Wednesday, May 26, 2004

It's great to see fathers and sons -- and a few mothers and daughters (but this is a whole other topic) -- learning into the night on Shavuos. After 3:00 AM, the returns diminish and it's probably a better idea to get some sleep and salvage the next day (despite the Zohar). After giving three shiurim last night, I finally had time to be oisek in bitul toirah, a rare opportunity since I so seldom am able to learn in a beis midrash these days. Somehow we meandered our way from sheitlach to Indian religions. My buddy HH is convinced that the Izhbitzer's distinction between "static-style" pesalim, which are avodah zarah, and "flux-style" pesalim, which are not, is an anticipation of Zimmer's distinction between varieties of Buddhist statues. As they say in Rishikesh: oder ya, oder nisht.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Yom Yerushalayim passed unnoticed by most Israelis and mostly unmarked by me. This is no political statement on my part but, given that a good part of the gains of the Six Day War have been whittled away and the rest are unappreciated by most, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for flag-waving. In addition to which I was too lazy to get up for minyan and Tosfos' opinion (though disputed by the venerable-sounding Sar miKutzi) that hallel shouldn't be said on Rosh Chodesh beyechidus somehow has a tight grip on my halachic consciousness. The bigger kids headed into Yerushalayim but I hung out at home. Truth is My Little Town is in an area which was liberated the very same day as Yerushalayim, so presumably whatever mitzvah is accomplished by going to Yerushalayim today ought to be doable lying in my own hammock.

For some reason, I'm still not in the mood to take on the big issues in this blog -- by "big issues", I mean my contempt for ideological Yiddishkeit -- but this is an opportunity to at least make passing mention. I think any sane Jew with a sense of history and a bit of imagination ought to be exceedingly grateful that we didn't lose the Six Day War. Can you believe there are, or at least there once were, Mirrers who celebrated the failure of a shell to explode on the yeshiva during the war but somehow find the rest of the story irrelevant? Some people's narrowness knows no limits. On the other hand, spare me the historicist ravings of Kooknik ideologues. Were the gains made in that war an irreversible step in the march towards geulah? I hope so, but who knows.

Can't we be happy about not getting killed without working it into some grand concept? And can't we be sad about Jews getting killed without working that into some grand ideology? Lamentably, around here the answer to both questions seems to be "no".

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The news here just keeps getting worse. Another personnel carrier exploded today. I don't have the stomach for politics; I need some positively sophomoric distraction.

For me sophomoric distraction means one thing: baseball statistics. In recent years a great many people who need to get a life have invented various new stats meant to measure in one number the value of a hitter (or pitcher). Almost all fail to take into account the crucial fact of baseball: the expendable currency of baseball is not at-bats but outs. In other words, a team does not get a fixed number of at-bats but rather a fixed number of outs. So production needs to be measured in terms of outs made by a hitter (or gotten by a pitcher). Once that is understood, there are two basic characteristics that a good "universal" stat must have:
1. It's ingredients should be the kind of stuff you keep around the house (such as in your daily newspaper).
2. It should correlate with the number of runs a hitter is worth per game. Roughly speaking, that means it should approximate the number of runs a team would score if it consisted of nine copies of this guy.

Here is about the closest your going to come to a stat satisfying those criteria:

NOPS = (SLG/1-BA) + (OBP/1-OBP)
(where SLG=slugging pct.; BA=batting avg.; OBP=on-base pct.)

Note that SLG + OBP is your basic OPS. The difference here is the denominators which normalize by outs made. (NOPS stands for normalized OPS.) Here are a few key facts about NOPS:
1. The major league average over the past 30 years has been consistently extremely close to 1.0. So the scale is perfect: an average ballplayer is at 1, and a good/bad ballplayer is above/below 1.
2. NOPS correlates really well with runs scored. Over a season, the number of runs a team scores per game is very very close to 6.7*NOPS - 2.4. No other stat I know of has as good a correlation (but another very good one is 6*OPS/(1-OBP) - 2). Obviously, then, we can use the same formula to evaluate individual players. Clearly this fails at the extreme since, for example, a hitter batting .000 will be worth -2.4 runs which makes no sense. But it's really not bad. An average hitter (260 BA, 330 OBP, 395 SLG so NOPS = 1.02) would be worth about 4.4 runs per game, which is about right. Barry Bonds in his steroid phase is worth something over 12 runs per game.

OK, back to grisly reality. The news is starting.

Issues of religion and state arouse passions. MK Miki Eitan, the head of the Knesset Judiciary Committee is convening biweekly committee meetings for the purpose of creating a consensual constitution. Things have been moving along merrily primarily because the difficult issues are being saved for later. Supporters of the process, including the apparatchiks from the Israel Democracy Institute, are very eager to get Haredim and Arabs signed on in order to be yotzeh the "consensual" criterion. So, in particular, they need the support of MK Ravitz, who is one of 15 member of the committee and the senior Haredi representative. Ravitz has realized that they are trying to delay the issue of religion and state until the whole document has passed the point of no return. Yesterday he announced that he is no longer participating in the meetings regarding the constitution until religion and state is put on the agenda and resolved to his satisfaction. I suggested to him an amendment to the currently proposed Basic Law: Israel as the State of the Jewish People (which I drafted) which might do the trick. The current proposal includes the following:

6. Shabbat and Jewish holidays are the official days of rest.

The amendment would add the line:

The public character of these days shall be determined by law. Any law passed by force of this clause shall neither be interpreted nor struck down in light of other basic laws.

