What does it mean?

September 18, 2014

Mundia & Modia: The two worlds in which we live

We humans live in two worlds. One world, I call Mundia, is the world of immutable laws, e.g. gravity, electromagnetism, and supply and demand - it is the world that we see when we look out at the natural landscape. The other world, I call Modia, is the world of social relationships, e.g. love, hate, admiration, envy, loyalty, and gratitude - it is the world that we see when we look out at the social landscape.

I believe that, while all of us live in both worlds, most of us live in one world much more than the other: we are Mundians or Modians, not both. Mundians look out at the world and see the natural landscape; Modians, the social landscape. This fact explains a lot of phenomena that have puzzled me for a long time. At the most basic level it explains this: when faced with a problem, what is the heuristic that we use for solving it? Mundians use a naturalistic model, while Modians use a sociological model. The nature of these two models is very different, often leading to very different answers.

Mundia: The world is made of immutable laws. We can successfully manipulate the world by learning them. Over the course of our lifetime, we can gradually build up our knowledge of the world - our knowledge never goes out of date. We might get something wrong, and have to update our understanding of things, given new information, but the underlying world that our knowledge describes is fundamentally unchangeable; there is no such thing as old-fashioned knowledge. Moreover, the same is true for society as a whole: over thousands of years, we have gradually built up a knowledge of the world's immutable laws, and the best way for an individual to become knowledgeable is to learn this collective wisdom. If something is unknown, or if there is some disagreement about the way things are, the way to resolve it is to understand things better; whether by experimentation or by reason. The facts speak for themselves.

Modia: The world is made of relationships between people. We can successfully manipulate the world by figuring out who is powerful, or by becoming powerful ourselves. We must learn to be responsive to people in the right way, or to act in a way which will elicit the response we want. How we look, dress, how we express ourselves, and even the opinions that we hold, are all factors in interpersonal relationships. Since power relationships are always changing, this world, unlike Mundia, is continually shifting, and knowledge about the world quickly goes out of date. Intelligent Modians use their wits to develop an acute sensitivity to the Zeitgeist. They must know whether to support the powerful, in the hopes of being raised by association, or perhaps rebel in the hopes of joining (or starting) a new power center. They must know who, and what, is in or out, since a faux pas can lead to immediate loss of status. Finally, for the most part, the world of Modia, unlike Mundia, is a zero-sum-game: one person's gain is another's loss. Status relationships can never be win-win.

Now, you might think that Mundia and Modia are non-overlapping magisteria. If only they were! I will give you an example of how they are not: the anthropogenic global warming debate. I am not, personally, knowledgeable enough about this issue to have an informed opinion about it. Most likely, neither are you. But, there is a good chance that you have an opinion, informed or not, and might even believe it very strongly! So how did you form your opinion? The answer most likely depends on whether you are Mundian or Modian. A Modian would say: "Obviously, there is anthropogenic global warming, all the right people believe it! There is consensus among the experts!" A Mundian would say, "Even though there is a consensus among experts on this issue, there are some experts who disagree. How do we know they are not right? Only a few decades ago the experts were warning about global cooling. Minority views have often overturned the scientific consensus. Not enough time has passed to come to a conclusion. The jury is still out." Note that I'm not saying anything about the truth value of anthropogenic global warming! Only about the heuristic that we use to make decisions when we are not well-informed.

You might also notice that being pro-AGW is generally associated with the political left, while being anti-AGW is associated with the right. I don't much like the terms "left" and "right" as political descriptions ("liberal" and "conservative" are even worse) because to most people they imply ideology. I don't believe that ideology is consistent over time. When I look at the ideology of the left or right a hundred years ago, and look at it now, I don't see much continuity. Issues that the left or right supported a hundred years ago seem to have no relationship to issues that they support today. When I look at policy I see even less continuity. The continuity that I do see is the difference between Mundia and Modia.

Why is it that Hollywood tends to be leftist, while farmers tend to be on the right? It is because success in Hollywood depends on successfully manipulating people, while farmers must manipulate nature. You can make a list of professions, and easily see that the more Modian they are, the more left-leaning they tend to be, and the more Mundian they are, the more right-leaning. Thus people who work in the media tend to be on the left, and engineers tend to be on the right. Business people tend to be on the right, because they are judged by objective standards of profit and loss. But those business people whose success depends on understanding fashion tend more to the left. Wherever you see objective standards, you see Mundians; wherever the the standards are subjective, Modians.

All human institutions tend to become Modian over time, for the simple reason that they are made up of people. The more subjective the criteria for success, the more Modian the organization will become. Those institutions that have little or no exogenous criteria for success, like government, academia, or the non-profit sector, will inevitably come to be dominated by Modians, whatever their explicit goals may be. Businesses, which must make a profit to survive, are not immune to this tendency. Though they have exogenous criteria for success, it is a difficult task to propagate the objective criteria for success down through the ranks - at each level of decision making there will be some degree of subjectivity, and by the time we reach the bottom rank, decisions might be completely Modian. But in the business world, there is some good news for Mundians: those businesses that become too Modian will fail.

Mundia and Modia explain why people tend to move rightwards as they age. We are all born Modians, knowing nothing about the world, but trusting our parents to inform us. Later we learn from our teachers, and our peers. It is usually perfectly clear who has the right opinions in our society, and we accept their opinions as fact. But as we move away from the orbit of our parents, an interesting thing happens. We become acutely aware of the social hierarchy of our peers. It often becomes clear that the high-status opinions in this society are different, often diametrically opposed, to those of our parents. Which do we choose? Most of us still don't have a well-formed inner model of the world from which to make a Mundian decision, but most of us value highly our status among our peers, so it's an easy choice: we abandon the opinions of our parents, and embrace those of our peers.

As we age, we gradually learn more about Mundia. Its immutable nature means that our knowledge about it is cumulative. Occasionally, we learn things that seem to contradict what we thought we knew, and we have to reconsider our ideas, but the direction is always forward. Nothing of the sort happens in Modia, at least on a macro scale. Opinion-makers are always changing. Intellectual fashions go in and out of style. To a Modian, it seems natural to keep up with the latest fashion, and they are instinctively swept along. But a Mundian soon becomes disillusioned; the world is supposed to be immutable! When our personal experiences of the world contradict its social messages, Mundians rebel. And so, they gradually move to the right.

You might have detected above my own personal bias. I am, I admit, a Mundian. But I do not believe that Mundians are always right, nor is Modia an illusion. In fact, Modia is probably more important than Mundia, even to Mundians! Mundians crave social success and status no less than Modians, and usually more than they crave success in farming, or building bridges that won't fall down. A typical Mundian mistake is to assume that success in Mundia will naturally lead to success in Modia. It might, but it might not. A successful movie star will always be more popular than a successful businessman. I also think that Modia is important in its own right, especially on the micro level of interpersonal relations. On the macro level, marketing is part of life, for better or for worse, and it's an important skill. In the arts, why not? Viva la Modia! Why not enjoy it?

The problem comes when you use Modian skills to solve a Mundian problem, or vice versa. Everybody knows that Modian skills won't keep your bridges from falling down, but we still choose bridge-builders partly, at least, for Modian reasons. Everybody knows that truth isn't a popularity contest, but we still tend to view a recent scientific consensus as truth, and call dissenters deniers. Conversely, Mundia won't help you get along with your spouse, your co-workers, or make you popular.

In then end, we humans live in two worlds: Mundia and Modia. Enjoy the difference.

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March 02, 2014

Sovevos bugs & suggestions

This is a post for listing any bugs you find or suggestions you have for Sovevos.

Thank you.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 07:19 PM  Permalink | Comments
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You might notice that my blog has a new commenting system. Actually, it's more than a commenting system, it's a social network. At this point, a primitive social network, but I hope it's enough for you to imagine how it can be expanded to a full-fledged social-network experience.

Log in, and you will be able to friend other people who comment, chat with them, and see their updates in your news feed.

But it's more than just a social network for a blog. It's also a network of social networks:
  • You can use a login on one blog to log into another blog and comment.
  • You can make friends with people on many Sovevos-enabled blogs, and see all of their comments in your news feed.
  • You can chat with any friend who is logged in to any blog (not just those who are logged into the same blog).
For bloggers, installing Sovevos makes your blog into a social network. Comments and other activities are physically located on your blog, where you have control, not on a third-party provider. (Sovevos provides hosting services, but you can install the product on your own server if you want.)

The vision of Sovevos is to turn the blogosphere into a giant, distributed social network.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 07:14 PM  Permalink | Comments
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I'm back!

I stopped posting in 2006 pretty much because I ran out of things to say. Since then, a lot of new thoughts have come to me, and I hope to post some of them here. But, there is a more specific reason why I'm coming back at this time. I hope to talk about it in my next post.

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December 14, 2006

Learn to read Hebrew

A friend of mine just asked me for a good link for learning to read Hebrew. Well, here's a good link. But if it were up to me, I'd provide some context which would both help learn to read, and teach you something about the language. So, maybe I'll do it.

I think I've already covered vowel points about as well as I can, so go look at that post for vowels and I'll skip to consonants. 

