Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Already Missing Molly

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AUSTIN, Texas - Best-selling author and columnist Molly Ivins, the sharp-witted liberal who skewered the political establishment and referred to President Bush as “Shrub,” died Wednesday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 62. In a column in mid-January, destined to be her final submission, Ivins urged readers to stand up against Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq. "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war," Ivins wrote in the Jan. 11 column. "We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'"

Among millions of others, I will miss Molly's brilliant and irreverent commentary and mourn her passing. She was a voice for the common man and spoke truth to power.


"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority."

"The first rule of holes: when you're in one, stop digging."

" It's like, duh. Just when you thought there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, the Republicans go and prove you're wrong."

"I know vegetarians don't like to hear this, but God made an awful lot of land that's good for nothing but grazing."

"Let me say for the umpteenth time, George W. is not a stupid man. The IQ of his gut, however, is open to debate. In Texas, his gut led him to believe the death penalty has a deterrent effect, even though he acknowledged there was no evidence to support his gut's feeling."

Speaking of Spinoza (2)

Spinoza's substance monism is considered by many to be the Western expression of philosophical Taoism. Compare the first stanzas of the Tao Te Ching with the first of Spinoza's propositions and a stark similarity appears. From there, however, they part company in method and implication. Lao Tzu will tell you that not everything is as it seems to be, and Spinoza, considering his dualist-moralist audience, wants everyone to know that things are exactly as they appear.

I don't know exactly what is meant by 'modernity', and I cannot say what effects Spinoza did or did not have on it. With the exception of Leibniz and his perversion-plagiarism of Spinoza, Spinozism didn't see much daylight until 150 years after his death, and even then, only among scholars. On could say that Spinoza was part of a chain of 'modernity' among the likes of Galileo, Da Vinci, Bruno, Uriel de Costa, and many others whose legacies and ideas likely disappeared during the Inquisition. To say that Spinoza had a marked effect would be true, but the strongest? No. I think Galileo gets that honor.

Spinoza wanted to change the language of religion, and thus of human ethics, from one of moral judgment (holy vs. evil) to natural ethic (good vs. bad). He used the story of Adam and Eve as a metaphor for this. "Had Adam", Spinoza claims, "seen the apple as bad i.e. poison to his physical body (rather than as evil), then there would have no possible way for anyone to convince him to eat from it." Now to break down the moral aspect one has to address the alleged source of morality, which was the common Judeo-Christian understanding of God.

Spinoza's Judaism taught him that God is Infinite, Eternal, and yet, in spite of It's expansive nature, takes a very personal and specific interest in human affairs. Spinoza was also taught that suffering and pain was part of Judaism, but that God had a plan which would lead to a Messianic Era and reward in the hereafter. Like Uriel de Costa before him, and with whom everyone is pretty sure Spinoza befriended at some point, the questions of national or personal suffering versus the loving and protecting God of Israel likely weighed heavy on the minds of many a Marranno. I imagine that a Spinoza would have asked many of the same questions we do today in terms of why bad things happen to good people, vice versa, or as to how Providence and free will coexist. A lot of conflict there to resolve.

Spinoza also took a more positive attitude regarding humanity. He posited a 'positive freedom' which he called 'self determinism". Today, we might call it 'self empowerment' or some other self-esteem boosting slogan. The secret to this self-determinism is awareness that comes through what he calls the "adequate idea". I would sum it up into "Know the thing, know its effects, and know its source." This is where Spinoza sees morality as hindering freedom, because a moral assumption does not consider evident cause and effects, it merely assumes an effect based upon an 'opinion', which Spinoza considers to be the lowest form of human understanding. In self-determinism, I know full well that I am being influenced by things beyond my control, yet the adequate idea allows my own degree of influence to increase in proportion to the adequacy of the idea held. (Think Social Cognitive Theory or Reciprocal Determinism of Albert Bandura.)

Spiritualists and philosophers today look to QM and Relativity as the apex of human understanding and possibility, while trying to shove some philosophical or religious framework into modern science (Fritjof Capra is a good example.) For Spinoza, the highest science of his day, available to him, was Euclid. I bet that he had one question on his mind that plagued him to no end. It is a simple question at which many balk, but I think it was the most profound dilemma he encountered. The $64,000 question is ; "What must God be in order to be God?" This is where Euclid came in. Judaism itself gave Spinoza no tools to answer that problem, and even the Kabala, which I believe he was exposed to early on, only provides a Platonic-hermetic apparatus for expanding the idea without ever directly addressing that question.

If I were asked to sum up my view of Spinoza in a sentence, it would be "If it isn't natural, then it isn't at all. I wouldn't worry about it."

Deus sive Natura!

(immoralism, naturalism, determinism, atheism)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Speaking of Spinoza

Chardal said:

“The mistake Spinoza made is that he conceived that humanity can ever grasp the infinite and in the end had a monistic and static view of the world - or at least the logical conclusion of such a conception of reality.”

One of the major difficulties in answering questions or claims regarding Orthodoxy’s view of Spinozism is that it oft times comes from those who haven’t studied Spinoza as Spinoza, but rather as Spinoza through the eyes of someone trying from the beginning to refute Spinoza’s position. In other words, for many the Orthodox Jewish reader, Spinoza is rejected outright, and there can be no reconciliation of ideals. In fact, when I began my first clandestine venture into the works of Spinoza as a teenager, I, too, entered the battle with what I believed were enough philosophical and ecumenical weapons to refute the ‘Heretic from Holland’.

The second error, and perhaps the most popular one, is that most Orthodox critics of Spinoza read and regurgitate an answer pre-packaged by someone of the first, above-mentioned group. Since there is no need to question the truth of Orthodoxy or the ‘falseness’ of Spinoza, there is also no requirement to spend any quality time sorting through the ideas. After all, a member of the first group has supposedly already done the tough and dangerous job of sifting through the heresies on Judaism’s behalf. In this vein, I have heard comments like “If Spinoza had learned Chasidus, he would have changed his mind.” There is so much false assumption and conjecture within that small comment that it warrants a posting of its own. (Those same people also assert that Aristotle and/or Plato recanted their philosophical views and claimed Judaism to be true.)

Yet, even with these errors in mind, it isn’t so simple an analysis to make. Spinoza is a difficult read even for philosophers, and I have to admit, even after years of study, parts of Spinoza’s teachings continue to baffle me. In part, it is because I am not all that intelligent to start with. Spinoza’s methodology is circular and reflexive, requiring one to backtrack and reread a great deal, thus making his works more of a lesson in patience and perseverance than in philosophy. Lastly, Spinoza created his own nomenclature, which can be very confusing even to those with both experience in Latin and Talmudic logic. Spinoza also left us a legacy of doubt regarding many issues and we are left to derive from his earlier writings what he may or may not have meant by an ambiguous comment made later on. He died too soon.

As a result of this unintended language barrier, we have some who believe that Spinoza was a mystic and others, like myself, find Spinoza to be a refreshing and definitive expression of materialism and determinism, much like philosophical Taoism was to eastern thought, but with the added features of rationalism and circular reasoning. Chardal’s statement could be agreed to by some and, at the same time, vehemently opposed by others, and all speaking out in defense of Spinoza! Some who believe they vilify Spinoza may in fact be unwittingly offering him support.

