What does it mean?

May 29, 2005

Photos From Kaifeng

Some beautiful photos from Kaifeng (via Solomonia).

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May 25, 2005

Dream takes root

I grew up a 10-15 minute walk from the Hoar Bird Sanctuary, where I spent many a happy childhood hour wandering. In that sanctuary, grew a stunted, blighted American Chestnut tree:

American chestnut was once the most important tree of the Eastern North American hardwood forest. One fourth of this forest was composed of native chestnut. According to a historical publication "many of the dry ridge tops of the central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains appeared snow-capped."

The nut was a central part of eastern rural economies. Communities enjoyed eating chestnuts and their livestock was fattened by the nut. And what wasn't consumed was sold. Chestnut was an important cash crop for many Appalachian families. Holiday nuts were railed to New York and Philadelphia and other big cities where street vendors sold them fresh-roasted.

What happened?

A chestnut disease was first introduced to North America through New York City in 1904. This chestnut blight, caused by a fungus and presumably brought in from eastern Asia, was first found in only a few trees in the New York Zoological Garden. The blight spread with a vengeance and in its wake left only dead and dying stems.

By 1950, Castanea dentata had disappeared except for shrubby root sprouts the species continually produces (and which also quickly become infected). Like many other pest introductions, blight had quickly spread into its new - and defenseless - host causing wholesale destruction throughout the entire range of the chestnut.

Believe it or not, as a child I dreamed of breeding a blight-resistant American Chestnut. Though I didn't pursue it, others did. Now, it seems, their efforts have paid off (via Instapundit):

The tree planted Friday came from a research farm in Virginia, where blight resistance was bred into the native chestnut with the help of the Chinese chestnut.

The American chestnut, prized for its timber and its crop of glossy dark nuts, once dominated Eastern forests from Maine to Georgia. The graceful trees were virtually wiped out by blight starting at the turn of the 20th century.

That loss, Case said, "was the greatest environmental disaster in the Western Hemisphere since the Ice Age."

Now, after years of breeding, cloning and crossbreeding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is ready to reintroduce disease-resistant chestnuts to Eastern forests next year.

How did they do it?

For decades, plant pathologists and breeders tried to create a blight-resistant tree by crossing our own species with the resistant Chinese chestnut and other chestnut species from Asia, but always with unsatisfactory results. Now, advances in our understanding of genetics have shown us where those early researchers went wrong.

Old science told us that resistance is controlled by numerous genes running a very complex system. Scientists simply flooded chestnut progeny with Chinese chestnut genes by crossing their Chinese-American hybrids with other promising Chinese-American hybrids. The result was consistently a blight-resistant but very Chinese chestnut-like chestnut tree.

New techniques are now being used. By an elaborate and time consuming system of backcrossing and intercrossing, TACF's breeding program is attempting to develop a chestnut that will exhibit virtually every American characteristic. The desired tree is one that is fully resistant and when crossed, the resistant parents will breed true for resistance.

The method of breeding entails crossing the Chinese and American trees to obtain a hybrid which is one-half American and one-half Chinese. The hybrid is backcrossed to another American chestnut to obtain a tree which is three-fourths American and one-fourth Chinese, on average. Each further cycle of backcrossing reduces the Chinese fraction by a factor of one-half.

The idea is to dilute out all of the Chinese characteristics except for blight resistance down to where trees are fifteen-sixteenths American, one-sixteenth Chinese. At that point of dilution, most trees will be indistinguishable by experts from pure American chestnut trees.

Once a significant number of blight-free trees are produced, new crosses could potentially restore the full genetic diversity of the American Chestnut tree, with blight-resistance. Maybe we'll get our American Chestnut forests back. I can't wait!

(Cross-posted at Gene Expression.)

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Trackback from Winds of Change.NET, How Is The Talmud Like the Internet?:
...not to mention "the Prime Directive of the Blogosphere"? David of Rishon-Rishon explains. N.B. The Talmud is the "oral Torah" of Jewish law and discussion over the centuries. It is the basis for all later...

