Thursday, December 27, 2012

The responsibility to refuse

(Thoreau is one of the most famous Americans to have argued about the importance of public disobedience to immoral laws. He also looks a bit like the Soviet Sherlock Holmes.)

I have just read an article about the Israeli soldiers' right to refuse to carry out their superiors' orders to throw out settlers of their homesteaded homes. Some have claimed that such refusal undermines the fabric of Israeli democracy.

The author argues that every citizen of a democracy has a right to refuse the government's laws. I say that he has a responsibility to do so when the laws are immoral.

A couple quotes:
'Do not individuals have the right, indeed the duty, to question the morality of their governments’ decisions? 
The worship of the government is fascism, or as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote, “the enslavement to the state can also become idolatry.“ [...] 
In Western philosophy, going all the way back to Socrates, civil disobedience to immoral law is perceived as a fundamental protection of democracy and a means for defending the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. 
Following the Second World War and the Holocaust, the Nuremberg Trials were obvious proof that obeying immoral orders is immanently immoral, as the Nazi leaders were executed for obeying laws. The civilized world had expected them to disobey these laws, regardless of the legal consequences or peril to their own safety.'
And let no idiot mention Godwin's law.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On banning assault rifles

Our Supreme Commander in his infinite wisdom has declared that he supports a ban on assault rifles (owned by the peaceful populace; the ban obviously does not cover the government thugs).

The argument boils down to this: let's prevent random lunatics from shooting children with handguns by... taking assault rifles away from homeowners. Who successfully use them to stop home invasions. (By the way, home invasion attempts are lower in the US than in Canada, for example.)

So, is our President an idiot or a political whore?..

Probably both, but one can probe deeper here. Assault rifles can be used to defend against home invasions — not only home invasions by local hoodlums, however, but also by federal agents. And they have been used successfully in the past to this extent; federal agents have been wounded and killed in unlawful home invasions, and the home owners were cleared of charges.

Of course, this is just a tip of the potential iceberg. In a country where the populace is armed with assault rifles, the government is scared. As in Switzerland, for instance. American Government would hate for this to happen (or continue happening) in the US. Hence the proposed ban on assault rifles, under the pretext of caring for the kids.

It's not paranoia when someone is out to get you...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Traffic lights

"Without the government, there would be no traffic laws and major accidents on every intersection."
— most statist fools

Watch this video and weep. On the left: traffic lights off during a power outage. On the right: back on, the next day (filmed at the same place, same time).

Or, in other words, left: libertarianism; right: statism.

This is not to suggest that we'd have no traffic laws in a stateless society. The point of the above video is that nothing is better than whatever the government has to offer and that "nothing" in most cases amounts to a spontaneous order due to the forces of mutual cooperation and pursuit of self-interest.

Under stateless society, all roads would be privately owned, and it would be up to the owner to create traffic laws and regulations (in the form of signs, traffic lights, etc.). Different road owners would compete with each other for the public's custom (passage through their roads, paid for automatically and electronically — price also kept low by competition). The competition would allow improvement in the quality of roads and traffic regulations (in terms of clarity, balance between safety and efficiency, etc.).

Another example, from England:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Swiss cheese

Why Does This Guy Have an Assault Rifle at the Apple Store?

I read two interesting articles today that made me want to emigrate to Switzerland.

First one: "Swiss Guns".

Second: EU Threatens Tiny Switzerland Over Low Taxes.
In Switzerland, cantonal governments close to voters set their own tax policies. The resulting competition between the more than two dozen cantons fosters a business-friendly environment of low taxes, minimal government interference, and widespread prosperity. That is one important reason why international businesses flock to Switzerland in droves. 
The Swiss model works so well that even as the EU and its single euro currency face a crisis of monumental proportions and possible economic implosion, Switzerland’s economy is doing just fine. Its GDP per capita is about double the EU’s, while its unemployment rate is around half. 
The Swiss government also consistently posts budget surpluses as its bloated EU neighbors drown in debt and seek bailouts. In fact, Switzerland is even helping to fund the handouts for profligate European regimes. And its economy is the most competitive in the world, according to the global competitiveness index.  
With a heavily armed population of less than eight million, Switzerland has maintained its sovereignty and independence through two world wars raging on all sides and the more recent erection of the EU, which now completely surrounds the tiny alpine nation. With a decentralized system of government, the Swiss have also been able to largely preserve their liberty despite constant European pressure.
And now some statistics.

