Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Great Myths of the Great Depression



A nice article (pdf) by Lawrence W. Reed (html version here).

Liberal feedforward cycle of stupidity — take two (Israel)



Following the theme of cycles of stupidity. Noah Pollack writes about liberals stuck in the cease-fire ideology cycle:

The Israeli writer David Grossman has an op-ed that appears in both today’s New York Times and Guardian. Grossman says that “the most important lesson we must learn” from the Lebanon war in 2006 is that every military offensive should be halted after a few days to allow a cease-fire, so that the enemy can pause to take the measure of Israel’s destructive capabilities, and — for Grossman, this is really the more important point — Israel can restrain itself “[a]gainst the deadly logic of military power and the dynamic of escalation.”

It is interesting that cycle-of-violence fetishists, who are absolutely certain that military action is part of the problem, do not recognize the problem of the cycle of cease-fires. There is an opportunity right now to deal a crippling blow to Hamas, and it will require ground combat, more air strikes, and the maintenance of the IDF’s violence of action. There is indeed a cycle between Israel and its enemies, but the problem is not the cycle of violence. The problem is that every time the IDF is poised to strike a decisive blow against the enemy, the David Grossmans of the world emerge to plead for restraint exactly at the moment when restraint is the last thing that should be considered.

The best analogy to date is that of a doctor treating a cancer patient with half-measures (e.g., 75% of recommended radiation doze), never completing the job and having to come back to treat the tumor that returned, r”l. (All the while moaning and groaning about the damage the treatment does to so many living, “peaceful bystander” cells.)

A paratrooper report, from front lines

From Chabad.org: “Exclusive Report from the Gaza Front” by Yared Ben Caro.

How can you help? Do an extra mitzva. Cause another Jew to do an extra mitzva, light a Shabbos candle extra week, put tefillin one extra time (no, not on the same day :), learn some extra Torah. Increase in your commitment to Hashem, in your level of Yiddishkeit — wherever it is.

Some more examples of palestinian propaganda in AP

Palestinian Propaganda 101”.

Israel Defense Force videos

From PowerLine blog:
This morning, Scott noted that the Israeli Defense Force had set up a YouTube channel to which it uploaded videos of the fighting in Gaza, but YouTube deleted some of the videos. With the assistance of Noah Pollak, we’ve obtained the videos and will be posting them this afternoon.
Go to the link above to see the two videos. I just watched them — very-very cool stuff. You can see missiles being loaded on a truck in the first video until — bam! The second one has “some remarkable videos transmitted from the noses of rockets or missiles”.

Also, this:



Other videos of IDF’s YouTube channel here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One year in fourty seconds

Super cool. Make sure to go to YouTube and watch it in HD.



Also, see this. After watching it, I surprisingly realized that I miss spring and summer a little. Maybe because winter in Boston is so boring (difference between winters in Boston and where I grew up reminds me of the difference in drinking habits of American and Russian students — Americans don’t drink regularly and then go and get completely drunk Friday night, sometimes ending up in ER; Russians, on the other hand, drink a lot regularly).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bikkurim



Masada String Trio:
Greg Cohen — bass,
Mark Feldman — violin,
Erik Friedlander — cello,
John Zorn — conductor
(live at Warsaw Summer Jazz Days 1999, Poland).

I am told the technique is called pizzicato. Slower audio version here.

Also like “Sippur”.

A year after my wedding

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61NynI9F6jL._SL500_AA280_.jpg

No, not my wedding (unfortunately). Just a klezmer song.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chanukah and nimna ha’nimnois

Can G-d create a rock He cannot lift? Can impossible things exist? Is G-d limited by logic?

How was it possible for Chanukah oil to be miraculous if kosher oil for menorah has to be natural? If the oil was natural, how did the miracle happen?

For this and much more, for synthesis of deepest Kabbalistic and Chassidic concepts with Halachic questions (posed by no less than Brisker Rav and answered by no less than Lubavitcher Rebbe), listen to this audio-shiur by Rabbi Yossi Paltiel. No knowledge of deep concepts in Judaism necessary.

Regarding Rubashkins

Interesting post from TRS blog.

http://www.crownheights.info/media/4/20060704-tehillim-smlr.jpg

Idiocy of liberalism on the march

Talmudic debate on relevance of Chanukah

From Yeshiva.net, by Rabbi Yossi Jacobson. (No more specific link yet.)

Speaking of Talmud —
A Jew came to Tzemach Tzedek and asked: “What should I do that I do not enjoy learning Torah?” The Rebbe answered: “And what should I do that I do enjoy learning Torah?”

C’est la vie

A Russian joke:
An English lord is sitting in his office; he hears noise outside his windows, loud shots. He calls his butler and asks:
— Barrymore, what is going on?
— London prostitutes are protesting; they say they need higher pay, sir.
— And are they really getting low pay?
— I wouldn’t say so, sir.
— So why are they protesting?
— Whores, sir.
OK, the joke (like most Russian jokes) is poorly translatable into English. But, why did I suddenly think of this joke? Well, I usually think about whores when I read about news media. This time, it was a little piece here by Istapundit.
American media opinionator Greg Mitchell at HuffPo, silent on missiles coming out of Gaza, decries American media opinion silence on missiles going back into Gaza.
There is nothing new under the moon.

Eight night of chanukah in 770

Can you feel the love?

Between sister Muslim/Arab (or whatever the hell the inhabitans of Gaza are) nations…

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A good legislator — leftist model

http://blogs.kansas.com/weblog/files/obamacaroline.jpg
(“Your Daddy didn’t do a good enough job of screwing this country. I will make sure to go further than any socialist has gone before. One small step for man, one giant leap for world proletariat.”)

Arbat reports about Caroline Kennedy, new NY senator (in place of Hillary whose claim to fame at the start of her political career was her hard work as a President’s wife — and a failed attempt to nationalize medicine). In case you are not already satisfied by Caroline’s credentials (her being a daughter of the ask-not-what-your-country-should-do-for-you dude and a niece of the guy who held the exact same position — what else does one need?), Albert Hunt puts an end to all cynical skepticism:
She hasn’t held office or paid her political dues but has been the guiding force behind the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. […] She has all the qualities — intellectual curiosity; a friendly, at times pointed, sense of humor, and a deferential manner (she hails her own cabs) — that are the stuff of a good legislator.
Wow. How dare those conservative bastards even say anything against such impressive résumé? Forget the NY senator — make her the Empress of Galaxy! Have you ever heard of a politician with a sense of humor (at times pointed) who hails her own cabs? I mean, it’s like asking whether Einstein is a good scientist. Duh…

Schizophrenic toys

image

Speaking of schizophrenia in design — how about these toys?

(More toys.)

