Candles Always Cry

And Other Stories

Economics and entrepreneurship and peace

Stanley Fischer, the U.S. citizen who is the governor of the Bank of Israel is stepping down in June. There are speculations that he will be offered Ben Bernanke’s job, as head of the federal reserve here in the U.S.

Fischer has been credited for Israel’s smooth deflection of the 2008-? recession. Israel’s economy contracted for only one quarter in 2008, and quickly recovered, while Europe and less so the U.S., are still languishing.

In 1994, Fisher wrote a book called, “Securing peace in the Middle East”, a road map for peace between Israel and Palestine, through economics. 1994 was almost 20 years ago, and the peace climate was very a lot more hopeful.  Still, of all the options, an economic route to peace still seems to me to be the most viable. Or at least worth exploring.

Maybe it’s cynical, or just realistic, that the only way for two parties to cooperate is if it’s for their mutual benefit. Economics is the best way to leverage that.

A quick Google, and Google Scholar search, shows that plenty of people have already explored this, and economics has always been a major part of the discussion on peace in the region.

Based on the lack of success until now, maybe the fault is not in the economics, but in the politics of it.

What if we could go around the politics, and through entrepreneurship, create economic partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians that will become more powerful than everything that divides them. (Clearly, it’s not impossible to be both cynical and idealistic within the same couple lines.)

I’m sure there’s plenty being done on that front too, and I intend to find out.

 

Some of the links I found on the topic, not yet curated:

The Economics of Middle East Peace, book, 1993

Economic Developments in the West Bank and Gaza Since Oslo , paper by Stanley Fischer, 2001

Israel/Palestine: how to end the war of 1948, paper, 2006

Mending the Wall: the economics of Israeli-Palestinian peace, paper, 2010

The Economics of Middle East East Peace, lecture, 2011

 

 

Maine employment agency gives felons a second chance

Maine employment agency gives felons a second chance

Another model of social capitalism, or social business – making a difference and making a profit simultaneously. 

Maine Works is a successful for-profit that employs felons as temporary workers. This keeps them out of jail, and contributing to the economy. 

Infinities

That should be an oxymoron.

If infinity is infinite, then how can there be more than one?

But of course there can. Every time we say ’10 sefirot’, we are talking of 10 different and infinite… well, sefirot.

Is there directional infinity?

A line can go go on infinitely in two directions. But there are 6 directions.

Can infinity have only 6 directions? If it were truly infinite, could we talk about it in space at all?

So infinite doesn’t mean undefinable. It doesn’t mean not in our experience. It doesn’t mean beyond us and it’s pretentious to think it could have relevance to us.

Which does means that it’s incorrect to say that we can’t understand G-d because he’s infinite. And if that’s true, that puts the power back in our hands.

We don’t have to accept the G-d that’s evolved over 5,773 (or 10,000) years of human history, been subject to the biases and imaginations and agendas of men and societies, and now served in a neat package at your local religious institution.

In other words, there is an alternative to the prevalent version of G-d as schizophrenically warm and fuzzy/zealous and petty.

In The Language G-d Talks, author Herman Wouk writes of his first encounter with Richard Feynman (famous, Jewish, atheist physicist). Feynman asked him if he knew Calculus and Wouk answered that he did not. To which Feynman replied, “”You’d better learn it. It’s the language G-d talks.”

Many of us don’t understand calculus, but we could. As in, it’s in the realm of possibility. And there are of course people who do understand it, and a lot more than just calculus, even though they’ve never seen it or met it.

We can study G-d like we can study infinity. It’ll never be perfect, and it’ll never have the same immediacy as a chocolate donut, or as 1+1=2, but so what? How is that a reason  not to start? You’ll probably find a more accurate, possibly more mature, version. It’ll still be pretty far from the objective truth, but it’s hard to imagine going more wrong than we are already.

I’m partial towards the study of chassidus for studying G-d in His oneness and multiplicity. I think it’s wrong when people dismiss it or discourage it on the grounds that ‘we can never understand G-d’. This is my response to that.

Corner of Santa Monica & Highland

With the window down I feel exposed.

The man on the pedestrian stripes walking past my scarred car

he can see me eating yogurt and raspberries with a spoon

out of a size large yogurt container

while I wait at the light.

He can hear the music playing on 98.7 FM

LA’s rock alternative,

he probably knows the song.

