bigot. They are implying that my state of being is somehow less than completely human and are robbing me of my humanity. Any attempt on the part of the psychiatric community to “cure” us or make us less Aspie like should be viewed as Nazism. Furthermore, society should be made to be more tolerant of us Aspies. We should not have to act in a less Aspie fashion."

You have taken me out of context. What I tried to do with these two pieces on Asperger Syndrome was to take the same logic used by the Gay rights movement and apply it to “Aspie rights.” I believe that the arguments used presently by the Gay rights movement, particularly the notion that homosexuality is a state of being and that any opposition to a homosexual act is, therefore, a denial of being and therefore bigotry, to be fallacious. I have therefore offered a reductio ad absurdum argument against this belief.
I am a supporter of Gay rights simply on libertarian grounds. I believe in keeping the government out of people’s bedrooms. A person should be able to sleep with another consenting person without the government’s interference. (I suspect that I am far more consistent in this belief than most people on the cultural left, but this can be something for another time.) The limitation of the libertarian argument though is that it does not extend outside of the government into society. The same government which I want kept out of people sex lives I also want kept out of people’s religious taboos and their petty likes and dislikes. People have the right to follow religions that ban certain actions and they have the right to find certain types of behavior repellent. They may not have the right to enforce those beliefs on others, but, on the other hand, they have the freedom of association to choose to have or not have dealings with such people and they do not have to give them jobs.
People should be free to follow religions that say that homosexuality is a sinful act. They should be free to find homosexual behavior abhorrent. While I have no intention of allowing our government to be turned into an anti-homosexual theocracy, I have no intention of making social conservatives like homosexuals or give them jobs. If someone does not want to give a homosexual a job then that is his concern. By the same token, no one has to like Aspies or give them jobs. If you find me annoying then you are free to openly dislike me. If you so happen to be on the hiring committee at a university to which I seek employment feel free to reject me.
Ultimately I think we are in agreement that it is my obligation to adapt to society; society does not have to adapt to me. In the future, when I have to go in for a job interview I will do my best to make sure that my clothes do match and that my shirt is tucked in. All the years of my mother prodding have to be good for something.

More to follow …

Thursday, July 5, 2007

All the Worlds a Stage in Which the Men are Mere Puppets of the Women Around Them: A Book Review of the Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

The Constant Princess tells the story of Catherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and wify number one of Henry VIII. (This is the wife which Henry had to make his own church in order to divorce her.) Catherine definitely had an interesting life story and in the hands of a more capable writer, this could have been a worthwhile book. She was originally betrothed to Henry’s older brother Arthur. Soon after she arrived from Spain though, Arthur, one fine day, suddenly dropped dead. (This tended to happen a lot in premodern Europe.) So what to do with this sixteen-year-old Spanish princess sitting in your kingdom with a fat dowry attached to her? Well Henry VII, using impeccable medieval political logic, decided to not send her home and instead decided to have her marry Arthur’s little brother Henry, who was six years younger than her. This required special papal dispensation from the Pope. This becomes important later on because when Henry VIII tried to divorce her he argued that he should have never been given the dispensation to marry Catherine in the first place. (Henry VIII can serve as a wonderful model to us Jews as to how to shop for heterim. I ask my Rav for a heter to marry my brother’s wife. Then I ask the Rav to say that he never should have given me the heter in the first place and that I am free to marry my pregnant mistress. When the Rav refuses to give me the heter to annul his earlier heter, I simply form my own shul make myself my own Rav and give myself all the heterim I want.)
The problem with this book is that it is a feminist fruvel (frum novel). As with Jewish fruvels, all pretenses of plot, narrative, and character are sacrificed for one very noble goal, the declaration of the superiority of the given group over everyone else. In this case, the group in question are women. The whole book is premised on the notion that men are stupid, lecherous and easily manipulated, particularly if they are European, white and Christian. It is the women who are in control of everything. Isabella is the ruler of Castile and Aragon and the commander in chief of its armies. Ferdinand is that nice boy who helps out mainly by staying out of the way. Henry VII is a smelly, patriarchal barbarian who has to constantly fight to suppress the overwhelming desire to rape his daughter in law. The court is run by his mother Margaret, who we are told, placed Henry VII on the throne and for all intents and purposes is the ruler of England. Margaret is a villain of sorts in this story in that she is the primary adversary of Catherine through much of the book but this is also in keeping with the book’s ideology. In this matriarchal world in which men are in essence incapable of putting on their own trousers without some women’s help, it only makes sense that Catherine’s main adversary would be a woman; a man would not have the necessary control over his own circumstances to qualify as a decent villain. The most positive male character in the entire book is Arthur and his main virtues are that he agrees with Catherine that England is completely uncivilized and that he promises to implement all of Catherine’s proposed reforms and make England a more enlightened place. Even he is incapable of having an independent thought. Arthur and Catherine are lovers but when Arthur dies Catherine, acting upon Arthur's dying wish, claims that the marriage was never consummated and that she is still a virgin. Henry VIII is an arrogant clod whose only real talents seem to be jousting and archery. He is incapable of doing anything right and leaves the kingdom to Catherine's very capable hands.
The climax of the book is when Catherine saves England from Scotland. She does this by getting Henry VIII to participate in a campaign against the French. With Henry safely out of the way, Catherine personally leads the English army to war against the Scots and single-handedly crushes them at the battle of Flodden.
I have no objection to writings books with strong female characters that are in control over their own destiny. The moment one starts to write a book simply for the purpose of having strong female characters one has stopped writing literature and has started to write propaganda.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

