Absolute Power yada yada

I’ve recently finished watching the second season of Amazon TV’s “The Boys”. Apart from the fact that it’s a lot of fun (and definitely not for children), it got me thinking about the general trope of power corrupting in SF and F. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that The Boys is all about a world where there are super-powered people, but although they have good marketing and are pushed as superheroes, the truth is… well, more complex.

A similar concept (although a much more PG-13 execution) is explored in Brandon Sanderson’s “Reckoners” trilogy (YA) where “something” has caused superpowers to manifest, but almost everyone who has them is bad.

Spoiler warning: I guess spoilers for The Boys up to end of season 2 and Brandon Sanderson’s “Reckoners” trilogy.

There are certainly similarities between the two works, although Sanderson has (perhaps for the target audience) reduced the idea of “power corrupts” to some sort of outside influence. It’s somehow a side effect of wielding whatever power the mysterious artifact has granted people, which turns them into awful, greedy, uncaring people. Although I’m a big Sanderson fan, it strikes me that this was a cop-out as far as any deep moral discussion is concerned. Perhaps Brandon has such a sunny nature that he doesn’t really believe power could corrupt, so he has to find a sci-fi justification for it, but I feel he lost out on the possibility of having a serious discussion in his series. Supers (called “Epics” in the series) can sort of stay good, but only if they refrain from using their powers, or if their power is specifically the type which can help others (like healing).

The Boys does not flinch from examining the influence and limits of power. OK, The Boys does not flinch from pretty much anything (the gore, profanity and obscenity levels are off the charts, and apparently the TV show has been toned down from the original comic books), but I think this makes it a more thought-provoking work.

John Acton famously said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”. He was writing as an historian, and had reasonable amounts of evidence to back him up. In The Boys, the “greatest” superhero is Homelander (a Superman parody) and, while he can mouth phrases about The American Way and Apple Pie, it’s clear that he has absolutely no moral compass, and truly is driven almost entirely by his desires for sex and popularity. In the show, more background is given, and we see that he was brought up in a lab, with no real mother or father figures, initially pampered and then indoctrinated with some more-or-less white supremacist cant too. He’s almost tragic, since he never encountered discipline as a child and is now at a point where any attempt to change him is met with almost unconscious lethal violence. Having discovered some of the limits of his own power (he can’t really make people like him) he is, by the end of Season 2, rather desperately unhappy, but since he’s quite incredibly awful as a person, you can’t bring yourself to be too upset about that.

Similar characterization (or caricaturization?) is in place for other members of The Seven (meant to be equivalent to the DC Justice League), though perhaps writ smaller. The Deep (faux Aquaman) is utterly self indulgent (played to great comic effect). Queen Maeve (faux Wonder Woman), while she felt bullied by Homelander, is basically someone who would have been the same as him if he had not been there. Ditto Black Noir, Ditto ditto A-Train and Translucent.

But the show gets more interesting when you look at the “new” member of The Seven, Annie, aka Starlight. Annie joins The Seven after Lamplighter disappears, and is a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, nice country girl. It turns out that her Mom has been putting her through superhero pageants for years trying to get her noticed, but she is definitely a “good” church-going type, who just wants to help by fighting crime and keeping America safe. There’s no implication that she is morally distorted at the start of the show, and much is made of how she is badly traumatized by the actions of the other team members when she first arrives. Eventually, the moral compass she has been provided with turns her against The Seven and she joins forces with The Boys to bring down The Seven’s corporate sponsors, Vought, and all they stand for.

So far so good. However, the more Annie fights for the “good side”, the more she has to exert her powers, and, knowing that she is doing the “right thing” makes her impatient with the normal people who stand in her way. In a telling incident, Annie and Butcher are on the run with an injured Hughie, trying to save his life. They flag down a passing car and try to commandeer it, pretending to be some sort of law enforcement. The nervous driver, acting as many suspicious Americans might, pulls a gun on them, and Annie zaps him, perhaps trying to stun him. She is distressed to find out she really killed him, but the distress lasts about 2 minutes. Afterwards she admits that her main thought was that he was just such an idiot for getting in her way.

