Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Rebbe and Rav Kaduri


They are giving each other blessings and talk about rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdosh.

Rav Kaduri was always a big friend of the Rebbe and Chabad. When one of the rabbis of Israel said something negative about the Rebbe, Rav Kaduri asked: “Who is this fly that raises its wing against a lion?” After gimmel Tammuz, Rav Kaduri also talked very hopefully and prophetically about the Rebbe and speedily approaching geulah.

May the merit of the two giants protect us and bring the Era of Mashiach speedily in our days, when every child will see with his eyes the contents of their teachings, Kabbala and Chassidus, the Essence of Torah, revealed in the physical matter of the world.

Besides the absolute beauty and seriousness of the moment, it was a little funny to watch how Rav Kaduri gives the Rebbe a “rabbi handshake” — a handshake which seems to go on forever, when the one shaking your hand (usually a rabbi) keeps holding on to it and talking to you.

Dying for one’s country

Not well written, but funny.

I assume most of you know what General Patton said about dying for one’s country.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

La economía verde que vendió a Obama es una ruina

[T]oday the Spanish newspaper La Gaceta runs with a full-page article fessing up to the truth about Spain’s “green jobs” boondoggle, which happens to be the one naively cited by President Obama no less than eight times as his model for the United States. It is now out there as a bust, a costly disaster that has come undone in Spain to the point that even the Socialists admit it, with the media now in full pursuit. [...]

La Gaceta boldly exposes the failure of the Spanish renewable policy and how Obama has been following it. The headline screams: “Spain admits that the green economy as sold to Obama is a disaster.” [...]

On eight occasions, the occupant of the White House referred to the Spanish model as an example to follow. The paradox is that it is a model that Obama himself wants Spain to abandon, as made clear in his call to Zapatero last week in which he asked him to change his strategy on the crisis.

The internal report of the Spanish administration admits that the price of electricity has gone up, as well as the debt, due to the extra costs of solar and wind energy. Even the government numbers indicate that each green job created costs more than 2.2 traditional jobs, as was shown in the report of the Juan de Mariana Institute. Besides that, the official document is almost a copy point by point of the one that led to Calzada being denounced [lit. "vetoed"] by the Spanish Embassy in an act in the U.S. Congress.

The presentation recognizes explicitly that “the increase of the electric bill is principally due to the cost of renewable energies.” In fact, the increase in the extra costs of this industry explains more than 120% of the variation in the bill and has prevented the reduction in the costs of conventional electricity production to be reflected on the bills of the citizens.

If the document indicates that the development of renewable energies has had a positive impact, especially in the reduction of emissions, it has also admitted that the evolution has been too fast, due to subsidies.

“Between 2004 and 2010, the quantity of subsidies has been multiplied by five”, says the text of the Spanish Ministry. In 2009 alone they were doubled from the previous year to 5,045 million euros, the equivalent of the whole public investment in I+D+i [“Investigación + Desarrollo + Innovación tecnológica”, or "research, development, and technological innovation"] in Spain.

The numbers in the long run are even scarier. The government itself says that the alternative energies sector will receive 126 billion euros in the next 25 years. Just an example: The owners of solar plants make 12 times more than what they pay for the energy coming from fossil fuel combustion. The majority are subsidies charged to the consumer.

The conclusion is that with the economy at the point of bankruptcy, it is not possible to keep injecting money in such a costly sector. And the government seems to realize this now.

But aside from all this, Obama’s green energy project might cost him votes. The republican Rand Paul, animated by the tea party movement, won the primary on Tuesday for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat owing to, among other things, being a fierce critic of the president’s agenda on climate change.

Read more here.

But I don’t think we should judge “green industry” too harshly. I think the healthy way to look at it, together with the rest of liberal “reforms” is like a modern version of Sistine Chapel.

More on the topic:
Liberalism with initiative
Green building in Portland, Oregon
I love these three comments to the last link (I think they describe all liberal reforms perfectly):
This is seriously stupid. Assuming the numbers are accurate (since government is involved I'll wager they are not), it'll only take 475 years for the energy savings to pay off the investment.
    I hope this is an absolutely tiny part of this $133m project. If not it's a complete waste of money.
    FTA: "As a taxpayer, I think it’s a horrible waste of money that no private developer would undertake," Mr. Vaughan said.

"One issue yet to be tackled by architects is irrigation. Rainwater from the roof is one suggestion, while water recycled from the building's plumbing is another."
        Umm... poop water flowing down the sides of the building? I really hope that's not what they mean.

Knowing Oregon, that "vegetation" is probably going to be weed that, when sold on the open market, should generate enough cash to address any cost concerns anyone may have.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Two horses

Although I, like all the people with any kind of taste, dislike Lang Lang, I think this is very nice. (G-rated content.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crook vs. racist?

Back in the day, there was an election in Louisiana between two candidates for a governor (or a senator, I am not sure and am too lazy to look up). Much of the intelligentsia supported one of the candidates. The slogan of the intelligentsia was: “Better a crook than a racist” (this just shows you the realities of politics in Louisiana; as well as the realities of any politics, for that matter).

I was just thinking while reading this (I don’t know anything about this blog; it’s just the first source of that speech I found while googling) that I suppose people voting for the current president did not think in the same terms (not that McCain was a crook; I mean whatever flaw people who voted for Obama found in McCain was obviously worse that the flaws of Obama). I actually know a 22-year-old who was quite proud of the fact that her first act of political activism (nothing to be proud of ever, but never mind that) was to vote for Obama. I think it’s quite sad, to be honest.
 Like Obama, I am a graduate of Harvard Law School. I too have Muslims in my family. I am black, and I was once a leftist Democrat. Since our backgrounds are somewhat similar, I perceive something in Obama's policy toward Israel which people without that background may not see. All my life I have witnessed a strain of anti-Semitism in the black community. It has been fueled by the rise of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan, but it predates that organization.
We heard it in Jesse Jackson's "HYMIE town" remark years ago during his presidential campaign. We heard it most recently in Jeremiah Wright's remark about "them Jews" not allowing Obama to speak with him. I hear it from my own Muslim family members who see the problem in the Middle East as a "Jew" problem.
Growing up in a small, predominantly black urban community in Pennsylvania, I heard the comments about Jewish shop owners. They were "greedy cheaters" who could not be trusted, according to my family and others in the neighborhood. I was too young to understand what it means to be Jewish, or know that I was hearing anti-Semitism. These people seemed nice enough to me, but others said they were "evil". Sadly, this bigotry has yet to be eradicated from the black community.
In Chicago, the anti-Jewish sentiment among black people is even more pronounced because of the direct influence of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Most African Americans are not followers of "The Nation", but many have a quiet respect for its leader because, they say, "he speaks the truth" and "stands up for the black man". What they mean of course is that he viciously attacks the perceived "enemies" of the black community – white people and Jews. Even some self-described Christians buy into his demagoguery.
The question is whether Obama, given his Muslim roots and experience in Farrakhan's Chicago, shares this antipathy for Israel and Jewish people. Is there any evidence that he does. First, the President was taught for twenty years by a virulent anti-Semite, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In the black community it is called "sitting under". You don't merely attend a church, you "sit under" a Pastor to be taught and mentored by him. Obama "sat under" Wright for a very long time. He was comfortable enough with Farrakhan – Wright's friend – to attend and help organize his "Million Man March". I was on C-Span the morning of the march arguing that we must never legitimize a racist and anti-Semite, no matter what "good" he claims to be doing. Yet a future President was in the crowd giving Farrakhan his enthusiastic support. [read on
But — hooray for the free dental insurance. (Well, I personally don’t have it, but I am happy for those that do.)

Also, this caught my attention: “Growing up in a small, predominantly black urban community in Pennsylvania, I heard the comments about Jewish shop owners. They were ‘greedy cheaters’ who could not be trusted, according to my family and others in the neighborhood.”

But, which shop owners (or worse yet, factory owners, CEOs, etc.) are not “greedy cheaters who cannot be trusted”? You hear from many very intelligent, educated people with good character traits that they “don’t like capitalism”. Of course, they like being able to buy bananas while living in a northern state more than once a year. And pizza (which may be made locally, but most of the things to make it, including the ingredients and the tools, were brought from other states by those huge trucks or even from overseas). And they like to be able to afford to make use of air (or bus, or taxi) travel. And of the 99% of their life that would be impossible without capitalism. And yet, the people who provide them with the goods and services are not to be trusted and the system of free exchange of goods and services is bad.

