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?