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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Corporate Limitation Amendment

The Corporate Limitation Act (CLA) does not ban companies. Companies existed before corporations obtained their "legal personhood", and they will exist even after the passage of the CLA. But the liability of a corporation will be held by individuals. This increases the risk of investment, and may, in the short run, reduce investment, but it is the risks permitted by the limited liability system and the granting of rights to corporations as "persons" which have caused every market failure from the Great Depression to the current recession.

This is a work in progress. Once the language is worked out, we're going to start with petitions. Comments are welcome.

Corporation Limitation Act

Section 1. The provisions of the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing equal protection of the laws to all persons within its jurisdiction, shall apply only to individual human beings. Corporations shall have no legal standing outside of the contractual rights and obligations entered into by the persons who own them. The ability to bring suit or to have suit brought against one shall be limited to human beings, individually and in the aggregate.

Section 2. All debts owed to a corporation or by a corporation shall be owed to or by shareholders of that corporation according to the proportion defined in the bylaws of the corporation. If no proportions are defined therein, debts shall apply to shareholders in direct proportion to their ownership of the corporation.

Section 3. No corporation shall own another corporation. Any corporate ownership of a corporation at the time this article goes into affect shall be transfered to shareholders in the parent corporation according to the bylaws of the parent corporation. If no proportions are defined therein, ownership of the child corporation shall be transferred to shareholders of the parent corporation in direct proportion to their ownership of the parent corporation.

Section 4. The provisions of this article shall apply equally to corporations and any other legal structures of ownership. The provisions of this article shall apply equally to corporations based in the United States and corporations based outside of the United States.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Crackpottery: The Good and the Bad

The term "crackpot" is derogatory. Intentionally so. The essential meaning of the term is theories which lay so far outside of the paradigm that the amount of work that would need to be done to provide them a foundation that could compete with the foundations of the reigning paradigm is more than is reasonable to expect.

All paradigm-buster ideas are crackpottery at first. Germ theory, for example, was a total paradigm-buster. And advocates of the theory were treated as lunatics at first. This is not a weakness of the scientific method/system. It's a strength.

Human knowledge progresses by building atop previous knowledge. If we all had to start from scratch, we'd still be living in the bronze age. Maybe even the stone age. We require a foundation of knowledge which we can rely on, generally speaking, before we can add to the knowledge base.

The burden of proof is necessarily on anyone who comes along with a theory outside of the paradigm. And the reason is, as stated in the first paragraph, that it isn't reasonable to expect others to do your work for you.

One of the mistakes crackpots often make is to question a long standing and established view, and expect everyone to address the subject as though they were all living in a time before the view became established. In politics and religion, this is where reform movements come from. They rely on the premise that someone has gone awry along the way, and that it's necessary to "pretend" that we're back before things went wrong and "turn left instead of right", metaphorically speaking.

Crackpots who do the gruntwork and lay a solid foundation for their paradigm shift, and demonstrate that the new paradigm works better than the old one stop being crackpots, and become leaders in the new paradigm. Crackpots who don't think they should have to do so (or who fail in the task) wind up ranting on street corners (or now that the Internet exists, on forums and bulletin boards and blogs).

I'm not a scientist, but this is more about the sociology of knowledge than any particular field. Let me give an example from a discussion that's going on even as I write this, in the comments section of a blog posting by Rabbi Gil Student. In this case, a poster named Yossi wants to challenge the Jewish belief that God is immaterial. That He has no physical body. This is one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith as enumerated by the Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides), and is considered by Orthodox Jews to be as fundamental a concept as the very existence of God. He bases his challenge, for the most part, on Exodus 33:18-23. And it's true that the text, read without any outside context, would seem to support his contention.

But this is where crackpottery comes in. The verses in question have been around for millenia. They have been studied incessantly by an entire nation, in the context of the rest of the Torah and in the context of the Oral Torah which Jews believe was given along with the written text. And it was concluded that these verses do not mean that God has a physical body.

If Yossi wants to build a case which addresses all the relevant rabbinic texts addressing this issue and attempt to present it as a new paradigm, he can do so. In the case of Orthodox Judaism, it won't have much of an effect, since Orthodox Judaism is predicated on the idea of an unbroken chain of tradition, and proposing that the entire Jewish nation went wrong 750 years ago (for the sake of argument) is pretty much a non-starter, but in terms of the sociology of knowledge, it would at least be a rational act. Simply dismissing millenia of scholarship and presenting an understanding of the text out of a knowledge-vacuum is the kind of crackpottery which doesn't need to be taken seriously.

