Monday, December 31, 2007


More Hatin' On Word

An oldie but goodie.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


The Naderites Were Wrong

We moonbats sometimes wonder: was Clinton really all that much better than Bush on issues like trade? The answer it turns out is yes. The Clinton administration did produce actual fair trade deals that actually benefited both parties. On "This American Life" today, they highlighted our deal with Cambodia about clothing trade. Why didn't we try to maintain somewhat of a deal when the deal Clinton made expired (of course it wouldn't have been exactly the same with the expiration of the quota system for garments, but something could have been worked out)? Maybe because it expired when Bush was President, and we were too busy being afraid of terrorists -- 4 years after 9/11 -- and fighting Iraqis (of course, the NPR report didn't mention that as a distraction, the only mentioned negotiations about CAFTA) to mind the store, almost literally?

So note to the assorted "there's not a dime's worth of difference" folks -- whether of the Naderite or the "independent, moderate" variety: there is a difference between even DLCer type Democrats and GOoPers. Of course, it would help the Democrats' brand if they pointed out, rather than ran away from these differences. But then again, it doesn't help that on such economic issues, the media, today's "This American Life" notwithstanding, as a whole are very much on the "neo-liberal" side and when "even the liberal media" says that the Dems. should run away from "protectionism", why would you think any Dem would embrace what their (erstwhile) allies tell them not to embrace?


PS: what kind of idiots have taken over our labor movement? Some labor economist opposed re-establishing the trade agreement with Cambodia because after Clinton's agreement expired, conditions for workers in Cambodia got worse. Umm ... wouldn't that be an argument that these sorts of trade agreements are NECESSARY to keep conditions good in other countries rather than an argument to oppose these sorts of trade agreements? I guess the labor economist was thinking "we don't wanna punish Cambodia for backsliding", but WTF?

Note to the labor economist (and to Bush & CO on other issues): sometimes ya gotta give in to blackmail -- sometimes ya gotta say "ok, so you'll only do what we want if we make a favorable agreement for you, so we'll make that agreement". From that labor economist to Bush & CO on nuclear proliferation, we're playing from the Dulles brothers' playbook of "we won't reward threats". Which is all fine and good until Nasser says "ok, so I'll go Soviet then", so to speak.

It's bad enough that GOoPers get all "high minded" in order to dodge useful progress and important treaties that keep us safe (and drive the fearmongers out of business). But why are labor economists taking pages from the dull Dulles brothers' playbook?


Shemoth Blogging

The degree to which how one views the theology of the J-source sure is affected to a great degree by whether one is primarily influenced by Judaism or by Christianity, don't it? Even if the original source-theorists claimed to be secular and independent minded scholars, one cannot help but marvel at the degree to which their view of how the J-source conceived of Hashem was influenced by a Christian or possibly even a Gnostic view of what the "Old Testament God" was like.

OTOH, when we Jews think of Hashem qua the identification with the Tetragrammaton, we tend to think of the burning bush (in this last week's parsha), don't we? We tend to view the idea of a God with an ineffable name as being a divinity quite the opposite of the demiurge, as has been explored by Fromm, Runes, et al.

I guess it just goes to show the importance of one's biases in shaping supposedly "objective" opinions: even the most "objective" scholars cannot help but display their background and prejudices.

Meanwhile, the Ashkenazic Haftarah is a most interesting part of Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah has this interesting manner of repeating his prophesies as he imagines them being heard by his contemporaries, viz., as baby talk. In this week's Haftarah, the baby talk is "laws to laws, laws to laws; measure to measure, measure to measure". Isaiah notes that some people hear the message of the Bible, and -- whether they embrace it as the fundamentalists do or reject it as the new-atheists do -- only think about the laws and measures as if they were baby talk.

They miss the message of why we need laws and measures to help us on the right path: we may talk about random acts of kindness, but really acts of kindness sometimes need care and thought. And the road to hell is paved with the best intentions, as the saying goes. But God, in love for us (as the prayer indicates) has given us a path (halacha) to live in the right way.