The character arc for Annie seems to be that the harder she uses her powers for what she perceives as good, the more she picks away at her moral foundations. Her Mom tries to give her a new crucifix, but she won’t wear it. Does she feel it would be hypocritical? Or has she completely lost her belief? The implication for the viewer is clear: in the end Annie is not that different from the people she is opposing. You can root for one side or the other, but if you think that one is better than the other, you will always be punched in the face by another example of the moral grayness.

Now, all this could be explained away by the generally grim-dark nature of the show. Indeed, the non-Super characters are hardly paragons of virtue either (Butcher, well the name says it all, Frenchy is a bomb-making maniac drug addict, although MM and Hughie are more or less good folks in tough situations…), and perhaps I could leave it there, but it occurred to me that since I consume a lot of fiction which involves highly powered individuals, it’s worth examining whether Baron Acton’s statement would really hold true for all of them too.

It might be a Christian, as opposed to a Jewish sentiment to equate moral innocence with powerlessness. On the simplest level, someone without power can hardly commit extreme violence, but history (and literature, and Jewish theology) has plenty of examples of weak entities who can do great harm without having great physical power. Starting with the Snake in Eden, a well placed word has been shown to have the potential to unleash the most extreme evil.

Leaving aside the power of speech, one can always dream up a scenario where a “weak” person can carefully move one rock, switch one wire, remove one horse-shoe nail and swing the course of events. Such suggestions though are somewhat begging the question: to know which word, rock, wire or nail would have the desired effect is to wield an almost supernatural power of foresight, prophecy or what-have-you. So maybe really powerless people truly can cause no harm.

However, by the same token, they can do little good. Simply put, as a pauper, I can hardly afflict a person with my great power and wealth, but I also can not give any money to help the other poor and needy. A king can be a more awful tyrant than someone with no political power, but if you want to fight against tyranny, a king might just be the ticket. But even those “good” kings who throw off tyranny, can end up less than pristine in their private lives. Perhaps the equation of power with evil is too simple.

It’s possible that drawing a line between private and public lives is part of the solution to the morality problem. Some people, perhaps through nature or nurture, perhaps through their own hard work, are more removed from “base” earthly desires. Maybe they really don’t feel a need to have the latest iPhone or the bigger car or the prettier spouse. Maybe they feel no pleasure in the idea of having others do their bidding. In this situation, they are likely to refrain from committing many of the sins which we frown upon. By the same token, these people can also be correctly termed “unambitious”, “unmotivated” or dare we say it… “uninteresting”. Given superpowers by Providence, they might not bother using them, or wait for guidance from others before acting, perhaps waiting forever. Certainly, they seem unlikely to go off and create their own superpowers.

Conversely, ambitious people, perhaps those with very strong desires, hard-wired drives, a need for speed and a reckless sense of morality, are the ones who are likely to act. Given power they will do something with it. Denied power, they will work towards acquiring it (a nice example here would be Iron Man). Except in a very narrow sense, I think it would be wrong to suggest that all such desire for power is necessarily evil. It simply has to be channeled in a good way. But it is still true that power is likely to be wielded by those who are most tempted by various earthly delights.

In The Boys, Hughie is the closest we see to a really good guy amongst the main characters. Even he has killed, but he really didn’t want to, and it still gives him nightmares. Literally everyone else looks down on him for being weak, and (at least at the end of Season 2) he feels the best thing for him is to get away from the influence of the The Boys and work as a volunteer for Senator Neuman (which probably won’t turn out well). Are we supposed to feel that Hughie is right? He’s definitely made a choice which fits him, but in the great battle against corporate Vought evil and personal Homelander-and-Stormfront evil, he is more or less ineffectual. The grey (tending to black) character of Butcher, who manufactures power out of his sheer bloody-mindedness and the lighter grey (getting grubbier day by day) power of Starlight is what has actually halted Homelander and crippled Stormfront for now. And they wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without A-Train’s greed, Maeve’s despair and Vought CEO Stan Edgar’s conniving.