When Rabbi Student posted "There is nothing to discuss with someone who believes that God has body parts," Yossi grew angry. This was his reply:

Your response that what I write is heretical and don't discuss them, has on reflection made me quite angry. It is the response that I would expect from poorly educated primary school Rebbes who do not know haw to deal with difficult questions that ultimately test the limits of the Rebbes own knowledge. "We don't think like that" rather than engaging in discussion and searching for answers. It is completely anti-intelectuall to litereally say that some ideas are not worth exploring! While I have tremendous respect for you, your response shows nothing but small mindedness.

This is a case of someone proposing a radical idea, far outside of an accepted paradigm, and expecting everyone to be willing to "engage in discussion" with him, "searching for answers." The problem with this is that Yossi hasn't bothered to build any kind of conceptual framework which would provide a foundation for his idea. He wants to ignore everything which has preceded him and have everyone else ignore it as well. As I stated above, we had to recapitulate our entire knowledge base from scratch in each generation, we wouldn't have anything like the civilization we have. This is one of the attributes of humanity which animals lack. An animal can learn from its experiences, but it doesn't pass along a corpus of knowledge to the next generation.

I'd like to add a caveat. I personally advocate any number of radical ideas. In the areas of politics, history, archaeology, economics, and religion. It's fair for me to be called a crackpot in those areas where I haven't provided a comprehensive foundation for the ideas. I'm not putting myself in a different category from Yossi and those who think like him. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a crackpot in that way. That's how knowledge grows. The problem is when someone refuses to recognize his or her own crackpottery.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why cancelling your Likud membership is a Very Bad Idea

This is sort of an open letter to my friend Yaaqov. Last week, he posted a blog article entitled Why I Am Cancelling My Likud Membership. I want to explain why that's the wrong choice.

I have to start by pointing out that Yaaqov and I share the same view on how things should be different in Israel, at least in broad terms, and possibly even in details. And Yaaqov is currently living according to his principles, living in Israel, while I'm not, out here in the Exile, which makes it bordering on chutzpah for me to argue against his choice, but I've never had a problem with that sort of chutzpah, and my personal shortcomings don't take away from what I'm going to say.

When Moshe Feiglin started Manhigut Yehudit as a faction within Likud, it looked like Don Quixote going up against one more windmill. The idea seemed preposterous. Sure, the Likud constitution is a lot closer to the values and platform of Manhigut Yehudit than it is to anything the Likud has done since Camp David I, but the inertia of the Likud machine seemed so vast that the entire Manhigut enterprise seemed a little unrealistic.

Of course, I have no problem with unrealistic in the short term. Particularly when it comes to Israel. Like Ben Gurion said (and even a broken clock can be right twice a day), "If you don't believe in miracles in Israel, you aren't a realist."

And Yaaqov is right when he points out that the current leadership of the Likud is never going to sit there and let Feiglin take over; that they'll bolt.

But I have one major question for Yaaqov. My friend, what's your alternative? Do you believe that we can do nothing? That we have to do mitzvos and daven a lot and wait for Moshiach to come and bail us out? Or do you think that supporting fringe parties which have more in common with lobbies than they do with actual political parties is somehow going to change the situation?

Manhigut Yehudit has been going in one direction, Yaaqov. And that's up. And yes, each time we've gotten closer to something tangible, it's been snatched away. But that hasn't stopped the upward movement. There's a direction to what Manhigut Yehudit is doing, Yaaqov. And Bibi and company are aware of it. Look at Bibi scurrying in a panic trying to change push elections for the central committee off. There's only one person in the entire political arena that frightens him. Why do you think that is?

I hope you'll reconsider and pay your Likud dues. I'm sure there's a grace period, even if you didn't pay them at the end of February. Even if you're skeptical, or growing weary waiting for success, you have to see that this is the only direction which can work.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Best Movies of the Zeros

The Zeros being 2000-2009. Interesting, isn't it, that 2000 was part of the 20th century and part of the first decade of the 21st century? But there you have it.

Anyway, I went through a list of movies that came out in the Zeros, and came up with 40 of them that I thought were really excellent. Interestingly, none of them are from 2009. Anyway, here they are, with brief comments where applicable.

