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Posts Tagged ‘Smith’

In Polls: Labor Picking Up Speed as Likud-Beitenu Faces Loss of Seats

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Knesset Jeremy Weekly Average #4 (week of Oct 29-Nov 4) of 7 polls (Teleseker, two Panels, Dahaf, Geocartography, Smith, Dahaf):

Current Knesset seats in [brackets], Week 3 average in (brackets)

38 (36.6) [42] Likud Beitenu
22.1 (24.3) [08] Labor
14.7 (13.3) [---] Yesh Atid
11.7 (12) [10] Shas
9.1 (09) [07] National Union-Jewish Home
5.8 (5.3) [05] Yahadut Hatorah/UTJ
4.2 (05) [03] Meretz
4.0 (04) [04] Hadash
3.7 (3.3) [04] Ra’am-Ta’al
3.1 (03) [03] Balad
1.7 (2.6) [28] Kadima
0.5 (01) [05] Independence

03 [01] Am Shalem (based on 2 of 7 polls)

1.5 in one poll for Pensioners and Green Party each

66.3 (63) [65] Right
53.6 (57) [55] Center-Left

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Markets, Politics, And The True Legacy Of Adam Smith

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

We wonder about the endlessly volatile markets and also (not often enough) about plainly unequal distributions of national wealth, but are the nation’s official policy responses based on correct views of classical economic theory? In particular, what about Adam Smith and his oft-quoted arguments for “free market capitalism”? More than any other classical theorist, Smith has been embraced by conservatives.

In brief, Smith reasoned, always capably and persuasively, that a system of private property, though naturally unequal, could still permit the poor to live tolerably. Rejecting Jean Jacques Rousseau’s contrary position that in commerce, “the privileged few…gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life,” Smith saw in capitalism not only an enviably rising productivity, but also the ultimate prerequisite for political liberty.

Adam Smith published his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776. A revolutionary book, Wealth did not aim to support the interests of any one class over another, but rather the overall well being of an entire nation. He discovered, as we all know, “an invisible hand,” an unsought convergence whereby “the private interests and passions of men” will lead to “that which is most agreeable to the interest of a whole society.”

Through capitalistic modes of production and exchange, reasoned Smith, an inextinguishable social inequality might still be reconciled with broad human progress.

Significantly, however, today’s conservative defenders of Smith usually ignore, either deliberately or unwittingly, the full depth of his relentlessly complex thought. A system of “perfect liberty,” as Smith called it, could never be based upon any encouragements of needless consumption. Instead, he argued, the laws of the market, driven by competition and a consequent “self-regulation,” strongly demanded a principled disdain for all vanity-driven consumption. “Conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would be used far more effectively later on by Thorsten Veblen, could therefore never become the proper motor of economic or social improvement.

Adam Smith understood the dynamics of conspicuous consumption, but he disliked them altogether. For him, it was only reasonable that the market regulate both the price and quantity of goods according to the final arbiter of public demand. Yet, he continued, this market ought never to be manipulated by any avaricious interferers. More precisely, Smith excoriated all who would artificially create or encourage contrived demand as mischievously vain meddlers of a “mean rapacity.”

Today, of course, with engineered demand and hyper-Consumption as both permanent and allegedly desirable market features, we have lost all sight of Smith’s “natural liberty.” As a result, we try, foolishly and interminably, to construct our economic recovery and vitality on sand. Below the surface, we still fail to recognize, lurks a truly fundamental problem that is not political, economic, fiscal or financial. Instead, as Adam Smith would have us understand, it is a plainly psychological or human dilemma, one we should acknowledge can never be resolved by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Wall Street’s persisting fragility is largely a mirror image of Main Street’s insatiable drive toward hyper-consumption. This manipulated drive, so execrable to Adam Smith, has already prompted certain learned economists to warn repeatedly against saving too much. Could any advice be more ironic?

Whether Democrats or Republicans, all voters believe our national economic effort must always be oriented toward buying more. No one seems to ask, Exactly what sort of society can we expect from an economic system based on imitation and conformance?

Contrived demand has not always been a basic driver of our economy. Before television, and before our latest social networking gadgets, such demand could not have had any such overwhelming power and effect.

Writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, the American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke presciently of “self-reliance.” Foolish “reliance upon property,” Emerson had understood, is the unwanted result of “a want of self‑reliance.”

Now, living apprehensively amid a literally delirious collectivism, the ever-fearful American wants, more or less desperately, to project a “successful” image. This projection, in turn, remains founded upon material acquisition of “all the right things.”

In the final analysis, as Adam Smith himself would have understood, it will be the relentlessly conformist call of American mass society that critically undermines our core economy.