Also, recently I heard from a family member that “there shouldn’t be business-type relations within a family”. I asked her: “Do you mean that if I own a business — or, let’s make it less evil, a lab — and your husband is a specialist, and I need exactly that kind of specialist, it is bad for me to hire him and allow him to provide for his family, while I get in return his service?” She said: “Well, no, of course not. I mean relations of a simpler lomd”. So, I said: “You mean, if I need a babysitter for my kids, and my niece is looking for a summer job, it’s better for me to hire a complete stranger, and my niece to go working for complete strangers than for us to help each other out with what each one is looking for?” She didn’t think that was too evil either. Whatever example I was providing was not evil. In the end, it seemed, some kind of business-like relations in a family are fine. As long as children don’t “borrow” two dollars from their parents and then demand those back. Well, yeah, that’s just a bit stupid.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The edge of the world, part I


Dandilion came down the steps of the inn carefully, carrying two tankards dripping with froth.
    Cursing under his breath he squeezed through a group of curious children and crossed the yard at a diagonal, avoiding the cowpats.
    A number of villagers had already gathered round the table in the courtyard where the witcher was talking to the alderman. The poet set the tankards down and found a seat. He realised straight away that the conversation hadn't advanced a jot during his short absence.
    'I'm a witcher, sir,' Geralt repeated for the umpteenth time, wiping beer froth from his lips. 'I don't sell anything. I don't go around enlisting men for the army and I don't know how to treat glanders. I'm a witcher.'
    'It's a profession,' explained Dandilion yet again. 'A witcher, do you understand? He kills strigas and spectres. He exterminates all sorts of vermin. Professionally, for money. Do you get it, alderman?'
    'Aha!' The alderman's brow, deeply furrowed in thought, grew smoother. 'A witcher! You
should have said so right away!'
    'Exactly,' agreed Geralt. 'So now I'll ask you: is there any work to be found around here for me?'
    'Aaaa.' The alderman quite visibly started to think again. 'Work? Maybe those . . . Well . . . werethings? You're asking are there any werethings hereabouts?'
    The witcher smiled and nodded, rubbing an itching eyelid with his knuckles.
    'That there are,' the alderman concluded after a fair while.
    'Only look ye yonder, see ye those mountains? There's elves live there, that there is their kingdom. Their palaces, hear ye, are all of pure gold. Oh aye, sir! Elves, I tell ye. 'Tis awful. He who yonder goes, never returns.'
    'I thought so,' said Geralt coldly. 'Which is precisely why I don't intend going there.'
    Dandilion chuckled impudently.
    The alderman pondered a long while, just as Geralt had expected.
    'Aha,' he said at last. 'Well, aye. But there be other werethings here too. From the land of elves they come, to be sure. Oh, sir, there be many, many. 'Tis hard to count them all. But the worst, that be the Bane, am I right, my good men?'
    The 'good men' came to life and besieged the table from all sides.
    'Bane!' said one. 'Aye, aye, 'tis true what the alderman says. A pale virgin, she walks the cottages at daybreak, and the children, they die!'
    'And imps,' added another, a soldier from the watchtower. 'They tangle up the horses' manes in the stables!'
    'And bats! There be bats here!'
    'And myriapodans! You come up all in spots because of them!'
    The next few minutes passed in a recital of the monsters which plagued the local peasants with their dishonourable doings, or their simple existence. Geralt and Dandilion learnt of misguids and mamunes, which prevent an honest peasant from finding his way home in a drunken stupour, of the flying drake which drinks milk from cows, of the head on spider's legs which runs around in the forest, of hobolds which wear red hats and about a dangerous pike which tears linen from women's hands as they wash it - and just you wait and it'll be at the women themselves. They weren't spared hearing that old Nan the Hag flies on a broom at night and performs abortions in the day, that the miller tampers with the flour by mixing it with powdered acorns and that a certain Duda believed the royal steward to be a thief and scoundrel.
    Geralt listened to all this calmly, nodding with feigned interest, and asked a few questions about the roads and layout of the land, after which he rose and nodded to Dandilion.
    'Well, take care, my good people,' he said. 'I'll be back soon, then we'll see what can be done.'
    They rode away in silence alongside the cottages and fences, accompanied by yapping dogs
and screaming children.
    'Geralt,' said Dandilion, standing in the stirrups to pick a fine apple from a branch which stretched over the orchard fence, 'all the way you've been complaining about it being harder and harder to find work. Yet from what I just heard, it looks as if you could work here without break until winter. You'd make a penny or two, and I'd have some beautiful subjects for my ballads. So explain why we're riding on.'
    'I wouldn't make a penny, Dandilion.'
    'Because there wasn't a word of truth in what they said.'
    'I beg your pardon?'
    'None of the creatures they mentioned exist.'
    'You're joking!' Dandilion spat out a pip and threw the apple core at a patched mongrel. 'No, it's impossible. I was watching them carefully, and I know people. They weren't lying.'
    'No,' the witcher agreed. 'They weren't lying. They firmly believed it all. Which doesn't change the facts.'
    The poet was silent for a while.
    'None of those monsters . . . None? It can't be. Something of what they listed must be here. At least one! Admit it.'
    'All right. I admit it. One does exist for sure.'
    'Ha! What?'
    'A bat.'
    They rode out beyond the last fences, on to a highway between beds yellow with oilseed and cornfields rolling in the wind. Loaded carts travelled past them in the opposite direction. The bard pulled his leg over the saddle-bow, rested his lute on his knee and strummed nostalgic tunes, waving from time to time at the giggling, scantily clad girls wandering along the sides of the road carrying rakes on their robust shoulders.
    'Geralt,' he said suddenly, 'but monsters do exist. Maybe not as many as before, maybe they don't lurk behind every tree in the forest, but they are there. They exist. So how do you account for people inventing ones, then? What's more, believing in what they invent? Eh, famous witcher? Haven't you wondered why?'
    'I have, famous poet. And I know why.'
    'I'm curious.'
    'People,' Geralt turned his head, 'like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live.'
    'I'll remember that,' said Dandilion, after a moment's silence. 'I'll find some rhymes and compose a ballad about it.'
    'Do. But don't expect a great applause.'
    They rode slowly but lost the last cottages of the hamlet from sight. Soon they had climbed the row of forested hills.
    'Ha.' Dandilion halted his horse and looked around. 'Look, Geralt. Isn't it beautiful here? Idyllic, damn it. A feast for the eyes!'
    The land sloped gently down to a mosaic of flat, even fields picked out in variously coloured crops. In the middle, round and regular like a leaf of clover, sparkled the deep waters of three lakes surrounded by dark strips of alder thickets. The horizon was traced by a misty blue line of mountains rising above the black, shapeless stretch of forest.
    'We're riding on, Dandilion.'
    The road led straight towards the lakes alongside dykes and ponds hidden by alder trees and filled with quacking mallards, garganeys, herons and grebes. The richness of bird life was surprising alongside the signs of human activity — the dykes were well maintained and covered with fascines, while the sluice gates had been reinforced with stones and beams. The outlet boxes, which were not in the least rotten, trickled merrily with water.
    Canoes and jetties were visible in the reeds by the lakes and bars of set nets and fish-pots
were poking out of the deep waters.
    Dandilion suddenly looked around.
    'Someone's following us,' he said, excited. 'In a cart!'
    'Incredible,' scoffed the witcher without looking around. 'In a cart? And I thought that the locals rode on bats.'
    'Do you know what?' growled the troubadour. 'The closer we get to the edge of the world, the sharper your wit. I dread to think what it will come to!'
    They weren't riding fast, and the empty cart, drawn by two piebald horses, quickly caught up with them.
    'Woooooaaaaahhhh!' The driver brought the horses to a halt just behind them. He was wearing a sheepskin over his bare skin and his hair reached down to his brows. 'The gods be praised, noble sirs!'
    'We, too,' replied Dandilion, familiar with the custom, 'praise them.'
    'If we want to,' murmured the witcher.
    'I call myself Nettly,' announced the carter. 'I was watching ye speak to the alderman at Upper Posada. I know ye tae be a witcher.'
    Geralt let go of the reins and let his mare snort at the roadside nettles.
    'I did hear,' Nettly continued, 'the alderman prattle ye stories. I marked your expression and 'twas nae strange to me. In a long time now I've nae heard such balderdash and lies.'
    Dandilion laughed.
    Geralt was looking at the peasant attentively, silently.
    Nettly cleared his throat. 'Care ye nae to be hired for real, proper work, sir?' he asked. 'There'd be something I have for ye.'
    'And what is that?'
    Nettly didn't lower his eyes. 'It be nae good to speak of business on the road. Let us drive on to my home, to Lower Posada. There we'll speak. Anyways, 'tis that way ye be heading.'
    'Why are you so sure?'
    'As 'cos ye have nae other way here, and yer horses' noses be turned in that direction, not their butts.'
    Dandilion laughed again. 'What do you say to that, Geralt?'
    'Nothing,' said the witcher. 'It's no good to talk on the road. On our way then, honourable Nettly.'
    'Tie ye the horses to the frame, and sit yerselves down in the cart,' the peasant proposed. 'It be more comfortable for ye. Why rack yer arses on the saddle?'
    'Too true.'
    They climbed onto the cart. The witcher stretched out comfortably on the straw. Dandilion, evidently afraid of getting his elegant green jerkin dirty, sat on the plank. Nettly clucked his tongue at the horses and the vehicle clattered along the beam-reinforced dyke.
They crossed a bridge over a canal overgrown with water-lilies and duckweed, and passed a
strip of cut meadows. Cultivated fields stretched as far as the eye could see.
    'It's hard to believe that this should be the edge of the world, the edge of civilisation,' said
Dandilion. 'Just look, Geralt. Rye like gold, and a mounted peasant could hide in that corn. Or
that oilseed, look, how enormous.'
    'You know about agriculture?'
    'We poets have to know about everything,' said Dandilion haughtily. 'Otherwise we'd compromise our work. One has to learn, my dear fellow, learn. The fate of the world depends
on agriculture, so it's good to know about it. Agriculture feeds, clothes, protects from the cold, provides entertainment and supports art.'
    'You've exaggerated a bit with the entertainment and art.'
    'And booze, what's that made of?'
    'I get it.'
    'Not very much, you don't. Learn. Look at those purple flowers. They're lupins.'
    'They's be vetch, to be true,' interrupted Nettly. 'Have ye nae seen lupins, or what? But ye
have hit exact with one thing, sir. Everything seeds mightily here, and grows as to make the
heart sing. That be why 'tis called the Valley of Flowers. That be why our forefathers settled
here, first ridding the land of the elves.'
    'The Valley of Flowers, that's Dol Blathanna,' Dandilion nudged the witcher, who was stretched out on the straw, with his elbow. 'You paying attention? The elves have gone but their name remains. Lack of imagination. And how do you get on with the elves here, dear host? You've got them in the mountains across the path, after all.'
    'We nae mix with each other. Each to his own.'
    'The best solution,' said the poet. 'Isn't that right, Geralt?'
    The witcher didn't reply.

