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?"

Internalized lessons

The scene: Sunday afternoon after theoretical nap-time but before actual nap. The Living Room.

Mother: You need to calm down.
4-year-old Daughter continues to bounce off the walls (not figuratively).
Mother (louder): You need to calm down.
Daughter continues, etc.

Mother (quite loud): You need to calm down!
Daughter: No! You need to calm down.
Mother: You need to calm down.
Daughter: I know: we will take turns calming down.

Father and Mother: peals of laughter.
Baby son (as interpreted from facial expression): huh?