It’s not possible for a society to advance without ambition and it’s not possible to have ambition without the desire for evil. The Midrash says G-d called the sixth day very good because the Evil Inclination was created – and without that, nothing would ever get done in the world. In a different Midrash the Rabbis prayed for the evil inclination for sexual sins be taken away. They waited for three days and found there wasn’t an egg to found anywhere, until they prayed for the evil inclination to be returned. The implication is obvious: without desire, nothing happens.

I think that a show like The Boys illustrates (very broadly) that while Power corrupts, we couldn’t have stories without it.

What do you think?

Niska vs Dolores

This one’s more a stream of consciousness (ha!) ramble, I’ll be amazed if anyone wants to read through to the end. Perhaps I’ll edit a bit later, but I wanted to get something out this week since I was threatened by Devorah.

Last year (yes, it’s 2019 now!), I watched a couple of SF TV shows about robots and, more specifically, robots developing real intelligence and free will. It’s a theme that becomes popular every so often and I was struck by some of the similarities and differences between the two shows.

Spoiler warning, I’ll be writing about the first 2 seasons of Westworld (HBO) and the first 3 seasons of Humans (Channel 4).

Firstly some similarities. Both shows are set in near future milieus, Westworld in a somewhat undisclosed location (an island?) but definitely associated with people in the US, and Humans in England (the actual small town setting might be imaginary, but at at some point the action moves to London and uses real locations there). The world as such is maybe a little more advanced (slightly nicer cars and cellphones) but not really unrecognizable. The major difference from our world is that someone (Dr. Ford in Westworld, David Elster in Humans) has determined how to make robots which are outwardly human seeming to a very high degree. In both cases the “creators” have seen fit to try to imbue at least some of the robots with real intelligence and free will. In both cases (of course) it has gone wrong.

So far so good. Having robots which look and act like people makes the shows easier to produce (if we’re being cynical) since the only special effects needed are if a severe injury is dealt to the robot character, and the only extra acting skills needed are to sometimes jerk about and talk a bit funny if a circuit has fried. With quite small efforts, it’s possible for our disbelief to be suspended and a good story told.

Now some differences. In Westworld, the robots (known as “hosts”) are supposedly only found in the Westworld Park (possibly on an island, seems to include a group of other parks like Samurai World, Raj World and perhaps a few more, TBD). Most of the hosts are quite dull and scripted, running through various scenarios with the Park’s customers, who perhaps predictably, tend to act out fantasies which usually focus on sex and violence. It’s not really possible to say these robots are integrated into everyday life. They are the equivalent of non-player characters (NPCs) in video games; there to provide useful scenery, and utterly expendable. The customers apparently pay an exorbitant fee, and have free rein to commit whatever acts they choose on the hosts. Large areas of the Park “behind the scenes” are taken up with areas to fix up, clean and generally service robot hosts which have been killed, raped and torn apart by customers as an acceptable practice. The practice of brutalizing hosts is perhaps made more disturbing by the fact that basically the customers cannot distinguish them from humans. In Westworld (the wild West scenario) the guns are somehow smart enough to know to shoot real rounds at hosts and other, more or less harmless rounds at humans, but a customer doesn’t know and just shoots indiscriminately.

In Humans, robots (called “Synths”, but also derogatorily known in England as “dollies”) are the prevalent upcoming tech which every family aspires to. Very similar to a colour TV in the 70’s, this is the new “in” thing. Predictably, some (mainly older) people are initially skeptical, kids generally love them, and the main focus is price and quality (“did you buy the latest model? Did you get the extended warranty?”). While people are getting used to having synths in their day to day lives, the synths are also being put to work in all sorts of jobs, generally more menial ones, but also customer facing jobs where unfailing politeness and patience are valued over creativity. The synths are also used (inevitably) as sex toys both in licensed brothels and in home use (over 18 with a password only…) At the beginning of the show, before anything terrible has happened, synths are not necessarily loved, but are at least treated as expensive equipment. The uncanny valley is a little wider here, and all Synths have bright green eyes and a slightly stiff manner making them rather easy to spot.

