Thursday, December 27, 2007

Studies on Break

Things I learned in NY, even while on break, which is sort of not allowed, but only sort of:

1. Brooklyn is filled with Jews, even if they look trendy (although plenty do not, to be assured).
2. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!
3. Fairway has as much food as a regular supermarket, it is just crammed into the size of a peanut. Kind of like a superdense mart.
4. That, in the words of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, what really matters this time of year are the awesome sales boxing day generates.
5. If there is better (where better maximizes the function of yummie to cheap) restaurant in NY than Golan it exists somewhere between 27th and 28th on Lexington.
6. The movies will always be crowded erev Christmas in NY.
7. Australian women are no more attractive than American women.
8. Hot cross buns exist outside of Suzuki? Who knew?
9. MTA elevators were created for the lazy as well as subway passengers.
10. Although guests and fish start to smell after two days, O&M do a remarkable job of putting up with smelly Zev. For that I thank them very much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

False Prophets

I think financial reporting is worse than science journalism, which is saying something. As WSJ is not open for free consumption yet, I am stuck with the NYT, which appears to have an inability to actually communicate what is actually going on in the market, and when it does it uses technical terms that are never defined (such as repo rates, etc). Here, to my feeble financial mind, is another example.
Until the boom in subprime mortgages turned into a national nightmare this summer, the few people who tried to warn federal banking officials might as well have been talking to themselves.

Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor who died in September, warned nearly seven years ago that a fast-growing new breed of lenders was luring many people into risky mortgages they could not afford. -NYT
We discussed the same phenomenon in my class on China last night. After sovietologists failed to predict '89 they were excoriate for not seeing it coming. Now all experts on China swear that China is in transition to democracy so that when China transitions they can all say, "I told you N years ago China was going to transition!" If it is between stability and change, always predict change and one day you will sound like a prophet.

To my understanding Wall Street would have been terribly upset if the Fed had stuck its nose in the house market in 2000 (when Mr. Gramlich initially warned Greenspan of impending doom), and then in successive years when the housing sector was the strongest of the economy. How would it look if the Fed regulated away years of great prosperity? Furthermore, if the Fed chooses to panic, as the market did in August, it only leads to further volatility (I am sure that is a debated point among economists, however).

The point is, Donny, it is always easier to say I told you so. And also sounds pretty lame.

Monday, December 17, 2007

One Internat

1 Internat = the shortest amount of time it is possible to sit down at a computer = (gmail+webmail+facebook+nyt+C) where C=some constant amout of time you waste no matter what.
This morning C was due to XKCD. I got my internat down to 15 mins. Not bad, but I can do better.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Congrats to Will Baude on his selection to clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts for the 2008 term. Roberts chose well.

Addendum: Rant

A frum guy, Yaakov Roth, was chosen to clerk for Justice Scalia as well as Moshe Spinowitz, whom I believe was at Gush when I was there in 2000 on college break (or break from college, I am not sure which). Am I in a bubble or do frum men do things like this and not frum women? (No gauntlet intended, but if you want to prove me wrong, I would be rather pleased.) The ratio is about 3:2 men to women among the clerks, so I gather. I think we need more stay-at-home dads.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Unpacking the Coens

I just saw No Country for Old Men on Saturday night. A continual project of mine is attempting to decipher what makes the Coens such great artists of film. This movie clarifies matters insofar as it cleaves the story from the direction. The story, apparently scene for scene, is not property of the Coens but rather McCarthy. When the unforeseen inevitability occurs it is does not come from the mind of the Coens. I found the story rather reminiscent of Fargo, as the story is not the plot, and the characters actions represent something wholly other than they understand.

What the Coens, then, understand is how to tell that story. What tone, meter, saturation to give a monologue. What a sunset looks like. When a character is best portrayed as his reflection in a Technicolor television set. How the story moves and how we move within that story. They understand, better than any living director, how to tell as story. Spielberg and others make stories, the Coens tell them.

I think it will be a long time before I get Jones's pronunciation of "maisure" out of my head. For the best.

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees -
Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

-- William Butler Yeats

About Face

I am too tired an busy to address this issue with the care it deserves. I do have a few questions which I believe need engagement in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate pronouncemed with
high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (DOE and the NIC have moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.) Assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007 (NIE p. 9)
1. Why did Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, report just last month that Iran was operating 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges capable of producing fissile material for nuclear weapons?
2. What new intelligence has been obtained to reach these conclusions?
3. Why have others not been privy to this information (such as the Whitehouse, Israel, EU, etc)
4. Why do Israeli officials still maintain their short-term time table, now with a four year gap with the most pessimistic U.S. NIE of 2013?
5. Why has Iran remained so defiant if they are, "vulnerable to influence"? Why have they remained in non-compliance with the IAEA and the UN? It is seems a rather risky rouge to employ for a rational actor.

I am sure there will be many who rejoice at this pronouncement. I am too, but it seems too simple just to make an about face on something this big.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Remains of the Day

I just sat down to eat the very last of the Thanksgiving pie and I wanted to share some with Oren. Here you go.

Mmmm, mmmm.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

At minyan this morning the question was raised, do you say Tachanun on Thanksgiving? One of the ironic ex-New Yorkers replied, "Yeah, but without kavonah."
So, ma nishtana?

At the gym this morning Fox News advised how to avoid over eating. Their #1 suggestion was: Don't wear elastic waist pants to the table.
Why does America need to be reminded not to wear elastic waist pants to the dinner table? We are Homer Simpson.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Funny v. Unfunny

I don't know how the Hollywood studios hope to exact concessions from the writers guild. Essentially, you are pitting yourself against America's funniest and most articulate rhetors. The longer this thing drags out the more sympathy the writers will draw. At least in the mean while we get to read funny writers being bitter. The no pants line is for you Oren.
12:15 p.m. A man in a suit passes by. He yells, “I hope you all get fired!”