And the obligations without measure are listed in Mishna Peah somewhere. Inexplicably (or perhaps if I studied more Talmud, I'd understand why), commentary on this is located in Tractate Shabbos (127a?). Anyway, most Jewish prayer books will have this in the morning blessings as the study to do in order that your prayer before studying Torah (which you should make every morning as you never know when you'll study Torah) is not in vain. Interestingly, the Torah per se read here is from Leviticus. Talmud Torah (the study of Torah) shows how what seems to be a very outdated cult really leads to ideas that help us live as righteous people even to this day.

Meanwhile on the subject of Talmud and those measures which redeem us: Kinyan Torah, in describing the virtues of the scholar (which are the highest virtues according to Kinyan Torah), points out that, of all things, citing sources leads to redemption ... and cites Esther's citation of Mordechai as its exemplar.

Interesting to ponder, ain't it? Isaiah's baby talk about laws and measures and the various little things we do to build a society are really what saves us. Do we really need to worry about the name of God, which we ought not to pronounce anyway lest we take that name in vain? Or is what is more important noticing the ever burning bushes around us and realizing that we always could be on sacred ground and that all those measures and laws are important. Or as Talmud puts it, discussing another verse from Isaiah, the children, who study God's word, are the builders who shall experience peace.

Because through this study, they will accept and fulfill the obligations without measure so their reward will be without measure, even if it be hidden, they shall be fortunate. As the Talmud puts it (and I'll not attempt to translate): v'Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam.


Shemoth, of course, means "names". Many, especially during periods when we Jews have been oppressed and struggled to maintain our existence, have pointed out that the list of names that begins this parsha (and the Book of Shemoth, or Exodus), points to the degree to which, even in the face of oppression, the Hebrews in Egypt maintained their identity. OTOH, we also note the presence of Egyptian names (Moses, Pinchas) even amongst the leadership of the Hebrews, which should tell us that we should not completely exclude but rather embrace elements of the larger culture that lead us Jews in better directions.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Somehow This Just Seems Right

My blog, in the original jive (do people still use that word?)

Update: the translater ain't quite right: just should really translate to jus', shouldn't it?

Update 2: never mind ... once I added the above update, the translator decided to translate just as jizzy, which is even better!

Monday, December 24, 2007


More DAS Blog Unoriginality: Microsoft Word Complaint Edition

Yeah, I know ... how common it is to complain about Microsoft Word. But I'll do it anyway.

Why the $%#& did Microsoft Word have to develop some way for us non-Hebrew keyboard users to be able to use different typefaces and everything with Hebrew? Why didn't they leave well enough alone?

Back in the old days, you could get a "Hebrew font" and hunt and peck with the keyboard (and try to remember to think "backwards") and just type out Hebrew characters (or insert them as special characters from your regular font). Sure it was laborious to type everything backwards from how it's done in Hebrew. Sure it was annoying if you wanted to have a different typeface but couldn't find a new, cheap font.

But it worked, and reliably so.

The way things work now, though, I can happily cut and paste Hebrew into my Word Document from the intertubes or wherever. And I have a choice of typeface (between Times New Roman and well, Times New Roman is the only one which reliably looks good). But then, when I close my document and re-open it the next day (or an hour later), Word has decided to reorder the Hebrew letters. Why does Word change things without you telling it to change them (other than useful, and easily reversible automatic corrections)? I want to pretend like I'm frum and have B"H at the top of the page -- how come Word keeps changing it to H"B? Did I tell it to change directions? Why the #@$% doesn't it keep things the way I enter them or at least be consistent about what it does?

Update -- I'm having worse problems with some other Hebrew text. I was just about to e-mail Microsoft and ask them for support, but evidently, after a limited period, they start to charge you $50 (fifty #@$%in' bucks! WTF?!?) everytime you ask for support. So I'd have to pay $50 to get an answer as to why the #@$% when I paste in some Hebrew text and it looks one way when I paste it in, another way when I scroll down and back up and yet a third way when I re-open the document?

What the @#%$ was wrong with just providing Hebrew fonts/special characters like I seem to recall having in the "old days"?


