30 April 2012

Moses hears the voice of Ha'Shem

In the Torah we are told that Ha'Shem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. One day the wisest rabbis discussed what Ha'Shem must have said.

One rabbi said that Ha'Shem spoke the whole of the Torah to Moses in a moment as a single cacophonous utterance.

Another said that Ha'Shem only spoke the Ten Commandments.

Another said only the first commandment.
לא יהיה־לך אלהים אחרים על־פני אנכי יהוה אלהיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים מבית עבדים

I am Ha'Shem: your god, who brought you out of the Narrow Place, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
Another said only the first verse of the first commandment.
אנכי יהוה אלהיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים מבית עבדים

I am Ha'Shem: your god, who brought you out of the Narrow Place, the house of bondage
Another said only the first three words.
אנכי יהוה אלהיך

I am Ha'Shem, your god
Another said only the first word.

I am
Another said only the first letter.
The other rabbis protested. “But the first letter, א, has no sound!”

That rabbi replied, “א!”

20 April 2012

Footnote to Howl

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!

The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!

Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!

The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!

The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!

Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady holy the unknown buggered and suffering beggars holy the hideous human angels!

Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas!

Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!

Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!

Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the middleclass! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebellion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!

Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul!

Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!

Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!

Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!

Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

Allen Ginsberg

Weird places

In case you're not getting enough of this sort of thing from the Warren Ellis blog, Atlas Obscura is a blog of weird places you can actually go.

You do; you totally do

One does not simply walk into Mordor

17 April 2012

Neither taxation nor property is theft

I do not believe, as many do, that the wealth of the world is unambiguously divided into the product of individuals' efforts.

The economy of the world is a great machine in which we all participate. The iPhone in my pocket is a product of the effort of countless thousands, even millions, of people. There are the engineers who designed it, the factory workers who built it, the managers who organized the effort, the miners who produced the materials, the truckers and salespeople who moved all that around until it wound up in my hands. Pennies from the price I paid for it were distributed to all those folks, in a vast accounting scheme, but there is no essential, natural order to that accounting scheme; in principle, it could have been organized differently.

Note also that the most important people who birthed my iPad did not get paid. Countless people, most of them long dead, built the tools used to build the tools to build the tools to make it, from Alan Turing back through the first person to smelt iron and before. Without them, the efforts of the people who did get paid would have been almost worthless. Without them, we would all be impoverished paleolithic savages whatever our wit and effort. None of us have any claim on that wealth by virtue of our own efforts. It belongs to all of us, or none of us, depending on how you look at it.

I paid money for that iPhone, and that money passed from me to Apple, and from there to countless others, trickling back to many of the contributors who helped make that phone, as well as to many others who had no hand in my phone at all. The system of accounting by which that wealth was distributed as little slices of private property is a vast, sophisticated fiction. I don't say “fiction” to dismiss it. Private property is a powerful, valuable fiction, stunningly effective in enabling us to create wealth. In comparison with other accounting fictions human beings have tried — feudalism and Sovietism and so on — it has profound advantages that I hesitate to sacrifice. But I reject the idea that individual productivity understood this way reflects some essential truth prior to our social arrangements. We invented private property. We divided the world into things owned by different people. We could choose to organize things differently if we decided it served us better.

Government creates, sustains, and enforces this fiction. That's not to say that government owns everything and then distributes it; government only asserts that ownership is structured in a certain way, with most wealth owned by entities other than government. In service of making the mechanism of government possible we empower government to levy taxes, which we can see as yet another useful fiction.

The wealth of the world belongs to humanity. Government animates the system by which we organize that wealth. I believe in liberal democracy: that our collective will should define government (democracy), but that there are some things that government should not be empowered to do even if we will it (liberal).

I originally wrote this in response to a libertarian who told me that in advocating taxation, I implicitly favored a totalitarian government which “owned everything”. That libertarian was wrong.

05 April 2012


I'll be doing a few things differently for Passover this year, including a major re-edit of my homemade Hagaddah to include a lot more quotations from Torah. Here's a little note I'm putting on the first page about the use of language in those quotes:

Ha’Shem, “the name”, is what we will say instead of יהוה‎, the unspoken name of the god of the Torah, borrowing from the usage of the Chassidim

Israel, ישראל, “wrestler with El”, may or may not be the name Jacob took after he injured his hip, or of the Promised Land of the Torah, or of the nation on the map

Mitzrayim, מצרים, “the narrow place”, may or may not be the Place of Bondage of the Torah, or the place we call Egypt today

Children of Israel, may or may not refer the children sired by Jacob, the people of the Exodus story, or the Jews of today

Jerusalem, ירושלים, “rain of peace”, may or may be the City of the Messianic Age, the site of the Temple in the Torah, or the city on the map