May 22, 2005

Wordplay

What happened to my site?!

...brought to you by the Universal Translator (via  Daniel in Brookline). Please excuse the profanity, many other "languages" are available, but I picked this one because I thought it was the most well done. The Cockney Rhyming Slang is cleaner, but a little too subtle.

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May 20, 2005

Misled by knowledge

John Ray brings us this precious quote from Joseph Sobran:

"He who is unaware of his ignorance," writes Richard Whately, "will only be misled by his knowledge." And that is the trouble with the liberal, the socialist, the Communist, and a dozen other species of political cranks who have achieved respectability in our time: they disregard so much of what is constant and latent in life. They fail to notice; they fail to appreciate.

He adds his own comment:

It might be noted that it is a common finding from survey research that conservatives are happier. See e.g. here. One might perhaps ask how conservatives could be both wary and happier but I think that to ask that question is almost to answer it. Wary people are more likely to avoid the heartbreaks and disappointments that overconfident people experience. And who is more overconfident than a Leftist with his insouciant prescriptions about how the whole world should be re-organized? Because they tend to be better at dealing with the world realistically, conservatives are happier with the same world that deeply dissatisfies the Leftist -- who blames the world for his own failures at comprehending and dealing with it.

A while back, I spent a few posts wondering about why so many smart people are so dumb. John wrote me, "I think it's simpler than that: Success leads to arrogance and it takes a strong character to resist that". I didn't find it particular convincing at the time, but now I think I may have misunderstood him. Perhaps he was referring not to social arrogance (which is also an issue) but to intellectual arrogance: a lack of humility regarding what you (think) you know. I often use the aphorism, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" - meaning that one who has a little knowledge is tempted to think it is a lot. A variation of this is: "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Or, as Socrates is purported to have said, "I know more than you, because you think you know something, whereas I know I know nothing".

A lot of smart people are vulnerable to being seduced by their beautiful ideas, which ties in with my previous two posts. Instead of Talmudic reveling in the interconnected multifaceted holy-profane reality of the world, they retreat into their private, or collective, Ghost Dances.

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May 19, 2005

Come on baby, do the Ghost Dance

Everybody's doing it! Almost exactly a year ago, I speculated that Islamists are modern-day Ghost Dancers. Then Jinnderella picked up the meme (some good comments here). Now I realize that some of the Islamist's de-facto allies are doing it too. James Taranto:

It's not just that the media are biased against conservatives and Republicans, though they certainly are. It is that they see every war as another Vietnam and every supposed scandal as another Watergate--at least when Republicans are in the White House, which they usually are.

The obsession with Vietnam and Watergate is central to the alienation between the press and the people. After all, these were triumphs for the crusading press but tragedies for America. And the press's quest for more such triumphs--futile, so far, after more than 30 years--is what is behind the scandals at both Newsweek and CBS.

(If you get the other reference in the title, keep quiet or you'll show your age.)

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May 17, 2005

The Prime Directive of the Blogosphere

The Prime Directive of the Blogosphere is: Link to your sources. The Talmud, which is very similar in that it consists of layers of commentary upon commentary all linked together (see the first page of the Talmud here, scroll down to see the its component parts color-coded), teaches the same lesson:

כָּל הָאוֹמֵר דָּבָר בְּשֵׁם אוֹמְרוֹ מֵבִיא גְאֻלָּה לָעוֹלָם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ בְּשֵׁם מָרְדְּכָי

Kol ha'omer davar b'shem omro mevi' g'ula la`olam shene'emar vatomer ester lamelech b'shem mord'khay

All who say a thing in the name of its sayer bring redemption to the world, as it is said: "And Esther said in the name of Mordecai"

Pirqey Avot 6:6

This is one of the most often repeated maxims in Jewish sources. In fact, it is repeated three times in the Talmud itself (Talmud Bavli M'gila 15A, Hulin 104B, Nida 19B). 