African American May Run for NY Mayor as Fusion Candidate of Orthodox Jews, Evangelicals

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

The NY Post’s Michael Benjamin, himself a former Democratic assemblyman, reported that NY State Senator Malcolm Smith from Queens, a Democrat, is planning to be the city’s 109th mayor, come 2013, running on the Republican ticket. He also suggested that Smith’s trial balloon had rattled some GOP leaders, who are attempting to nip it in the bud. Democrats are saying Smith is just a stalking horse for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, meant to sway black votes from former city Comptroller Bill Thompson.

To remind you, Malcolm Smith’s former 15 minutes of fame happened over his pitifully short stint as State Senate majority leader — when he lost his majority after Democratic senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate defected to the GOP. It was political slapstick at its worst, and quite a record from which to recover. In the end, Smith was deposed by the Senate Democrats.

Benjamin reminded his readers that Smith still faces questions about a suspicious awarding of the contract to run the Aqueduct “Racino,” and irregularities at some charities with which he is associated.

“One of the questions we ask candidates is, ‘Have you ever done anything that would be an embarrassment to you or the Republican Party?’” Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa told the NY Daily News. “I don’t think he could pass that test.”

Except that the same Daily News report says State Republican Chairman Ed Cox confirmed that he met with Smith “at the urging of a mutual friend,” but declined to comment further.

“There’s an opening for a fusion candidate in the 2013 race,” says Benjamin, pointing out that all the Democratic candidates have been left of center, yet as the last five mayoral elections have shown, the left no longer has the majority even in New York City.

The alliance Benjamin envisions would combine Republican voters, the Orthodox Jewish bloc, outer-borough “Koch Democrats” and minority voters.

He suggests that the Haredi and the evangelical Christian communities are actively looking for a “traditional-values standard-bearer.”

The conservative blog “PlanetAlbany” opined that the best candidate would be an African-American former Democratic assemblyman who is pretty conservative on social issues, and an insightful political observer – namely NY Post pundit Michael Benjamin.

Colin Campbell of “Politicker” reminded his readers recently of the growing influence Orthodox Jewish voters are commanding in NY City politics, and that “even though the community’s voters might side strongly with the Republican candidate in the 2013 mayoral race, they are mostly registered as Democrats and candidates seeking to win the Democratic primary are extensively courting the community.”

All the candidates recognize this reality and are working hard to engage Orthodox voters, reported Yossi Gestetner a few months ago. As the candidates competing for the nomination are nearly identical on social issues, some have been working to separate themselves in other ways.”

Gestetner brought the example of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who started his own Iran boycott website and took a firm stance against the campaign within the Park Slope Food Co-op boycotting Israeli products, calling it “wrongheaded and an affront to American values and interests.”

Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo may have committed a costly mistake when vetoed a bill that would have made it possible for many special-education students to be placed in private schools using public funds. Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups had lobbied for the bill, arguing that children learn best in settings that resemble their home environment.

It may be just the kind of rallying point that would help elect New York’s Third Consecutive Republican mayor.

Bolivian Cabinet to Deliberate Ostreicher Case

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Bolivian Cabinet ministers told the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives human rights subcommittee that they would look into the case of a jailed Brooklyn Chasidic Jew.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) met this week in Bolivia with Minister of Government Carlos Romero and Minister of Justice Cecilia Luisa Ayllon. Jacob Ostreicher has been held in Bolivia for more than year without formal charges and bail.

Smith said in a statement that both ministers were attentive and pledged to look into the case.

“After a long meeting, Minister Ayllon concluded that ‘Your agony for Jacob Ostreicher is like my agony for Bolivians who are in the same situation’,” Smith said Thursday in a press statement. “As a judge for 13 years herself, she pointed out the abuse of filing of false charges and other irregularities, like the process of recusing judges, leading to lengthy delays, is a widespread problem.”

Ostreicher, a father of five, was arrested a year ago by Bolivian police after it was alleged that he did business with “people wanted in their countries because of links with drug trafficking and money laundering.” At the time, he belonged to a group of investors that sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.

Smith, a leader in the House on human trafficking issues, also met with Bolivian officials who prosecute sex trafficking.

Pesach

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., the Titanic struck an iceberg. It sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. Thus, this month (both according to the Jewish and secular calendars) marks the centennial of the disaster. Despite the passage of time, the tragedy still fascinates people and continues to be a source of lessons learned – both good and bad. Recently, when the Costa Concordia sank off the Italian coast, comparisons were made between the captain of this ill-fated ship and Captain Edward Smith, the master of the Titanic. Most striking was the fact that not only did the captain of the Costa Concordia survive the ordeal, as opposed to Captain Smith, who went down with his ship, but that the Costa Concordia’s captain abandoned ship early in the ordeal, leaving his crew and passengers to sort things out for themselves. Captain Smith, in contrast, remained on board and in command throughout the doomed lifesaving efforts. History, for the most part, has been kind to Smith, portraying him as a gallant officer doing his utmost to save his passengers and crew.