Signatures

Russian signatures are a form of folk art. Nobody simply signs his name. The signature has to be a form of Chinese calligraphy. Artemiy Lebedev asked his blog’s visitors to publish their passports’ signatures (of the cops who issued them the passports).

Some examples:


(The first time I see a signature with arrows — not to mention a spiral pin. “One can state safely”, says Levedev, “that the head of 2nd Moscow Police department was schizophrenic.”)

An arrow and a star:



And some samples from his readers:



42.91 КБ



















45.06 КБ

The main themes seem to be round signatures in Chinese-character style and repetitive lines symptomatic of orbitofrontal cortical damage (or obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Lincoln Square vs. Chabad seminary


(source)

Very nice post (although I do not agree with its conclusion fully) on Dixie Yid blog. The author of the post (I am not sure if it’s the Dixie Yid or a guest poster) talks about the difference between Modern Orthodox approach to attracting ba’alei teshuva (by focusing on the benefits in this world that one can reap from learning Torah) and the more “right-wing” approach of Chabad of explaining how one directly connects to G-d (and fulfills the essense of one’s existence) through Torah and mitzvos.

Although the author is more attracted to the second technique, there is a third option: of using the first approach initially (to fool one’s animal soul — as in the famous story when the horses driving a carriage were going fast because they wanted to get quickly to a warm place and food, and the sages in the carriage wanted to go fast because they needed to get to a place of learning) and then proceeding to the second approach of learning how Torah connects a Jew to G-d.

I disagree with this “compromise” (you can read my opinion in the comments), although I do admit that initially one needs to learn Torah on his “level”. We encounter the same idea in “Shuva Yisroel” the third ma’amor of Rebbe Rashab’s hemshech Ranat (Rabbi Paltiel’s first class on “Shuva Yisroel” is here), and the same is emphasized in Kuntres HaTefillo.

Before one prays to Hashem, one needs to reach the level where one “knows in front of whom [he is] standing”. It is very well to feel emotion and meaningfulness during davening, but are those directed towards G-d or towards you? To make sure it’s towards G-d, one needs to know what we mean by “G-d”. Of course, the essence of G-d cannot be grasped, but first of all, even this idea needs to be understood positively (there is a difference between a physicist saying he doesn’t know what happens inside a Black Hole — or a doctor saying he doesn’t know how to cure cancer — and an ignorant person saying that), and second, we need to understand the aspects of G-d’s revelation into the world.

During the first stages of one’s growth, however, it is of no use to think of the levels within Or Ein Sof lifnei ha’tzimtzum (G-dly Light as it exists before its contraction preceding creation) or meditate on all the vessels, lights and partzufim of the higher worlds. These things mean nothing to your nefesh ha’bahamis (animal soul), and the purpose of davening is for nefesh ha’Elokis (G-dly soul) to transform nefesh ha’bahamis. In order to do this, the former needs to talk on terms of the latter.

Therefore, until one has reached a higher level, one needs to think of Hashem as He is invested in seider hishtalshelus (creation — spiritual and physical) and specifically this world. Therefore, one needs to start with meditation of how G-d creates the whole world every second, enlivens the soul of all existence, and gives every creature what it needs and desires. How we completely depend on G-d, how He is merciful, and how He directs our lives with mercy and meaningfulness.

This, by the way, is why psukei d’zimra speak about physical things that Hashem does (there is a deeper explanation — that davka in the physical things is the Essence of G-d, but that’s for a more advanced level of hisboinenus). We need to make animal soul interested in what G-dly soul is talking about (and therefore, speake with it on its terms), so that G-dly soul can then fransform it in the process of davening.

The major difference between all of the above and Modern Orthodox “Lincoln Square” approach is that while thinking about G-d as source of our lives (and not about His Essence), we are still thinking about G-d! Sure, it’s the lowest “level” of G-dly Revelation, which is as nothing comparing to higher levels, which are as nothing comparing to His Essence — but this is still G-d! At the same time, in “Lincoln Square” approach one thinks not about G-d but about this world and himself — what tools to be successful in this life will Torah provide me with?

Play Go — it’s good for your brain

http://www.crownheights.info/media/4/20061224-Rabaiyim-Playing-Chess.jpg

Chess is good.

Go is better. To play (or watch games), go to KGS Go Server. To learn about Go, visit Sensei’s Library.

Go is good for everything. For passing time and having fun, for developing logical skills, for developing spatial skills, for music, for science, for fencing, for — lehavdil — Gemara. It may even help with fighting off potential Alzeimer’s.

* * *

In tractate Pesachim, it says that we don’t do an organized Torah study until we are done with bdikas chametz the night of the 14th of Nissan (since we may get so caught up in the study that we forget to do bdikas chametz or do it not thoroughly enough). Think about it: no Torah study the Eve of Pesach. Neither birthday nor yartzeit. (No chess either, though.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Does Madoff scandal show need for greater regulation?


(People’s memory is short. In less than one hundred years, history repeats itself — in both countries.)

Sheldon Richman analyzes Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten’s opinion regarding supposed failure of deregulation (can the deregulation please stand up and show itself?) as supposedly exemplified by Madoff scandal. Rutten writes:
The lesson is one that becomes clearer with each excruciating turn of the Wall Street screw. The long, bipartisan experiment with financial deregulation has failed utterly. The argument that a return to rigorous oversight will somehow stifle Wall Street’s ‘creativity’ is no longer convincing. Whatever its theoretical costs, regulation is dramatically cheaper than intervention. And absolutist insistence on the superiority of ‘individual choice’ and ‘free markets’ now is exposed as so much vacant rhetoric. Any system that permits a scam artist like Madoff to deceive not just widows and orphans but also sophisticated investors, like Fairfield Greenwich Group’s Walter Noel and Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, isn’t a market at all; it’s a shooting gallery.
Richman answers:
The last sentence is a tip-off that something is wrong with this outlook. Financial regulation is usually proposed to protect the unsophisticated. People knowledgeable about finance and securities presumably can take care of themselves. But what makes the Madoff scandal so noteworthy is that the most sophisticated types were taken in, even though several experts sounded alarms. Why?

The other thing to note about Rutten’s position is that there has been no relevant financial deregulation to speak of. In fact, since Enron’s collapse, regulation has intensified and the regulatory budget has grown. The SEC already requires investment and hedge-fund managers with assets over $100 million to file quarterly reports. Under prodding from outside, the SEC looked at Madoff’s operation more than once but found no major problems. Moreover, Madoff’s alleged crimes involve fraud. Have any laws against fraud been repealed?

Contrary to Rutten, whose prejudice against “individual choice” and “free markets” is palpable, these two facts — sophisticated victims and pervasive regulation — demonstrate the failure not of the free market (which did not exist) but rather of regulation.

How can that be?

