Saturday, October 29, 2011

Torah response to terrorism

US Government is feeble and inept

This is the response of the White House to the petition to investigate the injustice done by the courts to Rubashkin:

Thank you for signing the petition "Call an Investigation into Allegations of Prosecutorial & Judicial Misconduct in the Case of Sholom Rubashkin." We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on 
As explained in the We the People Terms of Participation, the White House may at times decline to comment on certain specific matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local governments in its response to a petition. For important policy reasons, this includes specific law enforcement and judicial ethics matters. With respect to law enforcement matters, the Department of Justice is charged with investigating crime and enforcing our laws. The Department also has mechanisms in place to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, including through its Office of Professional Responsibility. With respect to judicial ethics matters, the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 vests primary responsibility for investigating and adjudicating claims of judicial misconduct with the Judicial Branch.

This petition calls for an investigation into allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in the case of Sholom Rubashkin and for action to correct the “gross injustice” in his case. For the reasons given above, the White House declines to comment on matters raised by this petition.
So, basically, US White House is completely inept. That we knew before. And who is in charge of investigating the misconduct of the Judicial Branch? The Judicial Branch itself.

This is what happens when you have a monopoly, boys and girls. Nothing to add.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Goté and senté

This small section (from a Wikipedia article) describing two Go terms shows why I love Go so much. You don't have to know much about Go to understand it. It shows the kind of tactical and strategic encounters one sees during a Go game that makes it so much fun and also so useful for teaching one skills in everyday-life decision making. The last two paragraphs are especially interesting to me.

(Note: the terms goté and senté are pronounced as "go-teh" and "sen-teh" respectively.)
A move that leaves the player an overwhelming follow-up move, and thus forces the opponent to respond, is said to have "sente" (先手), or "initiative"; the opponent has "gote" (後手). In most games, the player who keeps sente most of the time will win. 
Gote means "succeeding move" (lit: "after hand"), the opposite of sente, meaning "preceding move" (lit: "before hand"). Sente is a term to describe which player has the initiative in the game, and which moves result in taking and holding the initiative. More precisely, as one player attacks, and the other defends in gote, it can be said that they respectively do and do not have the initiative. 
The situation of having sente is favorable, permitting control of the flow of the game. Applying these concepts to a whole sequence is basic to higher strategy. If Black starts a sequence that properly ends in an even number of plays, Black retains sente in doing this. If Black starts a sequence that properly ends after an odd number of plays, Black loses sente and takes gote. 
Accepting gote should only be in return for some profitable exchange. Correct play in the yose (endgame) can consist of playing available sentesequences, and then taking the largest gote sequence on the board. That description is a simplification, though. A reverse sente play is a special type of gote play, preventing the opponent from making some sente move. The relative value of reverse sente plays depends on the overall position, but one can count it as twice the value of what it would be if purely gote. 
A player has sente if he does not currently need to respond to moves made by his opponent. This can be achieved by tenuki (ignoring the opponent), as a kind of gambit. A player can break out of gote, and can gain sente, by choosing to accept some future loss, on the local level, in order to take the initiative to play elsewhere. 
In the case that neither of the players directly respond to each other's moves, the game can become difficult. Both players will have sente on their turn, and the moves they are making are gote. This will likely end in large exchanges, or one player will be shown to have a weaker position, and will have to start answering to avoid heavy damage.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Parshas Noach — floodgates of teshuva

On Shmini Atzeres we prayed for rain, which we received next day on Simchas Torah — the rain of Torah, which starts with the account of the creation of the world. This week we are reading the next parsha: about Noach and the flood. Because nothing in Torah is random, we should be able to examine the connection between all these ideas.

Torah is compared to water in many places. In Tanya, Alter Rebbe compares Torah to water that falls from high and cascades from level to level until reaching its final destination, down below. So does Torah originate in the Will and Essence of Hashem, beyond creation (Torah is one of the things said to precede creation), and cascades from one spiritual world to another, taking form of each world, along the chain of creation, until it reaches our lowly and physical universe and takes in it the form of physical laws regarding material objects.

The importance of this analogy is two-fold:

First, we need to understand that all the halachos of Torah (and the physical events described in Torah) are nothing but the superficial aspect of Torah, whose essence is beyond mere physical laws and forms. We must strive to understand the inner essence of the laws, always remember where they came from, and never allow our observance of mitzvos to take superficial, routine form of execution of rituals.

