Sunday, September 30, 2007

18 Tishri 5768: Ḥol hamMo‘edh Sukkoth/National Mud Pack Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell George Bush: It's time to promote real solutions to the climate crisis.”

Today’s news and commentary, most of which Barry is responsible for:I was at a funeral for a friend’s mother-in-law earlier today. Today’s weird thing has therefore been suspended. Sorry.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Worthy cause of the day: Tell President Bush to secure peace in Darfur


Today’s worthy cause is Take Action: Tell President Bush to secure peace in Darfur.  Please sign on the chance that Bush will actually pay attention and do something to stop the genocide in progress.  Thank you.


14 Tishri 5768: ‘Erev Sukkoth/National Pancake Day/European Day of Languages


Note: Tonight starts Sukkoth. No new posts until Sunday, at which point I hope to post from inside my sukkah. (Isn’t Wi-Fi wonderful?)

Divine misconception of the day: “Pasadena church wants apology from IRS”. It is well-known that various religions have views on war and politics, ranging from the pacifism of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to the unending jihad of Islam. As such, given that religious groups routinely preach their beliefs, it is to be expected that religious groups will have sermons on politics and war and encourage their members to accept particular positions. Today’s divine misconception is that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should expect otherwise. The article is correct in noting that the IRS is promoting hypocrisy by insisting that religious organizations keep quiet about politics—a clear violation of the Constitutional right of freedom of religion. Considering that governments are rarely, if ever, run according to the high moral standards that religions frequently espouse, many more religious organizations ought to be expressing disapproval of the government.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is “The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters” simply because I felt like it. I am still trying to figure out why the Wonder Twins are listed as being "Latter-day Saints"; apparently Mormon missionaries in the DC Universe have reached other planets. Enjoy, share the weirdness, and hagh sameah.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

13 Tishri 5768: National Comic Book Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell the Bush Administration to Protect Gray Wolves!” We have an Endangered Species Act. Please tell Bush to enforce it. Thank you.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is the Fantasy Name Generator, which should be useful for anyone writing fantasy but without any idea what to name his/her characters. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Monday, September 24, 2007

12 Tishri 5768: Festival Of Latest Novelties


Divine misconception of the day: Opus 2007-09-23. This is the first time I have ever heard of “kiss in the Biblical sense”, which is not correct since, unless my memory is really off today, nashaq (“to kiss”) always refers to the pressing of one’s lips against someone else in the Hebrew Bible and not anything R-rated (e.g., Genesis 29:11 and 29:13, which both occur in public). Steve Dallas seems to be overgeneralizing from yadha‘ (“to know”) which, when the direct object to the verb is a human female, often means “to know in the Biblical sense”, demonstrated clearly by context (Genesis 4:1, 4:17, 4:25, 24:16). I would also like to note that Opus the Penguin knows who really is a hero.

Worthy cause of the day: “senator earmarks funds for creationist group”. Considering that government funding of a creationist group aiming to misinform our children and keep them ignorant of real science is illegal (in the Constitutional sense), bad science, and bad religion, please tell Senator David Vitter that what he is doing is wrong. Thank you.

Useful thing of the day: “Select a Candidate 2008”. I tried this twice, and both times I came out with all Democrats coming out as a noticably better fit for me than all Republicans, which is pretty much as I expected.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is “Save Earth”, a desktop picture with very interesting reasoning. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

11 Tishri 5768: Sukkah-Building Day/Checkers Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Support the GROWTH Act”.

Note: Sukkoth begins Wednesday night. This is the time to start building your sukkah!

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is something from Emily’s collection, included below. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


A man is driving down a country road, when he spots a farmer standing in the middle of a huge field of grass. He pulls the car over to the side of the road and notices that the farmer is just standing there, doing nothing, looking at nothing. The man gets out of the car, walks all the way out to the farmer and asks him, “Excuse me mister, but what are you doing?”

The farmer replies, “I’m trying to win a Nobel Prize.”

“How?” asks the man, puzzled.

“Well I heard they give the Nobel Prize to people who are out standing in their field.”

Friday, September 21, 2007

9 Tishri 5768: ‘Erev Yom Kippur/International Banana Festival/World Gratitude Day/Miniature Golf Day/Elephant Appreciation Day


Health advisory: Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Those who will be fasting, please make sure to get plenty of fluids before Sundown to avoid problems later. Self-endangerment is neither the point of the day nor desirable.

Worthy cause of the day: “Statement: I will fight back”. Please sign and tell your Congresspeople that condemning anyone’s legal and moral exercise of free speech is unacceptable and downright un-American. Even if you do not agree with the message of, please support their right to say things that Congress does not like.

Divine misconception of the day: “Teacher fights to take gun to class”.  First of all, I am not going to condemn anyone innocent for wanting to defend themselves against real threats.  I am also going to lay aside the issue of whether it is a good idea for a teacher to be armed;  that should be decided by doing research into the effectiveness of arming people on deterring crime and into the safety of bearing arms for the arms bearers and the people around them.  What I am going to deal with is the notion of their being a right to bear arms, which took an interesting twist in the article:
"The right to protect yourself is natural, God-given and should not be taken away," said Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, which is paying for the teacher's legal bills.
The mistake herein is two-fold.  1) There is no such thing as a natural right.  2) Just because one is permitted to defend oneself does not automatically imply permission to carry a gun.

1) Natural rights, if memory serves me correctly, are the product of the Deism movement, which was flourishing at the time of the American Revolution.  Deism is the belief that God created the Universe and has not interfered with it ever since.  This rules out Divine revelation as a possibility (or at least an easy possibility) as a source of knowing what God wants—the source for a moral system in many religions—and so the notion of “natural rights” was created as a substitute.  The problem with this is that natural rights are a pure fiction, since they are not anchored in Divine revelation, making it anything but clear that they are the will of God, and they cannot be derived from physics and mathematics, which are morally neutral. 