Begin the obvious: a false sense of security is worse than none at all. When people believe government is protecting them from bad financial services, they are more vulnerable to scams than if they knew they had to protect themselves. The government’s huge regulatory apparatus broadcasts one unmistakable subliminal message: Have no fear because Big Brother is watching over you. Is it any wonder that people are less wary than they would be if they did not believe that?

As long as government plays a regulatory role — or people believe it does — they will assume that key activities are being monitored. And even when an activity is known to be unregulated, the implication is that if regulation were needed, government would be doing it. Why else did worldly investors fall for Madoff’s self-described “giant Ponzi scheme”?

The call for regulation assumes — without grounds — that government can protect investors from con men. But government regulators have never been able to make good on that promise. Con men prosper no matter how much the government regulates. They often understand the system better than the people running it. (Madoff was an insider!)

Looking to government regulation for security merely adds another avenue for corruption. Ordinarily people are cautious when someone promoting a product stands to profit by its sale. But regulators are supposedly disinterested and don’t profit by their activities. All they want to do is protect the public interest — and they have the state’s imprimatur vouching for them. That’s the theory at any rate.

In fact, they are human beings like us all, with the same kinds of motives and goals — and temptations. To the extent we think they are saints, we make ourselves vulnerable to scams. (Speaking of Ponzi schemes, check out Social Security and Medicare¹.)

What’s the solution? Super-regulators to watch the regulators? And who watches the super-regulators? Face it: there is no security in regulation. Rather, there’s only a dangerous illusion of security, not to mention a drag on economic growth as the bureaucracy interferes with honest traders.

The claim of free-market advocates is not that we need no protection from the unscrupulous. Rather, it’s that protection is maximized by undiluted market discipline — profit and loss — and buyer-beware skepticism.
_______________
¹ When I said as much last Shabbos before kiddush in a conversation regarding Madoff scandal, a local socialist said (admittedly, as a joke) that my political views are somewhere right of Genghis Khan. :) Perhaps I should send him this post.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Math poetry in Russian

Math, of course, is international language, but some math makes sense only in specific languages — for example, math poetry. If you don’t understand Russian, don’t even try to figure this out. Читать с выражением:
Pushkin

17 30 48
140 10 01
126 138
140 3 501

Mayakovsky

2 46 38 1
116 14 20!
15 14 21
14 0 17 .

Yesenin

14 126 14
132 17 43...
16 42 511
704 83

170! 16 39
514 700 142
612 349
17 114 02

Omar Khayyám

147 14 05
512 8 45
7 48 20 90
0 29 30 25

Happy:

2 15 42
42 15
37 08 5
20 20 20!

7 14 100 0
2 00 13
37 08 5
20 20 20!

Sad:

511 16
5 20 337
712 19
2,000,047

For what it’s worth, though, this is how Shakespeare translated to Russian sounds.

(I was going to write another post about Oral Torah vs. Written Torah and so on, but decided against it.)

Misplaced

My mother just told me that she cannot watch Russian TV channels from Dish Network, because apparently (as the company’s representative told her), the particular satellite used for some international channels “got lost”. They just can’t find it… somehow.

Monday, December 22, 2008

How government created economic turmoil



Quite a detailed presentation (but worth watching its full length) on the sources of the financial crisis being routed in the government’s actions.
At Reason’s 40th anniversary event, held in Hollywood on November 14 and 15, the American Enterprise Institute’s Peter Wallison analyzed the roots of the current market meltdown and explained how government policies directly caused or massively exacerbated the housing bubble and the subsequent bust at the center of things.

The Arthur F. Burns Fellow in financial studies and codirector of AEI’s program on financial markets deregulation, Wallison is the author of several books including most recently, Competitive Equity: A better way to manage mutual funds.

Approximately 25 minutes.
Watch the bigger version here.

Some of Wallison’s articles: “What Got Us Here?”, etc.

Police state — reportage from Russia

People of Vladivostok, Russia are protesting against tariffs that would make foreign cars twice expensive and “protect” national car industry. Sounds familiar?

Of course, US government is not as advanced in its methods:



See also this video.

It seems Japanese cars are an international threat to national rubbish produced locally — in the US or across the ocean(s).

Chanukah ma’amor: Mem-gimmel — Tannu Rabbanan — Ner Chanukah; driving through snow


(the proper shape of Menorah — with straight branches)

I am happy to say I drove safely through beginning of snow storm to spend Shabbos by my rabbi; then was able to dig out my car, as well as his and his son’s (with whom I had some interesting conversations). Apparently, I left one of the windows in the car a little open over Shabbos (during the snow storm). No permanent damage. Then, today I drove to NYC (in the morning) and (tonight) back. Yes, I am crazy. But maybe one of my relatives lit a menorah tonight as a result of my trip (no, that wasn’t the whole point of the trip — I wish…).

Meanwhile: a good ma’amor to learn during the Chanukah. The topic is one of my favorites: “Ani Hashem Loi Shanisi” (I, G-d, have not changed) — what does it mean, on multiple levels, from G-d being the Master of the Universe, causing every minute change every single second (then how does He not change?) to G-d as He is in His Essence. As usual, Rabbi Paltiel’s shiurim are full with chassidishe stories, great mosholim and nice ellucidation of deepest topics in Chassidus. The ma’amor doesn’t mention the explanations provided by Tzemach Tzedek or Mittler Rebbe (in Chapter 9 of Sha’ar HaYichud), but provides new and (in the style of Rebbe Rashab) well-structured explanations that touch more of seider hishtalshelus.

I was listening to this ma’amor tonight while driving from NYC. I-95 was fine; I-91 was OK (averaging 65 mph); I-84, however, was frozen for the most part. I could not drive above 35 mph, because my ten-year-old Nissan with its all-season tires immediately turned into a boat (something I discovered on Friday while driving through the beginning of the snow storm to my rabbi), but I could not drive slower than 30 mph, because I needed momentum to go through the snow. All the while big eighteen-wheelers were driving by (or I was driving by them, when I wanted to go faster). The separation between lanes completely deteriorated — cars and trucks were going where there was some break from ice (which would sometimes end abruptly, forcing cars to drive/float to a different “lane”).

I-90 was a little better; it started raining and got quite foggy. Unfortunately, on that portion of the highway, there seems to be some white dust in the air, which makes my windows dirty and difficult to see through. At this point, however, I ran out of window washing liquid, so I had to rely on moisture from passing cars to clean my front window.

My town was a total amechaya: completely frozen and white (in comparison to boring-grey Brooklyn); being able to drive below 30 mph without danger of being run over was nice (in fact, there were so few cars on the street late at night that it reminded me of Dickensian times with cabs plowing through the snow).