I can’t blame the defenders of Orthodoxy for their distaste of or unwillingness to take Spinoza seriously and undergo the pain and effort needed to plumb the depths of his ideas. His outlook remains as radical today, in the year 2007, as it did to the Jewish and Protestant mind-sets of the mid-17th century. If we couple that with the social pressures, religious obligations, and time constraints placed upon Orthodox Jews, to expect these folks to master a point of view diametrically opposed to their own is unrealistic, and to judge them for not taking the effort is simply unethical. I would no more expect them to study Spinoza than I might be likely to study Wicca. Nonetheless, being uneducated in Wiccan practice, I avoid assuming any sort of authority on the subject and speaking out of line.

Where I do take issue, obviously, is with the many statements or claims attributed to or derived from Spinoza's writings that are wholly inaccurate. It is one thing to ask a question or pose an optional interpretation, but it is quite another thing altogether to, deliberately or not, offer misleading commentary on his philosophy. In addition, there are those who co-opt the rationalism of Spinoza in name only, yet still cling to their Orthodoxy, claiming that somehow Spinoza provides some kind of link between the rationalism they desire and the religious and mystical absurdities they wish to preserve. It is known that Jewish-style debate prides itself upon the ability to turn around an opponent's arguments against him, but here we have nothing more than a misrepresentation of Spinoza run amok.

I have not even addressed the details of Chardal’s statement in terms of what Spinoza himself might have offered in rebuttal. That may come later.

Kol Tuv

Monday, January 29, 2007

New Home, Old Fears

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"Cats seem to go on the principle that it never hurts to ask for what you want." (J.W. Krutch)

It has been one full week since Janice and I moved into the new home. Thus far, we have managed to repair most of the obvious problems and, soon enough, the vinyl windows will be installed and we can then get on with the rest of the renovations. Some of the fixtures here are rather unique, so there is a challenge in finding the right parts. A simple faucet repair almost became a nightmare and without the help of someone else who had ordered the wrong parts for her own shower, I would have been waiting three weeks to get a part for mine! Turned out that her wrong part was my right one! (It pays to strike up conversation while in line at the hardware store.) Other than a leaky faucet and some non-working electrical outlets, everything seems in good mechanical order. I do not expect any major problems.

Our commute to work from the old place took anywhere from 35 minutes on a Saturday morning to a full hour in weekday traffic, depending on road conditions. In addition, we were forced, by demands of geography, to drive through the city along the most direct route to work just beyond its limits. Driving itself isn't so bad but other motorists can be a real headache. The ultimate down-side of urban traffic is the urban motorist; not known for courtesy or driving skill. (I wonder if anyone ever tells African-American drivers where the turn signal is or what purpose it serves.) Under good road conditions, city folk drive like wild animals and, should it rain or snow, then suddenly behave as if boulders are falling from the sky and thus bring traffic to a complete standstill.

The new route to the office is a dream cruise. It is a few miles shorter, but even without that, the drive is much better. The roads are in much better condition and the drivers seem to be moving along with more of a purpose, thus facilitating a smoother commute overall. I like it. We can get to work within 30 minutes and home even faster. You gotta love that. Not to mention, there are at least a dozen good breakfast joints along the way. On the old route, there wasn't anyplace you'd want to stop without a police escort, even if you somehow found it possible trust the city cops.

My biggest worry in moving was for my cats. Most will advise you to keep the cats indoors for at least a month before allowing them out of the new home. I have heard good stories and bad ones in that regard. Cats are quite unpredictable it seems, and I was worried that one or both of them would wander off and not find their way back. I am not interested in that kind heart-break ever again. Silo disappeared for fours days last summer and I was a wreck over it. I decided that I would not be letting them out at all for quite a while. This was, however, until both Silo and Princess spent the better part of the last week pestering me to open the door for them. The chosen time for purring, pawing, and cater walling always took place between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. I was simply not allowed to sleep a whole night. (They never bother Janice!)

I was worried more about Silo than I was Princess. Her range in the old neighborhood was limited by her inherent and exaggerated dislike of other cats, of which there were many to contend with on our street. She stayed close to home even if out for long periods. Silo, on the other hand, loved to roam and I would see him coming back from one of his arduous excursions from a full city block away, meandering carelessly from lawn to lawn and doorstep to trashcan like some drunken vagrant seeking a discarded cigar butt. I was fearful that Silo would wander off, even maybe looking around for his old stomping grounds and becoming disoriented. I am also worried about them encountering neighborhood dogs.

So, in order to finally get a good night's rest, I decided to take the chance and let them escape into the wilds of our new neighborhood. Well, to put it bluntly, my cats have swapped personalities. Silo is keeping very close to home and comes back in almost as soon as the door is reopened. Princess is now wandering much more because, unlike our former abode, there are few if any other cats running the streets. She loves it! Both have been out and both have come back a few times now. I can sleep! I am sure once the cold weather lets up they will spend more time exploring the local terrain.

So my original plan to keep them in has failed and, turns out, was probably obsolete to begin with. Now, the cats come and go pretty much as they please. In the spring, I will install a kitty-door. In the meantime, I remain a lowly doorman catering to the needs and wants of my feline masters. I am just happy not to be worrying so much.

Some things change and somethings don't.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Just Say NO! to Hillary

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We all knew this would happen sooner or later. We did not need the advice of a tarot card reader nor some cryptic Nostradamus-like quatrain with her in mind to foresee this future. Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for president. "Oy vey" is all I have to say about her running, and "Och und vey" if she should manage to win the nomination or the White House.

My reluctance, dare I say, refusal to support Mrs. Clinton is not about her electability. She would handily beat any Republican candidate laid out as sacrificial lamb to oppose her. I object to Mrs. Clinton because she isn't a progressive or necessarily liberal Democrat, but part of the elite corporo-political establishment that also adored her former-President husband in canonizing him into a form of populist sainthood. Bill Clinton is still the sole 'rock star' in American politics and, unfortunately, his word and support carry a lot of weight in Democratic circles. Hillary's success comes as being enamored of and by the condescending 'feel-good' crowd that doesn't actually do anything, but feels really good about hoping they could help when, of course, it doesn't interfere with shopping on 5th Ave. or catching a Broadway show. We already have dozens of congress-persons exactly like her, and they are usually referred to as 'Republicans'.

Hillary Clinton is a person who, as they say in baseball terminology, started out on 3rd base and 'thought she hit a triple'. She rode into the Senate on the star-power of her ex-president husband and frankly, most New Yorkers know full well that she does not and will not truly represent their interests. Her faithful constituency are the corporate elite (limousine liberals), Hollywood, and Goldman-Sachs. The average New Yorker doesn't know Hillary at all. She never lived in New York, worked in New York, or paid New York much attention at all until her cult-following from Upper Manhattan lured her into a lucrative Senate race with good odds of winning. New Yorkers weren't really offered any other choices, as Mrs. Clinton's star power essentially eclipsed and silenced all progressive opposition. She refused to acknowledge those Democrats or progressives running against her. She declined debate in spite of being urged by many grass-roots Democratic organizations and the media to do so. This deliberate avoidance shows Hillary's glaring disdain for the common citizen. All we wanted is for her to listen and respond. She didn't have time. She doesn't care what we care about, rather she chooses what we care about for us.