2) There is an unstated assumption that a handgun is the only possible way for the teacher to defend herself and her children from her ex-husband.  Why other weapons (spray, a taser, a baseball bat, a sword, etc.) or other methods of self-defense (e.g., karate) cannot be used is not discussed.  Perhaps there is a non-gun alternative that would satisfy both the teacher and the Medford school district.  (I recommend an aluminum baseball bat.  It is not normally classified as a weapon, and it is a bad idea to attack someone holding one unless one is wearing plate armor.)

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry and Jessica are responsible for:Today’s weird thing is the parody religion The Church of Spock of Latter-Day Science Officers. Live long and prosper, have an easy fast, and share the weirdness.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

8 Tishri 5767: Ten Days of Repentance/National Student Day


Divine misconception of the day: “Children of 'witches' fight social stigma”. First off, witches (in the sense of people with real magic powers) do not exist and they never have existed. (Those who think otherwise are invited to bring their proof to James Randi, who will be happy to fork over a lot of money if it is real.) Secondly, even if witches do exist, it is not fair to brand people as witches without evidence that they are witches. Failure to obtain said evidence will almost inevitably result in innocent people being condemned, ostracized, tortured, and killed. (Poonam Toppo should be applauded for her use of reasoning to show that her grandmother’s alleged behavior was not consistent with what one would expect for a witch.) Thirdly, even if it is clear that one is a witch, it does not automatically follow that one is necessarily responsible for everything bad that happens. One needs to bring evidence linking the suspect with the crime; otherwise, it is quite possible that the witch is in this case innocent. Fourthly, it makes no sense to ridicule someone for being the granddaughter of a witch, even if it is true. People cannot help who their ancestors are. Ridicule only annoys someone over something that they can never change. In short, all this witch-hunting does is scapegoat innocent people.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing is something from Emily’s collection, included below. Enjoy and share the weirdness.



Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the big table, he looks into his small bowl. It is empty. "Who's been eating my porridge?!!", he squeaks.

Papa Bear arrives at the big table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl, and it is also empty. "Who's been eating my Porridge?," he roars.

Momma Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells, "How many times do we have to go through this? It was Momma Bear who got up first, it was Momma Bear who woke up everyone in the house, it was Momma Bear who made the coffee, it was Momma Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night, and put everything away, it was Momma Bear who went out in the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper, it was Momma Bear who set the table, it was Momma Bear who put the cat out, cleaned the litter box, and filled the cat's water and food dish, and, now that you've decided to drag your sorry bear-butts downstairs, and grace Momma Bear's kitchen with your grumpy presence, listen good, cause I'm only going to say this one more time . . . . . I HAVEN'T MADE THE DAMN PORRIDGE YET!!!!"

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

7 Tishri 5768: Ten Days of Repentance/International Talk Like A Pirate Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell EPA to Start Cutting Global Warming Pollution from Passenger Vehicles!”.

Relevant to today’s quasi-holiday: the Wikipedia article “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” and every pirate’s favorite statistical programming language, R.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:I could not find a weird thing suitable for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so today’s weird thing is something suitable for International Talk Like a Pilot Day (if there were such a thing): Holding Pattern Coach Class. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

6 Tishri 5768: The Ten Days of Repentance/National Play-doh Day


Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing is “Flying Objects!”. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Monday, September 17, 2007

5 Tishri 5768: Ten Days of Repentance/Constitution Day


Relevant to today’s quasi-holiday: The Constitution of the United States, The Bill of Rights, and Amendments 11-27. George W. Bush and everyone in his administration, please read these carefully.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing is the Coke and Mentos Fountain. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

29 ’Elul 5767: National Pet Memorial Day/National Chocolate Milkshake Day


Note: Tomorrow and Friday are Ro’sh hashShanah, the Jewish civil new year. As a consequence, there will be no new posts until Sunday.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing is “Roger Ebert's Glossary of Movie terms”. Enjoy, share the weirdness, and may you be written for a good year in the book of life.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

28 ’Elul 5767: Patriot Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell the U.S. Navy to Stop Killing Whales!”. (Submitted by Barry.)

Today’s news and commentary:Probably everyone reading this is aware of what happened six years ago today. About 3,000 innocent people died that day as a result of the attacks. We humans have a strange psychological quirk in that the death of one person or a few people often produce a stronger reaction than the deaths of large numbers of people; we can relate to one person or a few people, but thousands of people tend to get comprehended as mere statistics. Fortunately we were not so cold six years ago, but so that we do not lose the recognition that every one of those who died was a real, live, irreplaceable human being, maybe we ought to keep in mind this image from Wikipedia, which I thank Barry for pointing out to me.

I would also like to note that Ro’sh hashShanah, the Jewish civil new year, starts on Wednesday evening. Tradition has it that YHWH judges us at this time, and as such, it is a time where repentance is emphasized. While YHWH is eager to forgive those who repent, He/She can only forgive those who sin against Him/Her; sins against our fellow humans require the forgiveness of the offended humans. As such, this is a time to seek out forgiveness and make peace with our fellow humans. We are all of us fallible creatures liable to mess up from time to time, and there is no point at being annoyed at each other over mistakes we also make. As such, I humbly request forgiveness from all those against whom I have transgressed. I am as fallible as probably anyone, and sometimes I do not treat everyone with the respect that those created in the image of ’Elohim deserve. I also unconditionally forgive everyone who has sinned against me.

Today’s weird thing is a guest commentary from a new character, included below. Enjoy, share the weirdness, and spread the forgiveness.


Greetings, my brothers and sisters of various extractions!

