What does it mean?

June 01, 2004

President Bush’s speech at Normandy, ‏2004

Steven Den Beste has posted his fantasy of President Bush’s speech at Normandy. I might as well post mine.

Sixty years ago our soldiers came to these shores to save this land from brutal dictatorship – savage tyranny on a scale never seen before – many of them never to come home. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, there were over 200,000 allied casualties, plus 20,000 French civilian casualties – mostly collateral damage of allied bombing. Today these numbers would be unacceptable – too high a price to pay for another country’s freedom. Even if allied casualties were minimal, 20,000 French civilian casualties would be too high a price to pay. The French would rather be Nazi slaves than lose 20,000 civilians and be free. No matter that the Nazis killed many times that number in France alone – it’s purely an internal matter, they would say. The US is in violation of international law. The President is a war criminal. The Americans are acting unilaterally, with only the usual Anglo-Saxon hangers-on and a few suspect French exiles that are, no doubt, pawns of the Americans.

The most tragic thing is that this horrific loss of life, not to mention the murders committed by the Nazis, could have been prevented by a modicum of courage at an earlier date.

America didn’t go to war willingly. The American peace camp kept us out of the war while it raged in Europe and Asia, while Germany occupied most of the continent of Europe, and began the “Final Solution” – the systematic extermination of the Jews. It was only when the United States itself was attacked that we went to war. Who knows how many lives we would have saved – our own and others’ – if we had gone to war a few years earlier.

But even this should not have been necessary. The occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany in 1941 [UPDATE: 1939, see comments], usually considered the beginning of World War II, was only the last of a long series of provocations, any one of which could have justly led to war – a shorter and less destructive war than the one which, in the end, we were forced to fight. In 1938 Germany demanded part of Czechoslovakia – the Sudetenland – which the UK and France were bound by treaty to defend. Shamefully, they backed down under the threat of violence, convincing themselves that they were acting nobly in the interest of peace. Hitler didn’t appreciate the subtlety and nuance of this thinking (or maybe he appreciated it only too well) and took it as a sign that he could occupy the rest of Czechoslovakia at will.

Six months before the German occupation of the Sudetenland, Germany occupied Austria. That was another lost opportunity to stop the Nazi terror. But the best opportunity was lost five years earlier. In 1933 Germany violated the terms of Versailles treaty, militarized the Rhineland, and occupied the Saar. It is now thought that any military opposition by France would have led to the overthrow of Hitler. But there was no opposition.

We are now engaged in another war, in another country, for the freedom of its people, the people of its region, and the world. Let us not repeat our mistakes.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:18 AM  Permalink | Comments (17)
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Comment:

Correction: Czechoslovakia (or the remnants of it, after Sudetenland was passed in 1938) was occupied in March 1939, not in 1941.

Posted by: Pavel Kohout at June 2, 2004 04:44 PM Permalink
Comment:

And for those who believe that "force" is never the answer...Back when Germany re-occupied the Rhineland in 1936, the initial German forces leading the advance were under orders to retreat from ANY resistance. One French farmer with a shotgun standing on the road could have sent the force (3 battalions, about 3000 troops.) scurrying back to their barracks, and weaken Hitler that he would been close to finished.

But of course, the gutless among the West (Not just in France.) decided to appease Hitler because the reoccupation would, after all, right a historical wrong done to Germany...

C.T.

Posted by: C.T. at June 2, 2004 05:40 PM Permalink
Comment:

Greetings to visitors from USS Clueless! I cordially invite you to visit the rest of my blog!


Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 2, 2004 06:33 PM Permalink
Comment:

Let's not forget that when British, Canadian and American forces landed at Normandy in 1941, that it was the second time in twenty five years that France needed to be rescued. And also that the oppressive and punitive measures demanded by France in the Versailles treaty contributed in great measure to the economic blight in Germany that played a part in the birth and growth of the National Socialist party. While I'm thinking of it, there was this place called Dien Bien Phu in "French Indochina" where some French soldiers needed rescuing. What was it again that the US got for that effort?

Posted by: Len Faria at June 2, 2004 06:50 PM Permalink
Comment:

More ridiculous French bashing I see. What is happening to this country? Everyone seems so resentful and full of hatred. Americans could take a lesson from the French it seems:

From Joe Scarbourough on MSNBC:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5121208/

BUCHANAN: Good evening. I‘m Pat Buchanan. Joe Scarborough is in France preparing for the 60th anniversary of D-Day this weekend. He joins us live from Paris to talk about how the French are about to welcome President Bush.

Joe, how are you? Are you getting combat pay over there?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Getting combat pay behind enemy lines.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: You‘re not damaging our relations, are you?

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

I‘ll tell you what. It‘s been a fascinating few days over here so far, as we prepare for the president coming to town. And, you know, the Paris papers obviously are not extending the president a warm welcome. “Le Monde” has been called before (INAUDIBLE)

And it‘s been predictably hostile. In fact, it‘s run some negative editorials on the president, saying he‘s coming over here to attack John Kerry. And it also says that George Bush is the exact opposite of the values that we like in Americans.

But I‘ll tell you what surprised me, Pat, the past few days. It‘s obvious that Parisians, who are thought to be predictably nasty, do like Americans. I was here in the 1980s in the middle of the Reagan administration, and there was such open hostility towards Ronald Reagan and what was happening back then and towards Americans.

But since I‘ve been over here, whether you go to cafes, whether you go in stores on the street, I can tell you, there‘s been an extraordinary warmth and kindness towards me and other Americans over here. And I‘ve talked to other Americans who come here regularly, and they say that there is—that actually Parisians are kinder to them than they‘ve been in some time. So there‘s a real disconnect in how they feel towards George W. Bush and how they feel towards Americans in general. I‘ve been very surprised. But...

BUCHANAN: They‘re sort of going out of their way, are they, Joe, to say, look, we‘ve got problems with the president and the policy of the Americans, but we‘ve got no problems with the Americans, we like them, and they‘re sort of going out of their way to compensate?

SCARBOROUGH: Well, they certainly are.

And I don‘t know. Perhaps it‘s because the 60th anniversary is coming up. But you read newspapers, you read magazines, you go past magazine stands, they‘re talking about the 60th anniversary. They believe it‘s a very big thing. Also, you look at the news. I can‘t understand exactly what they‘re saying on TV, but the news shows are also talking about the 60th anniversary coming up with great anticipation.

There‘s not this snide detachment that a lot might expect from Parisians here. And, again, as you probably know, I have probably gone after the French more than anybody in the past year, but I can tell you there‘s a kindness.

Posted by: John M at June 2, 2004 07:04 PM Permalink
Comment:

It's too bad that we didn't vaporize Paris to get rid of the Nazi's. The French should have been liberated from this earth. They do deserve their 72 virgins.

Posted by: Henry David at June 2, 2004 07:04 PM Permalink
Comment:

Another slight correction. The accepted beginning of World War II was not when Hitler took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. The war began began on September 1, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland.

Posted by: Atlanta Lawyer at June 2, 2004 07:13 PM Permalink
Comment:

John M:

I followed the link you gave us, and found this:

TIMMERMAN: Oh, I think there‘s every effort being made by the Bush White House, by the president personally, to do so. He‘s going to have dinner with President Chirac on June 5.

He‘s actually going to let Mr. Chirac speak first at the American cemetery in Normandy when they‘re there on June 6 in the morning. This is unprecedented, by the way. I was there 30 years ago for the D-Day celebrations with my first tour in France.

What do you think of the idea that Bush will have two speeches in his pocket - just waiting to see what kind of speech Chirac will give? (Even the threat of such a thing can be used to good effect.)

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 2, 2004 08:11 PM Permalink
Comment:

Traveled overalnd from Dresden to Prague in 2002. Poor ground for an assault. The Czechs could have held out a looooong time if they hadn't been given away. A looooooong time...

Posted by: crionna at June 2, 2004 08:59 PM Permalink
Comment:

What utter garbage. At least Scarborough has the guts to challenge his prejudice and travel to Normandy to see the carefully-tended American cemetaries that receive more honor than the fate Den Beste wants to bestow upon their occupants.

But as d-squared put it, your hatred of France is independent of all facts in the world. Which makes you just a bit like Osama, doesn't it?

Posted by: squibble at June 2, 2004 10:13 PM Permalink
Comment:

This last post really sounds me of the "ask you why do they hate us". Just stop saying the same all along the web. After all, we have the right to think whatever we like about the French (the same they have about us).

Posted by: Sir Sefirot at June 2, 2004 10:40 PM Permalink
Comment:

Hi de hi,
Arguments.
The French dislike Bush for the same reason they gave you that statue for New York: they like freedom and liberty.
They just have a different way of going about it.
Jeez.

Posted by: Shoogle at June 2, 2004 11:27 PM Permalink
Comment:

As a first time visitor from the Clueless, I can honestly say that the majority of the comments here are ridiculous. F the French. John M. thinks its okay if they hate our gov't, military, and leaders, as long as they are nice to our TV hosts' faces. Squibble has forgotten how the "carefully tended cemeteries" were desecrated last year, presumably by French citizens, not the gov't. And Shoogle thinks Socialism is a great way to pursue freedom and liberty.
Go ahead and pick sides if you want, but remember the French are no longer the best at anything, and since they used to be quite good at lots of things, it leads to a lot of finger-pointing, hypocrisy, and complaining (see the last 100 years of history).

Posted by: Rob at June 2, 2004 11:53 PM Permalink
Comment:

--There‘s not this snide detachment that a lot might expect from Parisians here. And, again, as you probably know, I have probably gone after the French more than anybody in the past year, but I can tell you there‘s a kindness.--

Hmm, seems they were paying attention when tourism was down. After all, one does tend to catch more flies w/honey.....

Now if we can get them to change their history books and teach the fact the USSR was trying to be an empire and we aren't......instead of Papa Stalin and buds as nice old bears....John Adams pegged them 200 years ago. And after watching IKE and Ike's exchange w/deGalled......

ALso from SDB....

Posted by: Sandy P at June 3, 2004 02:40 AM Permalink
Comment:

France is a rival, not an ally.
At least, they want to be a rival, but they really can't do much other than throw insults at us.

They never quite got over the 1940 defeat and the loss of great power status. Perhaps they should try therapy?

Posted by: Mike at June 3, 2004 02:33 PM Permalink
Comment:

C.T. says "One French farmer with a shotgun standing on the road could have..."

What a great basis for a time-travel story. After all, if you could only send back in time a couple of soldiers, where would they have the most leverage....

Posted by: Tom at June 3, 2004 11:36 PM Permalink
Comment:

David,

I had the same thought you did: Letting Chirac go first means Bush gets to be polite if Chirac is polite, and rip his lungs out if he isn't. :-)

Posted by: Greg D at June 4, 2004 12:38 AM Permalink

June 02, 2004

The Darkest Days

Amritas links to an astounding story of a group of 38 Jews who hid from the Nazis in caves – in one cave for half a year, until they were discovered, and in the second cave for 344 days.

The Darkest Days:

The millstone really struck me. I am in my 50s but pretty strong, and I couldn't even move it. Yet Nissel Stermer carried it on his back for three or four miles. That millstone was their life. They used it to grind grain to make bread, which was the main part of their diet. Nissel must have gotten a lot of strength from his family. I think it's like the stories about mothers, full of adrenaline, gaining superhuman strength to lift cars or bend metal to save their children. Nissel knew this millstone would save his entire family. That hit me like a brick wall.

Off the Face of the Earth:

Zaida Stermer, his wife, Esther, and their six children dug up their last remaining possessions from behind their house, loaded their wagons with food and fuel, and, just before midnight, quietly fled into the darkness. Traveling with them were nearly two dozen neighbors and relatives, all fellow Jews who, like the Stermers, had so far survived a year under the German occupation of their homeland. Their destination, a large cave about five miles to the north, was their last hope of finding refuge from the Nazis' intensifying roundups and mass executions of Ukrainian Jews.