Hillary is nothing more than a ruthless a power-hungry troll who cannot handle a difference of opinion and her campaigns are based on clever marketing ploys designed to shield her from criticism and tough questions on issues. She is about herself and herself only. She will do whatever it takes to win, no matter who gets hurt. Her 'cult' reminds me of the Oprah followers; half mind-numbed fat ladies and half-delirious star-struck hangers on. So far, other than her unwavering approval of the failed War in Iraq, we really don't know for sure what Hillary Clinton stands for. We know she loves fine dining and CEOs. I would have to sacrifice a great deal of dignity and self-worth to walk into the voting booth and cast a ballot for that bitch. I am not the only liberal who feels this strongly. There are many who hold much stronger opinions. Some of them have very popular left-wing radio shows. Some of them have children who died fighting in Iraq.

Now I was willing to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt when it was suspected early on that she would be running for the Presidency. After all, she was inexperienced in politics and perhaps she became a little flustered by the learning curve of being a freshman senator and a prominent female in Washington. It's not an easy job. Then, almost as if by divine fiat, I discovered that her campaign staff, anticipating a challenge from former Sen. John Edwards, actually co-opted a domain name that the Edwards campaign would have likely used and, get this, linked it to a site for Hillary Clinton! Did she know? I don't care. That episode shows me what kind of people she is hiring and they are starting to remind me of Karl Rove. It seems that Hillary is more aggressive in attacking candidates or avoiding challenges from within her own party than she ever has been in defending the rights of working Americans. This stunt pulled against the Edwards campaign is just plain low-class.

To be fair, these are the areas where Hillary seems to be taking a definitive and positive progressive stance:
1) Universal Health Care
2) ummmm.....can't think of anything else at the moment

I don't know yet which candidate I will support. I only know which one I won't. (Dennis Kucinich would be my first choice, but I will be peddling parkas in Purgatory before he ever gets within spitting distance of the Oval Office.)

An Uncompromising Fantasy

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Anyone who has tried living in a world not to their liking knows full well how frustrating life can become. I suspect that most philosophies, coping mechanisms, and addictions are due, in part, to this conflict between reality and idealism. Some of us slip into denial about past events and future prospects. Some of us even turn to dogmatic religious or political beliefs as an either short cut panacea to salvation or, at least, to enjoy the company and support of other delusional, albeit like-minded, people. It can be quite comforting. After all, misery does love sharing the drama.

Sadly, my idealism has waned somewhat over the years. No. I haven't become an ardent supporter of laissez faire capitalism or conservative in my politics. Far from it. Now, more than ever, I see the need for a vast, united grass-roots front against the outsourcing of our humanity for the sake of profit. However, the more I see and hear and watch and witness of the global struggle against this corporate fascism, the more I am inclined to believe that humanity will not ever win this war. The battle waged for social justice and fairness is no longer merely a matter of practical concern; it has become one of extreme idealism. The corporate forces are fighting for their right to enslave us. They believe they are entitled to our labor and the tremendous profits thereof.

The opposition to increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over the course of two years is symptomatic of the problem workers will face in the future should the corporatists ultimately win out. Do you think the real argument is over a pittance of $2.10 per hour? Get real. This is a symbolic opposition to a populist trend that the corporatists must defend against to the very last CEO, lawyer, lobbyist, senator, and Wall St. broker. For the past two decades, union membership and influence is driven down, corporate profits are at record levels, and real wages for working humans, in terms of purchasing power and savings, is dismal. They almost have everything they want already. It's not about the money.

To make matters worse, elements within the union leadership (I was tempted to agree with them at one point) believe that there is no purpose in fighting for what we consider as proper or fair, but we should perhaps only seek what we can realistically achieve based upon increased productivity and market influences. It saddens me to see this happen. Sure. We could, through such tactics, have some short-term victories and perhaps delay the inevitable, but in the end, the corporatists will prevail, since a concession based on their terms is tantamount to an unconditional surrender, if not in dollars, at least in principle. They get the best of both ends in that kind of deal. We work harder for less pay or benefit, and they take the golden opportunity to portray themselves as altruistic benefactors in the public limelight. We have to draw a clear and unbroken line on the factory floor and not let anyone from either side cross over it.

One we, those who support workers and worker's rights, begin to banter about in the specifically and carefully chosen nomenclature utilized by those corporate forces we oppose, we are well on the road to our ruin. This battle isn't about productivity or market share or even profit. Those are excuses, rationale, and by-products of their real agenda; a mission whose goal is to assert their (assumed) manifest right to your hard work and effort. Were it just about dollars and cents, there surely would be some way to entice the robber barons to put their nefarious business models on hold. Now, however, it has gone way beyond common sense financial decisions. With the deliberate dismantling of labor union power and the misguided dictates of dehumanizing international agreements, the corporatists have smelled real worker-blood for the first time since slavery in the old South. They aren't going to give up that 'high' without a fight.

In addition, I see police and military all over the world shutting down protests and blockading cities to protect members of the global corporate elite and their representatives from various governments friendly to the corporatists, and I'm saddened by it. Why is it necessary to go to such extremes to protect these people from mere words and slogans? Why are they so afraid of the populist voice? I fear from myself and for my fellow workers. I fear that police officer or soldier is now merely an agent of the corporatist whose only job is to preserve his job through following the mandates of his superiors to such an extent that he or she are bereft of compassion and understanding. His mission statement is to "keep the peace", even if that 'peace' is means nothing more than shutting down any and all opposition to the status quo by any means necessary. (It seems ironic that police officers, who have strong unions themselves, would march out to oppose those arguing for worker's rights. )

I am not hopeful for the future and I don't think compromise is acceptable. Ironically enough, Ayn Rand, mother of Objectivism and champion of laissez faire, said something with which I tend to agree. "Compromise", she said, "Is where both parties leave the negotiation unhappy." (I'm paraphrasing here.) In the end, we end up having to latch onto yet another fantasy, philosophy, or complete state of denial in order to cope with the paradox of reality and idealism. No one is going to be happy.

Perhaps the words of Ashleigh Brilliant sum it up best. "I have given up on reality. Now, I am searching for the perfect fantasy."

Friday, January 19, 2007

Donating More than Just Sperm

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There exist so many egregious and flagrantly bizarre cases of child support-related court decisions, that it takes me an entire day just to sift through them. This case should scare the crap out of anyone wishing to avail themselves of IVF or donating to a sperm bank.

Case Could Freeze Sperm Donation

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court (search) is currently considering a legal appeal that could set a wide-reaching precedent for both child support policy and fertility clinics in the United States. As one report states, "sperm donors who thought they were getting $50 for their genetic material" — a standard clinic fee — and nothing more may be in for a real shock.

