Sunday, December 11, 2005

Historian Detectives

Careful readers of my sidebar will note that I have been on a bit of mystery novel kick since the summer. But what has been more interesting is that I keep running across detectives who are (former) historians.

First, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Ohayon of the Jerusalem Police department when I happened to pick up a Batya Gur novel to read on the plane to Israel last summer. Ohayon has an MA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in medieval history. Then, when I mentioned to my stepfather that I had read and enjoyed a couple of the Batya Gur novels, he dug out a thriller from the mid-80s from one of his shelves--William Bayer's Pattern Crimes. At one point the detective mentions to another character that history is a passion or interest of his. Then, a few weeks ago, I noticed Gaudy Night on the shelf in my friend's new bookstore (see "My AAR-SBL" below). I had read all the Lord Peter Wimsey novels when I was a lad (I think circa 8th grade but I can't be sure now) but had completely forgotten the plot of Gaudy Night. I can't imagine that the musings on academic life, returns to places of one's youth, or the questions of marriage, family, career meant anything to me then. In any case, I had completely forgotten (if I ever paid attention) that Wimsey of Balliol had taken a First in history.

Dear reader, please leave the names of other literary historian detectives in the comments. Many thanks.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sibling Relations

Sibling relations are complex. Consider the following Thanksgiving message our Daughter composed to go on her Thanksgiving art project at school:

"I am thankful for my family, my brother, my friends."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Little More AAR

This morning, I went to this session:
A22-12 Study of Judaism Section
Tuesday - 9:00 am-11:30 am
Randi Rashkover, York College of Pennsylvania, Presiding
Theme: Jewish Thought: Culture and Curriculum

Alan Verskin, Princeton University
"Teaching Philosophy to the Multitude: The Thought of Nissim B. Moshe of Marseilles"

Ellen Haskell, Franklin & Marshall College
"Metaphor, Transformation, and Transcendence: Toward an Understanding of Kabbalistic Imagery in the Book of Zohar"

Marc Krell, University of Arizona
"The Prophetic Narrative as a Basis for Religious Socialism in Weimar Germany: Jewish and Christian Attempts to Navigate between Historicism and Dialectical Theology"

Kenneth Koltun-Fromm, Haverford College in Pennsylvania
"The Art of Writing: The Diaries of Mordechai Kaplan"

(It was actually Martin Kavka presiding.)
My original plan was to hear the first three papers and then duck out and head to another session to hear one of our graduate students. But I didn't have a chance to get a cup of coffee before hand, and I was feeling really tired, so I decided that I would just stay for the first paper since medieval philosophy and curricula are things I'm interested in. I apologized before the session began to the other panelists for needing to duck out (I left out the part about needing/wanting a cup of coffee, so if Professors Haskell and Krell read this, now I owe you both a bigger apology.) Alan Verskin's presentation of Nissim's conception of why one should teach the masses some philosophy but should certainly not yourself believe that there is any philosophical truth in scripture was compelling. Someone asked him why Nissim would write that scripture had no philosophical truths if he didn't want the masses to know this. Well, Verskin answered, it's not clear why he didn't do a better job writing this part esoterically. I think I would answer differently: Maaseh Nissim (the work in question which survives in only a couple of manuscripts and was printed for the first time only 4 or 5 years ago) was probably not intended as a philosophical textbook for the masses; rather, I would guess that it was intended as a manual for philosophically inclined preachers who could use it to prepare sermons which could inculcate some philosophy in the multitude.

Then on to the aforementioned coffee in the super-crowded Starbucks in the Marriott Philadelphia lobby. Some people reading the New York Times; some earnestly chatting; some staring into space; some staring into their bagels; some (okay one person) reading a pocket edition of the Mishnah.

And then to:
22-7 History of Christianity Section
Tuesday - 9:00 am-11:30 am
Arun W. Jones, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Presiding
Theme: East Meets West: Intra-Christian Tensions and Relationships

Jennifer C. Lane, Brigham Young University, Hawaii
"Comos and Communion: The Orthodox and the Other in Thirteenth-Century Central Asia"

Korinna Zamfir, Babes-Bolyai University
"An Overview of the Tensions Related to Mixed Matrimony in Transylvania during the Eighteenth–Twentieth Centuries"

István Keul, Free University of Berlin
"Denomination and Ethnic Affiliation in East Central Europe: Past and Present"

Brian P. Bennett, Niagara University
"Western Christianity as Other: The Discourse of "Latinism" in Russian History"

Amy A. Slagle, University of Pittsburgh
"The Internalized Other: Narrative Constructions of Ethnicity among American-Born Converts to Eastern Orthodox Christianity"

Milica Bakic-Hayden, University of Pittsburgh

I came in time for the second half of Brian Bennett's talk--interesting material on Russia's version of "Occidentialism." Amy's paper (obviously the reason I went) is part of her dissertation on converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. This talk was on her ethnographic fieldwork in an Orthodox parish (Orthodox Church of America if anyone is interested) in Pittsburgh. I am on her dissertation committee so I may be accused of bias, but it was an excellent talk. My colleage, Milica Bakic-Hayden, responded to all the papers. Milica raised an issue about Amy's paper that I was thinking about as well: how typical is Pittsburgh? Ethnicity matters a lot in Pittsburgh. I realized this shortly after moving there when I saw the bumper-sticker: "Proud Hungarian-American Democrat."

Monday, November 21, 2005


Some 8000 people (this is hearsay) are in Philadelphia now for the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society for Biblical Literature. It's always strange to go to a conference in the city you are (temporarily) living in. [An aside: my four year old daughter has told us that the proper term for what we are doing in Philadelphia right now is "half-living".] Unlike going to a conference in another city, one's normal life is right there.

Case in point: I spent Saturday (day 1 of the conference) at home with the family and went Saturday afternoon and evening to the grand opening of a new bookstore, owned by a friend of mine from grade school and high school who also ended up in Philadelphia. On your next visit to Northwest Philadelphia, please visit the Big Blue Marble Bookstore on Carpenter Lane in West Mount Airy.

Sunday, I went to Center City and went to a couple of sessions, had lunch with a new colleague in Pittsburgh who arrived in Pittsburgh as we were leaving this summer, had coffee with an old friend, went to the Pitt-PTS-Duquesne reception.

Of couse, I didn't pay enough attention to the SBL side of the update booklet and missed out on the special session devoted to Ron Tappy's discovery of what may be the oldest Hebrew alphabet. You may have seen this in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Chicago Tribune, or the New York Times. was there however so you can read his report.

The first session I went to was:

(1) A20-13 Study of Judaism Section
Sunday - 9:00 am-11:30 am
Shaul Magid, Indiana University-Bloomington, Presiding
Theme: Gender, Feminism, and Orthodox Judaism
Gail Labovitz, University of Judaism
"Assent to Ascent: Rabbinic Negotiations of Exile, Marriage, and Gender Relations"
Rochelle L. Millen, Wittenberg University
"Theological Approaches in Orthodox Feminism"
Jerome Gellman, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
"Cumulative Revelation and Orthodox Feminist Theology"
Nora L. Rubel, Connecticut College
"'Muggers in Black Coats': Gender and Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Jewish American Imagination"

All four papers were excellent although discussion was dominated by Gellman's presentation in which he argued that while (a) the concept of cumulative revelation can be accommodated within contemporary Orthodox Judaism, (b) the sort of new revelation that a "moderate radical feminism" envisions would cause changes that could not be accommodated and that thus (c) the most Orthodox Jewish feminists can do is "bargain with patriarchy." Much discussion and contention over whether the changes he outlined could not in fact be accommodated and over the question of what he meant by "Orthodox." (Strangely many seemed to interpret him as arguing for a normative definition of Orthodox rather than a sociological one and also for arguing somehow against the changes that feminism advocates. These both seem to be misinterpretations of his position.) Only a little discussion about point (a) which I consider to be as interesting and much more problematic. He argued that Hasidism believed in cumulative revelation and was nonetheless accommodated in Orthodox Judaism. The problem is that all of his examples of Hasidic notions of cumulative revelation were 18th or early 19th century and one can argue that Hasidism is only included in Orthodox Judaism when it tones this stuff down. (One audience member and the chair of the panel made this point, more or less.) But nobody pointed out that there was no "Orthodox" Judaism in the 18th century for Hasidism to be part of or not part of.

The second panel I went to was:

Study of Judaism Section
Sunday - 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
Steven D. Kepnes, Colgate University, Presiding
Theme: Place as Elsewhere: Home and Homelessness in Jewish Text and Commentary

Adam Zachary Newton, University of Texas, Austin
Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Hebrew University
Jacob Meskin, Hebrew College

Martin Kavka, Florida State University

Newton and Ezrahi dropped out and Shaul Magid substituted. Meskin spoke on Levinas' attitudes toward Zionism and state sovereignty; Magid spoke on the Slonimer Rebbe's views of exile and diaspora. Kavka's response sparked off an excellent discussion although one that subsequently got a bit subtracked in my humble opinion on the question of whether a Zionism without messianism was or was not a viable option in the early 21st century. Some were arguing about whether it was or was not viable in a theological sense; others were arguing about whether it was or was not viable in a sociological sense.