Second, just like water that originates from great heights is destined for the lowly valleys, Torah, despite originating from great spiritual heights is destined for this world — and once it reached it, it stays here.

All the spiritual foundations of our physical laws exist so that a Jewish soul can descend into this world and bind these spiritual and lofty phenomena with lowly material matter. We must be, therefore, extremely careful with Halacha and very respectful to even minute aspects of it — there are no “more” or “less” important mitzvos. Even the slightest, minute mitzvah closes a circuit connecting the matter of this world with infinitely removed spiritual heights.

In the first chapter of Torah, Bereishis, we learn about the creation of the world, whose center is human being. The energy sustaining our world’s existence has recently been renewed on Rosh HaShanah, commonly called “Jewish New Year”. The day of Rosh HaShanah, however, is not the first day of creation, but the day when human was created — because the purpose of creation is for human to transform the physical universe into G-dly world, to unite the infinite and the finite, revealing thus the Oneness of G-d.

Jewish sources describe Adam as extremely wise human with prophetic abilities. How could he sin then, knowing what his actions will lead to? The answer is: he knew the Ohm’s Law. If you raise resistance, you also raise voltage. If you connect to G-d through holiness, you are revealing G-dliness in light. If you are connecting to G-d through unholiness, you are revealing G-dliness in darkness, a much more intense revelation. In order to connect to G-d through darkness, he had first to know of light and of darkness, and he reached for the source of this knowledge.

Adam was right: the connection to G-d through darkness is much stronger. This is why this world, the world of darkness and concealment of G-d’s existence, was created, and that is why our souls descend into it. In order to know how to find life in death, however, one must first taste life. Adam first tasted death and was exiled…

In the generation that followed, Adam’s error became increasingly difficult to rectify. The world was exposed to sin, to darkness, but inner essence of darkness, the Hidden Light, was difficult to access, because this Light was not tasted a priori.

This is what the Flood accomplished. It erased the sin and made teshuva (repentance) — an act of transforming sin into mitzva — easier. The original plan was to taste Life first and, “cook” the physical world with it, enfusing it with this taste. The plan did not work — raw flesh of the deadly and dark world was tasted first. That taste had to be washed out with the Flood, and a new sequence had to be invented: humans would not come into darkness with a priori experience and knowledge of light; they would be born in the darkness and discover light hidden in it.

Mendy Deren, flanked by his father, gets on aliya to the Torah in 770 for his Bar Mitzva with the Rebbe watching * JEM/The Living Archive

It was not, however, until Avraham Avinu, when this process started. In his ma’amor Bosi LeGani, the Previous Rebbe of Chabad quotes medrash that explains that through the sin of Adam, Presence of G-d that was in this world departed. Through sins of following generations, it departed six more times, further and further.

Through actions of Avraham and his descendants, the Presence started to return, until It did so completely with the giving of Torah. The damage done by the sin of Avraham was reversed; the job of the Flood of teshuva has started. Now came the time to bring the world to its desired state: the state of unity between G-d and the world.

The sparks of Adam’s soul returned into this world in a form of Jewish souls to finish the job that he started: to do the collosal act of Great Teshuva: to return this world into the state of its oneness with G-d. Throughout the history, this process had success and had failure. Sometimes the end of Teshuva was near; sometimes it drew farther. Yet the Presence of G-d never departed this world again, as long as Jewish children were learning Torah.

Three centuries ago (as predicted beforehand by Kabbalah) the floodgates opened again. Not the floodgates of destruction, but the floodgates of life. The final act of teshuva started happening: the Essence of Torah was revealed in teachings of Chassidus — a recipe of how to complete the Return of the world to its source. At the same time, the floodgates in the material reason also opened, starting the era of discovery and increased understanding amongst the Nations. Today we have access to the deepest phenomena of the physical Universe that reveal the source (albeit incompletely studied and understood) of the physical phenomena. At the same time, we have access to teachings that reveal the source and essence of our Torah.

Just like a physicist can understand the classical phenomenon of friction better with knowledge of quantum mechanics, a Jew can understand — lehavdil — five classical levels of Torah knowledge (pardes — pshat, remez, drush, soid) much deeper with the help of essential level of Torah, Chassidus. More importantly, however, one has access to explanation of how to complete what was started in the first six days of Creation, what (after Adam messed up) was started by the Flood, by work of Avram Avinu and his descendants, by Exodus from Egypt, by giving of Torah, by building of the Temple — how to bring about the Era of Mashiach when the great teshuva of the world will be complete, and the revelation of G-d’s Oneness will be higher than it was before the physical world was created.

