Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to make cities better?

I think this is a really great video that both statists and libertarians should watch. It is about what makes cities work and what makes cities fail. As I heard recently from TRS about New York, “who wants to raise children in this dump?” What is it that makes some cities dumps that you want to move out of and some cities attractive locations for settling in? How can Americans change the failure stories of some of their big cities into success stories?

This video is about Cleveland, Ohio (as my fiancée’s brother recently said about travelling through Ohio: “There is nothing here”), but I think some lessons drawn in it can apply to some general principles of statism vs. privatization.

Watch here.

My favorite parts (after watching the first video, I am actually considering moving to Houston despite the terrible weather):

About private vs. public parking, markets and golf courses (another great episode):

I liked the Eastern European woman. “In the bathroom upstairs, you have a cold water faucet and a hot water faucet. So, when you want to wash hands, you have to move them like that ←→. The city doesn’t have $20 to buy a faucet?” Apparently not.

But that wasn’t the most amusing part about the above video. Look, you can debate however long you want whether the government should be in charge of defending us, policing us and enacting laws, or if private organizations (in a state of anarchy) would be better for it. You can even debate about the welfare and caring for the poor as a job for the government. But when did taking care of golf courses become the government’s job? How is that not robbing people when you take their taxes to pay for a golf course (with uncut grass) to which nobody goes to play?

Finland: Socialist Heaven on Earth

If you want to know a real success story of a Scandinavian Socialist State, read this article.
...with higher education so accessible, it lures thousands of people every year to go for a degree, even though they have no business in the world of academia. This produces a great number of bachelors, masters, and PhDs who don't have any value on the job market because they studied literature, art history, religious studies, or something like that. In many cases, they didn't choose their major because they actually thought it would give them a job; they chose it because it seemed fun or interesting, or it was easier to get into than law school or medical school.
Unemployment among educated people has become a chronic problem. The other side of the coin is that Finland has long had an acute shortage of people with trade skills: carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, and so on — people who can actually provide a valuable service. The shortage has, predictably, driven up prices and prolonged delivery. [...] 
[A] woman fell ill in the capital city, Helsinki. She was given emergency treatment, but as soon as the emergency was over she had to be transferred back to her own district, which was in Rovaniemi, over five hundred miles to the north. Bear in mind that just because you're out of the emergency room you're not necessarily all well and ready to be released. Because of the way the municipal healthcare system is set up, a sick individual had to be driven more than five hundred miles to a different hospital. [...]  
As you can well imagine, efficiency is not one of the Finnish healthcare system's main attributes. Studies have shown surpluses of doctors in some places with corresponding shortages in others. Very few of the municipalities can afford to maintain the healthcare services the law mandates. Health centers have been and are being closed all the time, but no administrator is ever laid off. The central government must transfer money to the districts to keep them afloat on a continual basis. In other words, Finland seems to have a central-state-run and -financed healthcare system, but in reality it has a municipal system, which has resulted in even more bureaucracy.
Any country that wants a universal healthcare system should not look to Finland for an example to follow. One of the real tragedies of this fiasco is the fact that Finland has some of the best private hospitals in the world, but because of our universal healthcare, very few Finnish citizens ever get to benefit from them.
And this part is for all you members of the “I love the idea of high taxes and free soup” crowd (emphasis mine):
As a rule, the tax authorities don't care about the law, in the rare event they even know it. Not only that, but it is clear from the way they act that they consider every penny to be their money, and may only be retained by the taxpayer at their discretion. It even happens that they make up arguments that are blatantly false and without any legal ground whatsoever in order to levy more taxes and impose various other sanctions. When the taxpayers challenge their outrageous claims, they simply ignore the challenges and press on as if nothing has happened — even though the constitution mandates that all decisions and rulings made by a government agency must be based on law and thoroughly explained.
This doesn't seem to apply to the tax authorities though, and neither do other legal principles. In all other matters, you are innocent until proven guilty, but if the taxman charges you with something, it is you who has to prove your innocence¹. If you fail, you're guilty, and it is the tax authorities who decide whether you fail.
This type of behavior is certainly familiar to the American public, as the IRS has subjected them to all kinds of violations. However, these violations, taking place no less regularly in Finland than in the United States, fly in the face of the aura of utopia that seems to surround the social-democratic welfare states of Northern Europe.
The statists may be very comfortable with high taxes, but even they tend to become squeamish when they hear of the havoc wrought upon private individuals and their families by the tax authorities. And it is of course the private individuals and small businessmen who suffer the most aggression, because they seldom have the knowledge or the resources to defend themselves. Billionaires and big corporations at least have a fighting chance; the little guys don't. So much for the compassionate society.
In a system such as this — with a very vague tax code; tax officials who are exempt from responsibility for their conduct; and onerous, never-compensated legal expenses arising from litigation against the tax authorities — the rights of the taxpayers are routinely violated. The officials have no interest in making the right decision, so whenever a case is not utterly and totally obvious, they rule in favor of the state.
Read on.