[to be continued]

A note
(“If you use your free insurance, your teeth will look as shiny as mine”)

A note found in President Obama’s desk from his predecessor.
To: President Obama
From: President Bush
Subject: When [...] hits the fan

Dear Borya,

When things get tough, do the following:

1. Blame everything on me.
2. Do everything exactly like me.

Best of luck,
It seems our mighty leader has gotten to step two. (If you remember, President Bush started a war in Iraq. The war was going badly. Liberals and the press were screaming. Then the President found a proper general, who won the war. The same story, by the way, happened with President Lincoln.)

[via arbat]

Where is that street, where is that house?

A spot on the map.

From Prince in Prison:
"It's only 3:30 a.m.," said the man to himself, "and they've already brought in so many people tonight. So many people! Our comrades are working overtime. Me, too: four hours overtime!"
    He turned to me and asked: "Where are you from?"
    "I come from a little town," I said. "I don't know if you've ever heard of it. I was born in Lubavitchi. On one side there's the Rudnia train station between Vitebsk and Smolensk, and on the other side the Krasnoya station between Orsha and Smolensk."
    "Lubavitchi?" said the young man. "I know it well, I know it well. I’ve been there as a child. It's not so small: it had a big market place, right? And two houses of prayer,” he said thoughtfully. “And do you know Gusin?"
    I knew Gusin, its railway station, the surrounding villages. Many of my acquaintances lived there — Jews, of course. I did not know the local squires or landowners or villagers, for I had no contact with them.
    It now became clear that my earlier guess that this man was a gentile who came from those southern regions was correct.
    He continued, overwhelmed by memories: "The family of a holy man, I remember now, lived near the market place of Lubavitch, in a big courtyard in which there was a well with good water. Every time I visited the market place with my father I always ran to have a drink of water there, and we used to take water for our horses, too."
    "Yes, yes!" I responded, and my heart beat faster at the awakening of old memories. This was certainly a remarkable encounter, but who could tell whether this conversation would prove to my advantage or not? I almost decided to go to the head office.
    As I stood up I said, "I have to go to the head office."
    "Sure," said the man. "I'll go with you and show you what to do and with whom to speak. Have you been here before? Do you know what has to be done? Can you write?"
    "This is my first time here," I answered. "I don't know what I have to do nor what I have to write."
    "There are secretaries over there," he explained. "They'll ask the questions and write down whatever you answer. When you've filled out the questionnaire they'll escort you to the examination room. There they will take from you whatever is superfluous for a prisoner - your money, watch, and so on. You will then be handed over to one of the warders who will take you to the officer in charge of a certain wing, and you will sit in one of his cells."
    I rejoiced that G-d's mercy had given me the strength not to be alarmed by his words. I had evidently accustomed myself to my current situation and hoped to G-d that I would be able to maintain myself properly; that I would not allow Judaism to be trodden upon; that fearing no wicked or violent man, I would be able to transform my former firm decision into reality. [...]

* * *
What a lofty thing is the simple inner faith that every Jew inherits from our Patriarchs, the fathers of the world! How great is the power of complete trust! They are not only the foundations of our faith but also the foundations of every Jew's ordinary material life.
    "Give thanks to G-d for He is good!" Through His lovingkindness the opportunity arose for me to make a wrong turning into this corridor, which proved to be a refuge, a shield against the net of intimidation which Nachmanson and Lulov prepared for me.
    Divine Providence led me like that well-known bit of straw or that leaf, which is blown hither and thither by the wind. I was like them, but even more so, since the realm of the medaber [“the speaker”] is loftier than the vegetative realm; moreover, those who possess a holy [Jewish] soul are of higher standing than other members of the mortal realm. In a word, I was in the hands of Divine Providence.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And you cannot separate them at all

It is interesting to me that the Rebbe sighed after he said that.

Who knew, back then, standing in that room, what would follow? Who could predict?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Up is down

Before the creation, there are two forces: bli gvul (infinite) and gvul (finite). The bli gvul dominates. And there is nothing. Only Hashem’s Light, with all different forms of creation dissolved in it, existing all at the same time, in potential.

Then Hashem gives the power of domination to the koach gvul. And creation happens.

Basically, it looks like this (in this scene Jack et al. are coming back from the Afterlife):


“Have you heard of Finnish sisu?” asks a character in “Mortlake” — and it turns out that sisu is a sort of stamina or staying-power which the Finns have had to develop as a result of living next door to the Russians.
— Nigel Dennis, New York Times Book Review

When my car’s engine was threatening to stop as I was driving in the darkness to NYC, I was thinking of this clip. Not because of all the driving prowess, but because of what they said about sisu — a Finish version of guts, spine and other organs symbolizing courage and determination.
Lesson over, we stopped for a cup of hot raindeer blood [not really] and talked about why the Fins are so suited for motorsports.
— Tell me a bit about sisu. What’s sisu?
— Sisu in English means “courage”. What to a Fin is courage. Let me give you an example. Climbing up this tree. And then jumping down from there. Now that doesn’t mean sisu. It’s not courage.
— That’s stupidity.
— Exactly. Now, sisu we can relate very much to in motorracing. For example, you are driving a rally car in a forest extremely very fast. And you need courage to break light, to go throttle very early or go very close to the apex of the corners...
Now, I didn’t need to do any of that. I just needed to keep driving. In a way, it took more sisu (if I have any — I was born just across the border from Finland) than driving through ice on I-84E that I did last winter.

A little more sisu:

That would be the French

More to come after I recover completely.

This is also quite good:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aztec human sacrifice

(Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the capital of Aztec empire, at its height being inhabited by 200,000 people in the center and over a million in the suburbs, more than London of the time. Only Paris, Venice and Constantinople were larger at the time)

To me, this was interesting (especially the part marked below in bold) for a number of reasons. From the Wikipedia article.

* * *
Sacrifice was a common theme in Mesoamerican cultures. In the Aztec "Legend of the Five Suns", all the gods sacrificed themselves so that mankind could live. Some years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, a body of Franciscans confronted the remaining Aztec priesthood and demanded, under threat of death, that they desist from their murderous practice. The Aztec priests defended themselves as follows:
Life is because of the gods; with their sacrifice they gave us life [...]. They produce our sustenance [...] which nourishes life.
What the Aztec priests were referring to was a central Mesoamerican belief: that a great, on-going sacrifice sustains the Universe. Everything is tonacayotl: the "spiritual flesh-hood" or on earth. Everything —earth, crops, moon, stars and people— springs from the severed or buried bodies, fingers, blood or the heads of the sacrificed gods. Humanity itself is macehualli, "those deserved and brought back to life through penance". A strong sense of indebtedness was connected with this worldview. Indeed, nextlahualli (debt-payment) was a commonly used metaphor for human sacrifice, and, as Bernardino de Sahagún reported, it was said that the victim was someone who "gave his service".

