Thursday, October 30, 2008

What is Chabad? Who is the Rebbe?

Sometimes people ask me, why I “chose” Chabad. Sometimes people ask me to tell them about Chabad philosophy and what makes it stand aside. Sometimes people ask me: “Who is the Rebbe? Tell me about the Rebbe.”

In reality, the three questions are one. The Lubavitcher Rebbe cannot be separated from Chabad Chassidus and his Chassidim; the latter cannot be separated from their Rebbe and his teachings; Chabad “philosophy” is one with the channel through which it was revealed in this world.

In reality, it is a very simply idea. Ein od milvado. There is nothing besides G-d. That is the beginning, that is the reality, that is the end, the destination. That is what all the world is about. That is what being a Jew is all about. And the Rebbe teaches us that, in detail, what it means, how we can achieve that, how we can live that and bring the world to realization and revelation of it. He teaches us through his life, through his Chassidus, through his relationship with the world and the Jews. In a very intellectual, very shocking, very serious, very profound and very human way.

This video says it all — what the Rebbe says in it is our reality, it is with us today, right now:

Another Jew’s reflections about the Rebbe — an article by Elie Wiesel, re-published at
I will always remember my first visit to Lubavitch. It happened some thirty years ago. Though a Chasid of Wizhnitz, I had heard of Chabad and its renowned leader. A foreign correspondent for Israel's evening paper “Yediot Achronot,” I had thought of doing a story about the way Lubavitcher chasidim celebrate the liberation of the first — or the “Alter” — Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi from Czarist prison. When I left in the early morning hours, I still belonged to Wizhnitz, but I was already caught by something or someone one finds only in Lubavitch.

I remember: in a “shul” that seems both huge and intimate, thousands and thousands of chasidim, young and old, from all over the world, are dancing vertically, as if not moving from their place, yet forcing their rhythm onto the entire universe.

Their eyes closed, they sing as only chasidim can. Ten times, fifty times, they repeat the same words, the same tune, and the song bursts their chests and lights a thousands flames in their eyes before rising higher and higher, up to the seventh heaven, if not higher, to the “Heichel hanegina,” source and sanctuary of all songs.

The center is the Rebbe. The Chasid in me looks at him with wonder. There is something melancholy and profoundly moving about his personality. Disturbing and reassuring at the same time. He feels what everyone here feels, he helps all attain the unattainable. In his presence, one feels more Jewish, more authentically Jewish. Seen by him, one comes in closer contact with one's own inner Jewish center.

Am unable to take my eyes off him. His gaze encompasses everyone and everything. I have rarely witnessed such control of and concern over such a large assembly. Thousands of eyes follow his most imperceptible movements. When he talks, everybody listens breathlessly, absorbing every word, every sigh. When he sighs, the whole world sighs with him and us.

I remember: hours long I stood there, at 770 Eastern Parkway, as in a dream, looking at the Rebbe who was looking at his followers. At times, he smiled and night vanished from their lives. There were moments when he seemed serious and somber. And, between songs, his fervent listeners trembled between fear and hope.

Suddenly I saw myself as a child again. Spending a Shabbat at the court of the Wizhnitzer Rebbe. There, too, the souls became strings and played ancient melodies. Yet here in Lubavitch it is different. The world is different. Countless invisible cemeteries separate the past from the present. In Lubavitch I think even about Wizhnitz in a different manner. What the Rebbe of Lubavitch is doing, what he is accomplishing here can be felt beyond Lubavitch.

This I came to understand much later. As I began traveling around the country, I discovered the Rebbe's emissaries in the most forsaken places. Were it not for them and their devotion, were it not for the mission entrusted onto them by the Rebbe, in the forty-two years of his leadership, who knows how many Jewish souls would have been lost to our people.

It is part of the Rebbe's greatness that he knows whom to send where and when. Not all their accomplishments have been made public. Some must remain secret. When they will be revealed — soon, I hope — they will surely increase the existing admiration for the Rebbe's vision.

Thus the Jewish people owe the Rebbe a great debt of recognition and gratitude. I do, too. I have learned much from Lubavitch in Lubavitch. Had I not participated in the “Chag HaGeula” of Chabad some thirty years ago, I wonder whether I would be who I am now.

Did converts to Judaism have latent Jewish souls?

An interesting post by Dixie Yid regarding the question of geirim, the converts to Judaism, having a priori a latent Jewish soul in them, prior to conversion. Interesting comments too (I liked the ones by Yitz). Looking for an answer to Dixie Yid’s question, I discovered an interesting post on ChabadTalk:
I don’t know the source of this idea that those [souls among the Nations] who did accept [Torah, while it was offered to all the nations at Sinai — from which only Jews and a few “renegade” souls of non-Jews accepted] are the gerim, but I don’t know what is so hard to understand. The Midrash speaks about [...] indviduals who were renegade souls!

On spiritual terms, they are the holy sparks who are ingrained in klippah [spiritual forces of unholiness that shield this world from G-d, making up the material façade of the physical world] and are yearning to get close to kedusheh [holiness].

But, as mentioned in another thread about goyim, the common explanation used by the Rebbe numerous times, which comes from the Chido (but in a footnote in Likutei Sichos, I saw [that] the Rebbe found a source for that concept in some newly published manuscript of Baalei Tosfos) is thus: [Why is it that] Gemara uses the term “ger shnigyir”; apparently the proper term should be “goy shnisgayir”? [Gemara uses such a term] to indicate that the eventual ger has a hidden latent Jewish soul which waits to be discovered and activated.

According the [Alter Rebbe], the geirim are stray sparks which fell in klipeh and are restless until they [become] Jewish.

The [Alter Rebbe] explains that this restlessness has to do with Avraham’s circumcision, which caused that holy souls belong exclusively to Avraham and not to anyone else (until that point, you could have a holy soul and need not convert — as Meshiselech, Mamerei who had great souls, but did not feel an urge to convert), so if a holy spark somehow “fell” into a goy’s body, the holy spark can’t rest calmly in the goy’s body and has an iresistible urge to become Jewish, since Avrahams mileh dictated that all holiness has to be Jewish [by definition].