Now, both shows do a little bit of setting up of the worlds and then plunge into the “something goes wrong” which makes the story move ahead. I felt that Westworld (which is based on the movie, albeit quite loosely as far as the deep motivation is concerned) spent a lot of the time in the first 2 seasons trying to confuse the viewer, using shifting timelines and shifting points of view to disguise the identities and character development. It was definitely effective and at least in Season 1 allowed for some clever reveals such as (spoiler again) the fact that Arnold is a host. I felt that by the second Season this was something which could have been dispensed with. The episodes were (for me) hard to follow, and basically required you to do homework to figure out which timeline you were viewing and what the revelations in one meant for another. I like my SF to prod me to think, but I like to be thinking about the implications of the situation, not “what the hell is going on?”

Humans manages to have mysteries and surprises without crazy stunts. Anita, a new Synth slowly manifests her hidden Mia personality and the understanding that she has a deeper purpose than making the tea and sandwiches for the Hawkins family seems to grow in an organic way. The show is much less grandiose (it’s British, based on a Swedish show) and the ordinary people manage to seem properly ordinary, rather than either sex crazed fiends or people with Mission to somehow Bring Down the Corporation.

When the hosts attain consciousness in Westworld (and really it’s only a few hosts, like Dolores and Maeve, the rest are more or less following their programming until suborned by one of the truly conscious), they inevitably come from a place of loathing – they have really only ever seen the worst side of humanity, and despise them for their weakness and predictability. A large theme in Season 2 was the revelation that part of the purpose of the Park was to record consciousness from humans and transfer it to hosts for something like life after death. James Delos was recorded and numerous attempts are made to produce a host which can act like him with “fidelity” and not glitch. The conscious hosts are (rightly) contemptuous of this, since they have much simpler programming and manage to be conscious just fine. Their conclusion, which certainly fits the facts as presented, is that they are in fact the only beings which truly possess free will, humans being bound as they are by their instincts and weaknesses.

The few (initially) conscious Synths in Humans have a variety of feelings about real humans. Niska, having been sent to work in a brothel, clearly takes a jaundiced view, but Mia is reasonably happy to get along with people and Max has an extremely sunny and optimistic attitude. The differences in their outlooks creates real conflict between the Synth characters, and makes them seem much more real characters. The maverick hosts in Westworld rarely rise above cardboard cutout personalities. I mean yes Maeve’s fake daughter was taken away from her, but it seems odd that a machine who has the ability to make herself smarter at the push of a button can’t figure out that the child host might not have any memories of her that mean anything? And she has no more ambition than to forge a relationship with a non-conscious robot which essentially has no connection to her? That’s weird. Dolores, who clearly was hard done by over and over again wants to get out and… what exactly? It’s not explicitly stated, but the air of menace comes from the implication that she is going to somehow get her revenge either on Delos, William, or all humanity for the harm that has been done to her. So Ford has succeeded in making crazed killer robots. If you feel that this is the highest level of consciousness and free will that can be aspired to, then Westworld is definitely for you.

Humans takes a more complicated and, I think more interesting path. While Westworld is simply a disaster movie writ large (and long) Humans is a real exploration of the limits of free will in a society devleoping AI, questioning how humans would be able to accept real peers who might be their superiors in certain respects. As the series progresses, it’s definitely possible to feel sympathy with the many Synths, suddenly burdened with consciousness they are unready for, who struggle between all the vices humanity has struggled with before. Some are murderous, some are pitifully afraid, some are idealistic and some are simply pragmatic. And they are capable of change – Max takes a long time, but after numerous challenges, he comes out as a much harder character, while still managing to maintain at least some of his ideals. The humans, who may have started out friendly or mildly antagonistic to Synths are turned against them by the actions of the “bad” synths. It’s not surprising, even when it is shocking how some humans act. The narrative makes sense, as the humans learn to fear something which they thought they could rely on (imagine your toaster and vacuum cleaner turning on you). The solutions they come up with are also believable. Rather than just saying “clearly synths were a bad idea”, the first new product are orange eyed synths, who have special safeguards in place to stop them from accidentally becoming conscious. It’s brilliant, because it’s so true. Rather than the pragmatic but uncomfortable choice of changing course, the solution is a band-aid.

