Monday, March 30, 2009

On D&D and Mules

I was looking through a new D&D 4.0 book today, and it got me thinking. How much can a thing change before it becomes a new thing?

Terry Prattchett has an answer; in The Fifth Elephant, one of my favorite Discworld books – one of my favorite books at all, for that matter, the Dwarf king displays his father’s axe, explaining that once the blade broke and needed to be replaced, and once it needed a new handle, and the entire paint job had been re-done, but it was still his father’s axe. It changed slowly, gradually, in small increments over time, and therefore always remained new and relevant.

Darwin has an answer; if two organisms can mate and produce fertile offspring, they’re of the same species. If not, they’ve become different animals. Again, small, gradual changes eventually result in a brand new thing. This also means the two organisms can look completely different and still share a species, still be, in some small but fundamental way, the same thing. Think poodles and Labradors. Of course, two animals can look very similar and be different; incompatible. Think horses and donkeys.

How do we apply these ideas to social Darwinism? When have two ideas diverged so much they become different, separate, possibly incompatible ideas? I pick on D&D 4.0 because, well, because it deserves the abuse. It’s changed so much that it’s no longer D&D. It’s fairly internally consistent and at the core there seems to be a good game, but the classic, beloved, memorable characters that made earlier editions so memorable cannot be recreated in this new system. It’s incompatible with the old ways, and is a new thing.

The same is true of modern fencing. There is “classical fencing”, which is a martial art, and there is “Olympic fencing”, which is a sport. They use similar equipment and terminology and look the same from the outside, but they are different enough that few people successfully and continuously do both.

So what about modern Judaism? As I’ve explored my Jewish identity recently I’ve come to question the boundaries and distinctions between denominations. How much can a denomination change and yet remain the same religion? How slowly can it change and yet remain relevant?

I suppose we could perform a Darwinistic cross-breading and see if it produces fertile offspring. I think it would.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nobody Likes A Smartass

Just a quick note I'm jotting down before I lose the paper it's scribbled on...

Does G-d hate people that argue with him? Both Moses and Abraham get punished unduly for "rebelling". Moses doesn't get to enter Israel; Abraham is sent to sacrifice his son, his wife dies in sorrow, and he never gets to see G-d's blessing fulfilled.

Heaven is a journey, not a destination.

Ok, enough random thoughts from last Shabbat; on to this week's!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Designing Sensitive Robots -

Robots that can sense human emotions could be much more responsive, the researchers say. Envision a robot cowering under the bed if a user is feeling angry and looking for something to kick. Alternatively, a robot designed to provide comfort could instinctively approach a person who is feeling particularly sad or stressed.

In the words of a co-worker, great! Any word on when they'll figure out how to get humans to respond this way?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Another Reason To Dislike Banks

Because we need one more...

I won't get into the specifics of what I dealt with today, because it's banal, annoying, and, frankly, private. But it got me thinking.

When I was a kid in Cub Scouts, we had a discussion about "personal finance" listing various things one could do with $100, weighing the benefits of each as compared, let's say, to putting it in a shoebox under the mattress. The "lesson" we were "supposed" to learn from this was the benefit of putting our money in banks and growing our savings.


Anyway. It got me thinking; why do the banks get to operate by different rules? I don't mean the set we're all discussing nationally now (bailout, executive bonuses for failure, bailout, fraud, and bailout), I'm talking about their fundamental operations, the way they make money. Off of us.

Whenever I complain to my banker about unfair fees or policies, or the bank deliberately doing something with my account that's not in my best interest (or wishes), her response is, "Well, they're in this to make money." As opposed to helping me, being nice, showing human decency, etc. My response: "So?"

We're all trying to make money; if you're truly not concerned how, might as well go run drugs or become a mugger ("Washington Mutual: Where the victims come TO the muggers!"). More than that, most businesses are required to provide me with some good or service in exchange for my money.

What is it, exactly, the bank provides me to justify these hefty fees, penalties, and other petty thefts? Fundamentally they're just providing another mattress under which I can put my shoebox. And for this they charge me.

Here's my idea: as we're exploring new rules and regulations for the banks, as we're rebuilding the system from the ground up, build it such that the bank only makes money when I make money. If I deposit $1,000 in a CD and it grows to $1,500, they're entitled to a cut. If they help me pay off my credit cards, consolidate my debt, and generally make month-to-month expenses easier to deal with, they get paid. But they are not entitled to a portion of my money just for holding it; if that's the case it's time to get a new shoe box.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Tazzer?

Interesting question.

I'm looking for good sources that discuss whether there are religious groups that


take the view that deadly force is always bad, even in self-defense or defense of others, but nondeadly force (including pepper spray, stun guns, and other devices that are extremely unlikely to kill) is permissible, or

take the view that given the choice between nondeadly force and deadly force, one should always use nondeadly force, unless the nondeadly force is very likely to fail (e.g., all one has for nondeadly force is fists vs. an attacker's knife).

My favorite line is: "I realize that stun guns and pepper spray may not have gotten a great deal of specific attention from theologians..."

No deep thoughts on the topic, but it's an interesting discussion for a pacifist/religious/swordfighter like me. (Multi-class Cleric/Fighter; yay!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's hard to blaspheme Purim!

I mean seriously! How do you treat irreverently a holiday whose major theme is irreverence? And yet, we persevere.

It's one of the interesting results of my year-long experiment in blasphemy - aside from realizing how bad I am at 1) reading a calendar, and 2) remembering to post something. I never realized that it would be so, well, difficult! This is the third major holiday in a row that left me scratching my head as I tried to find some way to offer indignity to HaShem within that holiday's major theme! Granted, I'm new at this and will probably improve with time, but for now it seems that when you remove G-d from Judaism, and refuse to assign any "Divine Attributes" until they have been earned... changes almost nothing at all about Judaism.

Purim is about sex drinking wearing masks, which means it is also about removing masks. Masks are things used for concealment or disguise. We assume that if someone is wearing a mask they put it on theirself. But many times we create the masks we see on others, and from viewing them we learn more about ourselves than the one so masked. I removed G-d from Purim and it looked just the same; what does that tell us about the mask we put on G-d?

Monday, March 9, 2009

On Selling Out

This past Friday night I filled for a friend of my mom's, leading Shabbat services at a senior living facility. I enjoyed it, yes, both as a mitzvah and as furthering my personal and professional development. As an added bonus, I got paid for my services.

That makes it official.

I'm a professional god-botherer.