Monday, December 29, 2008

Casus Belli

A question that I have been batting around for the last two days is: what constitutes as casus belli? In some ways I don't think it is a relevant question, or more to the point, there might not be such a thing as a casus belli in a sub-conventional conflict. But if there were (what does that even mean?) what would such an incitement look like?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Notes on Poetry in Islam

I am currently working on a research group examining how Aristotle's Poetics was read in Medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian settings. I am particularly interested in how Averroes read the Poetics in his two commentaries on that work and the dangers he may have encountered in his outlook on poetry. Yes, I said dangers. And, as an indication that such dangers are still present today, here is an excerpt from the end of an article, written by someone from Australia on Islamic forms of poetry:
I hope that this short essay will help you to remove from your mind the cobweb that you might have regarding poetry in Islam. If we go by the Islamic rules then only Hamd and Naat (some of them written by the great Islamic poet Golam Mostafa) are the only poems allowed in Islam. Almost all the poems written in Bangladesh are unIslamic and all most all the poets are engaged, in many cases, in blasphemy acts whether they realise this or not. Although there is no specific hudud punishment specified in Sharia for writing poetry, please know that if a poetry is considered grossly offensive and/or blasphemous then the punishment is death by beheading.

As one can see, the message is now very clear. Most of the poets of Bangladesh (or any other country) are the potential targets for capital punishment if an Islamic Paradise is established and ‘real Islam’ is practiced in Bangladesh.

Yikes! If the situation in 13th century Spain was anything like the one described here, Averroes was really living on the edge by discussing and praising Homer and pre-Islamic poetry.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I want a representative, darn it!

So we might get Caroline Kennedy as our U.S. senator from NY. Why can't we get a representative, you know, someone who represents the interests of NYers (and not just those downstate)? Clinton carpet-bagged and spent her tenure making a presidential run. The only up-state work of hers I know is helping to keep the Niagara Falls airbase open and supporting grape growers. It would be nice if someone came along who actually, knew or cared about the constituents.

Brian Higgins 2010!


I live in this universe, and I come to expect bizarre, unthinking behaviors by others. I am still, however, confused by the outpouring of animosity towards Pres. Bush in the wake of the footwear flinging yesterday. Eight years ago the Iraqis were under the rule of a brutal dictator. Then the US went in and removed said evil dictator causing wide-spread elation. Then the Iraqis tried to kill each other, keeping US forces in Iraq. Why are they angry at us exactly?

Here is just one quote:
Abu Ali, a 55-year-old laborer, said: “It is a wedding of all Iraqis. Muntader’s action is less than Bush deserves for killing, displacing and bloodletting Iraqis. I will blame the Iraqi government and American forces if anything wrong happens to Muntader.”
We haven't been wantonly killing Iraqis. This is not a war against Arabs, but against people that want to kill Arabs* (many of whom, happen to be arab themselves, this is true). Now the academic is me wants to analyze this and ask why there exists this deep misperception about the role of the US forces in Iraq. But my other part is utterly confused.

There has been abuse, and it is not a trivial matter, but our troops are drawing down and it will not be a open ended occupation. I can imagine that Iraqis are frustrated by the constraints on their daily lives and blame the US for their woes (though I expect better from academics), but that still does not make it reasonable (not that political science cares all that much whether people are reasonable or not). If the Iraqis feel they are better for not having Saddam around they ought to thank Bush. I can imagine Iraqis saying their lives are worse now than under Saddam, but I cannot believe that the majority want him back.

It is we in the US that would seem to have cause to throw shoes (wiretapping, tourture, misleading the public about a war) not the Iraqis.

*Fine, not initially, but that is what it has turned into.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jerusalem Post Headline

"Haifa: Two teenagers arrested for shooting at each other during Shabbat". Just because the buses in Haifa run on shabbat, doesn't mean you can shoot people on shabbat!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's a Good Thing

Good thing Chicago as a fair-minded, independent and financially stable news source to continue shaking up Chicago Politics. Well, all except for the last part.

Unfortunately, freedom of the press requires solvency of the press.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Flip a Coin!

This is really stupid. Al Franken and Norm Coleman are squaring off in MN to see who will be the next senator of that fine state. Right now Coleman leads by 0.03% and the race will most likely be decided by contested ballots in the courts. Those courts will have judges who are D's or R's with systematic biases to vote one way or the other.

Given that the margin of victory is less than the margin of error in a recount (I don't actually know this, I am only guessing) and given that courts are known to have systematic bias, a coin toss would be the most transparent and fair way to go about deciding this election. I am serious.

Update: I was beaten too it. Drats.
Luckily, Minnesota’s electoral law has a provision for ties. After all the counting and recounting, if the vote is statistically tied, the state should invoke the section of the law that requires the victor to be chosen by lot. It’s hard to swallow, but the right way to end the senatorial race between Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken will be to flip a coin.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

There is something very romantic about working on your thesis in the library while Shimon Peres chats with the president of Italy a few meters away.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Germans bearing Talks

Whether you agree with him or not, there is something nice when a prominent German writes that the defeat of anti-Israelism and terrorism "may only be achieved through dialogue". Nevertheless, whatever it is I fear Germans bearing talks.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Secretary Clinton

I know my opinion does not count for anything, but I am not a big fan of Sen. Clinton's appointment to the post of Secretary of State. As Jon Stuart pointed out on the Daily Show last week, Obama and Clinton agreed on many issues, but one of their few arenas of disagreement was foreign policy. To offer her the Secretary of State position, then, seems rather calculating.

Furthermore, Clinton campaigned on domestic policy, not foreign policy. Her spare attempt to demonstrate foreign policy experience badly backfired as it was shown that she had not in fact entered Bosnia under fire. I don't see that Sen. Clinton has any coherent vision of foreign policy. She really should have taken HHS, but such is life. I was rooting for Richardson. I wonder if Dennis Ross will get his old job back. I know he reeeeally wants it.

My only hope is that she will resign from the position in 2012 in order to be able to begin campaigning in 2014.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Some Notes on Teaching

I have again been persuaded that it is good policy to give very few A's. My standards are not harsh, but I stick to them (an A on a paper requires original analysis argued by a clear thesis). Students in my class have begun finding out who gets A's (I did not give one A on the second paper, and only 4/40 on the midterm). It is considered something of a feat. Following the midterm one of my students (a Cool Dude) began yelping in the halls, another immediately called her parents. The grade actually begins to mean something, my frugality has actually created value. It is a wonderful thing to see my students think about Rousseau, not the only for the grade, but for the affirmation of their work (it would be lovely to have them passionate about R too, but how much can one ask for?). That is to say they begin to take pride in their work.

The funny thing, which I have only begun to realize is that it is much harder to withhold A's than it is to give them. Everyone loves to give good grades to their students--you win, they win, the school wins. Except grade become inflated; they begin to be worthless as it corrupts the economy of education. I am of two minds on this also. It is terrible that students with a 3.7 can't get into law school (thank G-d PhD programs are not as demanding). I think what I have learned, though, is that this stinginess also has an educational upside.

I think part of that is due to the time I take on grading. It is a huge sink hole of time, and I loath it, but I have had only one contest of a grade I gave out of 120 graded assignments (and the protest was only informal). Giving thorough feedback seems to lend credibility to one's discretion and reinforces the grade's worth. And one more thing, always give stickers for A's, always.

I did break the cardinal rule of substitute teaching this week, though, I did a good job. I didn't expect to, really I didn't. I have been sick with a cold all week and I really didn't want to be teaching, but I gave it the old college try. A student yesterday begged me to give a repeat performance, another came to my office hours today, even though I am not his TA. I can't even get my own students to come to office hours. As the backhanded compliment we used to give at the UofC goes, I guess I would make a really good high school teacher.

Better get back to writing my paper, "A Suitable Philosophical Investigation" to avoid that fate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Think I'm Getting Better at This

I was right. Joe Leiberman would continue to caucus with the Dems as long as he retained his chairmanship, which he will.

You heard it here first. All five of you. Well four, because one of the five is undoubtedly me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

1 for 2

Well, I'm 1 for 2 on elections this month. Better than I expected.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chingis Kahn

I asked Prof. Lindner today why there are so many ways of spelling Ghangis Khan (really what I was asking was what the best approximation was). He remarked that the best spelling he had found was Gangis Kahn, you know Sylvia and Gangis Kahn. They live in Flatbush and daven at the Young Israel there. The Kahns.