Human sacrifice was in this sense the highest level of an entire panoply of offerings through which the Aztecs sought to repay their debt to the gods. Both Sahagún and Toribio de Benavente (also called "Motolinía") observed that the Aztecs gladly parted with everything: burying, smashing, sinking, slaying vast quantities of quail, rabbits, dogs, feathers, flowers, insects, beans, grains, paper, rubber and treasures as sacrifices. Even the "stage" for human sacrifice, the massive temple-pyramids, was an offering mound: crammed with treasures, grains, soil and human and animal sacrifices that were buried as gifts to the deities. Adorned with the land's finest art, treasure and victims, these temples had become buried offerings under new structures every half a century.

The sacrifice of animals was common, a practice for which the Aztecs bred dogs, eagles, jaguars and deer. Objects also were sacrificed by being broken and offered to the gods. The cult of Quetzalcóatl required the sacrifice of butterflies and hummingbirds.

Self-sacrifice was also quite common; people would offer maguey thorns, tainted with their own blood and, like the Maya kings, would offer blood from their tongue, ear lobes, or genitals. Blood held a central place in Mesoamerican cultures. The Florentine Codex reports that in one of the creation myths Quetzalcóatl offered blood extracted from a wound in his own genital to give life to humanity. There are several other myths in which Nahua gods offer their blood to help humanity.

Common people would offer maguey thorns with their blood. Lloyd deMause has argued that, like present-day self harmers, the Aztecs also practiced bloodletting from cuts made with obsidian knives or bone needles on fleshy parts of the body, like earlobes, lips, tongue, chest and calves. This was considered private and a personal act of penitence toward the gods. The thorns and later placed in an adoratorium.

[This part was especially interesting:]
Much like the role of sacrifice elsewhere in the world, it thus seems that these rites functioned as a type of atonement for Aztec believers. Their sacrificial hymns describe the victim as 'sent (to death) to plead for us,' or 'consecrated to annul all sin. '(Duran, Book of the Gods and Rites, 232). In one such poem, a warrior-victim announces that 'I embrace mankind... I give myself to the community.'(MSS Romance de Los ... Folio 27r).

Aztec society viewed even the slightest tlatlacolli ('sin' or 'insult') as an extremely malevolent supernatural force. For instance, if an adulterer were to enter a house, it was believed that all turkey chicks would perish from tlazomiquiztli, 'filth-death' (Sahagun Bk. 5: 29: 191-192). To avoid such calamities befalling their community, those who had erred punished themselves by extreme measures such as slitting their tongues for vices of speech or their ears for vices of listening, and 'for a slight [sin they] hanged themselves, or threw themselves down precipices, or put an end to themselves by abstinence' (Motolinia, History of the Indies, 106-107). In Classic Nahuatl (the Aztec language) the verbal form ni-c-yecoa, 'I sin', is closely related to ni-c-ye.coa, 'I finish it.' It was believed that error of any sort could quite literally 'finish' or 'ruin' everything (Francisco Clavigero, Historia antiqua de México, 7). This seems to have given Aztec society a heavy dependence on extremely violent 'penance,'of which human sacrifice was considered one form (as already mentioned, human sacrifice was often called 'penance').

A great deal of cosmological thought seems to have underlain each of the Aztec sacrificial rites. By far the most common form of human sacrifice was heart-extraction, and this seems to have related to the Aztec belief that the heart(tona) was both the seat of the individual and a fragment of the Sun's heat (istli). To this day, the Nahua consider the Sun to be a heart-soul (tona-tiuh) 'round, hot, pulsating'(Alan Sandtrom, Corn is Our Life, 1991, 239-240). It seems that in the Aztec view, humanity's 'divine sun fragments' were considered 'entrapped' by the body and its desires:
Where is your heart? You give your heart to each thing in turn. Carrying, you do not carry it... You destroy your heart on earth (Nahua poem in Irene Nicholson, Firefly in the Night, 156 & 203).

Heart-extraction was viewed as a means of liberate istli and reunite it with the Sun, as aptly depicted in Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70 (illustrated in this section), wherein a victim's transformed heart flies Sunward on a trail of blood.

Finally, it should be noted that according to the Aztec (and Mesoamerican) world-view, the circumstances in which people died determined the type of afterlife they enjoyed. The Aztecs had meticulously organised death into several types, which each led to specific 'heavenly' and 'underworld' levels. In the levels Sahagun records, passing away quietly at home was the lowest, as it required the unfortunate soul to undergo numerous torturous trials and journeys, only to culminate in a sombre underworld. By contrast, what the Aztecs termed 'a good death' was sacrifice, war (which usually meant sacrifice) or — in the case of women — death whilst giving birth. This kind of end procured for the deceased the second-highest heaven (death in infancy being the highest). Persons who had died sacrificially or in war were called 'the God-dead' (Teo-micqui ) and were said to 'go pure... live hard by, nigh unto the Sun... [who] always forever ... rejoice ... [since] the House of the Sun is ... a place of joy (Sahagun Bk 6: 21).

The cycle of fifty-two years was central to Mesoamerican cultures. The Nahua's religious beliefs were based on a great fear that the universe would collapse after each cycle if the gods were not strong enough. Every fifty-two years a special New Fire ceremony was performed. All fires were extinguished and at midnight a human sacrifice was made. The Aztecs waited for the dawn. If the Sun appeared it meant that the sacrifices for this cycle had been enough. A fire was ignited on the body of a victim, and this new fire was taken to every house, city and town. Rejoicing was general: a new cycle of fifty-two years was beginning, and the end of the world had been postponed, at least for another 52-year cycle. (A similar ceremony is still practiced by small indigenous groups, but without human sacrifice.) The ceremony was older than the Aztecs. While originally it was believed it was a matter of luck to survive, the Aztecs thought that constant sacrifice through the fifty-two year cycle could postpone the end.

According to Miguel León-Portilla, Tlacaelel reformed the original Nahua religion and the Aztecs viewed themselves as the main representatives for feeding the gods. This gave them a new sense of identity, from "people without face" as they were called by hostile neighbours, to the people in charge of the existence of the universe. Thus they began to call themselves "The people of the sun". Other researchers dispute León-Portilla's perspective, pointing to the relative lack of primary sources.

A history lesson

Friday, June 11, 2010

First in thought

We say in Lecha Doidi that Shabbos is "soif b'ma'aseh, b'machshovo tchilo" — last in action (creation), first in thought.

The simple meaning is that Shabbos was the last day of creation, but it was first in thought of Hashem — the whole creation was for its purpose, and it was the culmination of creation. Just like the times of Moshiach.

But if you learn Kabbala and Chassidus, they look at this statement literally (as oftentimes happens, the "esoteric" interpretation of a statement according to Chassidus is more literal than pshat, the supposedly literal interpretation).

Kabbala talks of a concept of "Shabbos before the first Sunday" — that before the world's creation started on the First Day (Sunday), there was a Shabbos. But this was not really Shabbos as a part of creation. Creation happens through the mode of "speech", which (as Ramban and many others explain) means that Hashem creates something (as if) outside of Himself — just like our thoughts become speech only when they are outside of ourselves in some other medium than our mind and reach another person (or are supposed to reach, have a potential of reaching; so, even if I write my thought in a notebook and hide it, it may be poor communication, but it is still "speech"). On the other hand, the "Shabbos before Sunday" was in Hashem's thought: it was Hashem's design of the world that was still one with Hashem before Hashem started implementing the design into "reality".

So, literally, in the realm of creation, Shabbos was last (sof b'ma'aseh), but first, before that, it already happened in the realm of thought (b'machshava tchilo) preceding the speech.

The thing is: the first "official" Shabbos, the one following the first week of Creation, was also in thought. This is the meaning that Hashem "ceased creating" on Shabbos. It doesn't mean that He literally stopped bringing the world into existence yesh m'ayin — the world would not exist then. As we learn from Chassidus (although this idea existed before Ba'al Shem Tov), creation is happening every moment, yesh m'ayin, ex nihilo. And it happens through the same "speech", the same "words" that were used to create the world ("Forever, oh G-d, are your words in Heaven" — again a case of Chassidus doing super-literal interpretation and explaining that the words "Let there be separation..." that created the Heaven are still literally in Heaven, being spoken every moment and giving it existence).

But, on Shabbos, Hashem stopped "speaking". After a week of creating the world through "speech", as something outside of Himself, Hashem retracted the world back into His Mind (so to speak). And that is what Shabbos is: being inside Hashem's Mind, since the same process repeats itself every week. That is why it is the holiest day — it is holy not because of some contract we made with Hashem that sanctified this day, but because on it we are literally inside kedusha, inside Hashem, so to speak.

The meditation on the above, at length, both during davening on Shabbos, and during the rest of activities, should give a person a special feeling of both love and awe for this day.