From The Industry Standard's review of The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey between Worlds:

The Internet has numerous parallels to the Talmud. Both are the products of countless contributors, both aspire to be perfectly encyclopedic and both express their wisdom in an ad hoc web of references to other authorities (the Hebrew word for a passage from the Talmud means "webbing"). They even use similar visual strategies to represent the simultaneity of their voices. A page of the Talmud resembles a Web page, explains Rosen, in that "nothing is whole in itself. ... Icons and text boxes are doorways through which visitors pass into an infinity of cross-referenced texts and conversations." Rabbis who lived centuries apart appear on the same page, conversing across time, commingling with Biblical excerpts, parables and bits of history.

Somewhere near the roots of modern Western culture lies the belief that there are unbridgeable gaps between religious and secular, sacred and profane. Rosen counters that the Internet's gaudy melange of politics, porn, commerce and soap-box-preacher nuttiness suggests that everything is part of the same graceless totality. Jesus insisted on an either/or when he booted the money-changers from the Temple, but the Talmud, like the Internet, "talk[s] about God one moment, sex the next and commerce the third."

Far from "a broken-down state of affairs," this strikes Rosen as "astonishingly human and therefore astonishingly whole." By relating absolutely every idea from all possible angles, without passing final judgment on correct or incorrect, relevant or irrelevant, the Internet and the Talmud each invest their shattered, centerless cultures with a kind of mosaic unity. The Internet, like the Talmud, becomes "not merely a mirror of the disruptions of a broken world," but something that "offers a kind of disjointed harmony." No matter how ridiculous or vulgar the parts, the whole cannot help but make sense.

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Trackback from Estate Legacy Vaults Blog, The Talmud and the Internet:

Thanks to David Boxenhorn, I found this startling metaphor that works astonishingly well - The Talmud and the Internet He quotes from the Industrial Standard Review and so shall I The Talmud is a sprawling text that addresses every aspect of Jewish...



May 16, 2005

As to a plank

An amazing article by Theodore Dalrymple (via Gene Expression), which among other things, sheds some light on the growth of extreme Islam in Europe:

The vicar’s understanding of the tragic world of Muslim girls living in British slums, caught between two cultures and belonging fully to neither, possessing little power to determine their own fates, seems to me to be equally accurate. Indeed, he explores this world with considerable subtlety as well as sympathy.

The girls are vastly superior, morally and intellectually, to their white counterparts. Their problem is precisely the opposite of that of the white youths: far from nihilism, it is the belief in a code of ethics and conduct so rigid that it makes no allowances for the fact that the girls have grown up and must live in a country with a very different culture from that of the country in which their parents grew up. In the eyes of their parents, the girls are easily infected with, or corrupted by, the dream of personal freedom, and since the only result of such personal freedom that the parents see around them is the utter disintegration of the white working class into fecklessness and slovenly criminality, where every child is a bastard and families are kaleidoscopic in their swiftly changing composition, they become even more rigidly conservative than they might otherwise have been. They cling to what they know, as to a plank in a storm at sea.

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May 15, 2005

`Am S'gula

Amritas titles his latest post, "Erabareshi Mono", which is Japanese for "Chosen People". That phrase always seemed a little odd to me, because as far as I know, it appears nowhere in the Bible or in any Jewish literature. Certainly, it is not a term commonly used in Jewish literature. I think that the term comes from here:

 וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים

V`ata im shamoa` tishm`u b'qoli ushmartem et briti vihyitem li s'gula mikol ha`amim

And now if you hear my voice and keep my covenant then you will be to me a treasure from among all the peoples

Exodus 19:5 (also here)

The term `am s'gula (עם סגולה) - a treasure-people is commonly used, but it seems to me that that's not quite the same thing. On the other hand, as you can see a few posts down, there are a few places where Jewish sources talk about the Jews being chosen, but as far as I know, it's always in the context of being chosen for something in particular, not a generalized "chosenness".