I happen to have a picture of them from the Young Israel dinner last year:
(In actual fact, Prof. Lindner spoke about Sylvia and Gangus Kahn of the Upper East Side who go to the 92nd St Y, but that's obviously not these two.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

That's the UofC I know

An unassuming, but sharp, economist from the minyan at Michigan chanced to spend shabbes in Hyde Park recently. He told me that the students were all very nice to him, but that there was one thing that he found odd. Everyone made him say something smart before they would talk to him. I guess it's like our password, or something.

Completely obnoxious, but that is the UofC I know and, er, love.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Fox News has this picture on its website,

with the caption, "America elects its first black President"
That's accurate, except that they exclude the punctuation which reads, "America elects its first black President?!"
Much different.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post Election Thoughts

In no particular order:

A. If his choice of Chief of Staff indicates anything, it looks like Obama is not anti-Israel. Emanuel davens at Anshe Sholom (or at least he is a member) and his father was a member of the Irgun.

B. I smell a rotten salmon in AK. Stevens is up there, but voting turnout is way down from 2004 by ~80,000 votes and currently down ~15,000 votes from 2006. Why would a year when Democrats are so energized and with two contested national races would Alaskan voters (D voters) stay away from the polls? To dampen my cynicism a bit though, exit polls seem to show the 48/46 split for Stevens. It's still really weird.

C. The youth vote matters. According to the NYT ~22m 18-29 year old voters turned out. Without their 2-1 split you're looking at about 49.9m votes from Obama and 49.5m for McCain. And that doesn't include those parents who were implored by their naive children to vote for Obama either.

D. Al Jazeera headlines: ترحيب دولي بانتخاب أوباما رئيسا للولايات المتحدة
Which I believe, though my Arabic sucks, means "World Welcomes Election of US President Obama" (please feel free to correct my translation if you know better than I).

E. Yay.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Will Lieberman Jump Ship After Elections?

I doubt it, but he might. The Dems are none-too-happy that he has been fraternizing with the enemy and no longer need his clinching majority vote. That being said, I don't know that CT is as likely to vote for a Republican leaning Independent. Then again, he might get better committees from the Republicans if the Dems decide to dump him and by the time the next election rolls around he'll be 70 and might not want to run again anyhow.

I think he will caucus D so long as the party lets him. If they take away some of his committees he might just jump though.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Go out and Vote!

Once again Victor Davis Hanson, a classics prof, says it all, i. e., all we know about Obama. Go out and vote, though. Hope for the best. If the polls are right, I'll spend the next four years hoping for change.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


DEM Obama, Barack
5046 South Greenwood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60615

Why does that address sound familiar?
I can't believe that I actually lived exactly one block away from the potential president of the United States of America. That's pretty cool.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Re: A Cautionary Thought About Egomaniacs

Obama's Egomania is, in the view of at least one commentator, nearly messianic in scope. In my view, though, Obama's Egomania is a significantly smaller problem than his unknown position on Israel and other foreign affairs and his pink-o economic plans. The fact that he palls around with terrorists like Ayers and people like Khalidi and Mazen Asbahi does not particularly endear him to me, to say nothing of his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. In fact, I do not see how one can consistently support both Israel and Obama.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Cautionary Thought About Egomaniacs

When I attended a rally in Detroit for Barak Obama I knew what he was going to say. Not the general content, but the exact words he was going to use. I am not telepathic, I just happened to hear excerpts from the speech he had given the day before in Virginia on NPR that morning. I knew what his pleas for the economy would be. I knew his zingers. I knew that he cared about Main St. It is for that reason that I either pity the man or suspect him--who in their right mind would subject themselves and their family to 20 months of public exposition?

Public service is honorable, but there is always the question of whether you intend to serve the public or you intend for the public to serve you (re: Kennedy's "Ask not" speech). Obama moved from an Illinois state senator to run for U.S. House three years later. Four years after that he ran for U.S. Senate and four years after that (well two, really) he ran for president. The humility of civil service is realizing that whether you serve 100,000 or 100 million you are still doing the same amount of good. The moral obligation to serve others is not about the effect, but the responsibility.

I am bothered by this. I am bothered that such a bright man would be willing to give the same stupid stump speeches (allbeit eloquently) day after day after day, reducing political discourse to a pabulum over the course of 400 days. I am bothered by the fact that he is willing to vote for the USA Patriot Reauthorization Act despite having grave concerns about it. I am bothered that he voted for FISA and still does not believe it was the wrong vote. I am bothered because I cannot tell whether Obama wants to serve us, or we are supposed to support him.

This election is certainly an historic one, and I understand that Obama had a shot at the Whitehouse that might not have presented itself again, but I am still bothered. I hope to be shown what this man can truly do for our country.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Atlantic's Redesign

I might cancel my subscription, or at least print out the articles online. The new Atlantic typeface is actually painful. What's worse is that The Atlantic was just given a facelift a few months ago and I liked the results. The less cluttered cover, the centerfold table of contents, even "the agenda, " which was a digest of academic articles has been replaced by "the dispatch" which is just more reporting. Boo.

But the typeface is really abysmal. I can live with the new sarif mercury cover font which is supposed to be a 60's era throwback (someone likes Mad Men a bit too much), but the Titling Gothic is blocky and hefty, lacking all the elegance and grace of their earlier fonts. It's like pulling out a terrible copy of an old Life magazine. Gawd.

I hope an pray that they change the font back. Why mess with a good thing?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

As I live and breath

I knew Alan Dobry for four years. If I gave him an aliyah once I gave him an aliyah a hundred times. Never did I suspect that he was the man who gave Obama his start in public office, nor had I any inkling that he was a major operator in HP politics.

You just never know.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Here's Rooting for you, Buddy

The thing the article about Jose misses is that people have been holding by his geyrus for four years now. He has been getting aliyahs, layning, being yotze others with brachos, counting in minyanim, that kind of stuff. Real people in real shuls. It seems strange that the sochnut is deciding who can and can't be yotze others, essentially.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Please Call Your Congressperson and...

... thank them/yell at them for voting for/against the federal package to infuse liquidity in the market.
Who is my congressperson?

I know what I will be praying for during the next two days. A re-vote will likely come up on Thursday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Swing Demographic-Jewish Grandmothers

So I post this because it is kind of my weekly pre-shabbes phone call with my grandmother. We talk for thirty seconds or so, you know how're things? Judy? Gabby? Grandkids? Who comes to visit, who has already called, who she's still waiting on. That's all warm up these days, a cacophony before the concert. Then we get down to business. McCain will be better for Israel. He will be stronger in Iran. But hasn't the no negotiation policy failed (well, actually I believe it has run its course, neither here nor there)? What about McCain's tax policy, do you really think the middle class does not deserve tax breaks? Foreign dictators will try and test Obama, McCain is a greater deterrent. And so forth.

The point it, while Silverman is funny, I actually think she's wrong. We are on different sides of the issues. My grandmother favors hard power over soft power (having seen it work during the Holocaust) and I prefer soft power, and military engagement somewhere way down the line (but on that line, nonetheless). It's not just a matter of correcting the erroneous emails that she does not receive.

Oh yeah, and the fact that Fox News is her source for election coverage does not make the challenge any easier.

Who in the Clinton years

would have thunk that George Bush's legacy would be increased nation-building in Asia and the nationalization of American Banks?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Parable

A rich Jewish businessman was once contemplating the davenning for the yammim noraim. He thought to himself, "I understand how God gives life and takes it away, but I am a rich man, how could God possibly relieve me of all my wealth in one fell swoop?" When he arrived at his house a Polish noble was waiting at his kitchen table demanding all the businessman's assets. Times were tight for the Polish government and it needed his capital to stay afloat. Mocked and despondent the businessman now understood how God could relieve one of all his assets, but he was still incredulous about God's capacity to granted wealth so easily. Later that day the businessman found that the Polish noble died in a house fire--the contract was never delivered to the town clerk for endorsement.

It is a simplistic story which I probably heard in seventh grade from a rabbi around this time of year. That being said, I am amazed how I find myself with the same incredulity about the market. My faith in volatility is continually restored.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Problem of the Haredim

Haredim do not join the army, do not become policemen, and do not have any kind of liberal education, not to mention advanced study of civics or politics. Yet as soon as they feel threatened, they form gangs and try to intimidate and attack random Arabs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

So as the age old question goes, what does "sabachthani" mean? There is some perseption out there that the word is related to the line from Tehilim (Psalms) "lama azavtani?" (why have you left me?). The note in my NRSV Bible on this verse claims that the word, "is a citation from Ps 22:1, which the writers quote in Aramaic," but there doesn't seem to be a clear relationship between azavtani and sabachtani at all. Sokoloff does not list an entry for the word in his in Palestinian Aramaic dictionary, aside from an entry meaning "hair net" which advances the imagery of a network or lattice.