While driving on the icy interstate, a few thoughts ran through my mind:

1. Wow, this is really dangerous. Hey, look at another car by the side of the road!
2. It would suck to be an atheist right now.
3. At the same time, I feel nothing. I almost just slid into that truck while changing lanes, but I feel no emotions. This, I guess, is what adrenaline does to you.
4. [A bunch of neuroendocrinological pathways allowing for point 3.]
5. Were these roads privately owned, they would be in a much better condition.
6. Something I read in a sicho of the Rebbe. The lights of Chanukah menorah are actually a lot like Chassidus (and, lehavdil, String Theory). Here’s how:

Greeks introduced the idea of “secular Judaism”; Hellenist Jews tried to create what pretty much modern-day Israel and many “Jewish” communities throughout US are; fanatical “Orthodox” Jews battled against them (and the forces of assimilation) and created a new reality in Torah; as a result, Chanukah Menorah was lit. Today, we have nothing remaining from the Temple. Sure, certain things are done instead of services and rituals of the Temple (e.g., davening, washing for bread, etc.), but the services themselves do not exist. With the exception of lighting of Menorah. That, at least in its appearance, exists — as instituted by the Rabbonim.

Here we have the classical Chassidic idea of descent for the sake of ascent. We have Greeks defiling Jewish land, Jewish culture, religion and finally, Beis HaMikdosh, which lead, however, to creation of a new level of yiddishkeit and an aspect of Beis HaMikdosh which proved resistant to destruction of the Temple, exile, and even assimilation (Chanukah and menora remain the most popular Jewish symbols even, ironically, amongst assimilated Jews — even though these symbols celebrate the defeat of the ideas that govern these Jews’ lives).

The descent lead to revelation of something eternal existing beyond limitations of time and boundaries between darkness and light. Light within darkness itself was revealed — and this light was stronger than the light “imposed” on darkness. When you open windows and a dark room becomes illuminated, nothing about the room’s essence has changed — once the windows are closed, the room will revert to darkness. But if you reveal the light hidden within the room itself, within its darkness, then it will remain glowing always, unconditionally. This is what the coming of Mashiach, geulah and dira b’tachtoinim are all about: revelation of light within darkness. Revelation of G-d within physicality of this world.

So, tapping into its spiritual source of eternality and revelation of light within darkness, the act of lighting of Chanukah menora draws closer the light of the Menora that will be lit in the actual Beis HaMikdosh, which will be rebuilt speedily in our days, with the coming of Mashiach.

* * *

I was told today by a complete stranger to “stop torturing mice and go back to yeshiva”. I wish it were this easy. Well, maybe it is…

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yud Tes Kislev: Public service announcement

Please locate your closest Chabad House and proceed to a farbrengen tonight and tomorrow.

More to follow.

Political correctness or criminal liberal sickness?

A good read from Power Line blog: “Hand-Wringing Over Terrorirsts”.

It’s unclear to me what “deeper understanding” of a group that trained, armed and equipped the Mumbai terrorists to engage in both targeted and indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people would be required to conclude that they are, indeed, terrorists themselves.

Then, of course, there is the difficult case of Hamas, which celebrated its 21st anniversary today. In some circles, the fact that an organization boasts of its terrorist exploits would be enough to justify calling it a “terrorist” organization. But the Times’ approach is considerably more subtle:

To the consternation of many, The Times does not call Hamas a terrorist organization, though it sponsors acts of terror against Israel. Hamas was elected to govern Gaza. It provides social services and operates charities, hospitals and clinics. Corbett said: “You get to the question: Somebody works in a Hamas clinic — is that person a terrorist? We don’t want to go there.” I think that is right.

Yeah, that's a tough one all right. It's a lot like when the Nazis were elected to govern Germany, and they provided all kinds of social services and sponsored cultural events and sports festivals. That created a situation that was just too ambiguous for our newspapers to deal with.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Men vs. women — from Neuroscience to Judaism


(Excitatory neuron is in red. Inhibitory neurons controlling its activity are in blue and green. Click on the picture to see more detail. Source: the quoted paper.)

From “Development of GABA innervation in the cerebral and cerebellar cortices” (Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2007, 8: 673–686) by Huang et al.:
In many regions of the vertebrate brain, neural networks consist of two broad classes of neurons: excitatory principal neurons and inhibitory interneurons. Although excitatory neurons often constitute the vast majority of the neurons that make up neural circuits, by themselves they would only generate an avalanche of excitation, and they would not be able to perform useful computations. It is often the inhibitory interneurons that provide the functional balance, complexity and computational architecture of neural circuits.

Interneurons that use GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) as their transmitter have far more functions than just the “inhibition” of other neurons. For example, GABA transmission regulates synaptic integration, probability and timing of action potential generation, and plasticity in principal neurons.

Furthermore, interneurons generate and maintain network oscillations, which provide the temporal structures that orchestrate the activities of neural ensembles. The functional output of principal cells — the neural code embedded in their firing patterns — is largely determined by the temporal and spatial dynamics of inhibition in the network.
In other words, it is very well for excitatory cells to be the “representatives” of a specific cortical area and be responsible for sending information to other areas and even sub-cortical structures (all the way to periphery — e.g., to muscles), but it is the interneurons who determine what sort of information will be sent out.

According to Rabbi Gottlieb’s lecture on the differential role of men and women in Judaism (part of a series called “Men and Women”), the former play the role of “representatives” of their families in the society at large. Furthermore, they are the ones taking active roles in the society: witnesses in court, rabbis, judges, kings. In a synagogue, men pray in minyanim, wear their talleisim and tefillin, get an aliyah for reading of the Torah and give over divrei Torah in front of an adience.

(The reason why women do not take an active role in the society is also discussed. As expected, it has to do with cherishing privacy and not drawing public attention to oneself, which for women is crucial, but for men is merely important.)

Without women, however, men would be unable to make correct decisions — or, at least, it is rare that they (choose to) do so. Rabbi Gottlieb distinguishes between authority and power. Authority is a legal concept; power is a pragmatic concept. A king (or a president) may have authority to make any decree (and a bill does not become a law without his “stamp of approval”), but the “power behind the throne” — whoever it is — is who determines what the decree will be and whether it will be passed or not. Without this power-figure, the authority-figure would be blind and... well, powerless.

If we confuse authority and power, it may seem that women are powerless in Judaism. We must realize, however, that just like an excitatory neuron does not fire without its inhibitory neurons telling it how and when to fire (and what information to transmit), in Judaism, men’s public decisions depend crucially on their wives’ private control, advice and approval (or lack of thereof).