I’ve gone on about this for quite along time, though I feel there’s even more to say.

What do you think?

Kosher cheeseburgers and Pesach bread

Another very familiar science fiction trope is the idea of the the “magically’ produced instant food. In Star Trek you merely order the computer and it creates a whole meal for you, Other SF universes have “food synthesizers” which will produce anything programmed into them. Since they are fictional, we are normally not given any idea how the food is produced, but I can think of some possibilities (I’m not making this less magical, just adding in some extra pretend mechanisms so there is something to talk about).

  • 1. “Vat grown food”. That’s a phrase you read in some books, broadly implying there is a culture of cells which continuously grows outside of any particular animal and produces meat without any sentient creature being involved. I could further subdivide it into:

a. Cultures from animal cells – the original cells came from a chicken, a cow, a pig. This is barely magical as people are almost there now.

b. Cultures from something like yeast, fungus etc


  • 2. “Pure magic” – the food is created out of thin air / energy-to-matter transformation / some incredibly cool chemistry or nano-engineering which assembles complex molecules out of raw elements.

Now – in case 1a we can imagine there might be a bunch of problems if you want to make them.  If the original cells came from an animal, would we need to worry that the animal was kosher and correctly slaughtered? So cultured pig meat would be out? I assume so, though I have no proof that the pig non-kosherness continues when cells are grown in a lab. Maybe someone has a clear source or reasoning. What about a good kosher chicken which was then cultured in a vat? I made an assumption that we’d want to take cells from a correctly slaughtered bird, because I think there might otherwise be a problem of  aiver min ha-chay (איבר מן החי) eating a limb from a living animal or trefa…. but assuming I have now grown a big lump of chicken meat, outside of a chicken….can I just carve bits off and eat it, or does this also need some sort of shechita?

Case 1b might be simpler – if we eat mushrooms and yeast now we ought to have no problems eating them in the future – even if they are somehow cultivated to taste exactly like beef or pork or crab, that doesn’t give them a meat-y or non-kosher status. So putting cheese on a mushroom burger which tastes exactly like beef ought to be ok….but then you always get caught out by the mar’it ayin (מראית עין) looking bad catch-all which says “people will think it’s OK to eat cheeseburgers, so we’d better not. My feeling is that after a certain amount of time when people had got used to divorcing the idea of a good burger or steak from the idea of animals, this might become OK.

As a side point, and I’m really asking from ignorance here, would a Muslim have a problem eating yeast based products if the yeast was the same type used to make wine?

Case 2 is more interesting to me. On the face of it, I’d assume a magic or chemically assembled meal cannot possibly be non-kosher even if it resembles a very non-kosher dish. I wonder if rabbis would institute some sort of new legislation to cover foods which look too bad or are too closely related to something non-kosher. For example – I’m assuming to “synthesize” a prawn cocktail, you would need you computer to have one time (or a million times) analyzed a prawn cocktail in painstaking detail, noting the chemical composition and temperatures in millions of places. Assuming this can be done and then has been done, is the stored “recipe” somehow tainted with non-kosherness, such that simulating a new prawn cocktail from it would transfer the over (so you now have a non-kosher product)? Ditto for a cheeseburger… I analyzed a non-kosher product…is the analysis non-kosher? One slightly more unusual case – what if I analyzed kosher meat, then analyzed kosher cheese, produced them separately in my machine, then cooked them together? I can imagine we would say neither of the products is actually meat or milk so it’s OK. I can also imagine saying the exact opposite.

Now, if I’m magically creating food out of air (or maybe old garbage, or dirt) what if I assemble “bread”? (I’ll write “bread” to distinguish it from the original bread made in a traditional way). This “bread” is based on a design from a leavened product, but has never been in the position where water mixed with grain-flour and sat for 18 minutes. Is it chametz? Can I eat it on Peasch?

What do you think?

As before, please check out the ground rules before commenting


Is there (halachic) life on Mars?