There is usually very little at the AAR in my area (medieval and early modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history) which might explain why I don't often go to AAR. (This was my first visit since the 1999 meeting in Boston). But when I do go, I like to go to these sessions that are mainly contemporary Jewish thought and indulge in a little bit of constructive thinking. I also like to step back a bit and watch the theologians and philosophers at work. But it is a bit strange to find a wholly different model of "religious studies"--theological, "insider," constructive--at the AAR than the one I am used to in the department in which I do my work--historical, "outsider," and descriptive.

Today I went to the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and actually did some work in the morning and then heard a fascinating presentation by Piet van Boxel in our weekly seminar series (moved to Monday from Wednesday because of Thanksgiving). Piet dealt with a project, run at the highest levels of the Church, in the late 1570s and early 1580s, to systematically survey Jewish biblical exegesis as represented in the commentaries published in various Biblia Rabbinica editions for objectionable passages, to translate them to Latin (sometimes via Italian), and then to comment on what was objectionable. This was not done for the simple purpose of expurgation, apparently, but for more complex reasons: to prepare material for missionary efforts, especially conversionary sermons; to set out official Church positions on Jewish exegesis; and to prepare a kind of encyclopedia of Jewish beliefs for reference purposes.

Then I headed back over to the Philadelphia Convention Center and had coffee with another Pittsburgh colleague. Then home to make dinner.

Tomorrow: a little more conference and then back to work.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Edmund Bacon, 1910-2005

You have probably heard of his son Kevin. But unless you are a Philadelphian and/or someone who follows urban planning, you might not have heard of Ed Bacon who died last week. In case you haven't heard of him: he was the director of city planning in Philadelphia from 1949 to 1970 and was involved in nearly every one of the big projects that shaped Philadelphia (especially Center City) as it appears today. If you like Philadelphia, you have Ed Bacon to thank. If you don't like Philadelphia--well, I would question your judgement. Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic has a thoughtful piece about Bacon's legacy in today's paper. I can't disagree with her about some of the flaws in Bacon's approach but I would point out that he was hardly alone in his thinking. He was certainly not the only mid-century planning official to support expressway bulding in central cities and (sadly) he was far from alone in seeing slums where later observers saw thriving "urban villages." But let's give credit where credit is due: if anything, Bacon stood out from the pack in appreciating some of the things that urban planners emphasize today. Given what the redevelopment of Society Hill could have turned into (cf. the West End of Boston or Southwest Washington), I can forgive Bacon for emphasizing the colonial period.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Boston HUBris Watch

My motto for Boston is "Not as nice or important as the people who live there think it is." (My motto for Philadelphia is "Nicer than the people who live there think it is.")(Needless to say neither city is about to hire me as a marketing consultant.)

So I tend to notice little things that suggest or reinforce an over-inflated sense of Boston's importance.

Today's entry comes from Richard Florida in the October Atlantic (p.49): "Together New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston have a bigger economy than all of China."

Florida's point is interesting, but he leaves us with the misleading impression that Boston is the 4th largest metro area in the US. But there are at least three other US metro areas (CMSA's) bigger than Boston: San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose; DC/Baltimore; and Philadelphia. (I also assume he's talking metro areas and not city populations since Boston doesn't even crack the top 10 in city size.)

Perhaps the Boston CMSA has the 4th largest economy in the US? This is possible although I am doubtful that it surpasses the three larger metro areas I mentioned.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Walking in Philadelphia

A couple of months ago, I posted a rant about bad driving behavior. I suggested that drivers were bad everywhere. After two weeks back in beloved Philadelphia, and having processed how much our car insurance premium will go up for the 4 months we are (yes, I know we could have not told the insurance company but we have many moral scruples), let me amend that post: I had forgotten how bad Philadelphia drivers were. And by bad, I do not mean that they do not have control over their vehicles or mastery of the technical skills involved in braking, steering, or accelerating. No, I mean that they are evil.

Here is one of the many elements of sociopathic behavior I noted in Pittsburgh:
"Not yielding to pedestrians at intersections. (How many of you remember from driver's ed that the pedestrian has the right of way at every intersection, not just controlled ones?)"

When I wrote that post, I should have been clear: many drivers in Pittsburgh fail to yield to pedestrians at intersections. But not all. Indeed, the majority stop, especially when turning. Not in Philadelphia. Not one. Never.

Signs of the times

The following caught my eye while traveling to the foreign lands of the Newark airport and Israel:

a) Sign noticed in Newark airport: “Ground Transportation. Información sobre Autobuses.” Part b is not a literal translation of part a.

b) In the new Ben Gurion Airport, probably 80% of signs are in Hebrew and English without Arabic. The remaining are in Hebrew and Arabic without English. I could discern no pattern.

c) A banner hanging from a building at the corner of Ha-Histadrut and Ben Yehuda streets in Jerusalem (at the top of the Midrachov): “Cannabis for a Peaceful Disengagment.” In Hebrew: Ha-am im Gush Hashish.

d) A banner hanging from an apartment balcony at the corner of King George and Agron streets in Jerusalem: “Ask me [picture of American Indian] about land for peace.”
I assume this was put up by an opponent of the withdrawal from Gaza. But, um, is this really an analogy that works in favor of Israel and Zionism?

A little about the Jerusalem trip

I divided my work-time in Jerusalem between the Jewish National and University Library on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University and the Humanities and Social Sciences campus of Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. In 93-94, I was a student taking classes at Mount Scopus and formed a great antipathy to the physical environment. Since 1996, when most of my time in Jerusalem has been devoted to library research rather than taking classes, I’ve spent my time on Givat Ram. While the campus plan on Mount Scopus seems to be based on the blueprints for something out of Star Wars, Givat Ram is an adaptation of Thomas Jefferson’s plan for the University of Virginia adapted to a desert.

As much as I prefer Givat Ram to Mount Scopus, it does seem a bit quiet and lonely sometimes. The science departments are on the Givat Ram campus but the larger number of students in humanities, social science, law, and education as well as the many overseas students makes Mount Scopus a more bustling place. Reading Batya Gur’s Literary Murder on the plane on the way to Israel, I came across these passages describing the thoughts of her protagonist, Michael Ohayon, police detective and M.A. in History from the Hebrew University, as he visits Givat Ram:

“He walked slowly through the gate and stared at the well-tended lawns where no one sat anymore, and the old pictures rose before his eyes--the dozens of liberal arts students who used to be sprawled on the grass between lectures or who were on their way from the library to the cafeteria, the green grass dotted with their bright clothing, the paths where everyone would stroll, as if there was all the time in the world then. Then, before they moved the humanities to Mount Scopus. Only five years ago, thought Michael, you never saw science students here on the lawn, they were all in the back wing of the university, poring over their experiments in the laboratories. And now that all the buildings had been turned into laboratories, the science students walked on the paths with a brisk, purposeful efficiency that made Michael wonder what purpose people could have in a world that no longer seemed to have purpose. He stopped to look at the new name on what had once been the Lauterman Building: it was now the Berman Building. There were piles of broken chairs in the entrance lobby, but he didn’t go inside, remembering that on a previous visit he had seen that the rooms had been converted into offices. What had been wrong with this campus that they found it necessary to build the monster on Mount Scopus and turn Lauterman into a ghost building? What kind of generation was growing up inside that stone fortress? he asked himself again, and then he shook himself and hurried toward the National Library building.” (Batya Gur, Literary Murder: A Critical Case; A Michael Ohayon Mystery, trans. Dalya Bilu, HarperCollins, 1993, p.219).

The book is set in 1985. In 2005 science students do sit on the lawn sometimes. The broken chairs have been removed (although I seem to recall a lot of junk in the lobby of one of the buildings as recently as 1998). Otherwise, Gur could have put these thoughts in her character’s mind just last week.

Earlier comes this description of Mount Scopus:
“The lab crew were still busy with the fingerprints, and then, in flagrant violation of the unwritten rule that demanded his presence at the scene of a crime as long as the forensics people were still there, Michael went out to the corridor. where he leaned against the wall and waited them to finish their job. Actually he hoped that outside the wall room with the corpse in it, he would be able to breathe. But the long, angular hallway was airless. He walked along it until he came to a juncture of three corridors, which, like a traffic island, constituted a kind of little square surrounded by purple walls, and he sat down on a wooden bench, on the other end of which set Ariyeh Klein, his head buried in his hands.
“Klein raised his head and looked at the policeman..... It was surprisingly quiet. There were no doors in the purple walls, only mailboxes, bulletin boards, and two benches...” (pp.72-73).

On the other hand, my visit to Mt. Scopus last month was relatively pleasant. The organizers of the World Congress of Jewish Studies cleverly set up a tent in the outdoor courtyard of the Humanities building with a refreshment stand and vouchers that could be redeemed only at this refreshment stand. Aside from the damage to my body of eating 10 burekas (burekasim if you wish) washed down by 10 iced coffees in the space of 4 days, it was quite pleasant and provided a nice place for socializing during the conference. I avoided all angular hallways and had a nice time.

I also heard some interesting lectures but you can read the proceedings of the conference in a few years. Meaningless thoughts on the physical environment of Hebrew University campuses have to go on the web now, however.

Yo, the blog returns

I thought I would blog a bit from Jerusalem, but I was too busy. I thought I would blog a bit when I got back to Pittsburgh but I was too busy packing for our temporary move to Philadelphia and getting our house ready for our tenants. I thought I would blog a bit while on vacation but I was on vacation. Who blogs on vacation? I thought I would blog a bit when I got to Philadelphia but we were too busy settling in.