The case involves sperm donor Joel L. McKiernan (search) and his former lover Ivonne V. Ferguson. Ten years ago, they entered a verbal contract that a three-judge panel of the Superior Court said was valid "on its face." In exchange for McKiernan donating sperm that led to the birth of twins through in vitro fertilization, Ferguson released him from any obligation toward the offspring.

Ferguson denies that an agreement to release McKiernan from responsibility ever existed. Nevertheless, she named her ex-husband as "father" on the birth certificate. Five years after the twins' birth, she filed against McKiernan for child support.

If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finds the sperm donor to be liable for child support, then many forms of infertility treatment in most states could become less available and more expensive. Those donors who step forward will want to be compensated for their increased legal risk. They may have also opened a Pandora's Box of complications involving a child's claim on a sperm donor's data and wealth.

Here you have it folks. Just as I thought. Woman makes promise not to hold man liable. Man is stupid enough to trust her without getting it in writing. Woman places egg in uterus, has baby. Five years pass and she is having some money problems. What does she do? She rides the child support money train right to the poor guy’s checking account, hitting him up for $1500 a month retroactive to the child’s birth. Lying bitches make me sick. Judges who cannot recognize a scheming whore when they see one, make me sicker. Yes, I know. Judges don’t judge by the law or the litigants, they judge by the arguments presented. Even so, this makes me vomit.

Now the court seems to have recognized that there was some agreement, but they waived the agreement in light of the overriding need to support the child. The outcome will decide if biological parents can enter into agreements prior to conception that conflict with the alleged ‘best interests’ of the child. No one is saying that the child should go unsupported, but if the custodial parent, birth mother in this case, conceives without even having sexual contact with the father, how can she, in good conscience, go after him years later for support? She took full responsibility upon herself from the beginning.

This case has another twist. The child’s legal father is not the sperm donor, but the husband of the woman! There happens to be many cases where presumed parentage is decided by the mother’s and father’s acquiescence to parentage when signing a birth certificate. By any standard, the husband should be the one to pay any support. In some states, a biological father has no rights to a child if another man signs the birth certificate claiming parentage.

Another problem is that from state to state the law varies. Pennsylvania, as well as Michigan, has not yet passed the Uniform Parenting Act, which would protect sperm donors from retroactive child support claims and, at the same time, make it possible for biological fathers to trump the rights of presumptive fathers in visitation and custody. At the least, it would give them a voice.

And ladies, if you’re been wondering why so many men aren’t willing to commit to marriage or don’t want children, this case is another good reason why men stay single and not ever reproduce. Men aren’t afraid of marriage, they are scared shitless of divorce and unfair child support and visitation enforcement. I would never put myself through that bullshit ever again.

Kol Tuv

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shameless Drug Lords

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Drug makers purposely stall release of generics

FTC: American consumers are cheated out of billions of dollars in savings

Updated: 4:48 p.m. ET Jan 17, 2007

WASHINGTON - Drug companies increasingly are reaching legal settlements that delay the introduction of cheaper generic medicines and cheat Americans of billions of dollars a year in savings, federal regulators on Wednesday told lawmakers seeking to ban the agreements.

The Federal Trade Commission and others allege the settlements allow brand-name pharmaceutical companies to pay off would-be generic competitors, which then agree to delay introduction of their less costly but otherwise identical versions of the original medicines.

“The losers are American consumers, who pay high drug prices for years to come,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis. Kohl, joined by Democratic and Republican colleagues, reintroduced legislation Wednesday to ban the agreements.

This is not a new story. It is resurfacing as new research into cancer fighting drugs reveals new hope from an old and very inexpensive generic drug already in use for certain metabolic disorders. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), is a compound derived from chlorinated drinking water and industrial solvents. DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells. Tests on human cancers injected into rats have shown tremendous hope. DCA is also proven to be relatively safe. It has no patent, and could be manufactured at a fraction of the cost for newly developed drugs.

I have seen the ravages of chemotherapy and other drugs on the afflicted. If I should ever contract cancer, and the likelihood is good, I want the DCA and I want it available and inexpensive. Too many Americans become bankrupted from illness, and live only from one un-payable bill to the next until they die. I don’t feel the already filthy rich drug companies or their shareholders deserve the right, in the name of profit, to keep any life or pain saving drug off the market. It is bad enough already that the drug companies, with the assistance of law enforcement, won’t allow dying patients to partake of cannabis to alleviate pain and nausea. (Heaven forbid a human being should ever be able to treat himself from what he grows in his own backyard.)

Soon we will start seeing a lot of advertising by drug companies, touting their research efforts into cancer therapies. We will hear amazing statistical data of how many lives were extended through the ‘selfless’ devotion of the pharmaceutical industry. Their hired guns, lawyers and lobbyists, will testify before Congress and all America that DCA is untested and unsafe, especially if it comes from Canada or Europe. The FDA will then be forced to ban DCA under the guise of consumer safety; all at the behest of its corporate masters. This notwithstanding the drug’s production and safe use for other non-cancer related conditions. Perhaps, even those who have already been taking DCA will have to find other more costly medications. Like sharks to chum, the drug moguls smell a payday at the expense of the ill. Predictably, slick marketing and misinformation in the name of corporate avarice will replace the voice of science and compassion.

The only conspiracy here is the most common, corrupt, and immoral conspiracy of all; unmitigated and ruthless Greed. Health care should be nationalized as soon as possible. The health and welfare of the American people are more important than the narrow and select corporate interests who extort money from the ill and dying.

They are shameless bastards.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dear John (Suing iPod)

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April 4, 2006

Louisiana resident John Kiel Patterson filed a lawsuit that claims Apple's iPod can cause hearing loss. The suit, submitted to a San Jose, Calif. federal court seeks class-action status, compensation for hearing loss suffered by iPod users, and demands that Apple Computer update the iPod software so the portable music players can't blast tunes at more than 100 decibels.

Dear John,

As the unofficial non-attorney unofficially representing common-sense rational America, I would like to extend to you a healthy, happy, and hearty FUCK YOU IDIOT! I mean c’mon. What the fuck were you listening to anyhow that had to be cranked directly into your obviously underdeveloped cerebral cortex at over 100 decibels? In most jobs where noise levels are a factor, the Federal government mandates that hearing protection be worn. Most human beings know damned well what will happen to their hearing if they overload themselves with loud noise. If you ignored the obvious, then you’re just a fucking idiot. Try as I might to side with the ‘little guy’ on this one, you are a fuckwit who, by filing such ridiculous claims, makes it harder for those with legitimate suits to gain compensation.

I bet you are one of those stupid mother fuckers who proudly wears their iPod at the gym and cranks it up so loud that everyone else can hear what you’re playing, even over and above the gym’s loud music and the whirring noise of stairmasters and treadmills. You are probably hoping that the skinny bleached-blonde on the recumbent bike hears the music emanating from inside your skull and thinks you’re a real stud because of it. Sure, maybe she likes superficial deaf guys with no common sense or courtesy. By all means, go for it. But don’t ever fucking blame Apple, Sony, Blaupunkt, Olympus, or any other stereo manufacturer when you aren’t able to hear her shout at the top of her lungs that she isn’t interested in you.