May this happen speedily in our days.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Norman Borlaug

Interesting fact: Norman Borlaug, a farmer from Ohio and a "capitalist pig", saved, according to some estimates, over a billion people from hunger by introducing new farming technologies, while the "green" wusses were screaming that the world would not sustain rapidly increasing population.

In other words, he saved singlehandedly more people than the fascists and communists combined killed. Than all the liberal lobbyists combined even tried to save. By: 1) doing research, 2) making money.

In the past 200 years, ever since the “floodgates [of both Chassidus and secular reason] have opened”, research and capitalism made the world better — and Chassidus saved Judaism.

That makes me think there is something right about my views.

Touching or idiotic?

In this picture (source: Artemiy Lebedev), a soldier of Latvian army is wiping the snot from under the nose of another soldier standing in some sort of ceremonial guard (Latvian version of those Scottish guards in London or Russian guards of Lenin's mausoleum).

(original here)

The idea being, obviously, that on the one hand, the guard should be immobile, on the other hand, it's cold, and he can't control his nose's internal functions, and on the third hand, it's not nice for the guard of (insert whatever presumably honorable thing he is presumably guarding in a symbolic way) to stand with snot dripping from his nose.

Some people would call this cute or touching or romantic. I call it idiotic. Heartless, non-sentimental libertarian that I am.

I call it idiotic because of the nauseatingly cloying statist pathos. But also, if you think about: someone who cannot move to wipe his nose should make a terrible guard. I wouldn't want a brainless statue guarding my property, especially if the property had some sentimental value attached to it.

Third, I find this idiotic for the same reason that I find foolish the teachers who forbid their students to slouch (or put their legs on some sort of platform in front of them) because it presumably interferes with the learning. That concept is stupid on so many levels, I'd need a separate series of posts to address it.

Is science a private good?

Connecting the dots

I recommend the interactive version.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Smoking in the restaurants

[via Alex Exler]

For those of you who are wondering what I, as a libertarian, think about allowing smoking in the restaurants and other places accessible to the public: I believe that one should not invade another's property — including his body — without permission. That's called trespassing. When one smokes, and the smoke from the cigarettes trespasses my body, that violates my rights to my body.

This doesn't mean that there cannot be restaurants, bars, or private bus stops (e.g., for the bus companies that decide to make this move) that allow smoking on their premises; whenever one enters such a place, he automatically signs a contract that allows other people to invade his body with airborne carcinogens.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why don't the Lubavitchers sleep in the sukkah?

My wife told me that loshon horah is not a good thing. So, I'll put it this way:

Lubavitchers don't sleep in the sukkah so that they should never have a cause to say: "I am sorry, you cannot use our sukkah. We have people sleeping in it sometimes."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gmar Chassima Toiva!

If I have offended anybody up to this point, I am asking his-or-her forgiveness.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Apple has announced that Steve Jobs passed away today, after a long battle with cancer. I was quite sad to read the news. First and foremost, because a really talented person passed away, someone's friend and a loved one.

Although I have often expressed that I am not a big fan of many Apple products and, especially, its politics of micro-managing what its customers install on their own property (plus, I don't like Apple's abuse of IP), I have always admired Steve Jobs. It is clear that he has made lives of many people better by guiding Apple towards creation of many very useful products (useful to many people) and their introduction to the market. First of these products, by the way, was a computer mouse (and the resulting computer operating system based on the user clicking on icons, as opposed to typing commands... which ended up revolutionizing the way we interact with the computers).

In addition, the products that Steve Jobs and Apple introduced to the market led to other companies developing similar technologies (sometimes, despite Apple's best efforts), some of which I use as well. I already mentioned the mouse. Also, although I am not a big fan of the iPhone, the concept of a touch-screen smartphone is a very powerful innovation, and I personally enjoy using my Android phone (which I have found very useful in many areas of my life, from work to play to study to Yiddishkeit). As I have previously enjoyed using my mp3 player (mostly for listening to Chassidus at work), whose invention was probably inspired by the iPod.