Halakhic Man, by Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik

Synopsis

Written in 1944 by Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveichik, the head of the Rabbinacal school at Yeshiva University, Halakhic Man is a description of the ideal Jew in a modern world.

The Halakhic Man has a number of distinct characteristics.

1) He is rational

Like a mathematician he believes that there is an ideal world, which reality is at odds with. This is the world described by Halakha, and it can be approached only through reason. He studies all of its nuances, so that he can transform his reality into the preexisting ideal.

2) He is optimistic, content

Unlike the prototypical homo religiosus, he does not suffer from a conflict between body and soul. He sees no duality. His purpose is to rectify this world, and to yearn to transcend it, would be evading his purpose. Man can find his perfection only here, not in spiritual realms, or after death.

3) He is creative

“The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself.” -pg. 109

Creative as opposed to deterministic. In a deterministic world, time is linear.  You and everything that you do is is simply an effect of an earlier cause. Free choice gives a person the freedom to create each moment as it comes, and with that choice to redefine the past that led to it and the future to which it might lead.

Not a Litvak

As discussed in the essay ‘Rabbi Soloveichik’s Halakhic Man: Not a Mithnagged’, the Halakhic Man proposed here is not at all similar to the Lithuanian tradition from which Rabbi Soloveichik came. HM is similar to the Misnagdic tradition in his appreciation for study, and for the minutae of the law. He is dissimilar, and even contrary, to the idea that man’s purpose is to be found here, in this world. That is a Hassidic perspective, and a relatively modern idea.

However, the implications that RS and Hassidism take from that idea are however, very different. In Hassidism there’s a back and forth between heaven and earth – the desire to transcend the limits of this world, and the need to stay grounded here and carry out G-d’s will. Like the heart pumping, they’re the same movement really. The one drives the other.

According to RS, it’s all about this world. There’s no need to transcend when living a life according to the Halakhic blueprint is the true way to realizing your religious self.

Best quotes ever

Religion is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous torrent of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs, and torments. – Footnote 4, pg. 142

Take that Raskolnikov.

Choice forms the base of creation. Causality and creation are two irreconcilable antagonists. -pg. 116

Forget evolution vs. creation. Are evolution and free choice (=creation) irreconcilable?

The experience of Halakhic Man is not circumscribed by his own individual past… His time is measured by the standards of the Torah, which began with the creation of heaven and earth. Similarly, Halakhic Man’s future does not terminate with the end of his own individual future at the moment of death but extends into the future of the people as a whole, the people who yearn for the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of G-d… We have here a blurring of the boundaries dividing time from eternity, temporal life from everlasting life. -pg. 117

Welcome to infinity in the everyday.

Pain only hurts

Thoughts on Eat & Run by Scott Jurek/Steve Friedman

For a few days I was hearing this mantra in my head, ‘pain only hurts’. I thought about it. If that’s enough to get you through something. If it’s true. Sometimes pain is an indicator of a problem that can escalate if it’s not addressed.

Or if you ignore it long enough does it cede its control over you?

It made me think of the chapter in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ where the author is taught by an Indian guru to use the pain, to feel it, to have the pain be the meditation. (Sad I get my knowledge of zen/yoga/meditation from an American adventurist, I know.)

Then I picked up Eat & Run by the super-ultrarunner Scott Jurek which I’d begun reading the week before. I flipped through the pages to find my place ans saw that  one of the early chapters in the book is called ‘pain only hurts’, which was the motto of Jurek’s high-school coach.

If I’d never picked up the book again, I might have thought it was my own head that had come up with that.

—-

In 2006, Jurek paced for a fellow ultrarunner named Brian at an 100 mile race in Northern California. Brian made it to with

in 100 fee of the finish line, the closest runner 12 minutes behind him, and he collapsed. Jurek and someone else supported him to the finish line. Instead of winning, Brian was disqualified.

In trying to explain how someone can run for 100 miles and collapse within reach of the finish line, Jurek writes,

Science is about objective measurement so it’s’ understandable that it has an innate bias for things that can be measured… It’s not possible to measure the mysterious workings of the will. – pg. 161

So reason isn’t G-d after all.

The book

The story is remarkable and it got me moving.  The  day I began reading it I ran 4.5 miles, about 50% more than my next longest distance.

The writing is, as you’d expect from a ghost-written book, not great. It flows glibly. Even the parts about extreme endurance and pain, those are glib too. Or is that how Scott approaches everything? He claims to be a thinker, to always asking why, to have a gaping need for something that he’s found only by pushing himself further and further. I know that because he told me, not because he showed me.