However, this is only about the offspring of Avraham which were post-mileh, but concerning Yishmoel, since he was born prior to Avrahm’s milah, the [Alter Rebbe] says, we see so few converts from bnei Yishmoel [i.e., Muslims etc.], since they were not influenced by Avraham’s mileh; so if a stray spark enters them, they don’t have the urge to convert.
I personally know a convert who was adopted by a non-religious Jewish family (while being a non-Jew himself, obviously). When he learned about his status, he decided to convert and took the matter very seriously, studying very hard while going to a particular Jewish school that is not exactly good for infusing life into one’s yiddishkeit, even for a Jew.

When it came time for his exam, the judges were astonished by the depth of his knowledge. He became (at least to some degree) a chossid of one of the Chassidic groups. I remember talking to him — when asked why he learned teachings of that particular Rebbe, he answered that they “spoke to him”. Later, a friend of mine saw him amongst Lubavitcher chassidim. This guy told my friend that his chassidishkeit before was fake and superficial, and in attempt to find something real, to which he can hold fast, he joined Lubavitch. If one is seeking emes, one will find it eventually. (This is obviously not a statement about the other Chassidus, to which he belonged before.)

Mac will share... for a buck

By the way, Artemiy Lebedev reports that Apple has hierarchy based on the date of joining the company. Steve Jobs couldn’t register as number 1, so he had to get number 0. Just like in a Communist Part, says Lebedev, a Mac user himself. Well, if even those that are “using” agree…

In one of his posts in his LiveJournal, Lebedev mentioned that after coming to US, he soon realized it is no different from the USSR. Why? Because in the American warehouses they also use stupid slogans painted with unimaginative font in all caps.

As a designer, he probably thinks that things looking pretty (which is important) is all there is. A chitzon (a superficial person), in other words. This was also in the early 90’s when Russian idea of economics was finally legalized theft.

Of course, Mac users don’t give a damn about economics — or any internal process, for that matter. As long it’s shiny and pretty outside. Even if it’s difficult to use, as long as it is shiny and “designed properly”, well then...

In one British Mac vs. PC commercial, they are promoting an idea how PCs at home are boring and make home look more like office. I don’t know what exactly that means. Because I am able to custom-build my PCs, my office PCs area geared each for the specific function they serve (processing of heavy graphics, information analysis, a bit of computing), while my home PC is designed for things I do at home at my leisure — for example, computer gaming. But I forgot, Macs are so much better designed for computer games and other forms of fun than PCs…

Universal human rights — self-contradictory?

I saw this moving-type video on the I Love Typography blog. It promotes universal human rights, as defined by the United Nations.

It’s a nice idea. I believe the majority of what it says. But the final part, starting (at 2:50) with assertion that one’s society is responsible for helping one’s growth and development (and going on about rights to minimum wage, maximum work day, education, health, low-interest mortgages with bad credit history), contradicts the message of the first part, and any attempts to implement this idea in practice result in destruction of the values originally promoted. A typical example of an application of liberal thinking. What I wrote in comments on YouTube:
A lot of this is true. A lot is false. E.g., you don’t have a right to a certain salary, because it violates your employers right to pay what he thinks fair price for your labor. You do have a right to refuse working for him and choose to work for a competing employer who offers a better salary — which will happen in a society free from government regulations.

Saying that someone has the right to education (or any other service) is saying that he has the right to take money from others to pay for it, thus violating the their right to their property.

You don’t have to support a social order that steals money from rich to give to poor, thus violating the formers rights to their property.

If we want people to have education, medicine, high standard of living, etc., we need to create a society with economy as free as possible. Everyone benefits then.
The major problem is that people don’t understand where the idea of rights comes from. Most people seem to think one has rights to something because with it he is better off, or because we feel bad if we imagine him not having it. In reality, this is not where rights come from.

A right to something is a monopoly to it. I have a right to my pencil, meaning, that only I can use it — you or anybody else cannot. So, I am protecting my liberty to use the pencil but restricting yours to do the same. Why? Well, in case of scarce resources, somebody’s liberty to use them will be inevitably restricted — only one of us can be using the pencil. So, let it be the liberty of those who don’t have a good claim for this resource that will be restricted and the liberty of those who do (because they made it, bought it, inherited it or found it first) that will be upheld.

That’s it. A person, therefore, cannot have a right to a non-scarce resource (such as an idea) or to a resource, which can be obtained only by taking another person’s resource away (such as free education or medicine). Nor can a person hire the government to take somebody else’s resource, as Claude Frederic Bastiat argues in the recently reviewed essay, “The Law”.

Furthermore, in a truly free society, one does not need society to help his growth and development. The fact that he is free to trade goods and services (material and intellectual) with others — in a setting where his fundamental rights are protected — is already all he needs to grow and develop. And if he needs some philanthropic help to do so, there will always be people willing to volunteer such help. There have always been such people, and the freer (and, therefore, richer) the society is, the more numerous such people are.

If one does not agree with this assertion, I suggest he looks at history and tries to compare the amount of development produced from private efforts, as a result of free exchange of goods and services, to the amount of government-sponsored progress.

From typographical point of view, the video is not too imaginative. The font is in all caps and is rather dull. I liked these videos more. (Other examples.) Of course, the major purpose of this video is its contents, not form.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jews getting ready to eat a baby — or, pidyon ha’ben

To an untrained eye, this scene may look like a bunch of religious Jews fixing to eat a baby (Christian blood for matza is not enough, huh?), but in fact it is pidyon ha’ben — a ceremony of redeeming a first-born from a kohen (thanks to Hirshel Tzig for the picture). It is one of the few ceremonies that descendants of the Jewish priests still perform, while we are waiting for the Beis HaMikdosh to be rebuilt (may it happen speedily in our days), which would allow them to start their duties in the Temple. Actual coins are supposed to be used, so the rabbi digs out his real silver coins and “sells” them to the parents of the baby, who then redeem the baby with them.