DAS Creativity Blogging: Unoriginal Music and Original Poem Edition

Above (I can't seem to make them go below, and I guess you'll have to download them to see them in a readable size) are two pieces, which I have arranged. The first is a quartet arrangement for one of my favorite Bach pieces (and of all pieces for a Jew to like). The second is a pastiche of tunes, all of which are familiar. Indeed, perhaps this very pastiche and general arrangement/accompaniment has been done before, but no doubt a few original touches have worked their way into this music as it tumbled through my head (which is why I feel I can present it on my blog). I think this latter piece should be played on guitar, 5-string banjo or guitar and viola/cello (carrying the melody), or possibly transposed to play on the violin accompanied by the guitar or banjo. Actually, it might need transposition anyway to be in range of even the guitar. Hopefully the Bach piece is within range of the desired instruments.

Also, I'm now wondering if I should change the second and/or third chord(s) of "verse 3" to be the same as the last chord of that verse to have a bit of a "do-re-mi" effect ...


Meanwhile, for some originality, a poem I've been meaning to post for quite some time now:

Flight 2258: Descent into Charlotte

From the ground
I found
out later ... it was
another partially cloudy noontime

I guess,
are best
appreciated with a certain sense
of perspective

As from the air
the array of clouds,
fluffy cumulus scales on
a fish but too large to be those
of a mackerel,
was a matrix ready to rotate
a thousand dimensional version
of the Earth below

It was an antique checkerboard
of porcelain soldiers
carried in the sky
hanging from invisible strings
a gift to a long dead Emperor
on the other side
of the World

Descending through this endless grove
of trunkless cotton trees
the clouds turned out to be
country line dancers
or maybe absorbed partygoers
essaying the electric slide
buffeting the plane
as it coasted
from the disco ball
on the ceiling
to the extra bar
in the club's

From the ground
I found
out later ... it was
another partially cloudy noontime

I guess,
are best
appreciated with a certain sense
of perspective

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


If It's Good Enough For Jonah, It's Good Enough for Me

I think, given Jonah's book, I should write a book (c.f. The Rhetoric of Reaction) about "Conservative Communism".

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about "blegging":

This morning I heard a most interesting song -- from what I could tell about this. The song was a kind of Jethro Tull-esque neo-British song (with a touch of Brian Wilson-like studied disorganization and staggering of a not-quite round, not quite in sync collection of verses song almost on top of each other). But the string accompaniment, instead of being typically British, sounded almost Ukrainian (btw, was there any Slavic influence on British music due to slave trading?). It was all and all quite striking.

Does anybody know anything about this song?

Meanwhile, I have stuck in my head all sorts of old time mountain music ...


In other radio listening news, NPR played an extended statement from one of the Democratic FCCers last night. Why can't NPR play statements from the likes of him more often, instead of the usual rabid sounding back-benchers or capitulationist Blue Dogs they like to play whenever they need to balance GOP talking points with "something liberal"? This guy articulated his points well, had good voice modulation and a down-home Southern-sounding accent. This is the kind of voice we need for the Democratic party, not the gating (or on the other hand, unctuously smooth sounding), un-modulated, not even making a good case for the liberal side voices the party currently has.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


End of Genesis Blogging

What does Joseph's breakdown teach us about the limits of control? Religion often is used as a tool to exert power over oneself and others: many people with self-control issues use religion as a crutch or an obsession and many people with power issues use religion as a way of controlling others. But such controlling behavior is ultimately against the spirit of religion. And one can only control so much.

Also, Joseph's story, beginning and ending with dreams, and with his dreams coming true, is an amazing piece of literature, ain't it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Are Our Secretary of the Treasury Learning?

Did I just hear, on the radio this morning, our esteemed Sec. of the Treasury say that no nation developed behind protective barriers? Umm ... doesn't he know anything about the history of industrialization in this country?

Sunday, December 09, 2007


(Somewhat) Shorter Me (on the Stupidity of the Man Date)

Let's see -- the reason we need to have a mandate to achieve universal health coverage is to avoid the trap of adverse selection: healthy young-'uns like me don't buy health insurance so sick people have to pay more so because insurers can't spread the risk around as much.

So the solution is to force healthy young-'uns to buy insurance to spread the risk. I.e. to force healthy young-'uns who don't have much money to pay even more for health care to subsidize the sick and elderly? And people don't get how that's politically and, well, just plain stupid?