Illinois (worst gun control in the US) vs. Switzerland (every single man owns an assault rifle and practices shooting it once a week every Sunday). Gun-related homicides per 100,000 people:
Illinois: 6.10 (higher than Texas which has many Mexican drug gangs)
Switzerland: 0.58
Guns don't kill people. Liberal politicians do.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The way British people wash their faces

If you want to wash your face in a British bathroom, you have to stopper the sink, turn on both hot and cold water using different taps, wait for the sink to fill up partially, and then splash some water on your face from the standing mix.

Which is in the same sink where people wash their hands (the same way) after using the bathroom.


(Images from the last episode of the last season of The Ultimate Force show.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The monkey and the US Constitution

There is an expression in Russian: "the monkey and the glasses". It comes from a fable by Ivan Krylov about a monkey that had poor eyesight and heard that glasses can provide a cure. It bought a few pairs of glasses and was doing everything with them (putting them on its head, balancing them on its tail, etc.) except the one thing that was required.

The expression is used for someone who is trying to use some object or concept, but doing a terrible job at it due to incompetence. For instance, one of the episodes of Boondocks criticizes nouveau riche African American rappers who, once they "make it", buy houses, whose yards they fill with all kinds of junk, for example, classical statues and columns, regardless of the architectural styles of the houses.

This is another example:

Watching a liberal trying to be a constitutional originalist is like watching a whale spin. Or French rap.


Awesome video. I will never-ever be able to do something like this...

Although, apparently, some people are saying that it actually looks more difficult from the side (or even from the first-person view) than it really is. Not that anyone can do it without any training or skill, but it's not as impossible as one might imagine from the first look. So, maybe there is still hope for me...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chassidus is for everyone

Thinking that learning Chassidus is only for really holy Jews is a mistake. The purpose of Chassidus is to illuminate our lives by showing in detail how G-d is in everything. The more darkness one has in his soul, the more light he needs to illuminate it.

Chassidus is not for this or that person on such-and-such level. Chassidus is for you.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Spiritual timelessness of Judaism. Special days of Kislev

A repost:

In one of his shiurim on Chanukah (listen also to this shiur on the whole month of Kislev), Rabbi Paltiel explains that time is also a creation. Besides the time that is bound to space (which Einstein’s theories of relativity talk about), there is a more general, “background” time. Every moment of this time has its unique spiritual energy — Sunday has one type of energy, Monday another, etc.

This explains why certain holidays in Jewish history came and went, and other holidays remained. The particular day on which a particular holiday happened had its unique spiritual energy. The holidays with “universal” spiritual energies are still celebrated by Jews. For instance, the 15th of Nissan (the day when Jews left Egypt) had an energy of liberation, redemption from slavery, overcoming of one’s limitations and so on. This is why Pesach is celebrated throughout generations — not (only) to commemorate the leaving of Egypt, but mainly because the day itself is liberating; the same spiritual energy that allowed Jews to leave Egypt many years ago on this day appears again every year.

This applies to any holy day on Jewish calendar. On Rosh HaShana (New Year), the source of energy that allows the world to exist is renewed. By celebrating Rosh HaShana, we are celebrating literal rebirth of the Universe.

Shabbos is not merely a day to commemorate the fact that G-d “rested” (i.e., did not create the world actively); on this day, the stretch of time itself (and as a result, the world that exists in this time) is holy. The same mode of creation that was during the first Shabbos — through “thought” as opposed to “speech” — happens every Shabbos. It is as if on Shabbos we did not exist “outside” of Hashem, but inside His “mind”.