I have have often used Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples of the people who really "govern" our society. It is entrepreneurs like them, not the pencil-pushers and demagogues in the capitals, that direct the progress of the civilization. They deserve to be richer than most of the populace, because they improve our lives in a very tangible way.

I never liked the whole talk of "giving back to the society" (even though both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs gave a lot of money to charities). What do you mean, "give back"? These people don't "take" from the society; the society gives them money willingly, in exchange for the more useful (to the society) products and services.

By buying Steve Jobs's products, people voted for him (with their money — literally) to be one of the people in charge of "directing the progress". That's the fallacy of those people who believe that we need to tax the rich in order to send their money to pay for the "government" and its projects. That's quite ridiculous: the rich themselves know how to invest money in order to create new jobs, as well as new useful products and services that benefit our lives (that's how they became rich, after all).

As many people have said in their blogs, what Steve Jobs has accomplished an average person would not accomplish even in ten lifetimes.

Rest in peace, Steve. You have made this world better.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Welcome to the 21st century

My wife points out that Capital One commercial (I was showing her one on Youtube to explain why I say "What's in your wallet?" every time she mentions Capital One) says: "Welcome to the 21st century" after mentioning that Capital One has (supposedly) the highest APY of all the banks.

Which is ironic, since in the 20th century, the APY rates were higher, but, because of the governmental manipulations of the interest rate, have been steadily moving towards zero.

What the commercial should say is: "Welcome to the traditional banking." But, of course, that would be a fantasy.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Give us life

Земледелец из еврейского колхоза «Биробиджанец». Украина, 1936. 
* Для закрытия окна нажмите на иллюстрацию *

On Rosh HaShanah we asked Hashem to give us life. During the Ten Days of Repentance and on Yom Kippur, we repeat the request.

But what does "life" mean? Of course, it refers to the physical life, health, sustenance, etc. But what about the spiritual life?

There is the famous story of a chossid of the Alter Rebbe to whom Alter Rebbe gave a blessing for a long life. The chossid responded: "But not a peasant's life." I don't think he meant that he was opposed to agriculture as an occupation. He meant that most peasants at his time were people whose lives were more like survival: they went to work, came home, ate, and went to sleep. There was no purpose, no visible grand design in their lives.

The chossid wanted a life filled with meaning.

In Judaism, something is alive when it is connected to eternity. When a potential for life leaves a woman, she becomes spiritually impure. In order to cleanse herself from the spiritual touch of death, she has to connect herself back to "life": to go to a mikveh, a reservoir of natural water. But halachically, a river that dries out even once every seven years is not fit for a mikveh. It is not a permanent, eternal river. Something which is alive for a finite period of time is considered to be really alive.

How do we become really alive? By connecting to the Source of Life; the only being, the only existence that is truly alive: Hashem.

So, we ask Hashem to give us this kind of life. We ask Hashem to help us be good Jews, help us connect to Him, so that are lives are meaningful and filled with purpose.

But then, don't we also ask for the material "life"? For health, children, success in our work? What is the connection between the two requests? First, one could say that whenever someone has health, money, and success, he does not worry about such things and as a result has a peace of mind to serve Hashem.

One can, however, go deeper. What does it mean that we serve Hashem? We don't do it by meditating in a monastery somewhere in the mountains, smelling incense, and eating dried figs. We serve Hashem by interacting with the world and doing mitzvos and learning Torah — in the world, not apart from it. (Otherwise, why would our souls descend into the world? Surely no secluded monastery in the mountains surrounded by bamboo forest is as "spiritual" as the spiritual worlds from which our souls descended.) We must create a Dwelling for Hashem specifically in the Lower Worlds — the ultimate purpose for which Hashem created the world.

So, really, it's not like we are asking for two different things: for material life and for spiritual life. We are asking that Hashem allows us to be His servants in the physical world by a) granting us the physical tools with which to serve him (money, health, professional success), b) by granting us the spiritual tools (ability to daven with proper concentration, to learn Torah at depth, be meticulous about the performance of mitzvos, etc.), and c) by helping us unite the two levels, making sure that they are not independent but complement and enhance each other, and that all our accomplishments in the physical are only l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven.

And of course, the ultimate level of this unification between the physical and the spiritual will be achieved when Moshiach comes and Hashem's Presence is revealed in this world.

So, may Hashem grant us life — real and full life — this year!