The dirt track they rode on ended by a shallow sinkhole, where the Stermers and their neighbors unloaded their carts, descended the slope, and squeezed through the cave's narrow entrance. In their first hours underground, the darkness around them must have seemed limitless. Navigating with only candles and lanterns, they would have had little depth perception and been able to see no more than a few feet. They made their way to a natural alcove not far from the entrance and huddled in the darkness. As the Stermers and the other families settled in for that first night beneath the cold, damp earth, there was little in their past to suggest that they were prepared for the ordeal ahead.

No Jew survived the Holocaust without an amazing (and usually tragic) story. I could fill up a whole blog linking to them. But this one has personal angle, which is why I’m linking to it. The caves are near the town of Korolówka, Ukraine. If you follow the link and zoom out one level (to level 5), you can see on the left a town called Kolomyja – the birthplace of my paternal grandfather. On the right is a town called Dunaivci – the birthplace of my maternal grandfather. (The names my grandfathers used are Kolomeya and Dinavitz.) With 38 people in that cave, it is more than likely that one knew a relative of mine – or even, perhaps, was one of them.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:35 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Israeli Media Bias

The usual media bias is alive and well in Israel.

I could not help but notice just how downbeat and negative the general tone of Israel's news media generally proved to be, and how intent they seemed on tearing down just about everything of value in this country. With their decidedly left-wing agenda, anti-religious bias and outright demonization of certain sectors of the population, the Israeli media long ago ceased to be a unifying or even enlightening factor in the country's civic discourse.
Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:46 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Tax revenues soar

Great news: Tax revenues soar 12.2% since January.

Income tax revenue rose 8.9% in May to NIS 6.88b. and 11.2% to NIS 34.1b. for the full five month period. Customs and VAT Authority revenue shot up 15.7%, reaching NIS 6.3b., despite a slash in customs duties on electronic appliances and a one percentage point roll back in VAT to 17%, which took effect March 1. Since January the Treasury saw a 12.9% rise in its revenue to 28b.

My big worry is that due to political issues, the government won’t survive to complete its economic program. The problem with economic policy is that good policies usually hurt in the short run and pay off 4-5 years down the road. That means that the current government has to survive that long before it can get popular support for its economics. Netanyahu has done some amazing things for the economy, the best being his pledge that, “Every additional shekel in state revenue will go to reduce taxes, not to increase the budget framework or spending”. A few months ago he did just that. Now he as another chance. Netanyahu: Do your stuff.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:05 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Comment:

David, I love your free market talk and lower tax vision however and a big however with the real corrosive effects of government subsidizing
industry and the looting of the public coffers by special interest groups I have my doubts concerning the other class, the underclass that
does not have either the political or economic capital to fend for themselves sufficiently;in this evolving society we have 2 billion Chinese and Indian folk who are competing with US and the Eurpeans on a level that transfers great wealth
while diminishing the very consumer class that we have had in a post WW2 society. This is a form of economic war waged on the very foundations of our country which historically tried to disrupt the idea of an oligarchy type society. Look to Russia and Putin and the concerns they have with
transforming itself from a corrupt communist society to that of a more select privilaged and corrupt free market class. If this is not coherent enough I apologize for my lack of brevity.Gut Shabbos

Posted by: adam at June 4, 2004 04:58 PM Permalink

Gini coefficients

Here’s a handy-dandy table of Gini coefficients (via The Gweilo Diaries). The Gini coefficient measures income inequality – the lower the number, the more equal. Israel comes in at .36, quite a bit more equal than the US at .41, and the same as the UK, Ireland and Portugal. I would like to see the same figures excluding immigrants. A lot of the income inequality in both Israel and the US (and perhaps the other countries) is a result of immigration, but I don’t think anyone would suggest that the immigrants would be better off if they were excluded.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 03:02 PM  Permalink | Comments (2)
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Comment:

That's (sometimes) the trouble with formulae. They show everything...and nothing. A more useful formulation would show the dynamic of individual change inhabiting the lower end. That's where the real story is. Peasanthood - permanent or merely temporary?

Posted by: Stephen at June 2, 2004 07:08 PM Permalink
Comment:

Also more telling would be the shape of the Lorenz curve, linked from the Gini page. How much of that total inequality is grinding poverty at the low end (noting that poverty in the U.S. does not particularly grind) and how much if fabulous wealth at the high end.

Posted by: triticale at June 6, 2004 03:24 AM Permalink

June 03, 2004

Ukrainian Yiddish vowel shift

Amritas links to The Darkest Days and asks, “but what's with all the vowels”?

If I knew something about Ukrainian, Polish (the region was once ruled by Poland), and Yiddish, maybe I could work out the mystery of the double names for Kolomyja/Kolomeya (j is just another spelling of the sound [y], so it's no big deal, but was e a Yiddish substitute for the y vowel?) and Dunaivci/Dinavitz (c and tz are probably just different spellings for the sound [ts], but what's with all the vowels other than a?).

At least part of the answer is the Ukrainian Yiddish vowel shift:

The main difference between the Ukraine and the normative Yiddish vowels is as follows:

'a' sometimes becomes 'o': hant -> hont (hand)
'o' becomes 'u': dos -> dus (this)
'u' becomes 'i': du -> di (you)
'e' often becomes 'ey': geven -> geveyn (was)
'ay' often becomes 'a': shraybn -> shrabn (to write)
'o' sometimes becomes 'oy': geborn -> geboyrn (born)
'r' sometimes disappear after a vowel: darf -> daf (need)
Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:06 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Comment:

Good information, but it would be even better if you used IPA (Internatinal Phonetic Association) symbols

Posted by: Michael at December 24, 2004 09:33 AM Permalink

June 04, 2004

Oy and Uhy

Amritas has responded to my previous post. For those of you with Real Players, you can listen to Rabbi Yochanan the Shoemaker's Melody, played by my friend Yehoshua Rochman, while you read this post. It’s a traditional Hasidic nigun (melody) of the kind you might have once heard from Ukrainian Yiddish speakers.

Amritas says:

varfn to voyfn reminds me a bit of bird to boid in Brooklynese, though the start and end points are not quite the same. (Brooklyn oi is said to be more like 'uh-ee'; if so, then the 'oi' I've heard on TV is a spelling pronunciation.)

I've heard both oy and uhy (@y) in Yiddish. But I don’t think that it had an influence on Brooklyn English. According to Noel Pangilinen, that is a result of the Irish influence:

New Yorkers have the Irish to thank for their now famous "toity-toid ohn toid". [33rd (street) and 3rd (avenue) – DB] A Hofstra University professor, Francis Griffith, attributes New Yorkese speakers' habit of interchanging the diphthong "oi" with "er" to Gaelic language.
It also agrees with my gut instinct (for what that’s worth) that Yiddish speakers would pronounce “er” something like “uhr” (or “@r”, as Amritas would say) where the “r” is not quite a uvular trill.

Speaking of, er, “er”…

I was raised in Boston, my parents were from in New York, and I spent 4 years in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, so I've had a fair amount of contact with North-East US dialects. My impression is that the major differences are sociological rather than geographical. My parents and I speak what I might call an middle-class-North-East English, rather than a specifically Bostonian or New York English. When I hear English speakers from Montreal, for example, they sound "normal" to me. But Torontonians sound to me like Mid-Westerners.

However, there is definitely a Brooklyn accent that is different from a New York accent. For example, most New Yorkers pronounce "car" as "caw" (actually more like "c@w") while Brooklyners say "caa". (Bostonians [not me] say "cae", kind of like "cat" without the "t".)

I was disappointed with the description of the Philadelphia accent that I found in The Mid-Atlantic Dialects. The most notable and universal features (at least to me) are: “er” is pronounced R (syllabic “er”, like the “er” in better) in all positions (not just at the end of words) for example, America is pronounced AmRica; and o is pronounced like e + u (this is so pronounced that it almost sounds like two syllables to me).

The Philadelphia accented word that I thought was the funniest is pronounced RrR. Can you guess what word this is?

UPDATE: If any of you can tell me how to keep a blank window from opening up when I click on the Real Media file, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know. (And don’t tell me to remove the <BASE> markup – I don’t want to.)

Continue reading "Oy and Uhy"

RrR is Error.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 03:15 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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No alternative to oil – but don’t panic!

Steven Den Beste says there is no alternative to Arab oil. For those of you who read his post with increasing dread and desperation I have a few words of comfort.

1. They are more dependent on oil than we are. If their oil were to disappear the market would find alternatives (such as coal, as Steven points out) for us, but not for them.

2. Oil helps us more than it helps them. They sell oil to provide for their basic needs. We buy oil to provide for our (more complex) needs and advance our society and technology.

3. Competition is keeping the price of oil down: There are major non-Arab sources of oil such as Russia, Mexico, Venezuela, the UK, Norway, Nigeria and Indonesia. (On the demand side there are about 2 billion rapidly industrializing Indians and Chinese who will increase demand for oil in the short run. But don’t panic – the other factors are true also for them.)

4. Conservation is keeping the price of oil down: Businesses always seek to reduce their costs – energy is one of them.


Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:09 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity

Amritas linked to an article on Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity. I opened the link with some trepidation, since Amritas’s post warned:

Zoroastrianism was once a major religion which influenced Judaism and Christianity.

Not that it bothers me that Zoroastrianism might have influenced Judaism. But there seems to be a Christian concept of what Judaism is, which is not exactly right, which informs perceptions of Judaism even among philo-Semites. (When I'm in the US I often feel like people see me as mythical being come to life.) And Zoroastrianism is so essentially different from Judaism: It is a dualist religion, proposing that there are two essential forces in the world. A Zoroastrian is one who pledges fidelity to the force of good, rather than the force of evil. (I will leave it to a Zoroastrian to debate whether these forces are internal or external.) Judaism, on the other hand, is uncompromisingly monotheistic: God is all-powerful, and ultimately responsible for everything. (We do have free will, though, despite the fact that there is a will greater than ours. But I don’t want to get into that right now.)

It turned out that I had no reason to fear. The article that Amritas linked to is excellent. Nevertheless, I want to clarify a couple of points that a reader new to the subject might miss.

First, in Judaism there is no concept of Heaven or Hell in any form that remotely resembles the Christian notion of them - Satan appears only in the book of Job, and even there he is referred to as Hasatan - the satan. More important, Satan has no place in the Jewish religion outside of the context of Job. The idea of eternal reward in Judaism is deliberately left vague. Even the idea of Messiah in Judaism is deliberately vague. We are not supposed to know the answers to these questions at this time. (The same thing is true about God Himself - He is unknowable to human beings.)

Second, the major influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism (according to the article) is during what the article calls the "inter-testamental" period. For the most part, these ideas (such as Gnosticism) were rejected by Judaism, but some of them were evidently adopted by Christianity – such as Heaven, Hell, and the apocalypse.

As a child I was often asked what Jews thought about Jesus, Heaven, Hell, etc. I sometimes found myself saying things that I knew weren’t right, but didn’t know why. It was because the questions themselves don’t make sense in the Jewish context (what color is sound?). In English, the word “religion” is almost synonymous with “faith” – they are often used interchangeably. But Judaism is not really a faith-based religion (though there are a few articles of faith, like belief in one God). It is more like a lifestyle. The question Judaism asks is not so much, “What should a person believe” but “How should life be lived”.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 05:17 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Comment:

Gershom Scholem theorized that there was a strong Gnostic influence on the Jewish mystical tradition, especially Laurianic Kabbalah. He ventured the possible existance of a sect of Jewish Gnostics contemporary to the Christian Gnostic tradition. Obviously, Kabbalah is not dualistic, but there are definately Gnostic overtones to a lot of its metaphysics, particularly the idea of a demiurgical aspect to Creation.

Posted by: benjamin at June 7, 2004 10:08 PM Permalink

June 06, 2004

Ronald Wilson Reagan – February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004

Ronald Reagan is dead. He had a profound influence on my generation – children of the ‘70’s, the era of stagflagion and malaise. I was a few months shy of voting age when he was first elected President in 1980. I clearly remember the loathing directed toward him by my fellow students and professors – comments that were made off-hand, with the clear assumption that all thinking people would agree with them. But Reagan proved the critics wrong. For a man derided as in imbecile, he did some pretty smart things. He brought down the Soviet Union, he restored the US economy, and he made it respectable to fight creeping government encroachment on the liberty of the American people.