There are 22 consonants in Hebrew five of them have final forms, and three of them (in Modern Hebrew) have a stop and fricative pronunciation. All 22 Hebrew consonants have graphic cognates in Arabic. (Phonetic cognates can be found here.) All Hebrew and Arabic letters have numerical values - which are the same for both! In tabular form:

Name Letter Final form Transcription Arabic cognate Numerical value Comments
Alef א   ' ا 1 glottal stop
Bet ב   b, v ب 2 "v" after a vowel except when doubled, otherwise "b"
Gimel ג   g ج 3 used to have a fricative form "gh"
Dalet ד   d د 4 used to have a fricative form "dh"
He ה   h 5  
Vav ו   v و 6 used to be "w"
Zayin ז   z ز 7  
Het ח   h ح 8 voiceless pharyngeal
Tet ט   t ط 9 emphatic "t"
Yud י   y ي 10  
Kaf כ ך k, kh ك 20 "kh" after a vowel except when doubled, otherwise "k"
Lamed ל   l ل 30  
Mem מ ם m م 40  
Nun נ ן n ن 50  
Samekh ס   s س 60  
`Ayin ע   ` ع 70 voiced pharyngeal
Pe פ פ p, f ف 80 "f" after a vowel except when doubled, otherwise "p"
Sadi צ ץ s ص 90 used to be emphatic "s", now "ts"
Quf ק q ق 100 uvular stop
Resh ר   r ر 200  
Shin, Sin ש   sh, s ش 300 "s" used to be a voiceless lateral fricative, in pointed script "sh" is distinguished by a point above the upper-right corner, "s" by a point above the upper-left
Tav ת   t ت 400 used to have a fricative form "th"

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December 13, 2006

Where breakthoughs happen

An interesting promotional video for Israel. Of course, it is an advertisement, but everything in it is true. My only (mild) criticism is that it focuses too much on big, international companies. Israel is not Finland or Switzerland, playgrounds for mega-high-tech. What distinguishes it is the vibrancy of its entrepreneurship. In any case, go watch the video!

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 02:23 PM  Permalink | Comments
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December 06, 2006

The Israeli economic "miracle"

We can thank Netanyahu's much-vilified reforms for this:

It is also becoming clear that Israel's economy is growing faster than all Western economies. Even the war did not slow the pace. The mirror of growth is employment, which has improved greatly. A total of 240,000 Israelis joined the workforce in the past three years, supporting themselves instead of relying on government handouts - and that is the most important news for society. The unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level in a decade, to 8.3 percent of the workforce compared to 10.7 percent in 2003. The number of people receiving unemployment payments fell from 97,000 in 2003 to 57,000, and the number receiving income support decreased from 155,000 to 140,000 in the same period.

Even the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is doing the unexpected. In defiance of all the prophets of economic doom, it has jumped by 22 percent since the end of the war, to record heights. And as the stock market sees the face of the future, it apparently envisions greatness ahead.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer recently joined the party, cutting interest rates to below the U.S. rate: 5 percent, compared to 5.25 in the U.S. And instead of an immediate devaluation, the shekel actually rose in response.

Will the economics textbooks need to be revised? Apparently not. There is a single explanation for all the good things described here: A responsible, free-market economic policy expressed through budgetary restraint, a small deficit, tax cuts, reforms, privatization and opening the economy to the free movement of goods, services and capital, or in short: Less government, more business.

UPDATE: Netanyahu has a new web site, with a blog. And don't miss this video.

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December 03, 2006

It is possible to annihilate the Jewish people

Caroline Glick (via Solomonia, my transcription): 

I found, when I was here in 1998 through 2000 after having been in Israel for seven years, I found it disturbing in many ways to see how Holocaust memorials were springing up like mushrooms after the rainfall everywhere in the United States of America. You walk down the dock in Boston, and you think you're going to go a fish restaurant, the next thing you know you're standing in a Holocaust memorial. Why? Because. And it became this fashion among American Jewry I think in the 1990's to put up Holocaust memorials everywhere, and we keep saying "never again". We keep saying "never again". And I wonder when I look what's happening today in the world and I see the response of American Jewry whether we ever stop to think what we mean by "never again". Never again to what? What is the lesson of the Holocaust? As far as I can tell the lesson that the Jews should be taking from the Holocaust is that it is quite possible to kill all of us. That is what we should be learning. Without too much objections from too many people it is quite possible to commit genocide against the Jewish people. There may be other lessons from the Holocaust but I think that as a Jewish person, the main lesson that we should be taking away is that it is possible for this to happen. Not that is was possible but that it is possible for this to happen...

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An Israeli view of Borat

Borat looks different to an Israeli audience than it does to any other, for a number of reasons. Here's one Israeli review:

I had heard that Sacha Baron Cohen - he of the grandmother in Haifa and the youth education trips from the UK to the Holy Land - mixed in a fair amount of Hebrew with his faux Kazakh in his box-office hit mockumentary Borat. I'd seen a clip of the movie's opening few minutes on YouTube, where he promises a one-armed neighbor (the genuinely disabled Nicu Tudorache) in his home Kazakh village of Kuzcek (actually Glod in Romania), in Hebrew, that he'll return from the United States with a new arm.

But I wasn't prepared for the fact that just about every "Kazakh" sentence Borat Sagdiyev utters in the entire movie is Hebrew - near-accentless, flawless, slang-filled modern Hebrew. My fellow Jerusalem audience members loved every word of it, heaving hysterically at each idiomatic pearl. 


BARON COHEN is a comedian - bright, inventive and intrepid. Depending on how much of the Borat footage was genuine and how much was scripted, he is also brave. It requires real guts to take the microphone at center field and tell a vast crowd at a Virginia rodeo that he supports their president's war of terror, run with that "joke" to bloodcurdling extremes and top off the performance by remaking the US national anthem as a paean of praise for Kazakhstan and of derision for all other nations. It requires real guts of a different kind to prance around before a global audience in that screaming green excuse for a swimsuit.

But the jokester who would prevent another Holocaust wimped out, nonetheless. Easy to play for fools an Evangelical Christian audience, swaying and clapping wildly in the grip of religious passion. But think of the truly needed alarms Baron Cohen might have set off for his audiences had he tried the same stunt in a mosque.

Read the whole thing.

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November 30, 2006

Do Israelis speak Hebrew?

You might think that a subject like linguistics would have little to do with politics. Unfortunately, you'd be mistaken. Ghil'ad Zuckermann claims that in Israel we don't really speak Hebrew:

Ghil'ad Zuckermann, a 35-year-old graduate of Tel Aviv University with doctorates from Oxford and Cambridge, argues that modern Hebrew should be renamed "Israeli" and give up its claim of pure descent from holy writ.

"Israelis are brainwashed to believe they speak the same language as (the prophet) Isaiah, a purely Semitic language, but this is false," Zuckermann told Reuters during a lecture tour to promote his soon-to-be-published polemic "Hebrew as Myth".

"It's time we acknowledge that Israeli is very different from the Hebrew of the past," Said Zuckermann, who points to the abiding influence of modern European dialects - especially Yiddish, Russian and Polish - imported by Israel's founders.

It is very possible that Zuckermann is an excellent linguist. But declaring Israelis' native language to be something other than Hebrew can only be a political, rather than linguistic claim, and interferes with the quality of his scholarship. The only semi-objective basis for declaring two varieties of speech to be separate languages is the fuzzy idea of mutual-intelligiblilty, and even that is clearly violated at both ends of the spectrum: "dialects" of Chinese are not mutually intelligible, while the Norwegian and Danish "languages" are.

I think by any reasonable standard Biblical and Modern Hebrew are mutually intelligible, as the article says:

Those who disagree with Zuckermann note that an average Israeli can divine the meaning of much of the Bible's Hebrew unaided - not the case, for example, with English-speakers who try to crack open an Anglo-Saxon classic like "Beowulf".

The difference between Modern and Biblical Hebrew is more like Modern English and the English of the King James Bible. With just a little exposure, a modern speaker has no trouble understanding it. But the wrong-headedness of Zuckermann's claims is even more glaring when you look at the long history of post-Biblical Hebrew, beginning with the Mishna. For those of you who know Hebrew, go look at Maimonides' Mishna Torah, for example:

הקורא קרית שמע--כשהוא גומר פסוק ראשון, אומר בלחש ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד; וחוזר וקורא כדרכו "ואהבת, את ה' אלוהיך" (דברים ו,ה), עד סופה.  ולמה קורין כן--מסורת היא בידינו שבשעה שקיבץ יעקוב אבינו את בניו במצריים בשעת מיתתו, ציוום וזירזם על ייחוד השם, ועל דרך ה' שהלך בה אברהם ויצחק אביו.  ושאל אותם ואמר להם, בניי, שמא יש בכם פסולת, מי שאינו עומד עימי בייחוד אדון כל העולם, כעניין שאמר לנו משה רבנו "פן יש בכם איש או אישה . . ." (דברים כט,יז).  ענו כולם, ואמרו לו "שמע, ישראל:  ה' אלוהינו, ה' אחד" (דברים ו,ד)--כלומר שמע ממנו, אבינו ישראל, ה' אלוהינו, ה' אחד.  פתח הזקן ואמר, ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד; לפיכך נהגו כל ישראל לומר שבח זה ששיבח בו ישראל הזקן, אחר פסוק זה.

The notion that Modern Hebrew is so influenced by "modern European dialects" that it is no longer a Semitic language might seem to make sense, and there is a lot of evidence for it. But however much sense a claim might make theoretically and however much evidence you have, you only need one counter-example to disprove a claim. The above paragraph (as well as the rest of Maimonides writings, and, in fact, the entire body of medieval Hebrew) does just that. Maimonides wrote in the 12th century, and his native language was Arabic. The only thing in the paragraph that gives away its medieval origin is the use of qorin (קורין) instead of qor'im (קוראים), which is the Biblical, rather than Mishnaic form of the word. So should we stop calling this language Hebrew too? Would it be more accurate to say "Maimonides wrote in Israeli" than "Maimonides wrote in Hebrew"? In fact, while Maimonides consciously adopted the language of the Mishna, his analytic style is much closer to that of Modern Hebrew. That Maimonides is a thousand-year-old Arabic-speaker conclusively disproves the common claim that this style is a recent, European-based innovation. In fact, Modern Hebrew represents the culmination of rather smooth 3000-year transition from the language of the Bible.

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November 29, 2006

Is this what I sound like?