So Adam and I were bothered by this today during kiddush and took it up with one of the professors in shul. Benji's answer, which I like, is that the word is related to סבך (s.b.h) or entangled, complicated, interwoven (all alternate forms of the word with the same root). Benji thought that the word is related to the modern Hebrew מסובך (complicated) which can also indicate a sense of, "why did you get me caught up in this mess?" (or "on account of what," depending on the lema/lama transliteration) which is where the translation in Matthew "forsaken" may have come from. The coolest part of this is that in the episode of the Binding of Isaac the thicket in which the ram is caught is called a סבך (Gn 22:13). I am not going to say that Matthew was a bad translator (even though Benji's interpretation is way better), maybe it just didn't come over so well from the original Greek. Who knows?

And with that, I am off to slichot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Fates Align

The market is in freefall and the Gulf has been assaulted with two bad hurricanes. If the Dems can't take it this election season they should just hang up their spikes and call it quits.

Bret Farve quits.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

So what you're saying is that you were wrong

NYT reported this on 9/9 and this on 9/14. The might want to acknowledge that the earlier analysis was rather off base. (Same byline, btw.)

This is part of a larger problem I have with media outlets throwing everything at the proverbial wall and seeing what sticks, while never redressing that which did not.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thoughts on Palin Interview

You can find the series of Palin interviews with Charlie Gibson here.

The first segment was certainly her weakest. She was clearly in unfamiliar territory and was speaking from talking-points as opposed to engaging in a conversation. The following three segments showed her to be more comfortable, which (in my partisan opinion) was due to a familiarity with the discourse, as opposed to the substance of the issues. When Gibson asked her where a McCain administration would find money for programs she talked about "efficiencies" but refused to go into specifics. It is clear that the federal budget shortfall will not come from nickel and diming social security and welfare, but from major realignments of the US tax code and possibly consolidating programs. A mayor or governor can fill shortfalls with tightening the reigns of government, but I don't think the federal budget works quite the same way. I see no reason to believe that Palin has any grasp on macro-economic matters in the least.

Gibson asked good questions and Palin gave good answers (after the first segment). By good I mean that they were convincing, though they often did not actually address the issues. Why did she keep the earmark money from the bridge to nowhere? So she was for the bridge in her role as governor-cum-advocate. While opposed to lobbyists in general, she did not seem to have any problem with commissioning a lobbyist herself. I think it can easily be explained by saying that once the lobbyist culture in Washington exists she is not going to fight it from Wasilla, but compromises her image as a reformer at all costs.

She continues to look like a well spoken politician, with no substantive grasp on federal politics. Biden's job will be to engage her as an equal and direct the conversation outside of her talking points, demonstrating a feeble understanding of economic and foreign policy issues. If he can't do it the Sophists might seize the day from the Socratics yet again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Obama's Ace

It is really concerning (to me) that McCain appears ahead in both national popular polls and electoral polls for the first time since April. I have only one thought of consolation at this juncture. Obama's big strength is not messaging (although he is a good speaker), but organizing. He was a far better speaker than Clinton, but that is not what won him the primary; he was able to out-hustle her on the ground. When there were a handful of primaries every week in February Obama's campaign had an opportunity to shine in the media spotlight with each successive win. Now that there is only one day at the polls organizing is not going to get that much press until the show is over. The hustle should manifest itself in a vast turn out of Obama supporters on election day, but otherwise it will be rather silent. Here's hoping.

One other thought: McCain's bounce has certainly been pronounced, but will the momentum fall off? I suspect that McCain has gotten about all he can get from the RNC+Palin so those states that are still solidly blue in the polling will stay so until election day (including non-trivial ones such as WI, IA and CO). If Palin has not picked them up, she ain't gonna get 'em (I can't imagine there are many Palin fence sitters). The polls will undoubtedly shift from here on in, but not with the same volatility as in the last two weeks.

Friday, September 05, 2008

1.4 Million Views Can't Be Wrong

Because it has gone viral and it is funny.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Palin's Speech

She did what she needed to do. She gave a convincing performance with a good delivery. The only time I noticed her waiver was when referring to global energy concerns in Venezuela. Her youngest daughter was also very cute.

The Republicans seem to be much more ad hominem than the Dems were (although the Dems did use the 7 houses line quite a bit). She introduced her family at length and then went into how America likes small town leaders. It is a story which makes sense, but it still remains to be seen if she does. The speech did not focus heavily on policy and did not really give the sense that policy intricacies are her forte. She did not talk about housing at all, for instance. Equally absent was a strong conservative social message--she did not mention abortion or activist judges in her speech. Her message was as a reformer, and she delivered it convincingly. That the Republicans can sell an anti-insider platform is really amazing, considering it was they who created the current explosion of lobbying in Washington.

What's this business of referring to Obama as "our opponent"? He is not Voldemort. Poor form.

Her job was not to lay out detailed policy, but look competent behind a podium. I was fairly impressed with her delivery given her relative new-comer status on the national stage. I don't know if she is really going to affect the campaigns beyond tonight. She will not craft policy and her aims in the VP debate will not be that high. She gives the impression of a ticket that is willing to change the order in Washington, but I think it will be mostly up to McCain and Obama to sell their visions.

Something that really bothers me though is that it really seems as if people are willing to equate Palin's lack of experience with Obama's. The frustrating part is that there is a trump card that cannot be played--Obama is brilliant. No one wants to hear that Obama was editor of Harvard Law Review or offered a professorship at one of the country's best law schools, it does not play well in Nebraska or Coal Country. But he is deeply immersed in policy debates and understands the complexities. When he does not he has others do the scut work like Cass Sunstein and Rob Rubin. Would you pick any CEO to run the country? Is that all it takes?

[Cleaned up from earlier] Now that I think of it, Palin's presentation is rather similar G.W. Bush in 2000. Then Gov. Bush packaged himself as a compassionate conservative who had reached across the aisle to get things done in TX. The role of the governor is not especially large in TX, but he offered a return to American morals (as a born-again Christian) in the wake of the schism relating to Pres. Clinton's sexual improprieties. Bush did not run on his father's coattails and it is still largely forgotten that Bush 43 was born in CT and not TX. It was not perceived as the extension of a legacy, but a new direction for the country. Palin similarly sets herself up as an outsider (which she truly is) who can come into Washington and restore decency. My frustration is that Palin sets the stage for precisely the same failures for which the Bush administration has been responsible. His Manichaean understanding of policy options and lack of comfort justifying his decisions seem, at present, to have done the country ill. But Palin sets up those very concerns all over again. Electing a president who is both articulate and bright may actually be a good thing. No one likes an armchair academic ('cept me, of course) but surely there is *some* value to carefully thought-through policies. Though Palin is only filling the VP slot the same arguments that will advance the Republican ticket with her on it are exactly those that placed us in many of the messes we find ourselves in today. I fear that people will make the same misjudgment with Palin that was made with Bush because of this discomfort with expertise. Maybe JS Mill was right, just a little.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Family Values

I read a tight exposition of the difference between political and moral philosophy yesterday in David Estlund's "Democratic Authority." Estlund claims that while moral philosophy is only concerned with outlining personal responsibility political philosophy is also concerned that people as a whole have the capacity to meet those expectations. This is what frustrates me about Republican Family Values.

No one ought to condemn the Palin family for hypocrisy or neglect, I am sure Gov. Palin is a fine parent. The problem is that the conservative Republicans confuse moral and political philosophy. They advance abstinence only sexual education programs and whip over the Mexico City Policy when these in initiatives actually harm the causes they advance. When nearly 65% of unwed teenagers are sexually active advancing these policies confuse moral and political philosophies. The fact that these issues arise in our own homes should make us sensitive to that.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Will McCain get more press for not having the convention than Obama got for having one?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Italy's support of Ghaddafi

Italy just signed a deal with Europe's favorite tyrant, Moamer Ghaddafi, to give Libya $5 billion as "reparations for Italy's colonial rule of the country in the early 20th century". I am not a policy expert, but I cannot see how supporting this horrible regime makes up for past colonialist "misconduct." The real motive for this pact may be Libya's pledge to "increase patrols of its coastline to prevent boatloads of African immigrants from traveling to Sicily". In any case, I do not see why this should be couched in terms of doing justice or making reparations. Two wrongs do not make a right and it is hard to imagine that Italy's occupation of Libya could have been worse than Ghaddafi's current misguided tyranny.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Quick thought about Palin

Strange choice. One great thing about the pick, though. Biden, will have to sheath his sharp tongue during the debates in order not to appear disdainful.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Curve is Inverting!