But now we’re settled in and now I’m really back at work and so now the blogging urge returns.

Yes, we are in Philadelphia for a semester. I have a fellowship at a research institute for Judaic Studies located near Independence Hall and affiliated with a major university founded (sort-of) by Ben Franklin. Again, I am not announcing my last name on the blog but if you can’t figure out who I am or what the research institute is, your Google skills are really weak. Again, nothing I say on this blog represents the opinion of either the University of Pittsburgh or the University of Pennsylvania. (And by the way, in case the question arises, I don’t blog from office computers or over internet connections provided by either university. Always on the personal machine via slow, slow dial-up that I pay for myself.)

I sent a change of address to relatives and friends and included a FAQ that some people said was funny. Here’s an excerpt (names of wife and children and other identifiers related to them changed):

Why are you going to Philadelphia?
--Adam has a fellowship to do research at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at Penn. This is a post-doctoral research institute where junior and senior scholars come for one or two semesters to do research on individual projects centered on a common theme. The theme for the 05-06 academic year is “History of the Jewish Book.” Adam’s research project is on the impact of print on the transmission and reception of medieval Jewish texts in Renaissance Italy.

What will Wife be doing?
--Wife is taking a 4-month leave from Wife’s Place of Employment and will be taking a temporary job in Philadelphia.

What will the kids be doing?
--Daughter and Son will be attending the excellent day care/pre-school at Un-Disclosed Philadelphia Synagogue. They will also be learning the difference between “water ice” and “Italian ice”.

Are you coming back to Pittsburgh?


Could this turn into a permanent job in Philadelphia for Adam?

So you’re coming back to Pittsburgh?

And you’re not staying in Philadelphia?

Why Philadelphia?
--Good library; good research institute; Wife doesn’t need to apply for an unnamed professional license from a different state; and we only have to file one state tax return for 2005.

4 months in Philadelphia--was that first prize or second prize?
Ha. Ha. Actually we like Philadelphia a lot. We’re excited to be going back for a little while.

So you might stay in Philadelphia and not come back to Pittsburgh?
No. We like Pittsburgh too. See above.

Eagles or Steelers?

Pirates or Phillies?

Penguins or Flyers?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Light Blogging

If you have been checking here in the last month or so, awaiting my latest insignificant thoughts on important issues and significant thoughts on unimportant issues, sorry to have been disappointing you. I've been busy getting ready for a trip to Israel for a conference and research.

If I have a chance, I'll make a few observations from Jerusalem--but I wouldn't make plans around this blog.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In Memoriam William Block, Sr.

Since moving to Pittsburgh four years ago, I have been pretty impressed with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It's not on the level of the New York Times or the Washington Post, but I think it compares pretty favorably with the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe. Considering those are the main dailies in metro areas about three times the size of Pittsburgh, I think the Post-Gazette staff ought to be proud of what they put out. One of the things that has most impressed me is that the paper remains a family owned paper in this era of mega media corporations.

William Block, Sr. was the long-time publisher of the Post-Gazette who died Monday at the age of 89. Read here for a nice tribute from one of the paper's columnists and here for the news obituary. I didn't know him at all and learned about his life from reading these two tributes.

Much ink has been written about the rise and fall of the WASP establishment. I think it's safe to say, however, that the late Mr. Block represented the best of a kind of American life and career that is fading into memory.

Rant of the Day

Here is a list of sociopathic behavior on the part of drivers that I have recently witnessed. Let me stress that I don't think this behavior is unique to Pittsburgh: I think it can probably be found in every area of the country if not the world. However, I call it sociopathic because this behavior becomes really annoying and often dangerous in older urban neighborhoods with narrow streets, many bus routes, stores designed to have things delivered from small trucks, and limited parking.

--Taking up two spaces in a lot.
--Parking large cars or SUV's in spaces marked for compact cars.
--Blocking intersections and busy driveways.
--Not stopping at the stop line. (When they are well back of the intersection, it's usually for a good reason. Or, did you just think the line painter was confused?)
--Not using turn signals.
--Taking up two lanes while waiting to turn left.
--Swerving to the left before a right turn.
--Not yielding to pedestrians at intersections. (How many of you remember from driver's ed that the pedestrian has the right of way at every intersection, not just controlled ones?)
--Honking at a driver who yields to pedestrians at intersections.
--Honking at a driver who does not make a right turn on red when there is a steady line of cars moving through the intersection.
--Honking at a driver who does not make a left turn when there is a steady line of oncoming cars.
(The last two really puzzle me: can the driver behind not see the cars with the right of way or does he/she assume that a good neighbor should commit suicide and/or manslaughter so that the honker can get home faster?
--SUV's with tinted windows. (Ever try to get out of a parking space with one of these next to you? I'm going to have to try to get X-ray vision with my next eyeglass prescription.)
--Gigantic delivery trucks parking at bus stops while making deliveries during rush hour.

Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I am a Hasid of Rabbi Judith Martin

Catching up on the NYT Book Review from June 12, I was amazed to find that Julia Reed entirely missed the point of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (the review is on pp.8-9). Apparently, Julia Reed thinks Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin) is mainly of interest for her 1) rigidity; 2) nostalgia; 3) wit. It's a very positive review, but apparently Miss Reed is unaware that Miss Manners is of interest not for her views on table settings but because she is one of the finest political and ethical philosophers of our day!

Yes she is witty but there's a lot more to it. And Reed’s notion that Miss Manners is nostalgic is easily misunderstood. She wants to preserve some elements of the way people behaved in the past, yes, but this just makes her not a radical. Whatever she is, Miss Manners is not the sort of a conservative who “stands athwart history.”

If I had to characterize her, I would say she brilliantly synthesizes a kind of classical liberalism with a progressive communitarianism. In the hands of Miss Manners, etiquette teaches that what you do in private is your own business but offers a system that allows for harmony--and decency--in social relations. One of her maxims is that law often steps in where etiquette has, in fact, broken down. One of my favorite teachings from the Great One: when asked how to greet the members of a gay couple when introduced to them, she answers: “How do you do. How do you do.” Let’s put it a different way: “etiquette” might be well translated as derekh eretz.

What I Did Before, During, and After Shavuot

1) Participated in an exchange of comments on the high cost of Jewish living over at Bloghead.

2) Led a discussion on interpretations of Exodus 20:2 by Halevi, ibn Ezra, and Mendelssohn at my synagogue's Tikkun Leyl Shavuot. If you're interested, we looked at Kuzari 1: 10-25; ibn Ezra ad. loc and Jerusalem, pp.97-98 in the Arkush translation. If you read Hebrew, I also recommend Warren Zev Harvey's article on the subject in Tarbiz 57 (1988): 203-216.

3) Took children to synagogue to receive little stuffed Torah toys, to parade down the aisle and place an orange and apple on the bimah, and to eat candy. My daughter believes very strongly that if one goes to shul, God will provide lollipops during Adon Olam.

4) Took children to see a great exhibit--"The Material World of Childhood"--at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The favorite thing was the "Bilibo". Go here to find out what this is.

5) Had dinner with our friends, the devout Christians. They are the librarians for their church and found in a box full of stuff in the basement an old Hebrew book. Well, as the name of the blog suggests, that's my cup of tea (cliche or ordinary language?). So after dinner they pulled out part 4 of Sefer Li-Felugot Reuven by Selig Reuben Bengis (Berlin, 1924). (Not that old by my standards.) Bengis, at the time he published this collection of sermons preached on the occasion of completing Talmud tractates, was the rabbi of Kalvarija, Lithuania. In 1938, he moved to Palestine and became second-in-command of Ha-Edah ha-Haredit in Jerusalem. He became head of this ultra-Orthodox community in 1949 shortly after the creation of the State of Israel. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Bengis was a somewhat moderate anti-Zionist in his leadership of ha-Edah ha-Haredit, "curbing its most extreme wing, the Naturai Karta."

What I did not do over the Shavuot holiday: eat cheesecake. But we did have blintzes and cottage cheese muffins. And hold on--we did have to keep calling the cottage cheese muffins "mini cottage cheese cakes" since my daughter had wanted to make a cake out of cottage cheese. (Don't ask.) So maybe that counts as my cheesecake for the holiday.

Kicking the Shins of the New York Times (KSNYT)

Over the weekend, I was amused to see the following statement in the Saturday New York Times: “...when in the 17th century Isaac Newton paid homage to his intellectual predecessors, h expressed his humility with an image that was still fresh and evocative. ‘If I have seen further than others,’ he wrote, ‘it was only be standing upon the shoulders of giants.’”

Evocative yes, fresh no. In the appropriately titled On the Shoulders of Giants (1965), the late Robert K. Merton traced the history of this expression from the Middle Ages through early modernity.

The statement appears in an op-ed essay, “Standing on the Shoulders of Clichés,” by Guy Deutscher (NYT, 6/18/05, p.A29 in the national edition--I couldn’t find the link on-line).

Deutscher notes that Hillary Clinton recently used this imagery in a commencement speech. But given the passage of time, the imagery appears in Clinton’s speech as “not much more than a flourish of meaningless rhetoric.” In other words, Clinton used a cliché. (But that’s okay, as Deutscher ultimately argues that “cliché is a necessary state between new imagery and everyday vocabulary.”)