I did spend four years in Philadelphia, but I don't think anyone there would think that I sound like one of them... In any case, you can take the test here (via Razib). I took an test like this once before, here.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
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November 22, 2006

Israeli/Lebanese peace/war songs

In September, my old friend, Richard Isaac, co-hosted a radio show on KBCS 91.3 FM Seattle/Bellevue devoted to Israeli and Lebanese songs about peace and war. It is being re-broadcast Sunday evening, 26 November 2006, at 7:00 p.m. PST. (10 p.m. on the
East Coast, 5 a.m. in Israel on 27 November), you can listen to it here. He has also posted it here. Enjoy!

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November 03, 2006

Iraq was building an atom bomb!

According to the New York Times, Iraq was a year away from building an atom bomb:

The Web site, “Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal,” was a constantly expanding portrait of prewar Iraq. Its many thousands of documents included everything from a collection of religious and nationalistic poetry to instructions for the repair of parachutes to handwritten notes from Mr. Hussein’s intelligence service. It became a popular quarry for a legion of bloggers, translators and amateur historians.

Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

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Live free or Die

Sean's comment on this post echos my sentiments:

For myself I do believe that I would prefer daily chaos and surviving by my wits to being tended to like a lamb by my government (lambs can be led to the slaughter).

I am constantly amazed when people seem to have not learned basic Star Trek, Saturday westerns, Kipling-esque lessons about human life and the state of captivity. Ours is a species that can will itself to die rather than live as a slave. So why does everyone give so much weight to issues of basic survival under a dictator? Even if one could live safely under Saddam (and that is far from certain, ask the Kurds or the Shia... two thirds of the country) is that enough? Even if life is riskier now (and I don't know that it is) isn't it still better to live in chaos as a free human?

When did Americans become the "live unfree or die" backers?

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October 30, 2006

Derb & God

John Derbyshire has a very interesting "Faith FAQ" online, in which, among other things, he declares himself a Mysterian. One of the things that I find interesting is that he continually refers to his Mysterian beliefs as a loss of faith. Yet, it seems to me that Mysterianism is the very essence of Judaism! John describes it like this:

My God is at, or possibly just is, one pole of the great two-poled mystery of everything: the origin of the universe, which passeth all human understanding. He is the Creator. Since He was present in the cosmos then, I assume He is now (or “now,” since He is obviously outside spacetime); and since I can apprehend Him, I assume He is aware of me. The two poles of mystery, the Him and the Me (I mean, the invidual human consciousness, the I, the Me — that’s the second pole) are in contact somehow, and may actually be the same thing...

In fact, I agree with most of what John says in his FAQs (the part about Catholicism being a major exception) - which mostly chronicles the things he has learned which led him away from religion. Yet, I find none of it even remotely challenging to my religion. It makes me feel very lucky, being a Mysterian from birth.

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September 07, 2006

Understanding Tangut

I've been following Amritas's Tangut analyses for quite some time now. From Wikipedia:

Tangut (also Xixia) is an ancient northeastern Tibeto-Burman language spoken in the Tangut Empire. By some linguists it is classified as belonging to the Qiangic languages. It is only distantly related to Tibetan and Burmese, and possibly also to Chinese.

Among the Qiangic languages one also notably finds Qiang and Rgyalrong.

This is the ancient official language of the Tangut empire (known in Tibetan as Mi-nyag and in Chinese as Xixia 西夏) which obtained its independence from the Chinese Song dynasty at the beginning of the 11th century, and was annihilated by Činggis Qaɣan (commonly known as Gengis Khan) in 1227.

The Tangut script, which Sofronov (1968) considered with reason to be one of the most complex in the history of humanity, was created by a decree of the emperor Li Yuanhao (李元昊) in 1038. The invention of the script was bestowed on Yeli Renrong (野利仁榮), a scholar close to the imperial family. After the destruction of the empire, the writing did not completely disappear, and it was used at least until the end of the 15th century.

The weird thing about Tangut is that we have a tremendous amount of knowledge about the language: 10,000 volumes of literature, most of which are translations of works we know from other languages, plus a native tradition of linguistic/grammatical analysis! But we still can't figure out how the Tangut script works! According to the Wikipedia link:

The script is presumed to have been designed by "The Teacher, Iri" under the supervision of the Emperor of the Tangut state, Li Yuanhao. It consisted of approximately 6,600 logographic characters built from radicals, in much the same way as they are in the Chinese script.

If the script were designed, you wouldn't expect it to consist of 6,600 random symbols. Take a look at Amritas's latest Tangut post. As you can see, the characters look much less like pictures than Chinese characters. But can you imagine memorizing 6,600 random characters like those chicken-scratches? Moreover, if you look at the characters long enough, vague patterns begin to emerge. Too vague to be definitive but too suggestive to be random. Amritas's favorite hypothesis, and the one that I'm convinced is correct, is that there are really two Tangut languages, which he calls Tangut A and Tangut B. Tangut A is the one for which we have phonetic knowledge. But Tangut B is the one which the characters represent phonetically. This isn't as unlikely as it sounds - Japanese has that sort of relationship with Chinese. What makes it less likely is that Chinese is the pricipal language of East Asia, while Tangut B is even more obscure than Tangut A.

However, there are several appealing things about this theory. For one thing, it would explain how Tangut writing could persist for hundreds of years after the Tangut empire was destroyed - in such a circumstance it must be relatively easy to learn.  But most of all, it would exactly explain the vague patterns we do, in fact, see - which I have tabulated below. Of course, the big problem with this theory is that there's no independent evidence of Tangut B. Oh well.

Phenomenon for similar characters Tangut A feature Tangut B feature
Similar sounds in Tangut A Words inherited from Tangut B The words sound similar in Tangut B "by chance" - i.e. the similar sounds don't reflect similar meanings
Words borrowed from Tangut B
Similar meaning in Tangut A Words not borrowed or inherited from Tangut B Similar sounds in Tangut B reflect similar meanings
Words evolved to the point where their phonetic relationship is unclear
Similar sound and meaning in Tangut A Words inherited from Tangut B
Words borrowed from Tangut B
Neither sound nor meaning similar in Tangut A Words not borrowed or inherited from Tangut B The words sound similar in Tangut B "by chance" - i.e. the similar sounds don't reflect similar meanings
Words evolved to the point where their phonetic relationship is unclear
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September 05, 2006

Alumni, of course!

For some time I have been wondering about how to organize an organization so that it doesn't become a self-perpetuating priesthood. How do you build in outside control that won't be captured by the bureaucrats? How do you make sure that the organization stays on course, doing what it was set up to do, rather than serving its own bureaucracy? At least for universities, I think I've found the answer: alumni. Of course! (Via Instapundit.)

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August 21, 2006

Israeli-Lebanese dialog

Take a look at this dialog between Lebanese blogger Rania el-Masry and Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman (via Lisa). It is sponsored by the BBC. No doubt they picked Lisa because they know that she hails from the Israeli far left. Unfortunately for them, they didn't know that though she's a leftist, she's honest, and doesn't distort or overlook relevant facts. Notice how Rania's arguments sound convincing as long as you don't know the facts. After trying to avoid confrontation, Lisa gives it to her. Her response is so good that I can't let it lie in such an obscure location. I'm reproducing it here in full:

Dear Rania,

The only thing that you and I agree on is that negotiations are preferrable to war. Other than that, I found your response to be puzzling and disingenuous.

You say that Israel should stop oppressing the Palestinians. Well, in Israel there are 1.2 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. The deputy mayor of Haifa is Palestinian; his name is Walid Hamis and he is a member of the Balad party. When my friend was taken to Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital after a minor accident, the neurologist who treated him was named Dr. Firas and he was a Christian Palestinian from Nazareth. In Israel there are Palestinian members of parliament, Palestinian professors, journalists, lawyers and actors, high tech workers and businessmen.The stars of Paradise Now, Ali Suleiman and Kais Nashef, are Israeli citizens who studied at Beit Zvi, Israel's most prestigious acting school.

There are also Palestinians who are active members of the Israeli Open House, the gay and lesbian group. I have met and interviewed Palestinian gays who ran away from the West Bank, where their relatives threatened to kill them simply for their sexual orientation, and found refuge in Israel, which is an open, liberal and secular society.

All the Palestinians who live in Israel (I am not talking about the West Bank, which is occupied territory) are fully enfranchised citizens. Yes, they do face social discrimination. And yes, I do think that discrimination is very wrong. But a Palestinian who experiences discrimination in Israel can fight through the court system. What recourse does a Palestinian living in Lebanon have if he is faced with discrimination?

Is it not true that Palestinians who came to Lebanon in 1948 are inegible for Lebanese citizenship? Is it not true that Palestinians who are classified as refugees are not allowed to practice law or medicine in Lebanon? According to my Palestinian friends, many Palestinians live in squalid refugee camps and the Lebanese government does not allow them to better their lives by doing something as basic as renovating their homes. And finally, Lebanese Christians massacred Palestinians in Lebanon on several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s. So, what have the Lebanese people ever done for the Palestinians? And what in the world does Hezbollah, a Shi'a organization, have to do with the Palestinians, who are Sunni and Christian? I fail to see the connection.

When the Israeli Air Force bombed Dahiyeh and various Hezbollah villages in southern Lebanon during the first two days of the conflict, many Lebanese Christian and Sunni bloggers were quite happy. Some of them told me so directly. They did not even consider Dahiyeh to be part of Beirut, but rather an ugly, frightening place they were forced to pass on their way to and from the airport. They wanted to get rid of Hezbollah and they hoped that Israel would do the job for them. They changed their minds when the bombardments expanded into other areas of Lebanon. And yet, while I see that southern Lebanon has indeed been severely damaged, I cannot help noticing that Ashrafiyeh and other neighbourhood of West and East Beirut look completely intact when I watch the BBC World Service, Al Arabiyya and LBC broadcasts from Beirut.

