Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leaving options open

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. This does not mean that the enemy is allowed to escape. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Ch. VII

In Judaism, there is a law (in halachos of warfare) that one should not enclose a city completely during a siege, leaving an option for the besieged to leave the city (I am not sure whether to flee or to surrender). This way, not only are you being merciful to the besieged, giving them an option not to perish, but also the ones who do not immediately decide to surrender will fight halfheartedly, the option of leaving the battle always on their mind. If, on other hand, you seal them in completely, they will fight to death — much more fiercely.

When talking about relationships, Rabbi Gottlieb compares the above to the difference between being married and dating. When one is married, one is "sealed in" (although one can still get divorced, chv"sh, the barrier to do so is much higher than to breaking up). As a result, any problem that one encounters, one will fight on much more severely and stubbornly than if one were merely dating. Even if one is in a so-called "long-term relationship" — let's say, a couple has been together for close to a year — it is much easier to break up over the same problem that one might encounter during one's shanah rishoina.

I think the same distinction applies not only to secular-style dating, but even to the shidduchim. On the one hand, one wants to find out as much as possible about his perspective spouse. On the other hand, certain things are better left unknown — until the couple are married, when such things should be dealt with. Once one is "sealed in", one fights with a greater effort and can accomplish things he did not know he could.

I am talking about things that can theoretically be solved within the context of marriage (i.e., there is a good chance that the couple can deal with them — even with some difficulty — once they come up). Obviously, many things should be known before one commits. It is a matter of balance. I suspect that the balance may be off-set in the modern shidduchim, contributing to so many people unable to find a partner for a long time.

This also touches on the idea of length of a shidduch. The shorter the shidduch, the less one finds out about one's perspective spouse. This has the danger of remaining ignorant of things that one better find out about before one is married. But the longer one dates, the more one is likely to find something out that will ruin the general "mood" of the shidduch — something that could be certainly dealt with once the couple were married.

That is why in certain communities (including, to a large extent, Lubavitch community), the general custom is to find out about the most important, crucial things, and leave the rest to be worked on during the first year of marriage.

* * *

In a game of go, one is oftentimes confronted with choices. It goes without saying that there are many choices of good moves on the board during most of the game. But sometimes one has a choice between specific moves in a specific location. For instance, if I play 1a, my opponent will respond 2a, to which I will respond 3a. If I play 1b, he will respond 2b, and I will respond 3b. Etc. The micro-situation on the board will change depending on my move.

The idea I heard a few days ago is that sometimes it is useful not to play any of the choices and just tenuki — play somewhere else on the board. (The important assumption is that the sequences a, b, and c have equal value to me. Obviously, if 1a–2a–3a exchange is more valuable than the others, I should play 1a.)

Why tenuki? Well, the point is that the situation on the board is still uncertain. Let's say, the center and the right side of the board are still unsettled. Although I may have some semblance of a plan of what I want to do, I don't know perfectly how my opponent will respond. Because of this, a situation may arise on the board that favors 3b move over 3a or 3c. But if, at that point, I will have already played 1a, it will be too late to take advantage of 3b. So, best leave things unsettled, sequences still hanging in potential, until the situation changes and I have a better idea of what is more beneficial to me.

What if the opponent chooses one of the sequences himself? Well, in that case, you will respond accordingly — and you will have played (hopefully sente) somewhere else on the board first.

Last night, a situation like that actually happened. I was playing a game in a local Barnes and Noble coffee shop and had a group on the left in which there was a choice of how to make two "eyes" (two independent sets of internal liberties necessary for the group to live). The game moved on, and the bottom and the center of the board got settled. The group which was pushing on the my left-side group from the outside found itself in a shortage of liberties if I played the right tesuji (a combination of moves). But, this tesuji was possible only because I left the left-side group alone, having not chosen in which of the two ways I can make eyes. (Obviously, if my opponent would make a move there, I would have to respond. But, he also left the group alone.)

* * *

The above concept from go can be applied to everyday life in a number of ways. The obvious lesson is to leave the options open. Don't burn the bridges. Don't seal things in until you have to. In relationships too, sometimes it is helpful not to make up one's mind about a person and leave a space for the development of the relationship and your opinion about him.