Just because the iPod is powerful enough to play at dangerous levels does not mean you have to operate your music device at a deafening roar. The speedometer in my Ford Taurus goes to 120 mph. Should I be able to sue Ford Motor Co. because I decided to drive so fast in unsafe conditions? Power is a selling point that shows to the capability, durability, and quality of the product. Any idiot knows that comes with some responsibility. Well, anyone but you it seems.

You are a shit-for-brains. Your lawyer smells a big payday for himself. I hope you lose this one.



Sunday, January 14, 2007

Of Boobs & Battalions

We've been told that Condaleeza Rice is an educated, talented, and brilliant woman. But would such a smart person have a conversation like this one? Check it out. This is from her testimony before Congress defending the proposed troop 'surge' in Iraq.

"HAGEL: My question was the escalation of American troops in Iraq.

RICE: But I think you asked who was supporting it. And I said the Kurdish parties, Prime Minister Maliki and his Shia allies, and the IIP support a plan to do this. And they know that the augmentation of American forces is part of that plan.

Now, as to the question of escalation, I think that I don’t see it, and the president doesn’t see it, as an escalation. What he sees…

HAGEL: Putting 22,000 new troops, more troops in, is not an escalation?

RICE: Well, I think, Senator, escalation is not just a matter of how many numbers you put in. Escalation is also a question of, are you changing the strategic goal of what you’re trying to do? Are you escalating…

HAGEL: Would you call it a decrease, and billions of dollars more that you need for it?

RICE: I would call it, Senator, an augmentation that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad....."

I don't know how smart Ms. Rice really is, but I suspect even a child would be ashamed try such an audacious and obviously ridiculous stunt expecting to get away with it. I mean c'mon. Could it be at this point that the Bush Administration doesn't consult anything other than the Roget's Thesaurus when setting policy? It seems their idea of policy shift is to do the same thing as before but call it a different name in the hope Americans and the Congress don't remember what a synonym is. Do these assholes think we are that stupid? Do they even care?

For the life of me I don't know how she can sit there before Congress and America and spout such inane bullshit. Can it be that this brilliant PhD has no self-respect? Is it dedication to her job and career that drives her to blindly obey? Does she live in a bubble? Or is it love? I also wonder why Congress even bothers to question anyone from the Bush cabinet, since it's been six years now and every answer to every question has been pretty much the same.

The word 'augmentation' makes the deployment of additional forces to Iraq no more consequential than breast enlargement. Oh. Excuse me, I meant to say ' mammary enhancement'. Now it makes perfect sense! Ms. Rice is telling a predominantly male panel that sending more troops is like having bigger 'titties', and what man doesn't like seeing bigger 'titties'? Right guys?

Now that's logic for ya! Maybe she is smarter than we thought! (Though she could likely benefit from a boob job. Errr...that should be 'bosom escalation'. My bad.)

Kol Tuv

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stop! It Feels Good!

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So I'm at my office browsing the internet and I come across this advertisement for one of the recent incarnations of artistic 'borrowing' and parody to come out of the world of religious Jewish music. On one of the few Orthodox blogs that I ever-so-silently read, some of the commenters were offended by the import of the picture. Apparently, some frumme people don't know what Yiddishkeit is all about. If they did, they would find the ad amusing enough to be ossur as well. The humor of it all is telling.

As youngsters, we would joke with each other when faced with a sha'alah (question of Jewish Law) as to whether or not a certain act was muttar (permitted) or ossur (forbidden). In the absence of a Posek (qualified rabbinical authority), we would simply ask each other "Did it feel good?" If the answer was 'yes', then we knew for certain that the action was proscribed. Truth is, physical and mental pleasure is only to be experienced under very rigid and controlled circumstances. Jews are not raised to be physically or passionately indulgent and even necessary functions with pleasurable side effects are guided by rules and regulations to keep the pleasure side in check.

I encountered two schools of thought in this regard. One, was made up of those who believed that anything that wasn't explicitly deemed as permitted was, by default, forbidden until someone of recognized authority declared it permitted. It makes sense. After all, better safe than sorry when it comes to Jewish Law. The second group, to which I belonged, felt that to make the unknown forbidden without any knowledge of it being so, implies that we take on the mantle of an authority we are not authorized to use. If I am going to say that an act or object is ossur for myself, then I am also implying that the issur is upon others as well. Besides, nine times out of ten, when it comes to these sort of religious dilemmas, the problem is at the tail end of a long chain of chumrahs (stringencies) and there are likely to be half a dozen poskim who permit it.

I am not saying that the rules are bad or mean or misguided. I am certain that a learning a little bit of restraint goes a long way into refining a person's character. Life is not a free-for-all and self-indulgence can become a very slippery slope. It is, however, somewhat odd that many of those living the Orthodox lifestyle would not get the joke straight away.

Kol Tuv

Loving A Ghost

Janice is to be envied. She's a Midwestern girl with typically simple Midwestern attitudes and a sincere smile. Her parents met and married in Detroit. She has lived in the same town her whole life, went to school there, worked there, and kept contact with many, if not most of her childhood friends and acquaintances. She has watched the same circle of friends and relatives grow up, grow older, and even die. Her social roots and connections are so deep and profound that they extend even into her business dealings and professional life. If her friends happen to be devout Christians, Palestinians, black, native American, married, or divorced it matters not one bit to her. She doesn't see the differences because she relates to everyone as just Janice, with no pretense or suspicions. There is no underlying presumptions of racism or prejudice to her thinking. No preacher or priest or parent ever told her which group to avoid or which people to dislike.

Enter Shlomo, the man lost from another world that an unsuspecting and joyfully naive Janice cannot even begin to understand. His life is long behind him, having left friends and family back in the world from which he fled. He has no one, no close friends or even relatives that seek out his company. In his former world, he too would have shunned the heretic, if for no other reason than to protect his own reputation or that of his children. He is rejected not for who he is, but for what he represents in his refusal to conform. He accepts his chosen fate, but he is lonely at times for the close personal and long term friendships that his loving partner has nurtured. His world taught him how to exclude things from his life based upon religious or philosophical dogma. Now, twenty years later, he still operates from that perspective in a completely different venue, and remains more exclusive than inclusive in his social habits.

She doesn't pry into his past or ask him probing questions into his former lifestyle. Once in a while it comes up in conversation, but she never pushes the matter beyond what he is willing to share. She only wishes that he, too, had kept close contact with family and friends. Her life is full of them and she couldn't imagine for herself any life without them. This is what puzzles her most about the man she has chosen. His solitude disturbs her. She has never been a refugee from anything for any reason. She doesn't understand why he just can't pick up the phone and call old friends back in New York or Israel. Sometimes, she must believe that she is loving a ghost.

Yet, like everyone else in her life, she simply loves him as he is to himself and for them as they are together, and only sees him as happier when his past, present, and future are not at odds with each other. She knows there are two men with two very different lives lurking inside him, and she also loves the one she will likely never encounter. That she can embrace the intangible and impregnable within him is indeed a wonder.