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May 13, 2005

Pronoun controversy

Amritas links to this hilarious article:

A great controversy has emerged recently in campus publications over the use of the gender neutral pronoun set ze/hir. This has manifested mainly in the Emerald's obstinate refusal to use ze/hir and the Oregon Commentator's outright hostility toward any sort of variance from a strict ideology of gender binaries. While the Emerald has merely provided a plethora of examples of dreadful journalistic style, the Commentator has -- inadvertently, I'm sure -- demonstrated that ze/hir is a perfectly usable form.

For those who are not familiar with ze/hir, it is used rather than she/her or he/him/his for some people who identify outside of a man/woman dichotomy. Like he and she, ze has several forms that are not particularly easy for the average person to classify grammatically (he, she, ze; his, her, hir; him, her, hir; his, hers, hirs; himself, herself, hirself), but anyone who can use she and he is capable of integrating ze. Listening to individuals who respect self-identification and pronoun preference makes this quite clear, as they form sentences like "ze knows that's hir job," "that book is hirs," and so on. There is a pattern that is consistent and easy to produce.

Life imitates parody. I wonder where the new pronouns come from? Clearly, 'hir' is a combination of 'him' and 'her' - they have the 'h' in common, the 'i' is from 'him' and the 'r' is from 'her'. Whoever coined the word was probably gratified by the fact that for the great majority of English speakers, 'hir' sounds just like 'her' - compare: 'fir', 'sir', 'girl.

But where does 'ze' come from? ....I know! It's from Hebrew. 'Ze' (זה) in Hebrew means 'this', and it is indeed used in colloquial speech as a genderless pronoun (though it is grammatically masculine, the feminine of 'ze' is 'zot' [זאת] or 'zo' [זו]).

Actually pronoun gender is not an issue in Hebrew, probably because gender is not marked solely by pronouns - nouns, adjectives, and verbs all mark gender. In fact, pronouns and verbs mark gender not only in the third person (he, she, they - הוא, היא, הם, הן), as do most Indo-European languages, but in the second person (you - אתה, את, אתם, אתן) as well (to the sorrow of sign painters throughout the country - many signs are commands, which is second-person). Changing this is even more hopeless a cause than convincing a few hundred million English speakers to change their pronouns.

Luckily, there are already many languages which don't have grammatical gender of any sort. Amritas points out Chinese, in which 'ta' means 'he', 'she', and 'it' - Chinese speakers go even farther than ze/hir proponents and eliminate discrimination of inanimate objects! Someone should write to Pira Kelly and let her know of her life-chauvinism - someone has to stand up for inanimate objects, after millions of years persecution by animate beings they have evidently accepted their role as victims.

Unfortunately, the European cultural hegemony has reached China:

Yes, the Mandarin word has different characters depending on gender, but in speech, ta 'he', ta 'she', and ta 'it' (also written this way) are homophonous. The gender-differentiated characters are a modern development due to European influence. In premodern Mandarin, there was only one ta 's/he'.

That explains why the Chinese aren't perfectly egalitarian. Luckily, other nations have resisted European cultural imperialism, and retained their perfectly gender-animate-neutral pronouns, and the consequent egalitarian culture - Turkey is one example.

But wait! Don't you think that the distinction between first, second, and third person reeks of capitalist-imperialism? After all, we are all equally human... er... object... uh... equal! Really, pronouns should distinguish only between singular and plural. But, wouldn't this system discriminate against "people who identify outside of a singular/plural dichotomy"? Clearly, we should do away with pronouns altogether - and of course all remnant distinctions in the verb, such as the -s in the second-person-singular. Actually, as I understand it, there is at least one language which has already done this: Japanese. If I am not mistaken (maybe Amritas can verify it), Japanese doesn't require use of pronouns, and its verbs don't indicate the pronouns in any way. That's why Japan is the most perfectly egalitarian place on Earth!

