I just got back from the presentation/discussion between the branches of Judaism held at the JCC. It was really interesting, and fairly well done (and packed - they got far more people than they expected). After the intros, they had about an hour of 1 layperson apiece of Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism fielding questions asked of all of them. The Orthodox layperson was surprisingly .. personally-oriented in her notions of morality - I got the impression that she wasn't representing that branch particularly well because of her reluctance to state any universals that should apply to everyone. It's possible though that she would've applied only Noahide universals to everyone, condemning only deviation from them, while still maintaining her live-and-let-live view of the obligations of Judaism towards other Jews - I didn't get the impression that she would sacrifice her own morals, but would simply see them as burdens for her. That is a coherent position, just not necessarily what I expected (but people are all individuals and I wouldn't expect everyone in a movement to be the same even on theological matters). The conservative layperson was incredibly eloquent - googling his name and Pittsburgh together suggests that he may be a local M.D. though, so if that's him, it's no big surprise. After that hour, there was 45 minutes of local rabbis from the four groups fielding questions, mostly directed at a particular one of them. Intermarriage, tolerance, and preserving the community (and what that means) were common topics, although some of the questions were quite vicious. I was most impressed with Rabbi Yisroel Miller (Orthodox) and Rabbi Anna Rosenfield (Reconstructionist) - Rabbi Miller struck me as a man with deep integrity and compassion safeguarding part of an important trust - I admire principled people who arn't made inhuman by duties they choose to take on, and his position felt very coherent. Rabbi Anna Rosenfield painted a picture of a very different Judaism - I don't think I had ever seen a strong case made for the integrity and meaning of Reconstructionist Judaism before, and she did a good job at that (her speaking skills may need some work, but she is the youngest of the four rabbis who spoke so it's very understandable that she wasn't quite as polished) - if decisions within Reconstructionist Judaism can be as literary and considered as her ideals seem to portray, they paint a very different-but-still-wise approach to principle and decisionmaking that I could respect as well. I should note that in theory, Reform and Conservative positions seem justifiable to me, but they seem to have a more difficult position than either the Modern Orthodox or the Reconstructionists - the former, at least as presented by Rabbi Miller, felt like a best-of-breed absolutist philosophy (even though uncertainty is acknowledged, that doesn't make it non-absolutist, it just changes the tenor), while the latter felt like a well-done defend-a-society-and-traditions-with-rel
There's actually a lot more to think about from that meeting that I might comment on later, but I need time to sort it all out...
For a long time, I've had some "little birds" inside (or otherwise close to) Google feeding me bits of information, and this, combined with watching the industry for long enough and an inquisitive mind, make me think that not only will Google ride the convergence in the evolution of cell-phones (and the cellphone network towards constant-on IP addressability), but that with Google Office (really, the whole google suite - calling something like Google Maps/Earth part of an "Office" package feels odd), they actually have a good shot of taking most of the pie. I know this is nothing new, and I probably have talked about it more, but it seems ever more likely that the winds are favourable for exactly what I think they're going for. Hooray for little birds.
The 61c café, while they can make white teas decently, are hit-and-miss when it comes to dark teas. Their Golden Nepal generally tastes burnt - I suspect that to brew it properly requires water closer to white tea temperatures than black tea. Although the 61c is much better than the Coffee Tree in most respects, I'm again reminded how much better yet the Beehive is (especially with regards to food and drink) - it's almost better enough that, combined with all the other good stuff down there, I'd like to live in the Southside. Not quite though - closeness to woods is too nice to give up for that. As Flexcar is in Pittsburgh now, I'm tossing around the idea of joining - it'd work out to be much cheaper than owning and would let me get down there on the occasion I want to.. My research group is thinking about getting a corporate/university account with them as well, for the purpose of letting us bring subjects to the scanner without using the (often-hard-to-schedule-around) shuttle.