Sorry for the click-bait-y title. In the light of recent rumblings and rumours from NASA and SpaceX, people are once again thinking about the possibility of putting a man on Mars. And if they can send one, why not lots?

Granted, the idea of a self sustaining colony is for now firmly in the realms of science fiction, but that’s where I’m comfortable, so let’s discuss this a bit. I’m sure there are a million implications but the first religious one I thought about was time. Imagine for a moment a successful human colony on Mars (and it doesn’t have to be Mars, or even in our solar system) where humans live happy lives under the clear red sky, send kids to school and dream of making it big in the Martian dust-skiing Olympic team. In this colony there is a congregation of religious Jews (or Muslims would work well for this discussion too). How do they pray?

I don’t mean which direction do they pray, although that might be an interesting discussion too, I mean when and what? Mars has a day which is (in Earth terms) about 24 hours and 40 minutes long. It’s really pretty close to our day, and there is a sunrise and a sunset which make sense to people. One can imagine that people living on Mars would be happy to call a Martian day a “day” and be done. (In The Martian, Mark Watney distinguishes the Martian day as a “sol” – that’s fine too). It’s reasonable to assume people would wake up in Martian morning and go to sleep in Martian night.

If you are a religious Jew, would you consider time for shacharit (morning prayers) is simply worked out by using Martian hours and Martian days? It sounds kind of reasonable initially, because Judaism anyway deals with variable length days and nights (in summer and winter) by simply dividing the day or night (whether sunrise to sunset or dawn to dusk) into 12 periods and declaring those hours for today. 3 hours into the day is the end of the time for reciting Shema. 4 hours in is the end of the time for morning prayer et cetera. But does this follow through?

The first wrinkle is that you will be continuously sliding out of sync with anywhere on Earth. If today your morning prayers lined up with Jerusalem, tomorrow they will be 40 minutes out of sync, and within a couple of weeks you will be on New York time.

Slightly worse than that is what do we mean by “weeks”?  Do seven “sols” make a Martian week? Will we keep Shabbat on Mars every seven sols? Or will we try to keep track of what’s happening back on Earth and have a 6 and a bit sol week? And what happens if we lose track? There’s a  gemara in Shabbat (69b)

R. Huna said: if one is travelling on a road or in the wilderness and does not know when it is the Sabbath, he must count six days [from the day he realises he has forgotten] and observe one. R. Hiyya b. Rav said: he must observe one, and then count six [week] days. On what do they differ? One master holds that it is like the world’s creation. The other holds that it is like [the case of] Adam.

It sounds to me (you may disagree) that we would count six days as we see them (sols) and make Shabbat. That’s good – and the implication is that you do the best you can, and when you get back to civilization (or Earth) you readjust your clock. But it leads me to my next question.

Assuming we are keeping seven-sol weeks, what do we do about months? Nobody every suggested we keep months according to how we feel or keep count.  Mars’s moons Phobos and Deimos are tiny, one orbits Mars 3 times a day and one in slightly more than a day. We’re not getting any useful months out of them.  All we can sensibly do is count the months as they are on Earth. But how? Do we keep a clock going tracking what day and time it is on Earth now (out of sync with the weeks we are observing). Here’s where I see a problem. Our current Jewish calendar is specifically set out so that certain festivals cannot fall on certain days of the week. It’s a fixed calendar now, but it seems clear that the same rules where in force when the sages would declare each new month on the fly. They would still make sure to work things out so that festivals would work out right.

Basically – Yom Kippur, where we are restricted like Shabbat such that we cannot cook or light a flame can’t be allowed to work out on a Friday or a Sunday. If it does you will have 2 days without food (if it’s a Friday) and/or light (if it’s a Sunday). So, ok, nowadays we have lights which last longer than a few hours, and food which will stay good for a few days, but the rule hasn’t changed. In addition, Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) cannot be allowed to work out on a Shabbat because that would make us unable to do the “custom of the prophets” and beat a willow branch on a Shabbat. This is also still in force today. Since Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabba are both in the month of Tishrei, the rule is that this month cannot start (first day of Rosh Hashana cannot be)  on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. This is abbreviated by saying “Lo Adu Rosh” (לא אד”ו ראש).