For those that don’t know, modern-day kohanim know that they are descendants of the Jewish priests (through patrilineal descent) only according to tradition passed down generations. In 1997, Dr. Karl Skorecki and colleagues published in Nature an article giving more empirical support to the tradition. From biological point of view, it makes sense that all true kohanim today should have a copy of Y-chromosome of the first kohen, Aaron, Moses’s brother. If this is so, all (or most) of kohanim must share have a genetic marker on their Y-chromosome (a result of some random mutation in non-coding part of the chromosome that must have happened around Aaron’s generation and then was passed down with his Y-chromosome’s copies down generations). This marker would be significantly more common amongst kohanim than amongst other Jews.

Dr. Skorecki found exactly such a portion of kohen Y-chromosome, which he called “Cohen Modal Haplotype”. Read more about this on Wikipedia or in the article itself.

Of course, simply having a kohen gene does not make somebody a kohen according to Halacha; nor does not having it bar one from being considered a kohen (a presence or absence of tradition of one being a kohen stemming from the times when one’s family was religious is enough), but the study does give more credulity to the story of modern-day kohanim being descended from a single male ancestor and disputes the ridiculous claim that modern-day Ashkenazic Jews descend from Khazars rather than Jews of the Second Temple Era (a claim only an ignoramus oblivious of Jewish history — both national and literary — can make).

Some trivia: during the Rosh HaShanah services this year, my rabbi thought that we had a fake kohen. Perhaps a blood test would settle his worries, one way or another. Another time when silver coins are used by a rabbi is on Purim, when tzdaka in the form of two coins is supposed to be given (people usually “buy” the coins from the rabbi with real money and then give coins to tzdaka back to the rabbi). Last Purim, somebody accidentally took (let’s hope this is what it was) my rabbi’s silver coins, perhaps mistaking them for usual one-dollar coins and needing some change for his tzdaka.

Misha, you made a mistake at 2:36.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The role of a government

An essay (перевод на русс. — здесь) by Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850) about the purpose of the government (eloquently described by Thomas Jefferson before, in the Declaration of Independence) and dangers of government’s abuse of its powers — done not through obvious oppressive tyranny but through gradual, stealthy increase of its “responsibilities” and involvement in private individuals’ decision-making. An excerpt from the introduction:
Bastiat believed that all human beings possessed the G-d–given, natural rights of “individuality, liberty, property.” “This is man,” he wrote. These “three gifts from G-d precede all human legislation.” But even in his time—writing in the late 1840s—Bastiat was alarmed over how the law had been “perverted” into an instrument of what he called legal plunder. […]

The great French champion of liberty also forecast the corruption of education by the state. Those who held “government-endowed teaching positions,” he wrote, would rarely criticize legal plunder lest their government endowments be ended. [Is it any wonder that their students are brainwashed and consider any alternative opinion evil and immoral? — A.]

The system of legal plunder would also greatly exaggerate the importance of politics in society. That would be a most unhealthy development as it would encourage even more citizens to seek to improve their own well-being not by producing goods and services for the marketplace but by plundering their fellow citizens through politics.
Forget the introduction, however. I just read the first five pages of the essay itself, and I want to quote nearly everything (see the end of the post for a short quote). So, click the link above, skip to the beginning of the essay and start reading — the language is sweet, and the reason is clear.

* * *

The idea that governments must be actively involved in the free life of citizens is extremely pervasive. Most people believe that without the government manipulating something all the time, there would be no progress of civilization. When something goes wrong, people ask, “Why doesn’t the government do something?” The government officials themselves see a need to be constantly regulating and monitoring something — otherwise, people who have elected them will think they are slacking off. It reminds me of Seinfeld’s George Costanza who needed to look annoyed, concerned and busy all the time to make his boss think he is doing something.

Indeed, the word itself, “government”, suggests that its role is to constantly “govern”, direct progress. Yet, an intelligent and educated student of history immediately recognizes that the majority of developments leading to progress and improvement in standard of living were done through private efforts of free enterprise (≡ striving for success) and personal innovation, not through some wise Central Committee’s “governing”.

What government is necessary for is protection of one’s rights, and when a situation exists in the society when one group or individual violates another group’s or individual’s rights, the government must step in. The government is that boundary that separates freedom from chaos. Anything more leads to reduction of freedom, progress, prosperity, and all the virtuous goals that proponents of strong, big, regulationist, centralized government espouse. When the government oversteps limitations of its responsibilities (something which, according to Obama, it has not done enough), it does exactly what it was designed to prevent — violation of the rights of one group for the benefit of another. Except, it harms the other group in the process as well.

According to Pirkei Avos (3:2), “Rabbi Chanina, the deputy of the Kohanim, said: ‘Pray for the welfare of the government. If it were not for the fear of the government, each man would eat his neighbor alive!’” That’s it. He did not say: “If it were not for the government, all progress and improvement of welfare would stop”.

Nor does this refer to a free-market situation, where rich exploit the poor, but for the fear of government’s intervention. In a free market, people come to an exchange of goods and services that benefits them maximally, according to their mutual agreement. If a situation exists, in which one party does not maximize interests of another (without hurting its own), a competitor will arise that will do so, drawing business, capital and market influence from the “exploiter”.

A free-market society, then, acts as a self-regulating eco-system, where energy is drawn to the area, where its use can be maximized for everyone’s benefit. The Theory of Evolution states as much: one does not need a centralized controller for progress to happen. (Of course, somebody needs to allow the laws of Nature themselves to exist, and this “somebody” is but hidden in the ecosystem — but, that’s another story. In economics, just as in — lehavdil — Halacha, one must look at the revealed aspect.)

In the case of Torah-based theocratic society, the situation is different: a government is necessary for interpretation of Oral Law to fit the needs of the changing times — yet, the authority to do is given directly by G-d. The authority of secular government, on the other hand, is vested in the rights its people delegated to it, and no person can delegate to the government a right to rob another citizen on his behalf; he doesn’t have such a right a priori. Or, to quote Bastiat:

It is not because men have made laws, that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property exist beforehand, that men make laws. What, then, is law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.

Nature, or rather G-d, has bestowed upon every one of us the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since these are the three constituent or preserving elements of life; elements, each of which is rendered complete by the others, and that cannot be understood without them. For what are our faculties, but the extension of our personality? and what is property, but an extension of our faculties?