  1. 16 Blocks (2006)
    Bruce Willis was magnificent in this. He usually plays more or less the same guy. Cocky and brash. He doesn't here. Trust me and watch this one.
  2. 28 Days (2000)
    Sandra Bullock is great to watch in general (despite some of the really horrible movies she's gotten involved with, but this is one of her better ones. I'm a sucker for redemptive storylines, where the main character starts out as a lost cause and has to work their way out of it.
  3. Bring It On (2000)
    Eliza Dushku as a cheerleader. Okay, it's more than that, but that was probably what got me to watch this in the first place. It's a fun movie. Nothing deep, but lots of fun.
  4. Coyote Ugly (2000)
    There are lots of movies about someone coming to the city to make good, but this one is really, really good. Forget the scantily clad women dancing on top of a bar. That's not what this movie is about. It left me with a warm feeling at the end, and that's always a good thing.
  5. Daredevil (2003)
    I know a lot of people didn't like this, but I thought they did a great job bringing Daredevil to the screen. One of the objections was that it was too dark, but I thought the darkness fit. If you want "too dark", look at the Christian Bale Batman movies.
  6. Donnie Darko (2001)
    Just... I can't say enough good about this movie. It's thought provoking and melancholy and truly odd. I never get tired of watching it, and the version of Mad World at the end is beyond wonderful.
  7. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008)
    So... should I have counted this? After all, it wasn't a theatrical release, nor even a TV show. It aired for free on the web. But the story, the singing, the sheer talent in this one would have it near the top of this list if I were ranking them.
  8. Enchanted (2007)
    Aw... it was so sweet. Maybe a little saccharine in places, but it was a nice happily ever after story. Disney princess stuff for grownups.
  9. Equilibrium (2002)
    Do you remember Logan's Run? This is the same kind of dystopia where one of the enforcers rebels against the system. And the shooting makes The Matrix look dull by comparison.
  10. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
    Okay... guilty secret. This movie was the first (only, actually) time in my life that I've actually had a crush on an animated character. Dr. Aki Ross was amazing. The story was good, but not great, but the movie as a whole was so well done, and the animation was almost lifelike. I mean, it was lifelike enough for me to crush on a drawing.
  11. Finding Forrester (2000)
    I like movies like this, where hidden talents are nurtured. It's a little like Akeela and the Bee and other movies of that genre, but Sean Connery is phenomenal in it.
  12. Frequency (2000)
    Very cool time-bending movie. My little sister recommended this one to me, and boy was she right.
  13. Hard Candy (2006)
    This one isn't for kids. I admit that I have a weakness for revenge flicks. Eye for an Eye, Enough, The Brave One, etc., but this one is the best. Ellen Page's character is so over the top, straddling the fence between brilliance and madness. Forget Juno. This is what she should be known for.
  14. High School Musical (2006)
    If you haven't seen this because you think it's a dumb Disney kids movie, you're cheating yourself. It's one of the better musicals that's come out in years. The story is good, the acting is good, the singing and dancing is spectacular. Skip the sequels, but watch this one. You'll be glad you did.
  15. I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)
    This is a nice romantic comedy, which unfortunately was never released in the US. I don't know why. Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd were wonderful in it.
  16. Ice Princess (2005)
    This could have been the typical fish out of water story, with a mathlete turning figure skater, but it's a lot deeper than that. This was also the first place I saw Hayden Panettiere, and I was impressed with the way in which her character turned out not to be the cliche I thought she would be.
  17. Identity (2003)
    I don't like scary slasher flicks. No, I mean I really don't like them. But this is more of a psychological rollercoaster, in more ways than one. Yes, I only saw it because John Cusack was in it, but I'm so glad that I did. It was really, really well done, and I totally didn't see the ending coming.
  18. Imagine Me & You (2005)
    Girl meets boy. Girl and boy get engaged. Girl falls for florist (also girl) working on the wedding. Plus, it's Piper Perabo and Lena Heady.
  19. Iron Man (2008)
    This was hilarious. I mean, if DC could figure out how to make superhero movies with a sense of humor, they might actually have a successful one. Batman is gloomy. They even managed to make Superman gloomy. Meanwhile, Marvel is giving us smart, fun movies like Iron Man and Spiderman. Even Daredevil, which got criticized for being "too dark" had humor in it. But so far, Iron Man is the best. Downey's Tony Stark is such a charming ass.
  20. Keep Not Silent (2004)
    This is a documentary about Orthodox Jewish lesbians in Israel. I knew most of the women in the movie, and almost got involved in it myself. I probably would have if I hadn't left Israel around the time Ilil Alexander starting working on it. It's much better than Trembling Before G-d, in my opinion.