When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Ronald Reagan, November 5, 1994


UPDATE: Toren Smith (via James Hudnall via Amritas) posts a great picture and a lot of great quotes.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:40 AM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Trackback from The Safety Valve, A great and decent man:
Ronald Reagan is gone. I will forever regret that (as I was not yet a citizen) I missed what is...

Comment:

David, is the myth of Reagan so all important when looking through the glass of history? The collapse of communism just shows that the effort of collective restraint paid more of a dividend than all the committments this country made through its military might.It was the economic not the military circumstance that ultimately fell
the paper tiger in the same vein that all totalitarian regimes follow.For Reagan to go to
that German soldier cemetary was unexscusable not
to mention what befell the very Jews of
Europe by these very men(cowards).

Posted by: Adam at June 6, 2004 07:47 PM Permalink

June 07, 2004

Reagan in the Gulag

Natan Sharansky writes a moving account of the effect of Reagan’s words on the Soviet Gulag.

In 1983, I was confined to an eight-by-ten-foot prison cell on the border of Siberia. My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan's "provocation" quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth – a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.
At the time, I never imagined that three years later, I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. When he summoned some of his staff to hear what I had said, I understood that there had been much criticism of Reagan's decision to cast the struggle between the superpowers as a battle between good and evil. Well, Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

This is a story that I hear over and over from people who were behind the Iron Curtain at the time. It is amazing that the state-controlled newspapers didn’t anticipate this reaction, and didn’t suppress the story. But of course, I’ve encountered this phenomenon many times – people who associate only with like-minded people are blind to the effect of their words on those who disagree with them.

Natan Sharansky has a special place in Israeli politics. He is, of course, highly respected as a hero – though his entry into politics resulted in a feeling of betrayal from those who disagree with him, mostly on the left. But he is not exactly a right-winger either. He has a genuinely nuanced view of things (not the false nuance of those attempting to deceive). He was against the Oslo accords from the beginning, not because he is against peace, but because he is against tyranny – he objected to the establishment of a Palestinian dictatorship. Somehow the peace-love-and-brotherhood left supported (and still supports) Arafat’s terrorist dictatorship. (It should be pointed out that Arafat terrorizes his subjects MUCH MORE than he terrorizes Israelis.) I agree with Sharansky – there will be no peace in the Middle East until it democratizes. If the Arabs were democratic, the ethnic conflicts in the region would be like those in Belgium or Canada. They wouldn’t go away, but they wouldn’t impact day-to-day life either.

I highly recommend Sharansky’s book, Fear No Evil, about his experience in the Soviet Gulag – how he stood up to the system, and manipulated it in order to survive. It is an excellent book. I, though, have a special fondness for it. I read it shortly after I came to Israel. In the epilogue, he himself describes coming to Israel. Throughout his years in prison, he kept himself alive through his vision of coming to Israel, and his vision of his wife. What was it like to finally arrive, and discover that Israel was a real country, and his wife a real person – each with their problems, far from perfect? Instead of fighting a battle on a cosmic scale – the battle between good and evil – he had to fight the trivial daily battles of ordinary life. He talks about it in the epilogue, and at a difficult time in my life, it gave me strength.

UPDATE: When Sharansky spoke of criticism of Reagan's decision, I think that he meant within the administration. Here’s Peter Robinson’s behind-the-scene account of the Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech.

The speech was circulated to the State Department and the NSC three weeks before it was to be delivered. For three weeks, State and the NSC fought the speech. They argued that it was crude. They claimed that it was unduly provocative. They asserted that the passage about the Wall amounted to a cruel gimmick, one that would unfairly raise Berliners' hopes. There were telephone calls, memoranda, and meetings. State and the NSC submitted their own alternative drafts--as best I recall, there were seven--one of them composed by Kornblum. In each, the call for Gorbachev to tear down the Wall was missing.
The week before the president's departure, the battle reached a pitch. Every time State or the NSC registered a new objection to the speech, Griscom summoned me to his office, where he had me tell him, one more time, why I was convinced State and the NSC were wrong and the speech, as I had written it, was right. (On one of these occasions, Colin Powell, then national security adviser, was waiting in Griscom's office for me. I held my ground as best I could.) Griscom was evidently waiting for an objection that he believed Ronald Reagan himself would find compelling. He never heard it. When the president departed for the Venice summit, he took with him the speech I had written.

UPDATE: John Hawkins dedicates a page to Ronald Reagan pictures and memories.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:57 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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June 08, 2004

We begin bombing in 5 minutes

From Wikipedia:

"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

During a microphone check on August 11 1984, unaware that he was being broadcast.


Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:02 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Strive to be a man

Amritas posts about being an individual. He says:

Participating in government activities will not empower you. It may make you feel as if you are, but true empowerment can only come from within.

I think that this is actually a three-way choice. Here are two seemingly contradictory quotes of Rabbi Hillel, from Pirqey Avot:


...אל תפרוש מן הציבור
ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

Al tifrosh min hasibur...
Uv’maqom she’eyn anashim, hishtadel lihyot ish

Do not separate yourself from the community...
And in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man

I grew up surrounded by pseudo-individuals, sheep who pretended to be men by being anti-establishment. Of course, being “anti” is itself sheep-ish. Those who define themselves by what they are not are also letting someone else define them! Personally, I prefer an honest sheep to a fake man any time.

But Rabbi Hillel is saying more than this. He is saying that there is value in being part of a community – that you shouldn’t be “an individual” for its own sake, for the egotistical desire to “be a man”. This is a pseudo-individualism that is worth less than nothing. On the other hand, when there is a good reason to be an individual, when no one else is standing up for what’s right – it should be you.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 02:26 PM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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June 09, 2004

More great news

Israeli Minister of Finance Netanyahu says:

If we want to achieve 4-5% growth in the near future, we absolutely cannot increase the rate of expenditure. We will not use additional tax receipts for increasing expenditure, rather we will use them for continued tax reduction. If available, we will direct further receipts toward reducing the deficit. In a process of accelerated growth, we will generate further growth through the reduction of taxes for the people of Israel. The engines for tremendous growth in the economy are tax reductions. This is the strongest way to generate growth. We reduced individuals' taxes, and we reduced value-added tax. However, the VAT rate remains too high and should be reduced. If the rate of growth will surprise us and beat expectations, we will reduce the income tax and corporate taxes.

Go for it!

UPDATE: Note the translator's error: If the rate of growth will surprise us and beat expectations... should be: If the rate of growth surprises us and beats expectations... The former is the way you say it in Hebrew. After living in Israel for a while it begins to sound normal, even to an English speaker.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:57 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Facts about Israel

From News of the day:

Facts about the 100th smallest country, with less than 1/1000th of the world's population.

In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world. In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the US (3,500 companies mostly in hi-tech).

Israel is ranked #2 in the world for VC funds right behind the US.

Israel has the highest percentage in the world of home computers per capita.

With more than 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups, Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world (apart from the Silicon Valley).

The cell phone was developed in Israel by Motorola-Israel. Motorola built its largest development center worldwide in Israel.

Windows NT software was developed by Microsoft-Israel.

The Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel.

AOL's instant message program was designed by an Israeli software company.

Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the US in Israel.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 04:06 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
Trackback URL: http://blog2.mu.nu/cgi/trackback.cgi/31539

Comment:

It is really quite simple. Having few natural resources, Israel is forced to export what it can produce. Not being a very large market, Israel cannot rely on it's size to produce prosperity.

Secondly, Israel's defense forces are forced to confront the most technologically advanced weapons in the world and still win wars. This creates a need for a culture that strives to maximize technical advancements and maximize R&D return on invested capital. Israeli breakthroughs in cellular communication in the 1980's became the backbone of the consumer cellular phone infrastructure of today.

Thirdly the American Jewish community has given Israel four treatures of inestimable value: the freedom of the Soviet Jews (almost one third of whom had advanced degrees of some kind) and three of the most outstanding centers of academic research in the world- the Technion, Hebrew University and the Wietzmann Institute of Science.

Put all of things together and you have a winnning formula. It also helps that people like Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Andy Grove and other Jewish American business leaders were willing to give Israel a chance to supply the talent their companies needed to grow.

Posted by: Gil Borman at August 3, 2004 04:21 PM Permalink

June 10, 2004

Something strange about Israel

There’s something strange about Israel. Okay, there are a lot of strange things about Israel, but I want to talk about one thing that I sometimes see mentioned, but I’ve never seen analyzed.

By most accounts Israel is the third-largest high-tech center in the world. What’s so strange about that? After all, someplace has to be the third largest high-tech center! Well, I grew up in the second-largest high-tech center in the world – Boston, Massachusetts, and I worked there in high-tech for two and a half years before moving to Israel. Something like 90% of the people there working in high-tech are from outside of the Boston area (many from outside the US) who came to Boston specifically to work in high-tech. The rest (like me) were children of people who came to Boston for the same reason.

I’m sure that the same is true for Silicon Valley, and for the lesser high-tech centers in the US. But, though many people come to Israel from abroad, none of them come specifically to work in high-tech. (The majority are fleeing oppression in countries like Russia, Ethiopia, France…) The distance from Jerusalem to Haifa, which contains most of Israel’s population, is approximately the same as the distance from San Jose to San Francisco, its population is slightly less – about 5 million – about the same as Massachusetts.

How can it be that the people who happened to be here created the world’s third-largest high-tech center – larger than any tech center in Europe, for example, which can draw on a continent-size population of over 300 million people? Joseph Morgenstern suggests a few possible answers:

The answer is rooted in part in the tradition of intellectual curiosity and analysis, which is an aspect of Jewish culture. It is a tradition that emphasizes education and that has produced, out of all numerical proportion, outstanding scientists and inventors. This age-old reverence for education has found expression in the development of a good Israeli public school system and excellent universities and institutes of science and technology.

If that doesn’t satisfy you then there’s this:

Even more likely, the technological accomplishments may be a result of the innate stubbornness, resilience, and creative drive of a polyglot people. Because of the multi-national mix of the population, many of the researchers have brought with them a variety of experiences and points of view acquired in different parts of the world. All are joined together by the determination to create a country which will become strong in spite of a lack of natural resources and of hostility on the part of most of its neighbors. This need for national security has led to the development of new defense technologies.

Or how about this:

Ambition for a better quality of life and higher standards of living has led to the creation of an export-driven economy. And most Israelis are aware that the ability to sell and succeed in the international marketplace is dependent on their products being more innovative and better priced than those of the country's competitors.

I don’t believe any of it. Or rather, I’m willing to believe all of it, but I don’t think it explains the facts. Even taken together, it’s hard to explain why Israel has more high-tech activity than countries like England, France and Germany – countries that each have more than ten times Israel’s population, and higher per-capita GNP. Look at these statistics from my last post:

In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the US

Israel is ranked #2 in the world for VC funds right behind the US.

I think that Israeli culture is somehow particularly well suited to high-tech. How so? I hope to talk about in my next post.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:54 AM  Permalink | Comments (1)
Trackback URL: http://blog2.mu.nu/cgi/trackback.cgi/31587

Comment:

"I think that Israeli culture is somehow particularly well suited to high-tech. How so?"
David, that is my favorite subject!!
Genetic evolution is slow, slow. Sykes et al (Adam's Curse) argue that it will take 50,000 generations (125,000 years) for the Y chromosome to blank out.
But memetic evolution can happen at speed. In the blogverse it can happen within days or hours. It is not difficult to believe that Israel, which fosters memes that encourage innovation and education, has a natural edge.
However, it is my opinion that the tribe of Judea has also genetic advantages, generated by the fiercest of selection gradients-- centuries of persecution and opression.