On July 12, Hezbollah guerillas entered Israeli sovereign territory and attacked a group of Israeli reserve soldiers who were patrolling the border. They killed eight of them and kidnapped two. At the same time, Hezbollah launched hundred of missiles on Israeli civilian targets.

I would like to emphasise very strongly that the Hezbollah bombardment of northern Israel began before the Israeli military response, on the morning the soldiers were kidnapped. Hezbollah continued to launch up to 200 missiles per day at Israel for the duration of the war. Their targets in Israel were exclusively civilian. I was there, and I experienced that bombardment. Hezbollah never even pretended that they were aiming for military targets. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians were forced to live underground or flee south. Arab, Druze and Jewish civilians were killed; the missiles did not discriminate between them. Some of the Arabs and Druze who were killed have family in Lebanon. Huge tracts of forest have been burned to the ground. Houses, lives and businesses have been destroyed.

Like the Lebanese, Israelis will rebuild. Life will go on. But the long-term damage is another story. Israelis dream of living in peace. We sing about peace and we write poems about peace. Do the supporters of Hezbollah write poems about peace? And look how far away peace seems to be now! Look how much damage has been done to relations between Israel and Lebanon. I keep on asking myself why, why, why. You can sit there and say that Israel did this and Israel did that, but let us be honest: if Hezbollah had not attacked Israel - not once, but on many occasions - then there would have been no Israeli military actions in Lebanon.

I write this not to enter into a contest of "who suffered more." I hate the victimization narrative and I do not think there is a prize for suffering. I also wonder if Lebanese would be satisfied if more Israeli civilians had been killed, because that is the way it sounds. The way I see it, we all suffered and the source of our suffering is Hezbollah. I feel equal sympathy for Israeli and Lebanese civilians, for the damage done to both our countries.

And frankly it is beyond my ability to comprehend why a female academic at a secular university would support a fundamentalist religious organization that believes in full implementation of Shari'a in place of civil law.

Israel and Lebanon have no territorial dispute. The border between the two countries is internationally recognized by the United Nations. The July 12 incident was the catalyst for the Israeli military response, not the reason. The goal of the military response was not to rescue the two kidnapped soldiers, since everyone knew that could not be accomplished by military action, but to stop Hezbollah from continuing its attacks on Israel. The undisputed fact is that Hezbollah has attacked Israelis on many occasions since the withdrawal of 2000.

In October 2000, nearly six months after Israel withdrew completely from Lebanese territory, Hezbollah guerillas kidnapped three Israeli soldiers from inside Israeli territory. Their names were Adi Avyitan, Binyamin Avraham and Omar Sawaid. No information was ever released to their families about their whereabouts or their physicial condition. In fact they were dead, but Hezbollah did not have the decency to inform the families via the Red Cross. The bodies of the three men were returned three years later in a prisoner swap.

In February 2005 Hezbollah bombarded Al Ghajar, an Alawite village that is located inside Israeli sovereign territory. The residents of the village are Israeli citizens. Hezbollah guerillas tried to enter the village dressed in UNIFIL uniforms, driving a UN vehicle, in order to kidnap some of those Alawite Israeli citizens. Then Hezbollah bombarded Al Ghajar so fiercely that the children were screaming in terror on the phone to their parents, who were working in nearby Kiryat Shmona. I heard them; the phone calls were played on the nightly news broadcast.

Over the past six years Kiryat Shmona has been bombarded on many occasions by katyusha rockets launched by Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

Israel did not respond militarily to any of these incidents. The incident of July 12 was simply the last straw. The Israeli consensus was in favour of the military response not because anyone wanted to see Lebanese civilians hurt, but rather because they felt that Israel needed to protect its citizens from Hezbollah's constant attacks. Israelis do not have any dispute with the Lebanse government and I have not heard one Israeli express anything but sadness regarding the Lebanese civilians who were killed.

Hassan Nasrallah was educated in Iran. His movement is armed by Iran and has very close ties with that country. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran and supporter of Nasrallah, has said several times over the past year that Israel should be wiped off the map. I have watched many of Hassan Nasrallah's speeches and I have heard him call Israel "Palestine." If he does not even recognize the name of my country, and if he launches missiles at my country's civilian areas with no provocation, then in my eyes that means that Nasrallah does not accept Israel's right to exist and he wishes to destroy it.

You can argue with Israel's military tactics, no problem. I have been very critical of my government's military actions over the last month. But the undeniable fact is that Hezbollah has chosen Israel as its enemy for absolutely no reason. There are no Shi'a living in Israel. Israel does not occupy any Lebanese territory. Hezbollah provoked this attack, and they should take responsibility for the destruction they have brought upon Lebanon. Your anger is misdirected: you should be angry at Hezbollah, not Israel.


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August 20, 2006

The assumption that we are the victorious and evil side

In a private email, a friend of mine said something to the effect that Israelis are ahead of everyone else in perceiving the Islamist threat. Well, I'm not so sure that they are, and if so not by very much, and only because of our circumstances. The message in this article by Gadi Taub (via On The Face) holds true just about anywhere in the West:

The truth is that there is a deep arrogance behind this type of degenerate "left-ism." It's appeal is relevant only when we win. Its criticism is valid only on the assumption that we are the victorious and evil side. But in this case? It seems we are neither.

Even if we made terrible mistakes, we are not the guilty party. Anyone with eyes in their head sees the Iran inspired Islamic brand of fascism, and no elaborate explanations are needed to understand why it is evil.

But even more unusual for this branch of the left is that this time, it is unclear even that we are the stronger side. There is are huge forces gathering against us, bold, ruthless, and well-armed. This radical leftist arrogance, which grew out of the occupation, assumed that we were always Goliath. But here in the New Middle East, there is a new Goliath.

This reminds me of an old Jewish joke, which I used to think was funny because it was absurd. But now I think it's funny because it describes so much of the social posturing I see among those who presume moral superiority:

It's Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year. During a short break in the service, the Rabbi approaches the ark to say a personal prayer. "Master of the Universe," he says, "I am nothing!" At just this moment, the President of the synagogue passes by. Overcome by the Rabbi's fervor, he too approaches the ark and exclaims, "Master of the Universe, I am nothing!" Just then, the synagogue's janitor passes by. Overcome by the President's fervor he rushes up to the ark and cries, "Master of the Universe, I am nothing!"

The President leans over to the Rabbi and says, "now look who thinks he's nothing!"

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August 18, 2006

Descrating the remains of Israelis

If you read any Arab blogs - and I have been reading the most moderate ones I can find - you will see that a common topic is indignantly protesting Israel's "claim of moral superiority". Well, one thing that happens every time an Israeli corpse falls into Arab hands is that it gets mutilated. This, despite the fact that Islam has stricter notions of respect for the dead than are commonly held by most Americans (they are actually quite similar to Jewish views on the subject). Via Allison Kaplan Sommer:

I saw an incredibly disturbing segment on the Wednesday August 16th “Mosaic” program broadcast on Link TV (Mosaic features Middle East news unedited and translated from state and private networks like Al Jazeera.) In a segment entitled “Hezbollah’s Stronghold in a Southern Lebanese Town” from Future TV, Lebanon, south Lebanese villagers were shown displaying “Israeli booty” from the fighting there, including what was described as remains of Israeli soldiers. These included parts of a scalp, a skull, and the charred remains of a torso, all dumped out of a duffel bag and onto the ground for the benefit of the cameraman. There was no doctoring of images in this case.

Allison declines to post the link, but I presume it is here. I don't have Quicktime, so I can't watch it. Not that I want to.

UPDATE:  Somehow my Qucktime started working (it must have updated itself from the Internet). I had the window open in the background while I did other things, and suddenly I hear it playing. So I watched it. The segment described above is about two-thirds of the way through. It's not an "objective" news broadcast, but a paean to Hizballah's "victory". They're not embarrassed by what they're doing, they're proud, they're boasting. Here's my transcription of a part of it:

This body belongs to an Israeli soldier [a bag is turned upside-down and some charred remains fall out. a charred hand is visible] and this is what is left of another soldier's head [I can't make out what I'm seeing] and this is the skull of a third soldier [a scalp with some hair attached is shown on the ground]

As the voiceover continues to describe how a "resistance fighter" killed and wounded 30 Israeli soldiers, in the background, people are tossing around the body parts previously shown, plus what I presume are some other body parts.

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August 13, 2006

Noam Meirson, of blessed memory - נועם מאירסון זכרו לברכה

A week ago I went to a wedding. The groom had just come back from Lebanon. He was given a one month leave of absence in order to get married. Today I went to a shiv`a (שיבעה) - the one-week period of morning for a close relative.  Noam Meirson, the son of a friend of mine, was killed when an anti-tank missile struck his tank's turret. He was to be married in one month.

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August 11, 2006

Making News

What gets me is that you'd think that the real scoop would be the news of systematic fraud in the media. I guess the mainstream media are not interested in real news: 

On August 1, Orin Kerr suggested that, if David Bernstein's claims of staged Qana photos were correct, then some evidence might show up on the video that was shot at the scene.

Now German TV (with English subtitles) has a short report being shown on YOUTUBE that shows just the sort of evidence that Orin wanted to see (tip to Malkin and LGF). The character who has been dubbed "Green Helmet" is shown directing a scene for the benefit of cameras at Qana.

First, the body of a child is put in an ambulance. Then "Green Helmet" is shown directing the video photographer to "Keep on filming!" and insisting that "better images must be shot."

Then (after an apparent splice in the tape) the body of what may or may not be the same child is removed from the ambulance, apparently so that "better images" can "be shot" of the body. Instead of covering up the face with a blanket, the "workers" pull the blanket to just under the chin of the dead child and manipulate the angle of the child's head so that the video photographer can get the right closeup shot of the dead child's face.
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July 21, 2006

Bob Rosenschein's View

I have just received the following email from Bob Rosenschein. (I have reprinted it in full partly to help get the word out, and partly because the Washington Post has removed Bob's original formatting.)