In one of his articles (most of which I happen to dislike, but this one is good), Tzvi Freeman compares it to an advice that most of us heard at some point of our lives: don't tighten the screws all the way until all of them are in. You may want to leave some "wiggle room" for things to re-adjust.

* * *

Something interesting: miai (read until the end of the introductory section).

Monday, November 28, 2011

"I only believe in the statistics that I doctored myself"

Here is a really interesting example of "liberal statistics".

In non-unionized Texas, the average SAT scores are lower than in "progressive, unionized Wisconsin". But, if you look at Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics separately, each group scores higher in Texas. (It's just that the proportion of lower-scoring Hispanics and Blacks is higher in Texas than in Wisconsin.)

This is why one needs to know basic statistics to realize that although average A may be lower than average B, each sub-category of A may be on average higher than each corresponding sub-category of B.

So, nationally:
Texas: 47th
Wisconsin: 2nd
But, for 2009 4th Grade Math:
White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)
For other grades and disciplines, it's the same: Texas scores consistently higher than WI and national average, while WI scores just barely above (and oftentimes below) than the national average. See for yourself.

So much for Paul Krugman's assertion that not all is well in Texas.

[source: arbat]

Baseball, go and fundamentals

From Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go by Toshiro Kageyama. I think this concept can be applied to many aspects of life.

Each spring sees the opening of another baseball season. This is one of my favorite spectator sports, but every year there is one thing that bothers me about it. That is the way that semi-professional, university, and sometimes even highschool stars enter the professional leagues and immediately display a skill that puts their veteran teammates to shame. 
There hardly seems to be any difference at all between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs play for pure enjoyment, while professionals play to make a living. The difference between them ought to be much greater. 
In every confrontation with a real American professional team it seems that what we need to learn from them, besides their technique of course, is how uniformly faithful their players are to the fundamentals. Faithfulness to fundamentals seems to be a common thread linking professionalism in all areas. If we consider the American professionals as the real professionals in baseball, then I think we have to consider their Japanese counterparts, who tend to pass over the fundamentals, as nothing more than advanced amateurs. 
The reason for the lack of polish in Japanese baseball is probably just the short history it has in this country. Each year, when the visiting American team makes its tour, I sense an improvement on the Japanese side, so that in another few decades, or another century perhaps, when the necessary progress in technique and mental attitude has been made, I expect to see a world championship spanning the Pacific. I feel certain that no racial physical inferiority consigns us to second place. 
The opposite case, where the difference between amateur and professional is most striking, is Japanese sumo wrestling. There even the collegiate grand champion has to enter the professional ranks in the third division down from the top and work his way up while being treated like any other raw recruit. Collegiate wrestlers lack nothing in body, weight, or strength, and they are gifted with the advantage of intelligence. The potential is there, all right, but on the other side there seems to be what can only be termed a thick barrier between amateur and professional, built by a long tradition among professionals of almost superhuman effort. It takes more than just bodily size and strength to become a professional sumo wrestler.
In the world of go also, a long tradition of intellectual combat has distilled the professional into something that an amateur can never hope to become. A professional has undergone elite training in competition from childhood; he has learned to view every other person as an opponent to be beaten down and crushed. His mental, physical, and emotional strength all have to be fully developed. If he lets up anywhere, it will show in his performance on the board and he will fail the professional test. The realm of competition is stark. 
No professional regrets the time he has had to spend studying. "I've never spent a minute studying in my life," declares Yamabe, 9-dan. Let two professionals get into a post game analysis, however, and they will go on endlessly, completely forgetting about time. Who will say that is not studying? 
The way young players have taken over the game can only be called terrifying. The time they spend studying every day defies the imagination. 
Professionals do this unquestioningly. Even a gemstone has to be polished. "A man is always moving either forward or backward," says Kano, 9-dan. "He never stands still." This should be every go player's motto, and he should keep piling effort on top of effort no matter what his age. He can be confident of always making progress.
And now, a lecture from Dywin on orthodox opening (make sure to increase the quality to at least 480p):

Friday, November 25, 2011


An incredibly entertaining lecture that shows the importance of influence. More of a hyperbole of a game, but still very interesting to watch. Very low-level of knowledge about Go is required. (Make sure to hide annotations and increase video quality to at least 480p.)