It is still before the convention so I am not too worried. But I am worried. W/e, Kennedy-Nixon was tight too.

With OH swinging for McCain I am forced to rethink my dread of and antipathy towards Clinton as a running mate. She has been pretty quiet since her campaign has ended, maybe she can be trusted. Just don't let her bring any of her old campaign staff back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blog Maintenance

I deleted some blogs off the blogroll. No offense intended, if a blog has not been updated for more than 12 months I tend to take it off. If you restart blogging please tell me and I will replace the link.

I also added another political blog that I have become obsessed with in recent weeks (thanks to Shim S.B. for the heads up). 538 is a capital blog with a wealth of data about the upcoming elections (Silver, who runs the blog, is also as UofC guy featured here). When anyone asks me who is going to win in November I just start reciting from the blog and people think I am smart, or something.

Olympic Fashion

Apparently there is controversy about the American casual attire for the Olympics (though, if I am linking to Gawker, I must not be looking very hard). As I have a large preppy streak in my wardrobe my opinion might not count, but I do like the look. I think the issue of logo size is overblown as the large logo has been in for a few seasons now and its not like the Adidas or Nike logos are inconspicuous on the athletic gear. The look is classic American, so it scores 'authenticity' points and what exactly are the alternatives? You can't go with wool and polyester looks cheap (eg the poor Aussies) so cotton it is (I guess linen is also an option, but that is just more prep for you). The rep ties might be a little over the top, but it's nothing compared with the opulence of many other countries (eg India).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where's your reaction Yehuda?

With all this news about Russia invading Georgia I would think Yehuda would have some interesting perspectives, being a native of that great state. Why no reaction?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

But it Gets Better

So I come back from shul motza'sh and see that that US Men's Sabre is in the Semifinals. Huge! The women are considered better than the men by a lot. While the women's sabrists took gold, silver and bronze in the individual matches, mens sabre did not pick up any medals and only had one fencer in the top 10. Tonight they topped Hungary 45-44 and then dispatched Russia in similar fashion. The US was up against Russia by 6 after 3 bouts, 15-9, but Russia came back and handed Rogers and Smart's butts-on-a-plate. Russia was up 35-28 after 7. When Keith Smart came up for the last bout the U.S. was down by 5. That means that Smart needed to get 10 touches while only allowing 4 opposing. It started rather badly for Smart getting to a score of 37-42. Then Smart turned something on and brought the score to 43-44 when Russia took the final touch. Except that Smart has seemed to call halt right before the touch was scored (he was on the attack at the time). I don't really understand the call, but the ref took the touch back. Smart took two more to win the bout 45-44!

America is doing really well in fencing which will hopefully translate well for the sport. Women's sabre took individual gold, silver and bronze an a team bronze. The women's foil team took silver, which is a massive accomplishment as foil and epee are generally considered "European" strengths. Men's sabre has already undertaken two large upsets. A gold medal would be a great capstone.

Congrats on the silver medal finish!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What A Billion People Can Do

Obviously a billion people can do a lot. Build really small cars, manufacture cereal box toys and party favors and give the world some really yummy inexpensive food. One thing that a billion people apparently cannot do is win in the Olympics. No, not China (which is having an old fashion Gold Rush revival in the shooting and weightlifting events), India has a lone gold medal in shooting. The US currently has 1.3*10-7 medals for every American (a bit lower if you include those in our de facto 'guest worker program') China provides 2.7*10-8 medals per denizen but poor India can only give its people 10-10 medals. What's up with that?

Fencing at its Best

I managed to get up for the final two matches of the gold medal bout of Ukraine v. China in women's sabre. China was up at one point by 10 and when I tuned in UKR had lost the previous round 5-0 and were trailing 27-35, which is like being back a full length in swimming. UKR came back with some aggressive fencing coupled with CHN overreach (attack no, counter attack). It was finally 44-44 both advanced an attacked and it looked like CHN might have edged out. The director did make a call initially and after a gut wrenching minute or so of consulting video the director admitted "Abstention!" which has got to be really tough to admit you can't call it in front of a very tense home crowd. UKR then went on the defensive and won on an attack no, counter attack. What a finish!

My complaint about the officiating is that there appears to be a proclivity to use instant replay. I think there is a 'simultaneous attack' for a reason, because it is too close to call. If it is not humanly possible to ascertain who had the attack it should not be scored. The replay should only be used at full speed and consulted if the director feels she really missed something. But what do I know.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

יש ויש

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Shufersal's new supermarket line, Yesh, is that it targets both Haredim and Arabs together. Despite different kashrut / halal needs, Arabs and Haredim apparently have similar shopping habits when it comes to food.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To Drug or not to Drug?

I just don't agree. Performance enhancing drugs are so powerful that sports would turn into an R&D race. If we allow the use of designer pharmaceuticals why not prosthetics? From an ethical perspective I am not sure that athletes would avoid risky medications which offer an immediate payoff. In competitions where 0.05 seconds is significant doping would seriously skew the competitiveness of some athletes over others.

A retort might be that if we let all box car racers use NASCAR engines then things would be fair again. But then it is no longer box car racing. Along those lines I guess I would not be outraged if they had a doping Olympics and a non-doping Olympics. My sense, though, is that people are not nostalgic for the days of Sosa and McGuire and would regard the doping games much like Arena Football; as a gimmick rather than a sport.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Coining New Terms

"Raising McCain" - the latest negative campaign commercials from the McCain camp.

Remember, you saw it here first.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What a Moron

Hilton really thinks that the timetable for excavation of offshore oil will provide an effective bridge in order to transition to alternative energy sources? I knew she was a moron.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

DHS How I Hate Thee

These are only the latest reports that the DHS is allowed to treat US citizens like criminals as SOP (except that criminals have rights, at the border I don't, apparently). This year alone I have been accused of lying by a border guard and the car I was traveling in was twice asked (I was questioned only once) "when the last time I smoked marijuana." (As it is not illegal to have smoked, it is not entrapment.) I have traveled across the US border 5 times and I only recall one occasion without episode. Each time I present a valid US Passport and I have no criminal record. Why must DHS treat Americans as criminals and deprive us of our rights? At some point someone thought that rights make us safer. Apparently Chertoff does not agree.

If you think searches like these have merit you ought to show that 1) they are effective 2) they do not undermine "American values." So if searches are a good idea, why not do them at random traffic stops as you might catch more criminals that way? One might contend that the US has tight security control within its borders, but God only knows what is going on in Cambodia. A blanket DHS rule like this also targets me driving from the US to Canada too (and there is a lot of human traffic along this border). Is Canada particularly lax and does that warrant relieving citizens of their rights at this particular location? I think there is a difference, and it should be made explicit, but based upon my experience at the border it does not appear to me that DHS has told their agents to conduct themselves as if there is one.

A further normative concern might ask why crossing a border relinquishes one of their rights? I would contend (though I am certain there is legal precedent to which I am not aware) that once I present a US border officer with my passport I have demonstrated my citizenship and am thus entitled to my rights as an American. How does being at that particular location compromise me?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Taboo against homosexuality

Given the special status of rape in our criminal code, I wonder if at some point way back when the taboo against homosexuality emerged as a social mechanism to deter men from raping other men. If a man raped another man it would not be considered an act of dominance, but rather of femininity/weakness, e ipso branding the criminal a "homosexual" (or any one of a slew of pejoratives). Then, at least, half the society would be protected against the crime.

Since we often look for clear demarcations for our ethical codes, in a culture with rigid gender identities it would be easy to say that sex with a man is categorically different than sex with a woman and thus always taboo.

Hamas and Hospital Care

It is interesting to me that the Physicians for Human Rights (as they call themselves) says that the "Shin Bet Decides who Will Die in Gaza", apparently with reference to the fact that the Shin Bet screens patients who want to go from Gaza into Israel for medical treatment. What is interesting to me is that these supposed advocates of Human Rights do not consider that the Hamas decides who will die in Gaza. Indeed, had Hamas been investing as much of its money in hospitals and medical care in Gaza as it has in suicide belts, rockets, and bomb-ferrying tunnels, the medical situation in Gaza would be much better.
How can Hamas have any kind of accountability to its people if medical care, food provision, and schooling are all considered the responsibility of the UN and Israel?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yet another thing we don't understand about the Palestinians.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Navel Observation

Actually navel observation (or if you prefer, naval gazing) has been rather sparse these days. I just find it interesting is all. About five years ago the tank-top that did not quite reach the waist was all the rage for girls/women. Even many t-shirts did not provide enough fabric to cover the curious umbilicus. It was kind of a trampy style, but it was the style. Fast forward and tops seem much more tasteful this season, and the short-short tunic also seems to be out, although the 3" short has become ubiquitous. Just a friendly reminder that fashion is not spiraling towards the lascivious end of humanity.