Surely you've heard of the ruckus by now over the appearance of Britney Spears on the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night, its bad lip-synching and its stupid dancing as part of a comeback attempt for someone who was never quite there. There are many reasons to dislike Ms. Spears, both this performance and her life in general, especially as we keep in mind this was the alleged performer who took dressing and acting like an underclothed streetwalker and for years sold it to right-wing chuckleheads by using the dubious claim that she was vestally pure. However, one of the most resounding and ridiculous claims attached to this performance is that Ms. Spears is fat.

Now in this land of ours, perhaps more than in many others, the media puts great stock in how we look. We want to be taller or more muscular or thinner, want different skin or hair or eye color, and become greatly swept up as if how curly our hair is or the shape of our eyelids or some such trivial feature makes any real difference about the person. Indeed, Galatians 3:28 says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female," and we should be ashamed to be otherwise led astray.

In this land of ours, where companies seek to make us unhappy for their own gain, they have told a great lie that only women who are as thin as matchsticks may be beautiful. And it is against this false standard that Ms. Spears has been judged. By any reasonable standard she is at a healthy weight, whereas the dancers about her clearly were not. By bringing herself within the range of healthy weights, Ms. Spears has accomplished perhaps the first thing worth emulating. We should rejoice she actually looks as a human being was meant to and encourage our daughters and sisters to follow her example, defying the sinister media which would guilt and torture them into self-destruction.

Now if only she can get the rest of her life as adjusted as her weight, wouldn't that be a fine thing indeed!

--Malcom NC-17

Monday, September 10, 2007

27 ’Elul 5767: Swap Ideas Day


Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is “The Mean Kitty Song”, for which Barry and his cats are responsible. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Worthy cause of the day: “Chad: No Protection from Rape and Violence for Displaced Women and Girls in eastern Chad”


Please fill out the form “Chad: No Protection from Rape and Violence for Displaced Women and Girls in eastern Chad” and send a message to the UN Security Council to get off their collective butt and do something about the Sudanese refugee crisis in Chad.  Yes, expecting the UN Security Council to actually do something about protecting vulnerable people is like expecting to win the lottery, and I fully expect that all those political bigwigs who could have done something to stop the genocide in the Sudan several years down the road will lament the deaths of so many innocents and feign ignorance of what was happening, if not claim there was nothing they could do.  But politicians and bureaucrats are not invulnerable to public opinion, no matter how evil or brain-damagedly stupid they are, so please show them that public opinion is against the UN Security Council ignoring the problem, giving them one less excuse to do nothing.  Thank you.


24 ’Elul 5767: National Thylacine Day/Neither Snow Nor Rain Day


Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:In place of the usual weird thing, today I present below my latest review for the Divine Misconceptions Project. Enjoy, share the weirdness with the thylacine in your life, and Shabbath shalom.


You cut up the Bible, you bloody baboon!
A review of The Ten Commandments and The Ten Commandments: The Musical
by Aaron Solomon Adelman

Having already reviewed The Prince of Egypt, I was afraid that The Ten Commandments (the famous 1956 film produced by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston) and The Ten Commandments: The Musical (which is virtually unknown) would make all the same mistakes. Unfortunately, I was wrong, so this review will be longer than 50 words.

1956 film: Clearly the intention was that this would be a serious film on a grand scale, and the overall feel is definitely grand and detailed. The special effects were probably state of the art at the time. However, the acting feels rather stiff and unnatural, especially that of Charlton Heston, who plays Mosheh (Moses). The language used is a pretentious “Bible English”.

2006 musical: Had it received sufficient attention, the musical genre would died with it. Plenty that could go wrong went wrong, starting with the casting of Val Kilmer in the role of Mosheh. Though Mosheh in the original text has a speech impediment (Exodus 4:10, 6:30), it is far more likely that his problem is stuttering or slurred speech than an inability to carry a tune. The dialog is unremarkable. The costumes are bad. The scenery is atrocious and dreary. The special effects are pathetic, even given the limits of what can be done on stage. If the ancient Egyptians can fake turning staffs into snakes (Exodus 7:11-12), despite relatively primitive technology, anyone in our era reenacting the Exodus story has no excuse not to fake it passably well. The story is inappropriately compressed to fit it into two acts with insufficient and sometimes nonexistent marking of the passage of time, making for a very rushed feeling. The DVD is a good present for someone with a firearm, who will gladly use it for target practice.

Both versions, like The Prince of Egypt, create backstory for Mosheh in terms of rivalry with the second Par‘oh (Pharaoh), in both assumed to be Ramses II. In the 1956 film, much of the rivalry is in terms of competency. Unlike in The Prince of Egypt, the 1956 film makes Par‘oh II a poor administrator and Mosheh very competent at getting slaves to do what Par‘oh I (assumed to be Seti I) wants. Both versions also have Mosheh and Par‘oh II in a love triangle with Nefertiri, a woman who favors Mosheh but settles for Par‘oh II after Mosheh leaves Egypt. (And according to Wikipedia, Nefertari was the real-life wife of the real Ramses II, so Mr. DeMille apparently did some homework.) Unfortunately both versions of The Ten Commandments are riddled with errors, both those found in The Prince of Egypt and original ones (not a mere repeating of errors), all violations of a prominent unwritten rule of good religious thought:


Violating this unwritten rule can lead to disaster, and just as in The Prince of Egypt, it does in both versions of The Ten Commandments. And as in The Prince of Egypt, much of what goes wrong is the introduction of modern ideas.

Modern idea #1: “Religious belief has to be blind faith.”