PS: Seriously, the notion that the grammatical categories of the language you speak influences the way you think is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. So far, it has resisted all attempts at proof.

UPDATE: From the Wikipedia link above:

Examples

Actual

Fictional
  • The Dispossessed—novel by Ursula K. Le Guin describes a fictional anarchist culture where use of the possessive case is taboo
  • The Languages of Pao—science fiction novel by Jack Vance depicting a social engineer who designs new languages for societies that wish to change their lot
  • Babel-17—science fiction novel by Samuel R. Delany that supposes that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is strongly true, depicting a fictional language, Babel-17, which causes anyone who learns it to become a traitor to their political organisation
  • Newspeakfictional language described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, designed to constrict thought to support the totalitarian regime of that book
  • AnthemAyn Rand's short novel where the word "I" is prohibited by a collectivist state
  • Nuspeak —a language found in Robert Heinlein's short story "Gulf", which is designed to increase the speed of thinking by expressing concepts more compactly
  • Iain M. Banks' fictional anarcho-socialist civilisation, The Culture, has developed a language called Marain "with the specific intention of providing a means of expression which would be a culturally inclusive and as encompassingly comprehensive in its technical and representational possibilities as practically achievable"
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May 12, 2005

Old Country Music

Until I met Amritas on the Internet, I had only one friend who shared my interest in linguistics: Richard Isaac, whom I met in school at University of Pennsylvania. But, as fate would have it, I went east to Israel and he went west to Seattle, and I haven't seen him in close to twenty years. The years have taken us in different directions not only only of the compass. One thing I didn't know, though I should have been able to predict: he has a great radio personality.

Richard has recently hosted the KBCS radio show, "The Old Country" with an hour-long feature about Israeli music. You can listen to it here (or here) - you won't be disappointed!

Here are first lines of Biladi, a rap song, one of a wide variety of songs featured on the show:

אמא אדמה שלי
לא שלי כל מה שהיה שלי
אפילו המדינה שלי,סכנה שלי
הפכה להיות שק חבטות ליציאות
בינלאומיות שיקבעו לי אם להיות או לא להיות

Ima adama sheli
Lo sheli kol ma shehaya sheli
Afilu hamdina sheli, sakana sheli
Hafkha lihyot saq habatot lisi'ot
Beynl'umi'ot sheyiqb`u li im lihyot o lo' lihyot

Mother earth of mine
Not mine all that was mine
Even my country, my danger
Turned into a punching bag for goings-out
International [goings-out] that will determine for me if [I am] to be or not to be

Later in the song:

זה לא העם שלי יפי נפש, הזיות
יפי נפש, בתוך רפש לא יכול להיות
אבל אנחנו כאן ואף פעם לא נלך מכאן
הציונות בדם היהודי שמכבד איסלאם
וגם נצרות ובודהיזם גם כן את כולם

Ze lo' ha`am sheli y'fey nefesh, hazayot
Y'fey nefesh, b'tokh refesh lo' yakhol lihyot
Aval anahnu kan v'af pa`am lo' nelekh mikan
Hasiyonut badam hay'hudi shem'khabed islam
V'gam nasrut v'budhism gam ken et kulam

This is not my people beautiful souls, hallucinations
Beautiful souls, inside filth cannot be
But we are here and we will never go away from here
Zionism is in the blood the Jew that respects Islam
And also Christianity and Buddhism also all the rest

The term y'fey nefesh, which I translated (almost) literally as 'beautiful souls' (more literally: beauties of soul) might be more accurately translated in this context as 'bleeding hearts'. The word kulam can mean 'all of them' or 'everybody', I settled on 'all the rest' in this translation.

