Mimesis and Violence

Codex in Crisis: Grafton@Google
February 15, 2009, 11:03 am
Filed under: Google, Internet, Princeton, Technology, Video

flamenco rhino!
June 11, 2007, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Computer Science, Dance, Internet, Princeton, Video

This one goes out to Flamenco Molly (Ephraim).

If you take a look at the YouTube page you’ll see that the video debuted at SIGGRAPH ’06 (a computer graphics conference). Flamenco rhino was (apparently) generated by capturing the motion of a real flamenco dancer (Debbie Deas) and generating a rhino that moved in the same way. They’ve even got some of the hand motions down. This is the same sort of thing they did with Andy Serkis for Gollum in Lord of the Rings and King Kong (they being those movie people).

I think it’s pretty cool. If you disagree then get your own damn blog.

May 4, 2007, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Humor, Princeton

A good cartoon from the ‘Prince. Who knew they were capable?

Engineer breakup.

unpublished piece
May 1, 2007, 8:04 am
Filed under: Judaism, Princeton, Rants, Religion

I wrote this article for the Daily Princetonian but it was too long for their opinion page. Figured I should do something with it.

For reference, here are some of the issues I am responding to:

In this article, am primarily responding to R.K. Urken’s “Chabad Affair” pieces in the Nassau Weekly.

Verbum Avi
I sit outside the New Media Center at 87 Prospect, the sun, slightly muted, is pouring through the tinted windows onto a copy of the Nassau Weekly that lies open on my lap. The paper is slightly transparent in the harsh light.

It occurs to me what a crock of shit sits before me, what a Vesuvian torrent of falseness R.K. Urken’s pen emits.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for pretentious writing, polemical rhetoric, and speaking as if someone has shoved a thesaurus and Dostoevsky’s collected works so far up your ass that they’ve crossed the blood-brain barrier. I’m not at all upset that Urken took well thought out quotations from me and contorted them gently to fit the frame of his polemic. Confronting people is a really good thing. So many people are so very wrong and are in dire need of being corrected. Lots of things are justified by that pursuit. But it’s damn hard to correct people with lies and one-tenth-truths, and it’s even harder to run with your foot in your mouth.

Even as I write this piece, I wonder why people care so much about Jewish chaplaincy. All the attention this issue has gotten might be construed as evidence of a media conspiracy. But we sane, level-headed, people know that there is no such thing, right? Jews don’t control the campus media! Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the issue of a Chabad chaplaincy has gotten lots of campus media attention, most of which is pregnant with obvious bias and, as a result, seriously lacking in fact. Bias is great. Lies are not.

To remedy this dearth of veracity, I’m gonna act as your factual Pez dispenser – popping delicious candied truths out of my mouth one at a time. Let’s not single out poor R either – his is but a single quill in the quiver, if perhaps the loudest, most arrogant, and most prolific of the lot. There are lies all around us, and we should correct them all in turn.

Truth #1 – The University is very invested in the Center for Jewish Life. Princeton built and maintains the CJL and operates the Kosher dining hall within. Last I heard, the CJL is the most costly dining unit on campus. More expensive than the whole of Wilcox-Wu. Two separate kitchens, Kosher certification, and cleaning the whole thing for Passover will do that.

Truth #2 – Chabad Lubavitch is a Hassidic Jewish Movement. Though Urken admits this fact, it deserves reiteration. Having started in the 18th century, Hassidic Judaism is a relative newcomer to the landscape of Jewish traditions. I think Hassidism is cool, but it is in no way the sole heir to millennia of Jewish tradition.

Truth #3 – There is exactly one student on this campus who practices Chabad Judaism. His name is Howard Neur. I love Howie. He’s really cool, thoughtful, and interesting, great to talk to about Judaism, math, life, whatever. But when Urken offers Howie as an example of someone who the CJL doesn’t serve adequately, he gives us probably the most disingenuous argument of all time. I do not mean that to be hyperbolic. Howie’s a great guy, but he’s the only person on campus for whom the CJL is not Kosher enough.