At the end of each chapter is a vegan recipe and sometimes running tips as well.  Some of those recipes actually look doable even for a carb and dairy eater like me.

I Am Witness

If I have a destiny, it is to be a witness

A blue hat

The sky that stretches over all of us

Distant but present

Silent but listening

It’s a curse

To see the things I see

To see everything as a symbol

To cry for a single tree like it was every tree

To tear for every old man

That misses the bus

To see both sides of every story

To feel his anger and her dissapointment

Her guilt and his insecurity

To think that somehow made me immune

To my own petty fears

Only it was more so

To take the whole world to bed with me

And wake with it pounding in my head

To be freer and more confined

To fly further and fall harder

Knowing I’m alive from the breath

On my side of the glass

Where more often than not

When the darkness comes

All that I can see through the glass

Is my own reflection

[Sic] by Joshua cody

Memoir of living with cancer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though there were moments where I felt like I had accidentally ended up in an upscale lounge somewhere where men wear $2000 suits, and drink $1000 bottles of wine and discuss their art collections, and where they invested their fortunes. (In short, privileged and over educated, and unaware of their own narrowness.)

There were pieces of it that were great. Fragments. But the story of illness, I barely saw it. Maybe that’s the beauty of it. The story of his illness is the story of life – the ups and downs of it, the people who come in and out of it, the moments where it is glorious and vivid, and the moments it’s just heaviness, and there’s the thought of ending it.

To explain feelings he uses metaphors or analogies, long, intellectual and fascinating, metaphors that are thoughts complete in themselves and don’t necessarily lead back to the feeling. The golden ratio, Citizen Kane, Klee, Ezra Pound – these are where he goes to make sense of things, his language for understanding the self.

These references, and the detours into artists and art and lyrics and girls are, told in this rambling, exploring way — are captivating, but in the most intense situations, where he is trying to convey something particular, it comes across flat.

My favorite passage is a description of  a girlfriend, only because it pertains to me:

But she had to assume this identity as she had to assume her other roles: girlfriend, New Yorker, freelance designer, person walking down the street, person eating breakfast, person engaged in conversation, person giving someone a hug.

None of her actions was in the least inauthentic but her degree of alienation from goals, actions, simple states of being – the acute inescapable self-surveillance of the addict – resembles that rareified ontological space of the depressive, the anxious, the ill, the poet.

That describes me too well. And I would venture, based on his own writing that it describes Cody, to some degree, as well.

Fact Is

Yes you can argue with facts. In fact, the only thing you can argue with are facts.

What else do you intend to argue about? Whether Obama did or did not pass the healthcare bill? No.

You’re going to argue about the healthcare bill itself.
Will it make our country go bankrupt?
Does it prove that Obama is a socialist with evil communist aspirations?
Was there a different way to solve the problems in the healthcare industry?

When you’re in a discussion about a fact, you support your position with facts.

If the facts are questionable, or you bring reason to doubt the other side’s facts, then once again you’re arguing over facts (hopefully by invoking other facts).

So a list of facts without context doesn’t prove anything.
When you use statements like ‘these are facts’ as the clincher for your case, you’re just shutting down the argument. What you’re really saying is, “I think that my opinion is the only possible interpretation of these facts so I’m not gonna bother supporting my position or listening to yours. Because I’ve got the facts. So what you gonna say to that?”

It’s about the interpretation of the facts.
And that’s why the truth is so malleable.

Inspired by this article and by years of reading the news.

On Depression

My mind has just been officially blown.

I just finished the 1079 pages of Infinite Jest and turned to the internet to try to make sense of it. The ending most urgently,  but really,  of the mammoth experience of reading two months worth of David Foster Wallace’s mind-blowing mind.

And then I found this as an introduction to an essay on Infinite Jest:

Depression, when it’s clinical, is not a metaphor. It runs in families, and it’s known to respond to medication and to counseling. However truly you believe there’s a sickness to existence that can never be cured, if you’re depressed you will sooner or later surrender and say: I just don’t want to feel bad anymore. The shift from depressive realism to tragic realism, from being immobilized by darkness to being sustained by it, thus strangely seems to require believing in the possibility of a cure….

– Jonathan Franzen

How is there anyone who can say something even more core-kicking than DFW?

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