Dear friends,
Rarely do I put political pen to paper, but when David Ignatius of the Washington Post asked me to contribute a post, I sat down and wrote the following piece. Feel free to link or share. The opinions are my own and do not represent Answers.com.
-- Bob

One Israeli's View
The great Yogi Berra once said, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."
I am not a columnist - just an ordinary American citizen living in Israel - but I have gained some insight into both cultures, some might say mentalities. Here is what many Israelis are feeling nowadays.
The first point concerns some unwritten American values I grew up with:
  • Problems are solvable.
  • Good will is returned in kind.
  • In general, favor the underdog over the top dog (unless you're the top dog).
  • If two sides are fighting, they must both have some justification.
  • Be reasonable; split the difference.
But what if you are living in a neighborhood where they are not quite as reasonable as you? Where your attempts to reason and split the difference backfire? Or worse, where concession is laughed at as weakness.
The second point concerns Israel in particular. We are 6.6 million people, toughened but pragmatic. At 8,020 square miles, we have an area 25% smaller than Maryland. The difference is that, unlike America's vast power, with oceans and peaceful neighbors on all sides, the Jewish state is surrounded on several sides with people who actually want to kill us. Not subdue us - destroy our country.
It would be convenient to think that this must be because of something we did. But Hamas and Hezbollah say it out loud and crystal clear. The "occupation" is the whole works. Their final solution is the total destruction of Israel. Iran, a member state of the UN, holds conferences called "A World Without Israel."
This is the backdrop against which most civilized countries would have us turn the other cheek. As social writer Eric Hoffer once said, "We really do expect the Jews to be the only good Christians in the world."
To put things in perspective, imagine, if you can, that Arlington lobbed 1,000 shells at Georgetown. Or sent suicide bombers. How exactly would you react? Imagine that Mexico was calling for the destruction of the United States, backing it up with cross-border raids and missiles.
The third point is that Israel already withdrew from every last inch of southern Lebanon and Gaza, as the international community demanded. But the provocations and terror - violence aimed intentionally against civilian targets - continued. This is why we entered this conflict. Enough is enough.
This is a horrible situation to be in, fighting Hezbollah behind its human shields. But before bombing southern Lebanon and the Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut, Israel dropped leaflets encouraging evacuation. Confronted with terrible choices, we are trying to fight while minimizing civilian casualties.
It was wishful thinking to hope that joining the government would make Hamas and Hezbollah more responsible. Sometimes putting the bully in charge of the playground works, and sometimes it doesn't.
The operative emotion in Israel right now is sadness, sadness for what is being done to us, sadness for what we must do to defend ourselves. The missiles shot at Haifa landed a few miles from the research labs of Intel, IBM, Microsoft and Google. Israelis would much rather continue working on desalination, stroke treatment, and alternative fuels (see www.israel21c.org). We would rather that our adversaries developed their own economies pragmatically.
We hate this conflict, but we will not commit suicide. As Golda Meir said, "We will have peace when our enemies love their children more than they hate ours."
My father was a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, was the most optimistic person I ever knew, but he once taught me, "Above all else, when someone threatens to kill you or your loved ones - just believe him!"
The lesson for America is simple. Do not hide from international responsibility. Do not assume the oceans offer protection. Iran is behind Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and, of course, the insurgents in Iraq. If Iran gets nuclear bombs, do you want to bet they won't sponsor a radical Islamic group to eradicate American cities?
You want to know what Israelis are thinking? Theory and practice are intertwined. We are on the front line, but we will show patience and strength. That's why 89% of Israelis, Left, Right and Center, support the army right now. A mere 61 years and 10 weeks after V-E day, we know that evil and blind hatred exist. And that they can be beaten.

-- Bob Rosenschein is CEO of Answers.com (NASD:ANSW); he can be reached at rrosenschein at gmail.com; this piece reflects his own views
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A special place in Hell

Although I do not believe in Hell, if there is any justice in the afterlife, there is a special place for those who force people to do evil things, because the alternative is worse. Amba expresses my feelings perfectly (via Callimachus):

A supporter of Israel cannot help but writhe in agony at the horrible spectacle of the suffering, death and displacement of Lebanese civilians, their neighborhoods and lives shattered by the wrath of Israeli warplanes hunting down Hezbollah terrorists who hide in their midst.

How do you deal a decisive, clean blow to a terrorist organization that uses its own neighbors as human shields? You don't. You either grant them an unacceptable kind of immunity, or you go after them, whatever it takes, and become a hated slaughterer yourself.

Nevertheless, for those who care for the truth (which doesn't include the vast majority of the Arab world), Israel is obviously trying to minimize Lebanese casualties as much as possible.

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How journalism works

Read this. If you want the context, read this first.

Okay, here's the full story.

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July 17, 2006

Blogs are the end of ham

Remember Ham Radio? Used to be, whenever there was a crisis - say, a hurricane, or a war - the ham radio operators would step in and provide an important source of up-to-date local information. Well, now it's the blogs (link via Instapundit). The difference being, of course, that no special expertise is required, and there are now at least 46 million of them! Used to be a fleet of geeks, now it's an Army of Davids!

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July 09, 2006

The Kielce pogrom

Among Jews, bad feelings about Poland are second only to Germany for the part they played in cooperating with the Holocaust. This feeling might not be accurate, in light of the fact that the Holocaust death rate in many countries approached that of Poland, and Poland was the country longest occupied by the Nazis. (German and Austrian Jews had a relatively high survival rate only because they had time to see what was coming and try to get out.) On the other hand, Poland's bad reputation is immeasurably enhanced by the Kielce pogrom:

Kielce pogrom refers to the events on July 4, 1946, in the Polish town of Kielce, when thirty-nine Polish Jews were massacred and eighty wounded out of about two hundred Holocaust survivors who returned home after World War II. Among victims were also two Gentile Poles. While far from the deadliest pogrom against the Jews, the pogrom was especially significant in post-war Jewish history, as the attack took place 14 months after the end of World War II, well after the Nazis were defeated and the extent of the Holocaust was well known to the world.

Poland commemorates its anniversary:

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski denounced anti-Semitism on the 60th anniversary of a pogrom in the town of Kielce that left 42 people dead, saying democratic Poland had "no room for racism and anti-Semitism."

"As the president of Poland, I want to say it loud and clear: what happened in Kielce 60 years ago was a crime," he said. "This is a great shame and tragedy for the Poles and the Jews, so few of whom survived Hitler's Holocaust."

In Kielce, townspeople and security officers - spurred by a false rumor that Jews living at 7 Planty Street had kidnapped a Christian boy - attacked Jewish Holocaust survivors living in the building on July 4, 1946.

They killed 42 people, almost all Jews, over several hours, and about 30 more were also killed in a violent frenzy that spread across the area. The violence led set off a mass emigration of many of Poland's estimated 250,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors - what was left of the prewar Jewish population of 3.5 million.

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June 28, 2006

The Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics

Every once in a while I realize something with my conscious mind that I've understood implicitly for a long time. Such a thing happened to me yesterday, while reading a post on Stalin, by Amritas. It is this:

S = P + E

Social Status equals Political Capital plus Economic Capital

Now, if someone were to have just shown me that equation, I would probably have been unimpressed. It seems like a definition, a tautology, a pseudo-mathematical formulation of the expression "socioeconomic status". What I suddenly realized, though, is that this formula has tremendous explanatory power. So much so, that I want to call it the "Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics". Now, I am not a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist, and I am not familiar with the literature, so I don't claim that it's an original idea. I'm sure that such a thing must have be expounded upon by someone before me. But I'm a fairly well-educated person, and I've never encountered such a thing in any popular forum. Assuming that it more-or-less stands after it is posted, it deserves to be popularized.

Here's an example of its explanatory power: If we assume that a major human drive is to maximize S, we can predict that people with high P will attempt to minimize the value of E (since S-maximization is a zero-sum game).  And so we see. Throughout history there has been an attempt to ennoble P while stigmatizing E.  Conversely, throughout history, people with high E use it to acquire P. Thus, in today's society we see that socially adept people, who have inborn P skills, tend to favor socialism or big government - where their skills are most valuable, while economically productive people are often frustrated by the fact that their concrete contribution to society is deplored.

Now, you might ask yourself why the reverse isn't true, why people with high P don't use it to acquire E, while people with high E don't attempt to stigmatize P? Well, I think that is true. But, while the equation is mathematically symmetrical, the nature of P-talent and E-talent is not. P-talent can be used to acquire E from the E-adept, but the E-adept are no match for the P-adept in the attempt to stigmatize P. Furthermore, P is endogenous to the system, while E is exogenous. In other words, the P-adept have the ability to manipulate the system itself to make P-talent more valuable in acquiring E, while the E-adept have no ability to manipulate the external environment to make E-talent more valuable in acquiring P.

Of course not all people fall neatly into one of these two categories. Some people are naturally both P-adept and E-adept, while others, unfortunately, are neither. This, too, is asymmetrical in its implications, since the both-adept have a choice of pursuing either P-strategies or E-strategies (indeed, there are many real-world applications which leverage both), but the neither-adept have no choice but to support a P-strategy, since cooperation of this kind is itself a P-strategy (libertarianism, by contrast, would get them neither P nor E).

Put another way: Socialism is all about taking the "economic" out of "socioeconomic status", meaning that gaining social status becomes a purely political game. Which is why it appeals to both the socially adept and the economically inadept. They both hate status that is based on dirty economics. Those boors don't deserve it. 