Svyatoslav Richter playing Chopin



From the web-site with the clip:
Richter was admired by many, including the late Glenn Gould, as “one of the most powerful musical communicators of our time”, and rightly so. Here, from the film “Richter: The Enigma”, he plays Chopin’s Etude No. 4, Op. 10 — a piece he became known for after he set a record for the fastest performance of it, in London, at a time of 1:32. [In this clip he's a tad on the slower side, clocking in at about 1:35… ;)] Some criticize him for the speed at which he often plays, feeling it detracts from the lyricism of the music. But to all but the least discriminating ear, Richter possesses both amazing technical and artistic abilities; even here, at this speed, his tone is clear, the integrity of the phrasing is preserved, and his passion is palpable.
Chopin was probably rolling in his grave. “To play my music as if I was some… Beethoven!”

Can you imagine this guy playing a Chabad niggun — e.g., “Shamil” or “Poltava niggun”?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Everybody is out to get Eisav — Parshas Vayishlach


(source)

A lot of Shakesperian action in the last two parshios — on the spiritual level. Drama upon drama in the play of forces of essence and superficiality.

Among the people who tried to make Eisav better, thereby utilizing the amazing potential he had and bringing forth Era of Mashiach (which, of course, would be called something else… like, “Era of Dira B’Tachtoinim”) were:
  • Rivka (one has to assume — since she wasn’t too worried about one of her sons having a tendency to idolatry)
  • Yitzchok (in the last week’s parsha)
  • Leia (was destined to; ended up marrying Yakov)
  • Yakov (in this week’s parsha)
  • Dina, Leia’s daughter (was destined to; ended up being left behind by Yakov, who meanwhile became Yisroel; Dina was then raped, ostracized by her brothers and married Yosef)
* * *
What does this mean?

Eisav’s soul was a that of Baal Teshuva extraordinaire. He was naturally attracted to idolatry. He was the man of the world. He was interested in using spiritual to help him with the physical. He was a smart, resourseful, cunning, powerful man, son and grandson of holy people.

When Rivka realized that she had twins, she knew what was up: a standard model of Keser (the pre-sphera of the Seder Hishtalshelus, the chain of spiritual Tree of Life piercing the Universe). There is the essence, pnimi, and there is the outward aspect, makif. Pnimi is higher than makif. But makif also consists of two parts: pnimi of makif and makif of makif. Makif of makif (external of external) is lower than pnimi proper. But pnimi of makif (internal of external) is higher than anything.

If you are confused, think of it this way: something essential is higher than something superficial. But reveal the essence of the superficial, and you are going even higher.

http://isurvived.org/Pictures_Isurvived/Chagall-loneliness.GIF

So, Rivka tried (apparently) to bring out the essence of her second, superficial son. Didn’t work out. She realized she must invest her efforts into the other son, Yakov, who meanwhile received Eisav’s inheritance (step 1). Yitzchok wanted to bless Eisav to draw out his essence, but Yakov (supported by Rivka) got the blessing for himself (step 2). Instead, Eisav’s father blessed him that he would get his brother’s help to reveal his essence by subjugating himself to his brother (bittul) — something Eisav did not find very exciting.

* * *

Let’s shift our focus away from Eretz Kna’an for a second. Rivka had a brother, Lavan. He had two daughters: Leia and Rochel. The eldest, Leia, was “outgoing” (as we learn from the meforshim for this parsha), but in a positive sense — not in a masculine way of conquering but in a feminine way of kind influence. A perfect match for Eisav; a perfect opportunity to draw out his essence. Leia was not really happy about this prospect, however, and cried a lot (as a result, her eyesight suffered, making her less beautiful — ever saw the thick glasses frum girls wear?).



No reason to cry: Lavan (“the White” — hinting at the lofty level of his source) tricked the trickster Yakov and forced him to marry Leia. Bam! — Yakov got Eisav’s another secret weapon (step 3).

* * *

Fast-forward twenty years. Yakov is leaving Lavan. He meets with Eisav. He is ready for Dira B’Tachtoinim to happen. He sends his spiritual forces (angels) of pnimiyus to “convert” Eisav, reveal his essence and usher in the Era of Heaven on Earth. Eisav refuses to cooperate. As a result, two things happen.

First, Yakov leaves Dina (Leia’s daughter, who, like her mother, was destined to marry Eisav and bring about the necessary change in him) behind him. As a result, she “goes out” (just like her mother); she is raped; her brothers have conflict with locals; Dina is ostracized, moved to Egypt and ends up marrying Yosef (who bring the whole family to Egypt, institutes socialism in the whole land, which results in the family’s slavery and eventual Exodus from Egypt and granting of the Torah). Step 4.

In addition, Eisav sends his spiritual forces in a form of an angel to battle with Yakov. Yakov prevails in the fight and forces the angel to bless him. The forces of superficiality, of power, of dominance, of being part of the world leave Eisav and move to Yakov in the final step 5. Yakov becomes Yisroel — not a man of inwardness, of Torah study, of yeshiva setting, of cunning, but the man of outwardness, of dealing with the outside world, of domination. The fate of the world is sealed: the descendants of Yakov will be instrumental in revealing pnimiyus in chitzoinius, essence in the shell, by creating Dira B’Tachtoinim, Dwelling Place for G-d in the Lower Realms.

Yisroel moves across the border into the Eretz Yisroel, as a prelude to later descent into Egypt. Rochel (Yakov’s natural wife) dies and takes role she always wanted — that of the Mother of the Children of Yisroel, the Jewish nation. Leia becomes Yisroel’s natural wife (the role she always wanted). The feminine force of “outgoing” influence through kindness joins forces of Yisroel (domination and participation in the world) and Yakov (internalization).

[chagall_040_modlici_se_job.jpg]

Eisav is of no more use to anyone. When he asks Yakov — I mean, Yisroel — to travel with him, his brother tells him to go and wait by his mountain. When the time comes, the descendants of Yisroel will come and elevate Eisav and the world. Descendants of Eisav convert in large numbers to Judaism. Those who do not convert form a mutant religion loosely based on Judaism, whose job becomes (according to Rambam) to prepare the world for the idea of monotheism and the Era of Mashiach.

* * *

Cool, huh? Based on Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings and my rabbi’s Torah class.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Egg in a bottle, cont. Oral tradition. Removing cork

http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/I/414PKJPZJ0L.jpg

The trick with the egg is another example of how Oral Torah was necessary to accompany the Written Torah.

Not only can you not successfully follow a written manual without a living person present and answering your questions about it, but even if you saw someone do something, you will sometimes have trouble repeating it. Why? You are missing some of the context. (Now, with the egg, it’s not that difficult to figure it out if you have some common sense, experience, and sense of humor — but try that with, lehavdil, 613 mitzvos).

