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Archive for the ‘Adam’ Category

This past Yom Kippur was the first time in five years that I fasted. And it sucked. As I entered the 22nd hour, I was doing laps in an Olympic-sized pool of self-pity. For perhaps the first time ever, I regretted taking a day off of work. I kept thinking how unnatural the whole thing was. I was hungry. There was food. I should eat. Fasting went against every animal instinct I had.

It was at this point that some part of my hunger-addled brain began to flicker. How great is it that we can not eat–by choice. I could’ve eaten any number of things lying around the house. Or I could’ve gone out and ordered food. Or I could’ve called a phone number, and someone would have brought food to me. In other times and other places, being presented with all of those options would have been nothing short of a miracle.

And yet it’s because food is so plentiful that we have the choice not to eat it. It’s like the old joke about how you never visit the legendary landmark next door until someone comes to visit you. Since you know it’s always going to be there, you don’t feel the need to take advantage of it immediately. And so it is with food. The more we have, the less we need.

Of course, these thoughts didn’t help the fast go any faster. As soon as 6:06 rolled around, I went after the snack tray as if the dolmas might evaporate any second. However, the fast did make me think, which I guess is the point of the holiday. It also reminded me of a concept I heard about a while back called the tragedy of the commons.

The idea refers to a hypothetical plot of land shared by a number of farmers. If the farmers each have enough sheep to keep the grass at a constant level, everybody wins. However, as soon as one farmer decides to try to earn more by adding another sheep, eventually the grass will run out, the sheep die, and everyone loses.

Especially the grass.

This applies to any limited resource; people will try to get as much of it as possible for themselves, but if everyone does this, the resource runs out. However, if we know we have enough, we can feel safe taking what we need, and nothing more.

And yet, even though we live in an age of unparalleled prosperity, there is still a general sense of unease. We know that the world is at a tipping point. It seems that the higher we build, the more complex we get, the more precarious our position: the recent financial collapse has demonstrated that quite clearly.

Historically, humanity’s goal has always been to grow. But, as we stand on the brink of 7 billion people, it’s becoming apparent that growth isn’t sustainable. What would happen if some crisis struck and crippled our modern infrastructure? Could we repair our own cars without electricity? Could we plant a garden without looking to the internet?

Which brings me to zombies. As you may have noticed, zombies are incredibly popular these days. These unreasoning, brain-hungry corpses are neck and neck (no pun intended) with vampires in terms of Google searches and kicking the crap out of werewolves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that vampire-based fiction is currently responsible for approximately 78% of the American economy.

Suck on that, Team Edward (That makes sense, right?)

Several of my friends have started planning for the zombie apocalypse, and even have an escape route planned out in case of zombie attack.

While both vampires and zombies are undead creatures roaming the night looking for more people to infect, over the years vampires have been transformed into sparkling sex symbols, while zombies remained violent, bloodthirsty brutes. However, in recent films as well as all across the internet, the interest in zombies tends to focus on the aftermath of a zombie attack, rather than on the zombies themselves.

There’s both a lengthy Wikipedia article specifically on the zombie apocalypse and a Zombie Survival Wiki, not to mention an academic paper from the University of Ottawa about the effects of a zombie outbreak. Part of the attraction of the zombie apocalypse is the sheer freedom of it. I mean, in some respects, life would be like a giant game of Grand Theft Auto. You could go around, stealing cars, running over zombies, and doing missions for various underworld kingpins.

However, there would be a more serious side, and that’s where all this obsession and preparation would come in.

In almost every zombie movie, the survivors are forced to find a way to provide their own food, shelter, and clothing–to survive without modern technology or conveniences. You’d have to be prepared to go days without eating, and to live with only what you can carry. So, really, the aftermath of a zombie outbreak could stand in for that of any large scale disaster.