Now, I don't think that this is a new phenomenon at all. Back in hunter-gatherer times, I have no doubt that there were already people who gained social status through P-strategies. But the social systems were so small, and the harsh economic realities to obvious, that it probably took a lot of political-talent units to equal one economic-talent unit. Now, however, societies are very large and complex, and the sources of economic productivity are not well-understood. The playing-field has tipped dramatically toward the socially adept, the merely economically adept now often, endearingly, termed "losers". 

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to show how the Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics predicts the following:

  1. All institutions will tend to be dominated by the P-adept
  2. All institutions that have no in-built exogenous criteria for measuring its members' status will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept
  3. Universities will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept
  4. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will be more dominated by the P-adept than natural sciences
  5. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will politically dominate the natural sciences
  6. People who work in universities and the government will tend toward socialism
  7. Libertarians will tend to be found among the socially inadept
  8. Unmarried women will tend toward socialism
  9. Hard-working, upwardly mobile people will tend away from socialism (even when their absolute status is low)

(Cross-posted on Gene Expression.)

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June 26, 2006

Time is the Great Equalizer

Last night I saw a presentation by Eli Harari, founder and CEO of SanDisk. It was very interesting. One of the things he said is so short and powerful that I want to record it here: "Time is the Great Equalizer".

In other words, just as "time is money" in the sense that you can use time to make money, also "money is time" in the sense that no matter how much money you have, some things just take time, and everybody has the same amount of time as you. That's one of the reasons that small companies often beat big companies: they make more efficient use of time, and all the money in the world is sometimes no substitute for that. 

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June 07, 2006

Line Break Removal

Over at blogger there's a problem including pre-built HTML in your posts. The problem is that blogger "helpfully" turns all line breaks in the source HTML into line breaks (i.e. <br>) in the output web page. The only way I know of to fix this problem is to remove them, which is extremely tiresome thing to do by hand. So, for anyone who might want it, I've written a very simple utility to do it:

Paste HTML here:                    
Copy HTML from here:                    

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May 28, 2006

Mortifying the Flesh

I just realized why so many people around the world take such pleasure in hating their own country. It's the same reason that people like mortification of the flesh.

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May 25, 2006

Laws of Return

Is Israel the only country with a Law of Return? If not, how many countries have laws of return?

Continue reading "Laws of Return"

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May 23, 2006

Put the Lebanese guy in charge of the Israeli office!

What happens when you combine your company's Lebanese office with its Israeli office and put the Lebanese head in charge? Find out here. It's one of the most beautiful things I've read. Excerpt:

The Israeli cluster was never profitable. So my western HQ decided to get rid of the manager. That's fine. Instead of bringing in a new Israeli manager, a unique idea arose. Hey, that guy responsible for the Middle East is a (fantastic) performer. Why not add this market to his? Unique. The guy is Lebanese. And a fucking naive idiot.

The next morning the staff were to be informed. They didn't know who I was. They thought I was a Westerner coming in from the west. I could imagine the look on their faces. The horror.

Revenge. How sweet.


We continued. The day went by fast. Very fast. We went through background data. Financials. Forecasts. They started getting pissed. They didn't know the financials were so bad. They were furious. Shocked. They felt betrayed by their previous management for not bringing this to their attention. This was my chance to get that reaction I've dreamt of.

"You know, in Lebanon we never had these problems". Hint, hint. I finally released their curiosity.

I told them. The shock, the horror, the awe. The smiles? No sonic boom in this room.

"Oh my God, my parents were in Beirut in the '60s. I've seen pictures. It was so beautiful. Don't they call it the Paris of the Middle East", she said. What? (Switzerland actually, but that's not the point)

Nobody cared where I was from. Nobody was angry at the decision to bring me in. Nobody gave me any bad attitude. They were angry with the previous Israeli manager for not performing. They were horrified by the financials. And they looked to me for guidance. The Lebo from the north. The 'enemy'.

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May 18, 2006

The brutal nature of life in the Third World

The pseudonymous Isaac Schrödinger is originally from Pakistan, was raised in Saudi Arabia, and is currently a student in Canada. He recounts:

...a conversation I had with a bunch of friends some years ago. We were talking about stuff when one of them said that such-and-such company might have used child labor in Asia for making its products.

"So?" was my response.

Every jaw dropped. "What do you mean so!?"

"So, what's the problem?" I replied.

"That's just wrong, using kids in factories."

"Did the people from such-and-such company force the kids to work in their factory? I don't think so. These young workers line up for a job because it's better than their other options in life."

"But... but what about going to school!?"

It was this question that made me realize that he, like many Westerners, had little knowledge about the brutal nature of life in the Third World.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: My view on poverty is here.

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May 11, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali wins Moral Courage Award

The American Jewish Committee awards Ayaan Hirsi Ali its Moral Courage Award.

The following is part of her acceptance speech (transcription mine):

Ladies and gentlemen I have a confession to make, if you are Jewish. It's a testimony to my dark past when I lived in ignorance.

I used to hate you. I hated you because I thought you were responsible for the war that took my father from me for so long. When the Soviet Union allied with our home-grown dictator in Somalia, I was told the Jews were behind that. In Saudi Arabia I saw poor people from a place called Palestine. Men women and children huddled together in despair. I was told you drove them out of their homes. I hated you for that. When we had no water I thought you closed the tap. I don't know how you did it, but you did it. If my mother was unkind to me I knew you were definitely behind it. Even when I failed an exam I knew it was your fault. I don't know how you did all these things. But then I didn't need proof. You are by nature evil. And you had evil powers and you used them to evil ends.

Learning to hate you was easy.

Listen to the whole thing. It sounds even better in her beautiful voice. And there's more.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 03:50 PM  Permalink | Comments
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Trackback from Solomonia, Hirsi Ali's Acceptance Speech:
David Boxenhorn transcribed part of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's acceptance speech at the American Jewish Committee's Moral Courage Awards: ...I used to hate you. I hated you because I thought you were responsible for the war that took my father from...

April 28, 2006

Michael Totten goes North

Another must-read: Part two of Michael Totten's trip to Israel. Excerpt:

“Do you think they’re watching us?” Lisa said.

“They are watching you right at this second,” the lieutenant said. “You are definitely being photographed. It’s possible you’re being watched through a sniper rifle.”

To say I felt naked and exposed at that moment would be a real understatement. I felt like my skin was invisible, that psychopaths were boring holes with their eyes straight to the core of my being. At the same time, I knew they did not see me as a person. They saw me as a potential massacre target.

I know Hezbollah wouldn’t hurt me in Lebanon, even though they did call me on my cell phone and threaten me with physical violence. All bets are off while standing next to IDF soldiers in Israel, though.
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Trackback from Kesher Talk, More reactions to "United 93":
All entries on Flight 93 here. Jim Geraghty and Bizzyblog are tracking reactions to the trailer. David Boxenhorn transcribed the director's statement from the movie site. (It was part of a graphic that was unlinkable.) Shrinkwrapped places reactions to...

April 27, 2006

An Egyptian's drive to Israel

Josh Scholar posts a great link on Michael Totten's blog. It's a translated except from Ali Salem's A Drive to Israel:

In 1994, after the signing of the Oslo accords, Ali Salem did the unthinkable. He hopped in his 14-year-old Soviet-made car and drove across the Sinai into Israel. He spent over three weeks in the country, touring and meeting Israelis from all walks of life. On his return, he published a book, A Drive to Israel, which sold over 60,000 copies—a runaway bestseller by Egyptian standards.

It is very interesting to read him report on some things that I take for granted:

The most interesting point is that the young boy, in that brief moment after a driver told him he didn’t agree with the slogan, didn’t feel angry or frustrated. Instead he quickly moved on to another car. He didn’t scream: "You creep, why don’t you agree? … You must be an agent of the Syrians and the Arabs."

We must focus on this point in raising our children. It is a person’s right to hold differing views and ideas, as long as he doesn’t espouse violence or aggression. Let ideas do combat with each other, theory against theory, for the benefit of the nation.

Public debates here are not confined to the offices of political parties or newspaper columns. You see them transformed into banners held by groups of young men and women on street corners. Sometimes you find a demonstration of two persons carrying a banner announcing their joint political position. There is a well-known group that stands on a certain street corner in Jerusalem wearing black clothes and holding signs saying: "Leave the West Bank … Leave the Golan … Leave Gaza."

You’ll find another group in the middle of Jerusalem raising signs saying: "The West Bank begins here," meaning that if we vacate the West Bank, we’ll wind up withdrawing even from Jerusalem.

And this fine piece of sarcasm:

My mind turned to the topic of the Israeli cultural invasion of Egypt...

"Oh, what a wretched, helpless victim am I! How can I protect myself from this invasion? What should I do to confront these lethal weapons?"

"Don’t speak with them, listen to them, or read them. Convince yourself that they don’t exist. Imagine that Israel is the temptress of the folk tales, the voice of seduction luring you to desire and destruction, the siren of Greek mythology and of the Thousand and One Nights. She sings a captivating song, she possesses an enchanting voice that will lure you away and drag you to the bottom of the Nile. Plug your ears and become deaf. While you’re at it, blind your eyes too, since a nuclear film or something like it could invade you … "

"Okay, I’ll plug my ears and blind my eyes to protect me from the cultural invasion."

"But this isn’t enough, my friend! They’ll attack with advanced new weapons capable of penetrating your mind without passing through your ears or eyes."

"Oh, what a lost soul am I! How can I possibly protect my mind?"

"Shut it, shut down your mind. That’s the solution."

"Okay, I’ve closed it."

"Now your ears are plugged, your eyes are closed and your mind is shut. Praise the Lord! You’re saved—from the Israeli cultural invasion. Now you are safe and secure in your own heritage, in your national and ethnic culture."

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:27 PM  Permalink | Comments
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Michael Totten goes to Israel

If you want to understand what Israel is really like, you must read Michel Totten's latest post:

TEL AVIV - After living in an Arab country for nearly six months, arriving in Israel came like a shock.

