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We now start the second of the three "Bava" tractates on torts. We begin with a mishna about a dispute over a found item. If two people appear before the court holding a garment and each says "I found it" and "it is all mine", then each must swear that his share is not less than half and then the value of the garment is divided between them. If two ride on an animal, or one rides and the other leads, and they both say "it is all mine", then as with the cloak, they both swear and then they divide the value. If they admit each other's claims or they have witnesses to establish their claims, they receive their shares without swearing. (2a)

Swearing is a serious matter because swearing falsely is a serious transgression, so if things can be settled without swearing the talmud generally prefers to do so, from what I've seen.

Holding the garment, and riding or leading the animal, is significant because ownership is staked by physical means. You can't call "dibs" on a found cloak just by seeing it, for example; you have to pick it up. In the case of something you can't pick up (like a donkey), you have to move it a certain distance. Riding and leading are both ways to do that.

(Today's daf is 3.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
There is an old joke that goes something like this:
A man in a helicopter has become lost in a heavy fog. He finds an office building and pulls up alongside a window. He leans out and asks the person inside "where am I?" (Yeah I know; office-building windows usually can't be opened. Work with me here.) The person inside says "you're in a helicopter 500 feet in the air". With this information the pilot is able to proceed directly to his invisible destination. When asked how that answer helped, he said "I got an answer that was completely true and utterly useless, so I knew I was outside the Microsoft customer-support building".

Microsoft is the traditional butt of that joke, but today I've had that experience with Apple, from whom I expected much better.

I got a new(er) refurbished Mac Mini this week (having given up waiting on Apple to update their product line; my 2009 Mini is showing its age). I plugged in the ethernet cable, booted it, and was greeted with a prompt to migrate data from my current Mac. Great! I've heard good things about that tool. So I went through the prompts to start, and just after the point of no return, it announced that this would take 16 hours. It had completely ignored the ethernet connection and was using wifi. (I should have been more suspicious that earlier in the start-up sequence it asked for a wifi password, but I figured they just always did that as a fallback. I don't remember setting up wifi on the other machine, but I guess I did.)

Everything I found on Google with my phone (you can't use either Mac while this is happening) said that aborting this is bad and you might have to reinstall the OS on the new machine. Since my new machine came with neither installation disks nor a CD/DVD drive, that was going to be tricky. The Apple store was by this point closed, so I tweeted to Apple support asking for guidance.

They responded pretty promptly (good) with a link to instructions about how to run the migration tool (bad). Here's what followed:
Me: Thanks, but that doesn't tell me how to recover from where I am. I plugged new mac into ethernet (old was already), booted, & followed prompt to start migrating. It ignored ethernet & used wifi. Looking at 16+ hours. Am I stuck or can I restart with ethernet not wifi?

Nine hours later:

Apple: The best way to be 100% sure it's using ethernet for migration is to disable Wi-Fi on both computers before starting the migration process.


I repeated that I had already started and asked if there was anything I could do now, as opposed to have done differently earlier. Their answer to that was that I could turn off the machines but I'd probably need to erase the new machine, so I should probably just let it run.

I'm disappointed that the migration tool (a) didn't use the ethernet connection and (b) didn't tell me it was going to use wifi (or give me the time estimate) and give me a chance to bail before it started. But I'm even more disappointed by responses from Apple that make me think nobody was actually reading my messages. Was I talking to a bot?

My past experiences with Apple support have been good. (Also rare, which is good for me but bad for data sampling.) I hope this experience is an anomaly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
I've been away for a couple weeks (and thus haven't seen anything on LJ or DW); we spent a couple days in Barcelona and then a week in Rome and environs. I expect to post more later (including pictures, once I sort through them), but some short bits for now:

When we booked English-language tours we were not expecting them to actually be bilingual or trilingual. A guide repeating things in multiple languages has one of two effects: either not everybody hears everything, or the bits are small so there's time for all of them. We experienced some of each. I'm not sure how one looks for an English-only tour, but next time I'll know to look. (All of our experiences in this regard came from a single company, Green Line Tours in Rome.) Yes, I know how Anglo-centric this makes me sound, but I'm probably never going to be fluent in Spanish or French.

We took a small-group tour (eight people) of Barcelona. That worked very well. But the bigger surprise was our half-day trip to Montserrat; we didn't know what to expect or how interesting it would be, but our guide was very good, and when he gave us some free time he gave a good overview of options for spending that time and how long they should reasonably take. (For example: you can hike up to that point for a nice view and it should take about 15 minutes, and if you go another 10 minutes up to that other point you'll get an even nicer view.)

We saw the Pantheon on our last day in Rome. We almost didn't (we were getting tired), but we figured we'd seen all the other archaeological sites so we should see that one too. I was expecting a shell of a building, like the others. There's less inside the Colosseum than you think from the outside, and ditto the Forum. With the Pantheon, though, there's lots inside. Some of it is church do-overs of the original structure, but some original parts remain. Very impressive.