So Senator Clinton is not to blame or praise for anything here--she’s just using ordinary language. We can criticize Sir Isaac Newton, however, for some hackneyed prose. But we must also praise him for helping mid-wife this expression into our everyday language.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Urban Musings

My wife, mother-in-law and children are off for some Memorial Day flower watching at Phipps. I might meet my wife later for a movie--if so, I'll walk over to the center of our neighborhood and meet her at one of our two neighborhood movie theaters. This has me thinking again about what I like about my neighborhood and about what a great city this is (despite any problems some people might have in obtaining the custard of their choice). It also has me thinking about cities in America again and I thought I would collect a few thoughts here and perhaps spark a discussion. A while back I promised some more thoughts on declining population in the Northeast. An article in yesterday's Boston Globe discusses the aging of New England (Maine is pushing past Pennsylvania in the race for oldest populace).

Here are some points I want to raise for discussion in the empty chamber that is this blog:

Issue 1, as I see it, is this: The Northeast and the Midwest educate a disproportionate share of the population and the South and West reap the benefits. Many have discussed the unfairness of funding school districts through local tax revenues. But I have seen no discussion on the question of the fairness of Pennsylvanians paying to educate the Texans of tomorrow.

If Pennsylvania were to create economic conditions that encouraged job growth, say the free market types, by lowering business taxes and streamlining regulation, then the Pennsylvanian kids of today might stay to be the working adult Pennsylvanians of tomorrow. Yes, I answer, but then we might have to cut spending on our education system and then the kiddies won't be trained for the knowledge industries. And then we have to hope Massachusetts keeps exporting people. Meanwhile, the conservatives in Massachusetts are pushing the same thing. And, I argue further, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts can cut taxes to the bone, cut programs for the kids and the elderly (all the parents of those Texans and Arizonans), and it will still be cheaper well into the future to put those software engineering jobs in Bangalore.

In any case, it may be that Pittsburgh and Boston and Chicago have no hope anyway, as the result of the invention of air conditioning. (See Drake Bennet, “It’s the Weather, Stupid,” Boston Globe, Ideas section, May 1, 2005--it’s no longer on the free/recent section of the site. Sorry.)

Issue 2: The house I live in has 3 bedrooms (for tax assessment purposes, 4 bedrooms, but I’m sitting in that 4th upstairs room right now and I’m not sure how one would get a bed, a dresser, and a nightstand in here) and 1.5 bathrooms. That means for a middle class American family of the early 21st century, this is considered a starter home. But when this house was built, it was most likely designed to hold a family of 5 or 6 or 7. A big family now is a family of 5. And a household with 2-3 people, living in a single family detached house, is not unusual in today’s America.

People have smaller families but want bigger houses, and as Froma Harrop, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer explains, this means an inexorable drive to the suburbs for the native-born. Cities are left to the elderly, the childless, and some families--often the poor, immigrants, or academics.

What this suggests to me is that you could have the same number of occupied houses in Pittsburgh in 2005 as in 1955 and the population would still be smaller. I haven’t seen statistics, but I’m guessing that in some neighborhoods of Pittsburgh (or Boston or Philadelphia or Buffalo, etc.) there are many fewer households in 2005 than in 1955 but I would also guess that there are many neighborhoods with roughly the same number of households but with many fewer residents--and many fewer schoolchildren.

In other words, how much of the decline in urban populations is due to flight/abandonment and how much is due to changes in lifestyle? Even if every last one of the abandoned rowhouses of North Philadelphia were occupied, I think Philadelphia would still show a population loss from the 1950 census to the present. But how much of a loss?

Let me be clear about why I think this is an important question: I am all for restoration of urban neighborhoods, for renovation of older housing, for building new housing in cities and inner-ring suburbs, for improvement of streetscapes, and for trying to restrain sprawl at the outer edges of metropolitan areas. But even as such efforts show success, population growth (even minimal population growth) and the consumer preferences of middle-class Americans will likely mean that central cities and inner-ring suburbs will continue to see their proportional share of population in any given metro area decline. To my mind, this is another reason for the need for metropolitan government.

There is another related issue here: in every “successful” urban or older suburban neighborhood I have ever spent any amount of time in, I have noticed lots of empty storefronts: Center City Philadelphia, East Arlington Massachusetts, Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Why?

The answer I think, lies in the way we shop: even those of us who cherish our walkable havens and feel sorry for those “suburbanites” who have to drive everywhere do most of our shopping at big stores. I might buy the occasional box of cherries or carton of milk from the local Mom and Pop store but I do most of my grocery shopping at the big Giant Eagle down the street (that at some point in the 40s or 50s or 60s must have knocked out a lot of houses and/or small businesses in Greenfield to put in a supermarket and a parking lot). There are only so many cute bookstores, cafes, vintage clothing stores, gift boutiques, and nail salons that can fill up all those empty storefronts. Suggestions? (In Philadelphia they fill up empty storefronts with public art. This can be visually pleasing but it always has the effect on me of drawing my attention to the emptiness behind. In any case, it’s certainly not a long-term solution.)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

How to Observe Shabbat

From the discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, folio 12b:

“An objection is raised: One must not read by the light of a lamp, lest he tilt it [and thus violate the rules against work on the Sabbath]. Said R. Ishmael b. Elisha, ‘I will read and will not tilt.’ Yet once he read and wished to tilt. ‘How great are the words of the Sages!’ he exclaimed, ‘who said, One must not read by the light of the lamp.’ R. Nathan said, He read and did tilt it, and wrote in his notebook, ‘I, Ishmael b. Elisha, did read and tilt the lamp on the Sabbath. When the Temple is rebuilt, I will bring a fat sin offering.’”

(trans. H. Freedman from Soncino Press edition)

Best/Worst Cookie Fortune Ever

In my cookie, Saturday night, May 28, 2005 at New Dumpling House, Pittsburgh, PA:

"Your success will astonish everyone."

All baseball fans are silly. Some are sillier than others.

Apparently some Washington Post readers are upset that the Post is continuing to cover the Orioles as a local team along with the Nationals. Here’s the editorial note. This has engendered a huge amount of discussion at the Post’s site.

Can I point out some reasons why the people who want the Post to stop covering the Orioles are being silly?

1) The Baltimore-Washington area is now listed by the Census Bureau as a Combined Metropolitan Statistical area. In other words, both the Orioles and the Nationals are “local” everywhere from York, PA to somewhere in Virginia. In a lot of Maryland suburban areas, it’s pretty hard to tell whether it’s a suburb of Baltimore or a suburb of Washington. In this sense, this is pretty similar to the Bay Area, where I imagine all the papers cover both the A’s and the Giants.

2) Even if many old-time Baltimoreans and old-time Washingtonians feel differently, many newcomers (and even many of us natives) can’t get caught up in any kind of Washington-Baltimore rivalry. For those folks who do want a Washington-Baltimore rivalry, you need the Post to continue to cover the Orioles so you can get all worked up about how much you dislike the Orioles and Peter Angelos. If the Post covered the Orioles as much (or rather as little) as they covered the Kansas City Royals, how could you keep the rivalry alive?

3) You can’t undo decades of loyalty to a baseball team. Pretty much everyone under the age of 40 who grew up in the DC area grew up with the Orioles. If some of those folks want to switch loyalty to the Nationals or root for both (one in the AL, one in the NL), I don’t begrudge them. But we’re talking an entire generation of Washingtonian Orioles fans.

4) Some of the people who want the Post to stop covering the Orioles have pointed out that the Baltimore Sun doesn’t cover the Nationals. I don’t know if that’s true since I don’t read the Sun much, but it’s not much of an argument. All it means is that the publishers of the Sun have decided not to compete with the Post as a paper for the entire region. This doesn’t mean the Post isn’t allowed to try to be a paper for the whole region.

Yet I wonder: my guess is that baseball fans over 40 in the DC area tend to be “returning” to the Nationals and that people under 40 are split among those who are staying with the Orioles and have no interest in the Nationals, those who are going to root for both, and those who are going to root only for the Nationals. If I’m right and if the sentiment among the Nationals fans is really anti-Orioles coverage, the Post may decide to ditch the Orioles. Generations X and Y have basically abandoned the printed newspaper (sadly).

Finally, a personal note: I’m one of those DC kids who always rooted for the Orioles-- partly because the Senators were gone and the Orioles were marketing themselves as DC’s team and partly because my father was from Baltimore and loved the Orioles. I’m not a fair weather fan: I rooted for them not only in 1979 and 1983 and 1997, but also in 1988 and 1991 and all the other bad years. I also grew up reading the Washington Post. If the Post stops covering the Orioles, I’ll think that will be a shame for the Orioles fans in the Post circulation area. I imagine the Post will lose some readers to the Sun. But it won’t affect me out here in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette land. I’ll start reading the Baltimore Sun sports section on-line.

But if the kind of pettiness vis-à-vis the Orioles that I saw from many of the Nationals fans on the Post discussion forum is going to be typical, I won’t be neutral to mildly positive about the Nationals: I’ll actively root against them. So there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Historical Confusion

As a historian toiling on relatively esoteric topics, it is nice when something you work on appears in a major media outlet. This morning’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a nice article on the upcoming Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, featuring Sephardic music. The first three paragraphs offer a somewhat confused account of Spanish history, however:

There was a time when Jews and Muslims lived in a more peaceful coexistence than we know today.
It was called The Golden Age, a fusion of Arab and Jewish intellects in astronomy, poetry, science and mathematics beginning in Spain around 900. Although there had been some inherent tensions, it wasn't until 1492, under Ferdinand and Isabella, that both the Arabs and the Jews -- unless they were converted to Catholicism -- were expunged from Spain during the Inquisition.
Known as the Sephardic culture, it was dispersed all over Europe and the Mediterranean...