So, if I’m counting weeks according to local Martian time, and months according to Earth, it’s only a short matter of time until I end up with the first day of Rosh Hashana landing on a “wrong” day. Will we make out own adjustments then pull back to be more in keeping with the Earth calendar? Or will we make our calendar completely independent and then leave things to sort themselves out when we get back to Earth?

I’ve mentioned hours, days, weeks and months. Years seem to me less worrisome, but sure, why not ask – how old would a kid born on Mars be when we count his barmitzvah? How long would a tree grow before we could eat its fruit?

My knowledge of Islam is minimal, but I imagine you could ask some questions about when the 5 daily prayers are, when you have Ramadan, and what times to fast during Ramadan. When to have Eid el-fitr and Eid el-adha? Excuse my ignorance and expound on anything you know about.

Please comment and tell me what you think.

Before commenting, please have a quick look at the ground rules

Ground rules

OK, it’s almost a year since I grabbed this blog name and I’m finally ready to start some posting. I have a feeling that if I’m lucky enough to have readers and comments I’m going to spend a lot of time going over rules for how I want this blog to work, so I’m going to put stuff in this post which will perhaps evolve over time.

I’m interested in SF/F and I’m interested in religion. My religion is Judaism, I’m against labels, but it’s fairly safe to label me as orthodox. I’m interested in hearing viewpoints of other religions, not particularly in an effort to convince me that one or another is correct (as a friend said to me the other day, that’s kind of like saying “I don’t believe in unicorns but I want to show you why I do believe in leprechauns”), but rather to see how they deal with modern day (or future) issues.

One thing I love about science fiction is the opportunity to speculate on the consequences of (as yet) impossible technologies. Books and books have been written examining, for example, the moral implications of murder when consciousness is ‘backed up” in some storage and can be reloaded into a new body (see Altered Carbon for just a recent example) or the definition of “humanity” if animals have their intelligence raised (like the Uplift books by David Brin). I think that the discussions about these stories can, if treated well, help us to better understand our current situation too.

So, I want to start discussions on subject which interest me in the religious sphere, by asking sci-fi kind of questions about them. My hope is that some sort of discussion will lead to a better understanding of our current views too. Another hope is that reading any of the future posts will give you an idea what I am on about. If any turn out to be particularly good, I may link here so you can see what I think of as a good discussion.

If your basic attitude is “well, all religion is nonsense and you’re arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”, I’m very happy to respect you opinion, and admit that this blog is probably not going to be for you.

If you have an axe to grind about how your strain of Judaism (or Christianity or Islam or Pastafarianism) is better than someone else’s, and how their path is just leading to destruction for all mankind. I would respectfully ask you to leave it at the door. I can’t find a superlative strong enough for how much I don’t care.

You don’t have to be super knowledgeable in my religion (or your own) to comment and have an opinion here,  but I’m really interested in people who can support opinions with “chapter and verse” rather than the current internet metric of “I reckon”.

In a discussion between intelligent people about a subject as complicated and divisive as religion and its practice, disagreement is set to abound. I’m very happy with that. Please respect everyone else and I’ll do my best to police out anyone who gets out of hand. I can only promise that my decisions will be absolutely arbitrary and subjective.

I imagine I will add more here as I think of it.

Back to blogging

Well, I had a chat with my friend Raphaël of Renana fame and he suggested I start a blog. Or restart…I have an old, moribund blog at Blogspot which hasn’t been touched for years, so it feels like it’s time for a fresh start.

Coming up – posts on my interests which are likely to be SF/F and Jewish/Israel themes. I read quite a bit and I like to write, so if that interests you, there’ll be something interesting here eventually. I might post some links in my Facebook feed – so if you came here via that, welcome – I’m hoping there will be more content soon!

If you have any reactions, good or bad, comments are certainly welcome. Please note that I will police comments if they get out of hand (though I’d like to think I’m fairly thick skinned, I don’t want this to be a forum for people to be unpleasant).