And now I refer you to the post by Rabbi Oliver: "Shabbos is not a day of rest".

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Russian intelligentsia (or pseudo-intelligentsia: in this case, a judge from Moscow) fishing. Starting 3:00.

Regarding vodka (with English subtitles):

Russo-Georgian war, first days

Georgians attacking Ossetian city (Ossetia is Georgian equivalent of N. Ireland or Scotting lowlands... of a sort).

Molotov cocktail attack

During the Russo-Finnish war. Russians attack Finish Mannerheim Lines.

In combat, the biggest cause of confusion among Finnish soldiers were Soviet tanks. The Finns had few anti-tank weapons and insufficient training in modern anti-tank tactics. However, the favoured Soviet armored tactic was a simple frontal charge, the weaknesses of which could be exploited. The Finns learned that at close range, tanks could be dealt with in many ways; for example, logs and crowbars jammed into the bogie wheels would often immobilise a tank. Soon, Finns fielded a better ad hoc weapon, the Molotov Cocktail. It was a glass bottle filled with flammable liquids, with a simple hand-lit fuse. Molotov cocktails were eventually mass-produced by the Finnish Alko corporation and bundled with matches with which to light them. Eighty Soviet tanks were destroyed in the border-zone fighting.

By 6 December, all the Finnish covering forces had withdrawn to the Mannerheim Line. The Red Army began its first major attack against the Line in Taipale — the area between the shore of Lake Ladoga, the Taipale river and the Suvanto waterway. Along the Suvanto sector, the Finns had a slight advantage of elevation and dry ground to dig into. The Finnish artillery had scouted the area and made fire plans in advance, anticipating a Soviet assault.

The Battle of Taipale began with a forty-hour Soviet artillery preparation. After the barrage, the Soviet infantry attacked across open ground but was repulsed with heavy casualties. From 6–12 December the Red Army continued trying to engage using only one division. The Red Army next strengthened its artillery and brought tanks and the 10th Rifle Division to the Taipale front. On 14 December, the bolstered Soviet forces launched a new attack but were pushed back again. A third Soviet division entered the fight but performed poorly and panicked under shell fire. The assaults continued without success, and the Red Army suffered heavy losses. One typical Soviet attack during the battle lasted just an hour but left 1,000 dead and twenty-seven tanks strewn on the ice.

For many of the encircled Soviet troops in a pocket, (motti in Finnish), just staying alive was an ordeal comparable to combat. The men were freezing and starving and endured poor sanitary conditions. Historian William R. Trotter describes these conditions thus: "The Soviet soldier had no choice. If he refused to fight, he would be shot. If he tried to sneak through the forest, he would freeze to death. And surrender was no option for him; Soviet propaganda had told him how the Finns would torture prisoners to death."
Also, this is classic:
On the eastern side of the isthmus, the Red Army attempted to break through the Mannerheim line in the battle of Taipale. On the western side, Soviet units faced the Finnish line at Summa, near the city of Viipuri, on 16 December. The Finns had built 41 reinforced concrete bunkers in the Summa area, making the defensive line in this area stronger than anywhere else on the Karelian Isthmus.

However, because of a mistake in planning, the nearby Munasuo swamp had a kilometer-wide gap in the line.[37]:407 During the first battle of Summa, a number of Soviet tanks broke through the thin line on 19 December, but the Soviets could not benefit from the situation because of insufficient cooperation between branches of service. The Finns remained in their trenches, allowing the Soviet tanks to move freely behind the Finnish line, as the Finns had no proper anti-tank weapons. However, the Finns succeeded in repelling the main Soviet assault. The tanks, stranded behind enemy lines, attacked the strongpoints at random until they were eventually destroyed, twenty in all. By 22 December, the battle ended in a Finnish victory.
All quotes are from Wikipedia article on the Winter war. (Russia won, in the end, by the way, and got the territory it wanted, but with bad long-term results. One of the worst results was demonstration of its military ineptness which proved to many Nazi generals — who were having serious doubts beforehand — as well as Hitler the presumed ease of attacking Russia.)

If Russia was dealing with Palestinians...

...Gaza would be a parking lot (as one of my friends says).

An excerpt from some Russian book I saw online:
Officers of Control of the Commanding VDV were on an airplane for inspection of one of the paratrooper divisions. The officers were discussing the question of the civilian plane hijacked by Islamist terrorists and the future fate of the hostages. The report about this was shown on the television the night before. B.F. Margelov heard the conversation and gave an example from his experience, from the war with Finland.

After returning from the scouting ride behind the enemy's front line, he came with a report to the headquarters and was told that the night before, a Finnish division of skiers attacked behind our front line, inflicting heavy losses. Most importantly, however, they attacked our hospital and cut down without a single shot all the wounded and medical stuff (medics and nurses — mostly women).

Our commanding officers were given an order to organize an action of reprisal. Returning to the battalion, they brought all the soldiers into the hospital and showed them the results of the attack. Every single soldier saw with his own eyes the bloodbath and the corpses of women.

After that, nobody asked any questions about the goal of the reprisal. The battalion used their skis and left into the night silently. After an attacking ride behind the enemy's front lines, at the dawn, they came to a Finnish bathing-laundry complex. Spies quickly removed the guards and gave a signal that path is clear. One division entered the barracks and opened throats of everyone sleeping. It must be noted that the auxiliary divisions of the Finnish armies consisted then mostly of women volunteers. After throwing around leaflets with the reasons of the reprisal action, the battalion disappeared in the forest.

After this event never was there a single attempt of an attack on our medical facilities.

The commander became silent for a long time and then said that in his opinion, the terrorists are so insolent because everyone is so humane with them.

By the way, the Geneva Convention allows acts of reprisal to force the enemy to stop actions that themselves violate the Convention.

Not that I approve of the above. Or disapprove. War is a difficult thing. (On the other hand, why should moral decisions be suspended during a war?)


(the above is sang in Finnish, I think, not Russian)

Quoth a wise person:

* * *
Physical reality is a myth. The notions of science being neutral and objective, and phenomena existing independently in and of themselves, is false.

Rather, reality is what is perceived using measuring instruments and this reality changes according to the instruments we choose to use. Indeed, what is not measured does not exist. This conclusion, made by physicist Max Born in 1926, constituted a heavy blow to the prevailing paradigm, the intuitive, experientially based view that there exists an external reality that is the object of our sense perceptions.

According to Born, electrons could no longer be considered materially real particles, but rather mathematical constructs. With this, Born put the first nail into the coffin of scientific certainty. The fundamental certainty we thought we had regarding the ability to precisely locate particles in space has given way to the probability that the particle is in a given place.

* * *
Musical reality is a myth. The notions of musical theory being neutral and objective, and notes existing independently in and of themselves, is false.

Rather, music is what is perceived using ears and this reality changes according to the ears we choose to listen with. Indeed, what is not heard does not exist.

This conclusion, made by musician Max Born in 1926, constituted a heavy blow to the prevailing paradigm, the intuitive, experientially based view that there exists an external musical reality that is the object of our sense perceptions.

According to Born, sounds could no longer be considered materially real entities, but rather mathematical constructs. With this, Born put the first nail into the coffin of musical certainty. The fundamental certainty we thought we had regarding the ability to precisely pinpoint the emotional content of a piece of music has given way to the probability that the particular piece has a particular content.

* * *
Ethical reality is a myth. The notions of ethics being neutral and objective, and moral principles existing independently in and of themselves, is false.

Rather, morality is what is perceived using our brains and this reality changes according to the brains we choose to use. Indeed, what is not perceived does not exist.

This conclusion, made by ethicist Max Born in 1926, constituted a heavy blow to the prevailing paradigm, the intuitive, experientially based view that there exists an external objective morality that is the object of our moral compass.

According to Born, ethical principles could no longer be considered objective concepts, but rather pragmatic constructs.

With this, Born put the first nail into the coffin of ethical certainty. The fundamental certainty we thought we had regarding the ability to precisely identify morality of a given act has given way to the probability that the act is moral or immoral.


[The above is merely litzoinus on articles. Not to be taken seriously. The previous post is much more serious.]

Left march

I like the music. :)

“Anarchist sailors’ march”. Although, wrong kind of anarchists (the socialist ones).

Those of you who don’t understand the words (Google-translate this), you can appreciate at least the rolling rrrr’s.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hikaru no go revival

Christian conversion of Russia

An excerpt from my paper written in my senior year in college on the influence of the Vikings on early Russian society. This part talks about Byzantine Empire’s conversion of Russia. All the quotations were supplied with footnotes linking to historical sources, but I am ommitting references here to make posting easier.