This game reminded me of the fight between Jin and Mugen from Samurai Champloo:

Later, Jin (the guy with glasses, a ronin) comments that Mugen's fighting style is "the lowest of the low" in terms of technique. Because of his superior agility, Mugen wins his fights — except against Jin, whose professional samurai training and knowledge of the fundamentals makes him undefeatable by such "brute force" (from agility point of view) approach.

This is similar to how the Black player in the first reviewed game above was able to progress to amateur 7 dan by playing in an unusual and tricky style. But against a professional, who knows how to use influence of a stone wall, he is powerless.

Not that there is no room for creativity and use of unusual situations:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Will they be armed?

Recently, I heard a relative of my wife tell a story of how she visited her brother on a kibbutz in Israel, back in the day. Her brother was a philosopher genius, who lived a reclusive life on a kibbutz in his own world of ideas.

"I will never forget", she said, "how one time he had to go somewhere. He got up, took out his gun, put it on his shoulder, and left. And after that experience — seeing my quiet, thoughtful brother with a gun — I have always hated guns. I hate all wars, all violence, and I hate guns. Gun control. That's right."

Now, it's quite obvious to any intelligent person that my wife's relative's logic has topology of a Möbius strip. We can agree that violence in and of itself is bad. But, presumably, her philosopher brother was picking up a gun not to go hunt some Arabs, but to defend himself from them. That is a very good argument against gun control. Obviously, if even he had to carry a gun, the government was powerless to protect him. So, he had to protect himself against the Arabs who had guns. Imposing gun control on him would take his protection away from him. Arabs, obviously, would still keep their guns.

This is a very good illustration for one of the standard arguments against gun control: making guns illegal will take the guns away from the hands of law-abiding citizens. The law-breaking criminals will look for a way to obtain a gun whether or not owning one is banned (if they are not afraid to risk life in prison for murdering someone, surely they will not be afraid to risk whatever punishment they'll get for owning a gun).

(By the way, I told my wife's relative that the states with the lowest amount of gun control have also the lowest amount of crime. Her retort to this piece of statistics was an expression of incredulity which I shall not quote here.)

But the reason I am posting the above story is that it reminded me of a quote from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels:
Eddie: They're armed.
Soap: What was that? Armed? What do you mean, armed? Armed with what?
Eddie: Err, bad breath, colorful language, feather duster... what do you think they're gonna be armed with? Guns, you [moron]!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Potential and actual

One of the analogies for the opening moves of a Go game is creating military bases throughout the world or a country. These bases do not equal territory under control, but they result in influence over a given region which, after a properly executed campaign, may become a territory.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of a Go game: to balance the potential with the actual, a struggle that also exists, lehavdil, in Judaism, both in Halacha (e.g., Beis Hillel vs. Beis Shammai) and Chassidus.

To play a stone in an empty region of the board to create influence over it before your opponent does or to play a conservative move that strengthens an already placed stone (or an already existing group) bringing existing influence closer to becoming a control over a territory? Such questions are asked throughout the opening of a Go game.

(Of course, these are just very basic concepts that are applied for more abstract calculations. Oftentimes, an attack on an enemy's base results in a sequence of moves, after which the enemy, defending his area of influence, has built a secure territory, and you have built a wall facing the center that now has a great deal of influence.)

The above introduction was to explain the following figure. In it, most of the stones played in the fuseki (the opening) of a game between two strong amateurs are marked with triangles (some stones are not there because they were captured in the mid- or endgame). The figure itself shows the end of the game. It is interesting to see which territories resulted from which opening moves...