¹ Remember that this is the main outlook of socialist worldview?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Governments and water

A fascinating article that shows the wonders of central planning. While reading this, think about how things would be if all of this (the land, the water, the dams, etc.) was privately owned. Source.

People here are somewhat inarticulate

Americans are a funny people in their harmless, cheery, bumbling way.

But as cynical as I can be about this video, it is true what the Rebbe said: that Americans are a nation of chessed.

Tannu-tannu Rabbannan

With Peisach speedily approaching, I am presenting to you a Talmudic spin on the famous counting song:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Noidoh Beyehudoh was hardcore


This was also interesting (click to enlarge):

What’s up with all the unemployment?

An interesting article from Reason.com:
The statisticians at the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the Great Recession over — but tell that to people who can't find jobs. Today, businesses replace equipment and inventory, but they are reluctant to hire new workers. Investment that does occur aims at replacing the use of labor by adopting advanced technology. In a growing economy, that's a sign of progress. Freed-up workers are then available for new projects. But lately, those new projects aren't being launched. [...]
Why isn't the economy recovering? After previous recessions, unemployment didn't get stuck at close to 10 percent. If left alone, the economy can and does heal itself, as the mistakes of the previous inflationary boom are corrected.
The problem today is that the economy is not being left alone. Instead, it is haunted by uncertainty on a hundred fronts. When rules are unintelligible and unpredictable, when new workers are potential threats because of Labor Department regulations, businesses have little confidence to hire. President Obama's vaunted legislative record not only left entrepreneurs with the burden of bigger government, it also makes it impossible for them to accurately estimate the new burden.
In at least three big areas — health insurance, financial regulation, and taxes — no one can know what will happen.

News from the frum world

(What is the fish doing in what looks like a picture from a physics book, you ask? I honestly have no idea.)

A repost in response to Frum Satire’s post.

A certain news portal (and a blog) reports regarding a recent development in the halachic view of Shabbos elevators (translation and comments mine):
For decades, religious denizens of Israel and the rest of the Jewish world [meaning, I guess, planet Earth minus Alabama] used special elevators on Shabbos that stopped by themselves on every floor. It was considered to be not a violation of Shabbos, because one did not have to press a button. Now, however, certain halachic authorities declared that last they heard, nobody canceled the force of gravitation [sic]; as a result, when a person enters an elevator, the load increases, and with it, required electrical energy to keep the elevator up — which is equivalent to work [it’s not clear if “work” here means work from physics point of view or a malacha].
I guess Chabad fanatics are not so stupid after all, huh?

Speaking of elevators, some grizzly stuff (warning: disturbing descriptions).

The blogger mentioned above asks the following: One time he saw a frum guy who came with a carriage with a child inside to an elevator. The Shabbos elevator was broken, and since he obviously could not use the regular elevator, he started walking to G-d knows what floor, with the heavy carriage (having a sleeping child inside) in his arms.

Seemingly, it’s poshut, right? Heavy work is not a melacha. Pressing a button is.

The problem is that heavy work is forbidden on Shabbos d’rabbanim, since it goes against the concept of shvut on Shabbos. On the other hand, there is a teshuva from Rav Eliyashiv, in which he examines the electricity and all the reasons brought to show that its use is ossur on Shabbos and concludes that all the reasons do not really apply to electricity. On the other hand, he says, Jews have been refraining from using electricity on Shabbos for 120 years (by that point of time), so it’s a minhog Yisroel and therefore should be kept.