Kol Tuv

Ad Limerick

Janice works for the sister company to the storage concern that employs yours truly. A large part of her responsibility is for marketing and public relations. She attends numerous chamber of commerce functions as well as small business networking groups. In one of these groups, participants are required each week to offer a sixty-second promotional for their business. One of the members, a local optometrist, pens cute little jingles from time to time. Janice, knowing my propensity for limericks and good challenge, asked me to write a short advertisement for her, perhaps even something that would put our friendly optometrist to shame. This was a prospect that I could not pass up.

Here is my first effort:

Mary had a little lamb

As snowfall was white its fleece

And as she daily fed it

She came soon to regret it

For in girth it steadily increased

And in growth’s aftermath

It would sleep in her bath

Or sometimes just crash on the floor

From the size of this ewe

Mary suddenly knew

That she couldn’t adopt any more

From desperation she cried

And several times tried

Rearranging her home for this friend

But its ever-expanding ‘hoof-age’

Took up too much square footage

And Mary was at her wit’s end

So she phoned Goldilocks

Who had a shoppe down the block

Selling varieties of fine specialty porridge

Mary took her advice

And without thinking twice

Went to Janice at Grand Central Self Storage

So some boxes were moved

And their lives slowly improved

While Mary saved more than just dollars

Let’s hope next time she decides

To bring mammals inside

She opts for something much smaller!

Proof: Bush Ain't Jewish!

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There is a well-worn bit of ethnic humor that enumerates the various means by which one can distinguish between Jews and Gentiles. Jews, as the joke says, “never buy retail.” This kind-of sort-of an almost gospel truth about Jewish business practices and shopping habits has a ring of realism to it. Many of our parents and grandparents came from the dire poverty and anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe and even lived through the Great Depression right here in America. They were forced to make do with very little and for the impoverished, every little bit counts a great deal. The fact that we Jews have excelled at doing a great deal without much to start out with shows ingenuity and a determined spirit. As the adage goes, “Poverty breeds ingenuity.”

The joke does imply a cultural cheapness that I’ll admit does border on the absurd, but even if true, does being careful with money really imply a negative? After all, who wants to spend more money than required? Should we simply obey the suggested retail pricing and not haggle with the shopkeeper? Could it hurt to ask for a discount? It makes no sense not to try to bargain for better prices when possible. I don’t know anyone, Jew or Gentile, that feels any guilt over getting a good bargain. In fact, most people brag about it!

All this is likely true unless your name is GW Bush. Recently, the newly-elected Democrats in the House of Representatives passed into law a bill that permits Medicare, and not merely the Veterans Administration, to collectively bargain for discounts on bulk purchases of pharmaceutical drugs. Previously, President Bush signed into law a bill forbidding any collective bargaining with drug companies. This bill (H.R.4) still has to pass the Senate. In the event that H.R. 4 does reach the President’s desk, he has promised to veto it. The estimated $96 billion dollars it will save over the next ten years sounds to me like good enough excuse to strike a deal. Mr. Bush thinks otherwise.

One would think that a super-duper free market supply side sort of guy with an MBA like GW would rush at the opportunity to save the country and senior citizens billions of dollars a year in health costs and taxes, but no. The President and his good friends in the pharma-lobby will hear none of it. Aside from the mega-corporate-welfare that this administration doles out to supporters, the Neo-con ‘freedom’ machine remains determined to bankrupt our social programs at the expense of our seniors. Mr. Bush is redistributing the wealth through legislation, by taking from the poor and middle class and shifting the resources to politically connected mega-corporations. This is what some have called “Socialism for the Rich.” His veto on H.R. 4 will drive home to our seniors what many Americans have suspected about Bush for a long time. He is a heartless prick.

Well, now we have it. A ‘golden’ opportunity to strike a very good deal on behalf of the American people comes along and our President will decide to pass on it. At last, if our joke is any sort of measure, there is now definitive and conclusive proof-positive that the President has no Jewish blood (at least not in his veins.) I would be surprised if he had any human blood at all!

Kol Tuv

Teamwork & the Honest Devil

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Teamwork, in the capitalist world, is upheld as high moral virtue only insofar at it benefits the ends of a particular individual. Teamwork gets the job done with more efficiency; that much is true. However, should the focus of the teamwork vary from the goals of the capitalist i.e. establishing trade unions or initiating class action law suits, then said capitalist will suddenly retreat behind the drawbridge and moat of individualism. They like having it both ways. Who wouldn’t?

Those at the economic apex of our society enjoy the influence they have to manipulate the labor force in any direction they wish. They are in luck. Fortunately, most working class people don’t know when, how, or if they are being played. Few of us understand the intricacies of markets, interest rates, and even fewer of us have any sense of the grand-scale political lobbying efforts of international corporations. In their defense, the working people just can’t keep up with the round-the-clock technology, politics, and planning that capitalism puts into getting them to be more productive for less money. This is precisely why socialism is popular among academics; they have the available leisure, as part of their vocation, to study the material that history has provided.

For those of you in the capitalist world who don’t think that your economy is planned, you are in for a huge shock. It is quite carefully crafted, just not by anyone who has your best interest in mind. My employers are good people, but they regularly attend seminars designed to educate bosses on how to motivate employees without additional money or benefits. These courses train personnel managers how to threaten their employees without actually saying what they really mean i.e. work harder, shut up, or get fired. These courses instruct employers as to the legal limits of their coercive tactics and the loopholes available in labor law to avoid prosecution. So there is planning going on, and lots of it.

I don’t mean to say that businesses should operate without a plan to succeed. That would be economic suicide. The question is how exactly to define ‘success’ and what burdens will society be willing to endure to promote a successful business atmosphere. It should also not be implied that persons unsuitable for certain jobs or unwilling to conform to job requirements should be kept on the payroll no matter what. (This huge mistake the American unions kept repeating.) Yet, workers overall must have some legal protections, and that lazy numbskull, being of the labor force, should have those available to him as well. Like it or not, he is part of the team.

Socialism is teamwork that is from the beginning designed to benefit the whole team. It’s not as rigid as its detractors would have one imagine. It is also a human endeavor, subject to the vagaries of human application and malfeasance. Not every team ‘wins’ the game. Yet, at least, it is planned with the best intentions, and if planned properly, can rebound easily from disaster. It’s not perfect or necessarily more successful, just nobler in my humble opinion. Socialism doesn’t lie to me.

They say “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Yet, what could be worse than no intent at all other than for selfish profit? After all, the capitalist imagines his intention is ‘good’, too! Whose version of Hell would you prefer? In the capitalist’s Hell, he gets to be the Devil. Do you want to give anyone that much power? Should anyone be able to act without a restraint, check, or balance to that power?

The greatest fear I have of Socialism is that the masses, in their messianic quest for that Utopian panacea, end up falling for an even worse sort of Devil than any form of capitalism currently offers. We saw this happen the USSR and China with Bastard Stalin and Asshole Mao. We see American Labor being run by corporate criminals and pacifiers no less morally reprehensible than those corporate forces they were hired to offset.