If every man has the right of defending, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, a number of men have the right to combine together to extend, to organize a common force to provide regularly for this defense. Collective right, then, has its principle, its reason for existing, its lawfulness, in individual right; and the common force cannot rationally have any other end, or any other mission, than that of the isolated forces for which it is substituted. Thus, as the force of an individual cannot lawfully touch the person, the liberty, or the property of another individual — for the same reason, the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, the liberty, or the property of individuals or of classes.

For this perversion of force would be, in one case as in the other, in contradiction to our premises. For who will dare to say that force has been given to us, not to defend our rights, but to annihilate the equal rights of our brethren? And if this be not true of every individual force, acting independently, how can it be true of the collective force, which is only the organized union of isolated forces?

Nothing, therefore, can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense; it is the substitution of collective for individual forces, for the purpose of acting in the sphere in which they have a right to act, of doing what they have a right to do, to secure persons, liberties, and properties, and to maintain each in its right, so as to cause justice to reign over all.

And if a people established upon this basis were to exist, it seems to me that order would prevail among them in their acts as well as in their ideas. It seems to me that such a people would have the most simple, the most economical, the least oppressive, the least to be felt, the most restrained, the most just, and, consequently, the most stable Government that could be imagined, whatever its political form might be.

Is Obama a Marxist?

If the majority distributes among itself the things of a minority, it is evident that it will destroy the city.
— Aristotle
As we all know, Obama is not a Marxist. Joe Biden said as much. Local Conservative radio host said as much, and even called the question ridiculous.

Well, let’s hear some of Obama’s views (as of 2001) on redistribution of wealth, limitations (too many) that Founding Fathers placed on the government and allowances (not enough) that Constitution gives it, inadequacy of court system in redistribution, which has to be the goal of the legislative branch.

As I said before, I am not too worried about him being elected. The fact that a new Jimmy Carter–Woodrow Wilson–FDR–JFK (taking some of the worst things from each of them... and everything from Jimmy Carter) will be in office in and of itself does not concern me. What does concern me is that so many people want to elect him, that people are completely uneducated in many core issues (and do not want to be educated), that they cannot think straight and intelligently, without being carried away and directed by emotions, that they are easily swayed by propaganda and consider anyone actually applying critical thinking immoral. I am worried about increasing entropy of intelligence.

Briefly about history of spreading-the-wealth philosophy in the US and its dangers.
So why hasn't the majority in America helped itself to more of the minority's wealth, as Aristotle and our Founders feared? Partly because the protections for individual property erected by the Founders have worked.
Obviously, Obama (in the above audio) will have you believe that not enough efforts have been made to free the government from the limitations placed on it by the Founding Fathers. Not enough steps have been made to make this country Marxist... err... full of economic justice and equality.

A few government officials; a call from Scotch office

Some British series. Apparently, it’s pretty good. Apparently, this episode is also based on a real-life situation. Although, when dealing with Brits, one can hardly be surprised. They are second only to Russians and French in ability to pull off absurdity.

Meanwhile, Mr. Yimach Shmo has fallen ill. Nothing series, I hope. Come to think of it, exhaustion is one of the signs of radiation poisoning…

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fish and capitalism; pictures of the Soviet stores

I had the following exchange with somebody today:
— There is a village, in which a rich manufacturer produces 400 fish a month. The population of the village is 1000. The village has closed economy. How many people can afford fish in a free-market system?
— 400.
— Correct. Now, this means that only 40% can afford some product. The mayor of the village wants to make it so that 80% afford it. He can:
a) take money from rich fish producer (in form of taxes) and give it to poor people (in a form of fish assistance),
b) force the fish producer lower prices on fish,
c) force the fish producer pay his workers more, so that they can afford fish,
d) all of the above,
e) give the fish producer a tax cut or a credit.
Your answer?
— Wrong.
— Why?
— Because there is still only 400 fish available in the village per 1000 people. Actually, probably less, because all three measures led fish producer to have less income, so now he can afford to produce only 300 fish for the existing price with existing expenses. Plus, some of the workers probably stole some of the fish to sell on black market for higher price. Plus, fish producer might have reduced the quality of fish to reduce expenses.
— So, how would e) help?
— It would allow fish producer to put money into developing his factory (buying more fish eggs, fish tanks, fish food, hiring more fish workers), thus increasing the amount of fish produced from 400 to 800. This would allow the fish producer to make more money but also lower the prices on fish, making it affordable to 80% of the population, as desired by the mayor.
— But this would increase the unequality between poor people and fish producer.
— So, you’d rather people be equally poor rather than unequally rich?
The above picture comes from this series of really great photos representative of the Soviet era’s efforts in “spreading the wealth”. The comments are in Russian, but pictures speak for themselves. I like this few especially:

(Pork — 1 ruble, 90 kopecks per kilogram. Old ladies cannot believe their eyes. “Butcher, that bastard, sold all the meat on a black market.”)

(“Is there enough?”)

No comments…

To reiterate my earlier point: when an attempt to do good is hijacked by emotional knee-jerk-reflex thinking, it leads to doing evil.

Some remainder of free market in the Soviet Union:

Government-controlled market:

The choice is yours.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bereishis from Kehos with Chabad-Chassidic commentary

A beautiful translation of Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) with Chabad-Chassidic commentary from Kehos. Unlike the no-less beautiful Gutnick-edition Chumash, it does not focus only on the Rebbe’s sichos, but draws from the wealth of Chabad Chassidus sources, including those authored by the previous Chabad Rebbeim (especially, the ma’amorim — in-depth works on Jewish mysticism). Obviously, it also quotes Rashi, Talmud, and other sources. Its background sections are much more developed, and its Chassidic commentary is deeper and more detailed.

While Gutnick edition is a nice introduction of the Rebbe’s “Rashi sichos” that provides a good taste of the Rebbe’s genius in revealing how Chassidus brings together different sources in Judaism and opens yet unforeseen depths of Torah (which was what attracted me to Chabad Chassidus initially), Kehos edition reveals fully to the reader the true role and nature of Chabad Chassidus — the fact that it is pnimiyus ha’Torah (the Essence of Torah).