The church is everywhere. There was a pervasive assumption in the parts of Italy we visited that of course everybody is Christian (and probably Roman Catholic). One tour guide referred in passing to a synagogue (that we didn't get to see) as a "Jew church". I knew that Italy is a Christian country, but its implications were more extensive than I'd anticipated.

We went to Ostia Antica, which was described in one review as "Pompeii done right". We also went to Pompeii. Both were interesting. Ostia Antica did more with less; Pompeii is better-preserved but the tour was more shallow. (A different tour might of course go deeper.)

The hotels we stayed in had wardrobes or clothing racks but no drawers, and had no alarm clocks (or clocks at all). We were surprised.

The Vatican museum sure is big. You walk a while just to get there, and then a while longer to get from the ticket office to the actual entrance, and then a long while inside (and we didn't see anywhere near all of it), and then a while longer to get out... I think we walked five miles that morning.

I drank a beer in the Munich airport, but it was not a new Oktoberfest offering, just a weissbier. Oh well; at least I've had beer in Germany. :-)

Meals in Italy take at least an hour and a half. Universally, in our experience.

I've seen cab drivers in other countries claim the meter doesn't work, but I've never seen one outright lie about the fare before this trip. We saw the price on the meter right before a driver in Rome cleared it and told us a higher number. Sheesh.

Our flights were all fine. (Lufthansa, operated by United.) I was a little surprised not to go through passport control when going from Barcelona to Rome; sure, EU citizens can move freely, but I thought everybody else had to get stamped on the way in and out of each country. But no, my Spanish entry stamp and Italian exit stamp both have EU logos in them, and not having an Italian entry stamp was not a problem for getting out. Huh.

I had previously had a very good international-flight experience at Newark. This time, on the way back, it was hard to find where we needed to go. A little investment in better signage would pay big dividends.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Last week we talked about compensation for stolen animals where the animal changed state, such as a cow birthing a calf or a sheep being shorn for its wool. The mishna now moves on from theft to errors that affect the value of property.

A mishna on today's daf teaches: if one gave wool to a dyer to die and the dyer burned it in the cauldron, the dyer has to compensate the owner for his wool. What if he dyed it the wrong color? R' Meir says that, here too, the dyer must pay the owner the value of the wool. (The dyer buys the now-dyed wool, in other words.) R' Yehudah, however, says we compare the increase in value from the dyeing (even the wrong color is an increase over undyed wool) to the dyer's outlay (such as for materials). If the increase in value is greater than the outlay, the owner of the wool pays only the outlay. If outlay is greater than the increase in value, the owner pays only the increase in value. (100b)

According to R' Yehudah, in other words, if there was benefit the owner keeps his wool and still owes the dyer something, but since the dyer messed up he's only going to get the smaller of (a) his actual costs or (b) the increase in value.

 
 
 
 
 
 
A friend brought some new games home from GenCon and brought them over this past weekend. We played each of these games once, for three players.

Mystic Vale is a deck-building game (like Dominion, for example), but instead of adding cards to your deck you augment cards. Your deck always has 20 cards, each of which has three "slots". Some are blank and some start with one slot filled. Slots produce resources, which you can use to buy overlays. Each card is in a plastic sleeve and each overlay is a transparent sheet of clear plastic with one of the three regions filled in; you slide the overlay into the sleeve to use it. On your turn you deal out some cards (the exact number varies), use the resources to buy overlays (or some other special cards), and then discard all those cards. You go through the deck a lot, gradually building up resources so you can buy better stuff. Some of the cards grant victory points, which is ultimately what matters.

The game is very pretty, and it's pretty in a non-invasive way. (I often find pretty games to be hard to play, because the art overruns the function.) I think our game was about an hour, though the next one would be faster because we were learning. I liked this game a lot and would gladly play it in preference to Dominion; Dani thought it was ok and much prefers Dominion.

Next up were two quick games from Perplext. These are tiny games with few moving parts; they're designed to fit in a pocket and be playable, for example, on a table at a restaurant while you're waiting for your food. In one game, Gem, you bid to buy cards with gems on them, which you can use to buy more cards; goal is to corner the market on particular gem types. There are six gem types in the game; you get points for having the most of any type, and one point for each gem you have at all. It's a lightweight auction game that calls for some planning and strategizing. I'd like to play this one again, too.

The other Perplext game was Bus. You lay out a (randomized) grid of city streets with some bus stops and some destinations (color-coded). At bus stops you can pick up fares, which you score when you deliver them. A fare card has a point value and a speed limit and they tend to add up to the same number -- so the more benefit you get from a delivery, the slower you'll move to do it. There was one usability problem with this game: the red and pink passengers/destinations were quite difficult to distinguish from each other. It was a cute game but not one I'd seek out again.

Somewhere in there we also introduced our friend to Roll Through the Ages: think Advanced Civilization distilled down to a dice game and abstract commodities and improvements, playable in about 20 minutes.

