Knowlage and Ignorance

29 03 2007

Senior year in High School I wrote my research paper comparing Milton’s Paradise Lost to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials  trilogy.  Now, you think book banners hate Harry Potter (another series that I love, although less so in the last few books, mostly because I feel like she’s losing the plot.  At first, I thought she had everything planned out, and now I’m not so sure.  We’ll see when the last one comes out this summer I guess!)  they HATE His Dark Materials.  They hate this series so much, they’re pretty sure you shouldn’t even read his other books, because you never know what sort of sneaky, anti-religion message he might have snuck into a fairly innocuous story about Sally Lockhart, a Victorian period girl who goes around solving mysteries*. 

Now, it’s not as if they don’t have reason for it.  See, His Dark Materials  is a deeply humanist retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  The church in all the worlds the story takes the role of a truly evil enemy, kidnapping children and cutting away their souls (roughly speaking, it’s a bit more complicated than that).  The Church is seeking to destroy all that is unique and wonderful about humanity, to destroy the source of human creativity and thought.  That alone would probably be enough for most Christians who ban books to ban him, but he goes even farther. (Spoiler alert:  This gives away an event that happens at the end of the last book, so if you want the end to be a full surprise, don’t read this now.  Go read the books, and then come back and read this.  in fact, if you haven’t read to books, you should, even if you read this first.  They’re wonderful.) Pullman’s characters actually kill “god.”  Yeah, that’s pretty much what gets him banned.  People who don’t even support banning Harry Potter are all over saying the HDM books should be burned. 

It’s interesting, since it never even occur to me that these books might be objectionable from a religious standpoint until I started doing research on them.  See, to me it was quite clear that the world Phillip Pullman was placing these stories in wasn’t anything like the one I lived in (even though it does move into “our world” in the second book.)  He was positing a god who didn’t create the world at all, this god instead happened to be the first sentient being that popped into existence, and decided to take advantage of the fact and tell everyone who came afterwards that he had created them.  He used his power from that deception to control the world, and to trick people into serving him.  In the end, they kill him not through any direct action, but just by removing him from the protective bubble he had been placed in by his servants to keep him alive.  To me, that god is in no way worthy of worship or respect, and (more importantly) in no way like my G-d.  My G-d did actually create the world, and cares deeply about me as an individual, and the world as a whole.  My church isn’t trying to stifle my creativity, or to freeze me as a 10 year old, never to grow up, or to become who I really am.  The world he’s positing, while facinating, and making for a beautiful gripping story full of talking animals and best friends  and witches and love and life and death, is not my world.  What happens to Lyra and Will, the enemies they face, the god they kill, and the angels that try to kill them have no bearing on my faith, because they are not a part of my world anymore than the Dragons of Pern** are. 

Which brings me to my other point.  People interpret HDM as a heretically humanist reworking of Paradise Lost, with the enemy Azriel recast as the heroic Lord Asriel (Am I way off the mark in reading that as derived from לעזר, to help?)  Pullman is very much a humanist, and admits it proudly, so I don’t think it’s at all inaccurate to say HDM is a humanist text.  What I question is saying that he is somehow far off of Milton’s intent.  Milton was a talented poet, and PL is full of grand speeches, and compelling monologues.  The problem is that every one of them is about the importance of free will, and self determination, and every single one of them is given by Azriel, the fallen angel leading the revolt against heaven.  Yes, in the end Milton reads the party line, and Satan falls, and the church is vindicated, but his sympathies certainly seem to lie with the rebel side, the side fighting against the inherent unfairness of a god who created people to be inherently sinful, and also incapable of their own redemption.  Every line, he is arguing against having been created as a pawn in some sort of cosmic power trip.  Sounds an awful lot like what Pullman says, no?    Funny how the ending can have such an effect on people’s perception of a work, since no one would consider burning PL, and yet both works essentially make the same arguement: Knowlage is the most important goal,. Without it, we are not human, and any power that opposes that should be fought against, even if you don’t win.  

This also brings up issues of allowing your faith to be challenged, and also the limits to what I am willing to have faith in, but I think that is for another post, since this one is getting rather long.   

*I would also recommend you stay away from that series, but only because you spend two books waiting for two characters to realize they’re in love, and then they do, and within two pages one of them dies. Not kidding.  It’s just not fair.

 **Another good series, although after the first three books it starts to devolve into soft core porn. Read the first three, which are still fairly adult, but not graphicly so, and then skip everything else but Dolphins of Pern, which is completly appropriate for all ages.


And now for something completly different!

27 03 2007

Disney Princesses!  🙂  They’re amazing. 

There are really three generations of Disney Princesses:

Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty-  These are the original Princesses, the one’s who really started the whole thing.  Old style animation, practically operatic music, and when it comes right down to it, it’s tough to tell the three of them apart.  “Someday my prince will come” would have fit nicely in any of them.  They’re quality movies, I’l watch them if someone else is, but I won’t choose them on my own.  I probably won’t own the DVDs ever, but they’re good.