It startled me from the air. Whoa, I thought, as I looked out the window of the plane over the suburbs of Tel Aviv. If the border were open I could drive down there in a short couple of hours from my Beirut apartment. But this place looked nothing like Lebanon. My Lebanese friend Hassan calls Israel Disneyland. I thought about that and laughed when I watched it roll by from above.

Trim houses sprawled in Western-style suburban rows like white versions of little green Monopoly board pieces. Red-tiled roofs somehow looked more Southern California than Mediterranean. Swimming pools sparkled in sunlight. I felt that I had been whisked to the other side of the planet in no time.

The airport shocked me as well, although it probably wouldn’t shock you. There were more straight lines and right angles than I was used to. There were more women, children, and families around than I had seen for some time. Obvious tourists from places like suburban Kansas City were everywhere.

Arab countries have a certain feel. They’re masculine, relaxed, worn around the edges, and slightly shady in a Sicilian mobster sort of way. Arabs are wonderfully and disarmingly charming. Israel felt brisk, modern, shiny, and confident. It looked rich, powerful, and explicitly Jewish.

In fact, I think Michael's entire site is a must-read. Even with all the journalists in Israel and the Middle East, I have never seen in the press honest descriptions as to what the countries are really like. He talks to Lisa:

She moved from Canada to Israel years ago when Ehud Barak was prime minister. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians looked imminent. Israel was on the threshold - finally - of becoming an accepted and normal country in the Middle East. It was the perfect time to relocate, a time of optimism and hope. A cruel three weeks later that dream was violently put to its death. The second intifada exploded. Israel was at war.

“It was so traumatizing,” she said. “And everybody blamed us. I don’t think I will ever get over it.”

I wrote about that here.

Lisa voted for Meretz in the last election. That's the farthest-left party that's not explicitly anti-Zionist:

“I have Palestinian friends who say things I don’t like at all,” she said. “They say they want to destroy Israel, that it has no right to exist.”

“How can you be friends with people like that?” I said.

“Because I know the difference between rhetoric and reality,” she said.

“Threats from the West Bank aren’t just rhetoric,” I said. “How many suicide bombings did you say you’ve seen?”

“These people will never hurt me,” she said. “They are my friends. They love me. And when I say love, I do not mean that lightly.”

It's true. I couldn't maintain a friendship with anyone who wants to destroy Israel. But I deal with Arabs on a day-to-day basis, and my interactions with them are very friendly. When you meet a person face-to-face, and that person is nice to you, your instinct is to be nice. Nevertheless, every once in a while there's a story about an Arab who kills his longtime Jewish friend. Perhaps he is accused of treason. Perhaps another member of his family is threatened. On an individual level, I have sympathy for his dilemma.

Back to Michael:

Lisa told me the Bedouin in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula speak Hebrew.

“Why?” I said. “Did they learn it during the occupation?” Israel seized the Sinai from Egypt during the Six Day War in 1967 and gave it back when Anwar Sadat agreed to a peace treaty.

“No,” she said. “They wanted to learn Hebrew so they can talk to us when we go down and visit.”

“When you go down there and visit?” I did not know what she was talking about.

“Last year 200,000 Israelis visited the Bedouin during Passover," she said.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:18 AM  Permalink | Comments
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April 25, 2006

My personality?

Is this me?

You are a Considerate Inventor.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:44 AM  Permalink | Comments
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April 05, 2006

United 93 - Director's statement

I read the director's statement for United 93. It was so powerful that I wanted to link to it, but I couldn't find it anywhere in linkable form, so I have reproduced it below. You can get to the original by going to united93movie.com - click on "ENTER THE SITE", and you'll find "DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT" in the menu (bottom left corner). Director, Paul Greengrass:

UNITED 93 is a film about 9/11

It tells the story of the day through a meticulous re-enactment of events surrounding United 93, the last of the four hijacked aircraft, in the belief that by examining this single event something much larger can be found - the shape of our world today.

By a quirk of fate Flight 93 was delayed on the runway at Newark airport for 45 minutes. By the time it was airborne, the other three planes had reached their intended targets. As a result, the forty passengers and crew on board Flight 93 were the first to inhabit our new and terrifying post 9/11 world.

The terrible dilemma those passengers faced is the same we have been struggling with ever since. Do we sit passively and hope this all turns out okay? Or do we fight back and strike at them before they strike at us? And what will be the consequences if we do?

That is why the story of Flight 93 continues to command our attention. Although we can only dimly understand what must have happened on that ninety minute flight, we can know from the two dozen phone calls and from the 30 minutes of Cockpit Voice recordings that it dramatizes and symbolizes everything that we face today.

Made with the full support of the families of those on board, UNITED 93 will track in real time the dramatic story of what happened inside the aircraft as well as on the ground, as passengers, crew, Civilian Air Traffic Controllers and Military Command Centers struggle to make sense of an unimagined and unimaginable crisis.

The film begins on a normal September morning at Newark airport. Crew members prepare for a routine commuter flight to San Francisco. They make safety checks, assign tasks, fuel the plane. Passengers arrive, check in, make last minute calls to colleagues and families before boarding the plane. As the cabin doors are hermetically sealed they all believe that everything is normal. That they are safe from the dangers of a turbulent world. But sitting in four first class seats right next to them is an Al Qaeda cell.

And so as the hijack unfolds, the film moves between the passengers and crew in the air and civilian and military air traffic controllers on the ground as each tries desperately to avert the flight's progress toward the Capitol Building in the heart of Washington D.C.

UNITED 93 will take us through the events of 9/11 as they happen in real time - all the confusion, violence, courage and endurance of a day that changed our lives forever.

(I think that this is a service to the filmmakers as well as the public, but on the slim chance that they contact me with copyright problems, I'll take it down.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 08:08 AM  Permalink | Comments
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Trackback from Solomonia, United 93:
David Boxenhorn has posted the statement made by the director of the film. I'm not in any hurry to see this, though I probably will eventually. Maybe it's age, or the fact that I spend so much time every day...

Trackback from Kesher Talk, More reactions to "United 93":
Previous entries on the Flight 93 movie here and here. Jim Geraghty and Bizzyblog are tracking reactions to the trailer. David Boxenhorn transcribed the director's statement from the movie site. (It was part of a graphic that was unlinkable.) Shrinkwra...

April 02, 2006

You never know where your luck is

He sat beside me
And we got to talking
I told him what I did
Poet odd-jobber with wanderlust
Existential struggle not merely philosophic
And when we parted
He gave me his card: Diamond trader
Specialty: Extra Large Diamonds
I told him
I didn't expect to be needing his services
And he said
You never know where your luck is

-- As told to me by beat-poet blues-guitarist Inkblot Hurricane

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 01:23 PM  Permalink | Comments
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February 26, 2006

The Art of the Blog

Guy Kawasaki is a new blogger. Since I have vastly more experience on this matter than he (about 2 years...), I will deign to offer him - and anyone else who's listening - some advice on the art of the blog:

  • Get a blogroll. You are not a member of the blogosphere if you don't have a blogroll. This is not just an act of vanity (though it might be that too), it is the blogosphere's hierarchical search mechanism. The best way to find blogs you like is to look at the blogrolls of blogs you like. Just as the best way to find friends is to meet the friends of your friends. And the best way to find new hires is by word of mouth (in fact, studies have shown that they are much more likely to be successful than those found by any other means). And don't limit your blogroll to your genre - your readers may find your blog because of the subjects you write about, but they come back because they develop a personal relationship with you. They want to meet your friends, not your coworkers.
  • Keep it informal. Reading a blog post should be like listening in on, or participating in, a conversation. True, may people use the blog format to post other things, but to my mind these are BINOs (blogs in name only). A real blog is part of the giant conversation that we call the blogosphere.
  • Google is your friend. If you're writing about an unusual topic (pretty much anything but politics), a large percentage of you traffic should be from search engines. Be Google-friendly. Think about what an interested person would search for, and make sure those words, or phrases, are in your post, preferably in the title. My impression is that Google recognizes blog post titles and page names, giving them preference in search results. So if you have pages for individual posts, make sure that the post title is also the page title.
  • Lose the empty margins. A common blog format is the skinny line of text down the middle of the page. It's awful. Screen real estate is valuable, don't waste it. Once you get rid of the wasted space on the sides, there are many things you can do with it, depending on your priorities and taste. You can make your font bigger, or show more text on the page, or unclutter the body of the blog. Just do something useful with your screen!
  • Make meaning. I put this last because it should go without saying - presumably, if you are blogging, you are writing about something that's meaningful to you. But I will say it anyway: this is the essence of blogging - if it's not meaningful to you, don't bother. If it is, it's likely meaningful to others as well. So don't worry if anyone else cares, just give us the chance to find out.
Posted by David Boxenhorn at 01:28 PM  Permalink | Comments
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Naming names

Guy Kawasaki has a recent post in which he gives advice about choosing names. Here are his recommendations (see his post for the contents of the bullets):

* Begin with letters early in the alphabet.
* Avoid names starting with X and Z.
* Embody verb potential.
* Sound different.
* Embody logic.
* Avoid the trendy. 

It's not that I disagree, but I don't think his recommendations speak to the heart of the matter. To me, these are subordinate factors. The secret of a good name, like all good inventions, lies in squaring a circle - solving two (or more) problems simultaneously, where the obvious solution to each contradicts the other. Here are the two problems:

1. Sound unique - The name must sound like your product an no other.

2. Sound ordinary - It should roll off the tongue. Weird names all sound alike.

Put another way:

1. Be googlable - When people google your name, the first answer should be your product.

2. Sound like what you're selling - All the good names are taken.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that good names are a matter of taste (and linguistic background!). But I think that "Domicel" succeeds in these requirements. Formally, it comes from the words "domain" and "domicile", but I wouldn't have gone with it if I didn't think it met my requirements.