I am an Aspie and Proud of it II

I wrote the previous article on Asperger Syndrome with a heavy dose of tongue in cheek. I do not see Aspies as a persecuted group, but I also do not see homosexuals as a persecuted group. Aspies and homosexuals are simply two groups of people who are seen by many, in the general society, as being deviant. Because of this, people in these groups find themselves alienated from the rest of society and subjected to societal pressure to conform.
When I wrote the previous article I did not believe that there were people with real prejudices against those with Asperger Syndrome. A comment posted on that article has proven me wrong. Just goes to teach you: be careful what you joke about, it may be serious.
To respond to some of the comments made:
"Gays can and do sometimes behave in ways that make it impossible to detect that they are gay. If someone objects to them because they are gay, that can be seen as bigotry. Aspies often behave in socially inappropriate ways. For someone to object to their behavior is not bigotry. Anyone can find someone else to be boring, rude or annoying. Given the choice, most employers would choose an employee who is not annoying."
Well, imagine this scenario. The history department at Ohio State is interviewing candidates for a teaching position. A male applicant comes in wearing an earring, and a pink shirt and to top everything off he constantly uses the word "fabulous." What would happen if a professor on the hiring committee were to comment that it would not be appropriate for such a prestigious institution as Ohio State to hire someone who dressed in such an "uncivilized" manner and behaved in such an "unacademic" manner? That professor would be crucified on the spot as a homophobe. Now I come in as the next candidate wearing clothes that do not match and with my shirt half untucked. If a member of the committee were to suggest that such a mode of dress is not befitting for a professor at Ohio State, that person would not be accused of being bigoted against Aspies even if it were known that I did have Asperger Syndrome. In fact, as things stand now, someone can decide that my having Asperger Syndrome in of itself makes me unfit to be a college professor.
Now in the case of the homosexual, by coming dressed as he did, he was making a political and ideological statement. Any member of the committee who does not share those beliefs should, therefore, be justified in turning this candidate down. Would anyone scream bigotry if a Structuralist member of a committee turned down a Poststructuralist candidate? In my case, when I wear clothes that do not match and have my shirt half untucked it is not because I am making some sort of political or ideological statement. The way my mind is structured is that I do not care if my clothes match or if my shirt is tucked in. I have far more important things to think about and it is likely that I will not notice how I am dressed unless someone points it out to me. So when someone objects to how I dress they are attacking my being. The way I dress has no bearing on my ability to teach history. The fact that my mode of dress bothers you is simply a sign that you are a "close-minded bigot," who is not willing to tolerate alternative modes of dress.

"Your tirade is itself a symptom of Aspergers Syndrome. Your brain works in a way that makes you believe that you can pronounce your extreme views and get others to change to your way of thinking. See if you have any luck with it over the next several decades. The world doesn't need more teachers who are aspies. It needs more aspies to listen to the sound advice of others. Consider, at least once in a while, that maybe the rest of the world is correct and that you are wrong."