(I sort of apologize for the bad puns, but naval gazing is one of my most favorite of expressions.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hearsay on Oil

I was speaking to an economics professor in shul this shabbes and he told me something interesting. Oil, for some stange reason, resists causal regressions. He claimed (and it is more likely that I am getting it wrong than he was incorrect) that despite economists attempts to pinpoint unique variables which correlate to the price of oil, they can't.

Maybe that's why no one has any good ideas about how to bring the price of oil down.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Who'da Thunk?

CBS did a poll with a focus on the upcoming presidential election. There was one result I was really surprised by. Hispanics were asked this question:

69. Should LEGAL immigration into the United States be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?

So you'd figure 60%+ of Hispanics would respond that we need to open immigration policy. In fact 43% said that immigration levels should remain unchanged and only 27% said that the number should increase while 25% said that it should decrease! (This contrasts to 38/23/32 overall) Given the general numbers it is not terribly aberrant, but I never would have guessed that on my own.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Playing Both Sides

Lieberman has made me rather uncomfortable in the years since becoming an independent, tacking considerably right on issues of civil liberties. This article in the NYT, though, at first really bothered me until I realized that until a little more than a month ago the Democrats were working hard to bring down their own. The Clinton campaign sure did not pull any blows for the sake of a unified party until leaving the race on June 7th. Considering that Lieberman is officially an Independent I can't really fault him for attacking Obama when the Clinton campaign was saying much worse only recently.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Iranian Strike

I don't have a firm opinion on what action should be taken with regards to Iran's nuclear program. Here are just two thoughts:

1. If Israel decides to strike it will be after the U.S. elections and before the inauguration. I know Bolton said this, but I was saying it before Bolton (no one listens to me, of course ;). Israel cannot strike before the U.S. election lest they exert undue influence on its outcome. The next administration will not be as supportive of a strike and if it is conducted under this administration the next Whitehouse (particularly if Democratic) will be able to claim that the attack was not carried out under its watch and that it wants to see a new direction in the Middle East. After January 20th plausible deniability goes away.

2. I don't really know what effects high oil prices have on the decision. Iran will probably not attack Israel if attacked (too high a risk of escalation), but they might go after tankers in the Straight of Hormuz (cool semi-related oil map). Investors might be inclined to push oil higher (hey, it's risen 80% year over year already) or they might have priced it in. I am guessing the latter, but I am totally armchair.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I read the article in the NYT, but how can I help?

The church the AAOM is coordinating with in Postville got front page coverage in the NYT online.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tzedaka for Postville

The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to the AAOM by Robert Savit, physics professor at UMich, concerning what the Ann Arbor community is doing to help the former Agriprocessor employees in Postville, IA.

The ICE raid

On May 12, 2008, the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) part of the Department of Homeland Security, raided the Postville plant and detained nearly 400 undocumented workers, some of whom had false identity papers. In the following weeks, most of these workers were subjected to summary trials. About 300 of them were given prison sentences of 5 months to be followed by deportation. Another 45 or so (mostly women) were released to care for their young dependent children. These 45 were fitted with ankle bracelets to monitor their movements. The conditions of their release require them to remain in the state until their cases go to court—which will not be until October. They are forbidden from returning to any kind of work, including the packing plant. An additional 20 minors were also detained and released on humanitarian grounds, and they face a very similar situation to the adults on conditional release.

The current situation

The sentence of 5 months incarceration followed by deportation is an unusually harsh sentence and has created a humanitarian crisis in Postville. Postville is a very small community with little in the way of a social welfare system. As a result of the ICE raid, there are about 200 families of former workers at the plant that have no means of support. Their loved ones are currently in prison. These families cannot work, and continue to be tied to Postville until their loved ones are released from prison. The situation for those workers who were temporarily released is yet more uncertain in that their hearings are not scheduled until October. There is no organized relief agency in Postville, but some volunteers from the area have been working through a local church, St. Bridget’s, to provide what relief they can.


Agriprocessors is owned by orthodox Jews associated with the Chabad Lubovitch community. Agriprocessors, however, is not a Chabad organization. It is not an orthodox organization. It is not even a Jewish organization. It is merely a private business owned by orthodox, Lubovitch Jews. But in being a successful kosher meat packing plant, it is a very visible business with a very strong Jewish identity. As a result, even though there is nothing officially “Jewish” or officially “orthodox” about the business, its policies and actions necessarily reflect on the entire Jewish community, and in the perception of the non-Jewish world, has implications for the ethical foundations of our religion.

For these reasons it is vitally important that the Jewish community respond vigorously and publicly to the humanitarian crisis in Postville. We have organized a relief fund for the former workers of Agriprocessors. It is our intention to collect donations as quickly as possible from the Ann Arbor Jewish community and send those funds, on behalf of the entire Ann Arbor Jewish community, to the relief organization in Postville in support of their work with the families of the former employees of Agriprocessors. We will also work to publicize these donations and thereby try, as best we can, to counteract the public perception of unethical behavior by Agriprocessors. We hope that you will join us in donating generously to this effort.

Donations may be made on-line at using paypal. Please be sure to indicate Postville fund when prompted for the purpose of your donation. Donations can also be made by check made out to the Ann Arbor Orthodox Minyan and marked for the Postville fund. Checks should be sent to Ann Arbor Orthodox Minyan, 1606 Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. All funds collected will be sent to the St. Bridget’s Hispanic Relief Fund in Postville where they will be used to help provide basic services to the families of the workers.

Thanks very much for your help. Together we can make an important difference.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Death of the Book

I started my job this week at Hatcher library. My job is to get rid of books by giving them to developing countries (through circuitous routes) or just plain destruction. The reason for the book carnage is that, slowly, printed media is becoming obsolete. Journals are rapidly moving exclusively online to save printing costs (well, transfer the costs to us grad students, I guess), but for the moment books are safe. That is only momentary though. As opposed to the physicality of the sound from an LP or the sensual qualities of acrylic on canvas, print media offers nothing that digital representation cannot (aside from the artistic valence of text-as-art, which is distinct from text-as-text i.e. text-as-Dean Koontz).

The current big drawback is that electronic displays are too abrasive on one's eyes to permit prolonged focused exposure. Your monitor is fine for the morning paper, and even doable for a journal article, but not for 700+ pages of Harry Potter. There are technologies on the way to fix this problem. Kindle is one, though I have never seen it for myself. Within 30 years you'll have a snazzy 8.5x11" book reader (or maybe it will just be the monitor of your tablet computer) and you'll sit in your Poeng chair and read the night away. Yeah, yeah, you'll miss the book smell and feel, but it is just too expensive to continue printing media if you can just do it electronically.

I, however, am going to greatly miss the physicality of the book. Massive bookshelves, lugging 15, 20, 40 boxes of books wherever I may roam. The bigger problem for the non-bibliomaniacal people out there is how to sort through all the information. Even now I listen to my CDs more than iTunes because I just can't assimilate 8,000 songs and 1,000 artists every time I want to listen to music. Every book I own I have to buy, schlep and organize. I put it in a special place on my shelf. There are space limitations. You can't pick up every free book on the street because your apt is only so big. As media becomes increasingly electronic the space limitation disappears, and information becomes invisible and trivial. An impressive copy of "The Guide to the Perplexed" in the original hardcover is not as impressive in coverflow buried under the thousands of other books. Access to a university library system will be like Napster, you will have access to the entire collection and you will just bookmark 'your' books to your 'bookshelf.' Instead of taking up space on the coffee table books will remain check-marked and unread.

It is not that this inevitability is bad or preventable. It will be awesome when I can mark up books electronically and search effortlessly. I just want to point out that something will be lost. Going through the house as a kid you'll never ask, "What's Euripides? What's Marx? What's Ionesco?" It will all just be buried under some user profile.

One book market will still endure for the next hundred years, however- sfarim. Because we frummies can't use electricity on shabbes sfarim will have to be printed on paper (and we'll probably hoard old copies of the Classics just to have something to do on long shabbes nights and afternoons). Reason enough to make sure your kids are frum. Ironically the prophecy will finally come to and we will truly be the people of the book.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Stop Exclaiming Things!