PS: Here's a funny article (via this comment). Excerpt:

"We did mood boards," Redhill says. "We did random visual associations, attached to sequential words. And so, when they said, 'We want to be strong‚' we would show them a picture of an ocean wave breaking. And we'd ask: 'Do you want to be strong like a force of nature?' Then we'd show them a picture of a metal chain link fence. And we'd ask, 'Do you want to be strong like a chain? Strong but breakable?'" The final slide was a close-up of a human face. "We said, 'Perhaps you want to be strong like human nature -- indomitable and immutable.' And they said, 'Yes, that's us. That's exactly how we imagine people feeling about our brand.'"

After four months of this sort of intensive brand therapy, the group settled upon the only name capable of conveying such protean emotions -- "Agilent." They took the name into focus groups, where, to their great delight, it was received with admiration, approval and total open-mouthed attention. "I've never seen anything like it," says Amy Becker, who works alongside Redhill in Landor's verbal branding and naming group. "This was a pretty rarefied crowd. We're not talking about the mass-consumer, chips-eating sort of person. This was a very particular sort of business-to-business decision maker. A hard group to impress. And they were just delighted." The name was also a hit among the NewCo rank and file. "It's funny, because 'Agilent' isn't even a real word," muses Redhill. "So it's pretty hard to get positive and negative impressions with any real basis in experience. But I'm pleased to say that when we unveiled the name last month at an all-company meeting, a thousand employees stood up and gave the name a standing ovation. And we thought, 'We have a good thing here.'"

I think "Agilent" is a lousy name. I find it hard to pronounce. I keep wanting to metathesize it to "Aligent". But the company's still there, so I guess it's working well enough. In the end, if the company succeeds, so will the name.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:26 PM  Permalink | Comments
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The Art of the Start

I've read more than a few books about entrepreneurship over the years. Frankly, I can't remember any of them, though in the absence of anything else I'm sure they're worth the read. A few days ago, a well-known Israeli entrepreneur loaned me his autographed copy (no, it doesn't say anything about kissing or licking) of The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki (my own copy is on its way from Amazon). This is a book any aspiring entrepreneur should read. First of all, it's slim (as Guy says, entrepreneurs don't have much time to sit around and read), but most of all, it's right. I can't say I was nodding vigorously throughout the book - I was literally jumping out of my seat with excitement, I was so eager to get to work on his recommendations! My most common reaction was, "I can do that!" - mixed in with a non-trivial number of uh-oh's.

My biggest problem is also my major asset: Domicel, the Infinite PC, is a disruptive technology. Which means that it has no existing market, no competitors, nothing by which an investor can "objectively gauge" the value of the product - as if that's ever possible! But investors like to have their preconceptions confirmed by "analysis". Domicel is like the World Wide Web, email, or the PC. Nobody knew they wanted these things until  they became popular, it's only in hindsight that we consider them indispensable. It takes a special kind of investor to back such a project. If anyone knows of one, please contact me.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:13 AM  Permalink | Comments
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January 08, 2006

Domicel in Chinese

Amritas has generously coined a term for Domicel in Chinese. Here it is:


It's transcribed: Duomeixiao, and means "Many Beautiful Dawns". Nice, eh?

Thanks, Amritas!

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:51 AM  Permalink | Comments
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December 15, 2005

Domicel Q & A blog

I have started a new blog for questions and answers about Domicel. Feel free to join in with your own questions! 

I will make good questions into new posts, and answer them.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 05:01 PM  Permalink | Comments
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December 05, 2005

Looking for a Few Good Nerds

For the last few years I have been working on a new architecture for the Internet, which you can read about here:


How can we deliver applications as services, over the Internet, and get PC-like functionality, where each user can mix-and-match applications as if they are on a PC?

(Note: The question does not refer to pure user-interface issues that are addressed by AJAX!)


Domicel is a virtual personal Internet domain. It gives the end user the look-and-feel of working on a PC – without the PC! Applications are provided as on-line services, in an object-oriented paradigm. The aggregate of a user's objects (think: icons) from all applications, hosted  anywhere in the world, is their Domicel – there is no one place in which a Domicel's objects reside, no bottlenecks, and no central point of failure.

Or, to put it another way, it does for applications what the World Wide Web does for documents. 

It's still very primitive - I think of it as being the Internet version of the Altair, "the spark that led to the personal computer revolution". At this point, I would like to get a few good nerds interested. If I can get it going, I think it will be very big.

You can see the current state of the art here. Notice the links in the upper right-hand corner.

UPDATE: There is a good discussion about Domicel going on here.

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Trackback from Domicel Q & A, A user-interface layer on top of an RPC engine?:
Q:This amounts to a user-interface layer on top of an RPC engine. Basically, there just aren't any vendors that build user interfaces that sit directly on top of an RPC engine. But it has been possibly for many years now. It is starting to become more ...

December 04, 2005

Stay Tuned

The past two years haven't been easy ones for me. Several years ago I had an idea that I thought would change the world (actually the result of several years of slow evolution, but reaching its current form about three years ago). I built a prototype, and tried to raise money to develop it. That was 2003, and the venture-capital world was shell-shocked by the stock-market crash, the Internet crash, and here in Israel by the breakdown of the Oslo accords.

So I decided to start developing it myself. This was not my preferred course of action first because it necessarily meant a much more modest goal, but mainly because it involved a lot of work that I neither enjoy nor am good at. What I love most to do is architectural design. I also love programming when there is a high ratio of thought necessary to lines of code. But most of the work that I've had to do over the past two years is neither of these. Instead I've been figuring out how to get various software installed and working, how to get it all working with each other, getting remotely hosted web sites to work, and programming endlessly complex user interfaces (humans are such complicated creatures!) - which still look and feel extremely primitive. That kind of work literally puts me to sleep, and it has required a tremendous amount of will-power for me to plow through it day after day, for two years.

But even more than a architectural design and high-thought programming, what I love is working with good people. Working with good people can make even boring tasks interesting. That's probably what I've missed most.

But I've come to a point where I think it's worth it to go public with what I've been doing. It is still quite primitive, but I am hoping that a few good techno-nerds will like it anyway. Stay tuned.

הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ
הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ וּבָכֹה נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ הַזָּרַע
בֹּא יָבֹא בְרִנָּה נֹשֵׂא אֲלֻמֹּתָיו

Hazor`im b'dim`a b'rina yiqsoru
Halokh yelekh uvakho nose meshekh hazara`
Bo' yavo' v'rina nose alumotav

They who sow in tears will reap in joy
One who goes out, crying, carrying his bag of seeds
Will come back in joy, carrying his sheaves

Psalms 126:5-6

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 04:51 PM  Permalink | Comments
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November 28, 2005

View from the other side

Michael Totten reports:

Al Ghajar village, where the fighting broke out, is an odd place. One side is Lebanese. The other side is controlled by Israel. All the villagers on both sides of the border are Alawite, a minority sect -- some say heretical -- that long ago splintered off Shia Islam. Historically the village was part of Syria. The Alawites of Al Ghajar belong to the same ethnic-religious group that holds almost all the levers of power in Syria.

The Lebanese side of the village is the poorest and most forlorn place I've seen anywhere in the country. Many houses are crumbling cinderblock boxes or shanties with tin roofs and walls. The mosque is squalid. Barren ground is strewn with rubble and rocks. I saw barefoot children dressed in rags playing in filthy streets. Somehow they managed to smile.

The Israeli half of the village is on the other side of the Wazzani River. There the houses and apartment buildings are trim and freshly painted. They're decked out with satellite dishes. Cars look brand new. I saw no evidence of squalor from where I stood on the Lebanese side of the line.

From 1967 to 2000 both sides of Al Ghajar were controlled by Israel after it took the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six Day War. But in the year 2000, when Israel withdrew its occupation forces from South Lebanon, the United Nations declared that one side of the village is actually Lebanese, not Syrian.

UPDATE: Pictures! Really amazing, must see.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 08:45 PM  Permalink | Comments
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November 27, 2005

The wisdom of Rabbi Zusha

והרי אנו חייבין לברך על הרעה כשם שמברכין על הטובה

V'harey anu hayavin l'varekh `al hara`a k'shem shem'varkhin `al hatova

And you see, we are required to bless [God] on the bad just as we bless [Him] on the good

Ra`av on B'rakhot 5:3

The Magid of Mezeritch was the spiritual heir of the Ba`al Shem Tov. One day someone came to him with a question: "The Talmud tells us we should bless God for the bad things that happen to us, just as we bless Him for the good. How is it possible to do such a thing?" The Magid of Mezeritch replied, "For that you must go to Reb Zusha of Anipoli."

So the man went to visit Reb Zusha of Anipoli. When he got there, he found Reb Zusha living in great poverty, his family was beset by affliction and disease. Yet, Reb Zusha greeted him cheerfully. "The Magid of Mezeritch has sent me," he said, "to learn from you how it is possible to bless God for the bad things that happen to us as, just as we bless Him for the good."

Reb Zusha thought for a while. "I am sorry," he finally replied, "I cannot answer your question - nothing bad has ever happened to me."


More quotes:

"If it were offered to me to exchange places with Abraham, I would refuse. What would God gain from this? He'd still have one Zusha and one Abraham."

"When I appear before the heavenly court they will not ask, 'Why weren't you Moses'. They will ask, 'Why weren't you Zusha'." 


Rabbi Zusha didn't write any books. His words were later collected from among the works of his students, and published in M'norat Zahav (מנורת זהב).

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Trackback from Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim #47:
Welcome to Soccer Dad, I am your host for Haveil Havalim #47. Jewish personalities Rishon Rishon (translates to "First of all"), Rishon Rishon tells of the wisdom of Rabbi Zusha. Not Quite Perfect is the official artist of Haveil Havalim....