Posted by: twisterella at June 11, 2004 04:44 PM Permalink

Organic Organization – Synthetic Organization

The most efficient way to organize things is hierarchy. This applies to everything from your desk drawers to Linnaean taxonomy to the army to Ford Motors. You divide things, concepts, people, tasks into ever smaller units, at each step organizing as efficiently as possible, choosing your steps so as to maximize human ability (too big a step, and it will be hard for a person to organize it, too small a step and you’ll be wasting human potential).

I suspect that a lot of my readers will be cringing inside by the time they finish reading that paragraph. They imagine themselves living or working in such a framework, being a cog in a human machine. Somehow, they feel such an existence would rob them of their humanity. (Many such people are also ardent supporters of socialism – an ideology explicitly modeled on just this notion of efficiency. Go figure.)

Artists, on the other hand, are frequently almost anarchists, refusing to be tied down to any human organization, refusing to cooperate in any grand task that will inhibit their freedom – all in the name of creativity. There is no creativity without freedom.

Indeed, efficiency and creativity are opposing forces – the former eliminates freedom, while the latter requires it. But what do you do if you are in a creative business? You have to produce. You have to be efficient. You have to compete. The laws of the marketplace won’t stop for you. One answer is to compromise. In the business world there is a particular compromise that is known as focusing on your area of expertise. It means don’t try to be creative in areas that are not your expertise, just try to do a good job implementing what is known. Save your creative resources for the one area that is most important to your business.

This strategy is important for all businesses. But what do you if your area of expertise is in a constant state of flux? This is what I call high-tech – when the technology upon which your industry is based is changing rapidly. There was a time when the internal combustion engine was high-tech – this was the era of the founding of the motor companies – Ford Motors, General Motors, etc. Now the technology is well known and the focus of the industry has shifted from creativity to efficiency.

Today’s high-tech is software (not all software, though), bio-tech, and communications. (I’ve probably missed some…) In these industries you see a flattening of hierarchies. But if hierarchies are flattened (i.e. there is less hierarchy – hierarchy is less used) then how are these businesses organized? The answer: rules.

I can feel my readers cringing again. Rules! You’ve replaced the tyranny of hierarchy with the tyranny of rules! Well, not necessarily. If there is a rule that you have to stop your car at a red light, does that increase freedom or decrease it? Of course, it decreases your freedom to drive through red lights, but aggregate effect of everybody following this rule is that it increases your freedom to drive.

One of the amazing things about rule-based organization is that you see it everywhere. Look out the window at the nearest tree. Is it organized or disorganized? In fact, it is highly organized; its branches are arranged symmetrically so it won’t fall over, it gathers energy from the sun, and nutrients from the earth, it grows and reproduces. But a tree has no central nervous system. There is no boss giving orders that propagate down the hierarchy, telling it what to do. Instead, each cell is programmed with a set of rules that tell it what to do. And if you step close and look at it carefully, it loses its symmetry and its apparent organization. From up close it looks chaotic. But because each cell has the right rules, somehow a high level of order underlies the apparent chaos.

What can be said of a tree can be said also about the ecosystem as a whole. There the rules are simpler – survival, where each organism is free to follow that rule according to its own strategy. The result, however, is a system – an ecosystem – that has a very particular kind of organization. I call it Organic Organization. It’s opposite, the organization of hierarchies – of the assembly line, of armies, and of government – I call Synthetic Organization.

One of the most astounding examples of Organic Organization is the one you’re using right now to read this post: the Internet. The technology to build the Internet was around for something like 30 years before it took off. It took that long because the real innovation of the Internet was not its technology, but what software engineers call its architecture – the rules of the system. When the right rules were implemented, it took off. The Internet is based on four sets of rules: IP (Internet Protocol), TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transmission Protocol), and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). These protocols are carefully constructed to increase the freedom of their users. Of course, they decrease your freedom to communicate in the sense that you are not allowed to “say whatever you want”. You have to follow the rules, and sometimes it can be a real burden. But by following the rules, you can do great things never dreamt of before.

It is a sad fact (sad to the creative anarchist, that is) that there are many things that cannot be done by one person alone – that can only be done by groups. But there is a way to square this circle, to increase your freedom and creativity, while simultaneously becoming part of an organized group – a properly chosen set of rules, an Organic Organization.

UPDATE: I was supposed to answer the riddle of the previous post in this post. But I’ve written enough for now. I’ll have to push it off one more post. But maybe you can guess where I’m going…

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 04:21 PM  Permalink | Comments (2)
Trackback URL: http://blog2.mu.nu/cgi/trackback.cgi/31664

Comment:

David: In reading your excellent and moving post, I thought about the work of Nobel prize winner Ilya Pirigine on Self Organizing Systems. Here is a giant bibliography of related articles.
http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/EVOCOPUB.html
Prob'ly Den Beste has read a lot of these-- I have too!
In the 90's Artificial intelligence paid hommage to rule-based sysems, and they work well for some applications-- but research and application have moved on to genetic algorithms and neural nets, kinds of 'self-organizing systems' themselves. Do you think the rule based organization you describe is a natural step in the evolution of increasingly efficient systems?

Posted by: twisterella at June 11, 2004 04:33 PM Permalink
Comment:

Twisterella,

Glad to make your acquaintance, I've seen your footprints all over the web!

I have never been on the academic side of computer science, but I think that the work being done in cellular automata is the direction of my thinking. (This is quite different from what we in industry call rule-based systems, though of course, the behavior of the cells is rule-based in the sense that I mean.)

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 13, 2004 12:04 AM Permalink

June 11, 2004

What am I?

I want to take time out from the current discussion to respond to Steven Den Beste’s latest post. (I’ll try to get back to it next week.) Steven asks, “What makes me what I am?

What am I? That can be answered in many ways. I am a particular human being; I am this body. But is the entire body really part of the essential me? I don't consider myself to be different – or to have died – if I trim my fingernails or get my hair cut. If I suffered a grievous injury and had a limb amputated, I would still be me. If I received a heart transplant, I would still be me. (And the donor of that heart would still be dead.)

We consider quadriplegics and "basket cases" (quadruple amputees) to still be alive and to still be themselves. So that means my first answer isn't correct. I am not this body. I must only be part of it. Then which part? What am I?

These are troubling questions for mechanistic atheists like me. We think of humans as walking fires, as complex biological mechanisms which exhibit properties of life, thought and self consciousness powered by controlled release of chemical energy through oxidation. But close examination of our conception of those properties makes clear that we don't really fully understand any of them. For each we have little difficulty describing paradigmatic cases which we are certain have the property in question, but around that center the boundaries are fuzzy. We do not really know where the boundaries are; we may never really be able to say.

I would like to give my answer. I have solved this problem for myself in much the same way that Steven resolves the question, “Are viruses alive?” (Answer: It doesn’t matter, we know what viruses are, whether we call it life or not is beside the point.) Of course, I don’t have an answer to his explicit question. In fact, I will add to his troubling examples one from my own life: When I feel sick, or tired, I feel like a different person. My thoughts are different, my feelings are different, my experience of life is different. Am I really a different person? If I were to have a chronic disease, would I be a different person? I’ll tell you why my answer is no.

My answer to the question, “What makes me what I am?” is: my identity. So that doesn’t sound like a tautology, I will talk a bit about identity. My identity is what I identify with. People are concerned with the fate of the things they identify with in the same way that they are concerned with themselves. Therefore, in a very real way people are those things.

I identify with many things: my self, my family, my friends, my country, other countries, the world, nature, the universe, also abstract concepts: freedom, truth, justice, certain specific ideas, etc. When something “good” happens regarding one of these things, it makes me happy. When something bad happens, it makes me sad.

But more than this: I believe, deep within me, for no logical reason, that life has purpose. In particular my life has purpose. I have no idea what that purpose is, though I believe that pursuing my values and protecting what I believe to be important is the way to achieve it. I deeply identify with this unknown purpose, and since it is immortal, I feel, so am I.

I think that to some extent, all of us struggle with the idea that perhaps, after all, life really is purposeless. It is a depressing thought. At some point I crossed my own Rubicon, and though I do have my moments of doubt, in some holistic sense, I know that I’m immortal. I know it, because I no longer fear death. (At least, not in the terrible, existential way that I once did.)

Scientists like to think in terms of forces and properties, and give them names: gravity, friction, charge, entropy, etc. What shall we call the force/property of purposefulness? Let me suggest one: God.

Near the end of Steven’s post, he makes this remarkable statement:

I do not harbor any doubt about my atheism. But it cannot be denied that atheism is cold and uncomforting, and that there is a price to be paid for believing in it. An atheist must at all times live with the idea that in the end nothing we think or do is really very significant, and we may not really matter at all.

Steven’s behavior, and everything I’ve read in his posts since I discovered him a few months ago, seems to deny this belief. In fact, the very statement of this statement denies its statement. (Like the statement, “I always lie.”)

Steven includes a large number of links to previous posts of his; unfortunately, I don’t have time to read them today. Perhaps one of them contains a rebuttal to this post, if I find it, I will try respond next week.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:30 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Comment:

haha nobody likes you

Posted by: mm at June 14, 2004 02:37 AM Permalink

June 13, 2004

Pursuit of happiness

I think that I have found Steven Den Beste’s rebuttal, it’s in his post about marriage:

My axiom is "Happiness is inherently valuable." Happiness doesn't need to serve some other goal; it's worthwhile in and of itself. It doesn't matter whether it is ephemeral; whether it has any long term effect; whether it leads me to some sort of eternal reward (which I don't think will happen). Happiness is good in its own right.

So, the general ethical goal I try to accomplish is to increase the amount of happiness and decrease the amount of unhappiness in the universe. To me, that's a worthy goal irrespective of whether it has any other result. Everything I believe in ethics derives from this.

I think this is a worthy axiom to which to dedicate your life. Steven derives from it a fundamental belief in liberty, in self-defense, and many other things. Let me point out though, the sense of purpose that it gives to his life – to the extent that he would be willing to sacrifice his own happiness, maybe even his own life, toward achieving it. Steven identifies with the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is (part of) his identity. Since it is immortal, therefore, he, too, is immortal.

Does he really believe that in the end none of it matters? I think that it’s likely that at times he does. (Don’t we all?) I just wonder why he prefers it that way.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 02:01 AM  Permalink | Comments (2)
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Comment:

David! This is my rebuttal to Steven Den Beste--

Hi, Steven Den Beste!
LOL, you are no atheist! The god is in the genes!

He has not answered me yet-- do you think he will?

Posted by: twisterella at June 13, 2004 03:09 AM Permalink
Comment:

Twisterella,

What do you mean by that? I have some guesses, but I'd really like to know.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 13, 2004 09:05 AM Permalink

Memes and truth

Amritas talks about memetic evolution (a meme is the genetic unit of knowledge):

The birth of language was the beginning of a memetic reproductive explosion that continues to this day in increasingly technologically advanced forms (e.g., blogging)… Those who buy into the worst antilife variants die and their memes die with them (e.g., Heaven's Gate). Ideas cannot escape natural selection. This is not to say that all surviving ideas are prolife. Many are neither prolife nor antilife.

But if a meme is prolife does that mean it’s true?

Can a meme be prolife and be false?

If X and Y are two possible explanations for something: X is more prolife than Y, but Occam’s razor favors Y over X, which do you decide is true?

Here are my answers:

Anything that is prolife is true in some way – if you don’t know in what way it’s true, than you just don’t know enough about the truth.

I would favor a prolife idea over one with a higher Occam’s razor score any time. That’s why I believe in God.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 02:08 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Cannibals in pursuit of happiness

Steven Den Beste talks about the morality of cannibalism when the “victim” wants to be eaten:

So in Adams' universe, someone solved that problem [of eating meat – DB] by using genetic engineering to create a race of creatures who wanted to be eaten. However, that required them to be sufficiently intelligent to be able to think about such abstract issues, and it ended up that they were actually quite intelligent, and were able to engage in conversation.

So when Dent, Trillian, Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox finally got a table in the Restaurant at the end of the Universe, and while they were looking at the menu, the waiter wheeled out a cart with one of those creatures sitting on it in the middle of a big tray. He tried to convince Arthur Dent to order a steak to be made from him, which would mean that once Dent put in that order he would be slaughtered, and a part of his body would be broiled and served to Arthur a few minutes later.