All of this is not quite wrong but also not quite right. And some of it is simply wrong. To the tiny subset of humanity that reads this blog and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, please read the following for some clarifications and corrections:

1) There were lots of times and lots of places where Jews and Muslims lived in peaceful coexistence. One can point to any number of examples of Jewish-Muslim coexistence in addition to the Spanish “Golden Age.” In many places in the Muslim world for much of the Middle Ages and the early modern period, Jews--and Christians--were discriminated against and were second-class citizens (more accurate to say subjects), but were tolerated (in the limited sense of the word before the Enlightenment). Historians debate just how “peaceful” the coexistence was, and the debate not only raises questions of what happened, when, and how often it happened, but just what it means to talk about “toleration” and “coexistence” in the pre-modern world.

2) The lead is an attention-seeking gambit (as leads in print journalism are meant to be), but let’s remember that we’re talking about a local music festival. Yes, anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims resulting from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is probably at an all time high, but it’s not like Jews and Muslims are brawling in the streets of Pittsburgh. (Okay this is more a criticism of the journalism than of the history. Let’s get back to the history.)

3) What is interesting about medieval Spain--in terms of inter-group relations at least--is that the coexistence (“convivencia”) involved Jews, Muslims, and Christians, living mostly under Christian rulers (from the twelfth century on). While there are other medieval examples (Sicily, some places in Eastern Europe, and the Crusader Kingdoms in Palestine), for the most Muslims were not a tolerated minority in Christian Europe. (Jews were almost everywhere and almost all of the time except for a period of expulsions in western Europe in the late Middle Ages.)

4) The Inquisition was not an event or a period “during” which anything could happen. It was an institution that existed in Spain from the late fifteenth century through the early nineteenth century. While some Inquisitors lobbied for the expulsion of Jews in the early 1490s, non-baptized Jews and Muslims were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition (unless they were accused of aiding Judaizing or Muslim practice by converts). The first thing I tell my students about the Spanish Inquisition is “contrary to what you think, the Spanish Inquisition did not target Jews.” Now, that gets their attention.

5) “Arabs” were not expelled from Spain in 1492 along with Jews. After the conquest of Granada (the last Muslim-ruled kingdom), Ferdinand and Isabella embarked on a fairly aggressive campaign to convert Muslims in Granada and elsewhere in Castile. After a revolt in Granada, in 1499-1501, Islam was outlawed in Granada in 1501 and in the rest of Castile in 1502. In the early 1520s, rebels in Valencia (part of Aragon) forcibly converted many Muslims there and in 1525-26, Islam was outlawed in all of Aragon. Many Muslims who were thus converted to Christianity--called Moriscos--resisted efforts of the Inquisition to force conformity to Christianity and there were revolts of the Moriscos in subsequent years, notably in the late 1560s. Finally, during the period 1609-1614, Moriscos were expelled from all of Spain. In other words, two different expulsions took place over a century apart, under quite different circumstances, and technically were aimed at different types of “threats” to Christian society (in the first case, unbaptized Jews who were thought to aid and abet the Judaizing of baptized Christians; in the second case, baptized Christians who were thought to be backsliding into their previous beliefs and practices and who were also seen as a political threat to the stability of the monarchy due to their sheer numbers).

6) This clarification is needed because of the confusing beginning of the third paragraph where the antecedent of “it” is unclear. Because the last sentence mentioned Jews and Arabs (i.e. Muslims) together, one could construe this sentence to mean that “Sephardic” culture includes the culture of the Jews and the Muslims (actually Moriscos) who were expelled from Spain. But “Sephardic” refers only to Spanish Jews and their descendents.

You could put across more or less the same point (a rich legacy resulting from the cultural tapestry that was medieval Spain) with an accurate and more concise opening. Something like this:

There were times in the past when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in a more peaceful coexistence than we know today.
One such time was the “The Golden Age” of medieval Spain, which saw a fusion of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish intellects in astronomy, poetry, science and mathematics beginning around 900. Although there were some inherent tensions, this era lasted until 1492, when Jews were expelled from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, unless they were converted to Catholicism.
Known as the Sephardic Jews, the exiles took their vibrant culture with them as they dispersed all over Europe and the Mediterranean...

This lead-in to the article would still be subject to some criticism for romanticizing convivencia (although the “inherent tensions” disclaimer wards off some of this criticism). But it would avoid some of the howlers of the story as printed.

And I’m pretty sure the photograph accompanying the story is Sarah Aroeste not Anna Levenstein. Whoops.

Elsewhere in the historical confusion department, we have the Honorable Pete Stark accusing the Republican right of acting like “Pharisees”, also reported in today's Post-Gazette.

But Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., scoffed that he didn't need an ethics lecture from DeLay, who is under House investigation for possible ethics violations. "Our scientific policies should not be decided by [presidential political adviser] Karl Rove and self-appointed gurus," Stark said. "Don't tell my constituents we can't alleviate their suffering because it might offend modern-day Pharisees."

Now this is obviously a reference to the Pharisees qua bad guys in the New Testament, whose rigidity in regard to strict observance of the Law ran up against Jesus’ more “liberal” teachings. But the Pharisees qua actual historical group were the “liberals” of the period vis-à-vis interpretation of the Law and they were also the Second Temple sect that the historical Jesus was most likely closest to in his teachings. The legacy of the Pharisees was later claimed by the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud. (That last sentence was very carefully phrased). The Talmud (not surprisingly) takes no position on stem cell research. But, let’s put it this way, the range of views on the beginnings of life, the status of the fetus, and abortion in Rabbinic Judaism, are such that one cannot simply line up Rabbinic teachings with the “pro-life” position as espoused by DeLay, Rove, et al. (For a brief introduction into this subject on the web, see here, here, and here. For a longer introduction, see Daniel Schiff’s comprehensive Abortion in Judaism.) In other words, there is some reason to think that “modern-day Pharisees” would be on Representative Stark’s side on this.

Update: See Paleojudaica for some references on views of the beginning of life in the Talmud.

Monday, May 23, 2005

More on the Filibuster Issue

In my post yesterday, I put forward a "process" argument for keeping the filibuster. This morning, I find Brian Leiter arguing for keeping the filibuster on "substantive" grounds--that it is of vital importance that the filibuster option be preserved given the current state of the Republican party and the disaster that is the Bush administration.
In fact, the process/procedural argument and the substantive argument dovetail. The need for a super-majority for appointment to the federal bench is demonstrated by the present situation (an extreme right-wing administration putting forward nominees very far out of the mainstream with the support of an extreme right-wing party leadership in the Senate).
Does history help in this regard? Yes and no. While it is apparently the case that judicial filibusters have been rare until recently and do not date back to the early days of the Republic, it is also the case that the dynamics of party membership, the workings of the court, and the importance of the judiciary are all different now (in the 2000s) than they were in the 1880s or even the 1970s. The fact that Southern Democrats used a Progressive-era reform to block Civil Rights legislation does not mean that the Progressives were not on the right track.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Thoughts on Boycotts

Here is the link to the motions passed by the Assocation of University Teachers in Britain (AUT).

The key points:

1) general endorsement of the notion of a total boycott of Israeli academia
2) a specific boycott against the University of Haifa in response to the treatment of Ilan Pappe
3) a specific boycott against Bar-Ilan University in response to Bar-Ilan’s links with the College of Judea and Samaria.
4) deferral of the question whether to specifically boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
5) general endorsement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with a program of outreach to Palestinian academics and a rejection of the idea of outreach to Israeli academics.

#1 and #5 are pretty appalling: generalized boycotts seem inimical to academic freedom and to the whole notion of an academic community.

Here, I can only echo what the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has said.

As for #3,4,5 the charges against Haifa, Bar-Ilan, and Hebrew University seem spurious. Haifa and Bar-Ilan have mounted vigorous defenses of their actions: See here and here.

But even if the charges were true, would such a broad-brush boycott be warranted?

Remember that the AUT motions call for adherence to the Palestinian call for a boycott which includes the following actions:
i. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
ii. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
iii. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
iv. Exclude from the above actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies;
v. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
vi. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

(Item iv--as many have noted--is quite ridiculous because it sets up an ideological text for Israeli academics to be exempted from being boycotted. And who decides what constitutes “[opposition] to their state’s colonial and racist policies”? Would an Israeli academic who has spoken out in opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza--as many have--but who has also spoken out against the boycott be caught in some kind of Catch-22 logic and not be exempted from the boycott?)

The argument often made against this sort of thing is that Israel is being singled out. Everyone should remember that this is not an argument meant to defend the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza or the actions of the Israeli government in general. You can’t justify Israeli policy with the schoolyard argument that “Billy did it too but the teacher caught me so I shouldn’t be punished.”

This argument does point out the hypocrisy of some of Israel’s opponents and the extent to which anti-Israel politics with little nuance have become something of a sine qua non in leftist circles. (And that general situation is frustrating to those of us who generally sympathize with the political left, oppose the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and have significant social, academic, and familial ties to Jewish Israelis. But that’s another story).