Look — this is weird for us, too, you know. Writers are not a naturally combative species. We’re used to sitting in front of our computers and crying. Fresh air is like poison to us. If protocol didn’t dictate otherwise, it’s very likely we would never wear pants. But we’ve given up our salaries and our jobs — easily the only jobs we’re qualified for — to stand outside and yell at people. So, for the sake of decency, could you please not yell back?

1 p.m. My shift is over. I stumble off, still walking in vague ovals, dazed at the possibilities that this early freedom holds. Should I go to a museum? Maybe get a much-needed haircut? Who knew there were so many hours in the afternoon? Who knew there was so much sunlight during the day? Overwhelmed by my options, I go home and fall asleep. -NYT
In other news, I learned a cool word this morning: otiose (pronounced O-She-Oz, rhymes with Cheerios) meaning indolent or without purpose. Can pants be otiose?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Proximity and Religion

I have this theory: you're only as frum as you are close to NYC modified by your proximity to a large US city. So a typical conversation I had last year was:

Random Ortho: Where do you live?
Zev: Philadelphia.
RO: Oh, I have a cousin in Philadelphia. Do you know the butcher there? He is really good...

This year it's:

RO: Where do you live?
Zev: Ann Arbor.
RO: Oh.
or alternatively:
RO: Oh, that's near Detroit, isn't it?

My speculation is that there exists a presumption (which in itself makes it true, in a sort of way) that you need community to be frum. The largest community in the US is NY, hence one can be most frum in NY. Inversely, if you do not live in NY you are less frum.

That is if you fail at the above game. If the interlocutor can locate another frum reference point in your community you may still participate in the larger doxus-community. The presence of this reference allows others to ascertain the religious environment of a particular place and thereby ascribe an in/out distinction or level of commitment to you, the non-New Yorker.

Judaism, unlike Protestant Christianity, is really predicated on community in a ritual sense. What is interesting is people probe at this (by talking about their nephew Chaim Straussman who lives in Philly) without even knowing that that is what they are doing.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Quote of the day:
"This is an extremely difficult decision," [Sen. Charles E.] Schumer said in a statement, adding that Mukasey "is not my ideal choice." -AP
You have got to chuckle a bit at Schumer though, having personally recommended Mukasey to Pres. Bush. I in the words of Sen. Leahey, "I don’t think I have ever seen him in a pickle,” What do you expect from Chuck, he has never had to deal with pressure from his own base before.

That being said, I do support Mukasey. After the first day of testimony from Mukasey the Times was quite sanguine about his prospects for confirmation calling them something like a "slam dunk." Someone asked the Lede, I believe, how they know Mukasey is really so moderate. The Times responded by saying that he has an 18 year record on the bench indicate his positions. At the back-end of this, I just find it sophomoric that 18 years of rulings can be trounced by one equivocal statement on water-boarding.

Power of Procrastination

Theorem: Pp=te/ta
The Power of Procrastination is proportional to expected time to complete some arbitrary chore over the actual time it takes to complete that chore. The Pp of the Daily Show would then be a very small number (<1) while the Pp of one's doctoral thesis would be a very large number.

Ex. Sally normally washes the dishes once every other week. Given that she has a paper to write for tomorrow the paper's Pp is 336p. How long does it actually take Sally to wash the dishes?
A. 1 hour.

I am still working on a theory for Pp wrt time remaining. It is clear, a priori, that Pp increases as the due point approaches, but I am not exactly sure what that relationship is yet. Seemingly, te is a constant so Pp must vary with ta, but how?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I was procrastinating for Hegel class today. Sue me.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Two on my Favorite Things

I am busy, but a quick post. I love Harry Potter and questions of gender/sexuality (though, not as much as other people, and not as much as I love HP) so I can't help commenting about the most recent HP bombshell that Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was, before his tragic passing, queer (and maybe in death too, up for debate). [As a side discussion-isn't power enough to blind the wise? Why does Jo need to go into sexual desire to explain Dumbledore's oversight? There is power which is not sexual (contends I).]

I should have guessed this, right? But honestly (and embarrassingly) the thought never crossed my mind (cough, heteronormative, cough). It's a good thing, or at the very least, a thing, but it also signifies the shift of consciousness. I am generally quite warm to the incessant detail Rowling provides for her world, but invariably then, no aspect gets ignored. We know everyone's embarrassments, glories, failings and boredoms.

Part of characterness, even the characters in our own lives, is precisely that lack of detail. A sweet old man, who is sweet sans context (and particularly sans sexuality). In particular, literature/mythology has preserved wisdom, qua wise old man, without the need to have contextual bindings. Merlin, Eliyahu, Yishaya, Yirmiya, Sherlock Holmes never needed indulge in the social and sexual pirouettes of common folk; they just were never defined along those lines. I guess we have just gotten past that. Shame, really.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Doe v. United States

I don't have any IR theory background. None. However, this statement by Hu Jintau at the 17th National Congress of the governing Communist Party leads me to question ensuing global politics:
He [Hu Jintao] called the international situation favorable to China, saying a “trend toward a multipolar world is irreversible.” -NYT
This seems to be the language of Russia more than the US or EU (citation needed). I don't actually believe that China wants to be one of those polls; it does not seem to be in their business plan. But why phrase it in competitive language?

It is possible, distinctly possible, that as Communists they feel the need to fire some "empty shots." Apparently Mao told Nixon after the Shanghai Communiqué that China will still have to write bad things about the America in the newspapers so the people will not get confused, and likewise America is free to write bad things about China. "Empty shots" in the words of Mao.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Epic Tragedy

Last night was Joe Torre's last night at the manager for the New York Yankees. Like the many tragedies of great drama, the Fates have turned, and a great man is now a poor man. And that is precisely the point of great drama, all Good Things pass. Joe is the best of things.