So, ordinarily, yes, one should still not use electricity on Shabbos, even al pi Rab Eliyashiv. But consider the case above: something which is ossur d’rabbanim (carrying a load) vs. something which is most likely a minhog (not pressing a button). It’s not so poshut what’s worse in this case.

It would seem to me that the answer is to leave the carriage downstairs and carry the child alone to the apartment and ask Eibeshter to make sure that the carriage is not stolen. Or, better yet, become a Lubavitcher and not use an eiruv, in which case, the carriage on Shabbos is useless.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Legal or not yet criminalized?


From the New York Times article about a Republican Tom DeLay, who has been found innocent of the corruption charges (to the liberals’ chargrin):
But many of Mr. DeLay’s actions remain legal only because lawmakers have chosen not to criminalize them.
Say what? Many of my actions remain legal only because the lawmakers of this country have chosen not to criminalize them.

For example, it is still not illegal to say that most liberal journalists are idiots. It is still not illegal to wear black shoes with brown pants (and black belt). It is still not illegal to have fleischigs for breakfast. Or walk without an umbrella under rain. Who knows, however, what the lawmakers will choose to criminalize tomorrow?

In general, long ago Douglas Adams has noted: in the West, everything is permitted which is not explicitly forbidden (we are only talking about legality; not morality, propriety, etc.). In the Soviet Union, everything was forbidden unless it was explicitly permitted. Once again, liberals show a perfect example of socialist thinking.

[via arbat: “Revolutionary Thinking”]

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Being a cat is fun

At least according to this cartoon.

Although one of my friend's little boys has about the same behavior.

Walking to shull in freezing wind is not cool, but discovering a giant centipede that teleported into your bathroom from the Carboniferous period is even less cool. So, I am looking forward to snow and death of all the arthropods in the vicinity of my house. (There is, lehavdil, another reason why I am looking forward to snow, but more about that later.)

Speaking of cats...

Yellow lights of my dream


Gypsy melody; poetry by Vladimir Vysotzky.

Cops are really bad eggs

This man agrees.

[Via my pianofortical chavrussa.]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Off off Russian

Nothing that ends at -off can be authentically Russian. Smirnoff is not a real vodka. And Ivan Rebroff is not a real singer of Russian folk songs.

Just sayin’.


(Yuck. This guy is full of himself. Each note takes him too long.)

...with this:

(Master class. So he can’t sing. So his teeth are all British. But at least he has a Russian smile. And after a while he gets better.)

Or, perhaps (the NYC–Boston song):

Friday, August 20, 2010

Who or what is Tzemach Tzedek?

I found this comment to this article quite funny:
Who or what is the "Tzemech Tzedek" and what is his connection with Army rules for chaplains??? Did this guy consider the facts of this case before he paskined??
I think Tzemach Tzedek probably did not have US Army rules in front of him when he paskened that shaving and trimming all the way to no beard (as with modern electric shavers) is ossur d’oraysa. Although, Tzemach Tzedek had ruach ha’koidesh, so who knows?

For more information, see this thread.