We need some redistribution of wealth (representing the goods and services that the young and healthy have the energy to make and the old and sick don't) to the old and infirm -- we don't want to go back to the pre-social security days of old=poor (indeed, as I've been harping on, our current string of bubbles has been largely fueled by boomers, afraid of being poor in retirement, pumping the markets way too full of capital and placing too large of a demand on our system of monitizing things to provide investment opportunities). But saying we'll solve the health care problem by making healthy young-'uns, who often don't have health care because they can't afford it as is, have to pay for more expensive care to balance out the risks of insuring the old and sick?

Well, "you'll get subsidized" you say -- so then what's the point: why subsidize me to subsidize someone else's health care? Why not just subsidize them?

At the very least it's politically stupid. Any marketing person'll tell you the youth market is a key demographic because they are forming their brand affiliations that'll last. So the Democrats want to risk alienating the key 18-35 year old vote market segment by forcing them to pay for other people's health care when they can barely afford their own? Way to prove negative stereotypes about Dems. right folks!

What idiots!

Friday, December 07, 2007


Health Care

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the Dems. are barking up the wrong tree with respect to health care in wanting to cover everyone under some universal insurance. Democrats correctly see that we need universal health care in this country and that the market has failed to provide it, so government must step in. However, is it really appropriate to cover everyone under an insurance model? More generally, different groups of people lack health care for different reasons, and having a one-sized fits all mandate for health insurance purchasing plays into people's worst fears of what Democrats would do in government.

Fundamentally, it makes no sense for health insurance to cover health care per se. Does auto insurance cover auto maintanance? Does homeowners insurance cover calls to the plummer? Of course, unlike in those cases, catastrophic medical interventions can sometimes be prevented by appropriate medical care. This is the wonderful idea behind HMOs. But, in practice, insurance companies are out to make money on a quarterly basis, not cover people -- so while it may be in their long term best interests to help people stay well, in the short term, it's more cost and less profit, so you can't count on them to provide coverage.

Now, from the point of view of an employer, health insurance of course would cover regular and preventive care as from their point of view, any health care is insurance that they won't suffer from a shortage of labor. And since much health care has come due to pressure on employers (from unions -- and this evolution is too often forgotten by young turk health care reformers whose plans might undermine a key victory of unions and hence unions per se ... c.f. Santayana on remembering history and recall what workplaces were like before unions!), it is natural for us to link health insurance and health care.

But when the current market fails to provide health care, is it maybe because that link breaks down? Think about the target of health insurance mandates -- healthy single young-'ons like me who can barely afford health insurance. If we choose not to purchase health insurance, it's because the costs outway the benefits. Even in terms of catastrophic illness -- we figure the worst that happens is we are totally screwed financially, which has a finite cost, since we don't have much to begin with. And while that cost (in the case of an auto accident that could do the same thing) is sufficient that we'll pay for auto insurance, major medical insurance is too expensive even for the cost (since the payouts for the company in case of a major medical catastrophe are greater than that for an auto accident, the cost differential makes sense).

So what does the HRC or Edwards plan do? They force us to purchase that health insurance via a mandate in order that our low risk will lower prices all around via community rating. And yet, because our risk is relatively low, we'll have to pay yet more for health insurance than we would with no plan. And the lower elasticity due to a mandate will cause even more price increases -- that's how the market works.

Of course, you can argue that Congress can regulate prices and provide subsidies. But prices will not be adaquately regulated as insurance companies will just threaten to fold if they don't get their way (that's how it's worked with auto insurance, for example). And subsidies for folks making over 200% of the poverty line or so are politically unworkable as they are tarred as wasteful government subsidies to the rich (the GOP almost got away with doing this with SCHIP) -- even if such people cannot afford health insurance, especially in high cost of living areas (a side note -- as a friend of mine pointed out, Dems., in pushing for more progressive tax rate schedules, need to do something to index such schedules to cost of living, otherwise middle class folks will be hit by, e.g., the AMT).

So what'll happen with a health insurance mandate to achieve universal coverage? Young-'uns who don't buy health insurance 'cause they can't afford it (which, indeed, pushes up the cost of health insurance via adverse selection) will find health insurance even less affordable!