Say there’s a terrorist attack. Or some global warming-related weather event. Or the electric grid fails. Or SARS makes a comeback. Or genetically modified plants gain sentience and go on a killing spree. Or any of the dozens of things the news threatens us with every night. What would you do? Of course, nobody’s seriously preparing for all these events, and with good reason. You’d go crazy from the stress, or at the very least people would think you’re extremely paranoid for acting on what seems like a very unlikely possibility. And yet the anxiety remains. You can see it in the increasing popularity of hobbies like knitting, homebrewing, and DIY projects in general. There’s something in the air, and real or not, it’s best to be prepared.

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As you may have noticed, zombies are incredibly popular these days. They’re neck and neck (no pun intended) with vampires in terms of Google searches and kicking the crap out of werewolves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that vampire-based fiction is currently responsible for approximately 78% of the American economy.

Suck it, Team Jacob (That makes sense, right?)

There are numerous articles written about the zombie apocalypse, and my friends even have a route planned out in case of zombie attack. Now, granted, Cracked.com isn’t a leading scientific journal, and my friends are…well they’re the type of people who make zombie maps, but the point remains that zombies are certainly on peoples’ minds. But why?

As this article points out, the idea of the living dead has been around since Babylonian times. Our modern conception of zombies is mostly shaped, however, by more recent texts like “Frankenstein” and authors like Edgar Allen Poe. This, plus the Haitian practice of voodoo has led to what we now think of as zombies. But the question is, why is this idea so persistent? Why does it resurface again and again, across time, space, and cultures? One thought is that they were the living (or not) embodiment of our unconscious doubts over our own humanity. That is to say, they are an outlet for deep uncertainties about what it is that defines personhood.

Of course, what an object represents can change over time. There is an element of bricolage, or placing something that already exists in a different context to create an entirely different meaning. For example, vampires were originally portrayed as diseased, bloated corpses that fed on the living. However, as people began finding the whole neck-sucking thing sexy (I guess?) vampires became synonymous with eroticism. Similarly, an army of mindless zombies have represented Communist hordes, rampant consumerism, and corporate greed, just to name a few. So what do modern zombies represent?

To me, the most interesting thing is that the focus seems to be on the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, rather than on the zombies themselves. There’s both a lengthy Wikipedia article specifically on the zombie apocalypse and a Zombie Survival Wiki, not to mention an academic paper about the effects of a zombie outbreak. Of course, the zombies could still represent Communists or terrorists or killer bees or whatever, but the fact remains that the focus seems to rest more on the apocalypse and less on the zombies. So, again, we have to ask why.

Going back to the article I mentioned earlier, there are several reasons listed for why people are fantasizing about a zombie apocalypse. Some of the reasons are obvious. I mean, in some respects, life would be like a giant game of Grand Theft Auto. You could go around, stealing cars, running over zombies, and doing missions for the Yakuza (or looting stores or whatever). However, there would be a more serious side, and that’s where all this obsession and preparation would come in.

You’d need to provide your own food, shelter, and whatever other amenities you would want. So, really, the zombie apocalypse could stand in for any large scale disaster. Say there’s a terrorist attack. Or some global warming-related weather event. Or the electrical grid fails. Or SARS makes a comeback. Or genetically modified plants gain sentience and go on a killing spree. Or any of the dozens of things the news threatens us with every night. What would you do? Of course, nobody’s seriously preparing for all these events, and with good reason. You’d go crazy from the stress, or at least people would think you’re extremely paranoid for acting on what seems like a very unlikely possibility. And yet the anxiety remains. So preparing for a nuclear holocaust makes you seem crazy, but preparing for the zombie apocalypse? That’s hilarious. Or is it?