The point is to allay Ravitz's completely justified fear that the secular zealots masquerading as judges on the Supreme Court will one day strike down all blue laws as violations of Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation. In the end this is probably the only proposal with any chance of gaining the agreement of both sides but I fear we will need to go through a bloody battle before we get there -- if we get anywhere at all with this (and I'm not sure we ought to).

Monday, May 10, 2004

Well, Arbel got her seat on the court, which should put to rest any thoughts that these things are based on the merits. I predict that this will be a major turning point in the struggle to democratize Israel's judiciary.

But Thursday was not a lost day. Reb Usher's shiur was brilliant as usual. Two nuggets: Rav Shloime Kluger held that if you miscount sefirah by counting too high a number, you can continue counting the next day with a bracha since 'yesh bichlal maasayim mana' (?!). Another item: Rav Vosner told a rav who forgot to count one night but was mortified at the thought of 'fessing up to his kehillah that he could continue counting with a bracha 'mishum kvod habrios'. This once happened to Reb Pinchos mi-Kuritz and he considered the humiliation and debasement one of the best experiences of his life. (The same thing happened to the Beis Halevy but no similar reaction has been reported.)

Which brings me to another chosid/Litvak story. My wife's uncle, a decent man who helped a lot of people and a true blue Litvak active in Agudah circles in New York, was just niftar and the kvurah was here in the Holy Land. The crowd of a few dozen melavim was evenly split between Mizrachnikim and Hungarian Rebbishe einiklach (he married badly) belonging to one of those 'dynasties' that's all chiefs and no Indians. Listening to their boilerplate hespedim (everything sounds boilerplate when you've got a vocabulary of a few hundred words), I couldn't help but wonder why they bother. They're not even kidding themselves any more. I hope they don't disappear, though, because I love imitating them. Zol er taka zayn a maylitz yoisher...

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I had sent SZL an email describing my new algorithm for authorship verification, which I had used to prove that Ben Ish Chai wrote Resp. Torah Lishmah (which he claims to have found in an archive). The bizarre part is that BIH brings Torah Lishmah as a tanna di-mesaya for his own views in Resp. Rav Pe'alim. Anyway, SZL got back to me and pointed me to a very fine article in Shevet mi-Yehudah by Yehudah Lavie Ben-David which reaches the same conclusion (that BIH wrote Torah Lishmah himself) without any algorithms. Ben-David figured it out the old-fashioned way: by reading the teshuvos. Anyway, SZL joins the list of those suggesting I tackle Besamim Rosh, a notorious forgery attributed to the Rosh. Rav Ovadiah is still quite ambivalent on the topic of whether the Rosh may have had a hand in these teshuvos. If I get an electronic version (either by scanning or getting some hearty soul to type it in), I'll run it.

In unrelated news, YK's legwork finally paid off: the vaadat chukah held a special meeting, heavily covered by the press, to savage Edna Arbel's lamentable candidacy for the Supreme Court. It'll probably help vi a toiten, baynkes but the point was made that the Knesset is getting tired of these decisions being made in smoke-filled rooms.

Monday, May 03, 2004

I really don't want this blog to be so political but one comment on yesterday's referendum is irresistible. I don't believe that the results of the referendum will matter all that much in the long run. But there was something positively revolutionary about the process. Of course the notion of a one-party referendum is bizarre and only happened as a consequence of political maneuvering. But it all resulted in something very beautiful: teenagers from various yishuvim went out to places like Shechunat Hatikvah in Tel-Aviv to persuade Likud members to vote against the plan. They knocked on doors unannounced. Almost without exception, they were invited in, offered food and drink and given a sympathetic hearing. It really doesn't matter how their hosts voted in the end. It was quite clear that in these homes, these "settler" kids -- dati, Ashkenazi, often with Anglo backgrounds -- were not regarded as strangers or what some politicos call a "neta zar" in the Likud. They were clearly seen as brothers in a common struggle. This campaign was a watershed in Israeli politics because it was a victory for old-fashioned listen-to-what-I-have-to-say politics over high-priced spin-doctoring and father-knows-best demagoguery.

Israeli politics has been so party-centered, so ideologically moribund for so long. I think this campaign signals a big change. I'm waxing nostalgic for grass-roots campaigns these days after reading Yossi Klein Halevy's article about Jacob Birnbaum and SSSJ.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I just counted the local ballots on Sharon's referendum. In My Little Town the vote was 280 against and 10 for. But who can celebrate after today's horrific pigua?