While Smith was no coward, and he certainly understood his responsibility, the truth about his leadership is actually rather complicated. Some have blamed him for ordering the Titanic to maintain its high speed despite the ice warnings he had received. Others point to his arrogant faith in human engineering, which caused him to not properly consider the dangers lurking in the sea. However, in truth, he can be exonerated for these missteps, for he was merely following the conventional practice and wisdom of the time. Captains, for the most part, believed the expedient thing was to try and get through ice fields as quickly as possible. It was felt that lookouts could spot potential danger in time and helmsmen could maneuver the ship accordingly, with time to spare. That few people fully understood the physics involved with moving and slowing down a ship the Titanic’s size was a function of the time, not a failure on Smith’s part.

But the story does not end there. Once tragedy struck Smith seems to have been a mediocre leader at best. He first kept the true nature of the accident from crew and passengers alike, thus mitigating people’s sense of emergency and urgency. While Smith knew there were not enough lifeboats for all aboard, the sad reality is that there was capacity for 400 more people than ultimately survived. Many people who could have boarded lifeboats refused to do so because they felt it was safer to remain on the ship. He also seems to have given ambiguous orders, often staying on the bridge instead of actively supervising the evacuation. Psychologists who have studied the disaster suggest that Smith became somewhat dysfunctional after the collision.

However, there is a person whose actions that night make him a leadership model to study. Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia, the ship that rushed to Titanic’s location and rescued the survivors, did almost everything right that night. After having been awakened close to 12:30 a.m. on April 15 and informed of the Titanic’s plight, Rostron immediately went into action. He summoned all department heads to the bridge and began issuing clear orders. He ordered the engineers to divert all steam to the engines and away from all other uses – including the heating and electrical needs of cabins and public rooms. This enabled the ship to travel somewhat faster than its usual top speed. He also told the chief steward: “Have your men turn all three dining rooms into hospitals. Send bedroom stewards through empty third class cabins and gather up blankets to warm on the boilers. I want plenty of hot coffee, cocoa, and brandy at both port doors” (Titanic Tragedy: A New Look At The Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham, 2011, p.140). He then ordered ladders and other boarding devices, and special lights, to be at the doors to enable safe boarding. To ensure the safety of his ship he posted extra lookouts to spot icebergs.

Unfortunately, the Carpathia arrived after the Titanic sank and was only able to rescue those people who were in the lifeboats. However, if not for Captain Rostron’s decisive and inspired leadership that night many of those people in the lifeboats might themselves have succumbed to the elements. That night Rostron was present, focused and involved.

On the seventh day of Pesach we read in the Torah about the miracle of the Red Sea crossing. Thousands of years ago Moshe Rabbeinu already taught the world what leadership against the backdrop of a dangerous sea is all about. Bnei Yisrael had just recently left Egypt and suddenly their erstwhile masters were charging at them with state of the art military forces. They had barely tasted the fruits of freedom when they seemed poised to suffer a humiliating recapture or even worse– death. Bnei Yisrael could not fathom why G-d freed them if this were to be the ignoble outcome. It is within this context that they panicked and exclaimed to Moshe that it would have been better to remain in Egypt. If their fate was to be death, there were more than enough graves in Egypt.

Does Questioning Evolution Make One Anti-Science?

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman thinks Republicans are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. In the not-too-distant future he sees a Republican half-wit winning the presidency and dragging America back to the Stone Age. 
 
One of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge,” Krugman recently wrote. “And, in a time of severe challenges – environmental, economic, and more – that’s a terrifying prospect.” 
 
Krugman’s ire was piqued by Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s comments that evolution is “just a theory” that has “some gaps in it,” and that global warming is not a proven fact.
 
While I cannot comment on climate-change science, I do have a great deal to say about evolution.
 
I am not a scientist. But beginning in about 1990 I started organizing an annual debate at Oxford University on science versus religion where the focus was almost always on evolution and which featured some of the world’s greatest evolutionists like Richard Dawkins, who appeared several times, and the late John Maynard-Smith of the University of Sussex, who at the time was regarded by many as the greatest living evolutionary theorist.
 
While I moderated the first few debates, I later participated in a debate against Dawkins at Oxford (which he later denied ever took place, forcing us to post the full video of the debate online where Dawkins is not only the principal proponent of the science side but actually loses the debate in a student vote at the end). I debated Dawkins again at the Idea City Convention at the University of Toronto, the video of which is likewise available online.
 