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May 11, 2005

Yom Ha`asma'ut

Today is Yom Ha`asma'ut (יום העצמאות) - Independence Day. It is a day of celebration and, coming as it does immediately after Memorial Day, sears in our consciousness the connection between the two: Independence is not often bestowed without being earned, but normally comes only to those who are willing to fight, and perhaps die, for it. Conversely, Memorial Day is not a day of mourning for "senseless deaths", as much of the western media would have you believe, but for those who died for their country, for freedom, or simply (as is lately so often the case) because they were free.

Israelis are usually aghast when they hear what has become of American Memorial Day: a time of picnicking, shopping, and sales. In Israel, Memorial Day is a workday, but not quite an ordinary one: m'qomot biluy (מקומות בילוי) - places of recreation are closed. The next day, Independence Day, is almost exactly the opposite: it is a holiday, and everything but m'qomot biluy are closed.

The word `asma'ut (עצמאות) - independence is from the root `-s-m. Perhaps the most basic word from this root is `esem (עצם) - bone, which figuratively means something like "the most essential thing" - `esem ha`inyan (עצם הענין) means "the heart of the matter" (literally "the bone of the matter"). This word is also used to form the set of pronouns which in English end in -self: myself, yourself, himself, etc. are `asmi (עצמי), `asm'kha (עצמך), `asmo (עצמו), etc. It is from this sense of the word that `asma'ut is derived, the -ut suffix has the same meaning as the -ness suffix in English, so 'independence' in Hebrew is something like, "selfness", `asma'i (עצמאי) being the adjective form, 'independent'. Now, you might wonder why there is an alef in this word: Why not use `asmut (עצמות) and `asmi (עצמי)? It is because these words are already taken: `asmut means something like essence or "most essential self" and `asmi is an adjective which has the same meaning as the English prefixes auto- or self-, for example: gol asmi (גול עצמי) - own-goal, nihul `asmi (ניהול עצמי) - self-management.

Here are some more words from the same root:

`osma (עוצמה) - strength, power

b`esem (בעצם) - actually (Comes from b'- + `esem. The way to form adverbs from nouns is to prefix it with b'-, which means 'with' - though only the kind of 'with' that we see in 'I ate with a fork' and NOT the 'with' in 'I ate with a friend'!)

`asma'it - independently (The feminine singular form of adjectives can also be used as an adverb.)

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Memorial Day at Treppenwitz

A moving post about Memorial Day at Treppenwitz:

I was reminded as we sat down for our last big family breakfast together... with my parent's luggage stacked neatly near the door.

I was reminded when we got to the airport and the flags were flying stiffly at half staff against a lead-gray sky... lest happy vacationers forget the steep price paid (in blood) for the privilege of an Israeli airport.

I am going to take my mother-in-law to the airport tonight, but then it will be Yom Ha`asma'ut (יום העצמאות) - Independence Day.

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May 10, 2005

Yom Hazikaron

Today is Yom hazikaron l'hal'ley ma`arakhot yisra'el (יום הזכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל) - literally, "The day of memory for the fallen-in-battle of the campaigns of Israel", or more simply: Yom Hazikaron (יום הזכרון) - Memorial Day. Here is what I wrote last year. I don't have anything to add this year.

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May 06, 2005

African-American Bank of Israel Governor

The new governor of the Bank of Israel (Israel's equivalent of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank) is African-American:

An American citizen and former Citigroup Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer was chosen to fill in the vacancy of the governor of the Bank of Israel. The decision was made by Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu and needs to win approval from the committee overseeing the appointment of top officials.

He was born in Zambia:

Mr. Fischer was born in Zambia in 1943. He took the B.Sc (Econ) and M.Sc. (Econ) at the London School of Economics from 1962-66, and obtained his Ph.D. in economics at MIT in 1969. He was Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago until 1973, when he returned to the MIT Department of Economics as an Associate Professor. He became Professor of Economics in 1977. He has held visiting positions at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

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May 05, 2005

Yom Hasho'a

Today is Yom Hazikaron Lasho'a V'Lagvura (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה) - Literally: "The Day of Memory for the Holocaust and for the Heroism" or, as it's more commonly called, Yom Hasho'a (יום השואה) - Holocaust Day. I don't have time right now to write anything worthy of the hour. However, I have touched on the subject numerous times in the past.