Rabbi Paltiel gives another example. In Sha’alos veTeshuvos min haShomayim (“Questions and Answers from Heaven”), a book in which halachic questions are asked “beyond the Curtain” and answers are recorded, at the end of one such teshuva, it is written: “Today is 19th of Kislev, Tuesday, and it is a day for celebration”. For a thousand years it was not known why 19th of Kislev was a happy day — until 1799, when on a Tuesday, 19th of Kislev, the first Rebbe of Chabad Chassidus, R’ Shneur Zalman of Lyadi (“Alter Rebbe”) was released from prison. This day became known as “New Year of Chassidus”, and it is generally recognized amongst Chabad Chassidim as a day instrumental for dissemination for Chabad Chassidus, which is a recipe for bringing Mashiach.
Yud-Tes Kislev is a lot bigger than Chabad. It is not New Year of Chassidus Chabad; it is New Year of Chassidus. In Yud-Tes Kislev lies spiritual victory of Baal Shem Tov. Baal Shem Tov was a special soul that came from heavens to introduce new, special type of Judaism, and it was being judged. [...] And the miracle of Yud-Tes Kislev effected not just Chabad Chassidim, but all Jews. [Listen on for explanation.]
The same is true regarding Chanukah. The day of 25th of Kislev has the special spiritual energy of renewal and dedication of Beis HaMikdosh. When the Mishkan was built, it was ready to be dedicated on the 25th of Kislev. Moses was told by G-d to wait until Adar, but the energy of this day revealed itself when it came time (on the same day) to renew and rededicate Beis HaMikdosh after victory over Greeks.

So, it is true that we celebrate the historical occurence of each holiday, but this occurence is but a keili, a vessel for the spiritual energy behind the occurence. We are really celebrating the spiritual occurence of a particular day (that is happening on that day), but since we live in the physical world and cannot “grasp” the spiritual events in their purity (they are beyond this world) — nor should we do this, because the ultimate purpose of creation is making a dwelling place for G-d in this, physical world, — we “dress” the spiritual energy of a particular day in the “vessel” of a particular holiday, with its history, customs, special prayers, symbolism, etc.

That is why Purim, for instance, could be meaningful even for Jews in the middle of Holocaust. While the historical relevance of this holiday was seemingly distant and reversed by contemporary events, the spiritual relevance (Purim is higher that Yom Kipur, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in one of his ma’amorim) was nevertheless there.

* * *

This brings me to the question often asked about the “reason” of mitzvos. I will give a relatively obscure example. At the end of having a meal, before saying the main after-blessing for the meal, it is customary to wash one’s fingertips and pass the fingers over one’s lips. Men do this (usually, using a special cup and plate that is passed around the table); women do not. The explanation given on a nigleh (“revealed” or legal) level is that this custom was instituted to protect someone who had just eaten from the salts present in the food that may be harmful for one’s skin.

The question why this customs does not apply to women has several answers. One of them is that traditionally, women were involved with preparing food and therefore washed their hands anyway. Another is that the act of publicly washing one’s hands at the table is an act of doing something normally private in public, with the table’s attention drawn to oneself. Because privacy is more important for women than for men, it is generally recognized to be improper for the former to participate in attention-drawing events (which includes other activities, in which women normally do not participate, such as holding a public office, being a Rav, getting an aliyah, etc.).

Today, if we see in this custom nothing but a medical warning, it may seem somewhat irrelevant, to say the least. It may be surprising why this custom survived, while other, seemingly more important customs of past did not. The same logic that applies to holidays, however, applies to customs and mitzvos. They have both physical (historical, ritual, pragmatic) and spiritual dimension. The former is but a vessel for holding the latter.

Indeed, regarding washing of one’s fingertips after the meal, we find in the commentaries of AriZal (Rabbi Itzchok Luria, the founder of the most comprehensive contemporary system of Kabbala we have today — on which Chabad Chassidus is based, by the way) that through washing of our fingertips after the meal, we dispell the forces of klipah (spiritual impurity) that may have been attracted to us (similar to how the same forces are attracted to our body during our sleep and linger in the fingertips after we wake up, making it neccessary for us to wash them). Indeed, this is the kavana (conscious intent) one needs to have while washing one’s hands after the meal — to get rid of these forces of impurity.