(source: Invitation to Go by John Fairbairn)

Judge Napolitano: "Taxation is theft"

The people love their leaders

Nascar and Michelle Obama:

Russian boxing fans and Vladimir Putin:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tunnels and patches

An excerpt from Direction of Play by Takeo Kajiwara, 9-dan:

Whales and Green Peace

A very interesting post about the history of sperm-whale killing, demand for sperm-whale oil, and what stopped the killing.
When the world relied on whales as a source of hydrocarbons, they were too expensive to use as fuels, and the demand was self-limiting. 
When the whales were “saved” by petrochemical industry, it was only a short respite. Petrol-powered machinery required new types of lubricants that increased rather than decreased the reliance on sperm oil. Petroleum was plentiful, the cars filled the world, and it is at that point that the whales began to disappear. 
Literally nothing was done to save these whales until the cars evolved to the point when the engines started to operate at a higher temperature; the latter was caused by the concern about human health and efficiency rather than the well being of these whales. The environmental activists drove their cars just like everyone else, and they consumed transported goods and benefitted from sperm oil based lubricants in a myriad other ways, sustaining the demand. It was not their attention grabbing activities that stopped killing whales, but the unsung efforts of chemists finding a synthetic replacement to sperm oil. 
Meanwhile, human lives were lost through multiple transmission failures.

The reason why so many whales were killed in the 20th century was the distant ramifications of replacement of whale oil by petroleum. It took another 100 years to find solutions to these ramifications, and only then it became possible to save the whales. Ecological activism did not play significant role in all of these developments; neither did the numerous well-meaning international treaties, moratoriums, and other chest beating displays.

A chemist who saved the whales has not merited a Wikipedia entry. His name was P. S. Landis and he was a researcher at Mobile Oil.
Also, from the comments:
We still have the national strategic whale oil reserve, and if you badly need it (and can prove that to the US government), you can obtain it from there. I've heard that the gears in the Hubble Telescope were lubricated with sperm oil, though I do not know if this is true. For applications at low temperature it remains unsurpassed. BTW, it still remains unknown what makes it such an exceptional lubricant, there are only theories. 
By the 31st century, no fossil fuels will be left in the ground, so we'll be back to recycling atmospheric CO2 in the sustainable, socially responsible way, of which whale harvesting is an example. The Futurama guys get it right.
I personally think that if there is one thing that the governments are useful for is to protect the intelligent beings that cannot protect themselves (against humans). That includes old ladies and sperm whales.

Triple Go

A game of three-color go on a 13x13 board. Final position (Black wins through resignation):

A diagram of the final position


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


If you don’t like ko, don’t play Go.
— Janice Kim

A is in ko. Black (or, rather, blue) to move. I see one ko threat.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marching we march

As an addendum to the previous post, a Bobover wedding march (make sure to watch in high quality):

State circus

In Boston, when the circus is in town, it is based in the Government Square, right in front of all the bureaucratic buildings. Everyone agrees it is a very fitting place for it.

While watching the following video, two things come to mind:

1. These countries have nuclear weapons. A blast from one of these weapons is sufficient to offset the orbit of the Earth enough to create an eternal winter, chv"sh.

2. Can you imagine Apple and Google doing something like that? Any private company? With people cheering, etc. I guess, private sports teams come close. Which make sense: after statist patriots, sport fans are the second in idiocy.

Yes, you're thinking of this:

Or this:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Importance of Akeidas Yitzchok — spiritual perspective

(limit at infinity)

In an earlier post, I covered logical arguments concerning akeidas Yitzchok. This event, however, has a very important spiritual lesson, which Avraham had to learn: we can define G-d’s expression in this world, but we cannot define His Essence.

In parshas Lech Lecha, Torah tells us that Avraham circumcised himself. In parshas Vayeira, he receives news of Sodom’s and Gamorra’s planned destruction and argues with G-d that some righteous individuals may live in them. Later, Yitzchok is miraculously conceived and born, and later yet (fast-forward thirty-odd years), G-d orders Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchok. What’s the connection between these events?