There is a nasty habit amongst some to use unnecessary punctuation, particularly the exclamation point. This entails two problems:

1) It trivializes celebrity and 2) it can easily act to obfuscate the writer's intentions.

By writing the same thing with an exclamation point one removes much of the ambiguity in the text advancing a restricted reading. This restriction is not a problem in itself, but can often be used because the author does not want to grant the reader any amount of flexibility. "Thanks" alone can be read politely, casually or sarcastically. An exclamation point ("Thanks!" or worse, "Thanks!!!!") requires the reader to restrict the domain to genuine sincerity (unless context promotes a sarcastic reading), which is ideal for masking one's true feelings.

Now I do this all the time when in a professional setting (sending effusive emails to IT for trivial help and adding exclamation points to convey sincerity in order to keep them on my good side), but please avoid doing it for personal stuffs.

P.S. "Happy Birthday" is celebratory enough; must you add an exclamation point?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Success and Narrative Arcs

The issue of Israel returning terrorists to their homes distresses me. How is it that the remains of Israeli soldiers warrant the release of a living prisoner guilty of a particularly horrific crime? How is it that the life of on living Israeli soldier is worth that of possibly 1,000 incarcerated prisoners, many of whom have 'blood on their hands?'

One problem is that victory is gauged narratively by ultimate result. If one is free for one's whole life but dies in jail it is considered a defeat, but an 11th hour liberation is construed as triumph. This has nothing to do with Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese or Korean, it is how stories are told, we build to a climax and interpret the narrative arc by examining the trajectory from beginning to end. To counter this sort of political interpretation would it be possible to release prisoners from jail for a decade, maybe two, conditional their return to serve out the remaining sentence? The families would be reunited with their loved ones, and they would have an opportunity to put their life in order, but would live every day contemplating their cold solitary end. To liberate prisoners such as Samir Kuntar can only bolster a narrative in which resistance is victorious, bolstered by a triumphant narrative arc. (So what if the agreement is not enforceable in a meaningful way, non-compliance would provide leverage for future negotiations.)

One theory (which I am not going to track down at the moment) is that Israel is getting all its ducks in a row before it bombs Iran and arrests any possibility of negotiations with its neighbors. It doesn't alter the problem of narratives, but it would lessen my frustration with Israel's hasty gov't.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bottega Veneta- Spring Fashion 2009

Totaly says, "I'm here to fix da'na cabl."

After going through the whole slide show I really think that some designers have been doing so much for women, that they have forgotten how to design for men. Gucci is always strange, but Armani? Come on. Much more comfortable with the Prada stuff, myself. I'll take the trench coats, you can have the pinstriped prison pants.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No, you're more pretentious

I am kind of getting a kick out of people describing Barak Obama as an elitist. Mostly because it generally belies what elites they really are.

David Brooks made some comment a while back about how Barack Obama would not seem at home at an Applebee's salad bar for which Jon Stuart poked fun at him noting that Applebee's does not have a salad bar (what do I know?). Now Maureen Dowd asks Karl Rove "when was the last time he kicked back with a corncob pipe to watch professional wrestling?" That's right normal stuff. You know, good ol' Americana. Like having a banjo on my knee while shooting buck out on the prairie. Does Dowd know what people really do on Monday nights when MNF is not on?* But Rove is also a fool here for insinuating that being elite gives you any better an idea what a country club is (her characterization of the MacBook, Atlantic and NYT is spot on). Obviously, Rove is not a fool in that his purpose is to create the perception of an image (that of a WASP), even if Obama is, in fact, wholly ignorant as to the distinctions between woods and irons.

The more us educated types open our mouths, the more we demonstrate we have no clue what the rest of this country is up to.

*America for 400, the correct answer is: knocking back 40s while watching the WWE.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Low pay ain't all it's cracked up to be

My quick thought on this article is that Not For Profits are often a joke. They are poorly run with loose objectives and lots and lots of development work. Asking people for money sucks, its begging really. Why choose a career that is often unstructured, with colleagues that do not share one's professional aspirations and where begging is a large component of the job requirement?

TFA is an interesting example. Many people hate TFA and are frustrated with its unrealistic goals (throw inexperienced overachievers in the poorest schools in America for two years and watch nothing happen). Worse, however, it is soul sucking. The poverty of the ambition comes from having the life sapped out of you every single day. The poor pay (in many NFP) just exacerbates the problem.

The bottom line is that when there is a bottom line things tend to run better and be more demanding. That is why they attract Ivy Leaguers.

(Just as a disclaimer, though my former employer in a NFP, it is run rather well.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


This is why right wing scholars believe that land-for-peace is a scam:
Israel offered on Wednesday to start direct peace talks with Lebanon, saying all issues would be negotiable including a tiny piece of Israeli-held land on the countries’ border that Israel has long argued does not belong to Lebanon but that the Lebanese say is theirs.
When the UN clearly sided with Israel in this regard on June 16, 2000 saying,
After consultations throughout the weekend, the Security Council this afternoon endorsed the work done by the United Nations as mandated by the Security Council, including the Secretary-General’s conclusion that, as of 16 June, Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in accordance with Security Council resolution 425 (1978).
This brand of diplomacy completely undermines credibility. Israel needs to go back to signaling school.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Congress has enacted a statute, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), 119 Stat. 2739, that provides certain procedures for review of the detainees’ status. We hold that those procedures are not an ade­quate and effective substitute for habeas corpus. There­ fore §7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), 28 U.S.C.A. §2241(e) (Supp. 2007), operates as an unconsti­tutional suspension of the writ. (Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What is wrong with AgriProcessors?

I have been assaulted in the last week with ethical concerns regarding consuming the meat of AgriProcessors, otherwise known to the Nissim's Deli counter at Topps as Rubashkin's or Aaron's meat. So far as I can gather from the internet (and please inform me if I am wrong) AgriProcessors has not been charged with any violations by the US DOJ.
No charges have been brought against managers or owners at Agriprocessors, but there were indications that prosecutors were also preparing a case against the company. In pleading guilty, immigrants had to agree to cooperate with any investigation. -NYT
I personally do not have any ethical qualms with hiring illegal aliens and aside from the dina demanchusa aspect, I am not terribly outraged. The artilce states that the scope of this raid is unprecedented in the criminalization of illegal immigration, which leads me to interpret that Agriprocessors was made an example of rather than it being the case that they were particularly malicious. Furthermore Argi is searching for a new CEO, so it looks like they are taking steps to sort our the furor internally. The NYT article did, however, go on to say that there are allegations of employees working overtime without consistent pay, which is both assur and bad. There is no follow up mention of abuse, sexual or otherwise. Please feel free to outrage me.

Addendum: I quickly read through the affidavit for the search warrant conducted at Argiprocessors. I found the following things that disturbed me:
#16- Allegations of a drug laboratory on premises (described as incidental and not ongoing).
#49- Allegations of verbal abuse by a Rabbi accompanied by the throwing of meat.
#98- Allegations of extortion by forcing workers to purchase cars from a specific dealer.
I did not consult the Des Moines Register as I neither had access to the archives from a month ago nor did I figure that the below mentioned accusations were terribly credible if they had not made their way to subsequent reports. The NYT, Forward and JPost have all written multiple articles on the story and have not reported accusations of assault or sexual abuse.

The vast majority of the affidavit was devoted to creating cause to search the plant on the grounds of immigration violations. With regards to these violations, yes, they are concerning. As I understand it, however, these are systemic concerns that derive from a backwards U.S. immigration policy. The food industries are a notorious destination for undocumented labor and a great many employers are complicit in overlooking patently forged documents. There are a slew of charges which could result from the immigration violations, but that is the face of America's 13 million person undocumented labor force. The human trafficking, for instance, that occurs with undocumented workers is most often not morally equivalent to that which occurs in Southeast Asia or North Africa. I am undecided whether I think it is ethically wrong, as in the end you are providing a living wage (yes, $5/hr is living in Mexico or Guatemala) to millions of people who would otherwise be worse off.

WRT the obligations of us kosher eating people, and particularly kosher supervising people: I think the Jewish community needs to do a better job of making sure that 'Jewish Industries' are clean. That is an a priori responsibility. I have not given considerable thought to when an ethical violation that does not translate into a criminal violation would force me to change my consuming habits. I have absolutely no idea if the OU has any responsibility to deny supervision to a Unilever plant because they suspect wrong doing (how much suspicion? How wide spread? If rampant, why not report it to the police?). There should be a policy whereby mashgichim can report concerns they have, but I don't know what would make a factory unfit for hasgacha (again, short of criminal labor abuse).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert at 58

I have felt a connection to Tim Russert given our colocal roots. He was smart, honest and considerate. A Buffalo guy.