What I learned from these debates, as well as from reading extensively on evolution, is that evolutionists have a tough time defending the theory when challenged in open dialogue. Indeed, David Berlinski, author of The Devil’s Delusion, while an agnostic, was on the religion side of one of the debates against Dawkins and tore large holes in evolution that Dawkins and Maynard-Smith struggled to address.
 
This does not mean evolution is not true. But it’s a theory. Unlike, say, the laws of thermodynamics, it has never been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Indeed, Dawkins and the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould fiercely debated basic presumptions about evolution. Gould was not a theist and did not believe in creation. But he argued that the large gaps in the fossil record make a mockery of a theory of gradual evolution, which is why Gould advocated “punctuated equilibrium,” a variation on Darwinism in which evolution takes place in dramatic periods of change followed by long eons of stasis.
 
Gould maintained this position precisely because, as Perry said, the theory of evolution has “some gaps in it,” in the case of the fossil record quite literally.
 
No scientist has ever witnessed evolution directly and science itself says this is impossible given the vast amount of time needed for species to evolve. Rather, evidence for evolution is brought primarily from the fossil record and natural selection from some famous contemporary observations, like the peppered moths (Biston betularia) thatproduce offspring that can be light or dark, much like the same family can have redheads, brunettes and blonds.
 
Before the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of peppered moths were light in coloration, which helped them blend in against lichen and trees and avoid predation by birds. Dark-colored moths stood out against this background, and so were more often eaten and killed. However, with the rise in pollution, the lichens and trees against which the light-colored moths habitually hid from predators were darkened with soot. Suddenly, the light-colored moths were conspicuous to predatory birds, and the dark-colored moths were well camouflaged. The plights of the two populations were reversed – the dark moths survived, and the light moths were eaten and killed.
 
A similar proof for natural selection is brought from the Galapagos Finch, which Darwin theorized was originally a single species but over time each population of finch changed very slowly in response to the demands of the environment in which it found itself. The signal trait Darwin seized upon to distinguish one species of finch from another was the shape of its beak. For example, the large ground-finch had a big, powerful beak that seemed well suited to cracking open seeds while the vampire finch had a long, pointed beak that allowed it to puncture the flesh of other birds and drink their blood. In each case, Darwin reasoned, beak shape evolved over time to provide its possessor with an adaptive advantage.
 
The problem with both these observations is that they are manifestations of horizontal, rather than vertical, evolution, as they describe how members of a species may change within the range of characteristics they already possess. No new traits are generated. Rather, the traits that already exist are merely distributed differently. Vertical evolution, whereby natural selection can supposedly create entirely new structures, has yet to be directly observed and is thus a theory.
 
Other questions remain regarding evolutionary theory, most notably the anthropic principle that maintains that if the physical laws and constants governing our universe were even slightly different, we would not be here to notice it because the emergence of life could not have occurred.Our universe is a delicately interconnected network of laws that is balanced and tuned for the seemingly express purpose of supporting self-aware life.
 
The English cosmologist Sir Martin Rees argues in his book Just Six Numbers that the values of six numbers determine to a great degree many of the large- and small-scale properties of our universe. If any of these numbers were changed even slightly, the universe would exist in a radically different, and quite unfriendly, form – if it existed at all.
 

Let’s look at the second number, epsilon, which is roughly .007. Epsilon describes, roughly speaking, how durable matter is, because it tells us how much energy is required to separate an atom into its constituent particles. Clearly, this is a very important number. But the remarkable thing about it is how delicately balanced it is against the other five numbers. If epsilon were .006, the universe would consist entirely of hydrogen. No other elements would form, because the process of nuclear fusion could not occur. The universe would be bland and uninteresting. There would be no planets, very little light, no nebulae, no comets and certainly no life.

Many leading scientists, like Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and described by the Endocrine Society as “one of the most accomplished scientists of our time,” therefore believe that while evolution may indeed be an accurate theory as to the rise of life and species, it still requires the guiding hand of a higher power in order to operate.
 
In the final analysis, the biblical account of creation easily accommodates an evolutionary ascent, seeing as the narrative expressly relates that God created first the mineral, then the vegetable, then the animal, and finally human life forms.
 
So before Paul Krugman attacks Republican politicians for simply questioning evolution, it would behoove him to recall that the very essence of science is to question – and that stifling doubt is a sin that religion was guilty of in the past and that science should refrain from repeating it in the present.
 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is in the midst of founding GIVE, the Global Institute for Values Education, and is the author of the forthcoming book “The Church of Evolution.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/does-questioning-evolution-make-one-anti-science/2011/09/14/

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