In fact, it wouldn't have been necessary to slaughter him because he would willingly kill himself so that his body could be eaten.

Both Arthur Dent and Trillian were horrified, and Arthur Dent that he didn't want to eat something that said it wanted him to eat it. Zaphod asked Dent if it would somehow be better if the creature did not want to be eaten.

This is not just a theoretical question. It really happened not too long ago in Germany. A person killed and ate another person who wanted to be eaten. Evidently, in Germany, it is not considered murder.

I am as revolted by this idea as Steven (he comes down squarely against it), as I think most people would be. My question, though, for Steven: How does his position increase the amount of happiness in the world?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:08 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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June 14, 2004

Rules that set you free

Two Jews, three opinions. This is one of the many Jewish stereotypes you hear in the US. In fact, a glance at a Jewish social function (if the participants haven’t been too Americanized, which is getting harder to find these days): a wedding, a synagogue service, etc. and you will see what looks like chaos. JST: Jewish Standard Time, means you never know when anything will start, or how long it will take. But there’s another stereotype that I hear a lot: Jews, they really know how to organize themselves! Can both stereotypes have some truth to them? If so, what does it mean?

Observant Jews are required to pray three times a day: morning, afternoon, and evening. When ten or more Jews are together, they are required to conduct their prayers communally. It is a remarkable thing to see the formation of a minyan (prayer group) among people who don’t know each other – in airports, hotels, etc. It’s a seemingly spontaneous crystallization of a previously amorphic structure – which breaks up as soon as the prayers are finished. I have seen teenagers do the same thing, demonstrating an impressive level of maturity for their age. How does it happen? It happens because there are specific rules which everyone knows, which determine the process. A shaliah sibur (public emissary) needs to be selected to lead the prayers. Usually there’s some jostling as people volunteer each other, but I’ve never seen people fight about it. Once that happens, his nusakh (version) of the prayers determines the version for the minyan as a whole. The rules are somewhat more detailed (for example, if a mourner is present, he is selected to be the shaliah sibur), but the specifics aren’t important for this discussion. My point is that since the rules are standardized, and everybody knows them, a randomly formed group becomes self-organizing.

In fact, this is the nature of Judaism in all aspects. As I have said before, Judaism is not a faith-based religion. What is it then? It’s a rule-based religion. An observant Jew follows 613 commandments (misvot). A very wide range of theological opinions is tolerated within Judaism – as long as you observe the commandments. (There are, however a few articles of faith, the most important being belief in one God. Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith represents a consensus, but not universal, view.)

Moreover, Judaism is one of the last traditional religions. By this I mean a couple of related things. First, it is traditional in the sense that we mean when we speak of traditional cultures – at one time, all of the world’s cultures were traditional. Traditional cultures view wisdom as being contained primarily in the tribe’s traditions, and maintain explicit institutions for preserving them. Second, Judaism is traditional in the sense that its roots go back to prehistoric times: It has no one founder who imparted a unified (synthetic) set of ideas through which to view the world. Instead, its principles are united in an organic sense – they work together to create a lifestyle that satisfies the individual and preserves the community. (Though, since they are based on something real – human nature, they are subject to logical analysis. The logic is just a bit more complex than that of synthetic religions.)

Taken together, these three characteristics lead to an organic worldview. Though Israelis in general, and Israelis in high-tech in specific, are for the most part not religiously observant, the historic Jewish worldview persists. Israelis tend to assume that random groups will organize themselves – not break up and scatter. Israeli culture is egalitarian in the extreme – Israelis tend to have little respect for authority, not because they are anti-authority, but more because they don’t tend to pay much attention to it. (In the high-tech world you hear complaints about making presentations to Israelis – they’re always debating and asking questions. Personally, I always found it much harder to present to Japanese, who give no feedback at all. But then, I’m used to Israelis.) In spite of this, Israelis are easy to manage, not by giving orders but by making rules and setting goals (goals are actually a kind of rule: achieve this goal). Goals define the task, while rules make sure that the parts system, and the people building it, can work together. This is the way to mange for innovation, for high-tech. It’s necessary, because you never know, when you start out, exactly what you need to do. You have to rely on the initiative and creativity of your employees, but they also have to be able to work together.

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The Original Internet

The Rabbis in the Talmud talk about God one moment, sex the next and commerce the third. Rather than seeming like a broken state of affairs it seems – especially after Freud and Marx and Darwin – astonishingly human, and therefore astonishingly whole.

None of this is to suggest that one reality be substituted for another – on the contrary, it is to suggest that they can live side by side. It’s the side-by-side culture of the Talmud I like so much. “On the one hand” and “on the other hand” is frustrating for people seeking absolute faith, but for me it gives religion an ambidextrous quality that suits my temperament.

The Talmud (literally: Learning) is the encyclopedic record of the Jewish oral tradition, written down over a period of a few hundred years starting almost two millennia ago. Follow the link, and you will see a typical page. Notice the non-linear layout. The Talmud has an organic structure, like the Internet. One thing leads to another in an endless series of links. But it is also highly organized, by a set of rules compiled by Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid in his Introduction to the Talmud.

The quote above is from The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds, a highly moving account, which will also give you a good idea of the nature of the Talmud, without necessitating actually learning it.

Both the Mishnah and the Gemarah [parts of the Talmud – DB] evolved orally over so many hundreds of years that, even in a few lines of text, Rabbis who lived generations apart participate and give the appearance, both within those discrete passages as well as by juxtaposition on the page, of speaking directly to each other. The text includes not only legal disputes but fabulous stories, snippets of history and anthropology and biblical interpretations. Running in a slender strip down the inside of the page is the commentary of Rashi, the medieval exegete, commenting on both the Mishnah and the Gemarah, and the biblical passages (also indexed elsewhere on the page) that inspired the original conversation. Rising up on the other side of the Mishnah and the Gemarah are the tosefists, Rashi’s descendants and disciples, who comment on Rashi’s work, as well as on everything Rashi commented on himself. The page is also cross-referenced to other passages of the Talmud, to various medieval codes of Jewish law (that of Maimonides, for example), and to the Shulkhan Arukh, the great sixteenth-century codification of Jewish law by Joseph Caro.
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June 15, 2004

Iraq War Reason

I think that the case for war in Iraq has been poorly made. This is a rare example where I have something to add to a Nelson Ascher post (via Amritas). Nelson says:

That’s in a way the coalition’s strategy too. There were many reasons to invade Iraq, from the WMDs that are being slowly found to Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda, links about which what we know is already enough to be considered a casus belli. Obviously, with time we’ll know more about both things. But the geo-strategic reasons were even more important: after all Iraq has borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, none of which could have been invaded as easily, quickly and legitimately. Besides, Iraq was a good place from were to scare other governments in the region, that is, the pour encourager les autres factor.

The real reason that the US went to war in Iraq is all of the above (plus of course, the humanitarian reasons). But most of all it’s because the American public woke up to the fact that terrorism is a real and immediate danger. Not a nuisance, and not just a problem for foreign countries. And potentially, not just from Al Qaeda. Other openly hostile entities threaten the US with terrorism, and among them were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

The connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda is not direct. The connection is that they were both hostile to the US and both open advocates of terrorism.

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Trackback from trying to grok, PACING:
I've received input from several people lately about the War in Iraq vs. the War on Terror. The common sentiment was that the War on Terror is good and necessary but that Iraq didn't figure into it. They said that...

June 16, 2004

Who will watch the watchers

Steven Den Beste responds to a reader from Singapore, asking about the price of freedom. Daryl writes:

Compare Singapore to the USA, does Singapore really seem so restrictive? Don't you feel that sometimes liberty is abused to the fullest extent in America? Don't you agree that certain restrictions are necessary, restrictions that aren't in place in the USA?

As part of his response, Steven says:

Capitalism is like that. It gives you the opportunity to be wealthy, but you can also be poor, and you actually have to compete and work hard and perform. There's plenty of opportunity, but there are no guarantees. If you're not used to doing that kind of thing, it's a shock. Some people don't really successfully make that transition.

I understand why some people and some groups fear it. I understand them, but I don't sympathize with them or excuse them for it. There's a price for everything; there's no free lunch in life. If they want the benefits, they have to pay the price.

Singapore is actually the exception that proves the rule. (That expression dates from a time when “prove” meant something like “test”.) Singapore is, I think, the only place in the world where people get anything in exchange for their loss of liberty. In all other cases that I can think of, countries that restrict liberty also have more poverty and fewer guarantees.

The problem is: Who will watch the watchers (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – Satires of Juvenal). Why would the people restricting your liberty – the ones making the rules – do so for your benefit? Besides the fact that making such rules work in practice is really difficult even if they tried, they have little incentive to do so in the first place. They make the rules for their own benefit!

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Amritas and Almavet and Ben Nesah

Amritas posts about his name. What would Amritas be in Hebrew? That’s easy: Almavet. It comes from “al” meaning not, and “mavet” meaning death, and it means immortal. It even looks and sounds a lot like Amritas – a twofer! The only problem is I don’t like it.

The use of “al-” as a prefix meaning “un-” is very new and foreign to the spirit of the language. There is a Hebrew equivalent to compound words, which is very similar to English. For example, “workplace” in Hebrew is “m’qom `avoda” from the words “maqom” – “place” and “`avoda” – work. Like English, it is accented as one word, not two, which is why the “a” in “maqom” becomes a shva “’”. Unlike English, though, the words are written with a space between them, and the accent is on the last word, not the first. However, since the word order is reversed, both languages end up accenting the same word, “work” in English and “`avoda” in Hebrew!

But compounding in Hebrew is only for combining nouns, and even then they are not bound as tightly as they are in English. For example, “the workplace” in Hebrew is “m’qom ha`avoda” the word “the” (ha-) is inserted in the middle of the compound! That’s why this construct is often translated with the word “of”, i.e. “place of work”. I use either one – whichever feels best to me. In pre-modern Hebrew there were no affixes like “un-”, “bi-”, “inter-”, etc., as there are now. “Immortal” in Hebrew would have to be translated whole, not as “im-” + “mortal”.

Well, it turns out that there are lots of ways to do this in Hebrew. As one of God’s attributes, it is a continual (dare I say immortal?) theme in Jewish prayers.

Some expressions:

l`olam va`ed – for ever and ever
`adey `ad – for ever and ever (lit. ever of ever)
hayey `olam – eternal life (lit. life of eternity)
hayey nesah – eternal life (lit. life of eternity)
hay `olamim – eternal life (lit. life of eternities)
eyn sof – infinity
eyn qes – endless

The word “`ad” is an adverb, and “`olam” has an additional meaning of “universe” when standing alone, “eyn sof” and “eyn qes” have meanings which are not quite right. That leaves “nesah”. To this I would add the word “ben” which means “son” but is also used to express something that has the qualities of something else.

Ben Nesah – Son of Eternity – Eternal One – Amritas

That’s my choice.

UPDATE: This post should answer a certain question about my sidebar.

UPDATE: Amritas responds to this post. He also includes additional information about Hebrew, along with the name written in Hebrew letters. I didn’t intentionally try to make the name sound “cool” but I do think it does. Almavet, on the other hand sounds to me like calling water “hydrogen hydroxide” – accurate, but unpoetic.

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June 17, 2004

Hebrew vowels


Modern Hebrew doesn’t distinguish vowel length; therefore I usually don’t indicate it in my transcriptions. But pre-modern Hebrew did, and it is part of the Hebrew writing system. The table below illustrates the Hebrew vowels. There are six vowel sounds: i, e, a, o, u, and schwa; and three vowel lengths: long, short, and ultra-short. I have also taken care (this time) to indicate vowel length in the transcriptions of the vowel names.