There are tens of not hundreds of thousands of blogs out being written by people who have "extreme" views and who wish to get others to "change" their way of thinking. To the best of my knowledge, most of these people do not have Asperger Syndrome. Why is it simply Aspies who have to sit down and listen to what everyone else has to say? We are human beings too and we have the right to our own opinions. We are a part of the fabric of society, which we enrich by being ourselves. I question and challenge myself all the time. I firmly believe that I am capable of being wrong. This is one of the reasons why I speak out. I want someone to point out the flaws in my reasoning.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Coming Out of the Closet: I am an Aspie and Proud of It.

I have a condition known as Asperger Syndrome. It’s a type of low level, high functioning autism. I see the world from a very different perspective than that of most people and process information differently. Because of this, despite the fact that I am, by most accounts, very smart and working on a Ph.D. in History, I have trouble dealing with social situations. I tend not to be able to pick up on body language and other sorts of social cues that others take for granted. Alternatively one could say that there is nothing wrong with my social skills. I am simply someone who operates on a different but completely equal plane of thought. I imagine that if most of the world were Aspies then we would label all non-Aspies as being socially awkward.
There is another group of people who live their lives in ways that many people would find odd and even disturbing. These people were, until the early 70s, labeled as having a psychiatric illness. Nowadays thanks to a very successful social campaign these people have been brought into the social mainstream and it is no longer acceptable, in polite company, to imply that these people are in any way inferior or anything less than completely normal. I am of course referring to homosexuals. Supporters of gay rights argue that homosexuality is a state of being and that any attempt to place any legal or social constraints upon them would be to deny them their humanity. They would argue that homosexuality is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle and that it should in no way be viewed as being in any way inferior to heterosexuality.
I bring up the issue not to attack the gay rights movement, but to simply point out that the same logic should apply to those who have Asperger Syndrome. I see being an Aspie as part of who I am and it is something I would not want to change even if I could. Being an Aspie is at least as much a part of my being as homosexuality is for a homosexual. I have an even better claim because in my case there is no defining action involved. Being an Aspie is solely a matter of how my brain functions, not of any action that I may or may not do. In the case of homosexuality, one could at least make the argument that the objection is to the act of sodomy and not to a person’s state of being. This argument cannot be made in the case of Asperger Syndrome. If you have a problem with me as an Aspie then it must be because you have an objection with my very state of being.
If it is bigotry to label homosexuality as a disease and to impose social constraints on homosexuals then the same thing should apply to Asperger Syndrome. Anyone who uses the term “Asperger Syndrome” should be viewed as a bigot. They are implying that my state of being is somehow less than completely human and are robbing me of my humanity. Any attempt on the part of the psychiatric community to “cure” us or make us less Aspie like should be viewed as Nazism. Furthermore, society should be made to be more tolerant of us Aspies. We should not have to act in a less Aspie fashion. People need to recognize that although we are different, our way of living is just as acceptable as theirs. Anyone who implies that we are in any way shape or form less than completely normal should be expelled from polite society. In order to facilitate this, the government needs to put Aspie tolerance into school curriculums and actively seek to hire Aspie teachers so as to provide good Aspie models for children.
If it were to happen that at some future date I should be denied a job because my Aspie personality proved disagreeable to someone on a hiring committee it should be viewed as no different then if that person on the hiring committee were to deny a job to someone merely because that person acted in a gay fashion. Society should not stand for such bigotry and should immediately rectify the situation by making sure that that person is never again in a position to promote his bigoted agenda. I, of course, should be immediately be given the position I so richly deserve.
Anyone who supports the concept of gay Civil Rights must be willing to apply the same logic to the cause of Aspie Civil Rights. Anyone who fails to give us Aspies the same rights as homosexuals is a bigot. Anyone who supports gay rights and does not support Aspie rights is a bigot and a hypocrite. Of course, if we were to reject the gay rights argument then none of this would apply. If society has the right to look upon those who live differently as being deviant and force such people into choosing between being true to themselves or being accepted then I, as a proud Aspie, will, along with all other social deviants, have to make a tough choice.