Either way, a regulated and cautious approach keeps the system honest and well maintained when serving humanity with the common good foremost in mind. A unified call for honesty would be nice start to a Great Revolution, if not provide for one hell of a revolution in its own right. Can we keep the Devil honest? Probably not. But we can restrain him and make him work a little for our best interests rather than merely just his own.


Kol Tuv

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A is for Anxiety......D is for Depression

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People have asked me over the years why it was I quit teaching. After all, they argue, I'm very good at explaining even the most difficult of subjects and I'm pretty good with kids as well. The answer was complicated and became simpler as time went on. To illustrate how time effects the response given, see the short list below.

Answer in 1988? "My life is too busy as it is. I need something that pays better. The unions have too many rules. The administration is too rigid. They don't like me because I'm Orthodox Jewish. The commute is too far. My family is worried I spend too much time in a gentile environment. The students are uncontrollable and the administration doesn't help. Female teachers with husbands don't concern themselves with the money and go on strike. My wife complains about everything. I should be doing better with the degrees I have. They don't let me teach subjects as I like nor what I prefer to teach. I'm tired all the time." (The list continues with excuses I can't even remember at this point.)

Answer in 2006? Depression!

All the excuses and complaints held sacrosanct in 1988 may or may have been real, legitimate concerns. However, in the course of subsequent years spent in mostly unintended self-discovery, I happened upon the realization that, true or not, those problems never posed any insurmountable challenge to my happiness. My unhappiness came from a single source and held me back from enjoying not just the classroom, but much of my life in general. That 'thing' was depression.

Depression does different things to different people. It operates at varying degrees of intensity and must interact with our biology, gender, social position, and education. For myself, I think that depression robbed me of my self-confidence and, as a direct result, caused me to shy away from conflicts and challenges, choosing the path of least or no resistance at every turn. Should obstacles come up, I was not always emotionally competent enough to handle them and, therefore, I made excuses for my lack of perserverence by blaming others, or even myself, for the a bad turn of events. It's easier to say "It's my fault" and be done with it than to assess the true causes. I would end up taking responsibility for things I hadn't even done!

It's a damn lucky coincidence that I enjoyed academic study, possessed a good work ethic, and had a relatively decent brain to start with or I'd have been just another abject failure suffering from depression. The few qualities that Nature and Nurture so kindly bestowed upon me likely saved me from a fate 'much worse than'. People are willing to overlook your glaring deficiencies when their needs are met through rigorous application of your better qualities. I should probably thank my father's insistence upon a job well done and a work ethic that seems genetically inherent in his side of the family. Without those, I would likely have been ignored or shunned altogether for my lack of social graces and oft melancholy demeanor. I use that to my advantage even today.

Depression is something that undermines life without the possessor ever realizing it. Has my better knowledge of self stopped the cycle completely? Not really. It has slowed it down and taken the 'edge' off its effects. That much is certain. It has also made me honest about who I am. Most of all, it has increased and improved the empathy I have for others in similar straits. That itself goes a long way to improving my social abilities and emotional fitness. Rather than shunning the company of others, I have been, for several years now, seeking deeper and more meaningful personal bonds. I am not afraid of showing my true face.

Maybe there is still some teaching in my future? I think about it sometimes.

Kol Tuv

Justice Hung

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Like many around the world, I was fascinated at the prospect of the putting Saddam Hussein on trial. No, it was not because I thought he was an evil tyrant and dangerous control freak and I wanted to hear all the gory details of his murderous exploits from the prosecution. I was much more interested in Saddam's defense. I wanted to hear him, or his attorneys, explain in full the difficulties involved in governing a country splintered by ethnic, religious, national, and tribal rivalries. In short, I wanted to hear Saddam's side of the story. I wanted, dare I say, yearned, for a history lesson from Saddam Hussein. His version of events may have turned out to be complete fabrications, but unfortunately the world never had the chance of knowing for certain.

The world already knew the outcome of the trial before it began. It could not have ended any other way. As far as the defense rebuttal of the charges, I was to be very disappointed, as there was no defense at all. Famous American jurists and lawyers who attempted to intervene were turned away by the Bush Administration. Saddam, whether international leader or common citizen, was not permitted adequate counsel. This trial was a sham by any standard outside of Stalinist USSR. "Uncle Joe" would be proud to see that the Great Western Capitalists have finally succumbed to the 'wisdom' of Soviet jurisprudence.

Since I am opposed to the death penalty overall, it makes no sense to ask me if he deserved to die. I simply cannot answer that question. Was he guilty? Well, yes and no. Certainly he was a tyrant and a murdering bastard, but if one is going to charge him with that crime, incarcerate him, and put him on trial, should the proceedings at least have an appearance of legitimacy? Could they not have tried Saddam at the Hague where the judges and lawyers might not have their lives taken by partisan thugs?

Had Saddam been allowed to plead his case in some detail, we might have heard some remarkable theories and perhaps even some little known historical facts. Had Saddam been allowed the sort of defense that a Ken Lay or Jack Abramoff received, the trial may have looked somewhat more like a real honest-to-goodness legal proceeding. Imagine Saddam Hussein explaining in some detail how the various nationalist and religious groups conspired to overthrow his government or that their land was required for economic development. I suspect that people of every nation would be hearing snippets of their own nation's past and present actions and feel some sense of understanding.

The world outside the US knows this trial was sham and the execution was nothing more than one president's revenge intended to appease the Shi'ite majority of the nation that one American destroyed. Some of us inside the US know it, too. It is shameful what our national reputation has become.

Saddam Hussein is yet another Iraqi victim of American corporate aggression in Iraq, albeit a more notable one. He was not one of the dozens of the faceless, nameless, and forgotten Iraqis murdered as collateral damage in the race for revenge and oil profits each day. A legitimate trial could have shown the world that indeed, Saddam had to be deposed, tried, and perhaps even executed. America could have justified its position for doing so, but chose not to.

America deprived itself of boasting of fairness and equality under the law. We have shown that we will allow our allies to degrade a man even unto his death, mocking the doomed all the way to the gallows. Barbarism of the lowest order. Saddam took it like a man. Too bad the US and their Shi'ite cohorts couldn't offer it that way.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I'm Not Laughing

As a kleine kindt, I once heard it asked as to why, when someone falls down, people around the event are inclined to laughter. Our teacher at the time, a melamud, fresh out of kollel, replied "When a person falls here on Earth, the angels above are laughing." My initial reaction was one of unquestioning compliance. After all, I was just seven years old and assumed that everyone was in agreement with that statement. Although until that time I had seldom laughed at another's misstep, from then on, I certainly didn't want to be left out from the fun and would laugh heartily, albeit with some inner reservations that I didn't recognize until much later.

It is amazing what makes sense at seven that can't even be remotely justified in later years. If someone is still holding the same opinions for the very same reasons now as he or she did when they were seven or eight, something is very wrong with that person. I came to learn that laughing at another's misfortune is not only impolite, but downright cruel. It contradicts everything that we are taught regarding empathy and Ahavas Yisroel. I mean c'mon. If your Rebbe or another distinguished Rov or close relative were to slip and fall, would you actually find it funny? How about if your employer fell down a flight of stairs? Would you guffaw, snort, or chortle? Not bloody likely. As we grow we know the pains that others suffer.