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The Future of Storytelling

Hey all, I’m just posting a brief video that you might be interested in. It’s something I worked on the other day, and it ties in really well to what we’re doing:
Forget E-Books: The Future of Digital Storytelling

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Generation Gap

As you may or may not be able to tell, this blog is ultimately about the idea of survival. Not like, the guys who stockpile gold and ammunition while living off of Twinkies and deer urine. No, this is a more philosophical idea of survival, focusing on the survival of humanity as a whole, rather than on the survival of individuals. At the same time, however, the survival of the whole relies on the survival of the individual, and that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

I, like many red-blooded Americans, have put a lot of thought into what I would do if there were some sort of zombie-based apocalypse (more on that in my next post). Would I be able to grow my own food? What would I do for water? How about electricity? Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the answers are no, nothing, and no way. The fact is, every generation builds using the tools of the previous one, and as a result we get further and further removed from understanding how things actually work. Take, for example, the car. Back in the day, it was a collection of gears and pistons that you could fix with your bare hands; now it’s hydraulics and electronics that require advanced equipment to repair. Frankly, if anything ever breaks, my only solution is to Google it, and without Google, I’d be SOL.

Contrast that, for example, with my grandparents’ generation. My grandfather moved here from Russia when he was 9. After finishing middle school, he began working full time to support his family. And, by the end of his life, he was a millionaire (or at least pretty damn rich, I don’t know his exact net worth). If I were dropped in some foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, I’m pretty sure my response would involve a lot less thriving and a lot more fetal position. In addition, both of my grandparents fought in World War II; meanwhile, I spent a weekend getting really good at Call of Duty. In addition, my mom’s uncle fought in the Spanish Civil War, which contrasts nicely with the fact that I’m reading a book about it. The point is, these people kept their cool while staring down hails of gunfire, while I start freaking out if I go a day without my cell phone.

However, it’s not all bad news. The fact is, none of these people were born that way. I mean, my grandfather wasn’t some mini survivalist when he emigrated to Ellis Island. However, he was thrust into a bad situation, and he dealt with it, and grew stronger because of it. Similarly, I’m pretty sure none of these people had been shot at before entering the military, but, you know, you get used to it. And that’s where we as humans really shine: we can adapt to pretty much anything. But at the same time, it can’t hurt to be prepared.

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The Bible of the Future

Until this past week, I’d been writing this blog blissfully unaware of where the hell I was going with it.  I figured I’d write some stories about loosely related topics and, you know, stuff would happen, and it would be a coherent text.  This sounded reasonable until I tried to explain it out loud, at which point it completely fell apart.  So, in our meeting last week, one of the main questions was what would be my guiding principle.

Another question was what exactly was Jewish about this whole thing.  I had some vague idea about kibbutzim and tikkun olam, but that too was kind of hard to explain.  But after a good bit of discussion, an idea emerged.  My blog was about planning for the future, so why not write about the roll Judaism would play in that future?  The Torah has guided us for the past 5,000 years, but are its values still relevant?  And, if not, what values are?

I, of course, interpreted this as “make your blog the Torah of the future,” which sounded awesome, so I decided to do it.  But that made me wonder, what is the Torah?  I know it’s that blue book where “awesome” doesn’t mean cool and people lived for like 500 years, but what was its purpose?  Was it an historical document (note: I can’t stand using “an” before historical, but whatever)?  A book of morals?  A guide for everyday living?  I decided to investigate.

And, as with any good research project, I began by turning to Wikipedia, and just opening an obscene number of tabs.

Picture 3

Not Joking


The first thing I learned was that while I thought that the Torah (you know, the scroll with the crown) was the same thing as the Old Testament, there’s actually a little more to it than that.  What I thought of as the Old Testament is actually the Tanakh, which consists of the Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).  And while it seems like the Torah and Nevi’im were written at about the same time, Ketuvim came later.  But now for the weird part.

Up until around the 17th century, it was generally assumed that Moses was the sole author of the Torah (thus, the Five Books of Moses).  However, this overlooks some pretty significant evidence to the contrary.  First of all, there’s God.  While it’s generally acknowledged that there’s a difference between the “Old Testament God” and the “New Testament God”, there are some bizarre inconsistencies even within the Torah.  Sometimes He/She’s loving, sometimes He/She’s vengeful.  Sometimes He/She appears all-powerful, and at others He/She’s almost human.  This, plus the fact that several sections are just repetitions of earlier sections, suggests that either Moses was a terrible writer, or there was more than one person working on this thing.