What the argument is really saying is this: sometimes Israel (qua government) does bad things. When it does bad things, it should be condemned. But many wish to punish Israel in a disproportionate way. In other words: Billy and I both pulled Jane’s hair but I was expelled and Billy got a time-out. The reasonable inference: the teacher has it in for me. Fairness dictates that Billy and I get the same punishment.

This brings me back to my original question. Even if the charges against Haifa, Bar-Ilan, and Hebrew University are true, is a broad-based boycott a reasonable response?

Apparently when apartheid was extended to South African universities in the 1960s and when two academics were banned by the South African government, the most the AUT called on its members to do were 1) protest this and 2) refrain from taking jobs at South African universities. See here for the text of this resolution and for comment. (And here for more discussion of the whole matter.) Yes, it is true that many other forms of boycott against South Africa in general and South African academia in general emerged in the 1970s and 80s, but the question before us is the behavior of the AUT and the specific Israeli situations to which they wish to respond. Thus, the AUT’s first--and only?--resolution on South African academia seems relevant.

Now let us imagine that Ilan Pappe’s troubles with his colleagues in Haifa could be deemed comparable to banning in apartheid-era South Africa (an idiotic comparison if one knows anything about the two situations). Let’s also imagine that Bar-Ilan’s links to a junior college in a West Bank settlement could be deemed comparable to the removal of black students from South African universities (remember that there are Arab students--and professors--at Israeli universities). And let us imagine that the AUT wished to hold Israeli academics accountable in the same way they held South African academics accountable in the 1960s. Then the resolution ought to go something like this:

We, the (undersigned) professors and lecturers in British universities:
1. Protest against the treatment of Professor Pappe.
2. Protest against the practice of occupation and the involvement of Israeli universities in it.
3. Pledge that we shall not apply for or accept academic posts in Israeli universities which involve themselves in the occupation of the West Bank or the Gaza strip.

Now (a) assuming the allegations against Haifa and Bar-Ilan were true and (b) pretending that the situation was comparable to the events of the 1960s in South Africa and (c) imagining that this were the restrained and reasonable response of the AUT to this hypothetical situation, I would--in this alternate reality--feel no reason to condemn the AUT’s actions.


In regard to (a): the allegations seem spurious.
In regard to (b): the situations are in no way comparable.
In regard to (c): I think the differences between the two resolutions speak for themselves.

Thus, I join with thousands of academics around the world who have rightly condemned the AUT’s actions.

I have linked to ENGAGE in my links column. This is a blog run by a group within the AUT campaigning to revoke the boycott resolution at a special meeting in a few days. The postings there and the material they link to present the case against the boycott and shows up the idiocy of the boycott supporters.

Thoughts on Filibusters

Why shouldn't someone being given a lifetime appointment on the federal bench have to get a super-majority rather than simple majority in the Senate? It seems to me that needing to get sixty percent rather than 51 percent of the votes in the Senate is a reasonable incentive for presidents, regardless of party and where they fit on the political spectrum, to nominate someone from the pretty big middle. If it seems that either party in the Senate is blocking reasonable nominees for political gain, let that party be punished at the ballot box in the next election. In the meantime, extremists don't get lifetime appointments.

Regardless of the many other reasons why Frist and Santorum must be stopped (their hypocrisy and venality, the extreme right-wingers Bush has and will nominate, the odiousness of the attempt to make the Democrats of today look like the anti-Civil Rights southern Democrats of yesteryear, etc.) this seems like a reasonable, common-sense idea that moderate Republicans ought to be able to get their minds around.

Also, I'm a bit confused about the idea that the minority is using the rules of the Senate to thwart the majority. Isn't the Senate itself a pretty clear example of the anti-majoritarian thrust of the Constitution?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday Musings 3

1) I usually try to glance at the Chronicle of Higher Education to find out what's happening in the world of academia. The May 13 "Chronicle Review" section is full of interesting articles: Stanley Fish on Ward Churchill and Larry Summers; Jon Wiener on how controversies on college campuses play out in the media (re Massad at Columbia and Thernstrom at Harvard); Richard Freeland (president of Northeastern) on universities and cities; and Carlin Romano on Pope Benedict's past.

2) I also recommend the May issue of Perspectives, the newsletter of the American Historical Association. Carlo Ginzburg has an interesting discussion of the role that on-line library catalogs can play in directing one's research. The piece hinges on the difference between searching a card catalog or an on-line catalog arranged by subject and using the keyword function (only available on-line). The most interesting element of this to my mind is the way that serendipity functions in research--something that my wife's grandfather, the biologist Aser Rothstein, once wrote about. Contra Sven Birkerts (in Gutenberg Elegies), it's not that there was serendiptity in the olden days and none today. It's that the technology that brings about the serendipity has changed. You can read Ginzburg's article on-line here.

3) Binyamin Singer has kindly provided me with a reference and I'm on the trail in regard to Nahmanides' canonicity (see Friday Musings #2) Unfortunately, I can't check it until I get to the library next week. Sorry to keep you in suspense!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday Musings 2

1) Apparently I was wrong a few weeks ago. You can beat the Yankees. Even the Tampa Bay Devil Rays can beat the Yankees. I am trying to contain my glee as I am sure the Orioles will fade a little. But could anyone have imagined that this season might bring the AL East a pennant race involving the Orioles and the Blue Jays?

2) I doubt very much that anyone from the Post-Gazette was worried about my threat to drop my subscription recently. They can start printing the comics in Akkadian and I will most likely continue to subscribe. I am an addict, folks.

3) The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle had an article yesterday on a new super-commentary on Ramban (Nahmanides) written in English by Binyamin Singer, an Israeli with some local Pittsburgh connections. (He wrote the bulk of the work while in Pittsburgh last summer). What most interested me was the comment at the end of article that Nahmanides' commentary was a must-read according to "the sages." I e-mailed the reporter to ask if she could put me in touch with Singer because I was curious about this. I'm sure he (Singer) or she (the reporter, Susan Jacobs), did not mean "Hazal". If anyone can tell me who has talked about an obligation to study Ramban, I would be most grateful.

4) Random quotation for the day:
“’If you want to get attention from anybody in Washin’ton,’ she said, ‘ask them to lunch. People here will do almost anything for a good lunch.’” Willa Cather, The Professor’s House. New York: Vintage House, 1973, p.229.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Daughter's monologue

This is a (nearly) verbatim transcript of a speech my four-year-old daughter made to herself in the bathroom just now (she didn't know I was listening from the next room). I hope she doesn't mind the invasion of privacy when she is older. Note: her brother is 11 months old and she doesn't have a sister.

"The synagogue is the place where we pray to God. The Temple is another synagogue in the city. We have a synagogue. I am six years old. My friends are Jewish too. They might not go to the same places. My teacher is Mrs. S----. She is Jewish. Other people can go to synagogue even if they are not Jewish. The Jewish people have to pray to God. Because God saved the Jewish people. Only God can save your life. My little brother is soooo crazy around the house because he doesn’t know God can save your life. We have to take care of him lots of times. He says ‘Poopyhead’ and we don’t like that. And Mommy and Daddy don’t like it either. My sister said ‘I don’t like my little brother and I want him to go away.’ But I explained that he can’t go away because he is part of the family. Me and my sister play together very often. When we eat a lot of matzah we don’t poop so much. When it’s a weekend I stay home with my Nona or my mommy or daddy. For now on, I don’t have Passover. The first letter in my name is “D” and then “-” and then “-” and then an “-” and then an “-” and an “-” and another “-” and then “-” and that’s how you spell my name. I better wash my hands. I have one paci[fier] and I only have it in the car, when I’m sleeping, or when I’m getting picked up. Actually, I have it all the time and it’s not such a big deal. I’m a big sister. Now I’m four. No, now I’m thirteen.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Friday Musings

1) The Washington Post site is acting strange again. It welcomes me but then asks me for a password when I try to go to an article and then asks me again and again and again. Last week it was working fine.

2) I paid $14.95 to Major League Baseball to listen to games and I am only getting through about 1/3 of the time. I keep getting a message that says "server error." Four e-mails and one phone message to their help desk have received no reply. This is disappointing since the Orioles are doing so well; on the other hand, since they are doing so well and I haven't been able to listen, baseball superstition dictates that I not get this fixed.

3) For various reasons I did not love living in Boston during the two years that I lived there. This was contrary to the expectations of nearly all Bostonians. One of the umpteen things that I didn't like was the Boston Globe. I found the writing pretentious, the need to always find a local angle annoying, the sense that Boston was the intellectual capital of America a bit overblown. But--and perhaps you will think less of me for saying so--what really drove me nuts was that the comics were in a different place nearly every day. The comics were not the only things that migrated around the paper: obituaries could show up in the classified ads; national news in the local section; sports scores in the business section. As one of the three people under the age of 40 in America who like to read at least one actual newspaper in print every day, this drove me bonkers. There are sections I like to read over breakfast and sections I like to read on the bus. But with the Boston Globe you never knew which section would have which features on any given day. Imagine you are sitting on the T and you want to read "Get Fuzzy" and "Doonesbury." But you grabbed the magazine section and today the comics are in the classified ads that you already put in the recycle bin. I finally dropped my subscription to the Globe; subscribed to the New York Times and started going on-line to look at comics.
Why am I reliving this now? Because the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has decided to revamp its daily pages and they have made some odd decisions. To my mind, the oddest is moving the editorials and the op-ed page to the local section. Yesterday or the day before I noticed the obituaries in some section other than local news (I don't remember which). So far the comics are always in the same place and I haven't had to leave the sports section to find the baseball box scores, but I have to say I'm worried: if they can be consistent with placement of features, I can manage under this new regime. But if they are going to start moving things around, we have the Boston Globe problem redux. Further cause for worry: the new(ish) P-G editor is former Washington bureau chief for the Globe. I know he's a Pulitzer Prize winner and all (n'at?) but if he can't put the comics and the box scores in the same place every day, he may lose another reader under 40.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Population Figures

Much hand-wringing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over continued population decline in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the metro region.