Some more on eggs:



Now, this one may seem like a novelty to some people, but every medical student (or a viewer of E.R.) knows that this method has been used by surgeons for a long time (obviously, not with a plastic bag but with a catheter):

London through eyes of a designer. Evolution of sign with finger



Russian designer Artemiy Lebedev posts a photo-reportage of his visit to London. As usually, most attention is devoted to garbage cans, traffic lights, mailboxes and light poles.

His previous adventures. His visit to North Korea should be looked at by any liberal, socialist or even just a proponent of bailouts. This is what you are supporting:

КНДР. I

КНДР. II

КНДР. III

КНДР. IV

КНДР. V

A people’s prison. Mamosh.
* * *

By the way, Evolution of Sign with Finger.

Compare Italian sign —



... and Red Army’s one —



... with that of Russian White Army —



Ah, the problems of Russian intelligentsia…

“It is difficult to shake off the feeling that White Army lost only because of its designers’ impotence,” says Lebedev.

* * *

Also, Lebedev pyramid. Not sure I agree that it applies to every community. Certainly some communities seem to consists mostly of upper part, while others — mostly of the lower part (take Russia, for example).

* * *

And a final thought:

http://www.crw-publishing.co.uk/images/books/978%201%20904633%2092%201.jpg
http://img.dni.ru/binaries/v2_articlepic/200725.jpg

People that freak me out

http://lh5.ggpht.com/_5nmciLOVV60/RWOap7MeABI/AAAAAAAAAaY/YdLc7YOK_Ho/s576/IMG_0165.JPG
(a Go player)
  • Chess players reading chess games off the page (actually sitting in a bus and “reading” a chess game)
  • The same regarding Go players (I am not sure if it’s harder or not)
  • The same thing regarding musicians readings notes off the page. (One of the weirdest experiences is sitting at 2 am Friday night and singing Chabad niggunim from memory next to a musician who is just singing them off the page for the first time in his life. By the way, there are apparently nearly a hundred niggunim called “Niggun LeShabbos VeYomTov”. Until we found the correct one, I had to sing the beginning notes around ten times. Considering that, as Russians say, “a bear stepped on my ear”, it must have looked quite amusing.)
  • Mathematicians and theoretical physicists sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper (or a blank computer screen) and discovering something. (Theoretical scientists in other areas — especially Biology — are usually crap at what they do.)
  • Artists, writers, composers sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper/computer screen and just inventing things out of blue
  • Twins (OK, that’s more of a phobia).
Is it any wonder I am in experimental science? (And not something like molecular biology, where you pipette crap from one tube into another for hours and then peer at Western blot bands — nope, in my field you get instant gratification.)

* * *

Obviously, I have to write more posts on Go (and Sherlock Holmes), but an experience in Go academy in 19th-century Japan was remarkably similar to an experience in yeshiva. All life revolved around one single intellectual purpose and activity.

* * *

A Chabad niggun in many cases is like a thalamocortical cell.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Egg in a bottle



There is a story about the Rebbe describing how a Chossid–Rebbe relationship is similar to vacuum, but I am too tired to remember it right now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tznius and guns in Victorian England

http://static.diary.ru/userdir/4/1/3/0/413061/17442263.jpg
(Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Soviet TV series on the book)

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson found it impossible — despite great curiosity — to ask Sherlock Holmes about his profession the first few weeks they were roommates. It was just not a proper thing to do — to ask someone what he does for a living. What business is this of yours? (Eventually he asked him inadvertently, when they were talking about Holmes’s article in a newspaper — and Holmes mentioned his work first.)

Obviously, women and men dressed more modestly than today. But modesty is much more than about dress — it’s about treasuring of privacy, as the example of Dr. Watson shows. That is why women in Judaism do not take such a public role — for them, privacy is much more precious than for men (for whom it is nevertheless also very important).

Nowadays, people do not find it problematic to ask you about what it is you do. The idea of privacy is not at all what it used to be. As a result, rabbis (or rebbetzins) have to explain to girls about the idea of tznius. Back in the day, it was self-understood, and nobody thought in terms of “How is this going to lead to sex?” Anybody (even a goy) from 19th century would find this question silly. After all, you refrain from walking outside in your underwear not because you’re afraid it will lead to undesired sex. It’s an issue of privacy.

The idea that the most important, most precious, most holy things are done and kept in private has existed in Judaism for millenia.

* * *

Also, Dr. Watson carried a gun with himself at all times. Carrying a gun for protection was normal in England until socialism, with the appropriate results:
The Mumbai massacre could happen in London tomorrow; but probably it could not have happened to Londoners 100 years ago.

In January 1909 two such anarchists, lately come from an attempt to blow up the president of France, tried to commit a robbery in north London, armed with automatic pistols. Edwardian Londoners, however, shot back – and the anarchists were pursued through the streets by a spontaneous hue-and-cry. The police, who could not find the key to their own gun cupboard, borrowed at least four pistols from passers-by, while other citizens armed with revolvers and shotguns preferred to use their weapons themselves to bring the assailants down.

Today we are probably more shocked at the idea of so many ordinary Londoners carrying guns in the street than we are at the idea of an armed robbery. But the world of Conan Doyle’s Dr Watson, pocketing his revolver before he walked the London streets, was real. The arming of the populace guaranteed rather than disturbed the peace.

That armed England existed within living memory; but it is now so alien to our expectations that it has become a foreign country. Our image of an armed society is conditioned instead by America: or by what we imagine we know about America. It is a skewed image, because (despite the Second Amendment) until recently in much of the US it has been illegal to bear arms outside the home or workplace; and therefore only people willing to defy the law have carried weapons.

In the past two decades the enactment of “right to carry” legislation in the majority of states, and the issue of permits for the carrying of concealed firearms to citizens of good repute, has brought a radical change. Opponents of the right to bear arms predicted that right to carry would cause blood to flow in the streets, but the reverse has been true: violent crime in America has plummeted.

There are exceptions: Virginia Tech, the site of the 2007 massacre of 32 people, was one local “gun-free zone” that forbade the bearing of arms even to those with a licence to carry.

In Britain we are not yet ready to recall the final liberty of the subject listed by William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England as underpinning all others: “The right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.” We would still not be ready to do so were the Mumbai massacre to happen in London tomorrow.

“Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.” The Mumbai massacre is a bitter postscript to Gandhi’s comment. D’Souza now laments his own helplessness in the face of the killers: “I only wish I had had a gun rather than a camera.”

Finally, every man obviously wore a hat.

On the other hand, the perverse custom of shaving was prevalent — although it’s not clear how negative a reaction to a full beard would be then comparing to now. In any event, Victorian England was definitely not a strange mixture of ultra-liberal, homosexual, pacifist society and a socialist police state that UK is today.

Evil Walmart vs. benevolent government in helping Katrina’s victims

http://gobnf.org/i/ihm/frownsmileycover.jpg
(liberal propaganda of WalMart’s effect on communities)

Another proof to immortal truth: anything that can be done privately is better done privately. Including philanthropy.