Initially, Avraham understood G-d as the Creator of the Universe. He deduced necessity of G-d’s existence from the fact that Universe functioned in an obvious order, which necessitated the source — only one — of that order. He preached monotheism and eventually received revelation of G-d, who told him to go to Eretz Kna’an to become an ancestor of a great nation. Before G-d’s revelation, Avraham’s understanding of G-d was limited to that of a Creator, after revelation — to whatever aspect of Himself G-d chose to reveal to Avraham. His understanding of G-d also was limited by his own nature. Avraham was kind and thus perceived G-d from this point of view, as a source of kindness in the world. Next came the circumcision. Chabad-Chassidic commentary on parshas Vayeira states:
When, as a young boy, Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch learned [the verse “G-d appeared to him”], he came in tears to his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek), and cried, “If G-d appeared to Abraham, why doesn’t He appear to me, as well?” In reply to his little grandson’s anguished question, the Tzemach Tzedek told him that Abraham merited having G-d appear to him because, although he had indeed refined himself enough to attain very sublime levels of Divine consciousness, he at the same time knew that G-d is infinite and that therefore there were still an infinite number of levels of Divine consciousness to attain. This recognition left Abraham feeling grossly inadequate, as though he were still encrusted by layers of insensitivity to Divine awareness that needed to be removed — to be “circumcised” — in order to bare his heart before his Creator.
So, we see a gradual progression of Avraham’s understanding of G-d’s nature. He started with definition of G-d as a creator. Then he progressed to understanding of G-d as one who does kindness, chessed — from the “right” pillar of the kabbalistic tree of Divine Attributes. After his circumcision, Avraham achieved a level of being able to see the whole tree, with left side present. He was able to perceived that G-d is also a judge (as can be seen from his arguing with G-d about destruction of the Cities of the Plane: “Shall the Judge of the whole world not judge fairly?”). Birth of Yitzchok pushed the definition even further: not only was G-d the source of the world’s order, of Nature, but He was able to do miracles, transcending definitions of natural laws.

So, what did ordering Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchok accomplish? It elevated Avraham to understanding that G-d is beyond any definition or limitation whatsoever. Not of a Creator, not of a Kind Creator, not of a Just Creator, not even of someone who promised Avraham to become a father of a chosen nation. Avraham was not allowed to place any kind of limitation on G-d: natural, intellectual, emotional or logical. This new level Avraham achieved through an act of bittul, nullification of one’s ego and its importance. When being kind, Avraham related to the level of G-d’s Kindness (chesed). When asking for justice, Avraham asked for the level of G-d’s Justice (gevurah). When raising Yitzchok to become an ancestor of the Jewish nation that would proclaim G-d as King, Avraham was relating to the level of G-d’s Kingship (malchus). But what to do to relate to G-d’s undefinable Essence? Only through an act of sacrifice, nullification, removal of all definitions.

In our lives, we must do kindness, be just, keep all the mitzvos that make us G-d’s nation. While doing all this, however, we cannot allow any definitions or barriers to limit our relationship with Torah and G-d (as the Rebbe teaches). We must live in a constant act of self-sacrifice of our lives, our self-interests, our pleasures to G-d, reaching up to His Essence.

The final part of the story teaches us another lesson. In the end, G-d did not allow Avraham to slaughter his son and showed that He intended to keep his promise. Although G-d does not have to be limited by any characteristics, definitions of promises, he chooses to do so. He chooses to continue creating the world which defies His Oneness. He chooses to be the source of Kindness and Justice (and other eight spheros, whose vessels limit and define G-d’s Infinite Light). He chooses to continue having Jews as a chosen nation.

Giving us His Torah, G-d defied His own Infinity by limiting Himself to 613 commandments, to the physical world through which they are kept, to a specific nation, to whom a promise was given. A promise G-d intends to keep: that Jews through their efforts will bring about an Era when G-d’s Essence will be revealed in the materiality of the physical world, the Era of Mashiach. May this happen speedily in our days.

P.S. This also means that Hashem’s choice of us is limited to the specific 613 mitzvos. We can’t just serve Hashem in any way we want.

Atomic bomb game

Atomic bomb game
(the exhibit presents the position of the game at the moment the atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima)