Truth #4 – The Chabad mantra “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew” is not as feel-good as you think. First of all, the mantra has an inductive caveat – a Jew is a Jew is a Jew (who has a Jewish mother). Moreover, the slogan actually proclaims the non-existence of Jewish denominations. A Reform Jew is a Jew, as is a Conservative one, as is an Orthodox one, as is a Hassidic one. All are one in Chabad, whether they like it or not. The catchphrase disguises beliefs that many who see the issue of a Chabad chaplaincy as one of religious freedom would find quite objectionable.

Truth #5 – Rabbi Webb is not the only person on campus “who truly learn[s] the Torah and Jewish scripture.” The very statement that he does belies a particular idea of what constitutes the study of Torah that is not shared by many people on this campus and elsewhere. There are plenty of Jews on this campus who learn Torah without Rabbi Webb. Even some non-Jews. Oh my!

Truth #6 – Rabbi Webb is not an evil person. In point of fact, he is really nice, outgoing, very smart, and cares deeply about serving Jewish students. I respect his commitment and caring immensely. Eitan is also really interesting to talk to. In my experience with Eitan, Joe Skloot’s invective is entirely unfounded.

Truth #7 – Rabbi Roth is not an evil person. Nor is she the toadstool of an “Aryan” Tilghman. Whatever you may think of Rabbi Roth, her ideas about Judaism, the kind of leader that she is, or her personal politics, she is a genuine and nice human being. Despite Will Scharf’s harsh words, I do think that she would take the time to drive to the graveyard for your grandmother’s funeral. If, that is, you had taken the time to get to know her.

So I was shooting for Ten Truths. I guess I fell a bit short of divinity. Nonetheless, I’ll give a shot at synthesis.

Chabad does provide social and religious services to students on this campus. Eitan does a great job – he teaches people things they want to learn, organizes really cool events, and publicizes them really well. Lots of students prefer the environment fostered by Rabbi Webb to that of the CJL. There is a certain personal touch to Eitan and Gitty that sits in modest contrast to the CJL. At the same time it would be false to paint this issue as one of religious freedom – the CJL has not prevented anyone from practicing Judaism as they see fit. Rabbi Webb himself prays regularly at the CJL.

More accurately, it’s a matter of personal preference. Unfortunately, people seem to defend their personal preferences tooth and nail.

Former Chabad Student Board President Will Scharf ’08, calls Joe Skloot ’05 a “militant Reform Rabbi” as if Reform Judaism was the mark of the devil rather than a denomination of Judaism. Skloot, a Reform rabbinical student, on the other hand, seems to think that Chabad is akin to a fraternity in it’s relevance to campus life. Grow up, both of you.

Scharf, along with his father Michael Scharf ’64, think that denying Rabbi Webb chaplaincy is somehow anti-Semitic. Urken appears to agree, asking us whether “Princeton has progressed enough to accept as an official chaplain a bearded, be-yarmulked man.” In light of Princeton’s huge financial commitment to the non-denominational CJL, how we could possibly see the administration as anti-Semitic? While we speak of progress, why not also ask if Chabad is progressive enough to accept a yarmulke-wearing, Torah-teaching, female Rabbi?

Urken sees Chabad as the underdog in a campus wide Jewish war. To quote Urken as he does others, without permission, “It’s always fun to defend the underdog.” Indeed it is fun. However, I contest the idea that there is such a war, that Chabad is an underdog at all, or that it is permissible to treat the truth as malleable in defense of underdogism. I said earlier that I wouldn’t single Urken out. So I lied. The most pernicious thing about Urkens’ effete hipster monologues is that he knows the whole truth and withholds it deliberately.

Should Rabbi Webb be a recognized chaplain? Does personal preference a chaplaincy make? I don’t know and I really don’t care. Should people investigate matters fully and tell the whole truth? Hell yeah.