Pocahontas, Meg (from Hercules), and Mulan – The last Disney Princesses.  These are all fairly modern stories; none of them are really you’re typical Princess, but they all have at least one great female song that most girls know (Just Around the River Bend and Colors of the Wind, I won’t say I’m in Love, and Reflection) Cute movies, but not as good as:

Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine:  These are the Classic Disney Princesses.  The ones where every girl my age (by which I mean from about 20 to 23) can sing all their songs from memory, and do, on a reasonably regular basis. (“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat, wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?  Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl, the girl who has everything?”)  These are the movies that we’ll watch over and over again, they’re a generational experience for us.  Amazingly, Disney hasn’t caught on to the fact that girls my age still love these characters in a fairly possessive way.  We would totally still wear clothing with Ariel Jasmine or Belle on it.  Disney, you are totally missing out on a GIANT marketing opportunity here.  Work on that.

 Anyway, this came up because I have discovered a great new way to procrastinate on studying for my Hebrew test.  Watching Disney songs on You-tube …  in Hebrew!   See, it’s great (or really bad, depending on how you look at it) because I can pretend it’s like studying.  Also, it’s fun because I can sometimes understand some of it.  🙂 

Oh well, back to really studying now.  And cleaning, that too.  At least the weather is incredible! 

Edited to add:

Part of Your World

Kiss the Girl

A Whole New World (Love this version. Aladdin is a bass!  Woot!)

One Jump Ahead (This totally fits with the mentality of ‘any number of words will fit any melody if you just push hard enough)


Something There

Just Around The River Bend

Colors of the Wind


I Won’t Say I’m in Love

Go the Distance

If there are others you want just try searching for the title of the song and “hebrew”  🙂

Very busy.

23 03 2007

Mm, I’ve been meaning to post a lot more, but I am so busy right now, it’s crazy. 

I had a phone interview for the MDA program I want to volunteer with this summer.  Now, the information on the website said that the interview would be in, or mostly in, Hebrew.  Expecting that, I spent all last night thinking up what questions I thought the interviewer was most likely to ask, and writing down full, coherent answers to them in Hebrew.  (Since I was going to have to deal with the disadvantage of a phone interview in a language I’m not completely fluent in, namely that it’s much harder to understand what people are saying without seeing their face, it made sense to make good use of the one advantage, and be able to read my answers, rather than come up with them on the fly.) I got up and hour and a half before the interview (at 8:30, which is really early at college) so that I would be awake enough to understand the Hebrew.  Little did I know that “in Hebrew, or mostly in Hebrew” meant “all in English, with one question about how much Hebrew I speak.” Can’t say I’m that disappointed, since I’m much better in English than anything else.  Anyway, the interview went really well, I think, so I have high hopes that this will work out.   I havn’t been accepted for sure yet, but she said all sorts of positive sounding things like “Oh, you’ll love this program then” and “This seems like the perfect thing for you” and “When you get here, you’ll spend a week in Jerusalem, and then go to the city you’ve been placed in.” We’ll see. 

The big thing about this is that I’ve realized that I can actually speak Hebrew, and that I can say most anything I need to say if I just try, and don’t fall into the trap of telling myself that I can’t. It’s pretty exciting.  🙂

Next week, I have a test, a paper due, and my room to clean for Pesach.  And I need to schedule make up meetings with all the teachers who’s classes I’ll be missing over the holiday.  To quote Wilie Wonka “So much time, so little to do.  Wait, scratch that.  Reverse it.”  Thank goodness I have a day off 🙂

Shabbat Shalom!

Note: If any of you know anything about the following towns, I would love to know more about them before I rank them on my application 🙂 Thanks!

-Be’er Sheva




-Kfar Saba


-Upper Nasereth


-Kiryat Gat



Language I HATE!!!!

20 03 2007

Ok, I wasn’t planning on writing this, however I’ve been getting a lot of search hits on these terms, and so I feel like I ought to say something about it, since then people will at least know my opinion.  And then hopefully, slowly, I’ll be able to change things. 

I hate (and I don’t use that word lightly) the following words: Shiksa, Shagetz and “The Goyim.” The first two are never excusable, there is never any reason to use those words, and more than there is reason to use the word “nigger” (which offends me just as much, but I don’t feel like I have to convince other people that that one’s out of line.  Everyone realizes how offensive that is.)  They’re both derived from the Hebrew sheketz, which my dictionary translates as “anunclean insect” (or a rake?  is that in the garden tool sense, or the not so nice guy sense? Who knows…), and historically they have not been used in nice ways.  I’ve never heard them used in nice ways in any context.  They’re not nice words, they’re discriminatory and racist.  No reason to use them, especially when “non-Jew” will work just as well in contexts where it’s necessary.  And if it’s not necessary information, here’s a radical idea, just leave it out!  Not every story needs to contain information about the religion of the person involved.   Follow Grice’s conversational maxims! You wouldn’t automatically include information about someone’s race, why would you do something different about religion? 