What is interesting is how his death has coursed through the news circuit. As the bureau chief of NBC news I think he had a lot of impact in the news world and in Washington, though he was only a talk show host to most of the viewership. Every once and a while you get to see the disconnect between what we see and what 'is.' Russert was obviously extremely influential though not an opinion maker in the way O'Reilly or Olbermann.

I have money on Olbermann to replace Russert at MTP. Anyone got a better guess?

Addendum: After reading this article in The New Yorker over shabbes I am going to side with Shmuli on this one.

Political Recognition in Arabic 103

My Arabic textbook show Israel without the West Bank or Gaza, but still circumscribing the Golan Heights.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Public (read: Zev) Service Announcement

Just a reminder to all those loyal 3W readers out there that have not made their annual $5 gift to the UofC to do so before June 30th. It is a cut an dry collective action problem--you have less money, but if we all do it our degrees are worth more. And, aw shucks, I do have a fair share of dorky school pride (which translates into financial giving, through some unknown mechanism).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Shout Out

Though I leave in a few hours to Spain I just wanted to post this piece from Volokh showcasing Dr. Dauber's prose to the world. It seems odd to me that the readers of the post are primarily interested in law while the post is written by an English professor razzing anthropologists (and English is more dutiful about historical accuracy? Is that even a problem for English? Maybe that's not what they claim to do?). I think some of the commenters ignore that when responding.

My quick two cents is that Dr. Dauber complains about the dissolution of disciplines. In the old days people would study a discipline, their discipline, and ignore others. That was annoying. So people woke up and said, "My, our discipline is so removed from reality we need to politicize it!" And thus everyone became a political theorist. Which is bad, because the world already had too many of those (and also bad for my job prospects). And now we have humanities scholars running around like political theorists without any context (intellectual, historical, etc), which is, again, annoying.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Where Life Imitates the Absurd (or The Onion)

This was reported by the BBC on April 22.

This was posted by the ONN two weeks ago, I think (it doesn't say when it was posted, but I watched it sometime before Pesach).

9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al Qaeda Says

And you actually doubted that it was, "America's Finest News Source."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Up Side, Down Side

I have been reading a lot of Kant recently. I don't particularly like Kant, not because I don't like his intellectual framework, but because I have to put too much effort in to understand him. On the up side, however, it has allowed me to trample around blurting, "I Kant, I just Kant!"
Down side, up side.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Haredi Aesthetic

I shamelessly stole this from Miriam's blog (so there). My question is different from hers, however. What is the aesthetic of the video? To whom does it appeal? The note at the end seems to imply that it is expected that non-observant (Israeli) Jews will watch it, although that might also be imagined--our culture is so appealing that others will be enamored with it. Seriously, what is the video editor thinking with all the damn wipes? Does this conform to anyone's visual aesthetic?

Original Sin in Ten Lines

I never understood the story of the nachash. And all of a sudden it just makes sense.

1. But you know you want to eat the fruit.
2. But Dad said he'll kill me.
3. He won't.
4. OK, If you say so.
5. [Sin which tastes so good]
6. {Rustle of quick cover up with fig-leaf sheets}
7. What have you done?!!!
8. But she gave it to me.
10. I'm never letting you back in My house again! And I got two things to say to you guys: you, get a job, you're gonna need it. And you, take the epidural, trust me.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How Badly do the Chagim Mess Up My Schedule This Year?

So that's the question I dread finding out every fall. The last few years have been annoying, but this fall takes the cake; Tuesday, Wednesday. Right smack dap in the middle of the week. Plus if you want/need to travel you there goes Monday. Over time, though, I have come to accept my fate.

I am pleased to report that the next few years are not quite as bad:
2009 Sat, Sun (Yay!) [3rd yr]
2010 Thurs, Fri [4th yr]
2011 Thurs, Fri [5th yr]
While Thurs, Fri is not helpful for most of the oylum, it is pretty good for academics as most classes do not meet on Friday anyway and Thursday tends to be lighter too. It also means that YK falls on shabbes so you don't lose a seventh work day.

There it goes

Right on schedule, three weeks before the big day, the poll numbers in PA start to converge. I don't know why it has to be within three weeks for people to have a clue on their voting preference, but it does.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Boy I'm Lucky

Another year, another crop of prospective grad students--all of whom are more accomplished than I. Plus they totally have their sh*t together. They want to study things like "libertarianism, particularly F.A. von Hayek, and to the role of aesthetics in political arguments" or "extra-judicial killing in the conflict involving Naxalite Maoist rebels". My personal statement was something like, "I like Hobbes, Locke sux, but I will read him if I have to. The End." Man I'm lucky they took me.

Thought on Humor: Why Marx is not funny

Not infrequently, I find myself arguing with people about humor in philosophy. I think Wittgenstein was funny. Hobbes is sort of funny. Keirkegaard is very funny. Marx is not funny. People take issue with that. Marx is very funny, they respond, he is full of quips and barbs. I came across this passage in Kant's CPrR that reminded me of this debate. He writes,
...and it is no wonder that they find inconsistencies everywhere, although the gaps they suppose they find are not in the system itself but only in their own incoherent train of thought. (p8 in the Cambridge)
While some read these sorts of cracks as an indication of the author's sense of humor, it seems strange to me to consider Kant funny. The difference between cracks and humor is where one sees inconsistencies or discontinuity. Humor is about establishing patterns and then breaking them (hence the Rule of Three). Thinkers like K and Witt. understand that there are no foundational patterns and therefore consistently undermine their own projects. Kant and Marx (la'havdil elef havdalot) find the humor (and inconsistencies) in the writings of others, but are committed to a rigidly consistent project themselves. That's why they are most certainly not funny.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I'm on strike!

I have been waiting years to say that in earnest, and now my time has arrived. I am actually on strike today. My union, the GEO, has called a two day work stoppage to protest UMich not giving us more money. I like more money, so I am participating. I don't know how I feel about keeping other people from class, though.

Monday, March 24, 2008


So I don't know if this was a joke or not, but the first two comments on this blog post of UofC slogans is so very classic. Giving a long-winded explanation on some abstruse subject only to realize that the question was much more mundane than you thought. Yup, I've done that. More than once.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Re: Stuff White People Like

On my way home from shul this evening I got to thinking, (Ortho) Jews are White, does the list of SWPL correspond to us? Surprisingly, I don't think so. There are certainly some things that correspond, e.g. coffee, but most items do not. Thinking about my cousins in Monsey or the general community in Washington Heights (as I have experienced it) Jews do not particularly like awareness, diversity, recycling, NPR, David Sedaris, Indie Music, Organic Foods or a whole host of other things on the list. There are are certainly Jews that do, but it is not representative of the community at all, really.

After 12 years of day school, three of yeshiva high school, ten years of Religious-Zionist summer camp and a year plus of Gush, why am I more White than O-Jew?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Looking over the shoulder

I, and everyone I talk to, loved Obama's speech yesterday. My friends are not typical though. So I headed over to Fox News to see what others were saying. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the only thing Bill O'Reilly could do in the face of such solid work was criticize Jesse Jackson. How is Jesse Jackson relevant??? Obviously it is an attempt to tie one black man to a less thoughtful black man (and by gezera shava they are the same), though not a terribly convincing one.

Unrelated, but my pick for a VP for Obama is Condi. I think it would be brilliant. Tying his candidacy with a moderate-right figure who has real foreign policy experience and has a very strong record on Israel. The line about Iraq might go, "In order to overcome the mistakes of the past we need to move forward together." It would be a bit hard, as she would still be serving as Secretary of State, but I think it would be a great choice.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Even birds and bees do it...

...let's do it, let's have an extramarital affair.

After all the hue and cry about Spitzer, apparently recently appointed Gov. David Patterson has also cheated on his wife (as has his wife on him). If the blind governor is also guilty of infidelity is that indicative of a larger trend? Or rather, is there anyone in this country who remains faithful?

It is hard to know if this has gotten better or worse over time so I am not going to yearn for the days of yore. My mystification is how people are so indignant about these things while the phenomenon seems so much more pervasive than anyone will admit. I guess it is better than the alternative.

Shameful (Department) Self-Promotion

U. Michigan's Political Science department is getting a new political theorist in the fall, Lisa Disch! That brings us up to six, plus Lars Rensmann, a visiting faculty member. It is a really big pick up for us as it fills our hole in contemporary political theory. Now if only I could convince them to hire a senior medievalist I would be set.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Importance of the White Male Vote

I will take a stab at election reporting in the zevian vein:

The Washington Post ran an article today with the headline: White Male Vote Especially Critical

The article stated:
In the fierce campaign between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, a battle dominated by questions of race and gender, white men have emerged as perhaps the single critical swing constituency.