It reveals the innermost dimension of Judaism that is not accessible outside of Chabad Chassidus — a dimension that is truly a crime for any religious Jew to ignore (if you think this claim is too presumptious, just take a look at the sample first chapter of Bereishis). In addition to commentaries in separate sections and footnotes, Rashi’s and Chassidic commentaries are imbedded into the text, making it flow very nicely.

First chapter of the first book of Moses, Bereishis, with very nice introduction to the book, the order of creation and the Chassidic explanation on the reason of creation (discussed at length in many Chassidic sources), was graciously provided by Kehos and hosted by AskMoses.

Something to read before Simchas Toireh.

Note: If you want to print this out, print out two text pages on each side of a printed page (imagine that the middle of the printed page, turned landscape, is the crease of the book), starting from even numbers (so, pp. 2–84), rotated 180°. You want Hebrew text to be on the right half of each printed page, and English text with beginning of commentaries on the left.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bobover Simchas Beis HaShoeva — Kah Ribon Oilam

Return to Your Temple and to the Holy of Holies,
The place where all souls will rejoice.
There they will sing songs of praise to You,
In Jerusalem, the city of beauty.

Burning Down The House: What Caused Our Economic Crisis?

Rather than watching “objective” liberal news channels that compare which of the candidates has the proper “looks” for a President, people should watch this:

Yes, yes, I know, rightist propaganda. That’s right (no pun intended… well, maybe). It is the propaganda of the conservatism — conservatism in thinking. Liberals think the following way: emotions rule intellect. Conservatives say the opposite: intellect rules emotions, particularly, in making decisions. You want to help poor? Fine. Do it — in intelligent way, no in an emotional knee-jerk-reflex style.

In his Kuntres U’Maayan, Rebbe Rashab (fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) writes that even when somebody does good only with emotions, without intellect, he is no different from an animal. What separates a human being from an animal is ability to do everything — including helping others — with intellect. One sign of helping somebody without intellect is when help is given indiscriminately, even to those unworthy of it, or those whom this help would actually hurt. This help, says the Rebbe, comes from yetzer ha’rah, evil inclination which hijacked the initial motive to do good and turned it towards evil.

This is how liberalism works — an initially good motive is hijacked into irrational, ignorant thinking, and results in more negative than positive. Conservatism urges doing good with intellect. Applying a bandage on a cancer tumor is an example of liberalism. Doing a surgery (which from the outside looks aggressive and barbaric to someone who knows nothing about modern medicine) to cut out the tumor is an example of conservatism. (Of course, in case of economics, the best way to help is not touch the free market at all. Any attempt to “make things better where possible” in the economy, as Sarkozi put it, will make things only worse.)

Now watch the video above again. Propaganda of intelligence is not a bad thing. Propaganda of lies, ignorance and irrationality (even when styled as “objective reporting”) is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Liberals meeting with foreign dictators unconditionally

In case you’re a student of history wondering: “What does Obama’s proposal to meet unconditionally with dictators remind me of?”, here is a collage for you:

(Carter with Venezuelan wannabe-Socialist dictator, Hugo Chávez)

(Carter with Romanian Socialist dictator and mass-murderer, Nicolae Ceauşescu)

(Carter with Palestinian terrorist leader, yimach shmo)

(Carter with Cuban Socialist dictator, Fidel Castro)

And just a sprinkle on the cake:

(British appeaser Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, meeting in 1938 with the Nazi leader, yimach shmo, to discuss how the latter would be allowed to have Czechoslovakia — as long as he doesn’t invade anything else. For stability’s sake. As a way to prevent a big war. “Peace in our times”, no less.)

Obama should be the new President

(Obama’s present to the plumber Joe)

Yes, I said it… I support Obama for being the new president. First of all, the Conservatives don’t have a candidate in this election. Neither do the Democrats, really: under normal circumstances, McCain would be from the Democrats, and Obama — from the Communist Party. After hearing some of McCain’s plans (e.g., about the medical care), I tend to agree. Yeah-yeah, on some issues he sounds Conservative, after all, he has to carry the flag, but once elected, he would act pretty spineless… I mean, liberal.

Of course, McCain would be the lesser of two evils, but herein lies the problem: the economy has been irrevocably f—d up by the government, through both long-term and short-term actions, and the government will probably continue to f— everything up for a while (depending on when it stops, this crisis will be just another crisis, may become a long stagnation, or even worse). So, if a Republican becomes a president, people will blame the f—d-up economy on free market (as they are doing already), and then for sure will elect a Democrat for the next term — possibly, even more socialist one than Obama.

If Obama is elected, however, it will be no worse than another Jimmy Carter presidency. Obama will have trouble convincing Congress to do anything too stupid, but will probably f— up enough times on minor issues both inside the country and internationally for everyone to realize whom they have elected. This would happen to most Democrat presidents, but to Obama it will come naturally. The independents will get the cyclically occurring urge for a liberal in the office out of their system and will vote for a Republican (and, G-d willing, more Conservative one) next time around. The damage done by Obama for the country, economy and international affairs will not be as bad as damage done by a soft liberal and an ultra-liberal (following him) in the office.

So… ahem… everyone: vote for Obama. Change! Hope! Bread! With Wealth-Spread on top of it…

(Still vote “Yes” on Question 1, though. Now that a Socialist will be in the office in Washington, at least we can try to reduce socialism locally. Maybe we can import some of New Hampshire into Massachusetts.)