I found this interesting:
...Hairs act as "straws" transmitting profound and inaccessible energy. Each strand of hair, shaped like a straw (the form of the Hebrew letter Vuv, somewhat similar to the English I), communicates a level of soul-energy that due to its intensity cannot be communicated directly, only through the "straw" of hair, through the contracted, and curtailed medium of hair, which dilutes the intense energy.
        Now, the Kabbalah (12) distinguishes between "fine hair" and "coarse hair" - the fine hair decorating the cranium, present immediately during birth, and the coarse hair of the beard, appearing only at a male's entry into adulthood. The hair that links the "fine" and the "coarse" are the earlocks, the payos, the hair extending from the skull, down the jawbone, after which it merges with the beard.
        The hair growing on top of the cranium, the "fine hair," represents the deeply concealed energy stemming from the interior of the skull, the Kabbalistic identified location for the super-conscious formations of the human psyche. The deepest and most primal forces of our psyche, the supra-rational desires and cravings of the soul formulated even prior to the birth of cognition, are associated in Jewish Mysticism with the skull, defined as "the crown over the brain," or simply as "kesser", which means the crown. Kesser is seen as the most lofty and elevated part of the soul, its link to G-d who also transcends reason and logic.
        The hair of the male beard, on the other hand, the "coarse hair," represents the energy stemming from the sub conscious cognitive impressions of the human psyche, located within the higher and lower brain. This dimension of the human soul is known in Kabbalah as "Mochah Stemaah" (the hidden cognition), and stands one rung below the level of Kesser.
        [This is the mystical reason for the feminine body not developing a beard. As mentioned above, the mystical function of hair is to access, in a contracted and curtailed fashion, energy that is inaccessible due to its profundity. But women are naturally more in tune with their sub conscious cognition, and therefore do not require the "straws" of hair to access that level of self.]
Now, the question is: is there any way to link the super-conscious forces of the soul, the kesser dimension, with the cognitive structure of the psyche? Can we ever mentally experience who we really are in out deepest space? Even after the kesser energy was filtered into hair strands, is there hope for us to internalize this infinite light within the finite vessels of cognition?
        Men of spirit from the days of yore have struggled with this dilemma. Judaism's answer to this question is - the earlocks, the two rows of hair lingering down the jaw bone, that link the hair of the cranium to the hair of the beard. In Kabbalah, these two rows of hair symbolize the contracted transmission of the super-conscious kesser energy, to the sub conscious mental (mochah stemaah) energy, so that the infinite and unconstrained atomic power of the soul's crown can ultimately be contained and internalized within the mental framework of the human condition.
        Without the two side locks curtailing, contracting and metamorphosing the new-clear energy of kesser, none of it would be expressed or experienced within the person's conscious life. Only by having the kesser energy filtered through the hair on the skull, and then re-filtered a second time via the earlocks, can the deepest energy of the soul become articulated in the lower chambers of consciousness (17).

12) Zohar Naso Idra Rabah 129a.
13) Ibid. 129a.
14) Or Hatorah Emor pp. 588-593.
15) The contraction that takes place in Hair is manifested in the fact that our hairy parts, particularly of the head and pubis, are subject to troublesome infestations by minute insects and mites, such as chiggers and lice.
16) Shaar Hamitzvos Parshas Naso.
17) This may also be the reason why the great kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luryah (d. in 1572), did not allow his earlocks to grow below his ears and have them hang over the sides of his beard, as is the custom of Yemenite, Moroccan and most Chassidic Jews. Rather he would trim his payos (earlocks) with scissors to ensure that they merged with the beard. This "style" was embraced by the Chabad school and many other Ashkenazic and Sefardic communities. (See Shaar Hamitzvos and Taamei Hamitzvos Parshas Kedoshim. Beis Lechem Yehudah gloss to Yoreh Deah 181:1. Igros Kodesh by the Lubavitcher Rebbe vol. 20 p. 10.)
        In the former style, the emphasis is on overwhelming the beard (representing the deep cognitive impressions) with the "earlocks," representing the flow of the soul's pristine desire and emotion. This indeed is the spiritual path of Yemenite and many Chassidic Jews. In Chabad, however, the goal has always been to link between the atomic energy of the soul and the mental framework of the mind, represented by the merging of the earlocks and the beard (see Or Hatorah and Hemshech 5672 references in footnote #20).

Socialist anarchists are fun

...aka, Will the Chicken Survive?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recipe for murder

This clip is very interesting to me (as a Neuroscientist, a libertarian and someone who wears a yarmulke) on multiple levels.

Description from Reason.TV:
UC Irvine neuroscientist James Fallon had already been studying the brains of psychopathic killers for years when his mother told him that he comes from a long line of murderers (including his infamous cousin, Lizzie Borden). After studying himself, Fallon discovered that he has two of the three ingredients for psychopathology.
Fallon sat down with Reason.tv to explain why he's not a murderer, why others are, and what it is about libertarians that—just might—keep them peaceful. 
Approximately 8.50 minutes.
Interview by Paul Detrick; shot by Zach Weissmueller; edited by Detrick.

They got traditions

— Oh, we were supposed to wear black probably. All ’em Jewish people always wear black when you see them on the street.
— We are black. We’ll be ok. We’ll be alright.