Hebrew vowels are not independent: they are always associated with a consonant. In the following table, I have used the consonant aleph for this purpose.

  long short ultra short
 value name graph name graph name graph
i   אִי hiiriiq אִ    
e seeyre אֵ segowl אֶ hataf segowl אֱ
a qaamas אָ pataah אַ hataf pataah אֲ
o howlaam (haaseer) אוֹ   אֹ qaamas qaataan אָ hataf qaamas אֳ
u shuuruuq אוּ qubuus אֻ    
ә         shәvaa' naa` אְ


Notes:

Except as indicated below, I have used double letters to transcribe long vowels, single letters to transcribe short vowels, and superscripts to transcribe ultra-short vowels.

The letters ', h, h, ` (ע, ח, ה, א) cannot take a shәvaa' naa`. In places where a shәvaa' naa` would be expected, they take one of the hataf vowels.

There is also a “vowel” shәvaa' naah which looks exactly like a shәvaa' naa`, but indicates no vowel. There is no ambiguity, because shәvaa' naa` is only used to eliminate consonantal clusters. (In modern Hebrew, many consonant clusters are permitted. In my usual transcription, I use a single quote ['] to indicate a shәvaa' naa`, only in places where it is still pronounced.)

The qaamas which indicates a long “a” looks exactly like the qaamas qaataan which indicates a short “o”. There is no ambiguity because short “o” only occurs in closed unaccented syllables, while long “a” only occurs in open or accented syllables.

The long “i” is indicated by a hiiriiq followed by a yud.

There are two ways to indicate a long “o” – a howlaam with a vav, or just a howlaam. The latter is called howlaam haaseer. In my transcriptions I have used “ow” to transcribe the former, and “oo” to transcribe the latter. It could be that “ow” is derived from a former “aw”.

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June 20, 2004

A View from the Eye of the Storm

Steven Den Beste discovers a well-written talk/essay (I will link to the original if it turns up) purportedly given by professor Haim Harari to an advisory board of a “large multi-national corporation” in April, 2004. Steven did some research on Google to trying to verify the claim, but came up empty-handed, so I decided to try the Hebrew Google, on the assumption that this avenue was unavailable to him.

I came up with even less information than he did – Israeli academic writing is mostly in English. But I did find this, from a summary of a seminar given by Haim Harari:

המחקר עקב אחר רפורמת "מדע לכל" בישראל מתוך 'עין הסערה' מרגע הולדתה ועד היום.

The research following after the “Science for All” reform in Israel from out of ‘Eye of the Storm’ from the moment of its birth until today.

Of course this may be spurious, but people do tend to favor certain phrases in their speech. From its context in the seminar description, what he means by “Eye of the Storm” is not what you would expect from reading the essay Steven found – that Israel is in the eye of the storm engulfing the Middle East – he means that Israel has had to deal with its “normal” problems, e.g. education, while simultaneously fighting for its survival. The implication being that these problems have never gotten the attention that they would otherwise deserve – which is very true.

As a fellow inhabitant of the storm’s eye, my reaction is: “Of course.” Even Israeli leftists wouldn’t dispute much of this – though their ideas are almost indistinguishable from the European and American left. They simply choose not to see a relationship between the facts presented in the essay and the Israel’s “sins”.

The ideological background of both Israeli Left and Right is somewhat different from the US’s. The United States has the capability to solve its problems with Middle East terror, hopefully by inducing the Middle East to reform itself, but as a last resort by waging war against it – and winning. Israel doesn’t have either of these options. It is a very stark reality, human nature rebels against the idea that we are powerless to solve our problems, that the best we can do is find a way to live with them – or hope that someone else (the US) will solve them for us. The continued strength of the Israeli Left springs from this source, though it has been significantly diminished by Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton peace plan, which Barak accepted. (I am continually amazed and appalled that this episode has been forgotten and ignored by the media, since it is clear proof of Arafat’s unwillingness to make peace on any terms other than Israel’s destruction.) The Left claims that Israel is responsible for its problems, a very comforting thought since it implies that it can therefore solve them. In contrast, the Right offers only the possibility of perpetual war – a future too depressing for many Israelis to confront.

I’ve often heard the war on terrorism referred to as asymmetrical warfare. I get the impression that what is meant by this is that the “strong” governments are fighting against a “weak” foe, who uses the only means available – terrorism. But the author of “Eye in of the Storm” points out the real asymmetry, morals:

Do you raid a mosque, which serves as a terrorist ammunition storage? Do you return fire, if you are attacked from a hospital? Do you storm a church taken over by terrorists who took the priests hostages? Do you search every ambulance after a few suicide murderers use ambulances to reach their targets? Do you strip every woman because one pretended to be pregnant and carried a suicide bomb on her belly? Do you shoot back at someone trying to kill you, standing deliberately behind a group of children? Do you raid terrorist headquarters, hidden in a mental hospital? Do you shoot an arch-murderer who deliberately moves from one location to another, always surrounded by children? All of these happen daily in Iraq and in the Palestinian areas. What do you do? Well, you do not want to face the dilemma. But it cannot be avoided.

Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that someone would openly stay in a well-known address in Teheran, hosted by the Iranian Government and financed by it, executing one atrocity after another in Spain or in France, killing hundreds of innocent people, accepting responsibility for the crimes, promising in public TV interviews to do more of the same, while the Government of Iran issues public condemnations of his acts but continues to host him, invite him to official functions and treat him as a great dignitary. I leave it to you as homework to figure out what Spain or France would have done, in such a situation.

The immorality of the terrorists is appalling. But personally, I am far more appalled by supposedly moral people who aid and abet them by condemning Israel – for going to extreme lengths to maintain its moral standards, while defending itself against an immoral foe.

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Israeli Arabs

In light of the previous post, I want expand on an issue I saw briefly addressed by Benjamin in DIARY OF AN ANTI-CHOMSKYITE. He says:

There is no question that there are issues with Israel's Arab citizens and their place in a Jewish state. There is racism and there is discrimination. It is not Apartheid by any stretch of the imagination. It is also nothing particularly unusual in states with large national minorities. Particularly when, as in Israel's case, that minority considers itself an inseparable part of a hostile regional majority.

The critical sentence is the last one. I would like my readers to be aware of the enormous lengths Israel goes to treat is Arab citizens right. Israeli Arabs openly identify with Israel’s enemies, nevertheless they have equal democratic rights, and indeed there are several Arab parties in the Knesset (parliament), which reflect their views. It is impossible to go to an Israeli hospital without meeting Arab doctors – in fact, Arabs are well represented in most professions, though it’s true that they are over-represented in low-skilled jobs.

Let me give an example of “racism” and “discrimination”. As I said, Arabs tend to be over-represented in low-skilled jobs (which, I know, some people would consider absolute proof of discrimination all by itself), but there is one job where you don’t find them: cleaning services. I’m thinking of the people who come into offices after hours to clean up. This particular low-skilled job is usually 100% Jewish labor. (In the US these jobs are usually held by immigrants.) Let me ask you: would you want someone who sympathizes and identifies with your enemy to have unsupervised access to your office (or your home)? Yes, I know we can’t be sure that it’s true, but we know that statistically it is much more likely to be true than not.

But that’s the beauty of the free market. Opportunities naturally flow around any obstacles. I, myself, not being born in Israel, am discriminated against by the Israeli government: I cannot get security clearance for a wide variety of jobs, unless there is something that makes me immensely valuable and worth the extra effort of the security check. Do I feel discriminated against? No. There are plenty of opportunities available to me. The same is true for Israeli Arabs.

Now let’s take a look at a self proclaimed paragon of virtue: France. France is a large state with almost 60 million people (Israel has 6 million.) It faces no existential threats (unlike Israel). Its population is about 10% Arab (Israel’s is about 20%). Its per capita GDP is $25,700 (Israel’s is $19,000). Which of these countries bans its Arab students from wearing headscarves in school? France.

Let’s look at things from the Arab side. Every Arab country (there are 22 of them – 23 including the PA) persecutes its own people, even the most moderate: Jordan and some of the Gulf States. Some regimes are simply hells on Earth – the Palestinian Authority and Syria, for example. An Arab who is suspected of sympathizing with Israel or Israelis (this is interpreted very broadly) can expect to be murdered by his brethren, even in Israel, even in US administered Iraq. It’s not easy being an Arab. I don’t know what I’d do in their circumstances. But I know what to do in mine: defend myself.

For those who want to compare the morality of Israel to that of the Arab states, the bottom line is this: How many Israeli Arabs emigrate to Arab countries? Essentially none.

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June 21, 2004

Jews fleeing Europe

Joe Gandelman reports that Jews are fleeing France to Israel.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency said a report compiled by the agency had found 30,000 out of France's 575 000 Jews were considering leaving for Israel and he characterized French Jews' situation as increasingly "difficult." This comes on the heels of French Justice Minister Dominique Perben reporting that 180 anti-Jewish acts had been recorded so far this year.

It should be noted that as citizens of the European Union, they can move freely to any European county. They choose not to do so.

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June 22, 2004

Hebrew colors

A while back Amritas led me to a page by Cecil Adams that discusses words for colors. It concludes that while different languages have words for different colors, “there is a remarkable degree of uniformity in the way different cultures assign color names”:

1. All languages contain terms for white and black.

2. If a language contains three terms, then it contains a term for red.

3. If a language contains four terms, then it contains a term for either green or yellow (but not both).

4. If a language contains five terms, then it contains terms for both green and yellow.

5. If a language contains six terms, then it contains a term for blue.

6. If a language contains seven terms, then it contains a term for brown.

7. If a language contains eight or more terms, then it contains a term for purple, pink, orange, grey, or some combination of these.

My Hebrew dictionary (Even-Shoshan) classifies words as originating in four periods, according to the earliest attestation. They are: Biblical, Talmudic, Medieval, and Modern (It also has a class for foreign words.) I thought I would look up these colors and see if Hebrew fits the theory. This is what I found:

Attestation Translation Transcription Hebrew
biblical black shahor שחור
white lavan לבן
red adom אדום
yellow sahov צהוב
green yaroq ירוק
brown hum חום
light blue takhol תכול
talmudic blue kahol כחול
modern purple sagol סגול
pink varod ורוד
orange katom כתום
grey afor אפור

It almost fits. Of course, attestation is not the same as origin – a word might have existed in a certain period, but we don’t know about it because it wasn’t used in any of the surviving literature.

Notice that almost all the colors have the pattern XaXoX. This is the pattern for colors. The modern colors were clearly created on the basis of this pattern, for example pink is from the word “rose” (vered).

I added to Cecil Adams’ list light blue, since this is an important color in Hebrew, though it is lacking in English.

Can you figure out which colors are out of order?

Continue reading "Hebrew colors"

Blue and Brown.

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June 23, 2004

Bio added

Just added a bio. It’s the link in the upper left-hand corner. The picture is me with my kids, taken next to the house. That’s a fig tree in the background.

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June 24, 2004

The herd instinct

Steven Den Beste pointed me to Clay Shirkey’s commentary on Power Law distributions. Very interesting. I have long pondered what I think is the same phenomenon under a different name – the herd instinct.

The interesting thing about the herd instinct is that it’s rational. If somebody is doing something, saying something, thinking something, the chances are greater than 50% that that person is doing it for a good reason, so if you don’t have anything to base your choice on, the most rational thing to do is follow the other person’s lead.

There are two problems with this. The first should be obvious – that “greater than 50%” is not particularly good odds, just better than the alternative. But people tend to fall in love with their choices – for a good psychological reason, that being indecisive is also bad. The best strategy for dealing with this problem is to continually re-evaluate your choice without becoming indecisive – but only when you have the option of changing you mind!

The second problem is more subtle, because you have to think about it from a systems point of view, where second order effects can become more important over time than first order effects (but actually, most things in real life are like that). There are some things where even if the first person made the right decision, the fact that everybody follows the leader makes it the wrong decision. You can’t make money on the stock market just by being right. You have to be right when everybody else thinks you’re wrong. So, knowing nothing about a particular stock except that everybody’s buying it, the best choice you can make is not to buy it.