A study of evil Walmart’s help to Katrina victims, compared to that of FEMA. (“The top causes of a Black man’s death in the USA include AIDS, chicken wings, guns, and FEMA.” — Boondocks.)
Wal-Mart produced desirable outcomes in the Katrina event because it had both the right knowledge and the right incentives in place, compared with those of government agencies [the U.S. Coast Guard is not included], declares economist Steven Horwitz. “Whether organizations are able to acquire such knowledge and have the appropriate incentives depends on the institutional environments in which they operate and the way in which the organizations are structured,” he continues.

“In general, the environment of market competition is superior to that of the political process in providing both the knowledge necessary to respond to people’s needs and the profit incentive to act on that knowledge in ways that create value. Within the political process, agencies face different incentives, as they do not operate by profit and loss. Instead, government agencies are more often concerned with pleasing other political actors and finding ways to expand their budgets and power. This often makes them less sensitive to the direct needs of the people who rely on them to get specific tasks accomplished.” On the market’s superiority at providing both the knowledge and incentives for efficient resource use and greater value creation, Horwitz directs interested readers to the essays in F. A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.

“In addition, the absence of a competitive market for their product means that, in general, government agencies face knowledge problems in determining what their output should be and how best to produce it. However, government agencies with a more decentralized structure that puts them in more direct contact with the people they serve may be able to overcome these knowledge problems. Larger, more centralized government agencies will lack the incentives of firms in competitive markets as well as the knowledge provided by true market prices, but more decentralized ones may do better along the latter dimension. [...]”
Who could have thought that evil WalMart that cares only about its pockets, kicks small cute businesses out of local area, trades with China and hates labor unions would be more effective in helping poor people than the government? Hmm… Maybe somebody with the right idea of what the government’s role is supposed to be?..

Dagestani commentator reports: religion of peace

Not the religion of peace you thought about, but the other one, with idolatry and icons. A fight between Georgian and Armenian monks over the right to wash floor in front of a church:



You really need to understand Russian to fully comprehend the hilarity of the commentary — both from thick Caucasus-region accent and from the content. It is not clear if this guy is for real, or if this is a parody.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Government and economy: positive feedback cycle of stupidity

http://www.csupomona.edu/~seskandari/physiology/images/Figure_hodgkin_cycle.gif

From Yahoo News:
News of a rapidly weakening job market sent stocks sliding Friday as investors feared that the recession will be deeper and more prolonged than many have expected. The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 100 points.

The Labor Department's report that employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November was far worse than the 320,000 that economists forecast. The job losses were severe enough to add to expectations that the government will have to take even bigger steps to boost the economy.

Instead of realizing that it was precisely its “steps” that caused market depression (now necessary to get out of the false bubble created by the government), which in turn resulted in increased unemployment, the government will take “further” steps, which will make things even worse, prompt people to say “well, we need to take even more steps; wow, it’s really much worse than we expected” — and the positive feedback cycle of stupidity will repeat itself. One stupidity leads to a tragedy which leads to another stupidity, and so on.

Déjà vu?

* * *

The first step to break out of socialist mentality (with all its wonderful consequences) is to stop thinking that government should do something — in a positive sense — and realize that the government’s only role is to guard our rights and freedoms, not to improve welfare of the society, boost up economy, promote science and so on. Not (only) because this is what the Founding Fathers originally intended for the government, but mainly because protecting our rights and freedoms is the only area where government can do any sort of decent job — everywhere else, it will fail miserably, especially in comparison to what can be accomplished by private efforts.

Once you stop thinking that it’s government’s job to do something about it (whatever “it” is — with exception of violation of our rights) and start thinking of government as our guard — and nothing else — things will start making much more sense; causes, effects and correlations will line up nicely. And you will realize what monstrosity has been done to the United States (and some European states) throughout the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, H"YD — Purim 5768


Original on COLlive.com from Vimeo

The essence of Chanukah — beyond definitions



It says that when Mashiach comes, Purim and Chanukah will be the holidays to be celebrated.

Why? Because in their essence lies what geulah and the Era of Mashiach are all about. In Purim it’s the idea of the concealment of the essence — that in the place where G-d is concealed the most, He is present the most. This happened in the story of Purim, in which G-d is not mentioned yet was directly present. As Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us, Purim is similar — even higher than — Yom Kippur in the sence that on it the Essence of G-d (above revelation in Seider Hishtalshelus, the Chain of the Worlds) is revealed.

In Chanukah we see the second idea of the Era of Mashiach — combinations of two opposites. As Rabbi Paltiel explains (the same link as in the last post), quoting various sources, the oil of the miracle of Chanukah could not itself be miraculous. It had to be natural oil in order to be kosher. Nor could the fire be miraculous in order for lightning of menorah to be kosher — it had to be a regular fire that burnt oil.

So, how was it possible for the miracle to occur — and, most importantly, what was the miracle?

* * *

There are two types of miracles: open and concealed. Open miracles involve revealed violation of the laws of nature. It is the nature of water to flow — yet, during the parting of the Yam Suf, water of the sea stood in two walls, waiting for Jews to cross. This kind was an open miracle.

The other type is a concealed miracle. In theory, everything can be explained through the natural order of events — laws of physics are not violated, nothing supernatural happens. Yet, we know that G-d was directly involved and was openly orchestrating the events. (How do we know? Well, first of all, we are told by our chochamim, whose word is the law. Second, the coincidence of events is too strange to put on chance — and if a Jew already believes in G-d, it is clear to him that here we have a clear, obvious, revealed case of Divine Providence.)

An example of this is the story of Purim, which is a microcosm of the whole Jewish history. Another example are numerous cases of hashgacha protis that occur in our everyday lives. Sure, were we cynics and heretics (G-d forbid), we could attribute them to chance, fate, “freaky occurences”, etc., but since we believe in G-d, we see that here was the case when G-d revealed Himself (as opposed to running the world in a concealed way) — but within nature, without breaking its laws.

The second kind of miracle is actually greater than the first. But a greater type yet is when two opposite things contradicting each other happen. A and B cannot coexist, yet they are clearly happening at the same time. This is not just laws of physics being suspended for some time. Nor is this events happening in such a way that it seems that someone is clearly pulling the strings above. No — what it happening is that according to logic, A cannot happen at the same time as B, yet here we are.

One example of that was the fact that Aron Koidesh did not take space in Beis HaMikdosh. If you measured from wall of the Temple to the Ark’s left side, it was (let’s say) 10 units. Same thing on the other side. Yet, the total width of the room was 20 units.