And about using “the goyim”:  Unless you’re using it in the biblical sense of “nation” (and speaking Hebrew) don’t use this.  Again, it hasn’t been used in a nice context, and it’s never flattering.  Just like with race, where it’s inappropriate to talk about “the whites” or “the orientals” it’s out of line to use this.  I’m not a huge proponent of using deliberately PC language, but why use language you know to be offensive?  Not going out of your way to use “PC language” (for example using their rather than his or hers when the gender of the person is unknown.) is one thing, and can often be about using language correctly, rather than incorrectly.  There’s a movement to use gender neutral pronouns in English that I think is just silly, and comes from people not understanding the meaninglessness of gender in language (there’s nothing particularly feminine about a table, or masculine about a house.)  It’s arbitrary, and I think people need to get over it.  But in this case, there’s a long history of the words being used in hurtful, derogatory ways, and there is no excuse for being hurtful when it is just as easy to choose another word.  

I think people are likely to let this slip by, since they regard the people who talk like that as bigots, and so they just ignore them.  While I think it’s completely true that most people who say those things are bigoted (and the ones who aren’t are simply ignorant of the history of the words, and stop once they’re asked to.), I think it’s not a problem that can just be ignored.  Yes, those people are bigots, but they’re visible bigots.  They provide people with near infinite justification for anti-semitism, and if the rest of the community does not step up and say (even more vocally) that they disagree, all those bigoted, offensive views will be credited to the whole community.  Just like we’re asking Muslims to stand up and denounce terrorism, we need to stand up as a community and denounce the racism we see in our community. 

*Steps down off soapbox*

In other news, the Hebrew past tense for run in 2nd person singular (At ratzta) sounds more like she sat around smoking pot and singing “Redemption Song” than that she ran.  I found it amusing. 

Cleaning with Metaphor

18 03 2007


(Source) (For some reason, I can’t get the whole image to display.  If you click on it, you can see the whole thing, it’s pretty funny.)

I’m so wishing I could clean my room with metaphors.  I’ve recently found a very good reason not to do any of my Pesach cleaning till the Sunday before the first Seder (I cook in my room, so I’ll just need to do it all over then anyway.)  However, that’s unfortunately no excuse for me to not do other cleaning, so that the Pesach cleaning is easier.   And that will be a bit of a task, since my room is rather a disaster area.  And it’s big.  Sigh… 

On the upside, I have lots of gummy candy for Pesach, and some truffles, and macaroons, and a lot of chocolate covered matzah.  Unfortunately, I havn’t found any kosher for Pesach apple sauce yet, since that’s what I was hoping to have for breakfast.  Hopefully that will turn up soon, or else I’ll have to figure something else out.  Also, I need to figure out if I can/how to kasher my microwave. 

Also, it’s getting warmer!  All our snow was melted until it dumped about a foot and a half of snow on us over Shabbos.  G-d is laughing at me, I just know it. 

Hope you all have a good week!

The upside to being grown up :)

16 03 2007

I’m planning on trying to spend this summer in Israel.  I’ve already talked about the Hebrew U program I’m applying to, but my first choice is actually a volunteer program with MDA.  I didn’t think there was a lot of chance that I would be able to go on that, since my mom was really nervous about me going on a non-university program, since she was concerned about security. Anyway, I figured that I would step up and see if by sending her an email addressing all of the things I thought she was concerned about, and explaining why she didn’t need to be as concerned as she was, and mentioned a bunch of other times when they’ve trusted me to be safe in situations that many, if not most, people would consider dangerous (travelling alone to big cities I’ve never been to, long hiking trips with just other kids in high-school, etc).  I also talked a lot about why I felt I would get more out of this program than the other. Fortunately, it paid off, and my parents have said to do which ever program I think I’ll get the most out of.  YAY!!

So I’ve started the application process.  I need to set up an interview, which I’m not 100% sure how that will go, since they say that it will be in Hebrew, or at least mostly in Hebrew, but on the application they have, their 4 questions about Hebrew fluency are:

-Are you familiar with the Hebrew alphabet?

-Can you read Hebrew with vowels?

-Have you studied Hebrew grammar in a formal setting?