I often make choices precisely because I think that most people wouldn’t make them – in those areas where crowds are distinctly negative, like finding parking spaces. On the other hand, I don’t take that strategy in choosing a car to buy; I want one that has a good reputation! As a general strategy, I think that it’s probably best to follow the herd in areas that are unimportant to you, or in which you don’t want to bother to educate yourself.

But I would hope that there’s something important enough to you – for you to find your own way.

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Nuclear mullahs

David Warren pens the scariest article I’ve read in a long time, Nuclear mullahs:

That it is close to success [in completing its nuclear weapons program – DB] is indicated by every particle of information reaching the West -- and indeed more noise on the subject is being made currently by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency than by the Bush administration, which would rather not have it as an election issue. The Iranians have been caught red-handed with at least two large undeclared nuclear research facilities, and have stonewalled IAEA inspectors in the Saddamite manner. They also occasionally gloat that they will soon be members of the "nuclear club", and ought to be accepted.

Alternatively, I'm fairly certain the Israelis, this time, aren't up to the job that they performed in 1981, taking out Saddam's nuclear reactor at Osirak in time, to a chorus of world outrage. It is too large for them -- the Iranian nuclear programme is dispersed over too many sites, and most of them are out of range of the IAF's strike aircraft, which would anyway have to overfly too many hostile or uncooperative countries. And yet the very survival of Israel must be brought into question, once the ayatollahs have The Bomb.

The US would be able to survive a nuclear first strike, even if Iran could somehow deliver its nuclear weapons halfway around the world. Israel, however, is within striking distance, and it couldn’t.

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Clever Chomsky

I found this remarkable Chomsky quote on Diary of an anti-Chomskyite (via Amritas)

The Hebrew press is much more open than the English language press, and there’s a very obvious reason: Hebrew is a secret language, you only read it if you’re inside the tribe. Like most cultures it’s a tribal culture. I don’t want to exaggerate, but the English translations on the internet are very revealing and very interesting.

I had to look at the original. What secrets are we telling in our secret language – that only Chomsky can understand? (The idea that we may be saying different things merely because we have different concerns seems to never have occurred to him. Ditto for the idea that the Israeli press is large, diverse and free, and many different things are said, only some of which reaches his eyes.) This is what I found:

Remember Israel is virtually a US military base, an offshoot of the US military system. The same reporter quoted a General as saying: ‘Israel is no longer a state with an army, it’s now an army with a state.’ If you’re talking about the Israeli government you’re talking about the military. The top political figures are almost always ex-Generals, chiefs of staff and so on. It’s not a small army, according to the IDF and analysts their air, naval, armour forces are larger and more advanced than those of any NATO power outside of the US, and as an offshoot it certainly is. So we have an army with a State, the army’s basically a branch of the Pentagon.

It reminds me of the Grimm’s fairytale, Clever Elsie:

“Elsie, why weepest thou?” asked the maid. “Ah,” she answered, “have I not reason to weep? If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, the pick-axe will perhaps fall on his head, and kill him.” Then said the maid, “What a clever Elsie we have!”

This is the kind of reasoning that appeals to conspiracy thinkers everywhere. Chomsky would like to think that Israel is ruled by its army. It’s an absurd conclusion to anyone who knows the country – I think that Sharon is the only ex-General in the government at the moment, for one thing. For another thing, he was elected. The US also elected generals in the aftermath of war – but then, Chomsky thinks that the US is also an “army with a State,” ruled by the Pentagon.

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June 25, 2004

Chaos and the herd instinct

A few posts down, I wrote about the herd instinct – how it’s a rational response to limited knowledge. I would like to write a little now about how that intersects with chaos.

What I mean here is chaos in the mathematical sense – which is different from randomness. Randomness means that things aren’t predictable. Chaos (in the mathematical sense) is predictable on the micro scale – each subsequent event can be predicted from previous events. But unpredictable on the macro scale – you can’t predict the future by making generalizations about the past. Chaos occurs when “small” events have “big” results.

Life is chaotic. I met my wife at a lecture – if I hadn’t gone, and I almost didn’t go, I might never have met her, and my whole life would be different.

The blogosphere is also chaotic. There are a lot of great blogs out there, but I don’t know about their existence. There are a lot of great blogs that I know about, but I don’t have time to visit them. As you can see, the blogs I read most are USS Clueless and Amaravati: Abode of Amritas. Why is that? It’s not that I think they are the best, rather that for whatever reason they are the ones that I most want to read. (I could spend another few posts analyzing the reasons for that.) But up until a few months ago, I didn’t know about either one of them. In fact, I discovered Amritas only a couple of weeks after I discovered Steven Den Beste, when he linked to him.

Which brings me to the chaos-herd intersection that I wanted to talk about. I entered the non-professional blogosphere quite randomly. My first discovery was Jon’s Radio, a technical blog about the computer industry. I found that through a Google search, when I was looking for the answer to a technical question. Jon frequently links to other technical bloggers, and somehow through them I entered the blogosphere. I wandered around aimlessly for a while without a lot of enthusiasm for the idea, until I discovered the Instapundit. I became an immediate fan of Glenn Reynolds, and started to come to him as a news filter. Somewhere along the line he linked to Steven Den Beste, and that’s when I really entered the blogosphere. Evidently, Steven’s tastes are similar enough to my own that I’m very often interested in things that he links to. He doesn’t link to much, but it was enough – three or four a day. I quickly found Amritas, and many more.

Why am I telling this story? Because I think it’s about a lot more than blogging. It’s a parable for life. Along the way it also demonstrates the importance of freedom in finding the truth. The path I followed in getting to my current blogging habits is a kind of Newton’s method – not exact directions for getting from here to there, but an heuristic algorithm for getting closer to your destination with each step. (Since it is heuristic, it doesn’t necessarily work all the time, but because it is repeated with each step, it only has to work most of the time.)

What are the characteristics of the system? It’s an organic system with three rules:

1. Each blog entry is linked to related entries. How are they related? It doesn’t matter, as long as some of those relationships are important to me.

2. I sometimes follow the links.

3. When I find a blog that I like I remember it and go back to it.

That’s it! Substitute people for blogs, and friends for links and you get the same sort of system. Or substitute businesses and customers. Or even ideas and associations. Following the herd isn’t such a bad system after all, as long as the herds overlap, giving you the chance to switch – that’s when you get to be free.

UPDATE: Evolution works the same way.

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Dyslexia and scripts

I have just discovered a fascinating (short) article on dyslexia. The gist of it is that dyslexia can be caused by any of several difficulties, and that different writing systems make use of different areas of the brain. The result is that a person can be dyslexic in one language but not the other – and that no one writing system is best for all dyslexics.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:52 AM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Comment:

Thank you for your wonderful blog.

My understanding of dyslexia is that it is a pseudo-medical label applied to children who are resisting being coerced into learning to read and write. It isn't a mental "disease", because there are no mental diseases. The fact that there is no objective test or consistent set of symptoms for the syndrome is very telling.

Parents and teachers worry when a child doesn't enjoy learning to read straight away. I believe this fear is unfounded. Nearly all children will *want* to learn to read eventually. (Unless perhaps they have major hang-ups caused by disappointed adults.)

They'll want to understand the menus on their computer games and to send text messages to their friends. And they'll probably want to read for themselves those books they enjoyed having read to them earlier in childhood.

Posted by: Tom Robinson at June 27, 2004 05:17 AM Permalink

Dyslexia and fonts

Here’s another interesting article about dyslexia and fonts. I’m surprised at how difficult it is to find concrete information about dyslexia on the web. It seems that some scripts and fonts are easier than others for dyslexics – such a problem is easily addressed with software, and easily applied to online sources.

These are the potential problems that I’ve gathered so far:

1. Similar shaped letters, especially those that differ in orientation e.g. p, q, b, d

2. Non-phonetic spelling

3. Long words (short-term memory problem)

4. Non-phonemic graphs

5. Writing Direction (left-right, right-left)

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June 27, 2004

Non-dyslexic orthography

What would be the ultimate non-dyslexic orthography? Taking the opposites of the list below, it would:

1. Have very different shaped letters

2. Have phonetic spelling

3. Result in short words

4. Result in graphs that facilitate whole-word recognition

5. Be written top-down

It would seem to me that Korean addresses all of these issues – except, perhaps, the first. Each graph represents a syllable, which would tend to shorten words. But the graphs can be sounded-out – they are constructed from phonetic elements. The arrangement of the elements within the graph is two-dimensional, creating a kind of picture that capitalizes on spatial perception (as opposed to putting the characters in a single line, which is one-dimensional). Finally, Korean can be written top-down, avoiding potential left-right problems.

I wonder if there are fewer Korean dyslexics?

I wonder if a Korean-like writing system can be devised which corrects its one problem, the similarity of many of the graph elements?

It would then be no problem to write a program to display any English text in this orthography. In fact, it can be encoded as a font and use existing software!

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Reading Hebrew

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 consonants, vowels being indicated by “points” – diacritical marks that appear under or around the letters, when written. But usually, people don’t bother writing them at all. How then is Hebrew read, without vowels?

One answer that I often hear is that in Hebrew, vowels aren’t important. This is often corroborated with an example from English: ts nt vry hrd t ndrstnd nglsh thts nt wrttn wth vwls! The sentence would get even easier to read if English had a letter for a glottal stop, which in English, like Hebrew, begins every word that starts with a vowel, and if we used “y” and “w” to indicate “i”, “o” and “u” sounds.

The reason for this is that English words typically have a lot more consonants than vowels, and the chances of two different English words having the same sequence of consonants is low. When it does happen, the words can usually be distinguished by context. But for Hebrew, this is much less the case. Take a look at some Hebrew text, and you will see that the ratio of vowels to consonants is much higher. In fact, it is worse than that. In Hebrew morphology, one word can usually be changed into several others, just by changing the vowels!

How then can Hebrew be read without vowels? Part of the answer is that when Hebrew is written unpointed (without vowel diacritics), the letters “y” and “w” are inserted for “i”, “o”, and “u”. Also “h” is used at the end of a word to indicate “a” or “e”. This still leaves a high degree of vowel ambiguity. The real reason that the system works is that only two things are needed to uniquely identify a Hebrew word: root and pattern. You can always identify a word’s root because roots consist of consonants alone. And it turns out that the degree to which vowels are indicated is enough to disambiguate almost all patterns – the little ambiguity that remains can easily be determined by context, much the way English speakers disambiguate the words to, too, and two.

I was wondering about all this in relation to my last three posts on dyslexia. Does the Hebrew writing system make it easier or harder to read? A lot of people seem to have jumped to the conclusion that it’s harder. But look again at the list of potential problems. Hebrew is written phonetically, it’s just missing some (redundant) information – the information that is written is not misleading, as it sometimes is in English. On the other hand, leaving out redundant information results in words that are significantly shorter, facilitating whole-word recognition. In addition, the nature of the Hebrew language itself works to keep words short. Hebrew compounds are written as separate words, and there are no morphological processes that result in infinitely expanding words, as there are in English. In fact, every new Hebrew learner has had the experience of struggling to figure out a particularly opaque word just to discover that it's English. Today, when I read Hebrew, foreign loan words stick out like sore thumbs – they seem like long strings of random letters.

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June 28, 2004

How odd of God to choose the Jews

Amritas takes on Cynthia Ozick’s article about the new anti-Semitism: The Modern ‘Hep! Hep! Hep!’. I’m impressed by his stamina; it is something of a mystery to me why someone so unconnected to the subject should nevertheless take it on. I, much closer to the subject, thoroughly share his reaction:

I honestly didn't want to read this article. My reaction to it was like my early reaction to Little Green Footballs. Too much anti-Semitism concentrated in one place.

I have a long list of should-reads and should-sees on the subject, which I never seem to get around to. I have never read Diary of Anne Frank, for example, nor have I seen Schindler’s List. (Though I did see Life is Beautiful, one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. I saw it in Italian with Hebrew subtitles.) Although three generations removed from relatives who perished in the Holocaust, I still have trouble approaching the subject.

Among other things, Cynthia Ozick asks the eternal question: Why the Jews? I know the answer to that question, but before I answer it we should ask a related question: Is there anything unique about anti-Semitism?