Boston Legal about Christians, Jews and aggression

From Boston Legal, a conversation between Allan Shore’s secretary, Catherine Piper (above), and the firm’s client, Bernard Ferrion, who has recently commited two murders (one against his mother, another — against his only friend, an elderly neighbor):
All I’m saying is: if you killed two people and if you’re as alone as you say, there couldn’t be a better time for you to turn to Jesus Christ, your Savior.
Under normal circumstances I’d agree.
I’m Jewish.
Bernie, there has never-ever been a Jewish serial killer.
Son of Sam? David Berkowitz?
He was adopted. Genetically, he’s one of ours.
Well, what are you saying?
I am saying that if you’re out there murdering people, on some level, you must want to be Christian. Would you let me take you to church?
(Update: Catherine Piper ends up killing Bernie with a skillet, when she realizes he is too evil, and stores his body in a freezer in her basement.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Exler about Beatles

From Alex Exler’s blog (in Russian):
Once, when Beatles were recording a new song of theirs, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, they were disturbed by a profusely hung-over youngster Eric Clapton, who, having lost control of his actions, grabbed George Martin’s guitar and played a solo on it. George declared that he wasn’t about to spend his own money on recording the song over again, and Beatles were forced to leave the recording as it was, with Clapton’s solo in the middle of it.

Paul McCartney then asked Clapton: when had the youngster gotten so drunk?

— Yesterday! — answered Eric Clapton.

“Yesterday…” — thought McCartney. — “Why, that’s not a bad title for a new song!”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

1948, Israel and Arabs

A good article on how “horrible” Jews “forced” Arabs out of their homes — or how it really happened…

(Thanks to Instalawyer for the reference.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mises on causes of economic crises

A classic work by Ludwig von Mises — for anyone who wants to understand what is going on on the market and general principles of economics. Liberate yourself from liberal (no pun intended) propaganda of socialist and Keynesian economics.

There is nothing mysterious about what Mises writes; you won’t have to take a leap of faith, abandon your ethical principles, learn higher Math, commit treason to your government, or worship foreign gods. It is all just common sense.

See also this, on how prices are formed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


It is customary to (try to) forgive people who wronged you and ask others for forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Our actions “below” draw similar actions from “above”. But what does this mean — what is the point of forgiveness, whether between one human and another or between a human and G-d?

We forgive others because we realize that essentially we are one. One soul. One essence. And one cannot hate himself. (This, by the way, is the point of “loving your fellow as yourself”.)

The same is with G-d — we ask for His forgiveness, expect it and are granted it, because on Yom Kippur we reach the level where our essence is one with the Essence of G-d. There cannot be any separation, and, therefore, cannot be any grudges.

So, sins and offenses are not really “forgiven” — they simply loose their relevance, disintegrating in the unity of the offender and the offended, the soul and G-d.

G’mar chassima toivah!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

FDR’s New Deal prolonged depression

The Great Depression was supposed to end in 1936, say two UCLA economists. By regulating the market, creating government-sponsored monopolies that reduced competition, and artificially inflating wages (and, therefore, prices), Roosevelt put a noose around economy’s neck and prolonged the depression, making it Great.

Is there anything we can learn from this? This morning, people on NPR wondered: why didn’t the bailout package work? Maybe not enough time has passed? Maybe it wasn’t enough? Maybe new government regulation policies are necessary — the ones that haven’t been invented yet?... This reminds me of bloodletting practice used before in medicine. Doctors and scientists (if they could be called so) misunderstood how the body works and thought that if you just release blood, it will release the disease with it. What it did, of course, was making a patient weaker and prolonging the disease. What would the doctor say if asked why the patient hasn’t recovered? Maybe not enough time has passed… maybe it wasn’t enough… maybe new ways of bloodletting need to be implemented.

“History teaches man that man learns nothing from history.” We already have a history of one Great Depression created by regulationist practices of the Big Government that kept pulling the hand-break higher and higher and couldn’t quite figure out why the car wasn’t going faster. The problem? They confused the hand-break with gearshift stick and didn’t realize that the car was automatic. Just let go of the big controlling lever, press the gas and let the car go into the next gear by itself.

“President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services,” said Cole, [a UCLA professor] of economics. “So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies.” [...]

In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt's policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.

“High wages and high prices in an economic slump run contrary to everything we know about market forces in economic downturns,” Ohanian said. “As we’ve seen in the past several years, salaries and prices fall when unemployment is high. By artificially inflating both, the New Deal policies short-circuited the market's self-correcting forces. [Emphasis mine throughout the quotes — A.]

The policies were contained in the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which exempted industries from antitrust prosecution if they agreed to enter into collective bargaining agreements that significantly raised wages. Because protection from antitrust prosecution all but ensured higher prices for goods and services, a wide range of industries took the bait, Cole and Ohanian found. By 1934 more than 500 industries, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of private, non-agricultural employment, had entered into the collective bargaining agreements called for under NIRA.

Cole and Ohanian calculate that NIRA and its aftermath account for 60 percent of the weak recovery. Without the policies, they contend that the Depression would have ended in 1936 instead of the year when they believe the slump actually ended: 1943. [...]

“The fact that the Depression dragged on for years convinced generations of economists and policy-makers that capitalism could not be trusted to recover from depressions and that significant government intervention was required to achieve good outcomes,” Cole said. “Ironically, our work shows that the recovery would have been very rapid had the government not intervened.”

What does this mean for us (in case you haven’t guessed yet)?
“Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump,” said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA’s Department of Economics. “We found that a relapse isn’t likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies.”
Oops… (By the way, the above article was written in 2004.) What is amazing is that nothing changed in seventy years: the government still thinks that it can make everything better by imposing new regulations on the market, and people think that giving out free soup is a solution to everything.

Monday, October 6, 2008

“We do not want to pay into a big pot”

(Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück)

I guess some people have some sense left. Despite calls for now international socialism, Germany’s government said: enough is enough.
We as Germans do not want to pay into a big pot where we do not have control and do not know where German money might be used.
Good for them. Now, if only individual people everywhere said the same thing, and their governments listened to them… Yeah, keep dreaming…

Update: Not that Germans are immune to absurdity.

What can we know about G-d? Yom Kippur: Uniting with the Essence

An excellent article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, which I always recommend to beginners in Judaism (and theology in general) asking a question: “What do you mean, we cannot know anything about G-d? Isn’t it practically the same as not believing in G-d?”

After reading this article, think about this: on Wednesday night and on Thursday, if you are Jewish you connect not to a “Fingertip”, but to the Beyond. On Rosh HaShana, you declared G-d the King — you do this by saying: “I will be one of your nation. I will connect my will to your will.” Rosh HaShana is not the day of Creation of the world; it is the day of creation of Human. Because the world was created for the purpose of Human forging a relationship with G-d — which is stronger, when it is done through the physical matter of the world (by definition, this world hides G-d; therefore, when you make the world a dwelling place for G-d’s Will, you reveal His Unity and Absolute Truth to the extent, which is impossible in the upper worlds).