Here are some more links.

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May 04, 2005

Writing to the test

It's not often that I laugh out loud when I'm reading but I did when I read this (via Instapundit):

He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. "If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time." The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.

He was also struck by all the factual errors in even the top essays. An essay on the Civil War, given a perfect six, describes the nation being changed forever by the "firing of two shots at Fort Sumter in late 1862." (Actually, it was in early 1861, and, according to "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James M. McPherson, it was "33 hours of bombardment by 4,000 shot and shells.")

Dr. Perelman contacted the College Board and was surprised to learn that on the new SAT essay, students are not penalized for incorrect facts. The official guide for scorers explains: "Writers may make errors in facts or information that do not affect the quality of their essays. For example, a writer may state 'The American Revolution began in 1842' or ' "Anna Karenina," a play by the French author Joseph Conrad, was a very upbeat literary work.' " (Actually, that's 1775; a novel by the Russian Leo Tolstoy; and poor Anna hurls herself under a train.) No matter. "You are scoring the writing, and not the correctness of facts."

How to prepare for such an essay? "I would advise writing as long as possible," said Dr. Perelman, "and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." This, of course, is not what he teaches his M.I.T. students. "It's exactly what we don't want to teach our kids," he said.

SAT graders are told to read an essay just once and spend two to three minutes per essay, and Dr. Perelman is now adept at rapid-fire SAT grading. This reporter held up a sample essay far enough away so it could not be read, and he was still able to guess the correct grade by its bulk and shape. "That's a 4," he said. "It looks like a 4."

It's a parody of good writing, but it might explain why I always had such trouble with it in school. I could never master the prose-for-its-own-sake genre. I always wanted to say something worthwhile - coming up with the content was the hardest part.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 04:54 PM  Permalink | Comments (7)
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UK Votes

The UK votes tomorrow:

Labour leader Tony Blair is continuing his warnings about the Conservatives by claiming they would risk the economy and investment in public services.

Tory leader Michael Howard has used a campaign rally to promise that his party could deliver hope to a Britain saddled with a "failing" government.

Charles Kennedy predicted the Lib Dems would take a "massive step forward".

That's from the front page of the BBC news at the moment. The rest of the article, typically, concerns itself with the election tactics and says almost nothing about the issues. This monologue by David Frum pretty much sums up my feelings:

“You’ve been dreading this. Tony Blair has called an election. Now you are finally going to have to make up your mind: Do you hope he wins or loses?”

“Why do I have to answer that? I am not a British voter. Why can’t I just say that I’m glad that both Blair and Conservative leader Michael Howard are such strong friends of America – and that the special relationship will remain special no matter which of them wins?”

“What? Are you telling me that you, a right-wing Republican – that you can’t instantly choose between a socialist and a fellow conservative?”

“Well it’s complicated isn’t it? I mean Tony Blair has been as staunch an ally as America has in the world. From the beginning of the war on terror, he has been magnificent: brave, eloquent, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful. Don’t all Americans, right and left, owe him equal support in return? And it’s not as if his domestic record has been so very bad from a conservative point of view. UK taxes remain low by European standards. Unemployment is down, home ownership up.”

“Have you gone soft in the head? True, Blair may not be a socialist fanatic like some of his predecessors. But he’s more than bad enough. He has abolished the deduction for mortgage interest. He has raised fuel taxes. He has increased contributions to Britain’s national insurance system. And worse is definitely ahead: Blair has relaxed his grip on public spending – it’s risen from 38% of the national income to 42% over the past three years. He wants to spend even more in the years to come. That’s why it is so important to replace him now.”