He has managed the Yankees for twelve years, twelve consecutive playoff appearances, six pennants and four world series titles, all the while showing glory to baseball's stars and never taking for his own. He has faced mercurial ownership and roster changes, always able to present the right lineup card at game time. But not last night. He made the wrong call. Wang was too young and could not pitch on three days. Moose could have pitched. That is tragedy. A great man becomes a poor man, weak to fates and furies.

The point of tragedy, the damning truth, is that it is inevitable. Arguably the only other manager in the history of baseball who has the privilege of having his name recited along Torre's is Casey Stengel, who also managed for twelve years won five consecutive World Series titles. He too was forced out after a bad playoff result. There must be parity between comedies and tragedies. Oh how the mighty fall.

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

OU on Rabbi Kret

I just wanted to post this piece from the most recent issue of the OU's Jewish Action on Rabbi Kret zt'l.

What was really amazing about R. Kret was that everyone found exactly what they needed in this tiny man. Not all of the article resonated with me, but that's also kind of what is amazing.

Playing hardball, with someone else's good name?

I thought this quote in the NYT was a bit agressive, but of course Apple has been known to say things in the past:
Jennifer Bowcock, an Apple spokeswoman, said that when people went to update their software with their computer through iTunes, a warning appeared on the computer screen, making it clear that any unauthorized modifications to the iPhone software violated the agreement that people entered into when they bought the phone...“If the damage was due to use of an unauthorized software application, voiding their warranty, they should purchase a new iPhone.”
When I googled "Jennifer Bowcock" most of the hits I got were as a Media Relations rep for Cingular. That would make a whole lot of sense, considering how pissed Cingular is liable to be having learned that some 17 year old de facto cracked their exclusivity contract with Apple. She might also serve a dual role for both Cingular and Apple, so I can't be sure. Interesting though.

Monday, September 24, 2007

In answer to your question

The NYT seems perplexed as to the reasons for American fascination with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The answer is quite simple, really. True, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the true executive power in Iran, however he is not nearly as vocal, or inflammatory as Ahmadinejad. It would be difficult, then, for watchdog groups to raise alarm over a mum-leader. Fortunately Ahmadinejad never misses an opportunity for bellicose rhetoric thereby serving as a much better icon of the threat that Iran poses. He is more of a thermometer than the heat source.

Short answer to a long question.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where tired, old, unofficial mottos come to die

I never liked "Where fun comes to die" as the unofficial UofC motto. It just never seemed to capture life there; neither for me nor anyone I knew--we just had a different type of fun (eg Scavhunt).

Anecdotally, it appears that UofC has a new unofficial motto: "That's all very well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory?" Naomi S. first told me of the line, and I was instantly crushing. I have already seen the t-shirt here in Ann Arbor, one of my professors (Shmuel) quoted it in a workshop in Berkeley, and bought two shirts (for himself and his son), and I saw at least two or three of them around campus today (on my search for the Really Bad Hegel translation, by Oxford)--but no "Where fun comes to die" shirts!

I hope it's a trend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mazal Tov!
And what's up with Socrates arm anyhow? To find out click the "More Info" link.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Caution: Identity under construction

It is very funny to come to a school and not really have anything to do with the place, and then after only a short time, you find that you identify with it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I told you so

There is little in life more satisfying than uttering the phrase, "I told you so"; in this case it is really more of, "we told you so."

It is vindicating to complain about something so consistently and vigorously, and then see that very thing go down in a blaze of ignominy. To read a top music executive say, "And you wonder why people don't buy CDs anymore," Rubin says. "One song is great and the other is. . . . " is just heart warming. No one buys or listens to new music because it is terrible, and has been so for a decade (after all, why would you pay for garbage like that?). I am excited to see someone conscience and focused on the problem.

Sam, have any thoughts on the matter?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My thoughts exaclty

It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons. - Pres. Bush 43

Impeding from doing indeed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

In Homage

This is forever how I will remember Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

I think he missed his SOC class when they taught how to read texts. He gets a C on constitutional analysis.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thank You Philly

I like geography very much. I won the school geography bee in fifth grade and it made me feel Very Important. Fundamentally though, I don't know why what things are where, as opposed to elsewhere, should be of interest.

That said I have returned from my exploits in Philadelphia, much the better. I have met some Very Good People, and have learned a lot about Certain Things (Iceland, Laxness, PAFA, PMA, Machine Learning, Good Fencing, Special Interests, OCP, 4105, Medical Schooling, N Residencies (when N is some number greater than 1), Biking, Language, Northern Ireland, Kilts, Tea, Cougar Magnetism, Aikido, etc), but must move on to study yet Other Things (political philosophy, mostly).

I return from the depths of Philadelphia to report that it is a very Zev Friendly place--I hope to return soon.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007)

The NYT obituary is here, but I was very moved a by a piece I saw in Haaretz:
On more than one occasion, [Rabbi Rene-Samuel] Sirat met the cardinal entering Paris' main synagogue... say[ing] kaddish for his mother
Acheinu kol beit yisrael, ha'netunim b'tzara uv'shivya...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Belated Baruch Dayan HaEmet

to Jeremy. If you thought four years was a long time to spend at UofC...