My first question is to why angels think it funny when man falls down and breaks a leg or bruises himself up. This is based in the old adage that "Pride goeth before a fall"; a phrase used to reinforce the notion that ga'avah ultimately leads to certain demise. Apparently, when man's pride is humbled by misfortune, the joy in heaven becomes so contagious that even mankind, a small part divine himself, cannot help but join in the laughter. There is the assumption, based upon Hashgacha, that when a man is knocked down, it is because he needs to be for some reason. Upon such an event, HaShem is happy the man learned his lesson, his debt was paid , and he moves on. Imagine the paranoia the victim must feel knowing that he or she somehow deserves the injury and then compound that with the added insult of angelic mirth resounding across shamayim. That's gotta sting.

Let's follow this 'logic' to its bitter end. Divine Providence is personal and specific. Therefore, HaShem doesn't punish anyone without good reason; reason specifically designed to fit the individual. Therefore, if a man slips and falls down, this event was orchestrated with very certain intent. In truth, nobody ever 'falls' down; anyone who falls has really been deservedly knocked down by HKBH (aka Mike Tyson.)

The real test of this theory came when my father o'h, due to severe arthritis and an icy sidewalk, took a hard tumble on the wintery street, nearly breaking an arm in the process. I had actually debated whether or not to laugh! Then I wondered if not laughing would be some kind of sin in failing to acknowledge the raucous hilarity that must have been going on in the Olam HaElyon. Making the malachim mad is one thing, but an angry Russian father, with a nearly broken arm and a bad temper, is not the sort of being a small kid wants to challenge. Had I dared laugh at his plight, I probably would have been beaten senseless by his good arm; my justification of said laughter notwithstanding. I can imagine my father's reply going something along the lines of "Malachim laugh. I can't do much about that. But you, I can still give a good petch. Then they can laugh at both of us." Kibud Av (or Yiras Av) always trumps anything and everything you learn in Kitah Gimel.

One would think that the 'logic' behind all this would apply to everyone equally, but it doesn't. Apparently, there are some who are exempt from this rule. When certain members of the rabbincal elite fall prey to disease or infirmity, the chasidim tend to blame themselves for his declining health. That's right. When the chasidim get sick, it's their fault and when their Rebbe gets sick, it's their fault, too. Since they cannot fathom their holy leader as possessing a flaw capable of bringing about a TKO from the Eybeshter, they transfer the blame onto themselves to protect their image of the revered leader. Notice how no one ever asks the Rabbi himself how he feels about the incident.

There is yet another league above the aforementioned 'takers-on' of the guilt and fault game. This next group are what I call the 'Differentiators'. They admit that their Rebbe has flaws, but that his flaws are not of the same sort as our own. They cite the case of Moshe Rabeinu, who although a great navi and general, was punished by HaShem for a small infraction that didn't even involve a defined mitzvah. The Talmud tells us that "Tzadikim are judged by a hair's width", implying a completely different meter of divine judgment. Actions considered meaningless or inert, for you and I, would be considered terrible aveyros for the Tzadik. He remains a Tzadik in relation to us, but has his own problems on his level.

Now I used think, even back then, that this double standard was pretty stupid overall and downright unfair to tzadikim. After all, if righteousness is determined by the fulfillment of Taryag Mitzvos, then what other objective standard exists that would influence HaShem's decision making processes? Punishing a man for something that you haven't declared outright to be wrong seems rather unjust. It makes the seemingly righteous appear not very righteous at all by establishing another, albeit unwritten and undefined, standard on their behalf. In the end, if we accept this notion, then the tzadik is punished more severely than the rasha! It makes no sense. If that were the case, why bother to be righteous?

Then I thought about it some more and came, by way of analogy, to a different conclusion altogether. My father was a licensed electrician. Let's say that he was hired, based upon his expertise, to install a chandelier in your dining room. Let's say he screwed up the job and not only did the chandelier refuse to light up, but the wiring started a fire in your ceiling, causing thousands of dollars in damages to your home. Based upon my father's alleged expertise and training, which you relied upon to hire him, there comes an expectation of reliability. When he messes up, you also judge him according to what he claimed to be in order to get the job. You now have a legal and moral recourse to go after my father for compensation.

Let's say, on the other hand, you were a cheap bastard who really didn't think it was necessary to hire a professional to do the job and you asked your cousin Shmerle, a self-proclaimed master of everything, to hang the fixture. Shmerle climbs down from the ladder, flips the switch and a fire starts in your ceiling. Who do you sue now? Can you take Shmerle to court? Not hardly. You may not ever invite your idiot cousin to another simcha, but in court, you can't ask him for a nickel. Shmerle cannot be judged on the same standard as would a licensed and trained professional. Shmerel may have looked just like an electrician when playing one, but inside, Shmerle was 'winging it'.

Rightly or wrongly, we look at those we consider Tzadikim as true professionals of their chosen craft. Perhaps they're judged on a different scale because they are operating on a different plateau in terms of knowledge and experience. I may be putting on my tefillin in exactly the same minhag as the Apter Rov, but his insides and mine likely indicate a very different process. As a trained 'professional', the Rov is judged by his own level of trade; if not by men, as we are unqualified, then certainly by HaShem. It may not be a big deal for Shmerle to leave a ground wire unconnected or forget to place the cover plate back on the outlet, but for one who is expert and conscientious in his work, such oversights may hold serious repercussions.

Just as the licensed electrician bears the responsibility and liability of his title, so too does the Tzadik. It isn't all about money for the better tradesmen. It's about the honor and the dignity of a job well done. In essence, this is the true motivation behind the perfect mitzvah. As the Mishnah in Avos says " Do not be as workers who labor for pay, but rather as workers who labor without thinking just about the money." There is an internal sense of honor that comes with a job well done that distinguishes the tzadik from the average Shmerle, even if their outwardly appearances seem identical and the chandelier lights up just fine. Someone who is just 'winging it' will not see the consequences of those things he considers as trivial.

For the Tzadik, trivialities are important. He sees his work as the Mishnah in Avos says "Consider a mitzvah kala as a mitzva chamurah". There are no trivialities and nothing without some attached and almost inevitable consequence. The differences don't become apparent until something goes horribly wrong. In mundane terms, a good worker does more than a good job. He lives it and good work flows naturally from his good attitude.

None of this means that I am comfortable with anyone laughing at another's misfortune (unless they ask for it), and that includes the malachim. Personally, I am not qualified to make assessments as to who is a tzadik or a rasha. For all I know, there is absolutely no way to tell from the outside appearances. That qualitative factor lies within the work, and that is something we generally do not see and most often take for granted. When that ruach is missing, all hell may break loose. "The 'devil' is in the details, as they say.

It's all about quality. The malachim in Olam HaElyon might be laughing their wings off, but down here in Olam Hazeh, my 'quality' work is dependent upon the chesed I am compelled to perform by my own nature and reasoning. Sorry guys. You'll have to laugh without me.

Kol Tuv