Interesting bit of Go history (source):
The number of go tournaments held in Japan during World War II were far fewer than those held before the war. Many young players were being drafted into military service and, because of a paper shortage, newspapers were compelled to reduce their size. Go columns were among the first to be dropped. In spite of this, newspapers continued to sponsor tournaments and games, even though they would probably never be published. 
As the war dragged on, conditions for staging even the most important games became extremely difficult. In the spring of 1945, Kaoru Iwamoto, 7-dan, earned the right to challenge Hashimoto Utaro for the third Honinbo title. However, finding a venue for the title match in bombed-out Tokyo had become impossible. 
A venue for the games was finally found in Hiroshima. However, the police chief of the city, who was an amateur go player, ordered the players not to play there, since it was too dangerous. However, when the police chief was called away on official business, the players, taking advantage of his absence, ignored his order and played the first game of the match July 23-25 under a rain of bullets from strafing airplanes. 
When the chief returned and heard that a game had been played, he was furious and fabade players in no uncertain terms from playing any more games in Hiroshima. 
Another venue was found in Itsukaichi, an outer suburb of Hiroshima, and the second game was played there Aug. 4-6. 
On the morning of Aug. 6, Hashimoto happened to be in the garden when the atomic bomb was dropped. He saw a brilliant flash of light and the mushroom cloud rise above the city. A tremendous blast of wind shattered all the windows and turned the playing room into a shambles. The position on the board had to be set up again. Under these circumstances, they managed to complete the game; Hashimoto won by five points. 
That evening, atomic-bomb survivors started to pour into Itsukaichi and the players began to understand the magnitude of the disaster and just how lucky they were. The house in which they were to have played their game was destroyed and its owner killed. 
The war ended a week later and the match was resumed in November, ending in a 3-3 tie. A playoff became necessary, but Japan was in such disarray that it was not until July 1946 that a best-of-three playoff was arranged. Iwamoto won the first two games, and thereby took the Honinbo title. 
Hashimoto and Iwamoto were important forces in the go world during the years following the war. Had they been killed in Hiroshima that fateful day, the history of go today would most likely be quite different. 
Iwamoto defended the Honinbo title against Minoru Kitani in 1947, but Hashimoto came back in 1959 to recapture it. Then, with the prestige of holding the top title in the go world at that time, Hashimoto broke away from the Japan Go Association and formed the Western Japan Go Association. Although, a bitter rivalry existed between these two organizations for a while, they coexist amicably today and cooperate on many levels to promote go in Japan. 
Iwamoto, who will be 97 on Feb. 5, has contributed much to the popularization of go in the West. In 1929, he retired as a go player and immigrated to Brazil. However, two years later he returned to Japan and resumed his go-playing career. Perhaps it was this experience that caused him to want to make go a truly international game. He has gone on numerous overseas tours and has established go centers in Amsterdam, Sao Paulo, Seattle and New York.

Just for the record, let me say this: after reading about this game, I started reading about the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, bombings of Tokyo, etc. It is my opinion that targeting civilians by bombing raids the way Allies did in the World War II in Japan (not just the atomic bombs, but also bombings of Tokyo with incendiary bombs) and Germany (e.g., Dresden, Berlin) is not much different from what Islamic terrorists do today. Probably not different at all. And therefore, there is not much difference between President Truman who made a decision to destroy two cities full of thousands of civilians (eventually leading to the deaths of close to 200,000 people) and Osama Bin Laden.

I am ashamed of the times when I excused such things by calling them collateral damage. This was not collateral damage. This was terrorism.
Let me say only this much to the moral issue involved: Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?

— Leo Szilard

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Go Seigen vs. Fujisawa Kuranosuke, 1953

By the way, Go Seigen (born in China) is still alive. He is in his late 90s. Here he is young:

Go Seigen

Apparently, after the war, Go Seigen joined some sort of religious organization/cult and as a result had to leave Japan's national Go organization. He was unable to participate in the national championships for a while. Not to worry: he played in many games against the strongest Go players; the encounters were sponsored by the newspapers and Go journals that published the records of the games.

Just another evidence that you don't need government to sponsor art and intellectual pursuits such as board games or science.

Clever and wise

I just opened my iGoogle page and saw two things:

1. All the news headlines about the Euro-crisis
2. A quote from Albert Einstein (from my daily quote gadget): "A clever person solves the problem. A wise person avoids it."

The thing is: getting the government out of regulations of the economy is both clever and wise. It would cure the existing problems by allowing the capital in the markets to flow back to the proper targets (something that the politicians' regulations and attempts to "solve" the problem is actually preventing). It would also make sure that the future crises do not happen.

More reading: "Real Causes of Boom-and-Bust Cycle".