This is just like in The Prince of Egypt. Neither version has the Jews or Egyptians give any real a priori reason for their beliefs. Both versions, like The Prince of Egypt, reduce the role of YHWH (God), reducing prophecy to just Mosheh and the empirical verification of said prophecy. The Ten Plagues are considerably reduced, especially in the musical. The central relationship in both versions is shifted from YHWH versus Par‘oh II to Mosheh versus Par‘oh II, thus automatically lowering the quality of the central relationship. Unlike in The Prince of Egypt, much of their rivalry is over Nefertiri; this works as a means of torturing everyone in the love triangle, though there is an element of pettiness in it. Par‘oh II knows that Nefertiri wants Mosheh and not him; he is a fool to pursue her nevertheless. Why these two men are at odds over Nefertiri in the first place is an unanswered question; we see little of her outside of the role of a love interest or (later) wife in the 1956 film and and nothing in the musical; indeed, the film places a never-explained constraint on Nefertiri that she must marry the next Par‘oh of Egypt, artificially giving Par‘oh II and Mosheh another reason to stab each other in the back. On the bright side, in both versions there is an element of “my god can beat up your god”, but in the 1956 film Par‘oh II at one point ventures into atheism for no apparent reason. We are spared in both versions The Prince of Egypt’s turning ’Aharon (Aaron) and Miryam (Miriam) into a morality play of blind skepticism versus blind faith, though since Mosheh is wrongly portrayed as speaking (though not singing) decently, the role of ’Aharon is diminished.

Though I listed the depiction of Mount Sinay being ridiculously tame as an independent blunder in my review of The Prince of Egypt, on further consideration I have realized that is due to pushing blind faith; a pyrotechnic theophany (Exodus 19:16-20:17) is clear evidence of the existence of YHWH. The Prince of Egypt’s misrepresentation of the revelation on Mount Sinay is prefigured by that of the 1956 film. Both versions of The Ten Commandments gut the theophany by having the revelation only to Mosheh, where in the original text, the entire Jewish people participate in a mass revelation and receive the Decalogue. But both versions of The Ten Commandments have everyone waiting around for 40 days without a clue what is going on without a preceding revelation; as such the Golden Calf incident is transformed from a misguided act of worship into an anything-goes party. Rather than having Mosheh incensed that the Jews are doing something that they were specifically told not to do, both versions of The Ten Commandments have Mosheh incensed at the Jews for doing things that they never were told are prohibited. This is not fair, and it smacks of the traditional Christian misinterpretation of the God of the Hebrew Bible being a cruel, vengeful god. Dramatically it makes for an anticlimactic ending.

Modern idea #2: The liberation of women and its opposite, the subjection of women.

Like The Prince of Egypt, the 1956 film version of The Ten Commandments abbreviates the role of Miryam in favor of Sipporah (Zipporah/Sepphora). Unlike The Prince of Egypt, the 1956 film only makes a token step towards liberating Sipporah; she stands up to the attackers at the well—only on her sisters’ urging—and gets knocked down for it, leaving the way clear for Mosheh to save the day (despite being dead tired from his travels in the wilderness), and she does ask her father to let Mosheh stay with them. For the rest of the film she is at best passive-aggressive. Though this version of Sipporah is attracted to Mosheh from the beginning, she lets Mosheh drive it. While the 1956 film has one of Sipporah and Mosheh’s sons appear, it prefigures The Prince of Egypt in eliminating the scene in the desert inn where Sipporah quells YHWH’s anger and saves her husband’s life by circumcising her younger son (Exodus 4:25). This omission of Sipporah’s actual act of fortitude—emergency circumcision is not a task for the faint-hearted—may be due to the modern notion that faith has to be blind. Having Sipporah directly encounter YHWH would destroy her blind faith, and since this scene is not absolutely necessary to the plot, it is eliminated. (I am kicking myself for not realizing this when I wrote The Prince of Egypt review.) However, a very passive Sipporah seems to be part of a larger pattern.

The notion that “good” women are passive is imposed upon the other female characters. Miryam’s taking initiative at the Nile is omitted. All of them spending their time being buffeted about rather than driving the plot. Yokhevedh (Jochebed, not “Yochabel”) and the Daughter of Par‘oh—identified conventionally as Bithyah (Bithiah)—still take the initiative to save the infant Mosheh, this being critical to the story, but after the Daughter of Par‘oh swears her servant Memnet not to reveal that the child is Jewish, they stop driving the plot. Sipporah’s sisters all fawn over Mosheh from the moment they see him and very actively wash him following the fight at the well—in contradiction to the original text, in which their father is surprised that they did not so much as bring their savior home for dinner (Exodus 2:20); of course, Mosheh chooses the passive Sipporah for his wife. There is also a completely fabricated “good” female character, Lilia, who seems to exist mostly for men to fight over. Though she begs a lot, she is behaviorally a doormat, the only real exception being her putting blood on the doorposts and lintel to save the life of her evil master, Dathan. None, however, approaches Sipporah for passivity; she does very little on her own initiative, she is not sexually forward, and she does not drive the plot.

While the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments does not attempt to liberate Sipporah, there is one female character who is active on a regular basis, and that is Nefertiri. Nefertiri is not a passive character; she hits on Mosheh and tries to manipulate both Mosheh and Par‘oh II for her own benefit, even convincing Sipporah to leave Egypt, and she successfully goads Par‘oh II into chasing after the departing Jews. She is so successful at capturing the hearts of both Mosheh and Par‘oh II that Par‘oh II secretly arranges for Mosheh’s banishment (in place of the original text’s having Par‘oh I try to kill Mosheh, resulting in Mosheh fleeing Egypt; Exodus 2:15) in an effort to make sure he does not have to compete with Mosheh in absentia for Nefertiri’s affections. Taken together with Sipporah, we see a curious symmetry: Sipporah, the most passive of the passive, is “good” and wife of the hero, while Nefertiri, the most active of the active, is “evil” and wife of the villain. Sipporah is at the mercy of the plot, while Nefertiri drives it. The subtext here is clear and distasteful.