* * *

At this point, Byzantines must have considered seriously making Kiev a Christian ally. Importance of a reliable ally in the northern region, who could supply excellent troops as mercenaries and protect the northern shore of the Black sea was very high. “At no time was the Crimean sector of more vital importance to the Empire than in the reigns of Romanus I [870-948] and Constantine VII [945-59].” Cherson was a vital city for conducting diplomacy with all the northern neighbors, deflecting Magyar attacks against the Crimea, and for warning Constantinople about upcoming Russian attacks. The imperial government looked for a more powerful ally than Khazars. “For the past two hundred years they had relied for preserving order in that region mainly on the Khazars, but Khazar power was declining; so in the first half of the tenth century Byzantium turned to the Pechenegs, who were then encamped along the Black Sea coast between Danube and the Don. […] Constantine is at pains to explain to his son [in De administrando imperio], if this alliance is kept Byzantium Crimea is safe, trade with Rus’ can flourish, and the Empire’s northern neighbors, Bulgarians and Magyars and Russians […] will not dare to attack Byzantium.” Pechenegs, however, were unlikely to be more reliable or predictable than Khazars. As a result, attempts of conversion of the Rus and their Slav subjects began.
        Igor’s death and the succession struggle that followed brought the process to a temporary halt, until Igor’s wife Olga (ON Helga) was able to exert control over the Rus state. “The Cretan expedition of 949 deployed nearly 600 Rus, who were presumably provided under the terms of the 945 treaty; but it was not until 957 that Olga was sufficiently secure to resume her husband’s Byzantine policy.” Russian Primary Chronicle and folk legends describe Olga as an extremely intelligent ruler who took affairs of the country in her hands, while her warlike son Svyatoslav (incidentally, the first Rus ruler to be named after Slav tradition, as opposed to the Norse one ) conducted military expeditions against Pechenegs and Khazars (eventually destroying Itil and bringing the region under Russian control). She was the first female ruler to arrive in Constantinople; Byzantines met her with grand honors, and Olga converted, no doubt impressed by Orthodox ceremonies. Olga was also the first ruler considering bringing Christianity to Kiev officially (by this time, a number of Kiev’s citizens were already likely Christian). In 959, she requested a Catholic priest from Germany for conversion – possibly as a sign of displeasure with Constantinople, or as a diplomatic act urging Constantinople to improve its relations with Russia, at a danger of losing it to another kingdom’s influence. In any event, by the time the German priest arrived, a new wave of pagan reaction swept across Kievan Russia, and the priest had to return.
        During this period of pagan reaction, Olga’s son, Svyatoslav, came to power in Kiev. According to Russian chronicles, Svyatoslav participated in the first battle when he was four: he was sitting on his mother’s horse and threw a spear in the enemy’s direction, initiating the battle (apparently, Rus won that day). Before his campaigns, say chronicles, he wrote to his enemies, saying “I intend to go at you” (a rather dubious account, considering that neither Rus nor Pechenegs had an existing writing tradition at the time – nice story, however). In 960 he triumphantly took Atil demolishing Khazar power after a naval raid on the city. Political situation in the region changed as a result. “Former Khazar tributaries in the forest zone now paid their tribute to Kiev, but the steppes themselves – bar possibly an isolated Rus outpost at Sarkel – were inherited by the Oguz and the Pechenegs.” Svyatoslav conducted a series of campaigns against the latter: in 968-969 he had to return to Kiev from Byzantine-sponsored campaign in Bulgaria to defeat Pechenegs besieging Kiev. After the victory, however, he returned to the campaign. Byzantine emperor Nicephorus II Phocus (963-969) hired Svyatoslav against the obdurate Bulgarian Tsar Peter. Russian forces destroyed Bulgarians, and something unexpected happened: Russian prince was “intending – it seems – to make Little Preslav [one of Bulgarian capitals] the capital of his realm.” Apparently, Svyatoslav decided to move his princedom to Bulgaria. This decision shows an important change in strength of Kiev Rus in just a few generations. No longer was Kiev simply a base for attacks and trade with Constantinople. The prince of Kiev was now a strong military leader capable of launching successful campaigns and making decisions such as movement of his capital to Byzantine Empire’s sphere of influence. The exact rationale of Svyatoslav’s attack on Preslav are not clear. It is possible that he saw Bulgaria as a site situated closer to Byzantine Empire, in a better climate. In that case, Svyatoslav was not only the first ruler with a non-Scandinavian name, but also the first ruler that started distancing himself from Scandinavia and bringing his state closer to Byzantine Empire.
        Byzantine politician “Calocyros himself had turned traitor and was plotting, with the help of the Russians, to seize the Byzantine throne.” In a long and fierce campaign, Byzantine forces led by John Tzimisces besieged and defeated Rus in 971 at Preslav. (One Soviet version of the story states that the reason of Russian defeat was great heat, to which Rus were unaccustomed, unlike the Byzantines.) A new treaty was made between the two states: Rus promised never to attack Byzantines and provide mercenary troops; the latter, in return, restored all the economic privileges lost by Igor in 945.
        Svyatoslav was killed by Pechenegs (who turned his skull into a drinking cup) upon his return to Kiev. 970s passed in a succession struggle among Svyatoslav’s sons. Vladimir (Valdemar) Yasno Solnyshko (“Clear Sun”) became the ruler of Kiev in 980 and immediately took steps to legitimize his rule and secure his throne. At first, Vladimir aimed to find a single religion that would unite his large realm consisting of many peoples following different cults. New major pagan sacrificial site was built in Kiev. Vladimir’s attempt, however, did not bring success – at this point it was nearly impossible to unite the realm under a pagan religion. Vladimir decided to try one of the major religions of his neighbors. Before conversion to Orthodox Christianity, Vladimir sent embassies to different states sponsoring different religions. Islam, of course, was out of question: it forbade drinking. Judaism at this time became religion of defeat (religion of Khazar Empire) and of a wondering, dispersed nation (in any event, an attempt to explain the tenants of the highly abstract monotheistic religion to Slavs and the Rus would be a theological nightmare). German Catholicism was apparently too boring. Without any doubt, no state could offer such an impressive religious ceremony conducted under a huge dome of a beautiful, enormous church, as Byzantine Empire. Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople were awed. Vladimir was likely considering Orthodox Christianity himself already, considering his grandmother had been baptized and many Greeks already lived in Kiev.
        In 988 Byzantium and Kiev made a treaty that stipulated marriage of the emperor’s sister to Vladimir (increasing Vladimir’s legitimacy), in return to the latter sending troops to Byzantium. Vladimir kept his part of the agreement: “in the spring of 988, at the most critical moment of his reign, when the troops of the usurper Bardas Phocas stood on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Basil II was saved by the arrival in Constantinople of six thousand Varyngian warriors.” Basil himself, however, was not too eager to honor his part of the treaty. It is likely that Basil’s sister Anna played an important role in this. She seemed to dislike the idea of marrying pagan Vladimir. In addition, Byzantine emperors were normally hesitant to marry their princesses to barbaric rulers.
        “In the summer of 989 […] doubtless to compel Byzantium to send him promised bride, Vladimir marched to the Crimea and invaded Cherson; by the same winter or early spring of 990 the city was his, and the unwilling princess, sacrificed to the interests of the Empire, was dispatched across the Black Sea.” Anna, however, seemed to play a very active role in Russia’s conversion. She urged Vladimir to convert himself in Cherson and sponsor his subjects’ conversion in Kiev. Despite her initial unwillingness to marry Vladimir, Anna won in the end: both Vladimir and Russia were converted.
        It is necessary to note that from the point of Russia’s addition to “Byzantine Commonwealth”, Graeco-Roman Orthodox Christian culture dominated Russia in almost all aspects. Significant influence of Slav customs exists in language, in everyday life, and even somewhat in religious practices of the folk; nevertheless, medieval and modern Russia cannot be imagined (either politically or culturally) without influence of Byzantine Empire, made direct by the conversion. To show an example of the impact, one can contrast the story of Anna with that of the younger daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, Vladimir’s son. When she was married to king Henry I of France, she was the only literate person (bar the monks and bishops) in the French court and the only person who used cutlery at a dinner table. In just two generations, Russia became an important political state, whose social and cultural development began to rival that of even Western Europe. Unfortunately to Russia’s history, Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century destroyed much of that culture and political significance, both of which would have to be rebuilt anew in a long and painful process that continues even now.

Albert Einstein on music

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I see my life in terms of music. I get most joy in life out of music.
— Albert Einstein

As is well known, Einstein played a violin. I find it interesting how strong his opinions on music were. (Also, this touches the question of taste vs. objective quality, but I won’t go into that here.) From here (quoted from Albert Einstein: The Human Side, where I read it first when I was doing a paper on Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman). From his answers to a questionnaire regarding his taste in music:
(1) Bach, Mozart, and some old Italian and English composers are my favorites in music. Beethoven considerably less — but certainly Schubert.