The last game we played, and a clear winner for all of us, was Fantahzee. The similarity of that name to "Yahtzee" is quite intentional. Players are defending a town that's under attack by an army of monsters; on your turn you can play heroes from your hand, then (try to) activate them this round, then attack monsters. If you don't kill the lead monster you lose part of the town (negative points to you). You get victory points for killed monsters.

The activation is dice-based. Each hero has an activation cost represented in die rolls -- "4", or "2 of a kind", or "1 2 3", and so on. The powerful ones are harder to get. You start with five dice and get up to three rolls; after each roll you can allocate any dice you want to activate heroes and then reroll the rest. Some of the heros, once activated, grant you extra dice or extra rolls, which is essential. Many of them have other special abilities, like extra defense. There's a lot of randomness, but you also need to plan your party of adventurer heros to balance between power and ability to actually activate. I think this one took about an hour.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We have already determined that in the case of robbery the thief owes damages based on the value of the stolen goods. (He pays a multiple of this value.) What if the value changed after the robbery? The mishna on today's daf addresses this. If one stole pieces of wood and made utensils from them, or stole pieces of wool and made garments from them, he owes damages for the value of the pieces of wood or wool. Similarly, if he stole a pregnant cow and it then gave birth to a calf, or he stole a sheep ready for shearing and he then sheared it, he owes the value of a pregnant cow or a sheep ready for shearing. However, if he stole a cow and it then got pregnant and gave birth, or he stole a sheep and it then grew out its coat and he sheared it, then he owes for a non-pregnant cow or a sheep not ready for shearing. This is the general principle, the mishna tells us: all robbers pay in accordance with the value of the stolen goods at the time of the robbery. (93b)

That the thief owes full restoration if he has diminished the value of the stolen items seems obvious to me. That the thief gets to benefit from the proceeds of his theft, for example the calf if the stolen cow later becomes pregnant, comes as more of a surprise to me. What happens if he stole a cow, it became pregnant, and he then paid damages before it gave birth -- if the thief returns the cow, would the owner owe the thief for the increase in value? I suspect that the practical answer is that you treat livestock and goods as commodities -- the thief pays the value of a cow but doesn't necessarily return that specific cow. I'm speculating, and perhaps it's addressed somewhere in the coming pages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
My kingdom, AEthelmearc, is -- not for the first time -- having trouble finding somebody to fill the required office of Chronicler (newsletter editor). Newsletters are published online, as PDFs, with the same schedule as their print predecessors. Because they don't contain timely information and reading them is a hassle (PDF, plus behind a paywall/subscription-wall), almost nobody reads them. Because nobody reads them, people aren't willing to spend time writing articles for them, so they just contain stuff that's already posted elsewhere (like event announcements). Recently our chronicler posted an issue consisting mostly of blank pages as a test; the only person who said anything was the corporate boss.

This came up on our mailing list because the current chronicler is looking for a replacement. I'm just going to paste here what I wrote there.



I was a kingdom chronicler for four years, back in the days when newsletters were on paper. I found it a satisfying job and was glad to be able to push the limits a little, publishing articles in addition to announcements (and an annual A&S issue). The bulk of the membership price difference between associate members (no newsletter) and sustaining members (newsletter) went to the chroniclers for printing and postage.

Several years back the SCA moved to electronic publishing and phased out the paper newsletters. (Basically, they would fulfill existing subscriptions only.) The chroniclers no longer got a stipend because there was nothing to print and mail. The SCA didn't at the time change its pricing structure, though, so chroniclers were donating their labor for the SCA to resell at nearly 100% profit. That feels like an abuse of volunteer labor to me, but some people were still willing to do it.

Now we are in the situation where nobody reads the newsletters but the SCA still requires chroniclers. This, to me, is an even bigger abuse of volunteer labor. The SCA runs on the dedication of its volunteers, and to take that labor for no good purpose, when those same people could instead donate their labor to something productive, is wasteful and, dare I say, unchivalrous. We should be lobbying for the removal of the requirement. There is no benefit to a newsletter compilation that can never be as up to date as the kingdom web site and that has no readers, and thus no audience for articles and art.

Meanwhile, our kingdom is rich in technically-minded folks. Surely somebody can write a Perl script or something to collect the relevant contents from the kingdom web site and spit out a PDF for Milpitas once a month? Then nobody has to be stuck with the soul-sucking task of spending hours every month producing something that nobody cares about, and the office can be filled by anybody who's willing to warm the seat.

Any volunteers to automate this job until it can be properly ended?
 
 
 
 
 
 
A mishna a few pages back taught: one who injures another becomes liable for five items: for depreciation (reduced valuation because of the damage), for pain, for healing, for loss of time, and for degradation. A mishna on today's daf continues on this last theme, saying: one who insults a naked person, or insults a blind person, or insults one who is asleep, is liable for degradation. In the g'mara the Master asks: is somebody who walks around naked capable of being insulted? R' Papa answered: this is talking about a case where a wind suddenly came up and lifted up his clothes, and then someone raised them still higher, putting him to shame. The g'mara then goes on to ask the question: is degradation paid because of the insult to the person, and so maybe we should not owe it if the person cannot be insulted, or is degradation paid because of the act itself regardless of whether the person perceived it? We learn elsewhere that degradation applies to a minor and a deaf-mute but not to an idiot, and from this the g'mara concludes that the payment is due if he is insulted or would be if he learned about it later -- the minor when he is older can understand, or the deaf-mute will feel the insult when somebody tells him about it. (86b)

 
 
 
 
 
 
We know from the torah (and last week's daf post) that one who steals an ox or sheep and sells or slaughters it owes five-fold payment for the ox and four-fold payment for the sheep. The g'mara on today's daf expands on this: in addition to selling or slaughtering it, he owes the extra payment if he:

  • gives it to somebody else who then sells or slaughters it
  • consecrates it
  • gives it as a gift, including as a betrothal gift
  • barters with it or uses it to settle a debt
This list includes some transfers of ownership that don't involve payment (so not sales but similarly beneficial to the thief), but the case the g'mara calls out further is the first. We learn here that an agent's actions -- selling or slaughtering the animal -- are as if they were done by the principal (the person who appointed him as agent). That's normal for "positive" cases of agency -- for example, a man is considered to have circumcised his son if he hires a mohel to do it. But (according to the g'mara), nowhere else in torah does agency reflect on the principal for a transgression -- but it does for selling or slaughtering stolen livestock. (79a)

I presume that if you, say, hire a hit-man, while you might not be liable for capital murder under Jewish law, you'd still be liable for other penalties from the hiring/conspiracy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Short takes from Pennsic:

  • At the A&S display we casually walked past high-quality displays just because we couldn't see everything and there were other high-quality displays. Well, that and crowds. Nifty. No musicians in evidence, but I'm not surprised -- that kind of setup doesn't work well for performance arts.
  • Our camp was visited by Duke Cariadoc, who entertained us with poems about William the Marshal. For all our years at Pennsic this is actually the first time he's visited a camp while I was there. I had the impression he didn't get up to the Serengeti much, but maybe I've just been unlucky.
  • The choir concert went pretty well, I thought. We had a pretty good audience, too -- something I always worry about with a 30-minute performance, given people's tendencies at Pennsic to have a pretty approximate relationship to time.
  • A couple months ago I'd seen a note that Yaakov HaMizrachi was going to be performing (storytelling), right after the choir concert but across camp. I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to attend (or, at best, would miss the first 15 minutes getting there). But I was in luck -- the performance immediately after the choir was cancelled, so they moved him to the main tent from the smaller stage he was to be on, so I got to hear him. He told a single hour-long story with nesting (three levels deep). I enjoyed it. (Alas, I didn't get to talk with him after.)
  • Day-tripping Pennsic (we were only there for two days) is a PITA, mainly because of the parking. The first day we happened to catch a bus up to the parking lot, but they'd stopped running by the time we were leaving on the second day, which was also my first experience with the overflow area.
  • Also, the food court has basically nothing to offer a vegetarian. I always take my own food to Pennsic, but that requires a cooler and we were just day-tripping and I figured maybe it's gotten better in the years that I've been ignoring the food court, so I hoped I'd be able to find a tossed salad or something. Eventually I found tuna salad at the Coopers-run place up by the barn (where one can also buy produce).
  • Note to future self: if you ever day-trip Pennsic again, which you shouldn't because it really stinks, bring a flashlight. Walking along an unfamiliar, rock-strewn, uneven dirt road just a couple days after the new moon was difficult. Because of the aforementioned unevenness and rocks, I wasn't really interested in carrying an expensive cell phone in my hand to use its flashlight app.
  • The weather cooperated the days we were there -- on the warm and humid side, but not unbearable and it didn't rain.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Me: books hotel in foreign city.
Me: books tour in that city.
Me: books another tour in that city.
Me: attempts to book tour in a different city.
Booking site: couldn't get approval.
Me: tries a different tour (and different vendor).
Booking site: nope, we don't like your credit card either.
Husband: tries (joint card) and fails.

Phone rings.

Caller: Hi, this is (bank).
Me: Oh good; I was just about to call you.
Caller: There were these transactions...
Me: Yes that was me.
Caller: Ok, better safe than sorry. We'll unblock your card now.
Me: By the way, here are some travel dates and locations.
Caller: Got it.

I'll gladly accept those five minutes of inconvenience for that level of fraud protection. I even still had a valid session for the failed transaction, so retrying was easy.

I would have called them with the dates and locations closer to the trip to avoid card declines, but I didn't think about how the advance charges would look.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We know from the torah (Ex 21:37) that if a man steals an ox and kills or sells it, he must pay five oxen in compensation (five times damages). The mishna on today's daf discusses this case. If the thief is convicted of the theft on testimony of two witnesses and the slaughter or sale on testimony of those same witnesses, and the witnesses are shown to be schemers (who plotted together to testify falsely), the witnesses must pay the fivefold damages in full. (The torah says that false witnesses are subject to the penalty they sought to impose on the other. In this case they're testifying against the thief who would owe fivefold damages if guilty, so they pay the damages.) If, however, the theft is established by one pair of witnesses and the slaughter/sale by another and all the witnesses turn out to be schemers, then the first two pay twofold and the second pair pays threefold (for the total of fivefold). If only the second pair are schemers, the thief pays twofold and the latter witnesses threefold. If just one of the second pair is a schemer the testimony of the second pair is thrown out, but if one of the first pair is a schemer then everything is thrown out, because if there was no theft then there could be no illegal sale/slaughter. (72b)

For a sheep it's fourfold damages, according to the torah. I don't know why four for a sheep but five for an ox.

 
 
 
 
 
 
In past weeks we've talked about liability for damages caused by one's animals. The next category of damages occupies only a few pages here (maybe there will be more later). Rather than skipping over it because I only post these once a week, I'm backing up a few days to compile some of the mishnayot about fire:

  • If a man sent out something burning through a deaf-mute, an idiot, or a minor, and damage resulted, he is not liable for judgements of men (because it is the actions of the other that led to the damage, even though the other is not deemed competent), but he is subject to the judgement of heaven. If he sent it through a "normal" person, that normal person is liable. If someone fans the flames, that person is liable. (59b)
  • If somebody allowed fire to break out from his property and it caused damage, he is liable. (60a) But if it crossed a wall four cubits high or a public road or a canal, he is not liable. (61a)
  • If a man sets fire to a stack of corn and there's other stuff buried in the corn that gets destroyed, the sages say he is liable only for damage to corn. If, however, he sets fire to a castle he is liable for all the contents. Why the difference? Because it is customary to keep valuables in one's home. (61b)
  • Now let's talk about indirect cause. If a spark escapes from under a hammer and does damage (I assume the context here is blacksmithing), the one hammering is liable. If a camel laden with flax was passing through a public thoroughfare and some flax got into a shop and caught fire from the shopkeeper's candle, the owner of the camel is liable. If, however, the shopkeeper left his candle outside, he (the shopkeeper) is liable. R' Yehudah says if it was a Chanukah candle he is not liable (because those are placed outside and can't be high up). (62b)
Today's daf is 65, part of a multi-page discussion about fines for theft of livestock.

 
 
 
 
 
 
We went up to Cooper's Lake on Sunday to help with Pennsic camp setup. It sure is weird to not have the house in camp. But we're only going to be there for a couple days (middle Sunday and Monday), because we have other plans for that vacation time later in the year.

There is now a solar panel on the pantry roof in our camp. It has begun.

Earlier this summer I finally read Pangaea, a shared-world anthology that also has an overall story. It includes a story by mabfan, which is how I became aware of it in the first place. I quite enjoyed it and wrote a post about it on Universe Factory. A second volume is due out later this year.

I picked up the first three books in Jody Lynn Nye's Mythology series (the first book is Mythology 101) in a Story Bundle a few months back. I almost didn't get it because I see Story Bundle as a way to get exposure to new authors/series/concepts, so having three of the ten (? around ten, anyway) books in the bundle be from the same series was counter to that. But I've now read them all and bought the fourth separately, so that turned out to be a win. The books revolve around an eccentric college student who finds out that the Little Folk are real, and living under his college's library. Antics ensue.

In June my employer sent me to a conference (to work, not to attend) in Las Vegas. Now I know, from TV and general media, that Las Vegas is larger than life. And I was still surprised. I was also not prepared for it to take a long time to get anywhere within the hotel complex, because of course they need to route you through the casinos that are everywhere. Casinos are not smoke-free, so I hurried through. Also, my hotel room -- the base room type, nothing fancy -- was larger than my first apartment.

No, I did not play any casino games. Casinos have two kinds of games: games of chance that favor the house, and games of skill that I'm not good enough at and that favor the house. I don't like those odds.

I've been with my current employer for a bit over two years now and I'm still loving it. My coworkers are great, I get a lot of control over what I work on, and I can tell that even though I am the single remote member of my group, I'm still able to teach and mentor and inspire. I think I know a thing or two about technical writing in the software world, and I am glad that I can flex those muscles and impart some of what I've learned. And they appreciate me (including tangible demonstration of same), and that matters too.
 
 
 
 
 
 
A mishna teaches: if a man puts sheep in a barn and latches the gate properly, and the sheep get out and do damage anyway, he is not liable. If he did not secure the gate, however, he is liable. If robbers break in and the sheep later get out, nobody is liable. But if robbers take the sheep out and leave them to wander, the robbers are liable for the damage they do. If a man hands his sheep over to a shepherd, the shepherd becomes liable in all ways that the owner otherwise would have been. And finally (for now), if a sheep accidentally falls into a garden and derives benefit payment is due for the amount of the benefit, but if it got there in the usual way, payment is due for the damage (change in value). (55b)

Today's daf is 58, where the g'maara is discussing this last point further. I think the distinction being made is between market price and property value -- what you could have gotten if you'd been able to sell, say, the fruit it ate, versus the cost of replacing plants that it damaged.

 
 
 
 
 
 
From the torah we learn that if one digs a pit on public land and an animal falls in it and dies, the one who opened the pit is liable. A mishna explains that this includes pits, ditches, trenches, and similar constructs, so long as they are at least 10 handbreadths deep. (The rabbis consider this the depth at which falling in is fatal.) The next mishna then talks about cases of joint digging: if two people dug, one after the other, and death results, who is liable? The mishna says the second digger; the g'mara explores this more and concludes that everybody who caused the pit to be at least 10 handbreadths, or who found it in that state and left it thus, is liable. So if somebody digs to nine handbreadths and then somebody else comes along and digs one more, the latter is liable, but if the first man dug to ten, both are. (50b-51)

 
 
 
 
 
 
Last Shabbat, friends introduced us to a new-ish board game, Splendor. Here's how Board Game Geek describes it:

Splendor is a game of chip-collecting and card development. Players are merchants of the Renaissance trying to buy gem mines, means of transportation, shops — all in order to acquire the most prestige points. If you're wealthy enough, you might even receive a visit from a noble at some point, which of course will further increase your prestige.
The game setup includes chips for each of the five gem types, cards in three levels of value that you can buy, and a small number of patrons who becomes yours if you satisfy their individual conditions. Every card counts as producing one gem of its color, and cards cost varying numbers of gems in different combinations. So, for example, if a card requires one red, one blue, and one black, and you have a black card, then you can buy the card for one red chip and one blue one. If that card produces blue, then the next time you can automatically pay black and/or blue without expending chips. So, the more cards you acquire the fewer chips you need... except that higher-level cards have higher costs, so you still need chips throughout the game.

Victory points come from higher-end cards (the lowest-level cards confer no points, only gem production) and from patrons. Patron conditions are based on cards, for example if you have four red and four green cards.

On your turn you can take chips, buy cards, or reserve cards (set a card aside that you will buy later, so someone else doesn't beat you to it). There are several cards available for purchase at any given time, so you're trying to balance costs (what can you afford), card type (you might want particular colors either to help with future purchases or for patrons), and what other players might do (if you spend this turn getting the chips to buy that card you want, will the card still be there next turn?). It's a well-balanced game, allowing for future planning without bogging down in it. We played several four-player and three-player games, and each took about half an hour.

The game is well-made; the plastic chips are hefty enough to saty where you put them on the table, the cards are sturdy, and -- rare for board games these days -- the molded compartments in the game box actually match up with the pieces. The game is pretty without the art impeding function.

The gem theme is just a theme; it's not intrinsic to the game the way, say, trains are intrinsic to Eurorails or building settlements is intrinsic to Settlers of Catan. The game would not play differently if rubies, emeralds, sapphires, onxy, and diamonds were replaced with wood, brick, stone, grain, and sheep. But the theme also doesn't get in the way, and even if we called the elements "red", "green", etc, there's no reason you couldn't treat them as gems.

 
 
 
 
 
 
The talmud has previously discussed direct damages from animals, such as the ox that gores and kills someone, and we have learned that if the ox was mu'ad (known to gore) there is full financial liability but if it was tam (not so known) there is less liability. The talmud now turns to indirect or misdirected damages. A mishna teaches: if an ox, by rubbing itself against a wall, causes the wall to fall on and kill somebody, or if it was trying to kill a beast and accidentally killed a person, or if it was aiming for a heathen but killed an Israelite, or was aiming at non-viable infants but killed a viable one -- for all these there is no liability. (But there might be according to the g'mara; it's a little hard for me to tell.) There is, it appears, some evaluation of intent, even for an ox, though how precisely it is judged is not stated here. (44a)

 
 
 
 
 
 
The talmud has previously talked about compensation that is due if your animal damages another, distinguishing between those that are known to be damaging (the ox that gores, mu'ad) and those that are not (tam). On today's daf the mishna talks about relationships between the owners. If a privately-owned ox gores an ox consecrated to the temple, or vice-versa, there is no liability, because it says "the ox of his neighbor" -- the temple is not "his neighbor". If an ox belonging to an Israelite gores one belonging to a Cana'anite there is no liability, but if an ox belonging to a Cana'anite gores one belonging to an Israelite, full compensation is due. (37b)

I don't see an explanation here about the asymmetry between the Israelite and the Cana'anite. According to a note in the Soncino edition, Maimonides, centuries later, explains: Cana'anites did not recognize the laws of social justics, and they were thus not entitled to claim protection under a law they did not respect. They could, however, be held liable under Israel's laws for damage they do to Israelites. That doesn't explain, however, why full compensation is due from the Cana'anite regardless of whether the ox is mu'ad or tam; an Israelite would owe another Israelite half damages in the latter case.

 
 
 
 
 
 
The talmud moves on from damages caused by animals to damages caused by people unintentionally. The mishna says: if a man pours out water into public ground and somebody is injured as a result, he is liable. And similarly if he dumps thorns or broken glass and someone is injured, he is liable. A second mishna adds: if a man places straw and stubble into the public ground to be turned into manure and damage results to some other person, he is liable and whoever seizes them first gains title. R' Shimon ben Gamliel generalizes this: whoever creates any nuisance on public ground causing damage is liable to compensate, and whoever seizes the items first gains title to them. (30a)

 
 
 
 
 
 
Tonight outside the grocery store a man holding a clipboard approached me.

Him: Are you registered to vote?
Me: Yes.
Him: Would you be willing to sign a petition to get a third-party candidate onto the ballot?
Me: Quite likely -- which party?
Him: Libertarian.
Me: Oh good; I've been hoping a petition for Gary Johnson would cross my path. Gimme that.
Him: Sounds like you're politically active.
Me: If I were active I'd have my own petition.
Him: Sounds like you're politically informed.
Me: Yeah, that's closer.

Ballot access is rigged by the two major parties to, as much as possible, keep everybody else out. Other parties need to gather a disproportionate number of signatures, for each race, to get a candidate onto the ballot. And it's pretty much a given that the major parties will challenge the petitions for other candidates, so in practice you need to collect three or four times as many signatures as you officially "need", just to be safe. This is why I was very likely to sign the petition even before knowing who it was for (though if it had been someone repugnant I'd've said no).

Smaller parties are better served trying to gain local and state offices; the White House and probably Congress are out of reach. But there's more publicity to be had for national races, and this year especially I think it's worth giving serious consideration to alternatives. Gary Johnson is a pragmatist, not a hard-line idealist, and he has experience with the realities of the political world (he was governor of New Mexico). I hope we get more of a chance to passively hear what he has to say.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We talked last week about the categories of mu'ad and tam. A mishna on today's daf describes them, saying: cattle become mu'ad (known to cause damage, so the owner has to take precautions) after the owner has been warned for three days (regarding the act of goring), but return to the state of tam (it couldn't have been reasonably foreseen) after refraining from goring for three days. These are the words of R' Yehudah. R' Meir, on the other hand, says cattle become mu'ad after the owner had been warned three times, even on the same day, and become again tam when children keep touching them and they don't get gored. (23b)

In the g'mara they discuss the other two permutations -- that we follow R' Yehudah for mu'ad and R' Meir for tam, and the reverse. Final answer? I don't know.

 
 
 
 
 
 
The talmud describes two categories of damages, mu'ad and tam. The first, mu'ad, means cases where an outcome could reasonably be expected -- an animal will eat anything palatable and available, animals don't walk gently so if they step on something delicate you expect damage, and the ox that gores is known to gore. The other, tam, means cases where there is no such expectation.

If damages are done through mu'ad -- for example, a man doesn't restrict his goats and they go eat somebody else's crops -- then the responsible person owes full payment out of the best of his estate. If damages are done through tam, on the other hand, the responsible person and the victim share the damages (which are further limited) -- this is a case of "accidents happen". (The torah covers full versus half payments explicitly in Exodus 21 in talking about the ox that gores.)

The mishna says that a wolf, lion, bear, leopard, panther, and snake are all mu'ad. R' Eleazer says they are not mu'ad if they have been tamed, except that the snake is always mu'ad. (15b-16b)

In Jewish law, mu'ad applies to the custodian, not to the victim. "You should have known that would happen" is something we say to the owner of an animal as an explanation for why he must make full restitution -- not something we say to the victim to absolve the other of any responsibility. Your animals (or children or own behaviors) are your obligation to manage, not others' to dodge. (I suspect this doesn't apply to provocation or trespass, though; the talmud talks about things like not keeping your animals in, not about people climbing your fences and getting themselves hurt by your animals. There is probably also halacha on attractive nuisances, but I don't know what it is.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
Shavuot night I went to an interesting class at our community-wide tikkun leil shavuot, the late-night torah study that is traditional for this festival. The class was taught by Rabbi Danny Schiff on "the real context of the oven of Achnai".

We started by reviewing the famous story in the talmud (Bava Metzia 59b): Rabbi Eliezer and the rest of the sages are having an argument about the ritual status of a particular type of oven. After failing to win them over by logic, R' Eliezer resorted to other means: If I am right, he said, let this carob tree prove it -- and the carob tree got up and walked 100 cubits (some say 400). The sages responded: we do not learn halacha from carob trees. He then appealed to a stream, which ran backwards -- but we do not learn halacha from streams either. Nor from the walls of the study hall, his next appeal. Finally he appealed to heaven and a bat kol (heavenly voice) rang out: in all matters of halacha Rabbi Eliezer is right. But the sages responded: lo bashamayim hi, it (the torah) is not in heaven. That is, God gave us the torah and entrusted it to the sages, following a process of deduction given at Sinai, and that torah says that after the majority one must incline (in matters of torah). So, heavenly voices aren't part of the process. (It is then reported that God's reaction to this response is to laugh and say "my children have defeated me".)

That much of the story is fairly widely known, and I've also heard a joke version that ends with "so nu? Now it's 70 to 2!". The g'mara goes on from there, though, and it takes a darker turn. After this episode they brought everything that R' Eliezer had ever declared to be ritually pure and destroyed it, and, not satisfied with that, they excommunicated him. Rabbi Akiva agrees to be the one to tell him, and the g'mara describes a fairly roundabout conversation in which it's clear that R' Akiva is trying to let his colleague down gently. But even so, R' Eliezer is devastated and, the g'mara reports, on that day the world was smitten: a third of the olive crop, a third of the wheat crop, and a third of the barley crop were destroyed.

But wait; we're not done. Rabbi Eliezer's wife, Ima Shalom (literally "mother of peace"), was the sister of Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin that had ruled against R' Eliezer. Ima Shalom was careful to keep her husband from praying the petitionary prayers at the end of the Amidah, for fear that he would pour out his heart to God and God would punish her brother. But one day something went wrong, she found him praying these prayers, and she cried out "you have slain my brother!" (And yes, he had died.) How did she know this, he asked? Because tradition says that all (heavenly) gates are locked except the gates of wounded feelings.

And that's the second level of the story, which I also knew before this class. The real "aha" moment for me came, instead of reading on, we backed up.

Why is the g'mara talking about this now? Sometimes we do get things that just seem to pop up out of nowhere, but usually there's context. In this case, that context is the previous mishna (the g'mara expounds the mishna). (Rabbi Schiff: "ok, everybody turn back four pages in the handout now".) That mishna says: Just as there is overreaching in buying and selling, so is there wrong done by words. One must not ask another "what is the price of this item?" if he has no intention of buying. If a man was a repentant sinner, one must not say to him "remember your former deeds". And if he was the son of proselytes one must not say to him "remember the deeds of your ancestors".

We talked about each of these cases. On the repentant sinner, he said, every married person knows this one: you do something wrong, you make amends and beg for forgiveness, your spouse forgives you... and then, five years later, in the midst of an argument, it comes out again. It feels terrible, right? The other cases can be just as bad. (You ask the price knowing you're not going to buy, then don't buy, and the seller tries to figure out what he did wrong. And for the proselyte, you're reminding him of things that somehow taint him that he didn't even do!)

Right after this mishna the g'mara begins discussing verbal wrongs, saying they're worse than monetary wrongs and that one who slanders another is as if he shed blood. The rabbis discuss all this for a while, and then we get to the oven of Achnai.

The episode with Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Schiff says, is not about rules of derivation, or proofs from miracles, or divine will versus human will. That's all just back-story. The main point is the hurt that the sages caused after the dispute. Disputes are fine; we get that all the time. But they over-reacted, hurtfully, and that is the point the g'mara is trying to make by putting this episode here.

Interesting class, and well-presented. (This writeup doesn't really do it justice, but it's the best I can offer.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
giovanni-landing

I adopted Giovanni from Animal Friends in 2012 (along with Orlando). He wasn't shy in our first meeting; he was immediately comfortable with me and purred non-stop. The folks at the shelter thought he was around 6 or 7.

A week ago I didn't know what FIP was. Giovanni had been losing weight for a little while, but about a month ago his appetite dropped and we started looking in earnest for the cause. The ultrasound suggested possible lymphoma, and a week ago yesterday he went in for surgery to get samples for a biopsy. That's only diagnostic, not corrective, so I didn't expect his appetite to pick up when I brought him home, but he became even more disinterested, no matter what I offered him (or forced into him). Wednesday night he was very lethargic, and Thursday morning he was jaundiced. Back to the vet we went.

The biopsy results had just come back -- no lymphoma, but the lab suggested testing the sample for FIP because that was consistent with all the symptoms we were seeing. We admitted him to the hospital so they could give IV fluids and nutrients. I began reading veterinary articles online about FIP.

FIP is progressive, incurable, and fatal. We thought we might have weeks or perhaps a couple months left, but he continued to decline and today Giovanni decided he was done fighting. He was a sweet kitty with a non-stop purr who was content to sleep in my lap for hours at a time on Shabbat afternoons. I miss him.

We don't know how old he was, but the consensus of the vets who've seen him recently is that there's no way he was only ten. I gave him a good home for his last years; I was just expecting more of them.

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