Even though women in the Hebrew Bible are not liberated in a modern sense, they are not doormats, and this is even limiting the scope to just the story of the Exodus. The midwives Shifrah and Pu‘ah (left out of the film) lie to Par‘oh I that the Jewish women are “wild animals”, giving birth without assistance before the midwives arrive (Exodus 1:19), an action for which YHWH rewards them (Exodus 1:20-21). Yokhevedh hides Mosheh for three months before desperately putting him in a basket in the Nile (Exodus 2:2-3), defying the government. The Daughter of Par‘oh commits deliberate fraud when she adopts Mosheh (Exodus 2:10), at the very least risking her father’s displeasure. Miryam proves herself clever in sweet-talking the Daughter of Par‘oh into letting Yokhevedh nurse Mosheh (Exodus 2:7-9), which is doubly notable since Miryam is still a child at this point. Sipporah not only can circumcise her own baby, but she can also rebuke her husband for failing to do so himself; the language she uses is somewhat cryptic, but “bridegroom of blood” (Exodus 4:25-26) is definitely not a compliment. Miryam also leads the other Jewish women in song at the Reed Sea (Exodus 15:20-21), rather than remain quiet and in the background. The only section of the story not having women doing good, active things is Mosheh performing his mission, but in that section the focus of the story is YHWH versus Par‘oh II—which I explained in my review of The Prince of Egypt as a god-versus-god showdown; at that point, Mosheh is just the messenger, and it is YHWH’s time for action; when the spotlight shines upon a god, no one else can truly share it. Mr. DeMille elided as much as he could the notion that a woman can be active and still be good, making his only major non-desperate active female character, Nefertiri, downright selfish; he embraced an anti-Biblical, anti-feminist view that women are supposed to be passive.

It is doubly disgraceful that the creators of both The Prince of Egypt and The Ten Commandments: The Musical did not recognize the subjection of women as a modern intrusion on Mr. DeMille’s part, but instead unthinkingly copied watered down versions of characters that were much stronger in the original text. Nothing regarding women which was omitted by DeMille was included in the two later films, even though they both present a more positive attitude towards active women. Not having done the obvious (not to mention the correct thing to do) of going back to the original text of Exodus, of necessity they have had to fabricate material to portray active women in a positive light. While The Prince of Egypt retcons a purely fictional meeting of Mosheh and Sipporah before the well incident, The Ten Commandments: The Musical instead ramps up her levels of aggression so she not only fights alongside Mosheh, but also expresses very clearly love at first sight. This may be an attempt to improve on The Prince of Egypt, which has Sipporah start off hating Mosheh (including pushing him into a well) and then having to segue her into liking him enough to marry him. Alas, the musical repeats the mistake of The Prince of Egypt of having Sipporah be a major character yet not move the plot along; Cecil B. DeMille at least has the dramatic sense to have Sipporah be used as an irritant, obstacle, and pawn in the Mosheh-Nefertiri conflict. The other “good” female characters in the musical also do little to move the plot along, except for Yokhevedh and the Daughter of Par‘oh, whose actions at the Nile cannot be eliminated without forcing the writers to be creative in rewriting the plot. Nefertiri retains her role as a major plot-mover, though without even the arbitrary rule that she must marry the next Par‘oh, why she does not voluntarily go into exile with Mosheh but instead marries Par‘oh II is an unexplained problem.

Modern idea #3: “There are no old heroes who work without a young hero.”

When I reviewed The Prince of Egypt, I thought that Mosheh’s age has been significantly reduced due to the liberation of Sipporah, as it is generally considered very distasteful for a woman today to marry a man 40 or more years older than her. While it seemed plausible at the time, only afterwards I found out that the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments reduces Mosheh’s age without bothering to liberate Sipporah. Since The Prince of Egypt seems to be derived from The Ten Commandments, my original hypothesis is unlikely. I therefore propose an alternate hypothesis which works with all three films under discussion: Mosheh’s age has been reduced due to the modern idea that an old hero must always work with a younger hero. Mosheh is working essentially alone, especially since DeMille’s insistence on blind faith reduces communication with YHWH. But an 80-year-old man acting alone as a hero is unheard of. Does Gandalf take the One Ring to Mount Doom to destroy it without help? Does Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda bring down the Galactic Empire single-handedly? Does Professor X have the slightest chance of acting alone? Of course not! They have help in the form of younger heroes. Unable to think of a counterexample (certainly not a prominent counterexample), I hereby suggest that DeMille, consciously or unconsciously, was influenced by the cultural tradition that old heroes do not get to act alone, and so he took the easy path of reducing Mosheh’s age.

Possibly related to modern ideas of heroes in the movies and musical is that in all three Mosheh has no speech impediment, in blatant contradiction to the original text (Exodus 4:10). People in fiction are rarely depicted as having problems speaking unless it is critical to the story, and I cannot recall a single modern hero depicted with speech difficulties. This convention may have been inadvertently been applied to Mosheh.

Modern idea #4: Abhorrence of animal sacrifice.

Just like in The Prince of Egypt, the fact that the lambs being slaughtered are sacrifices (Exodus 12:27) received no attention in the 1956 film. The paschal sacrifice is completely omitted in the musical.

Modern idea #5: YHWH is a smoky, material being.

The 1956 film prefigures The Prince of Egypt’s error of depicting YHWH as a smoky, material being who takes time to wander around Egypt slaying the Egyptians’ firstborn (in contradiction to Exodus 12:29). In fact, it does The Prince of Egypt one worse by also depicting YHWH on Mount Sinay (Sinai) in the form of a mass of animated fire. This is taking a poetic metaphor (Deuteronomy 4:24) a bit too far.