(2) It is impossible for me to say whether Bach or Mozart means more to me. In music I do not look for logic. I am quite intuitive on the whole and know no theories. I never like a work if I cannot intuitively grasp its inner unity (architecture).

(3) I always feel that Handel is good — even perfect — but that he has a certain shallowness. Beethoven is for me too dramatic and too personal.

(4) Schubert is one of my favorites because of his superlative ability to express emotion and his enormous powers of melodic invention. But in his larger works I am disturbed by a certain lack of architectonics [German: "Architektonik"].

(5) Schumann is attractive to me in his smaller works because of their originality and richness of feeling, but his lack of formal greatness prevents my full enjoyment. In Mendelssohn I perceive considerable talent but an indefinable lack of depth that often leads to banality.

(6) I find a few lieder and chamber works by Brahms truly signficant, also in their structure. But most of his works have for me no inner persuasiveness. I do not understand why it was necessary to write them.

(7) I admire Wagner's inventiveness, but I see his lack of architectural structure as decadence. Moreover, to me his musical personality is indescribably offensive so that for the most part I can listen to him only with disgust.

(8) I feel that [Richard] Strauss is gifted, but without inner truth and concerned only with outside effects. I cannot say that I care nothing for modern music in general. I feel that Debussy is delicately colorful but shows a poverty of structure. I cannot work up great enthusiasm for something of that sort.
It certainly makes me feel better about my tastes. Not in the sense that they “agree” with Einstein’s — I am rather fond of Beethoven, for instance — but in the sense that I feel less guilty not appreciating some famous musicians (I don’t particularly like Chopin, for example, to my chavrussa’s disgust). On the other hand, it is more likely that I don’t appreciate them because I have bad or undeveloped taste and no first-hand knowledge of music, while Einstein’s taste was probably grounded on something more substantial.

Standing in the rain


I can’t find the exact quote from the news media (and since they lie anyway, who cares?), but, according to Walter Block, when someone in Louisiana asked Obama to lift the moratorium saying it costs hundreds of thousands of jobs, he answered: “Let them collect unemployment.” So beautiful. Krasavchik, as we would say in Russian.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Everybody likes chocolate

As everyone knows, Maya sacrificed the losing team in their ball games to their gods. I think Americans should institute this custom for baseball games. And not just the loser team but also the people routing for it. This way, the stupid game and its followers will be eradicated from the culture.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nina Kapitonovna and lactomoter

Starting 4:00 (I don’t particularly like the movie, by the way, nor the actors’ performance):

* * *
    As before, the chief figure at our school was the Head, Nikolai Antonich. He made all decisions, went into everything, attended all meetings. The senior boys visited him at home to "thrash things out". One day I was lounging about the assembly hall, trying to make up my mind whether to go down to the Moskva River or to Sparrow Hills, when the doors of the teachers' room opened and Nikolai Antonich beckoned to me.
    "Grigoriev," he said (he had a reputation for knowing everyone in the school by name). "You know where I live, don't you?"
    I said that I did.
    "And do you know what a lactometer is?"
    I said that I didn't.
    "It's an instrument which tells you how much water there is in the milk. As we know," he went on, raising a finger, "the women who sell milk on the market dilute their milk with water. If you put the lactometer in such milk you will see how much milk there is and how much water. Do you understand?"
    "Well, go and fetch it to me."
    He wrote a note.
    "Mind you don't break it. It's made of glass."
    I was to give the note to Nina Kapitonovna. I had no idea that this was the name of the old lady from Ensk. But instead of the old lady, the door was opened by a spare little woman in a black dress.
    "What do you want, boy?"
    "Nikolai Antonich sent me."
    The woman, of course, was Katya's mother and the old lady's daughter. All three had the same purposeful noses, the same dark, lively eyes. But the granddaughter and her grandmother were brighter looking. The daughter had a drooping careworn expression.
    "Lactometer?" she said in a puzzled tone, after she had read the note. "Ah, yes!"
    She went into the kitchen and returned with the lactometer in her hand. I was disappointed. It was just like a thermometer, only a little bigger.
    "Be careful you don't break it."
    "I — break it?" I replied with scorn.
    I remember distinctly that the daring idea of testing the lactometer for snow salt struck me a minute or two after Katya's mother had shut the door behind me.
    I had just reached the bottom of the stairs and stood there gripping the instrument with my hand in my pocket. Pyotr had once said that snow had salt in it. Would the lactometer show that salt or was Pyotr fibbing? That was the question. It needed testing.
    I chose a quiet spot behind a shed, next to a refuse dump. A little house was built of bricks in the trodden-down snow, from which a black thread, resting on pegs, ran round the back of the shed- the children had probably been playing a field telephone. I breathed on the lactometer and with a beating heart stuck it into the snow next to the little house. You can judge what a stupid head I was when I tell you that, after a while, I pulled the lactometer out of the snow and finding no change in it, I stuck it back again upside down.
    Nearby, I heard someone gasp. I turned round.
    "Run! You'll be blown up!" came a shout from inside the shed. . It all happened in a matter of seconds. A girl in an unbuttoned overcoat rushed out of the shed towards me. "Katya," I thought, and reached for the instrument. But Katya grasped my arm and dragged me away. I tried to push her off and we both fell in the snow. Bang! Pieces of brick flew through the air, and powdery snow rose behind us in a white cloud and settled on us.
    I had been under fire once before, at my mother's funeral, but this was much more terrifying. Rumblings and explosions still came from the refuse dump, and each time I lifted my head Katya quivered and said, "Smashing, eh?"
    At last I sprang to my feet.
    "The lactometer!" I yelled and ran like mad towards the dust-heap. "Where is it?"
    At the spot where I had stuck it in the snow there was a deep hole.
    "It's exploded!"
    Katya was still sitting in the snow. Her face was pale and her eyes shone.
    "Silly ass, it was firedamp that exploded," she said scornfully. "And now you'd better run for it, because the policeman will soon pop—and he'll nab you. He won't catch me though."
    "The lactometer!" I repeated in despair, feeling that my lips were beginning to quiver and my face twitch. "Nikolai Antonich sent me for it. I put it in the snow. Where is it?"
    Katya got up. There was a frost in the yard and she was without a hat, her dark hair parted in the middle and one plait stuffed in her mouth. I wasn't looking at her at the time and didn't remember this until afterwards.
    "I've saved your life," she said with a little sniff. "You'd have been killed on the spot, hit right in the back. You owe your life to me. What were you doing here around my firedamp anyway?"
    I did not answer. I was choking with fury.
    "I would have you know, though," she added solemnly, "that even if it had been a cat coming near the gas I should have saved it just the same. Makes no difference to me."
    I walked out of the yard in silence. But where was I to go? I couldn't go back to the school-that much was clear.
    Katya caught up with me at the gate.
    "Hey, you, Nikolai Antonich!" she shouted. "Where are you off to? Going to snitch? [...] What form are you in? Wasn't it you who helped Grandma to carry her bag? You're in the third form, aren't you?"
    "Yes," I said drearily.
    She looked at me.
    "Fancy making all that fuss over a silly thermometer," she said contemptuously. "If you like I'll say it was me who did it. I don't care. Wait a minute."
    She ran off and was back in a few minutes wearing a small hat and looking quite different, sort of impressive, and with ribbons in her plaits.
    "I told Grandma you'd been here. She's sleeping. She asked why you didn't come in. It's a good thing that lactometer is broken, she says. It was such a nuisance, having to stick it into the milk every time. It didn't show right anyway. It's Nikolai Antonich's idea, but Grandma can always tell whether the milk's good or not by tasting it."
    The nearer we got to the school the more pronounced became Katya's gravity of manner. She walked up the stairs, head thrown back, eyes narrowed, with an aloof air.
    Nikolai Antonich was in the teachers' room where I had left him.
    "Don't say anything, I'll tell him myself," I muttered to Katya.
    She gave a contemptuous sniff, one of her plaits arching out from under her hat.
    It was this conversation that started off the string of riddles of which I shall write in the next chapter.
    The thing was that Nikolai Antonich, that suave Nikolai Antonich with his grand air of patronage, whom we were accustomed to regard as lord and master of School 4, vanished the moment Katya crossed the threshold. In his place was a new Nikolai Antonich, one who smiled unnaturally when he spoke, leaned across the table, opening his eyes wide and raising his eyebrows as though Katya were speaking of God knows what extraordinary things. Was he afraid of her, I wondered?
    "Nikolai Antonich, you sent him for the lactometer, didn't you?" Katya said motioning to me with her eyes in an offhand manner.
    "I did, Katya."
    "Very well. I've broken it."
    Nikolai Antonich looked grave.
    "She's fibbing, " I said glumly. "It exploded."
    "I don't understand. Be quiet, Grigoriev! What's it all about, Katya, explain."
    "There's nothing to explain," Katya answered with a proud toss of her head. "I broke the lactometer, that's all."
    "I see. But I believe I sent this boy for it, didn't I?"
    "And he hasn't brought it because I broke it."
    "She's fibbing," I repeated.
    Katya's eyes snapped at me.
    "That's all very well, Katya," Nikolai Antonich said, pursing his lips benignly. "But you see, they've delivered milk to the school and I've put off breakfast in order to test the quality of this milk before deciding whether or not to continue taking it from our present milk women. It seems I have been waiting for nothing. What's more, it appears that a valuable instrument has been broken, and broken in circumstances which are anything but clear. Now you explain, Grigoriev, what it's all about."
    "What a frightful bore! I'm going, Nikolai Antonich," Katya announced.
    Nikolai Antonich looked at her. Somehow it struck me at that moment that he hated her.
    "All right, Katya, run along," he said in a mild tone. "I'll have it out here with this boy."
    "In that case I'll wait."
    She settled herself in a chair and impatiently chewed the end of her plait while we were talking. I daresay if she had gone away the talk would not have ended so amicably. The lactometer affair was forgiven. Nikolai Antonich even recalled the fact that I had been sent to his school as a sculptor-to-be. Katya listened with interest.
    From that day on we became friends. She liked me for not letting her take the blame on herself and not mentioning the firedamp explosion when telling my story.
    "You thought I was going to catch it, didn't you?" she said, when we came out of the school.
    "Not likely! Come and see us. Grandma's invited you."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Walter Block on radio