  21. Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) Volume 2 (2004)
    I'm counting this as a single movie. Tarentino is brilliant, but this was just a non-stop rollercoaster of awesome.
  22. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
    It was almost a remake of War of the Roses , but it didn't degenerate into the pointless viciousness of that piece of dreck. This was fun. You may have noticed that I'm big on fun movies. I'll forgive a lot in the way of plot and acting if it puts a smile on my face. In this case, there was nothing to forgive.
  23. Paycheck (2003)
    I hadn't realized that this was a Phillip K. Dick adaptation. It was just so brilliant. How do you leave clues for yourself if you know you're going to forget something really important? Tattooing yourself Momento-style won't work. This one has it all, action, mystery and brains.
  24. Peter Pan (2003)
    This might have been at the very top of the list had I been ranking these. God, what a fabulous movie. This is Peter Pan for the ages. Forget the Disney movie; this is as near to perfect as a movie gets.
  25. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
    Ah, Johnny Depp. People talk about DeNiro and Streep being great actors, but they always play DeNiro and Streep playing this or that character. Depp becomes the character, and he's always someone different. Captain Jack Sparrow is probably his best character ever.
  26. Ratatouille (2007)
    This is a great movie. Not a great animated movie, but a great movie. It's about going for your dreams, regardless of adversity.
  27. Serendipity (2001)
    I love romantic comedies. I love John Cusack. And Kate Beckinsale is gorgeous. That said, this is probably my favorite romantic comedy after While You Were Sleeping.
  28. Serenity (2005)
    If you haven't watched Firefly, you're making the mistake of your life. Go. Now. Get the complete season (Evil Fox Executives didn't let it have a second season) and watch it. You'll thank me. You'll thank me a lot. And then watch Serenity, which pretty much concludes the arc of the show. There's also a three issue comic book miniseries which takes place between them which is canon and worth reading. It's like another episode.
  29. Spiderman (2002)
    Look up at what I said about Iron Man. Same thing here; just Iron Man was better.
  30. Stick It (2006)
    Missy Peregrym. Wow. The gymnastics were phenomenal, and her attitude was even better.
  31. The 10th Kingdom (2000)
    This is a 417 minutes miniseries. That's just shy of seven hours. They were some of the best 7 hours I've ever spent. Everyone is fantastic in this, even the bad guys. Scott Cohen is the best Big Bad Wolf ever. Sorry, Bigby, but Scott beats you silly.
  32. The 51st State (2001)
    I saw a preview for this under the title Formula 51. It looked marvelous from the trailer, and the movie was even better. The L. in Samuel L. Jackson stands for Awesome.
  33. The Family Man (2000)
    This movie broke my heart. There was comedy in it, yes, but it was a brilliant "what if" story. Cage was brilliant, and so was Tea Leoni. And even more so was the little girl who played their daughter. God, writing about this movie makes me want to go and watch it again.
  34. The Incredibles (2004)
    I waited a long time for this movie. There was talk about it on Ain't It Cool News for quite a while before the movie came out. I think I saw a trailer a year before the release. That's a lot of hype. That's really hard to live up to. But The Incredibles not only lived up to the hype; it surpassed it.
  35. The Island (2005)
    It's a cool premise. People being raised on an island with no knowledge of the outside world. I can't tell you much more without spoiling it for you. But it's good.
  36. The Kid (2000)
    Another cool premise. A guy gets to meet the kid he used to be. A kid he's tried his whole life to get away from.
  37. The Prince and Me (2004)
    I wouldn't have thought I'd like this. I only watched it because Julia Stiles was in it and I'd been impressed with her in something else (which slips my mind at the moment). But it's not as formulaic as you'd think.
  38. The Recruit (2003)
    Man, Al Pacino is in fine form here. He is so over-the-top nuts, but that's his thing. His scenery-chewing is wonderful, and Colin Farrell is almost as amazing in this.
  39. The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
    Two words: Hi. Larious. If you've read Nelson DeMille's Gold Coast, this is a similar premise. A mob guy moves in next door to a regular guy. Hilarity ensues. But Matthew Perry is so good as the nervous dentist who gets in over his head. And Bruce Willis is as pleasant and dangerous as you might expect from a contract killer. Don't waste your time on the sequel, but this one is definitely worth watching.
  40. Unbreakable (2000)
    And finally, the movie that should have been a trilogy. The best of Shyamalan's movies, in my opinion. Once again, Willis is great, and I've already mentioned what I think of Samuel Jackson.

So that's pretty much it. The 40 best movies of 2000-2009.

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