While I am complaining, in the musical, Mosheh claims that YHWH dwells within all men. Even allowing for the possibility of panentheism, the belief that YHWH permeates the universe—a view which I deem much less probable than transcendent theism—this is akin to saying the government of the United States dwells within the White House. Such a formulation is not attested anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, and it smacks of idolatry. Lest anyone think I am exaggerating, keep in mind that the Nepalis have the institution of the Kumari, a girl who is believed to be inhabited by the Hindu goddess Durga and actually worshipped.

Another complaint: The Jews at that time are well aware of YHWH’s names, despite the claims of the 1956 film. Cecil B. DeMille seems to have misinterpreted the verse “I appeared to ’Avraham (Abraham), to Yishaq (Issac), and to Ya‘aqov (Jacob) as ’El Shadday (God Almighty(?)), and [by] my name YHWH I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:3). The verse cannot be sensibly interpreted as meaning that the Jews knew none of YHWH’s names, as it specifies that the name ’El Shadday was previously known. It also cannot be taken literally to mean the name YHWH was not previously known, as that name is spoken previously (Genesis 14:22, 15:2, 15:7-8, 16:2, 16:5, 16:11, 16:13, 18:14, 19:13-14, 21:33, 22:14, 22:16, 24:3, 24:7, 24:12, 24:21, 24:27, 24:31, 24:35, 24:40, 24:42, 24:44, 24:48, 24:50-52, 24:56, 26:22, 26:25, 26:28-29, 27:7, 27:20, 28:13, 28:16, 28:21, 29:32-33, 29:35, 30:24, 30:27, 30:30, 31:49, 32:10, 49:18); most likely the significance of the name was previously unknown.

Yet another complaint: A few times in the Hebrew Bible people fear that if they encounter divine beings, they will die (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:20-22; Judges 4:22). Considering that YHWH and the angels are more powerful than us and have power over us, this fear is not crazy. None of us are perfect, and thus an encounter with the Judge who knows all our darkest secrets or His/Her representative might very well be the last encounter one has, especially if one treats the divine being too lightly. The theophany on Sinay (omitted from all three films) is so terrifying that the Jews are begging Mosheh to act as an intermediate, they cannot bear the direct revelation. Despite Mosheh’s unusual fortitude in the face of Divine revelation, he tries to get out of being YHWH’s messenger at the Burning Bush; he is frightened and tries to find a reason, any reason to be let off the hook (Exodus 3:11, 3:13, 4:1, 4:10, 4:13). The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt, and The Ten Commandments: The Musical all do not even attempt to convey a feeling of sheer terror appropriate to prophetic encounters.

Modern idea #6: “What? Me learn Hebrew?”

It is obvious that either no one who worked on either version of The Ten Commandments and had any real power in the project knew Hebrew, or if they did, they did not care enough to do the film right. Just like The Prince of Egypt, both versions of The Ten Commandments make the mistake of having “Let my people go” and “Thou shalt not kill” instead of the more accurate “Send [forth] my people” (Exodus 5:1) and “You will not murder” (Exodus 20:12). (OK, the musical is more poetic about both than Cecil B. DeMille’s film, but the basic error in meaning remains the same.)

When I reviewed The Prince of Egypt, I thought that the reason that the creators had changed Mosheh’s killing the Egyptian from deliberate to accidental was a side effect of Mosheh’s age being reduced due to the liberation of Sipporah. On further consideration, it may also be due to the King James Version mistranslation of the commandment “You will not murder” (allowing killing in certain cases) as “Thou shalt not kill” (always forbidding killing); it is incongruent to have the hero deliberately breaking a major rule. The killing is still depicted as deliberate in the 1956 film, but the musical copies The Prince of Egypt and makes it accidental and in public.

Modern idea #7: Judaic anachronism.

The musical has two anachronisms of modern Judaism. When leaving Egypt, Mosheh wears a tallith (prayer cloak); while the institution of wearing fringed garments is commanded in the Torah, this one looks remarkably like one bought in a Jewish bookstore. An ancient tallith would most certainly have some fringe strings dyed with tekheleth (a blue dye made from the ink of Murex snails), and there would be no purple stripes on the garment itself. (Tangent: Mosheh’s wearing the tallith looks rather strange since he does not wear a kippah (skullcap/yarmulke) with it.) Also, the marriage of Mosheh and Sipporah takes place under a huppah (marriage canopy); this practice is from Jewish oral tradition and not attested in the Hebrew Bible. (Deliberately paralleling the wedding of Mosheh and Sipporah with that of Par‘oh II and Nefertiri is an interesting symmetry, though.)

Other blunders:

1) The 1956 film constantly rewrites the text of Exodus, both in dialog and narration, to the point of severe annoyance of anyone familiar with the original text.

2) The 1956 film starts of claiming that life is created from light. I have no clue where Mr. DeMille got this idea.

3) Despite the claims of Mr. DeMille, Jewish newborn boys are to be thrown into the river (Exodus 1:22), not killed with swords.

4) Despite the claims of Mr. DeMille, Yithro (Jethro) is not a Bedouin sheik. Bedouins are a modern Arab group who naturally do not appear at all in the Hebrew Bible. He is not even an Arab. Yithro, also known as Re‘u’el (Reuel; Exodus 2:18) is a priest of Midhyan (Midian; Exodus 2:16, 3:1). He and the rest of Midhyan are not descended from Yishma‘e’l (Ishmael); Midhyan is one of the sons of ’Avraham and Qeturah (Keturah; Genesis 25:2). Why DeMille Arabized Yithro, I do not know. Perhaps this is an attempt to make the film more “inclusive”.

Also: Yithro also has no privy knowledge of YHWH in the original text.

5) In contradiction to the 1956 film, in the original text Mosheh decides to go see the Burning Bush only when he is out tending the sheep and sees it himself (Exodus 3:1-3), not on the prompting of anyone else.