I am from New Orleans, and recently, a government river killed a lot of people.

A Jewish libertarian professor of law from Loyola University (New Orleans) talks about privatization of rivers and roads, about the ecological disaster in the Gulf, about the contribution of the free market (and avarice) vs. the government to the crisis, the difference between Keynesian (including the evil Chicago school) economists vs. Austrian economists, and many other topics.

Dr. Block is a libertarian, but it’s hard to figure out whether he is an anarchist or minirchist. (I think it’s like mishichist vs. anti-mishichist. Different libertarians say different things, but you know they are all secretly — or openly — you-know-what.) In any event, I think the interview is very interesting, whichever religious views about the economics you adhere to.

Listen here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Free soup and education

From Murray Rothbard’s book For a New Liberty, chapter 7, “Education”:
Protection of a child against starvation or malnutrition is presumably just as important as protection against ignorance. It is difficult to envisage, however, that any government, in its anxiety to see that children have minimum standards of food and clothing, would pass laws for compulsory and universal eating, or that it should entertain measures which lead to increased taxes or rates in order to provide children’s food, “free” at local authority kitchens or shops.

It is still more difficult to imagine that most people would unquestioningly accept this system, especially where it had developed to the stage that for “administrative reasons” parents were allocated to those shops which happened to be nearest their homes . . . . Yet strange as such hypothetical measures may appear when applied to the provision of food and clothing they are nevertheless typical of . . . state education . . . .

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Medieval Ireland: an example of a libertarian legal system

If you’re lucky to be Irish, you’re lucky enough.
— An Irish proverb

A question is often asked: in an anarcho-libertarian society, how would the courts and legislation function? Murray Rothbard addresses this and many other questions in his book, For a New Liberty. But here I will only quote an example of the libertarianism in Irish society that he provides. It is very interesting to me from both political and historical point of view, as well as because I like Irish culture, music, language (I was a member of Gaelic club in college) and history.

* * *
The most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts, however, has been neglected by historians until very recently. And this was also a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but where they operated within a purely state-less and libertarian society. This was ancient Ireland — an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the seventeenth century. And, in contrast to many similarly functioning primitive tribes (such as the Ibos in West Africa, and many European tribes), preconquest Ireland was not in any sense a "primitive" society: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe.
        For a thousand years, then, ancient Celtic Ireland had no State or anything like it. As the leading authority on ancient Irish law has written: "There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice . . . . There was no trace of State-administered justice."9
        How then was justice secured? The basic political unit of ancient Ireland was the tuath. All "freemen" who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath's members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their "kings." An important point is that, in contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kinship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Often, two or more tuatha decided to merge into a single, more efficient unit. As Professor Peden states, "the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its members constituted its territorial dimension."10 In short, they did not have the modern State with its claim to sovereignty over a given (usually expanding) territorial area, divorced from the landed property rights of its subjects; on the contrary, tuatha were voluntary associations [p. 232] which only comprised the landed properties of its voluntary members. Historically, about 80 to 100 tuatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland.
        But what of the elected "king"? Did he constitute a form of State ruler? Chiefly, the king functioned as a religions high priest, presiding over the worship rites of the tuath, which functioned as a voluntary religious, as well as a social and political, organization. As in pagan, pre-Christian, priesthoods, the kingly function was hereditary, this practice carrying over to Christian times. The king was elected by the tuath from within a royal kin-group (the derbfine), which carried the hereditary priestly function. Politically, however, the king had strictly limited functions: he was the military leader of the tuath, and he presided over the tuath assemblies. But he could only conduct war or peace negotiations as agent of the assemblies; and he was in no sense sovereign and had no rights of administering justice over tuath members. He could not legislate, and when he himself was party to a lawsuit, he had to submit his case to an independent judicial arbiter.
        Again, how, then, was law developed and justice maintained? In the first place, the law itself was based on a body of ancient and immemorial custom, passed down as oral and then written tradition through a class of professional jurists called the brehons. The brehons were in no sense public, or governmental, officials; they were simply selected by parties to disputes on the basis of their reputations for wisdom, knowledge of the customary law, and the integrity of their decisions. As Professor Peden states:
. . . the professional jurists were consulted by parties to disputes for advice as to what the law was in particular cases, and these same men often acted as arbitrators between suitors. They remained at all times private persons, not public officials; their functioning depended upon their knowledge of the law and the integrity of their judicial reputations.11
Furthermore, the brehons had no connection whatsoever with the individual tuatha or with their kings. They were completely private, national in scope, and were used by disputants throughout Ireland. Moreover, and this is a vital point, in contrast to the system of private Roman lawyers, the brehon was all there was; there were no other judges, no "public" judges of any kind, in ancient Ireland.
         It was the brehons who were schooled in the law, and who added glosses and applications to the law to fit changing conditions. Furthermore, [p. 233] there was no monopoly, in any sense, of the brehon jurists; instead, several competing schools of jurisprudence existed and competed for the custom of the Irish people.
How were the decisions of the brehons enforced? Through an elaborate, voluntarily developed system of "insurance," or sureties. Men were linked together by a variety of surety relationships by which they guaranteed one another for the righting of wrongs, and for the enforcement of justice and the decisions of the brehons. In short, the brehons themselves were not involved in the enforcement of decisions, which rested again with private individuals linked through sureties. There were various types of surety. For example, the surety would guarantee with his own property the payment of a debt, and then join the plaintiff in enforcing a debt judgment if the debtor refused to pay. In that case, the debtor would have to pay double damages: one to the original creditor, and another as compensation to his surety.
        And this system applied to all offences, aggressions and assaults as well as commercial contracts; in short, it applied to all cases of what we would call "civil" and "criminal" law. All criminals were considered to be "debtors" who owed restitution and compensation to their victims, who thus became their "creditors." The victim would gather his sureties around him and proceed to apprehend the criminal or to proclaim his suit publicly and demand that the defendant submit to adjudication of their dispute with the brehons. The criminal might then send his own sureties to negotiate a settlement or agree to submit the dispute to the brehons. If he did not do so, he was considered an "outlaw" by the entire community; he could no longer enforce any claim of his own in the courts, and he was treated to the opprobrium of the entire community.12
        There were occasional "wars," to be sure, in the thousand years of Celtic Ireland, but they were minor brawls, negligible compared to the devastating wars that racked the rest of Europe. As Professor Peden points out, "without the coercive apparatus of the State which can through taxation and conscription mobilize large amounts of arms and manpower, the Irish were unable to sustain any large scale military force in the field for any length of time. Irish wars . . . were pitiful brawls and cattle raids by European standards."13 [p. 234]

        Thus, we have indicated that it is perfectly possible, in theory and historically, to have efficient and courteous police, competent and learned judges, and a body of systematic and socially accepted law — and none of these things being furnished by a coercive government. Government — claiming a compulsory monopoly of protection over a geographical area, and extracting its revenues by force — can be separated from the entire field of protection. Government is no more necessary for providing vital protection service than it is necessary for providing anything else. And we have not stressed a crucial fact about government: that its compulsory monopoly over the weapons of coercion has led it, over the centuries, to infinitely more butcheries and infinitely greater tyranny and oppression than any decentralized, private agencies could possibly have done. If we look at the black record of mass murder, exploitation, and tyranny levied on society by governments over the ages, we need not be loath to abandon the Leviathan State and . . . try freedom.

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