In which elections in the past history of the United States have white men not emerged as "perhaps the single critical swing constituency"?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Passive Racism and Obama's Dilemma

This might be off the mark, so I hope it does not offend.

The recent controversy with Obama's pastor's 'indelicate' remarks is, I think, indicative of a certain kind of racism. As Matthew Yglesias puts it:
After all, before Obama was a half-black guy running in a mostly white country he was a half-white guy running in a mostly black neighborhood. At that time, associating with a very large, influential, local church with black nationalist overtones was a clear political asset (it's also clear in his book that it made him, personally, feel "blacker" to belong to a slightly kitschy black church). Since emerging onto a larger stage, it's been the reverse and Obama's consistently sought to distance himself from Wright, disinviting him from his campaign's launch, analogizing him to a crazy uncle who you love but don't listen to, etc.
I don't believe that Obama harbors any of these beliefs himself, but being black and organizing in the African-American community in the South Side of Chicago, these kinds of associations are inevitable. That then has the potential to mark a black candidate whereas a white one would never have to had confronted such a dilemma (and people are not nearly as outraged by culturally/sexually defamatory remarks, which might make some sense considering the position in question is serving as the executive of the United States).

Coming from a frum world where rabbomin can be less than delicate (although not quite as indelicate as Pastor Wright) I am sympathetic to this problem; I am not certain most Americans feel the same

Stuff White People Like

I feel rather implicated by Stuff White People Like (12 million hits in three months!) though I think only about 20 of the posts actually apply to me (I would venture that among my friends I could find coverage for almost all). I don't think it is as simple a parody as it comes off; I don't know that I could come up with a similar list for orthodox Jews, for instance.

My confusion is that by "white" he means, "upper middle class Americans." My cohort in grad school, for instance, is made up of a Mexican-American, Romanian, three Koreans, a Palestinian, an Indian-American and then four whites (one of which is me, as Jew, thus also white). I could of course add to this list--art museum memberships, specialty stores, imports, anything featured on Sex and the City, etc.--but it is really just a list of what urban American consumers with disposable incomes do. White here does not mean rural Americans or Republicans (though them less so). Jews, Asians, Indians and Latinos with money (who were at one point not whites), they are white.

Obviously the fact that I was prompted to write this post at all means that I find the blog both funny and humiliating. Another thing whites like is writing about themselves.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Just Another Airline Kvetch to Add to the Pile

I have a flight from Chicago O'Hare to Newark and on to Madrid in two months. Having decided that I want to spend some time in New York before I leave (you're on notice O&M) I figured I would just get on at Newark. So I called Continental today. Sure, no problem. We just need to recalculate the fees, an extra $5 (which already makes no sense). OK, I can deal with an extra $5, oh, and did we forget the penalty fee. Penalty? What, high sticking? Slashing? Changing a reservation? And this was no two minute minor either, they wanted $200! That's right, an extra $205 and so I could open up a seat for them from ORD to EWR!

Mamesh ganovim. Ptew.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Let's talk about "linked," shall we.

When I first read the NYT headlines "Spitzer Linked to Prostitution Ring" I thought that he was materially involved with organizing the ring (hence the txt mssg, Oren). That would have been very, very bad; but he wasn't. He was a "client." I am not "linked" to Hiller's Market just because I buy kosher Munster there, nor am I linked to BP because I fill my car at a BP station. Consumers and distributors just have different levels of culpability and the article's syntax masked that. I am not going to get all philosophy of language at the moment, but the NYT was irresponsible, sensationalist and stupid. (Yes, Jeremy, you get a point.)

Monday, March 10, 2008


Thednesday is the day in the week that is not really there. It doesn't occur every week, or most weeks for that matter. It doesn't even appear regularly; you can't say, "Did you know there's a Thednesday in two weeks?" But when it's Thednesday, you know. It's that day that makes it seem that the week is longer than it ought to be.* When you're, like, "It's only Tuesday?" that's because it's not Tuesday, it's Thednesday.
Today is totally Thednesday.

*For some reason, though, weeks with Thednesdays are no more productive than weeks without. I would venture to guess less productive, actually.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I knew this was going to happen

Clinton won OH 54/44 and TX 51/48 and will probably lose the delegate race there. She needed a blowout and got a puff, so how has she "turned the corner"? If you look at exit polls Clinton cleaned up in the Latino vote (generally gaining 10 points over the avg for any given age demographic). All the remaining contests have negligible Latino presence. Obama will blow out Clinton in NC and Clinton will win PA as the east of the state loses out to the west, but barely. Wolfson must have the Press intimidated, or something.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hamas, the UN, and Accountability

As long as the UN's humanitarian aid continues to pour into Gaza, a Hamas regime will not be held accountable by its people for either supplying or not supplying food, electricity, medicine, and other humanitarian essentials. The same holds, mutatis mutandis, for rogue states around the world.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Wonder (n)
Wonder (v)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dark Hole at the End of the Tunnel

I spoke with a good friend the other day who is finishing up his PhD who was telling me how frustrated he is in academia and how he wants out. After he mentioned it I thought of all the people I know who finished their PhDs (or got a good way through) and have not gone on to academics (though it was their initial intention). I count eight ten right now (an eleventh hated his discipline very much upon finishing, but has since found his place), although that includes one where industry provides him as many opportunities for research as does the academy, with better funding prospects.

I don't know that many people. Why is the academy so bad at hanging on to good people?

Clinton Legacy?

A simple question: If Hillary looses her bid for the Democratic nomination, why/how has Bill Clinton, the most successful (beloved?) Democratic president since JFK or possibly Truman/FDR, not been able to get either of his two surrogates in the Whitehouse?

I think the answer has something to do with America's political mind and our idea of the presidency. At its core, the position is not reserved for a policy wonk, but a leader. Neither Gore nor HRC have the charisma of Clinton42 and that is really what America responds to. (This is totally why I stopped wanting to be President in second grade and learned that I really wanted to be Secretary of State or a Sr. Advisor.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's not just assimilation

This Pew Research study of religions in America is getting good exposure. Haaretz broke down some interesting stats here. Here are some things I took away:

1. Only 1.7% of America is Jewish (Comparable to Mormons)
2. < 0.3% is Jewish Orthodox. So there are at most ~900,000 (age 18+) of "us" in this great country. Pew's methodology states that they conducted random telephone interviews. I would guess that the "ultra-orthodox" a) have cell phones and not land lines b) are less inclined to answer surveys in general, and may be unable to do so because of language barriers.
3. 72% of Jews (18+) have no children. 82% of Conservative Jews have no children, the highest of any religious group (compare that to 46% of Jews making $100,000+, the highest for any religious group). Even if we consider that the 18-30 demographic is not as likely to have children, that still leaves 57.6% of Jews 30+ and 64% of Conservative Jews with no children. As a further piece of datum that I do not know what to do with, 81% of Jews have been in a committed relationship at some point in their life. How much overlap there is between the remaining 19% and the 18-30 age demographic is unclear.

Let's do a sad back-of-the-envelope calculation. Let's assume that 55% of Jews marry non-Jews and of the 45% of remaining Jews 58% of them have no children. Let's also guess that the avg # of children for those that do decide to have children is 2 (which is about right). In that case, every 100 Jewish adults produces 19 Jewish children! That is a total low ball figure, as ~50% of those that inter-marry still produce halachikally Jewish children, but there is a rather high chance that they will not affiliate as well.

19 for every hundred is not replacement, no where close.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don't Touch that Political Dial

So you think Hillary is done? Out? Kaput?
I crunched the numbers. Taking all the remaining elections I assumed:
Clinton wins TX, OH & PA 60/40 and wins PR 100/0 (Puerto Rico is winner take all)
Obama wins the remaining states 55/45
In such a case Clinton leads in the coming contests 589/489. Adding that to the total delegates currently projected by the NYT (982/1095 HRC/BHO) Clinton is only down by 13. Since thats really only -7 (because any delegate lost from Obama is a pickup for Clinton) she would only need a handful of upsets to best Obama at the pledged delegate game.

Far from over.

Update: I just put in the delegates awarded from WI & HI along with even poll numbers in TX and a closing 10 point spread in OH. Assuming a 50/50 split in TX and 45/55 split in OH for HRC we get:
1559/1657 HRC/BHO
Even including PR that is a 98 delegate lead for Obama. It's looking bleaker for HRC.