-Size of your Hebrew vocabluary (10-50 words, 100-200 words, 200-300 words, more than 300 words)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but someone with a 400 word vocabulary in Hebrew (more than the top limit of the vocab size question) won’t really be able to effectively participate or understand an interview in Hebrew.  My Hebrew is ok.  At this point, I feel like I’m somewhere in the top half of my Hebrew class.  I think I’m one of the slowest readers, although other people have told me that’s not the case. (I seem like I’m good at reading because I hate having everyone see that I don’t know what I’m doing, so I read ahead one line from the rest of the class so I know what it says, and can just say it fluently then.  I think this means that what they hear me do in class is cheating, since it’s not a cold reading, it’s more of a recitation with the text in front of me, but the one person I’ve talked to about this says that everyone else does the same thing. Hmm….)

Anyway, other than the interview, I need to rank the cities they place students in.  People who have been on the program have suggested that I not go to a big city (Jerusalem, Haifa, or Tel Aviv) since they have more volunteers there than they know what to do with.  The other cities are (in no particular order):

-Be’er Sheva




-Kfar Saba


-Upper Nasereth


-Kiryat Gat



Anyone have suggestions about any of those cities?  I’m thinking probably not Sderot or Ashkelon since that will not make my parents more comfortable with me being there, but other than that I don’t really have a preference at this point.  Any information (comments, suggestions, etc) would be more than welcome!

Have a good Shabbos everyone!

I’m growing up. Yay?

11 03 2007

 The other day in Bio lab someone made the (mindblowingly stupid) comment that “Evolution disproves the existence of G-d.”  Now, I’m a very argumentative person, and as such couldn’t just let that go.  So I had to ask him how on earth he thought that.  Of course, he couldn’t’ come up with anything, since he managed to take the straw man argument as his own.  Evolution doesn’t say anything at all about the existence of G-d, so it’s just silly to say that it disproves it.

Anyway, after being shown to be a fool for making that claim, which he couldn’t support, he had to go bring up the whole issue of the middle east.  He, of course, thinks there will never be peace in the world, because there will always be evil people.  Therefore, it’s silly for religious people to believe that someday there will be peace.  This seems pretty defeatist to me, but whatever, that’s his prerogative.  What upset me was that he started in on Israel, and how they’re the real problem.  That if only Israel would give the Palestinians the freedom they want, there would be peace.  Which sort of contradicts his “There will never be peace” statement.  It was just really upsetting to hear him saying things like “33,000 people were killed in Lebanon this summer” or that it’s appalling that Israel isn’t allowing Palestinians to move freely around the West Bank, but when asked if he thinks that the lives of Israelis matter, just sort of mumbles something unintelligible, and then asks again why I don’t care that the Palestinians can’t go anywhere without going through checkpoints. 

The hardest part is that I actually do care quite a lot.  It does matter to me that these people are having a hard time, I hate every time I hear about some innocent child being shot in Gaza for wandering into the wrong place.  It’s absolutely horrible, and it tears me up that it keeps happening.  And I hate that people’s civil rights are being restricted.  (Because, yes, I do think being able to freely move around the country you live in is a civil right)  BUT, human lives matter more to me.  The human right to keep living trumps the civil right to go wherever you want.  And I hate being forced to make that choice, but if I need to, the choice seems pretty clear.  And it scares me that someone who is clearly intelligent can be so blind to things like that.  That he is willing to tell me that Hamas, despite what they explicitly say in their charter, doesn’t want to kill Israelis because they’re Jewish.  That he thinks Jews were treated really well in Arab nations up until the establishment of Israel, and because of that, while the Palestinians who fled in 1948 deserve to be given back the land they left, the Jews who were evicted at the same time don’t deserve anything.  Because I think if intelligent people can’t see those facts, and can’t acknowledge that Israeli lives matter too, then what hope do we really have of stopping these lunatics? 

Over the summer I had someone try to convince me that because more people had died in Lebanon than in Israel in the war this summer that Lebanon was clearly right.  It’s funny, because more than two times as many people died in the initial deaths in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima alone (not counting radiation deaths) than died in all of the London  Blitz.  It didn’t make them right, it’s what made them lose.  That’s how wars are won, sooner or later one side decides that the cost of continuing to fight is too high, and gives up.  And I think that people don’t realize that for Israel, the cost of not continuing to fight is actually higher than the cost of fighting, because for Israel to lay down arms and stop means that they will all be dead.  I don’t understand how people do get it, how people don’t realize that every time Israel makes an offer, the other side just asks for more, and keeps trying to kill us.  How can people claim to understand what these groups want, when they havn’t sat down and read the charters, which make it quite clear that they want everyone who’s not their brand of Muslim dead?  And if people here, smart people, don’t get that how can we ever hope that there will be peace sometime soon?  *sigh*

Anyway, the good news is that I made it through that whole discussion without mocking him, yelling, calling him nasty names or crying, which is pretty impressive for me talking about something that I care about.  I never used to be able to do that, so I guess practice helps.  I just wish I didn’t have to have these conversations quite so often. 

Anyway, I’ll be gone for the next several days, but I hope you all have a great week! I’ll be back Friday.