The Holocaust was unique. Not that genocide is unique, by any means, but never before or since has one people taken as its existential mission the extermination of another. Nor has one people ever taken such pains to document its inhumanity toward another, or pursued its homicidal mission with such methodical efficiency. The number of Jews murdered by the Nazis was more than the current Jewish population of Israel.

You could argue that the Holocaust is a unique case, as indeed it is, which says more about the Nazis than it does about anti-Semitism. You could say that bigotry and prejudice are more than common, they are universal – the world is full of oppressed peoples. Not just oppressed peoples, but the bones of extinct and dying peoples – the Caribs, the Tasmanians, the Cornish, etc., etc. We Jews have no monopoly on suffering, but there is something unique about anti-Semitism. The Jews are persecuted not as loathsome underclass, but as a rival power – despite the fact that our numbers are microscopic, and our power is tiny.

Why is that? I do not like to dwell on our history as a persecuted people. I do not believe that it is good for us to define our identity negatively. We Jews were not put on Earth to be oppressed, but to play a positive role in the world. What makes anti-Semitism unique, and the answer to the question, “Why the Jews?” is that despite the odds, throughout history, Jews have picked themselves up after burying their dead, and not only survived, but thrived.

UPDATE: The name of this post has been attributed variously to Ogden Nash, and William Norman Ewer.

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Sports objectives

Steven Den Beste answers a question about playing fair in sports. Specifically, how should a parent teach his children to play sports. He answers this question first by asking the parent what his objectives are:

Objective 1: Win as many games as possible. Nothing else matters.

If this is the objective, then Greg's question is easy to answer. You use whatever tactics are necessary to win. You instruct your players to play dirty whether the other team does or not. You encourage them to game the referees and teach them the fine points of doing so, and make them practice it.

Objective 2: Turn your kids into saints, who always act correctly irrespective of the consequences. Motives and choices are more important than results. The goal is to raise kids who never sin. (We'll call this "idealistic honor".)

Again, the answer to Greg's question becomes obvious. Tell your kids to not do those kinds of things, no matter whether the opponent does them or not. That will probably mean they'll lose more games, but winning and losing are unimportant. What's important is that they act correctly.

Objective 3: Teach the kids lessons about life so that they grow up to be honorable men who survive and prosper in a world where many are not honorable. (We'll call this "practical honor".)

Surprisingly (to me) Steven chooses Objective 2. Since I am a parent, I think about these kinds of questions. Here are my objectives (with respect to playing sports):

1. War is usually not the right model for viewing life. A transactional model is usually better: neither side should play unless both sides feel that they “win” something. In business this is called the win-win scenario, in economics it’s called a Pareto-optimal solution. Lesson: Look for the win-win scenario – if you can’t find it, walk away.

2. Don’t take things too seriously when they’re not. Lesson: Playing sports is not serious enough to merit cheating.

3. The truth will out – anyone who cheats will lose their reputation, even if they win the game. Lesson: Don’t cheat unless it’s the right thing to do. (Which it’s not, in sports.)

As Steven says, you won’t know what to do unless you know your objectives. I want to teach my kids to always remember their life objectives, and not to get caught up in the formal objectives of sports, or the transient objectives of their current circumstance – in other words, to keep things in perspective.

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June 29, 2004

The Freeholders

I had a eureka moment reading this essay by John Ray. Not that I agree with his conclusions, though I do share his revulsion for the elitism that he describes. I disagree with his conclusions on no evidence other than my own personal experience. I grew up among a population that was overwhelmingly liberal, and I feel that I know those particular people quite well. I think that their views were primarily formed by a lack of understanding of feedback systems – an unwillingness to believe that secondary effects can in the long run be more important than primary effects, what is sometimes called the Law of Unintended Consequences. In other words, if there is a problem, then we (the government) should solve it.

Not that conservatives have any more understanding of feedback systems. What saves them from error is an abhorrence of government interference, a love of liberty. This is a moral stand which I find eminently justifiable, but there is no denying that liberty inevitably leads to inequality. Inevitably, given the liberty to choose, some people will make mistakes, and others will succeed. The beauty of this from a systems point of view is that as a secondary effect (the primary effect is success or failure) negative behavior results in negative feedback, and positive behavior results in positive feedback. (As an aside, I think that parents tend to be much more aware of secondary effects with respect to their children – they don’t want to spoil them.)

However, I am uncomfortable with the words “liberal” and “conservative”, “left” and “right”. With respect to policy, the American left and right have switched sides several times in its history. I have argued before that the real split is between the forces of ferment and stasis, and that those groups will switch sides every two generations. In the 1970s the left wanted to spread democracy, and in the 1870s the left wanted free trade…

That’s when I had my eureka moment. Why did the left want low tariffs in the 1870s? Because the average American was a farmer (agricultural subsidies were not yet invented), and knew very well that free trade enriched him – he could buy more, more cheaply. Tariffs enriched big business. It wasn’t until the average American became an employee of big business that he began to see free trade as a threat (at least in his own industry), which put him in agreement with big business. Who then is left to support free trade? Only those, of whatever background, who feel sure enough, and entrepreneurial enough, to value the opportunity of free trade more than they fear its hazards.

Historically speaking, the most unique thing about the United States is that the average American was a freeholder – someone who farmed his own land (Hawaii is the exception, which in this case really does prove the rule). In Europe, indeed in most of the world, the average person did not own the land he worked. In other words, the pre-industrial European economic system had more in common with big business and big labor, in contrast to the pre-industrial American economic system which empowered the individual and encouraged entrepreneurship.

And I think maybe that’s why Israel feels so much more like the US than like Europe. The cultural background of most Israelis is not as freeholders. Jews in both Europe and the Arab lands were outcasts from the agricultural system. They were, of course, barred from the aristocracy, but neither could they submit to being tenant farmers. Thus they were driven to the economic margins, they were the shoemakers, the tailors, and the petty merchants. A lucky few were doctors and bankers. But in poverty and in wealth, they were masters of their own fate – virtual freeholders.

The overall impression I get of Europe is of a kind of docility – Europeans expect to be taken care of, and exploited. Israelis, on the other hand, are known for their chutzpah (huspa). Americans are known for being brash. Europeans are afraid of conflict and chaos, knowing how easily it can degenerate into death and destruction. Israelis and Americans have developed cultural norms of a freeholding society – norms that protect individual freedom while preserving order.

Only a tiny fraction of the Western world now works in agriculture. The vast majority work in business big and small, whether in Israel, Europe, or America. But it seems to me that the cultural memory of our freeholding or peasant past is a major determinant of our worldviews today.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:21 PM  Permalink | Comments (4)
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Trackback from trying to grok, CLASS:
My class this weekend was pretty good. We all thought it would focus on the current terrorist events, but instead the prof mostly lectured about terrorism in the 70s and 80s. It was interesting because I didn't know that much...

Comment:

Is this the explanation for New York's politics?

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at July 1, 2004 08:10 AM Permalink
Comment:

Joseph,

Could be. But I think that it's more likely to be a result of the general urban US worldview, which was shaped by the neo-feudalism of big business/big labor. I think that New York spent enough time as an English colony to nullify most of the effect of its Dutch beginning.

Thanks for the link, it was very interesting!

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 1, 2004 09:56 AM Permalink
Comment:

I enjoy your posts on systems theory and how it applies to politics. I find your comments on the importance of secondary effects especially interesting.
There is a common secondary effect I rarely find discussed in news and political commentary. Lots of parents figure it out though. Legislators, corporate executives, political fanatics and religious zealots never seem to realize that many of their rules will only provoke a knee-jerk impulse to rebel against the rules. The more petty and intrusive the rule, the stronger the urge to rebel. The more likely that enforcing the rule will accomplish nothing except ruining the enforcer's credibility. This is especially true of attempts to politeness mandatory (e.g. cleaning up our dog's poop in public places), attempts to regulate private behaviors which are nobody else's business (what we like to eat, how much we weigh), and rules which infringe on free speech and religious and political freedom (political correctness, religious extremism).
Are Americans more rebellious in this kind of way? Are Europeans more tolerant of intrusive nit-picking government regulation? Do Europeans rebel against excessive regulation, but in a different way than Americans do? Does systems theory explicitly mention this subject?

Posted by: Bryan Ashcroft at July 4, 2004 12:48 AM Permalink
Comment:

Good questions. I don't know any of the answers.

Glad you're enjoying my blog!

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 4, 2004 01:14 AM Permalink

June 30, 2004

Icelandic blogger

Just discovered a great new blog (via John Ray): Great Auk, by Bjarni Ólafsson. He’s from Iceland – a country even smaller (in population) and more exotic (in my opinion) than Israel.

Welcome to the blogosphere, from your alphabetic neighbor!

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:48 AM  Permalink | Comments (5)
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Comment:

Thanks alot for the link and the kind words. I'm glad I have Sitemeter, cause otherwise I wouldn't have found your excellent blog. I'll read more of it in the future.

Posted by: Bjarni Ólafsson at June 30, 2004 11:41 AM Permalink
Comment:

Nice to have you over, Bjarni!

Did you notice, I added you to my blogroll?

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 1, 2004 02:38 PM Permalink
Comment:

Yup, and you're on mine! What does Rishon-Rishon mean anyway (assuming that it means anything).

Posted by: Bjarni Ólafsson at July 2, 2004 04:20 PM Permalink
Comment:

Thanks for the link!

I guess you haven't read my whole blog yet! Look here.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 2, 2004 05:16 PM Permalink
Comment:

Excellent! I've always wanted to learn Hebrew, but life always seems to get in the way.

Posted by: Bjarni Ólafsson at July 2, 2004 06:13 PM Permalink

Another great blog – Crispus

The first person to leave a comment at the Great Auk is another great blogger: Crispus.

Here an example of what s/he writes:

Yesterday religious and city leaders rallied on the steps of City Hall in support of school vouchers, saying it's the best option for their kids' future. The Black Ministers' Council of New Jersey head calls public schools a "fraud." The head of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders calls school choice a "moral issue" where blacks and Hispnics must unite.

School choice advocates say tax dollars should follow a child to the schools of their choice, not the school itself. They say school choice would drive reform in public education through competition. The Black Ministers' Council says what stands in their way are the Democrats, who have strong ties to teachers' unions. Advocates are right on all three counts.

In my opinion compulsory education without school choice is a form of slavery. We force children to go to a particular building at a particular time, and sit and listen to a particular person telling them what to do. The only way to get out of bondage is to buy your freedom, if you can afford it. It is immoral, and should be illegal.

Of course, like many immoral activities, it has serious negative consequences from a practical point of view too. For example, you cannot have a state education monopoly and still have separation of church and state. The national education system has created a state religion, one which advocates a broad religious agenda. What am I talking about, I hear you say. Let me ask you this: If the schools aren’t teaching religion, why is it that so many religious people are against it?

UPDATE: Just in case I didn’t make myself clear: Something that contradicts a religious principle must also be a religious principle, at least according to the religion in question. For example, you can’t teach sex-education without conveying some kind of moral attitude toward it. What kind of moral attitude do you teach? That’s a religious question. Of course, schools try to avoid the issue by trying not to teach morals at all, just teaching “the facts”. That raises a couple of questions: First, do you really want your children not to be taught morals? Most parents, given the choice, would choose to teach their kids some kind of moral system, but of course they have no choice. Second, by avoiding teaching morals, you in effect teach children to have no morals – the message they get is that morals are optional, and that they can choose to do without. After all, the school apparently does without.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that the same case can be made for regarding compulsory education as slavery even with school choice. I suppose that’s true, however, the justification for compulsory education is that it is in the best interests of the child. Children are not free; they are wards of their parents or guardians, and to lesser extent wards of the state. I agree that in extreme cases the state should be able to intervene for the good of the child – but such cases should be as extreme as possible. Telling the parent that the child has to go to some school, that the parent can choose, is less extreme than telling the parent that the child has to go to a particular school, and therefore is without question more correct. (It remains a question whether parents should be told at all – I think they should be.)

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