Another example is when Jews were standing outside of the Temple, and the Kohen Godol (who, by the way, has just opened Aron Koidesh to have an interview with HaKadosh Boruchu) came out and said G-d’s Name — at which point everybody fell on his knees and bowed. The trick is: before, they were standing shoulder to shoulder, nose to back of the head. No room for an apple to fall. And once G-d’s Name was pronounced, they were able to bow, and everyone had enough space.

In both these examples, it’s not the case that laws of nature were revoked and the idea of space disappeared. Nor was it the case the more space appeared. No, the space was there — yet, somehow, its internal logic was violated. Things were in space, yet at the same time not in space.

* * *

In Chanukah, the same thing happened. The oil was a regular oil (not an oil that was able to burn for longer time) and was burning with a regular fire (not a fire that was consuming less oil to burn). Yet, at the same time as the oil was burning, it was not burning at the same time — lasting, as a result, for eight days. This was happening in the regular good ol’ oil, within parameters of laws of physics — and at the same time, oil was not being depleted by the same process.

Impossible? Bizarre? Contradicting laws of logic? Reminds you of TARDIS? Exactly. That’s Essence of G-d for you. (OK, maybe not the last part.)

This is why both Purim and Chanukah are so extremely tied with Redemption and coming of Mashiach. In the times of Mashiach, the same thing will be happening. This world, independent from G-d, concealing Him and having its own existence and form, will be there — and at the same time, it will reveal in itself the Essence of G-d, pure, simple, undefinable, infinite and finite at the same time. It will be revealed within the existing, not nullified world that ein od milvado — nothing exists besides G-d. And this will be the greatest miracle of all. And at this point, the purpose of creation and existence of the world and of all us will revealed. And on this day, He and His Name will be One.

May this come now!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chabad’s success is fundamentalist muslims’ defeat


(Chabad’s point of view provides ability to see one world inside another — spiritual in the physical)

A good article.
Adherents of the jihadi ideology share a common presumption that the modern world in all its manifestations is the implacable enemy of a traditional religiosity. Modernism, in their minds, is built on concepts that pollute: reason, individual liberty, democracy, pluralism. Like all totalitarians, they demand submission to a single pure idea. Difference equals contamination; reason leads to sacrilege.

If ever there were a living retort to the obscenity of these presumptions, it is the current of Hasidic Judaism that began more than 200 years ago in the Byelorussian village of Lyady. There, a philosopher rabbi — Shneur Zalman — sought a reconciliation of intellect and heart as a compromise to the controversy then dividing the Jewish world between those who held to a tradition of scholarship and disciples of the embryonic Hasidic movement, which stressed an emotive religious practice. He succeeded brilliantly and founded a movement that today commands the loyalties of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews around the world.

The hallmark of Chabad's approach is an openness to — indeed, an embrace of — the modern world, while insisting that it make a place for their deeply traditional religious devotion. Around the world, including in Los Angeles, Lubavitcher Hasidim are living precisely the sort of lives the jihadi ideology insists are impossible. Culturally, they participate fully in the pluralist democracies, while privately, they profess fully a deeply traditional spirituality. Faithful to their own long history, they are valued and good neighbors to others.

[Rabbi Shneur] Zalman taught his followers that their G-d desires the development of their minds as well as their hearts. The fully realized human intellect, he argued, was built on da'at (knowledge), bina (understanding) and chochma (wisdom).

It's hard to imagine a more stinging defeat for the Mumbai killers than the fact that a movement of faith founded on such an idea has endured in fidelity to its traditions for more than two centuries, and will continue to thrive when, as the old Yiddish expression goes, the names and memories of the murderers have been erased.
One thing I should add is that Chabad does not merely tolerate the modern, “outside” world in public, while going back to traditional Jewish values in private. Uniquely in Judaism, Chabad philosophy actually asserts that immersion in physical world is necessary for successful spiritual progress; when accessed through proper means and from a proper angle, physical and modern allow us to reach the levels of spiritual before unreachable (indeed, this is why a Jewish soul descends into the physical world from lofty Higher Worlds in the first place).

More on Chabad’s unique strategy of finding spiritual in the physical. More on Alter Rebbe (R’ Schneur Zalman of Lyady).

Muslims are embarrassed but determined to keep worshipping death

Apparently, muslims “worry about image” of their “religion” (read: death-worshiping cult). Apparently...

No doubt Muslims who actually advocate mass murder are a minority. Some would say that it's what the majority does, or doesn't do, that is the problem.

Muslims and Arabs must confront the violence "that is taking place in our name and in the name of our (Islamic) tenets," wrote Khaled al-Jenfawi, a columnist for Kuwait's Al-Seyassah daily.

"Unfortunately, we have yet to see a distinguished popular condemnation in the traditional Arab or Muslim communities that strongly rejects what is happening in the name of Islam or Arab nationalism," wrote al-Jenfawi.

That's true. So far, most of the world's Muslims haven't been embarrassed enough to take any significant action to reform their religion. They have, I think, a remarkably high threshold of embarrassment.

May it pointed out, as well, that a muslim is allowed (or obligated) to lie to an “infidel” about his true feelings, if it helps his cause.

Why wages are low in poor countries

http://www.newint.org/features/2007/04/01/20_sweatshop.jpg

... and how we can help.
Caplan asks if those who criticize companies that pay low wages overseas feel that they could get rich quick by investing all of their resources in overseas enterprises — specifically, enterprises in poor countries. After all, it stands to reason that if workers in developing countries are underpaid and exploited, a profit-seeking businessperson would be able to reap immediate profits by hiring the workers away from their current occupations and re-employing them elsewhere.

If people pass on the opportunity, Caplan argues, then they implicitly accept the tragic-but-nonetheless-real fact that workers in very poor countries simply are not very productive. Low wages, then, are not the product of exploitative multinational corporations but of extremely low productivity. The relevant question for those concerned about the very poor is not "how do we convince (or force) multinational corporations to pay more" but "how can we improve the productivity of the world's poorest workers?"

[...]

Finally, when it comes to a firm's production decisions, wages are not all that matters. Firms will invest in inputs — say "unskilled labor" and "skilled labor" — until the ratio of the marginal products of the factors to the prices of the factors are equal for all inputs. If an American worker earns $30 per hour while a Chinese worker earns $1 per hour, this is not by itself sufficient to show that investing in China is in a firm's best interests. If the American worker can produce 120 units of output in an hour while the Chinese worker can only produce two, then producing the good in the United States is actually cheaper. Each unit produced in the United States costs twenty-five cents, while each unit produced in China costs fifty cents.

The idea that expanding and integrating the global marketplace exploits the poor is a myth that causes avoidable misery. Protesting and trying to slow the advance of international capitalism is not the solution. Encouraging the development of institutions in which the world's poor can increase their productivity is.

(source)