Monday, November 7, 2011

Playing Go in Russia

A good player tries to read out [ahead] in his head before he puts the stones on the board. He looks before he leaps. Frequently he does not leap at all; many of the sequences his reading uncovers are stored away for future reference, and in the end never carried out. This is especially true in a professional game, where the two hundred or so moves played are only the visible part of an iceberg of implied threats and possibilities, most of which stays submerged.

You may try to approach the game at that level, or you may, like most of us, think your way from one move to the next as you play along, but in either case it is your reading ability more than anything else that determines your rank.

Elementary Go Series, Volume 3: Tesuji, James Davis


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sister and wife

I have returned to my garden, my sister, my bride.
— Song of Songs

I have read an interesting idea from a sicho on parshas Lech Lecha this Shabbos.

The episode of Avraham Avinu and Sara descending to Egypt is well known. During their crossing the Nile river, Avraham told Sara that she should pretend to be his sister, lest she is seized by the immoral Egyptians and he is killed, chv"sh.

On a spiritual level, parshas Lech Lecha (whose main theme is the journey of Avraham Avinu to Eretz Yisroel from the place of his birth) is a metaphor for the soul's journey from the upper worlds to this world.

The concept of "sister" represents the soul; the concept of "wife" represents the body. (In this case, Avraham Avinu represents the essence of the soul, cheilek Elokah mima'al mamosh, yechida shebenefesh.)

The soul's relationship with Hashem is natural, like that of a sister and a brother (while a sister and a brother may get in a fight, it is only under extreme circumstances that they will lose all relationship, G-d fobid). The relationship of the body with Hashem is that of a wife with a husband. The relationship at first is not "natural" (in the sense that a newlywed couple have to grow accustomed to each other and when they just meet are strangers); thus, if it is not cultivated properly, it can fall apart, chv"sh. On the other hand, if it is nurtured and grows, the relationship between a husband and a wife can become much more explosive and stronger than that between siblings can ever hope to be.

This is the lesson for our avoidas Hashem. When our soul enters this world (similar to how Avraham descended into Egypt), it is in a state of weakness. It must be on guard against the foreign and potentially destructive elements of the material. Therefore, it must rely on its "natural" relationship with Hashem — similar to that of siblings, a relationship which is the result of the soul's origins. That is why the beginning of the soul's life in this world (the childhood and youth), as well as the times of special spiritual closeness to Hashem (Shabbos and holidays) must be spent with the focus on study of Torah and davening. (Also, of course, the soul must renew and strengthen its connection with Hashem on a daily basis by learning and davening at set times.)

On the other hand, the whole purpose of the soul's descent is to elevate its relationship with Hashem to a completely new level. That can only be accomplished by becoming Hashem's "wife" — by using the body to do the mitzvos that transform the world into a dwelling place for Hashem (similar to how a wife transforms an empty and cold basement apartment into a home for her husband). That is why one cannot spend all his time only learning and must also do mitzvos and interact with the world for the purpose of making it holy.

I also think, on a deeper level, that although one must originally shy away from those things that interest the body (I do not just mean bodily pleasures; I mean, more generally, the pleasures of this world, including the aesthetic and intellectual ones), eventually, it is one's purpose in this world to connect the explosive nature of these endeavors with holiness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A tale of two cities

Or, rather, two tales of four agencies.

First two agencies are FBI and Russian Foreign Intelligence Office. The latter sent some spies to America. The spies were identified and monitored by FBI which recently released the materials. It turns out that in ten years of living in the US, this group of Russian spies did not do a single assignment. It has not collected any intelligence, has not contacted any American citizens (Anton Nosik says: "Not even a McDonalds worker, let alone a US government official"). Basically, they were just living in the US on the money of Russian taxpayers, waiting until their government comes up with some clever spying scheme.

Meanwhile, a group of FBI officers were busy monitoring these Russian "super-agents", also drawing salary of American taxpayers.

This would go on for another ten years if not for a diplomatic incident, in which the US government was forced to reveal the information about the Russian spies as a diplomatic move against the Russian government.

Anton Nosik summarizes: "Purpose is a concept very foreign to any bureaucracy. And Intelligence Service is [despite its name] the worst stage of bureaucratization for the brain."

Item 61 Photo 08 
(Sneaky Russian spies serving their country)

The second tale of two agencies is the tale of how a Florida trooper arrested a Florida police officer. See in this video: