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The mishna teaches: a man must not fix a price for produce until the market price is known; once the market price is established, a seller and buyer may agree on a fixed price. A buyer may further agree on a price for certain goods that the seller does not yet have in hand: stalks of grain not yet processed into wheat, grapes not yet turned into wine, olives not yet pressed into oil, clay not yet turned into earthenware, and lime in the kiln. In all of these cases the seller is treated as if he is in possession of the finished product (e.g. the wine from the grapes) even though manufacture is not complete and delivery will occur later. Normally we would be concerned about usury, should the market price change between the sale and the delivery, so in these cases we are told that it is nevertheless permitted and we do not count gains as earning interest. (72b)

Noteworthy to me is that these are (almost) all commodities. It doesn't matter which local farmer you get your wheat from, for instance; it's all the same. (Modern analogy: gas stations.). The "almost" is because earthenware can vary significantly based on the skill and artistry of the potter, but maybe we're talking here about basic, utilitarian products.

Today's daf is 73.

The torah forbids charging interest (to a fellow Jew), and the talmud in this tractate discusses other cases of taking financial advantage (intentional or not). The current discussion is about buying real estate. Consider a case where a man sold a field and the buyer paid part of the price (a deposit). Who is entitled to the proceeds between then and when the buyer pays the balance?

The g'mara brings a baraita (a teaching contemporary with the mishna), which says it depends: sometimes both can benefit, sometimes neither, sometimes the seller, and sometimes the buyer:

  • Both are permitted if the seller stipulated: "acquire in proportion to your deposit"; they divide the proceeds fairly.
  • If the seller said "when you bring the balance, acquire it from now", then both are forbidden, because the ultimate ownership is in question. The seller can't collect it because when the buyer pays the balance it will have been his, but the buyer can't collect it because if he doesn't pay the balance he will have benefitted unfairly. R' 'Anan says a third party holds it until it can be resolved.
  • If the seller says "when you bring it, acquire it from then", then the seller gets the proceeds until the buyer pays the balance. The buyer agreed to those terms when he made the purchase, so it's fine.
  • And if the seller says "acquire it from now and the balance is a loan from me", then the proceeds belong to the buyer, who now has full ownership of the field and a debt. This turns the transaction into two separate transactions, a sale and a loan. (65b)
So there are different legitimate terms for the deal, and the seller needs to stipulate. The text here doesn't talk about what happens if he didn't specify (i.e. is there a default?). While it seems logical that putting the proceeds in escrow until you know should be the default, it might not be: you usually have to pay a fee for escrow, so the proceeds are diminished. I don't know if the rabbis would consider that part of the cost of doing business, if you're buying or selling real estate at all.

Today's daf is 66.

We saw Arrival this afternoon and quite enjoyed it. No spoilers in this post, though I can't make any promises about comments.

The movie is based on the short story "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. Even if I hadn't heard positive things about the movie, I might well have gone out of extreme curiosity about how they would translate the story to film. The short story is a thinky, introspective tale with a decent amount of linguistics as a core part of the story. Linguistics, unlike physical sciences, doesn't translate as easily to the screen (i.e. it doesn't explode). So the movie tells a slightly different story, with some different focuses, and that's ok. It's a good, solid movie that shows us truly alien aliens, all-too-human humans, and a linguist and a physicist who take center stage in a first-contact situation. The physicist is there to try to learn their science; the linguist is there to figure out how to communicate with them when there is no shared language upon which to build. (They could have afforded to spend a few minutes less on the visual effects to introduce the aliens.)

The alien language is very cool. And it reveals one of the things that makes them alien. Learning the language entails learning some of that alien-ness, too.

The linguist, Dr. Louise Banks, is the point-of-view character through whom we see everything else. It's nice to see linguistics get some love in popular fiction. (And I also learned a thing about the Sanskrit word for war.) I wish the character had come across as strong in the movie as she did in the book; it took a while for her to find her stride. The main story is interspersed with flashes into other times in her life, and that's all I'll say about that because I promised no spoilers.
Oops, I failed to post this on Thursday (when it was current).

Bava Metzia 59 is where we get the famous story of Rabbi Eliezer arguing with the rest of the rabbis over the kosher status of an oven. He ends up appealing to heaven and a voice from above says "he's right", but even so the rabbis do not accept his proof because that's not an acceptable method of derivation. They end up excommunicating him, which upsets him greatly, and this causes various bad consequences. The lesson from this isn't to accept an invalid argument; they were right to overrule him. But there is a lesson here about how you deal with those you disagree with, which I learned more about in this lecture last Shavu'ot, so I'm going to link that. (I summarized for the minyan.)
Dear Brain Trust,

Years ago I bought the iWorks office suite for my Mac. This consists of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. When I got a new Mac, the applications didn't transfer correctly; they're there, but they crash on startup. I don't know if this was because of the new machine itself or because of the OS change. (The old machine ran 10.6. The new one ran 10.8.5 when I migrated, and I've now upgraded it to Sierra.)

I had assumed that I would just have to buy the suite again (or replace it), though today I found a two-year-old article that said that it comes with new Macs. Not mine, it didn't. I looked in the App Store and I don't see the bundle any more, though I can buy the applications individually for $20 each.

I'm not heavily invested in these particular tools, but I need some way to occasionally edit Word documents and spreadsheets. (I've never edited a slide deck on my Mac.) I don't want to spend a lot on this because it's in that aggravating niche of "occasional need, but important when it happens". The old Mac is still on the network because my very-rarely-needed scanner doesn't work with the new Mac either (drivers, I assume), and also the old one has a CD drive, but I'd rather edit documents locally than via remote desktop.

Any recommendations?
Today at lunch we were talking about plans for Thanksgiving. One of my coworkers, a Chinese immigrant, said that he's driving to (some town whose name I forget) in New York tomorrow. Family? No, outlet malls. Better than the ones we have about an hour away, he says.

We then proceeded to watch him extol the virtues of outlet malls, and shopping at this time of year, to another Chinese coworker. He talked with particular zeal about the "door-buster" specials for which you need to get there early.

I was going to say that when it comes to teaching visitors about American holidays and traditions, we're doing it wrong. But I guess we aren't. :-)
A friend sent me a link to this speech from the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League at a conference today. Excerpt:
And let me say this. There recently have been reports that the new Administration plans to force Muslim-Americans to register for some sort of master government list.

Look, Islamic extremism is a threat to us all. But as Jews, we know what it means to be registered and tagged, held out as different from our fellow citizens.

As Jews, we know the righteous and just response. All of us have heard the story of the Danish king who said if his country’s Jews had to wear a gold star…all of Denmark would too.

So I pledge to you right here and now, because I care about the fight against anti-Semitism, that if one day in these United States, if one day Muslim-Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.

Because fighting prejudice against the marginalized is not just the fight of those minorities. It’s our fight. Just as the fight against anti-Semitism is not only the fight of us Jews. It’s everyone’s fight.

The rest is worth reading too.
The talmud (and halacha in general) is very concerned about ona'ah, overreaching. This is the principle that prevents overcharging for goods, among other things. Today the discussion is about the value of coins. This discussion takes place in a time when coins (a) were not completely uniform and (b) were measured by actual value, as opposed to modern currency where your $1 bill isn't actually worth a dollar in materials, but it stands in for $1 in value. So we're talking about coins with intended value that might actually be a bit under.

When someone buys something with coins, and the coins were deficient, the mishna tells us that the seller is allowed to retract the sale if he acts quickly enough. And how quickly is that? In a town, it is until he can show the coins to a moneylender (who is an expert appraiser). In a village, which is assumed here to have no moneylenders, he has until the eve of the next Shabbat, because in buying what he needs for Shabbat he will find out the real value of the coins. All that said, a buyer who recognizes his coin is required to accept it back even after twelve months. (52a)

If you don't already read jducoeur, you should take a look. But especially after this election post and the first post in a series on fighting fascism, I think a lot of my readers will be interested. Justin writes thoughtful, nuanced commentary and avoids pigeon-holing people. I'll be watching this new series with interest.
The last of the books I read on our trip was The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated from Chinese by Ken Liu (after which it won a Hugo). I enjoyed the novel for both the science-fiction plot and the view into Chinese culture and history, and the translator did an excellent job of not just translating words but making the context accessible to western readers while still feeling Chinese. This kind of translation task is as much art as science.

The story takes place over several decades (and the novel jumps around some), starting during the Cultural Revolution. One of our point-of-view characters, Ye Wenjie, sees her physics-professor father murdered by the Red Guards and is sent to the countryside (where she is branded as subversive), but her own physics research was ground-breaking and eventually attracts the attention of a military research team. She needs protection and they need her brain, so off she goes. While working for them on the search for extra-terrestrial life she eventually finds something.

Another point-of-view character, Wang Miao, is a nanotech researcher who starts having disturbing visions. During his investigation he stumbles across a VR game called "Three Body" and begins playing it (rather obsessively). The game is set on an alien world where civilization has risen and fallen many times. This is because their star system is unstable; they have periods of stable time when they can settle, grow food, and live normally, but from time to time they are interrupted by chaotic times that pose grave danger. Each time Wang plays he is dropped into a new iteration of their development and learns a little more about this world.

You know these threads are going to come together, right?

There are other threads; the story is neither simple nor completely linear. But it's not one of those books where you need to keep notes to track what's going on, either. And despite a character list at the beginning that made me think "many of these names are too similar", I didn't have trouble keeping track of who was who because the characters are presented with some depth.

While there are some fantastical elements (including the mechanism by which inhabitants of the other world survive chaotic times), the hard science in this book is, as far as I can tell, real. The translator provides footnotes for both scientific and cultural references, which I found helpful.

I picked up this book when it was the Tor free e-book of the month a few months back. (If you don't know about that, check it out.) There are two sequels, both of which have now been translated to English, which I look forward to reading.

Small disappointment: Wang finds out about game via a URL he sees on someone else's computer. We're given the URL. But the publishers don't seem to have claimed it and done anything interesting with it. Oh well.
The chapter on bailees (who hold deposits for others) concludes with this mishna: if a man says he intends to make use of a bailment, Beit Shammai says he is responsible for any accidental damage. Beit Hillel, however, says he is responsible only for accidents from the time he actually makes use of it; intention isn't enough to confer liability. For proof Beit Hillel points to Sh'mot 22:7, "the master...shall be brought to the judges, to see whether he had put his hand unto his neighbor's goods -- put his hand, not talked about putting.

The mishna continues: if he is entrusted with a barrel of wine and he tilts the barrel to take a revii of wine (that's about a glass's worth), and later the barrel is broken, he must pay only for the revii. But if he lifts the barrel and then takes the revii and then it breaks, he is liable for the entire barrel. This is because lifting -- that is, physically moving -- an item is one way to transfer ownership. But the g'mara raises some questions about this and says teiku, we leave it for Eliyahu to sort out when he comes. (43b-44a)

Today's daf is 45.

In the current chapter the talmud discusses depositing property with another for safekeeping and the various things that can go wrong. We then come to a mishna that teaches: if a man says to two different people that the father of one of them deposited a maneh (an amount of money) with him but he doesn't know which, then he must give each of them a maneh. If two made deposits with him, one a maneh and one 200 zuzim (a larger amount), and each claims the 200 zuzim, he pays each a maneh and we hold the rest until Eliyahu comes. And if two deposited utensils of different values and both claim the better one, he gives the lesser one to one person, sells the other, pays the other the value of the lesser one out of the proceeds, and again we wait for Eliyahu. (37a)

It is said that when Eliyahu comes to usher in the moshiach, he will resolve all matters of halacha that could not be decided before. Whether, as a practical matter, these partial-but-unknown debts are to be held and passed down from heir to heir to heir, I do not know. Is anybody today holding coins (or a bank balance) in this kind of escrow from the past, waiting for Eliyahu to settle the matter?

(Today's daf is 38.)

The talmud is discussing lost animals and the obligation to return them to their owners. A mishna teaches: if one finds an ass or a cow feeding by the way, that is not considered lost. But if one finds an ass with its trappings overturned or a cow running among the vineyards, those are lost and must be returned. If he returned it and it ran away again, and he returned it again and it ran away again, he must keep returning it, even four or five times. If his lost time is worth a sela (this is more than typical wages) he can't demand that price but is paid for his time as a common laborer. But if a beit din is present he can stipulate a wage in their presence. (30b)

Today's daf is 31, and contains the g'mara that expounds this mishna.

A while back a friend recommended Wool by Hugh Howey. She described it to me roughly as follows: a city-sized group of people live in a dystopian underground silo because outside is dangerous. The rule is strict, and when somebody is convicted of a death-penalty offense, the sentence is to go outside and clean the sensors so those in the silo can continue to monitor what's going on out there. (The environment is toxic, which is why this is a death sentence.)

But wait, I said -- if somebody is being sent to die, what on earth is his motivation to help the people who did that to him on his way out? Why in the world would people actually clean?

My friend said that answering that would be a spoiler, but the "books" are not book-length and the first one is free (as a Kindle book). So onto the Kindle it went.

During our trip to Europe I was facing a smaller chunk of time on a plane -- not enough to start a novel, but about right for this. It's a nominal 56 pages -- longer short story or short novella or what, I'm not sure.

The first story stands alone; in fact, from what I've read, the author didn't intend to write any more than that. Midway through I thought I knew where it was going, and the author managed to surprise me later. Yes, we get an answer to my challenge to the premise.

Since then I've read the rest of the five-book series. (There's also a prequel series that I haven't read.) The books increase in length as they go, with the fifth a nominal 264 pages -- so still shorter fiction as modern trends go. The first one is free, the next couple are 99 cents, then $1.99, then $2.99.

Each of the first three books focuses on a different main character; the last two books have multiple foci. As the series progresses we learn more about the real power structures in the silo and how things came to be this way. The series ends in a satisfying place but there is room for more stories to be told.

The first book stands alone. The second can, but ends a little tantalizingly so I wanted to immediately read the next one. The third through fifth are more joined at the hip; I don't think it would be very satisfying to read 1-4 but not 5.

I recommend the series. I especially recommend investing an hour and a half (maybe less for you; I'm a slower reader) in the first book.
At Sukkot services on Monday I heard a teaching I liked, and I forgot to include it in my earlier Sukkot post. I heard this from Rabbi Yisroel Altein, who taught it in the name of the last Lubavhicer rebbe.

On Sukkot we take up the "four species"; this is one of the obligatory mitzvot of the holiday. The rabbis (I'm not sure where and he didn't say) compare the four species to four types of Jews:

- The etrog (this is a citrus fruit) has both good taste and good fragrance; this is like a Jew who both has learning and performs mitzvot.

- The myrtle has fragrance but is inedible and the palm is edible but has no fragrance. One of these represents a Jew with learning but no mitzvot, and one represents a Jew with mitzvot but no learning (one who does the mitzvot because he's been instructed to, but lacks deeper torah knowledge).

- The willow has neither fragrance nor taste, and represents a Jew with neither learning nor mitzvot.

But, the rabbi said, just as you can only perform the Sukkot mitzvah if you have all four -- if you're missing one of them it's not kosher -- we as a community aren't complete if we don't include all four types of Jews. Not, heaven forbid, that we should encourage people to stop learning or doing mitzvot but, rather, that there are people with neither, and they are still Jews and deserving of being included in the community.
Some found items belong to the finder; others must be announced so that the owner has a chance to reclaim them. In a mishna a few pages back, R' Meir listed items that the finder can keep: scattered fruit, scattered coins, small sheaves in a public thoroughfare, round cakes of pressed figs, baker's loaves, strings of fishes, pieces of meat, fleeces of wool brought from the countryside, bundles of flax. R' Yehudah, however, said that anything with something unusual about it cannot be kept (for example a loaf of bread containing money).

That was Monday. The next mishna, on today's daf, considers the other side, saying that the following must always be announced: fruit in a vessel (or a vessel by itself), money in a purse (or a purse by itself), heaps of fruit (that is, it was placed not dropped), heaps of coins, three coins stacked, bundles of sheaves in private premises, home-made loaves, fleeces of wool from the craftsman's workshop, jars of wine, jars of oil. (21a, 24b)

What are the principles at play here? One is identifiability; there is no way to prove ownership of scattered coins and all baker's loaves look the same. Another is intent; items neatly stacked, even if in small quantity, were put there, so we presume that the owner is coming back for them. Another is whether, upon learning that he's lost something, a person searches for it or gives up hope of recovery. (The rabbis say that small sheaves in the public road get trampled and destroyed, so people just accept the loss.)

I expect value to play in here too, but if so I'm surprised that a finder can keep (many) scattered coins but must announce a mere three if stacked, and that a finder can keep meat and fish but must announce an empty purse. But there's a lot of g'mara here that I haven't learned yet, so maybe this is addressed.

The high holy days went very well for me this year. It's hard to explain in words, but they did what they are supposed to do. I feel like I'm in a good place for 5777.

I co-led the Ruach service on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur mornings again (with the associate rabbi). That went well, and I was particularly tickled by the person who privately asked me if next year I could do it all by myself. (She likes the way I lead.) I pointed out that it would be rather awkward for me to bring that up with the folks in charge.

We started this service several years ago because the sanctuary service, still being done out of Gates of Repentance which has many deficiencies, was hard for some of us to engage with. It's not about formal music; I'm all about some of the formal music of the season. But it sometimes felt like we were being performed at instead of being invited in. So we started this service to do things differently. This year we bought the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, for the whole congregation (previously we had enough copies for the Ruach service, and previous to that we used draft photocopies). And we've just concluded our first year with a real cantor, who is working hard to make the sanctuary service more engaging. So, it is possible that in the not-too-distant future we could get to a point where we no longer need this service. Some (like my fan from the previous paragraph) might think that's a bad thing for me, but I'd actually be delighted to bring more of the congregation to the level that our smaller cohort strives for. We shall see. None of this has been discussed yet; it's just ideas kicking around.

On Sukkot morning I went to Chabad. I met the Chabad rabbi a few years ago when I took what would be the first of (so far) three classes that I've taken from him. He's friendly and welcoming and he encourages women to learn. So I showed up (unannounced) and I felt welcome. There was one other woman there at the beginning, and we got two more by the end, with maybe 15 or 20 men. (Kind of hard to see with the mechitza and some left immediately after.) Most of us went to the sukkah after for a little food and drink, and the conversation was friendly. I chatted with a woman who's a cancer researcher (i.e. she works, in a professional position) and we talked about technology and medicine and conducting clinical trials and stuff.

I only had one problem. Well, two I guess -- I can never keep up with Orthodox prayer; I'm just not that fast. So that wasn't unexpected. But the other was the language barrier. Not Hebrew; while I'm by no means fluent I do ok there. No, I mean that even though they were praying in Hebrew I found it really hard to follow because of pronunciation. There were times when I knew exactly what words I should be hearing, had the siddur in front of me -- and couldn't match up what I was hearing with what I was reading. I wouldn't have expected that to be the steepest learning curve...

(This isn't just about Ashkenazi versus Sephardi pronunciation; I've got a reasonable handle on that. Chabad seems to change vowels compared to other Ashkenazim, so that's two steps removed for me and my Sephardi pronunciation.)

This Chabad, unfortunately, doesn't have their own Friday-night services; part of the reason I'd gone was to scout for alternatives to what are often unsatisfying Friday services at my own synagogue. Bummer. But there will be other occasions to visit; I went on Sukkot because my congregation and another join forces for the festivals, alternating locations, and I wasn't interested in walking two miles each way to the other synagogue.
I realized today what I need for my sukkah for next year: cable ties.

Not for the sukkah itself, but for the lights. I use strings of lights of the "plug one into the end of another" variety, to make a long chain of them, but they all lead with a fairly long expanse of cord without lights. That makes sense for the first set of lights in a series, if they're assuming these would be plugged into a wall somewhere (instead of my outdoor-rated heavy-duty extension cord run from the garage), but the result is expanses of non-light or wrapping up that extra cord length somehow. I wrapped up the extra cord length in a suboptimal manner, and then remembered that a solution exists.

Onto the shopping list, then.

Sukkot starts pretty soon here, so chag sameach to all who are celebrating.
Today's daf is Bava Metzia 17, which is in the middle of a long discussion about returning (or not returning) found legal documents like bills of sale and loan documents. Because we've just finished Yom Kippur and are heading into Sukkot, and for another reason I'll explain at the end, I'm taking a side trip to Sukkah today.

The first several mishnayot in tractate Sukkah describe the basic building requirements of a sukkah. It must be no more than 20 cubits high, be at least 10 handbreadths high, and have three walls (one can be partial), and its roof must provide more shade than sun (but not be completely enclosed or solid). We then get to this: if he trained a vine or gourd or ivy over the sukkah and then covered it (with the roof cover), it is not valid. However, if the covering provides more cover than the vine (etc) does, or if he cuts the vine from the ground, it is valid. While a sukkah covering must be made from something that grows from the soil, it can't still be attached to the soil. (11a)

This part in particular caught my attention because of the haftarah we read yesterday afternoon, the book of Yonah. After Nineveh repents, which upsets Yonah greatly, he builds a sukkah to watch what will happen and a gourd grows on it to provide him shade. He's not observing the festival of Sukkot so that's fine (and besides, God sent the gourd and He can do whatever he likes), but seeing a discussion of a gourd-enhanced sukkah mere hours after hearing Yonah caught my attention.

I drink quite a bit of caffeine, which poses a problem come Yom Kippur each year because of the 25-hour fast (food and drink). Every year I start ramping down the caffeine on Rosh Hashana (10 days earlier), try to reach zero caffeine the day before Yom Kippur, and soldier through. But I always get a caffeine headache anyway. Somebody once suggested that I needed to be at zero caffeine for more like three days, which I haven't managed to do yet. (Yes, I admit my substance addition. Moving on...)

Monday night we were wondering how quickly caffeine leaves the body anyway, and Dani found this article. Lookie here (emphasis mine):
The dosage of caffeine consumed can impact how long it stays in a person’s system. Someone who ingests low dose (especially relative to their body mass) should clear caffeine from their body quicker than someone who ingests a high dose. Though other factors play a prominent role in clearance, the body can only metabolize and excrete a set amount of caffeine at a time; if this threshold is exceeded – metabolism and clearance is compromised. [...]

A heavy caffeine consumer may ingest over 400 mg per day (equivalent to 4 cups of coffee). At this point, enzymes in the liver may be overtaxed and more caffeine (and its metabolites) may accumulate within the body. This accumulation may prevent efficient clearance and result in reabsorption, prolonging excretion times relative to dosage consumed.

Oh really? I had never considered the possibility that one could slow down caffeine loss by overloading. This, I decided, called for science.

Tuesday I drank three cups of coffee, about 12oz of iced tea (equivalent of two teabags), two cans of Coke Zero (Cherry, if we're being precise), about 12oz of apple cider, and about six cups of water. I ate as I normally do in advance of the fast. Then at dinner I had a glass of Coke Zero (maybe 8oz?), followed by a glass of orange juice and a glass of water.

This should be sounding alarm bells to most people experienced with Yom Kippur. All of this is in extreme contrast to the near-universal advice one hears about caffeine and fasting. Possibly that advice is geared more toward the folks who drink a couple cups of coffee a day; I don't know. Also, caffeine is a diuretic so I was concerned about thirst, even with all the water/juice.

But I am here to report that I did not get a caffeine headache today, and I didn't feel any more thirsty than I usually do. In fact, after some thirst pangs this morning, I pretty much didn't notice thirst for the rest of the day. (Also: yes, I slept as well as I usually do on Yom Kippur last night.)

Wow. It's only the one data point, so further research is called for, but initial research results show promise.

(Monday night we also discovered the existence of caffeine patches -- like those nicotine patches smokers wear, but for caffeine -- but there was no way to get some in time.)
I forget how I got there, but I recently found two interesting posts about my curious-but-not-very-useful "superpower". This Guardian article (from 2002) talks about animals (and people) that can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. Did you know that raptors can see into the UV? Do you know why that's important? Because rodents -- that is, prey -- emit urine trails, and urine is visible in the UV spectrum (as anybody who's tried to find and clean pets' urine stains knows).

And then there's this fascinating post from someone who sees into the UV (due to aphakia), in which he describes and shows what he sees and talks about some cool testing he did. It's hard to evaluate such things when monitor calibration is in play (do you see what I do on my monitor? probably not), but it looks like "black lights" are lighter and more purple for him than for me.

One of the ways he tested the bounds of his vision was with a simple prism. I never thought of that. Now, where can I find a prism? :-)
With all the drives to get people registered to vote in time for the November election, and at least one state reportedly headed to court over deadlines (caused, apparently, by Columbus Day being a holiday), I've been wondering... why do we even need voter registration today? (Aside from preserving some government jobs, I mean.) What's wrong with saying: show up at the poll in your assigned location, show proof of citizenship and of residence, be checked against a list of people who can't vote (mainly people who've already voted, but I think felons can't vote?), and vote. Since voting is districted, election officials can make sure any no-vote list is distributed to the right places in advance -- no Internet connection required. From there, it's just checking that the person is in the right polling place and hasn't already been here. Nobody has to have done paperwork in advance; everybody who's eligible and wants to gets to vote. Wouldn't this enfranchise more voters than the current system?

(You already have to give your name when you show up to vote and be checked off the list, so there's no privacy issue that isn't already present.)
I'm slowly sorting through the pictures from our trip. We spent a couple days in Barcelona, where we took two tours: a half-day tour of Montserrat, and a full-day city tour. The latter had lots of architecture by Gaudi. I've collected some pictures. I don't know why Google decided to make the very last photo the first one, nor could I figure out how to fix it, so...meh. One bit of Gaudi is out of place; people will manage. :-)

The last time I used Picasa it looked different. I don't know if people can still comment there, but you're welcome to comment here.

Inside the church on Montserrat:

Some Gaudi architecture:

Part of a ceiling in Sagrada Familia:

These buildings make me think of Hansel and Gretel:

I came across a thought-provoking post from Pieter Hintjens, who until two days ago was dealing with terminal cancer. I found it a cogent commentary on things that I have been blessed to never have to have thought through.
So this is my first point. Everyone fights cancer, all our lives long. From birth, our immune systems are hunting down and killing rogue cells. I grew up in the African sun, pale skin burned dark. Do I have skin cancer? No, thank you very much, immune system! Much of my adult life I drank a bit too much, ate too much red meat, too few vegetables. Do I have bowel cancer? No, thank you again, you over-active beast of an immune system, you! Hugs.

And most of us can say the same thing, most of the time. We are all cancer survivors, until we're not.

Secondly I want to attack that notion that we can and should "fight", as a conscious effort. Then third, I'll try to explain some of the real fights that we the terminally sick do have.


I'd much rather not die, yet if I'm going to (and it does seem inevitable now), this is how I'd want it to happen. Not fighting the cancer, with hope and positive thinking, rather by fighting the negativity of death, with small positive steps, and together, rather than alone.

Go. Read. Worth five minutes of your time.
A mishna on today's daf talks about acquiring property through an agent, and this leads to a discussion in the g'mara. The g'mara discusses gleaning the corners of a field, which by torah law must be left for the poor. If a man gleans and says "this is for that (specific) poor person", R' Eliezer says this is permitted but the Sages say he must give what he gleaned to the first poor person he sees. In the end it depends on who is gleaning. If a rich man is gleaning for a poor man, the sages say that he couldn't acquire the gleanings for himself and so cannot then transfer ownership to another. If a poor man gleans for another poor man, however, all agree that he can bestow ownership on the other person because it was his to give away. (9b)

The difference isn't that R' Eliezer was talking about a poor man and the sages about a rich man. Both were talking about a rich man, according to the discussion, but R' Eliezer's argument was based on the idea that he could give away his property and become poor, at which point he would be eligible, so against this possibility he could be an agent. The sages appear to be more concerned with current state; they don't outright say "so let him do that and then we'll discuss it again", but to my reading it's implied.

(Today's daf is 10.)