In the immortal words of my friend, Nochum Waldroop, “there are no words to describe how excellent this video is”.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Women as aces in WWII

(“Motherland calls”)

This video has some propaganda posters and pictures of Nazi soldiers and pictures from WWII, but mostly it has pictures of Soviet women–aces fighting against Nazi pilots. Also nice wartime music (men singing).

If you never heard me say this before, I will say it again: Soviet war music rocks.

It’s interesting that the female image is more powerful in war propaganda than male image. See the Wikipedia article about “White Lily of Stalingrad”.

For Meir Krinsky


A story I heard today.

The Berditchever Rebbe would get very excited whenever he heard Chassidus. He could hardly sit through even a portion of a shiur of the Maggid before he started screaming and jumping up and down. The Maggid had a problem with legs (or spinal cord), so he had to walk on crutches. One time he was walking down the steps, and the Berditchever heard the sound of his crutches. In anticipation of the Chassidus his Rebbe was going to say, he started jumping up and down and screaming and had to be carried out.

(As a side note, only two people could hear the whole shiur of the Maggid in its completion: Alter Rebbe and a man named Wolfer. Alter Rebbe used to say that for seventy two hours after hearing Chassidus of the Maggid, his stomach was inside-out.)

At the famous Zhlobiner Chassaneh, Mitteler Rebbe was supposed to say Chassidus. He promised to the Berditchever he would speak only if the latter behaved. The Mitteler Rebbe started saying Chassidus, and the Berditchever was sitting and listening. But, as was the style of Mitteler Rebbe, he continued speaking for a long time, and eventually, the Berditchever could not take it anymore; he ran to the Mitteler Rebbe, wrapped his tallis around him and said: “The srofim and malachim should not be jealous.”

Since then, the Berditchever looked up at the Mitteler Rebbe as his Rebbe. The Mitteler Rebbe looked up at Alter Rebbe as his Rebbe. And the Alter Rebbe looked up at the Berditchever, because he was an older talmid (by five years) of the Maggid. There was a doorway into the hall that was wide enough for two people. The Berditchever, however, would not walk in front of the Mitteler Rebbe. The Mitteler Rebbe would not walk in front of the Alter Rebbe. And Alter Rebbe would not walk in front of the Berditchever. So, chassidim had to break the doorway down so that the three rebbeim could walk through.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In constant sorrow

Mesirus nefesh as an everyday mode of life

From the letter of the Rebbe, distributed by Avner Institute:
[I]t is surely unnecessary to emphasize to a person of your background [a sociologist] that if anyone wishes to attain any worthwhile objective, the road is not an easy one, and one must be prepared to make certain sacrifices. As a matter of fact, the more ambitious and worthy the objective, the greater must be the effort and sacrifice, which in themselves are criteria as to how important the objective is.

Furthermore, since you write that you have a doctorate in sociology, you surely have had occasion to observe various groups of people and individuals, and know that a person does not value highly things which he obtains easily and without sacrifice; and that it is only through facing up to a challenge and overcoming difficulties that the best qualities and capacities of a person are brought to the fore. To be sure, a person may experience a sense of satisfaction at obtaining something very easily, but this feeling cannot be lasting, for real satisfaction comes only from hard-earned accomplishments, particularly when the challenge comes not from outside, but from a personal inner impulse, etc.

Looking back into Jewish history, you have surely noted that the Jewish people became worthy of receiving the Torah only after going through the crucible of Egyptian bondage, after they had proved themselves able to retain their identity and not be assimilated in a culture which in those days was regarded as the highest and most advanced. And so it is in the personal experience of an individual; one can attain a life of Torah not by giving of himself on a particular day or days of the year such as Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, when a Jew readily makes sacrifices to live as a Jew, but by making the necessary sacrifices every day of the year.

This is also the meaning of the text of our daily prayer, referring to the Torah and the mitzvoth: “For they are our life and the length of our days.” A person must live continually, and cannot interrupt his living, deciding to live on certain days of the year and not on others. So it is in the case of Yiddishkeit. A Jew cannot decide to be alive on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and take a leave of absence during other days.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It’s a man’s world

As everyone knows, until feminism came about, there were no strong women.

A little history...

I think Italian history is fun...

Ah, Catholics. Fun people. (The bit about the Templars is false in the second clip, but besides that...)