Thursday, March 27, 2008

A short history of our war on germs

A few years ago the World Health Organization published this anonymous bit of doggerel titled “The History of Medicine.”

  • 2000 B.C. – Here, eat this root.
  • A.D. 1000 – That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
  • A.D. 1850 – That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
  • A.D. 1920 – That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
  • A.D. 1945 – That pill is ineffective. Here, take this penicillin.
  • A.D. 1955 – Oops . . . bugs mutated. Here, take this tetracycline.
  • 1960-1999 – 39 more “oops.” Here, take this more powerful antibiotic.
  • A.D. 2000 – The bugs have won! Here, eat this root.
From: Drug Resistance Explained

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Jewish soul is yearning

Last year I visited Israel for the first time through Hasbara Fellowships. My friend Abby who encouraged me to apply said visiting Israel and learning about the modern political issues facing the country would be a life changing experience.

Now, I work in politics so I'm typically skeptical about such statements, but I decided to go on Hasbara rather than Birthright because at heart I am an academic and wanted a trip with a strong educational component.

It turned out that for all the knowledge I gained about Israeli politics, what affected me most about the trip was not what I saw in the classroom, but instead what I saw in the reaction of one of my friends.

Leon was the only Russian Jew on the trip, and had been searching for some link between his version of Judaism and what he saw in Israel. It came in the form of a small Russian restaurant we found after a long search through the streets of Tel Aviv.

We walked in, sat down, and were handed the menus. They were not in English, and they were not in Hebrew. Leon's pride at being able to order in his native tongue and then show me the proper way to eat the foods he was raised on cemented why all the classroom knowledge was so important.

I came away from Israel knowing its history, knowing all the facts about the current political situation, but most important, feeling, deep in my soul, that Israel was a place where any Jewish soul could belong.

I want to come back this summer to learn more about the spiritual side of that great connection. Over the past year I have become even more interested in the spiritual side of my Jewish identity. It seems that out of my political learning in Israel last summer, I have begun to care more about my religious learning; to paraphrase Hatikvah, with an eye toward Zion, my Jewish soul yearns more and more each day.

If all goes to plan I will be studying in Israel later this summer and fall at the University of Haifa, to improve my Hebrew and learn more about Israeli history as I experience it. I will be finishing my college career in the spring at Hebrew University as part of a study abroad program through USC, having spent an entire year in Israel by the time I graduate. That is my hope, to be a student in my own land, ארץ ציון וירושלים (The land of Zion and Jerusalem).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One Glass of Dr. Pepper

Caffeine...our national addiction. I made the stupid mistake this evening of having a glass of Dr. Pepper with the pizza I ordered and am now paying the price.

I can imagine certain activities for which this would be an ideal mood, but at the moment I have reading to do and a very shallow ability to focus on doing it. Hopefully I'll get something done before I go to bed...thankfully I don't have any midterms tomorrow.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Rembering Our Brothers

Every night until I can no longer remember to do so, I will think of them as I say their names. I will remind myself of what they were doing when this terrible tragedy struck them. Their memory, for me at least, will serve as a reminder to follow in their footsteps, to learn more about my religion and in doing so, more about my own soul. Their memory will remind me of how important it is for Israel to work for peace, but never to negotiate out of fear.

These students died not because they were in a classroom, not because they were Israeli, and not because they were living in Jerusalem. They died because in their hearts they believed in something so strongly that even the most evil of acts could not for a second make them falter. These students died because they were Jews, and every night we should remember them, just as we would eight of our own brothers.

They are Yochai Lipschitz, 18, of Jerusalem; Yonatan Yitzchak Eldar, 16, of Shiloh; Yonadav Chaim Hirschfeld, 19, of Kochav Hashahar; Neriah Cohen, 15, of Jerusalem; Roey Roth, 18, of Elkana; Segev Pniel Avihayil, 15, of Neveh Daniel; Avraham David Moses, 16, of Efrat; and Maharata Trunoch, 26, of Ashdod.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

8 high school students are dead in jerusalem when terrorists, likely part of hamas, shot up a jewish school about an hour ago

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A little intellect goes a long way

After somewhat carefully reading Stephen Mack's entries in his blog on the public intellectual (here and here) I was left with one overriding sentiment: You're never going to convince people of anything if they fundamentally disagree with you. Case in point, Mack and I had a discussion as to whether or not Sean Hannity is a public intellectual. My argument was that he makes political statements, supported by facts, and has a wide audience who pays attention to what he says.

Mack, who suffice it to say is not a regularly listener to Mr. Hannity, was not convinced. Paraphrasing here, he said something to the effect of, "Just because many people listen to you doesn't mean your a public intellectual." This is where he and I disagree.

The value of a public intellectual is found in his ability to inform and convince me to agree with him. Now let me defend my definition. I think Mr. Mack would have a hard time disagreeing with me that a public intellectual who cannot change the mind of his audience is of much value. Thus, just being informed may make you an intellectual, and just being published may make you public, but you can hardly be called a public intellectual if you're just preaching to the converted all the time.

That being said, I think it's unfair to argue that the polar opposite of the ivory tower type I just described is not a public intellectual. Our friend over at Politosaurus Rex helped me with my research here: "Ralph Waldo Emerson described the public intellectual as an active force in society. They should be knowledgeable in history, but only because of its relevance in today’s world." Sean Hannity clearly fits that description. It's his job to tell it like it is, to convince his viewers, listeners and yes, readers to see the world the way he does. The only difference between Hannity and Ralph Waldo Emerson is what they're trying to convince me of.

Now, that may sound glib, and it is. But here's the catch, and here's where this gets fun. The value of a public intellectual is in their ability to affect change in the republic. "The measure of a public intellectual is not whether the people are listening, but whether their hearing things worth talking about."

What Mack's essentially saying is that a public intellectual should critique what need critiquing. That it's the role of a good public intellectual to criticize the wisdom of others to make sure it's sound. "It is only because learning the processes of criticism and practicing them with some regularity are requisites for intellectual employment. It’s what we do at our day jobs." If there was ever someone whose day job it is to practice criticism, it's Sean Hannity.

Hannity role as a public intellectual is to examine what he thinks needs to be looked at, to poke and prod it to his viewer's delight. Talk radio hosts don't gain an audience cause they're always nice guys. They get paid the big bucks because they go after the other guys, and yes, it's fun to listen to. But here's the key. Every once in a while, every once in a while, they say something useful.

Every once in a while they show the millions of people who would otherwise not care about an issue of public concern. Something Mack's "public intellectuals" would also talk about. But without Hannity, without Rush, without Michael Savage, people who otherwise wouldn't be paying attention at all hear about what Mack wants them to pay attention to. Dittoheads they may be, but we're better off because these public figures make average Americans just a little bit more intellectual.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Talk About Getting a Grant

So a mall in Glendale, New York has decided to take its own steps to improve consumer confidence and convince people to start spending money again. In what is probably one of the more entertaining ways of injecting money into a sagging economy the Atlas Park Shopping Mall is handing out 400 $50 bills for a total of $20,000. If only they'd do that at the Grove....