I agree: Pittsburgh has some big problems.

But we’re not alone in terms of urban core areas slowly losing population:

the first figure is the 2004 estimate; the second figure is the 2003 estimate:

Philadelphia County, PA 1,470,151 1,476,953
Middlesex County, MA 1,464,628 1,466,561 (this is the biggest of Boston’s suburban counties)
Allegheny County, PA 1,250,867 1,259,176
Cuyahoga County, OH 1,351,009 1,361,933
San Francisco County, CA 744,230 751,908
Suffolk County, MA 666,022 676,299 (this is Boston proper)
Baltimore city, MD 636,251 643,304

What’s growing in these metro areas: all the suburban counties in the Philadelphia area, the DC area, and the outlying parts of the Boston area.

What’s growing in the Pittsburgh metro area: nothing--so yes, we’ve got it worse.

DC itself (not counted as a county) is also apparently down although DC officials dispute this (see this report in the Washington Post: (Mysteriously and with no action on my part, my ability to read the Washington Post on-line has returned. The Baltimore Sun site is still acting crazy.)

Massachusetts is apparently the only state to suffer a population decline overall from 2003 to 2004--see here:

My point: some places like Pittsburgh haven’t solved the post-industrial riddle. Other places have, but haven’t solved the problem of sprawl. Either way, central cities and inner-ring suburbs are losing relative to their outlying areas and older metro areas are losing relative to new ones in the south and west. While Pittsburghers are busy trying to solve the problems of this region (there are many), we would be wise not to forget that we have a national problem that may require national solutions. In another post, I will try to outline why I think this is, in fact, a problem. And someday I may think up a solution.
Keep checking back with me for that.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Baseball Records since 1954

Earlier this week, I noted that in the early to mid 1980s, I had heard that the Orioles had the best record in baseball since 1954 (the year they moved to Baltimore from St. Louis). I had wondered if this were still the case. (See below: it turns out never to have been the case). Alas, it’s not. Here are the win percentages for all teams 1954-2004 with a winning record.

1. New York Yankees .563
2. Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics .545
3. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers .542
3. New York/San Francisco Giants .542
5. Cincinnati Reds .526
5. Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins .526
6. Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves .525
7. Boston Red Sox .523
8. Baltimore Orioles .522
9. St. Louis Cardinals .520
10. Chicago White Sox . .514
11. Arizona Diamondbacks .507

I used the raw data under team pitching statistics at If you really care about this, you should probably check my math. And a statistician might also point out that the differences between the Reds, Twins, Braves, Red Sox, Orioles, and Cardinals are not statistically significant. (A statistician might also point out that this is an entirely pointless exercise.)

Then I wondered. Was my mid-‘80s memory correct or just a bit of Orioles mythologizing? Here’s the same check for the period 1954-1984. The Orioles look a lot better but apparently I was wrong. All those good years in the ‘50s were still carrying the Yankees and the Dodgers over the Orioles.

1. New York Yankees .563
2. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers .556
3. Baltimore Orioles .550
4. Cincinnati Reds .540
5. Kansas City Royals .523
6. Detroit Tigers .520
7. Pittsburgh Pirates .518
8. New York/San Francisco Giants .517
9. Boston Red Sox .516
10. Chicago White Sox .515
11. St. Louis Cardinals .514
12. Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves .511

Also note that the Pirates and the Royals are on the 1984 list and drop of the 2004 list. Remember Willie Stargell and George Brett? The Pirates just missed the 2004 cut-off at .499 and the Royals slipped to .494. The newcomers on the 2004 list were the Twins and the A’s who went from .477 (Twins) and .460 (A’s) on the 1984 list.

(By the way, if you want to see all records going back to the end of the 19th century, check here: Saddled with the legacy of the St. Louis Browns, the Orioles don’t do so well on this list.)

Lessons learned:
--Memory is slippery.
--The A’s win “most-improved” since 1984.
--Since 1954, only 10 teams of the ones that have played the entire time have winning records.
--The Diamondbacks are the only post-1954 team with a winning record.
--You just can’t beat the d*** Yankees.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Some new blogs on the link list

I just added three new blogs to the right. "Accommodatingly" is by Steve Burt and Jessie Bennett. Steve is an accomplished poet and literary critic and a friend from high school; Jessie is an accomplished web designer. "Pittsblog" is by a law professor at Pitt who works on intellectual property law; this blog is of interest to me for the comments on life in Pittsburgh. (If intellectual property law is your thing, his other blog, linked from "Pittsblog" looks interesting as well.) I found "Pittsblog" via "Creating Text(iles)" which is by an English professor and medievalist at Duquesne. I have no interest in knitting but otherwise this looks like an interesting blog. Check out her recent post on what might shape up to be a kind of anti-plagiarism vigilante movement.

Monday, April 04, 2005

More on baseball

I forgot to add a link to another comment on being on the sidelines of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I can't endorse the profanity but I can agree with some of the sentiments.

Opening Day Thoughts

Opening Day holds great significance for me: it's the day I stop wearing winter coats (my wife thinks I'm a little nuts especially since the introduction of the wild card has moved opening day back to the beginning of April) and it's the day I start reading the Sports section first when the morning paper arrives.

So here are my thoughts for the day:

I am a once and future Orioles fan (the Senators left DC the year I was born and my father was a Baltimorean anyway). I used to take great pride in the Orioles as one of the elite teams of the American League and used to rattle off the statistic that the Orioles had the best record of any team since 1954.(This was true as of the mid-80s. I wonder if it's still true today. Probably not.) I didn't pay much attention to the Yankees until the late 90s when they got good for the first time since the early 80s. Then, of course, I started hating them. And I rooted for the Red Sox to beat them--I'm married to a Bostonian after all, they had my sympathy of course, and as the fan of one of the other non-Yankee AL East teams I felt a sense of solidarity.

But lately all the Yankees-Red Sox hype has me feeling like a Princeton football fan. (If you're not a fan of Ivy League football, you should know that Yale and Harvard have a football rivalry; Princetonians think it's a 3 way rivalry, but it's not. Yale fans and Harvard fans just don't care that much about Princeton.)

But here's the rub: baseball is not college football! It's not about the "big game"; it's about playing day in and day out, the slow (some would say boring) pace of each game, of each week, the cumulative won-loss record and the cumulative individual statistics. Baseball teams play each other three or four times in a row and in five and seven game series because it's the cumulative effect that matters. Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox play each other every year. But guess what? The Yankees and the Red Sox also play every other American League team every year. In other words, baseball shouldn't have "rivalries"--let's leave that to football (I would make an exception for teams sharing a hometown: Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, Giants/A's, and even Nationals/Orioles. Whoops: I forgot the Dodgers and Angels--how curious.)

But I can't swim against the tide of history (in baseball matters, I am a conservative): the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is here and it's real and I think the reason it exists is because of the amazing run of the last eight years in which the Red Sox have finished second to the Yankees every time. I'm hoping this is cyclical and one of these days the Orioles will push past third place, but I'm worried the imbalance is going to stay until there's a salary cap or a massive collapse of the economy in New York and New England.

Meanwhile I had decided when I moved to Pittsburgh that I would root for the Pirates in the National League and in the World Series (unless they play the Orioles again. I'm dreaming of a 1971-1979 rematch and yes, I know I will keep dreaming). When I lived in Philadelphia I rooted for the Phillies (who, along with the 76ers, got a lot better when I left town, but that's another issue).

The Orioles mediocrity since 1997 is partly due to economics but mostly due to the combination of bad luck and bad decision-making; the Pirates' recent run of losing seasons (since 93) has much more to do with economics. The usual plaintive cry among Pittsburgh baseball fans is that people here care so much about the Steelers that they ignore the Pirates. But it's hard to muster enthusiasm for a team that's destined to lose. (The Steelers are apparently destined to lose but not until the AFC championship game.)

In case you haven't figured it out, I am a proponent of a salary cap. (I didn't say I was a free-market conservative in baseball matters.)

Finally, a word about the Nationals. I saw a fellow DC-bred Orioles fan of my generation in New York yesterday, a soon-to-be resident of Wisconsin. We compared notes and had similar mixed feelings: nice to see baseball back in DC but we have both been in the process of developing interest in our local NL teams.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are already 1/2 a game out of first because of the outcome of the Yale-Harvard game last night.

Weekend Update

Back from a nice weekend in Jersey City and NYC. A family wedding Saturday night in Jersey City, followed by a quick trip into Manhattan (with fewer panhandlers than Squirrel Hill) to visit some friends.