6) Just as I complained about when reviewing The Prince of Egypt, in the original text, Moshe does not go to Par‘oh II after the Slaying of the Firstborn. Rather, Par‘oh II comes to Mosheh and practically throws him out of the country (Exodus 12:31-32). In fact, there should be an immediate push by the Egyptians to get the Jews out of Egypt, right there and then, in the middle of the night (Exodus 12:33). Apparently the 1956 film was the source for The Prince of Egypt to copy.

7) We are spared misplacement of the Song at the Sea, since, unlike The Prince of Egypt, both versions of The Ten Commandments omit it altogether.

Also: The musical completely guts the Reed Sea episode, not bothering to have the Egyptian army even show up (in contradiction to Exodus 14:7-28), but rather having Par‘oh II have a completely fictional reconciliation scene with Mosheh.

8) The musical makes repeated reference in song to “the horns of Jericho” sounding. Jericho does not fall to the sound of horns until after the Jews cross the Jordan River into Israel, 40 years later (Joshua 6:2-25).

Overall classification of The Ten Commandments: Pretentious serious film.

Theological rating of The Ten Commandments: D.

Overall classification of The Ten Commandments: The Musical: Low-quality musical.

Theological rating of The Ten Commandments: The Musical: D-. (Extra points off for panentheism.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Some spam I just got


I would like to share an annoyance that keeps coming up in job-hunting, and that is the phishing scam.  Phishing is a technique for getting information out of people by sending them some sort of bait.  Below is a message I just got:

Dear Aaron ,

A recent viewing of your resume online has allowed us to determine that you are qualified for a position within our company as a Casting Manager. We are one of the most exciting web launches within the last few years, TooSpoiled.

For this particular position, we’re looking for someone who has a list of contacts within the entertainment industry as well as at least two years of experience in casting. The position involves working face-to-face with top entertainment professionals, so outstanding communication and presentation skills are very important. A bachelor’s degree is preferred but not required. If you do join TooSpoiled as a Casting Manager, you’ll be responsible for meeting monthly booking quotas and for posting talent opportunities directly on the website. Matching TooSpoiled talent with available castings and bookings and working with talent agencies, movie studios and others to identify the need for talent and to secure bookings are critical aspects of this position.

Compensation for TooSpoiled’s Casting Managers is extremely competitive, including an annual salary at or near six figures at the end of the first year. Our bonus and incentive program can add even more to earning potential.

I encourage you to click on the link below if you have an interest in applying for the Casting Manager position. You may paste the address into your browser if the link is not functioning properly.


I hope to hear from you soon regarding this opportunity.

Best Regards,

Phillip Hester

I do not wish to be considered for future employment.

The bait is designed to get information from the recipient no matter what the answer.  If the URL I censored out is chosen, then the recipient may be subjected to phony job application forms designed to extract personal information.  If the recipient chooses “I do not wish to be considered for future employment.”, which is a link the original message, then the spammer finds out that the recipient’s E-mail address is active and used by a genuine human being, thus proving that this E-mail address is a viable target for future spam.  The only way to fight such spam is to not answer at all.

I would also like to note my disrespect for this sort of message (and spam in general) since the bait is poorly matched to the target.  Yes, I am unemployed, and I do appreciate job offers.  But I know nothing about being a casting director, and I have no interest in being a casting director.  None of the spam preying on job-hunters that I have received so far has purported to offer me a job of the kind I was looking for (epidemiology, statistics).  Don’t these losers know that lies are supposed to be believable?  If someone is going to do something evil, they might as well do it well in a way that impresses people, not in a way that comes off as stupid.  Shame on them!


22 ’Elul 5767: Be Late for Something Day


Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is something from Emily’s collection, included below. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Ten Words That Don’t Exist, but Should

1. AQUADEXTROUS (ak wa deks' trus) adj. Possessing the ability to turn the bathroom faucet on and off with your toes.
2. CARPERPETUATION (kar' pur pet u a shun) n. The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string or a piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance.
3. DISCONFECT (dis kon fekt') v. To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, assuming this will somehow 'remove' all the germs.
4. ELBONICS (el bon' iks) n. The actions of two people maneuvering for one armrest in a movie theater or on an airplane.
5. FRUST (frust) n. The small line of debris that refuses to be swept onto the dust-pan and keep backing a person across the room until he finally decides to give up in frustration and sweeps it under the rug.
6. LACTOMANGULATION (lak' to man guy lay' shun) n. Manhandling the "open here" spout on a milk container so badly that one has to resort to the 'illegal' side.
7. PEPPIER (pehp ee ay') n. The waiter at a fancy restaurant whose sole purpose seems to be walking around asking diners if they want ground pepper.
8. PHONESIA (fo nee' zhuh) n. The affliction of dialing a phone number and forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer.
9. PUPKUS (pup'kus) n. The moist residue left on a window after a dog presses its nose to it.
10. TELECRASTINATION (tel e kras tin ay' shun) n. The act of always letting the phone ring at least twice before you pick it up, even when you're only six inches away.

Warning Signs That You Need a New Life
Your job requires you to wear a paper hat.
You consider professional wrestling a sport.
You know all the words to the Brady Bunch theme.
You don't buy National Enquirer at the subscribe.
You get unnecessary haircuts, just to have someone run their fingers through your hair.
You believe Oswald acted alone, except for the aliens behind the grassy knoll.
The first four digits of your girl/boyfriend’s phone number are 1-900.
You really DO read Playboy/Playgirl for the articles.
You play the accordion.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

21 ’Elul 5767: Newspaper Carrier Day


Today’s news and commentary:Seeing that yesterday I kvetched about on-line job-hunting forms, today’s weird thing is my kvetching about Web-pages in general, which these days leave much to be desired. Enjoy and share the weirdness with your favorite newspaper carrier.