“Replace him? With what? Michael Howard’s new model Conservative party is not exactly boiling with free-market zeal. They have offered a derisory tax cut – and promise almost as much new spending as Labor. And they have actually attacked some of Tony Blair’s most rational reforms, such as his proposals to charge university students more of the cost of their own education.”

“There’s no comparison. Howard and Blair are both pragmatists. They both recognize limits on how far and fast they can go. But Howard wants to go in the right direction and Blair in the wrong one. Besides, there are other issues: crime, social order, the abuse of the immigration system, welfare, family cohesion. On all of those issues, Blair’s record has been just dreadful.”

“I’ll concede that many of the Conservatives’ proposals on these issues are excellent: more police, longer prison sentences, more authority for teachers to remove disruptive students, and so on. But will the Conservatives ever do more than propose? There is a dreadful whiff of opportunism over today’s Conservative party – summed up by their disturbing past vacillation (and current silence) over Iraq."

“That’s not fair! Individual Conservative M.P.s may have gone wobbly, but the party’s leaders have been rock solid on Iraq. Michael Howard personally founded a new organization, the Atlantic Partnership, that seeks to reinvigorate personal ties across the Atlantic. You even accepted his invitation to join. You can’t blame Howard for holding Blair to account for inaccurate statements about Iraq. Didn’t Disraeli say that it was the duty of an opposition to oppose?”

“Disraeli said a lot of cynical and foolish things. The duty of an opposition is to prepare itself to form an effective alternative government . The Conservatives’ willingness to score cheap points off the Blair government on Iraq will greatly compromise their own effectiveness should they win on May 5.”

“Maybe so. That’s nothing though compared to the harm Blair is doing to his future effectiveness by his support for the European Constitution. If Blair gets his way, the next prime minister of Britain won’t be able to help the United States no matter how strongly he wants to: Those decisions will be taken in Brussels, not London.”

“Why can’t British voters re-elect Blair now and then reject the Constitution later?”

“It doesn’t work like that. A victory for Blair will be interpreted as a victory for EU integration.”

“And a defeat for Blair will be interpreted as a defeat for the pro-war coalition.”

“So, hmmm, as the British say.”

“Yes. Hmmm.”

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:57 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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May 02, 2005

Half of practicing Jews voted Bush in '04

Of course, anyone familiar with the observant Jewish community knows that it has been strongly Republican for years now. It seems that that tendency is spreading to practicing Jews in general. (The fact that a large majority of Jews voted Democrat in the last election should tell you something about how few are practicing. But that will change.) From Warner Todd Huston (via John Ray):

The man reporting this finding is Democratic candidate John Kerry's pollster, Mark Mellman who, according to a recent L.A.Times article , reported his study results conducted during the 2004 campaign's final month.

Mellman's study found that Americans of all stripes who attended religious services regularly tended to vote Republican far more often than they voted Democratic. His findings among Jewish voters was not as lopsided as that among Christian voters but still the Jewish vote was split down the middle between GOP and Democrat voters. That split is still an amazing new trend in the Jewish community. In fact, George Bush made advances in every Jewish voter category to one degree or another.

Of course, many in the chattering classes on the left have been yelping about the evil "religious right" dominating the Republican Party for a decade now. But they must have been taken aback by this rise in GOP voters among the left's favorite and most reliable voting block, the US Jewish population.

It is becoming clear that Americans who have a strong religious belief, just about any religious belief, are turning to the Republican Party in greater numbers every year.

I think that's correct, and I agree that a big factor uniting religious people of all (many?) types is family values. People understand the macro-workings of the world through the micro-workings of their private lives.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 04:18 PM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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Trackback from Pillage Idiot, Still fighting over the Jewish vote:
UPDATE (5/3): David Boxenhorn at Rishon Rishon picks up on the report's finding (I assume he's referring to the same report) that 47% of Jews who attended synagogue at least weekly voted for Bush. Because he believes that the Jewish population will b...