Until recently, the most common explanation was what is called the Documentary hypothesis.  The idea is that the Torah is made up of four separate texts that were eventually edited together.  These texts, the Jahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly, all tell related, sometimes overlapping stories, but each comes from a unique perspective.  For example, the Jahwist text favors the southern tribes of Israel, whereas the Elohist favors the north.  For some reason, I find this hilarious.  It’s like the Union and the Confederacy getting together to write a textbook.

The Deuteronomist focuses mostly on the story of Moses, but also spends a great deal of time outlining a code of Jewish law.  The fourth text, the Priestly, presents God as much less human than in the previous versions, and as only being accessible through, you guessed it, priests.  For example, in the Jahwist, God is constantly interacting with humans, capable of showing emotion, and indeed much more similar to other ancient gods.  In Priestly, on the other hand, God is portrayed as the sole creator of the world.  On a completely unrelated note, Priestly is also regarded as less literate and less elegant than the other sources.

Each of these texts also have their own unique origin.  As mentioned earlier, the Jahwist and Elohist seem to be collections of stories, histories, and traditions from southern and northern Israel, respectively, whereas Deuteronomist and Priestly appear to have been constructed with specific goals in mind.

And yet somehow, all four of these texts were combined to create something that looks like this:

800px-Documentary_Hypothesis_Sources_Distribution_English

If you scan this at a supermarket, you get a free Mr. Pibb.


And while it’s now believed that the text may not fall into four neat categories like this, it’s generally agreed that it was written by a bunch of people writing for a bunch of reasons.  So in the end, it turns out the Torah isn’t just a moral code.  Or an (dammit) history.  Or even a book of laws.  It’s all of them.  Which brings me back to the blog.

In some ways, it’s remarkable how long the Torah has survived.  From what I could tell from my three hours of research and a course on ancient history I took four years ago, the Jahwist and Elohist texts are very similar to any of a number of ancient stories.  And yet it isn’t Zeus that over half of the people in the world worship.  There’s something about the Torah that is particularly appealing.  And perhaps (and I’m going way the hell out on a limb on this one) what makes it so enduring is its editing.  It took the best aspects from a number of specialized sources, and combined them in a way that speaks to everyone.  And perhaps that should be my goal: diverse sources, unified message.  Hey, if it’s good enough for the Torah…

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Atonement

This past Yom Kippur was the first one in five years where I fasted.  And it sucked.  As I entered the 22nd hour, I was doing laps in an olympic-sized pool of self-pity.  For perhaps the first time ever, I regretted taking a day off of work.  The whole time I kept thinking how unnatural the whole thing was.  I was hungry.  There was food.  I should eat.  It went against every animal instinct I had not to eat.

But it was at this point that some part of my hunger-addled brain began to flicker.  How great is it that we can not eat–for fun.  Sure, I could’ve eaten any of a number of things lying around the house.  Or I could’ve gone out and ordered food.  Or I could’ve called a phone number, and they would have brought food to me.  In other times and other places, being presented with all of those options would have been nothing short of a miracle, and fast or no, something to be taken advantage of.

But because food is so plentiful, we have the choice not to eat it.  It’s like the old joke about how you never visit the legendary landmark next door until someone comes to visit you.  Since you know it’s always going to be there, you don’t feel the need to take advantage of it immediately.  And so it is with food.  The more we have, the less we need.  In a time when food was scarce, sure, it made sense to produce as much as possible.  I mean, if you weren’t sure if the Golden Gate Bridge would be there tomorrow, I’m pretty sure you’d start sightseeing the hell out of it.

Of course, none of this helped the fast go any faster, and it was still a relatively uncomfortable two hours.  And as soon as 6:06 rolled around, I went after the snack tray as if the dolmas might evaporate any second.  However, it did make me think, which I guess is the spirit of the holiday.  It also reminded me of an article I read a while back.

The article was about the “tragedy of the commons”, the idea that if there is a limited resource, people will try to get as much of it as possible for themselves.  However, if everyone does this, the resource runs out and everyone loses.  But, if we know we have enough, we can feel safe taking what we need, and nothing more.

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