On Yom Kippur, you are saying: We will not let the world be a barrier between me and G-d. The world is the interface; it doesn’t exist for itself. The descent I made into this seemingly G-dless world is to meet not the Manifestation of G-d, but the Essence of G-d itself. The descent of my birth was for the ascent achieved during my life. The descent of every sin I did throughout this year was for the ascent of teshuva that has an ability of turning a sin into a mitzvah: when I cry out from the distance from G-d (caused by my sin and by this world), the cry brings me closer to G-d than I was before I fell. (No, you cannot sin for the purpose of later teshuva — it doesn’t work that way.)

On Yom Kippur your sins loose their significance and existence, because you are achieving a unity of the Essence of the world, Essence of your soul and Essence of the Infinite G-d. Let it happen speedily, in our days, that we witness the coming of Mashiach and this unity becomes b’giluyin a revealed way; both physically and spiritually.

See also this post on Simple Jew’s blog — what is taking shoes off on Yom Kippur all about? Where is the balance between being completely immersed into the world and being an ascetic removed from it?

Free iPhone

Continuing the topic of similarity of iPhones and socialism: under socialism, things are given to you “for free”. Of course, you find out later that “for free” means you pay several times the item’s cost for its wrapping — but hey, fair is fair; at least you got the item itself for free.

Alex Exler writes (in Russian) about conditions of getting an iPhone for free in Moscow: you sign up for MTC (Russian cell phone company) plan and get a free iPhone. Of course, you have to pay immediately 30,000 rubles and then use the company’s service for 15 months (5000 rubles a month) — but that’s part of getting a free iPhone. So, you pay $1200 right away for a free iPhone and then pay them $2000 more for 15 months’ worth of using it — not bad…

Vote to repeal MA income tax

Vote yes on Question 1. Bail me out — with my own money! Vote to reduce the Big, costly, ineffective, unmanageable, unaccountable, irresponsible, sticking-its-nose-in-your-private-life, controlling government. Pay for protection of your rights and freedoms — nothing else. Delegate to the government your right to protect yourself; don’t delegate your personal choices. Something that can be done privately is done better privately. Including charity and support of social causes. Stop paying salary to bureaucrats to take your money and throw it away.

If you’re confused by conflicting information and different opinions, educate yourself. Rely on facts and logic, not authorities.

Obama helped a stranger 20 years ago

A story about how Obama helped a stranger 20 years ago by paying for her extra baggage in an airport. Which is why we should elect him as a President, so that he can “encourage” us to help strangers in all other areas of life — whether we want to or not, and whether we approve of who is being helped and for what reason or not. And whether those that are being supposedly helped are really being helped.

Well, in any event, the man is now cleared in my eyes. He may have associated with terrorists, assassins and people like Tony Rezko; he may have had a racist for a mentor; he may have committed a felony by violating Logan Act; he may be really bad for the country’s economy and international relations — but all of this is nothing, because he helped a stranger 20 years ago.

And if you read the article, the note at the end is simply charming: if this story turns out to be a lie, like numerous stories about Palin and McCain, well, in this case nobody will be hurt. How cute! Maybe this is the way some journalists think nowadays: “First, do no harm” — as long as I haven’t actually hurt anyone, a little bit of lying is not unethical. Of course, not all journalists have such admirable self-restraint, so we should applaud those that limit their lying only to cases where nobody is hurt. At least, directly.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

“Bail out people, not banks!”

One of my colleagues said the same thing. Highly intelligent guy, by the way (no joking).

I have another idea: instead of giving easy mortgages to people with bad credit history — and when they can’t pay, bailing them out, as suggested — just give them taxpayers’ money to begin with, directly. Save a lot of hustle. Better yet: not the money of all tax payers, but just the rich people’s taxes. Actually, why stop at mortgages? Give the poor people credit cards, and send the bills to the rich folks. And anytime one of the poor people makes a mistake which costs him money, a rich person will pay for it. Yeah… Take from the rich and give to the poor… Hmm… Why did nobody ever think of that, huh?

And… and… why stop at money? Let’s equalize people’s opportunities and luxuries in all areas: let’s take over-privileged pretty people who got “pretty” genes from their parents (and thus are able to have sex a lot) and force them to have sex with under-privileged ugly people who didn’t get such good genes from their parents, affecting their opportunity to get ahead in life laid.
(Analogy suggested by [info]arbat.)

Liberals should make the guy in pink sunglasses one of their spokespersons. A scientific Marxist, no less.

I also liked how the brown-haired girl explained that the life in the Soviet Union was overall much better than in capitalist countries. That’s why so many poor people immigrated into the Soviet Union from capitalist countries, not vice versa. Yes, there were some people who decided to leave the Soviet Union and China and head for US, UK, Germany, Israel — but they were clearly masochists. Or very stupid and uneducated — whoever heard, for example, of Russian or Chinese scientists, writers, artists, programmers, or business people immigrating to capitalist countries?

By the way: Stalin’s murder of ~50 million people was apparently during the war on industrialization. Funny, I thought Stalin did all the purges trying to convert Russia’s economy from agrarian to industrialized as quickly as possible. It must have been the other way around!

Another woman: “I’ve been to Cuba several times, and I see… you know, there are not luxuries, but people have food! They have education!” Holly shit! Why didn’t I know about this? I am moving to Cuba right away. I mean, here I am, sitting in the US, with all my luxuries but no food or education. Especially since, as it turns out, people in Cuba “are free to speak out” about how conditions are so good. Everyone has food, clothes, place to live, a chair to sit on. I bet, they are also free to criticize capitalism.

Obama and iPhone

This (and this) makes perfect sense: birds of a feather gather together.