Things I do not like in Web pages
Aaron Solomon Adelman, PhD

1) Multipage articles. There is no point in splitting an article up into multiple parts. All it does is make more work for the person reading the article. If the person wants to read an article off-line, it makes for a nasty surprise for the reader to find out that he/she has to reconnect just to get the rest of the article. If the reader wants to save the article to his/her hard drive (e.g., for research purposes), each part must be saved individually. I am well aware that many sites allow one to "print" an article into a single-page, and a few allow one to access a "single page" version. However, these would be much less needed if articles were provided in single pages by default. Extra searching and extra clicking add up to extra annoyance and extra wasting of time and effort.

2) Advertising. I am well aware that some sites are supported by advertising. However, advertising that takes too long to load or is offensive to the reader in any way is not going to benefit anyone. Also, the more bandwidth ads waste and the less the user wants to see them, the more likely they are to be blocked and the less likely the user is to continue visiting said sites.

3) Pointless graphics, especially big ones. The point of graphics is to show things that cannot be shown properly or at all in text. Graphics should never, ever be used for text in any language supported by Unicode. Using graphics for mere text wastes bandwidth and makes the page less searchable. Some Web-page designers also throw in text graphics purely for the sake of aesthetics. Often this eats bandwidth and slows down the loading of pages dramatically. If I want to read a short article, I should not need to load ≥50 times more information than the actual content of the article to do so. Some people seem to be determined to take this concept to the next level of annoyance by adding gratuitous video, too.

Note: Bullets, stars, and various other dingbats are part of Unicode. There had better be a very good reason for using a graphic for these.

4) Links to a zillion other articles and even other things, especially with pictures or video. Some connectivity to the rest of the site is OK, but I do not need or want the whole site-map.

5) Noisy Web-pages. For the most part, these are just plain annoying. There always ought to be a warning before the user is subjected to any noise.

6) Sites that only work correctly with certain browsers. The point of HTML and other open standards is to be platform-independent. People who violate this rule ought to be fired.

7) Having to scroll through a long list where one can only see a few items at a time.

8) All Web pages ought to have titles that concisely and sufficiently describe what they are. It’s really annoying to have no idea what a Web page is because the composer used the title of the Web site and not the title of (for example) the article.

9) Resizing windows without permission is rude.

General rule of thumb: If a site takes forever to load over a 56K modem, it probably needs to be trimmed.

General rule of thumb: If a site is annoying to use, it needs to be fixed. This goes doubly so if the person using the site refers to the programmer using pejoratives.

Monday, September 3, 2007

20 ’Elul 5767: Skyscraper Day/Labor Day


Divine misconception of the day: “Washington Post, Other Newspapers Won't Run 'Opus' Cartoon Mocking Radical Islam”—continued. Last Wednesday, I reported on the hypocrisy of The Washington Post and other newspapers who refused to carry an “Opus” cartoon mocking radical Islam when they will carry cartoons by the same artist mocking evangelical Christianity, which is less worthy of mockery. This is frankly an Islamic attitude: any religion other than Islam can be mocked, but woe to those who mock Islam. Please note that anti-Semitic cartoons are routine in Islamic countries and draw no complaints, but Muslims riot and kill unbelievers when cartoons mocking Muhammad are published. This double standard is grossly unfair. For the sake of protest and free speech, I published a link to the first of these “offensive” “Opus” cartoons last week. Since the sequel to last week’s cartoon is also supposed to not be published by the aforementioned newspapers, you can find this week’s “offensive” “Opus” cartoon here.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:As someone currently unemployed, I have to fill in a lot of forms on-line to apply for jobs. Unfortunately, many of these forms are designed by people with little idea what they are doing, possibly characters straight out of a “Dilbert” cartoon. In an effort to blow off steam, today’s weird thing is a list I have compiled of downright stupid things I have encountered in on-line job application forms. Enjoy and share the weirdness (or be scared or something).


PS: If anyone wants to hire me as a job application on-line form design consultant, I’m game. If I have to fill out these awful things, I might as well get paid for it.

Things I do not like in forms encountered in job-hunting on-line
Aaron Solomon Adelman, PhD

1) Forms that are painful to fill in.

2) Asking for things that are already in the resume/CV.

3) Asking for information irrelevant or useless to the job being applied to, such as what county one lives in, typing speed for non-secretaries, whether one has a driver’s license for jobs not involving travel, and how much one can life for jobs not involving manual labor.

4) Asking for the same information every single time one applies for a position and not remembering it from application to application.

5) Requiring two clicks when one will do just as well.

6) Not permitting the user to fill in sensible values in forms.

7) Putting stupid restrictions on the structure of passwords. There is no point in restricting what characters can appear in a password or setting a maximum length. Such restrictions only reduce the work of anyone trying to break into the site.

8) Asking for the same information more than once in the same form. This includes the blatantly stupid idea of asking the applicant for his/her resume twice, once in plain text and once in another format.

9) Allegedly being able to import information from a CV/resume, but refusing to do so.

10) Asking for “confirmation” of anything selected from a pop-up menu which results in reloading the page for anything that could easily be typed as plain text, especially when that data can be easily deduced from data which has already been entered.

11) Opening a second window just to fill in the value of a field.

12) Sites that malfunction so as to render registration difficult or impossible.

13) Text fields which put arbitrary restrictions on the length of the text that can be entered, especially when they are obviously too short.

14) Asking the user to type in “N/A” or some other value to indicate inapplicability when said inapplicability can be easily inferred.

15) Not allowing the applicant to submit a fully-formed resume/CV but instead forcing him/her to tediously submit all the information via forms.

16) Using a job application as an opportunity to try to sell the applicant something.

17) Asking for a Social Security number, which is legally improper.

18) Asking for the applicant to log in after he/she has already logged in just a minute previously.

19) Pages which merely tell the applicant what is on the next page of a form.