So, why don’t women wash their fingertips? Apparently, because the forces of impurity do not affect them in this case. How do we know this? Because women are not required halachically to wash their fingertips after a meal. The most important lesson that Chabad Chassidus teaches us is: we must realize that ein od milvado — there is nothing but G-d. There is absolute unity of G-d with His creation, both space and time. All events happen in time and in space when they are supposed to happen according to the grand design of creation. Spiritual at all times is connected to the physical, both in historical events and in Torah.

Therefore, if — for whatever historical reasons! — women were not obligated to wash their fingertips at the time that this custom was instituted, it must mean that whatever the spiritual dimension of this custom is, it did not apply to women but applied to men. Even if nowadays the particular physical causes of this difference (and the reason for the custom itself) no longer apply, their spiritual aspects still do, making it necessary for us to honor the custom.

Mafia is caused by the government

There would be no mafia without the government.

Mafia, as a phenomenon, is caused by the government. And no, I am not talking about some conspiracy theory. I mean, if the government does what it is supposed to do and claims to do, that causes mafia to exist.

The moment you understand why and how that is the case, you understand all you need to know about the government and economics of freedom.

I will try to explain briefly how this is the case:
  1. There is a demand for some product or service. E.g., heroine or prostitution. Or alcohol.
  2. The government for whatever reason makes it illegal to obtain, produce, or sell this service or product.
  3. The demand for the service or product remains.
  4. Normal, "law-abiding" citizens (also citizens not prone to violence) do not go into the business of providing this product.
  5. Citizens who are not averse to breaking the law or using violence and have enough acumen or connections to get this product will start supplying it. They will, at the same time, attempt to suppress the competition ruthlessly and violently, leading to so-called "mafia wars". They will also mistreat their employees and even consumers.
  6. Because there is a demand, the consumers will still buy the product from these jerks. This will make the jerks stay in businesses. As a result, they will get away with mistreating their employees, especially if the employees (such as drug farmers or prostitutes) cannot find a job elsewhere.
  7. Peaceful businessmen cannot provide competition to the jerks, since a) they tend to shy away from things illegal, b) they don't want to use violence to stay in business (as may be necessary because of its shady nature), c) they cannot hire private protection firms, since protection is monopolized by the government, and the government won't protect someone doing business in this particular area, since it's illegal.
End of story. Demand drives the business. By making the business illegal, the government pushes the nice businessmen from this area of business, attracting jerks to fill in the niche.

What happens when the government makes this product legal?
  1. Peaceful, nice, law-abiding, non-violent businessmen are attracted to this business.
  2. Customers would rather buy the product such as beer from a local grocery store than from some violent tattoo-covered jerk at a speakeasy.
  3. Mafia jerks are pushed out of business.
We can see that both the first sequence of events and the second happened with alcohol, when it was first outlawed and then legalized again.

One could say: there would still be mafia. People prone to violence would still be around.

But ask yourself: why doesn't mafia deal in cars? Or oil? Or airplanes? Why does it always deal with illegal things? Because mafiosi like the adventure? No, because these things are legal, and the public would rather buy from non-violent producers than from the violent ones. So, mafia would lose money if it went into a legal business or be forced to stop being a mafia.

Thus, by making something illegal, the government creates a "shade" into which the "shady types" are attracted.

Which means that if tomorrow the government made video games illegal, there would be spring up mafia dealing in video games. If, on the other hand, the government made prostitution and heroine legal, this would shut down all the respective mafias without a shot being fired by a single cop.

Isn't economics a beautiful thing?

Anarchist poetry

Government produces all order.
Under anarchy there is no government.
Therefore anarchy is chaos.

In Washington there isn't any plan
With "feeding David" on page sixty-four;
It must be accidental that the milk man
Leaves a bottle at my door.

It must be accidental that the butcher
Has carcasses arriving at his shop
The very place where, when I need some
Meat, I accidentally stop.

My life is chaos turned miraculous;
I speak a word and people understand
Although it must be gibberish since words
Are not produced by governmental plan.

Now law and order, on the other hand
The state provides us for the public good;
That's why there's instant justice on demand
And safety in every neighborhood.

-- David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom, Part III

Read the full book for free here.