“Economist” on the crisis and regulation

Vortex of regulation

This article in the Economist seems to agree with both the contents and the imagery of the earlier post — regulationist vortex of business nationalization is wrecking the economy. The best thing to do is allow the laws of finance restore the market.
A longer-term worry is the inevitable urge to regulate modern finance into submission. Though understandable, that desire is wrong and dangerous — and the colossal success of commerce in the emerging world [...]. Finance is the brain of the economy. For all its excesses, it allocates resources to where they are productive better than any central planner ever could.

Regulation is necessary, and much must now be done to improve the laws of finance. But it must be the right regulation: an end to America’s fragmented system of oversight; more transparency; capital requirements that lean against booms and flex with busts; supervision of giants, like AIG, that are too big and too interconnected to fail; accounting that values risks better and that everyone accepts; clearing houses and exchanges to make derivatives safer and less opaque.

All that would count as progress. But naive faith in regulators’ powers creates ruinous false security. Financiers know more than regulators and their voices carry more weight in a boom. Banks can exploit the regulations’ inevitable blind spots: assets hidden off their balance sheets, or insurance (such as that provided by AIG) which enables them to profit by sliding out of the capital requirements the regulators set. It is no accident that both schemes were at the heart of the crisis.

A later article, however, seems to argue otherwise and supports the bailout.
Intervention may help taxpayers, because they are also employees and consumers.
Thanks for deciding for me what’s going to help me. This one goes even further. Arguing that credit unavailability is bad (compare with this opinion, stating that the economy is not yet ready for loose credit — it needs to wind down and stabilize before credit becomes more available), the article proposes not just national, but international socialism:
Governments need not just to communicate, but also to co-ordinate.
Why don’t we cut through the b.s. and call it the Third (Fourth?) International already? “Regulationists of the world unite!”

Obama youth

Creating huge propaganda machine for your cause: check. Using lies through this machine whenever and wherever possible: check. Enlisting children and youth for your cause: check.

See also the comparisons to N. Korea and Nazi Germany.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A new era in economy... coming, says Michael Malone. Painfully, but surely.

From where I sit, the United States government has embarked on two pieces of social engineering in the last few years. One was to make oil [as expensive] as possible to drive people to greater use of alternative energy sources — because anything less would be irresponsible and destructive to the environment. The other was to enshrine home ownership (i.e., easy-to-obtain mortgages) as a new American right — because anything less would be unequal and racist.

None of us voted on these decisions — indeed, neither was even spoken about directly, much less debated. But nevertheless, both became national policy… and both have sparked national, now international, crises. Then, once they became crises, both were blamed on ‘greedy capitalism’, instead of what they really were: legislative interference into market forces. […]

To my mind, what makes this economic crisis different from ones in even the recent past is that it has exposed the fact that there are, apparently, no real leaders left in Washington — that the intellectual capital in the National Capitol has fallen to a new low — if that’s possible. Most of all, it shows that we can no longer look to D.C. for leadership into the rest of the 21st century.

Marxists and statists of all stripes are, as one might expect, rubbing their hands in glee and declaring this the final death crisis of Capitalism. But I think just the opposite is occurring. What we are in fact seeing are the final death throes of governmental social engineering. As I noted two weeks ago, we are in a kind of Mentos-in-coke world right now — where, thanks to tech, the sheer speed of transactions and the enormous breadth of response, almost any outside influence can quickly turn the whole economy (or culture) into an explosive brew.

As it happens, out here in Silicon Valley, we have been conducting our own social engineering experiments. Three, in fact, have been at least as sweeping as Freddie Mac’s changing of mortgage eligibility rules. One of them has been to wire the entire world in a huge, high-speed global information grid (the Internet). Another has been to restructure the entire entertainment industry and its pricing model (the iPod). And the third has been to empower the citizenry to form groups based upon common interests rather than the limitations of physical proximity (Web 2.0 — social networks). […]

(Read the rest here.) The prognosis sounds good, although I am not sure that I am as optimistic. But what do I know?…

“Stabilization is chaos” t-shirt



Order online.

Circus is in town

This reminds me of listening to Ukrainian Rada (parliament) on the radio with my grandfather, back in mid-90’s. At some point, you realize that these people are driving circus clowns out of business…


I just noticed: the way Russian, American and English capitals’ mayors look seems to be representative of each country’s culture — or, at least, the popular image of that culture.

Moscow mayor Luzhkov:

(Silk suit in bad taste — the guy looks like a pimp… Red ball… What is he signing? It looks like a brochure with pictures — a set-up photo? Pompous, fake, full of himself…)

New York (yes, it’s the cultural and economic capital) mayor, Michael Bloomberg:

(Microphone, conservative look, talking to some journalist liar. Probably about some Great Cause, in which he without a doubt believes himself.)

London mayor, Boris Johnson:

’ello, mate! :)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Economists and the vortex of power

Today, in the car:
— So, what, everyone is an idiot? All the politicians, all the economists in the Washington think this is the right thing to do, and they’re all idiots? How can all of them be idiots?
— What about the Soviet Union? Were all the politicians, economists, etc. idiots?
— In the Soviet Union — yes. Here it’s different.
— It’s not different for those that want to turn the US into a Socialist state.

— You didn’t like everything going on in the Soviet Union, did you? The corruption, the black market, the country turned into a prison, nobody caring about anything…
— Yeah, but that was politics.
— The politics is the result of the economic system. Whenever socialist goals are set, the society starts to change — go down the drain. In order to “regulate” that, the government has to implement all the “wonderful” political tools of Socialist era. Politics is always closely tied to the economy and vice versa.
Right now, I was listening to Joe Salerno. He said the exact same thing: that even the economists like Bernanke, who seemed to understand what was going on, right now are being sucked into the idiocy. The explanation is simple: once you get involved with the government, you start thinking in terms of political self-preservation and get sucked-in into the centralized vortex of regulationism. The closer you get to the vortex, the more you’re influenced by it, the sooner you loose the independence of thinking.

Very interesting conversation. He also discussed Keynesianism (“It’s dead from the neck up”) — a great enabler of the state power, the credit crisis, and the hysterics. Bottom line: allow the economy to restore itself. In the time of recession, the credit cannot be loosely available — and it became loose to begin with because of the Fed.

First, do no harm.