Dear Ms. J. K. Rowling,

Thank you. I have thoroughly enjoyed your literary world through seven marvelous books, unlike any I can recall.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

This just in...

via Leiter Reports, it looks like Our Dear Friend Joseph Stern has two outstanding offers from Rutgers and U of Toronto (I mean outstanding in both senses of the word). You will notice on the this list that Rutgers is currently ranked the #2 philosophy program in the country. I am sure that Leiter will know the outcome before I, but a hardy congrats on the offer! (I, however, am still secretly grumbling about the loss of my professor-to-be Stephen Darwall from Michigan. Boo.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Transformers: More than meets the eye

While others were off paying homage to dramatic and comic greats the likes not seen since Homer, I was catching up on my pre-Three Weeks movie watching in the form of Transformers. I didn't have a strong desire to see the movie and had been wondered how, though quite cliched throughout it's advertising campaign, it could prove to be such a powerful box-office draw. Could there be that many dorky kids that grew up in the 80's around? (A. Yes)

In short, I found Transformers to be the most important piece of U.S. foreign policy engagement since Rocky. While the movie was most certainly about really cool big cars turning into even super-cooler big robots, it was also about American self-perception utilizing our finest ambassador, Hollywood (where, in general, there is a sort of transitive property between hot women, cool cars and vigorous policy disputation).

While the current administration has taken many important steps to ensuring stability and security, it has also generated many moral and esteem deficiencies. Though our efforts to reinstate calm have been largely successful, we have done so using policy and rhetoric which is less than righteous. We have tortured, we have abducted, we have threatened, we have raped, we have murdered, we have sown chaos. As these years have not kept to the pristine mythology of American values of conflicts passed, I believe people are really questioning the premise of American moral high ground (as presidential hopefuls like Joe Biden point out). To add to that, we have lost much of our sense of economic security as the manufacturing hub of the globe, particularly manifest by the precipitous loss of confidence in our auto industry. For years it was this dominance that was the hallmark of American economic supremacy.

Along comes this movie. Standard summer cinematic fare with silly humor, gorgeous women, things that go BOOM and big shiny cars. In this movie however, all the cars are manufactured by GM. I can't remember the last time I looked at a GM car and felt car-lust. This movie did it--it instills a confidence that American manufacturing is still vigorous. The movie is also closely coordinated with the US Military and Lockheed Martin, Lockheed and GM using their own resources to keep the movie under budget.

The movie depicts with action-packed scenes of American soldiers fighting along side arabs in Qatar, it shows the incompetence of American intelligence, and the resourcefulness of American ingenuity. It even shows wrongful torture (albeit of a robot). All these issues cut to the core of the contemporary American political discourse. By the end it is clear that Megatron and Opitmus Prime are conducting a micro polemic on American values. Do our errors show us to be malevolent and evil or do our aspirations show us to be good? Obviously, because it is Hollywood America wins and we are proven to be good and we do redeem ourselves. The movie also pokes fun at President Bush asking for a twinkie in the middle of a crisis and ends with a sarcastic endorsement of government vigilance and transparency. It knows what it is trying to do, and it wants to lay blame on the deserving, but at its core the movie serves as a reflexive apology of American values to ourselves and the world.

Proof once again that people know what they need when they buy it :)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Oren

Six days having passed after my own birthday, I thought it high time to wish Oren a Happy Birthday.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Simpson's Movie - Opening Night

The new Simpson's movie was short enough that when I got to the end, I could not only remember, but even understand the beginning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happiness is...

...a new used compact OED of my very own. Complete with magnifying glass.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

יום ז'אב

The third year running, Sunday is Zev Day, the day on the calendar created just for Zev. Please do something you feel to be Zev-like, Zevesque or just generally possesses that je ne se Zev.
In keeping with the spirit of the day I will be going here and here. Oh yeah, and reading...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Al Scott z"l (1918-2007)

I don't know why I like blogging about people that pass away. I think I just like telling stories, and death is quite a big story.

This time there is a very nice obit of my cousin Al in the Buffalo News. He was really a great guy. He had a wonderful sense of self-deprecatory humor and a deep love for kids and actually making their lives better.

When he was 86 he started a maritime charter school for urban students with an eye to entering the service when they finished. Many of them came from difficult backgrounds and one of the results was having to expel whole groups of kids at points. Many of the kids were pretty large and weren't really afraid of any of the school administrators, except Al. So one day he's called in and confronts one of these trouble makers in the hall. He takes the guy by his neck and tells him to shape up or else he's gonna get tossed. The kid's like, "You can't touch me, I'll call the cops." So Al's like, "They can only put me away for what, 3-4 years tops, but I can still mess you up pretty good." That was one of his cleaner stories.

It is so rare for frum kids to have family that use turn of phrases like "whiz bang thing" (see article above). It just changes who you are. I'm gonna miss him.

He didn't have any children, so if people wouldn't mind learning some minshayus for him, it would really be nice. As I don't know if I can get shas done, please try and sign up for Moed then Nashim then Nezikin and we can go from there. "Albert Scott".

Women in Green

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Q. What do they use to vacuum the Whitehouse?

A. A Dyson. And what a good vacuum it is.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Harry Potter on Political Theory

I read this article over at Hogwart's Professor (a UofC grad, as it happens) about the ties between Machiavelli and Harry Potter. Irrespective of the important genre of contemporary literature that is Harry Potter, I finally understood the greatness of Machiavelli. In the chapter 17 of HPPS/SS* Quirrelldemort comments, "There is no good and evil, there is only power..." (p 291). This line dovetailed nicely with a thought the inimitable Jim Block offered me this summer. He said that while contemporary philosophy is finding difficulty hitting firm metaphysical ground, political theory can always take for granted Power, and its operations on systems.

Machiavelli is not merely a pragmatist, always making the proper chess move, but proposing an entirely new political geometry. Not unlike Einstein, Machiavelli claims that the universal political fabric is neither one way nor the other, good nor bad, but a geometry of power!

And no, I am neither proud that it took me this long to figure this out, nor that I had to learn it from Harry Potter. So it goes.

* Geek for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Just v. The Good, or Bad

Statements like these bother me:
“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Bush said [regarding the verdict of I. Lewis Libby]. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison." -NYT
This is the second time in a week I have been consternated by such a commentary on the Justice system (the first was when Israeli AG Mazuz claimed to strike a plea bargain because it "minimize[d] the harm to the institution of the presidency" in his words). You don't commute a sentence because you feel like you understand the law better than the jury or the judges. You are just the executive, sans Juris Doctorate, I might add. The president does have the prerogative to commute a sentence, but as the executive not as an officer of the law.

Oddly, my feelings are reversed for the case of Mazuz. There he is not responsible for the "institution of the presidency," but bringing cases to trail and getting convictions. If he can't get a conviction, plea bargains are acceptable, but in the face of the evidence, not the defendant. Law examines the individual person, politics examines the state. Can we please keep those two things separate?!

Happy American History Written by the Victors Day!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Steamboat Mickey, only Farfur, and no steamboats

Why I am posting this? It is not merely to show how bad, mean, no-good, rotten, etc the "other side" is. Firstly, I think it is funny in a certain Itchy & Scratchy sense, except it was not produced with parody in mind. Regardless, it has the, "oh my goodness, no one would really show that, would they?!" Fox Prime Time appeal.

Additionally, it is instructive to see a primary source, which comes to illustrate a very fundamental aspect of this regional conflict. If this is what you tell your children, then more likely than not, this is what they will tell their children.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Habeas Corpus, Habeas Corpus

I consider myself a liberal, but I also identify strongly with a textualist tradition of legal interpretation. That puts me in a tight spot when trying to develop opinions on cases like Panetti v. Quarterman. While Mr. Panetti was, and is, obviously insane, the Fifth Circuit already heard the habeas motion and dismissed it (per Justus Thomas's decent). Do you hold a strict reading of the law like Thomas, or do you make things up in the name of a right-end like Kennedy? Orin Kerr over at Volokh has more intelligent things to say than I could.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Immigration Bill is Dead! Long Live the Immigration Bill!

So the Immigration Bill died on the floor of the Senate today. What a great outcome. I feel very strongly about the need for a complete reform of our immigration code and I was furious with many of the provisions in this piece forward by the bipartisan group of Senators. The path to citizenship was not clear at all and provisions such as requiring Z-visa aliens to "touch home base" (i.e. return to their country of origin) or the $500 fee for the visa (processing not included), plus a $2,000 fine, plus 3 years back taxes were self-defeating. What illegal immigrant can afford $2,500+?

I wish the problems with immigration in this country were solved, but I am willing to take a good solution over an immediate one. That is probably even more likely now.

I'm special

As I began to spaz before starting Grad School, I realized the following:
I am smart. I really am. I can think creatively and rigorously. According to my SAT scores I am in the 95 percentile.
Let's assume that is true, and there are only 5% of people who are smarter than I. That leaves roughly 350 million, individual, unique, free and autonomous agents (assuming the population of the world at 7 billion) who are better at whatever it is that I consider myself good at.
I shudder to think how I rank with regards to things I am not particularly good at, like community service, etc. Coming off a week of graduations and people being told they are unique and special, 350 million really puts subjectivity in a different light.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Synthetic Myths

How can one judge a good myth? What makes a myth strong and powerful is very difficult to discretely identify, but the properties of a strong myth would seem to be slightly less vague. A good myth is trafficable such that it does not loose efficacy in a different time or space. The Jeffersonian myth of American federation would appear to be one of those good myths. Whether in a classroom or on a farm, in a courthouse or in battle, Americans internalize the story of their founding, and the values such as liberty, freedom and felicity that it radiates.

For the last half decade I have fervently challenged the notion that Palestinian nationalism was a false (i.e. weak) myth. The fact of the matter is, I would argue, if people say they are Palestinian, they are Palestinian irrespective of historical evidence to the contrary. The events of the past six days in Gaza are leading me to challenge this dogma.

Dennis Ross mentioned
the "three state solution" this week (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza) but dismissed it out of hand. I believe he did this more out of a pragmatic approach to politics than a reasoned one. The factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah reveal a very live and significant rupture between the two societies. The West Bank and Gaza are very different in their social, religious and economic composition, and it is beginning to appear as if they are more different than they are similar. That coupled with the geographic divide between the two stretches of land makes the eventual confluence of these two cultures seem only that much more remote. I agree with Mr. Ross that a two state solution might be more convenient, but I don't know if it should be more possible.

And here is where I feel Palestinian myth wears thin. Its claim is too bold and too recent--many who are alive today still remember when this narrative was being composed. While Palestinians may have self-identified for many years, the ability to forge a national identity, one that is beyond self-identification (meta-self-identification, as it were) only began in the '70's with Yassar Arafat. When this myth is now threatened and forces rise which seek to subvert this story to Egyption-Qutbist ideologies, the people, qua nation, does not rise to combat this perill. When liberty was at risk in America, brother rose up against brother to ensure that a nation constituted of the people and by the people shall not perish from this earth. The fact that American myth was strong enough to sustain the country through the war between the states and narrate history through the waters of national despair is indicative of its fastness. I fear that the synthetic nature of the Palestinian myth is evidence through the wear of this resolve.

Friday, June 08, 2007

NPR on UChicago

David Brooks said of the immigration bill this week:
I agree with E.J. [Dionne] on this, [the immigration bill is] brilliant but not lovely. Sounds like my college classmates. UChicago folks.
It's official.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

For know what is above you...

...a watchful eye, a listening ear and a book in which all your deeds are written. (Avot 2:1, loose translation)

Amnesty International seeks to make literal this mishna when it launched today. The conflict in Darfur is, unfortunately, very complicated with many facets (alot of ins, alot of outs). By posting satellite imagery of troubled hotspots in Darfur, Amnesty hopes to dissuade the Sudanese government's role in genocide by allowing people around the globe to see images of the conflict from above.

While I think there is what to be desired in this technology (I would like to see better resolution and more real time imagery. At this stage the images are still too vague to reconstruct a serious portrait of the real-time conflict) this appears to be a wonderful idea in concept. Offering global transparency to international conflicts allows a method for real oversight (quite literally). Obviously such technologies can be distorted to infringe on privacy, but for now this appears to be a creative solution to an otherwise ongoing mess.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Terrorists of Yester Year

After watching POTC 3 for the second time it occurred to me that pirates of the 18th and 19th centuries might be a close analog to contemporary terrorists. They were rouge bandits, acting in only very loose collaboration with one another, but collectively posing a severe threat to both commercial and passenger vessels. Pirates were known for being ruthless, having no dignity for human life and showing little compassion (although much of that perception is, no doubt, exaggerated). Yet, the pirate threat was all but eradicated in the 20th century. How? If I had more time I might try to look into the historical and political dimensions of the pirate threat, and how it was eventually quashed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mishnayos for Bill

To sign up to learn mishnayos le'iluy nishmas Chaim Yisrael ben Ilana go to and search for "Bill Maddex". The shloshim will be June 25th.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bill Maddex ז"ל

Bill was niftar this past shabbes. When a friend of mine came to prospie at the UofC he met Bill in the kitchen. Bill warned Adam with complete seriousness, "You might not want to come here, there are a lot of really weird people."

Bill was unique in a community noted for uniqueness. He tenured seventeen years over twenty-three and left a mark on all who knew him. He played twenty year chess games, he read thousands of books, he knew tens of thousands of baseball statistics. All effortlessly. He was, takka fucking nuts in all the right ways. In many ways he represented all the best that Hyde Park and the UofC offers. He was abrasive, but gentle, harsh but engaging. He would never let a fellow interlocutor off easy. I remember one shalush shudes when he turned a particular grad student into a gelatinous puddle for questioning the fossil records ability to verify evolution. Bill gave him at least two chances to back down. Then he let him have it. Bill would even correct personal stories I would tell; he knew that much.

He was almost mythical. You can tell people of this Bill who works at the Co-op and repairs bikes, but could school a good number of the faculty with one intellectual arm behind his back. No one would believe you. Who would believe a man who read ten thousand books before he was forty? Bill just wasn't like others. He was singular.

I don't know why Bill deigned to talk to me or even, dare I say, befriend me. I never really knew why I merited his company. I just realized one day that his, "Do you know what you are talking about?!" was not hostile, but the rhetoric of engagement. When I was applying to grad school this fall, he had more recommendations of faculty to work with than most professors in the field I had met with. One summer I got to sit in on a Shmuli-Bill three hour long conversation about the '04 Illinois Senate race, baseball and Iowa federal politics in the 20's. When I was foolish enough to ask how they knew all this trivia, they looked at me with stupefaction. "I don't know, we just read." I admired his intellect, I admired his commitment to his family and I admired his strength of character.

As I remarked this morning to Larry, they don't make 'em like they used to. Larry replied, "I don't think they ever made them like that."

Our deepest sorrow extends to Jen and Shaya. The family will be sitting shiva in Eugene, OR.

ברוך דיין האמת

I am sorry to report the passing of our dear friend Bill Maddex (Merle Agic, Chaim Yisrael ben Ilana).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Refuah Shleimah

The person often known as Merle Agic has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer in his liver and is entering treatment shortly. Chaim Yisrael ben Ilana.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Civic Reading

Last day to issue comments on proposed changes to the way states issue federally recognized ID cards is May 8th. I am attempting to read the regulations through so I can complain out of frustration, and not ignorance, as if often the case.

Seriously though, I really don't like any mechanism which further removes identification from identity. No one should be able to tell you that you are not who you are.

How to Pick a Grad School

So this post is probably too late to help anyone, least of all me, but I thought I would gather my thoughts now while they are still relatively fresh. It might also prove interesting to contrast my impression not with my feelings in a few years.

In this list I assume the goal of going to Grad School and getting a PhD is so that one might go on to teach at a tier one research university. If the purpose is to go find a lucrative job or teach at a small liberal arts school I don't know that I am addressing that directly.

1. How many faculty members are there in your department/subfield? Are there strong supporting departments?- While people often encouraged me to look at programs with a particular faculty member I liked, one can never be sure that things will work out with one individual. I firmly believe that the information one can glean about particular instructors during the application process can not significantly predict whether or not you will be able to work closely with them. Obviously one should look for a program where the faculty members share similar interests to your own, but it is important to keep in mind that, even if you could ascertain a current ideal instructor, grad school is formative and thus one is likely to change interests and focus.
To this end, it is nice to have many different sources of critique. Go to a program where you are going to find a number of strong voices. If there are other prominent departments in the university which are associated somehow it will help spread out coursework and provide other influences for your work and on your committee. Try not to put yourself in a program which will have you hitting your head against blunt objects e.g. you like Derrida and Foucault and the faculty is heavily Straussian.

2. What people think of your department- Coming out you will be assessed based on your work, but also the program you are coming from. If people think the department is good, it is. I was shocked how many people in Political Theory programs are under the impression that Chicago still has a good theory program, even though it has been sparse for 30 years! (Robert Pape and John Mearsheimer do great work, but theorists they are not. Social Thought gets all the good ones.) If you do wind up selling out (the lucky ones) a degree from Yale looks a whole lot better than a degree from Michigan. The sad part is, it is often the case in the academy too.

3. Do people know your professors?- This can be assessed in two ways, either by asking people in your field, "Hey, have you heard of Prof. Blank?" or by looking at their CVs. Pay attention to how many articles they have published and in what journals. If they have published books, under what publishers? If a few people in your department have Cambridge or Belknap, you are doing OK.

4. Can you talk to the students?- From my understanding, professors are busy people (or they think they are, which is very often the case too) and so you will probably spend a lot of time thinking things through with your peers. If they don't seem like they want to talk to you or ask the same sort of questions you do, be wary.

5. Happiness index- Grad School is a long while, and if you are Melancholy you probably won't think or write. Ask the grad students if they are happy, they will all say yes, but their qualifications will then be interesting. Try to avoid urban environments which will make you sad, or climates that you don't like. Don't forget to factor in your stipend into your standard of living. A warm, sunny apartment in Philadelphia might produce better academic results than a cold basement on the West Side in NY.

It is a given that you have to work endlessly to get the most junior appointments in the academy. It won't hurt to have a supportive program in the process.

Bagel Dropping

Bagel Dropping: To make conspicuous reference to common Jewish cultural items.

This is generally done in order to reaffirm one's standing as a member of the "tribe". For example using words like "oy yev" as an exclamatory or referencing bagels as a uniquely Jewish cultural affect. No one who is frum* thinks of bagels as particularly Jewish; it's just Sunday morning breakfast, that's it.

*note the conflation of frum with Jewish, but anyhow...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Simple Introduction to the Basic Principles of Awesome

Jose and I began what I hope will one day become a robust treatise. But for now here are my thoughts:

1. Awesome is not continuous on all domains
1a. Awesome is bounded both spatially and temporally
2. Awesome only exists in positive domains
2a. There is no such thing as imaginary Awesome
3. Awesome is never constant
corr 2 & 3. Awesome only exists with positive slope. Ma'alim, ve'ayn moridin, as it were.

Theorem 1: The opposite of Awesome is not -Awesome (see above) but null.
Consider: Gunther. It is terrible, but yet contains a component of Awesome. Now consider Paris Hilton. She is not terrible, but null. QED

Monday, April 30, 2007

Snoop on Imus

The New Yorker sites the Rev. Snoop Dogg as he carefully parses the subtleties of the term "ho".
Snoop Dogg...distanced himself and his rapper peers from the I-man. “We are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls,” he told MTV News. “We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the hood that ain’t doing shit, that’s trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things.”
Oh, now I understand. Snoop, I hereby exonerate you from any ill. My mistake.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New is the new Old

Color me conservative, but I am not terribly swayed by a Hollywood lamentation that people like repeats. Sure it might seem stale to them, it is their profession. To us it is summer refreshment. It is the reacquainting of a good friend whom we cannot really tolerate for more than 2.5 hours. What Hollywood and the Critics fail to address is how often New is flung our way. There are hundreds of movies every year, each hoping to spark the buzz of popular delight. After year upon year of New, it just gets old. After all, how many plot lines are there (particularly considering Shakespeare already did most of them)?

For a movie to be fit for mass consumption, the type of consumption that generates in access of $100 million, will only rarely be terribly provocative. We go to the movies on Saturday night not to ponder, but to wonder. Demanding that I forgo my love of stock summer blockbusters is akin to asking that I divest from biking on a sunny summer day. Because Old is the new New.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Same Blasted People

I quick thought before I head off to bed. I am still confused why, after allegations of renditions, torture, wiretaps what seems to have gotten Attorney General Alberto Gonzolez into the most trouble is the firing of eight federal prosecutors. Eight, that's it. Maybe it was not the best idea in the world, but it is not like dismissing habeas corpus or anything.

My quick, but tired, thought is that the Judiciary Committee seems to love to go after the administration. And for good reason. The Dems on the committee are a veritable firing squad of Democratic big guns with the likes of Chairman Leahy, Schumer, Biden, Durbin and Kennedy. Then on the Republican side you have Spector who is known as AC/DC on issues of civil liberties. Put that together and it might provide some insight as to why the Dems love seizing these sorts of issues to grill the Administration. And why, after so many confrontations with the Bush Administration over these issues, members on both sides just have slight antipathy for current Whitehouse policy.

Or I could be wrong...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pining Lost Loves

As those of you with Facebook know, I received a umich email address today. There have been many benifits such as getting the image back on the banner of 3W. But another, and more important return has been my long relationship with Pine, sorely missed. I have spent countless hours reading and awaiting emails using pine (as Chicago webmail was slow as an Oren getting out of bed on a Sunday) in the Reg, Reynolds club and elsewhere. It is a happy reaquantence indeed!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Idea for Israeli Bumper Sticker

Here is an idea for a new bumper sticker in Israel:
צפור אם אתה אוהב את אולמרט

Or in English
Honk if you like Olmert

A few cars with this sticker could significantly diminish the problem of unnecessary honking on Israeli streets.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sarah Leah Levitt

I want to wish a mazal tov to David, Tikva and Aharon Levitt on the birth of a daughter/sister!

Thursday, March 15, 2007


עליתי אתמול מאתונה לירושלים להודות לא-ל .
I went up yesterday from Athens to Jerusalem to worship God and also because I wished to see how they would conduct the festival since this was its inauguration.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Not Complaining

Georgetown 1 Princeton 0

Oh well, I was rooting for the other side. In the end, a good showing. I am pleased.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Still waiting on a few more, although apparently Yale and Berkeley don't love me. Well good riddance I say.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

ברוך דין האמת

Rabbi Yaakov Kret (zt"l) died this past Thrusday. He was 97.

I knew him as my father's rebbi--probably the single greatest reason that my father is frum today. In lieu of a grandfather, he was the closest I knew from age three, always greeting me with a great smile ("Zeyv, how are you?") and indulging my pedantic strings of questions. I loved him.

For the Torah world this loss reverberates as the deafening silence of nothing, the sound after the felling of a great oak. Rabbi Kret was the Sgan Rosh Yeshiva of Nevardik at Bialystok in 1939 (at some ridicules age of 29 or so--he was giving the second heighest shiur at 22) when the Russians were approaching on the eastern front and the Germans from the west. Many of the talmidim fled the towards the Germans, who had been kinder to the Jews in the Great War, but he returned from Lithuania to be with his mother and the ailing Rosh Yeshiva to be captured by the Russians and sent to a forced labor camp. The Russians were the good guys. They did not butcher their captives, they just starved them. When the war ended, Rabbi Kret was placed in charge of a small yeshiva for DPs and eventually moved to NY, receiving a pulpit in the Old Broadway synagogue in Harlem, which he occupied for more than 47 years.

With his passing passes Torah. He was, to my knowledge, the last surviving member of a European Yeshiva hanholo. With his passing passes the last surviving link to Voloshin, Nevardik, Slobodka and Bialystok. May his neshomo serve as an advocate for am yisroel in shomayim.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Penn & Inklings

P&I has a new home! I am very pround of myself :)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

El Presidente, if you're not into the whole brevity thing

Listening to the President's interview on NPR was a puzzling piece of oration, until I read it as The Dude would. And then, suddenly, it all makes sense.

Donny: By the way, just quickly, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader says that if you have an incursion into Iran, he expects that you would come to the Senate for approval.

El Presidente: I have no intent upon incur—going into Iran. I mean, this is the kind of thing that happens in Washington. People ascribe, you know, motives to me beyond a simple statement – of course we'll protect our troops. I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran. If that's what he's talking about, there's – I mean, we will protect our interests in Iraq. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's definitely what our troops want to do, and that's what the families of our troops want us to do. And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

He said the magic words!

For the first time ever, in a State of the Union address, Pres. G.W. Bush used the words "climate change." Hazzah!
America’s on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lessons Learned

I think at least one of this blog's readers is considering graduate study in economics at the U of C. Bear this in mind; If you should ever get on Gary Becker's bad side, do not put yourself in a position where you are vulnerable to him. He will hurt you.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I'm from Cork, apparently

I had to get my car inspected today. I had to drive to Staten Island to do so. To make a long story short the mechanic was very helpful and when he through me the keys he remarked,
I had a bit of a problem with the engine, but don't worry, I got the sticker on there anyhow. Anything for a fellow Irishman.
I would have driven twice as far to get that line.

Why can't we just all get along?

Because you're a shmuck, that's why! The NYT ran a strange article last week about the feeble and misunderstood R. Yisroel Dovid Weiss and the Neturei Karta movement. What the article oddly neglects to say is that Iran is calling for Israel to be wiped off the map while simultaneously seeking the means to make good on the hope. Generally, a position which compromises millions of (Jewish) lives in looked upon with derision amongst normative Judaism (sometimes called a moser, a distinction better to avoid). I am thus puzzled why neither he, nor the good article's author, appear to grasp this rather rudimentary principle. The article further neglects to mention that similar treatment is not bestowed on all Jewish anti-Zionist, but reserved for ones who support the current Iranian regime. I doubt, though, that acute (or even accurate) sociology was Ms. Santos's motive.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm Done!!!

Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the rejection letters to roll in.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Saturnight: (n) the non-frum way of referring to motza"sh.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Along with the name change, Apple unveiled a cool new gadget that does just about everything save for washing underwear and toasting bread. I am very happy with the result for a couple reasons:

1. It will rock the market- As soon as I saw it I ran to see what RIMM (Blackberry) stock was doing. Sure enough it shed a good 11 points on the day. That's almost 8% of its total value! The iPhone does make the Blackberry look a little bit lot out-dated. The iPhone interface is so much smoother and the software will allow for upgrades which the Blackberry will need to employ in its hardwear, i.e. requiring one to buy a whole new device.

2. It is not that good- While it is about the coolest looking thing to come around in a while, it is not that good. It can't sync with Outlook, its price point is a bit high and the capacity is tiny. The iPod started out at 5gb and it is now up to 80, so progress will come in time. It also means that my 5G iPod has not moved from cool to junk in the course of an hour. You will not be able to hold all your music on the new iPhone so it will not be able to replace the 5G for a few more years. Innovation can tend to piss people off that way by making one feel a bit slow. At least this way I can still feel up-to-date for a little while longer.

Well the Street seemed to like it. The dip at about 12:15 EST today was for the announcement of the Apple TV and the subsequent rise occurred when Jobs announced the phone. AAPL never looked back (although not reaching its 52 wk high either, funny enough). As far as all the whining on Macforums over the iPhone many posts have referenced the iconic Thread 500. What is thread 500? It was the Macforums thread after the iPod was released. 133 positives to 173 negatives. Mac people were upset about the iPod! The same little gizmo that transformed Apple's market cap. It just shows how silly even people who are technically savy can often be.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Regionalism, here we go again.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Gematria Coincidences?

According to the calculations I made with the help of this website, it appears that Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein, have more in common (from the perspective of Gematria) than one might think. Not only did the two die within four (4) days of one another, but the gematria of גראלד פורד is 528, half of which is 264. Now 264 is exactly 16 (that is 4*4) more than 248, the gematria of סדם חוסיין. In other words, Saddam is 4*4 less than half the man Gerald Ford was and note the significance of the number four here. Can this be mere coincidence?