Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Update on the Study of Antisemitism at Yale

The Yale Daily News reports that a new program may be in the offing.

Story here.

That was Friday: here is the report in the Forward from today.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Antisemitism and the Study of Antisemitism at Yale

Antisemitism may be (chimerical) nonsense but it has had serious consequences in human history so the study of antisemitism should involve serious--and dispassionate--scholarship.

So what to make of the fracas over Yale's decision to close the Yale Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism after its initial five-year term?

Some of the critics (of Yale's decision):
Abby Wisse Schachter in the New York Post.
Alex Joffe in (or do I say "on"?) Jewish Ideas Daily.
Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post.
Walter Reich in the Washington Post

And the critics of the program (who applaud Yale's decision or at least sympathize with it):
Antony Lerman.
Jerry Haber (aka "Magnes Zionist")
Zachary Braiterman in the Washington Post (responding to Reich).
And Deborah Lipstadt in the Forward.

(Read the articles and blogposts above; don't read the comments unless you like to see how nasty humanity can be.)

All the people I link to agree that antisemitism is a bad thing (to put it really simply) and that it should be studied in a serious way in academia. (I decided not to link to anybody who thinks antisemitism is a good thing.)

To put it in the explicit terms of their arguments: the critics of the decision think that Yale has cancelled an important program that did serious academic work because the political implications of that serious academic work troubled some Yale faculty, administrators, alumni, and perhaps some deep-pocketed potential donors who passed over Yale as a result. The critics of the program think that the program was not doing the serious academic work needed or not doing enough of the serious academic work that the topic deserved, mainly because the program sponsored or at least tolerated shoddy academic work that conformed to certain political views, and that this undermined or threatened to undermine whatever other good academic work was happening.

I don't know the work of the Yale Initiative well enough to form a definitive opinion but I offer a couple of observations and questions:

1. What was Yale thinking (to the extent an institution can "think") in setting this up in the first place in the way they did? External funding, a non-tenured (non-tenure track) faculty member in charge, connections to external organizations, a topic that is bound to generate controversy, and not-very-clear oversight by faculty committees? All of this could have worked but clearly it did not and given the realities of how research universities work, Yale administrators should have foreseen some of the problems.

2. What was Yale thinking in just cancelling the program without an opportunity to correct deficiencies? If they did indeed think it was a hopeless case, then a clearer and more substantive explanation was needed. And someone should have been anticipating the reaction of the Jewish community and prepared a better response than "We have a lot of other Jewish studies courses."

Yale is my alma mater, the place I first got interested in Jewish studies in a serious way, and the place that significantly broadened my horizons in all kinds of ways. I'm eternally grateful to the institution and I'll keep making my little annual donation and paying my Quarter Century Fund pledge.
And it's quite possible that there is more to both stories (of the origin and of the end of the program) than meets the eye, but I am sorry to say that from where I sit, Yale looks awfully stupid in all of this.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I would be cooking and think, 'I'm not a numismatist, I'm not a Jewish studies professor, I'm a chef. What am I doing with my life?'"

--Xu Long, Chinese chef and author of Money of Ancient Judea and Israel

See here for the Sacramento Bee story (reprinted from the Los Angeles Times.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nook Color update

Still pleased with this, especially the ability to take all the pdf's I want to read on a trip along with the detective novel for the way back without carrying a lot of paper.

The only major pdf issue seems to be that a pdf generated from a scan doesn't seem to work. The other slight annoyance is that if you are reading an epub book and then go to something else, the device puts you back on the page you are reading the next time you open that book. But for pdf, the device always puts you back at the beginning.

The lack of Hebrew support is annoying. Hebrew shows up fine in a pdf but does not show up in an epub book or in a word document. Maybe this will be taken care of in a future software upgrade?

The only other problem is my emerging addiction to the chess game that is included.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Nook Color: First Thoughts

I have been thinking about buying an e-reader or a tablet for a little while and finally decided to buy the Nook Color. I bought it in Florida last week so I could play with it while on vacation.

My main reason for buying the Nook rather than the Kindle was that I wanted to be able to download a variety of e-book formats and not just ones available from Amazon. (My basic view is that the Kindle will be the betamax of tablets if Amazon keeps it proprietary.)

My main reason for buying the Nook rather than the IPad is that I wanted something a little lighter and smaller for travel and I figured that if I really needed the fuller computing possibilities, I would bring my laptop to wherever I was going.

So far so good. I am too cheap to actually buy any e-books so I have been reading only free stuff. So I have been mainly reading books published before 1923. I read the free sample Barnes and Noble classic edition of Dracula (never read it before), and I've been enjoying Wilkie Collins' obscure Armadale.

I'm basically making a gamble that more books will become available in e-book format, that public and university libraries will figure out good ways to lend them, and that publishers will price them so that people will want to actually buy them.
I am especially hoping that academic publishers will figure out a way to price e-books like paperbacks and not like hardcovers. Otherwise, I am going to be spending a lot of time on airplanes reading 19th-century novels.

I've also been transferring pdf's from my computer and reading them. A few of the files won't open so that's worrisome. I have to do some investigation to see why. Most work fine, though.

And the only other problem is that there is no support for Hebrew (unless embedded in a pdf). So no Hebrew web-browsing and no Hebrew in epub (google books). But Hebrew in a pdf (e.g. books scanned by hebrewbooks.org) works fine.

The web browser works fine although it has the same problems that a smartphone has--too small a screen for most websites (although the screen is bigger).
I looked at one youtube video and the quality was ok. You're not going to want to watch movies or tv shows on the Nook, but a short video will work.