Quick notes from the trip:

--We don't have cable at home so when I'm in a hotel room I obsessively flip through TV channels. This mean that rather than spending Saturday afternoon before the wedding meditating, studying Torah, or crocheting, I watched parts of "Beverly Hills Ninja," "Midnight Run," and a lot about Pope John Paul II.

--Apparently some bartenders (okay one bartender) agree(s) with me about the superiority of gin over vodka. The one I spoke to is planning to start a marketing campaign with the tag-line "Gin: the New Vodka."

--We have a nice tradition going in my family: since my mother's cousin came from New Jersey to the University of Maryland in the 1970s, we have had a number of relatives go to college where an older cousin lives. One of my cousins is going to UPenn next year where I'll be a research fellow in the fall. So we can keep this going at least for one semester.

--Typical conversation around the table at the wedding: real estate, the comparative advantages and disadvantages of various places of residence and hometowns, start of the baseball season, how dear and wonderful are the bride and groom, which fish are okay for nursing mothers and pregnant women (we were the "older of the younger" cousins and friends table). Less typical conversation (instigated by me when I found out that one of my tablemates works for the NY Federal Reserve): the overlapping jurisdiction in bank regulation between the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve system.

--The frequency of PATH trains on a Sunday leave something to be desired.

--I don't care how gentrified, yuppified, and mall-ified it is, the Upper West Side is the only part of New York I like.

--I very much enjoy having relatives and friends tell me how cute my children are.

--An acquaintance in NY tells us that he and his wife might move to DC and will probably live in the Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan/lower 16th street area. But within the next few years the question of schools and backyards will arise. They've heard of an "up and coming Jewish area" in the city called Shepherd Park. When I burst into laughter and point out that Shepherd Park has been a Jewish area since the 1950s (at least), he responds that he meant that apparently the congregations are aging and that few families with young children have moved there recently. He's probably right and I certainly applaud those Jews who are making their home in DC. My father was on the losing side of a battle to keep the JCC and the new Jewish day school in the city --actually in the Shepherd Park/"Gold Coast" area--in the 1960s. They lost and the institutions moved to Rockville. I'm partly amused and partly offended by what I see as a typical attitude of newcomers to DC: the belief that the area is "transitory" and has no locals. My sense is that in other metropolitan areas the newcomers make themselves at home by "going native" to some extent (this might explain my interest in the Steelers) but that in DC the newcomers use a myth of transience to establish themselves by ignoring the natives.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Joni Mitchell would not approve...

...and nor do I. The story is that the
National Trust for Historic Preservation is saving one building by destroying another. At least, that's the National Trust's line. If the National Trust is right that this is the only place to put the 1000 (!) car garage, I can only conclude that downtown St. Louis must be really thriving: no vacant lots or architecturally unimpressive post-war buildings with low occupancy. Wow!

What's the Expression About Strange Bedfellows?

Apparently, gay activists have (accidentally?) come up with a new strategy in bringing together different factions in the Middle East. See here for details.

Sad News

Some sad news this week. One of the nicest people and one of the best scholars in my small corner of the academic world has passed away.

This is a nice tribute from the H-Judaic listserv:

This past week our community lost a dear friend and colleague, and a
very talented young scholar.

Elka Klein, z"l, received a B.A. from Yale in 1988, and a PhD from
Harvard in 1996. She was a Dorot post-doctoral Fellow at the Skirball
Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU before becoming an
assistant professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Klein was a regular and enthusiastic contributor to scholarly
panels at the annual Association for Jewish Studies conference. In her
work, she drew upon her knowledge of rabbinic literature and Spanish
archival materials to shed new light upon Jewish-Christian relations in
medieval Iberia, stressing the influence of royal power on Jewish
social history. A fine archival scholar, Dr. Klein also translated
royal charters and other sources for the study of medieval Sephardic
history for a number of on-line sourcebooks.

In her recent book Hebrew Deeds of the Catalan Jews (1117-1316)
(Barcelona, 2004), Dr. Klein edited 18 Shetarot that she discovered in
the archives of Barcelona, and she was in the final stages of
completing a study entitled Community and King: Jews and Christian
Society in Medieval Barcelona, 1050-1300. Dr. Klein also leaves behind
a legacy in the field of Jewish Women's History, in which she had
become an important and pioneering voice. Her publications in this
area include "The Widow's Portion: Law, Custom and Marital Property
among Medieval Catalan Jews," (Viator 2000), "Splitting Heirs: Patterns
of Inheritance among Barcelona's Jews" (Jewish History 2002), and
"Getting their Day in Court: the Jewish Community and Royal Justice in
Thirteenth Century Catalunya" (forthcoming).

Dr. Klein is survived by her husband, Yossi Francus, and her two
children, Dina and Shaul. Our thoughts and prayers are with her

Jonathan Ray
Yale University

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I think he meant Manhattan, Kansas

from today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the first mayoral debate:

"O'Connor also said the city must do a better job keeping Downtown clean and cracking down on panhandlers, not only in the center core but in neighborhood business districts as well. 'There are more panhandlers in Squirrel Hill than there are in Manhattan,' he said."

Here's the whole article.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


1. I am not sure property taxes are the best way to fund local government or public schools. But if we are going to have them, assessments should be done properly.

2. I don't enjoy paying taxes, but I do like the services that governments (at all levels) provide.

3. That said, I don't think that city governments need to be in the wireless network business. (Sorry that's not a clarification but a new throught.)

4. It's not that I have no sense of adventure and it's not that I don't seek/uncover/think big. It's that I tend to seek adventure in the old books. Ok?

Monday, March 07, 2005

A True Story About Property Assessments

Once upon a time, property in a big village called Riverville was seriously undervalued.

After some not-so-wise elders decided to freeze property values, a wise judge told them they could not.

So the chastened elders hired some wise magicians from a different village to appraise all the property. The new assessments angered many of the householders in Riverville--especially the ones who had lived there for many years and believed that they should not have to pay any more money to support the village that they had stuck with while other villagers had left for warmer villages where the Sun was worshipped.

After much hue and cry, the elders decided to re-assess property every three years rather then every year. At least, they reasoned, they would not have to pay magicians every year and they would not have to listen to villager complaints all year.

One day, some new villagers arrived in Riverville. They bought an old house in a neighborhood called Tree Rodent Vista that was very nice but was in one of the sub-villages (Minister Borough) that was running out of money. The new villagers paid a lot more than the house's appraised value. (They had moved to Riverville from a really expensive village called Boston where every house cost a lot so the house in Minister Borough seemed like a good bargain).

So the elders of Minister Borough (who needed money) asked the elders of Riverville to raise the appraised value to the sale price of the house. The new people grumbled a little but were chastened by the Hearing Walla: "the assessment should reflect fair market value." The new people bowed their heads and accepted that this was a fair doctrine. Nobody likes to pay more in taxes, they said, but it's good that the elders are making sure that everyone pays their fair share.

After three years, along came the day of the new assessment. The magicians were hired and did their work and reported to the Head Elder of Riverville that times were good and houses were worth more. Some people would have to pay more taxes because their houses were worth more. But, they said, assessments should reflect fair market value. Some wise men who chronicled the doings of the village reminded everyone that the sub-villages like Minister Borough and Upper Clarity could reduce their tax rates so people would not be wiped out by the new assessments. The wise chroniclers also pointed out that elderly villagers, living on fixed incomes, could be given larger homestead exemptions. And they also pointed out that annual re-assessments would lead to more gradual and more manageable tax increases for the villagers.

But the Head Elder said no. Rather than make everything fair, he said, he would once again protect the villagers who had lived in the village for a long time. He also wanted to protect all the wealthy villagers. So, he said, after the magicians finish their work, we will limit all increases to 4% at the most. Some assessments would only be increased 1% or 2% or 3%. Some would have no increase at all. But if someone bought a house many years ago and it had steadily increased in value, his assessment would be artificially kept low. If someone had bought property in the last few years and done extensive renovations and increased the value of her property, we will artificially keep that assessment low too. If someone had bought property in a wealthy neighborhood or sub-village and his equity and net worth had gone up drastically in a few years, we will still keep the assessment low. But if someone lives in a poor neighborhood where property values have only crept up, 1% or 2% or 3%--well, that villager must pay his full share of taxes.

The wise chroniclers again pointed out that this was regressive taxation, that this would not solve the long-term problems of the village, that this was unfair to newcomers, that this was arbitrary, and that this was out of step with good government practices across the whole province and the whole empire. But this did not matter to the many happy people who would save money. The happy people forgot that while nobody like to pay taxes, everyone must pay their fair share for civil society to function.

The new people, who had seen their assessment go up 30% RETROACTIVELY TO THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR of the appeal of the elders of Minister Borough, with the approval of the Hearing Walla, could only shake their heads. They like living in Tree Rodent Vista and Minister Borough but they worry a lot about the village elders.

Future Hollywood Producer

I took Daughter to see her first movie in a movie theater yesterday: Pooh's Heffalump. All went well. Daughter's comment after the movie: "I think they should make another movie now that they know the Huffalumps aren't scary and now that they are all friends." (Sorry to ruin the ending for anyone).

Apparently my daughter thinks I have a very bad memory. This morning at breakfast: "Do you remember the Heffalump movie we saw yesterday Daddy?"