The way to universal health care is much simpler -- the Dems. need to stop playing to stereotype and missing the forest for the trees. You achieve universal health care by looking at where the market fails and bridging the gaps with targetted government programs, that can then merge and evolve into a single payer program as more people get enrolled in an expanding government program (which will only happen if the government program actually works well -- it's the power of the market harnessed to ensure that whatever quasi-socialist medicine evolves, it'll actually be better than what we have now!).

Young-'uns, who really only need major medical and also access to very simple sorts of health care (for which they can easily pay out of pocket) can't afford health insurance? Companies already provide discounted major medical to some groups (e.g. college students) -- work with them, bargain with them (and subsidize them?) to provide the same coverage at the same rates for recent college grads! Meanwhile have enough community health centers so that when said young-'uns do get sick (which'll happen maybe once a year), they can pay at cost for a quick check to make sure their lungs are clear and be reminded to stop smoking, wear condoms and drink 0.5-2 drinks a day (no more/no less). This'll be cheaper to the young-'un than forcing them to pay for a $4000+/year policy they cannot afford and which provides services they don't need.

The sick have to pay too much 'cause of adverse selection since the young-'uns don't buy insurance? Well, it would be a lot simpler (and a direct path to single payer) if some single payer, aka the gummint, just paid as if it were the healthy young-'un (which is even better as the single payer can't get sick, unlike young-'uns who still might get sick).


As you fill in the gaps, if you can also ensure delivery of more and better health care to folks, more people will demand that they be included in the plan. And then you'll have single payer or even nationalized health care before you know it!

OTOH, if you mandate people to do anything, the spirit of perversity (note -- I'm using perverse in the way that Boswell and Poe would use it) in people will cause them to rebel and buck the mandate, which'll cause nothing but problems anyway. And then they'll be a backlash ensuring no universal health care will evolve.

In general, I dare say the politically clumsy, counterproductive handling of health care plans in ways that re-enforce negative perceptions of the Democrats is a synecdoche for the larger political failures of the Democratic party. Nu? You'd think this bunch o' losers would have learned its lesson by now, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Behind in Parsha Blogging: Al HaAretz v'al HaMazon (shel HaNeshama)

I had so many ideas for the blogging, but between traveling and being sick, I've lost track of them before comitting them to paper.

So in lieu of the regularly scheduled programming -- and in the spirit of thinking of the Genesis of the Jewish people as well as the events of the Channukah story -- and prompted by an interesting special on NPR about certain cultural aspects in the Ukraine, I was thinking about what separates Judaism (and possibly Axial Age religion qua religion) from pre-Axial Age Paganism and post-Axial Age faiths that have a heady mix of Paganism thrown in. In some ways, though, even this apologist for Judaism sometimes wonders if we Jews are missing something that is present in Paganism ... and perhaps some of the appeal of Zionism is that it provides that missing something?

What something? I'm curious as to all y'all's thoughts on this, but I'll start with my own list:

There are two things I am thinking of that Judaism lacks except in occassional reference (e.g. my quotation from Birkat Hamazon in the title) ... an attachment to the spirit of the land and the idea of receiving spiritual nourishment. While pagans, both neo and original, and even nominally Christian Am-HaAretzim, have an intense spiritual connection to their land personified in terms of spirits, gods, etc., the connection we Jews, since the first exile, have with our land is one of yearning for it and is explicitly not personified.

Similarly, while we Jews have an abstract idea of spiritual nourishment, the Orthodox/Catholic Christians (like the pagans of old) concretize this experience. What got me thinking about this was my absense from shul last Sat. due to illness when I realized what it is I missed vs. what it is my Catholic friend misses when he can't attend mass. To me, what I miss is community, etc. But for him, it's like he's missed a meal or a doctor's appointment he can't make up. I can always daven at home and while it doesn't count in the same way, I've still fulfilled my obligation, because my spiritual nourishment is something I can prepare myself. OTOH, my friend has to receive spiritual nourishment from someone else, viz., the priest handing out the consecrated host.

Even the most hippy-dippy and/or mystically minded of Jews is too "tough" and hard-nosed to really be comfortable with a faith that personifies attachment to the land with spirits and gods and too independently minded to really be comfortable receiving spiritual nourishment in such a passive manner. And yet, even the most tough-minded Jews must feel a certain attraction to the charms of such a faith where grace can be received as a gift (rather than how in Judaism God's graciousness lies in showing us the path we ourselves can take for our salvation) and where there is such an intense spiritual attaction to the land from which our bread comes that it must be personified for we humans to fully relate to it, which is necessary given the intensity of the spirituality involved.

I would posit that Zionism provides the attachment to a concrete land (of Israel, rather than the abstract yearning for Zion in Jewish prayer) ... but how can that attachment really be Jewish?

And as to the desire to have a personified spirit life like the Goyim? Nu? That is certainly why many young Jews grow disenchanted with the "lack" of spirituality in Judaism and seek strange waters.

But how do we as Jews ensure that the Zionist love for the land remains within the parameters of Judaism, and how do we provide for personified spirituality without lapsing into paganism? How do we make sure that Judaism really does praise, in the words of Birkat HaMazon, "al ha-aretz, v'al ha-mazon (shel ha-neshoma)" but remain true to the wisdom and sophistication of Judaism and not lapse into pagan superstition?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


NPR Last Night

Was amazingly good -- they actually played a tape of Harry Reid rather than some backbencher or some Blue Dog.

But one odd thing came up. They interviewed a conservative preacherman from IA about his opinions of the GOP candidates. Pace those who claim there is a double standard about African-American church-based political activism, the fact is that if any liberal pastor -- black or white -- put things as directly as he put them, her church would have its tax-exempt status yanked by the IRS sooner than you could say "render unto Caesar".

But that's not what caught my attention. The reporter decided, naturally, to harass this preacherman about Mitt Romney's Mormonism. His response was quite honest: essentially, "most conservative protestants don't care, but we pastors have been telling our flocks that Mormonism is wrong -- so how'll we tell our flocks to vote for a Mormon?". My first reaction was ... well, see about about the double standard. But my second reaction was -- how is this a problem for a Christian? Hasn't this pastor actually read what he considers to be his Bible? Does he not understand the parable of the Good Samaritan? Nu? He thinks of Good Samaritan as some turn of phrase and doesn't understand who were the Samaritans?

Nu? How come a Jew, who doesn't believe in those books remembers this whilst a so-called Christian pastor doesn't? Is it objective distance or something more, well, peculiar about those who take the mantel of being the guardians of Christian morality?

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Day After World AIDS Day Blogging

Throughout all the NPR coverage of World AIDS Day, everyone was emphasizing something over and over again: the need to be tested and to know your HIV status. Except one problem. AFAIK, when they test an individual(*) they test for the presence of antibodies that can take up to (or even longer than) 3 months post infection to show up(**). So, even though I am sure that they warn people about this, how many people are tested yet don't know their HIV status ... or worse think they are HIV negative when the really aren't?

And why did no-one mention this? Do they now routinely use a PCR based test for HIV? Is what I "know" incorrect or at least out of date? Or are people really forgetting about the time it takes for those with HIV to seroconvert? It seems to me that if knowing your HIV status is important to the fight against AIDS, that so many people might have a negative HIV test yet still be infected 'cause they haven't seroconverted would be a big issue, wouldn't it?

*for the blood supply, where they only expect a limitted number of samples to have HIV, they can pool samples, do a direct PCR-based test for the presence of HIV and then divide and conquer to determine which sample in the pool has the virus if any do ... thus cheaply and effectively eliminating HIV from the blood supply. But such an approach'll only save tests if relatively few samples have HIV. In the case of personal testing, you have "adverse selection" (a parable for health coverage is here somewhere) so you'd end up having to test pretty much every sample for HIV anyway, which would be hella expensive on a per sample basis.

**which says something about the immune response to HIV. nu? it indicates how difficult it'll be to fight the infection immunologically when it takes the immune system so long to figure out it has a problem anyway ... of course with HIV the whole issue is indeed quis custodiat ipsos
custodes at an organismal and even cellular level

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