Thursday, June 29, 2006

What The Hell?

CNN has reported that "Settler" Eliyahu Asheri was found today after being "abducted by Palestinian militants last weekend."

First of all who cares where he comes from or whether he's a settler? He was an 18 year old kid who was shot in the back of the head, point blank. And what exactly will it take for CNN to call someone a terrorist? They shot an unarmed person in the back of the head.

I rarely talk about media bias. But the terminology used in this article is making me sick.

But we have one piece of good news:

But Palestinian militant leaders vowed that Israel's incursion into Gaza would succeed only "over our dead bodies."

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why Argue?

BTW I'm blogging over at DB this week so blogging will be a little slow. I'm also getting married on Sunday so preps are taking some time also.

Lakewood Yid, on GH's blog, argued that Jews are internally superior to non-Jews. In the comments he got bashed as someone who is skewing the sources to show we don't have to respect non-Jews behind their backs.

GH correctly pointed out (in my experience) that Yid's argument is normative Chareidi ideology. So if that's true, can we disagree with him?

Maybe, but only on our assumptions. As Richard Posner persuasively argues, our moral views are heavily influenced by our intuitions, which are in turn reflective our upbringing, experiences, study, etc. Most moral arguments are merely justifications for those beliefs and many people do not have common ground to make arguments.

So Lakewood Yid, like most of the Chareidi world, lives a sheltered existence and are imbued with the racism of our ancestors (who justifiably didn't like their non-Jewish persecutors). The children are raised in this atmosphere. Those of us who are more worldly know way too many good non-Jews to be racist. We raise our children that way.

So what it comes down to is that our moral views influence how we interpret the text. Sure, the texts could be read in support or opposition or Jewish superiority (or even neutral), but how we interpret that text is going to affected by our intuitions. As DB likes to say, interpretation is an act of bias (he takes this argument too far, but that's a post for JAJC).

Lakewood Yid is going to read the text the way he wants to, and we're going to read it the way we want it to be interpreted. So why waste our time arguing with him? Sure some random guy might stumble across his statement and start hating Jews, but that's pretty unlikely. And even if that might happen, a simple statement disagreeing with his position would suffice to negate any negative effects. So why do people waste their time arguing?

I think it has to do with a lack of religious self-confidence. Lakewood Yid knows he's right and we're wrong. Most of the Chareidi world never spends any time at all focusing on Modern Orthodox arguments (unless they want to bash them) because they are sure they are faulty and contrary to "Torah True" Judaism. The Modern Orthodox world always seems to feel the need to show it's as good as Chareidi Judaism. We need to stop wasting our time focusing on the Chareidi world and start showing why Modern Orthodoxy is not just a "be'dieved," but is an equally viable strain of Orthodoxy.

Monday, June 19, 2006

More on Interleague Play

In an earlier post, I explained why the American League might have some advantages in interleague play but that they basically even out. In this post I'll explain why, expanding on a point I made in that post. The argument that the AL benefits from interleague play alleges a systemic advantage. The system of interleague play, due to the DH rule, affords the AL advantages because they can play a slugger in the AL park, but are only brought down to the National League team’s level in the NL park. As a response I argued that the NL has advantages as well:

1) Assuming team payrolls are basically even across leagues (excluding the Yankees who are an outlier), the AL team is at a disadvantage. Let's say both
the AL and NL team has 100 dollars to spend. If the AL team has a DH they will be forced to spend x number of dollars on the player who is playing the DH's natural position (Player Y). The NL team can spend the x dollars on other positions. So while the AL team will have a good hitter on the bench in NL parks (because Player Y won't start), the NL bench and bullpen (or other positions) will be better because they can spread that money out on the other positions. And when there's no DH, it's more important to have a deep bench and bullpen, because if it wasn't, NL teams would just spend x dollars on one slugger to keep on the bench. So the NL team will have the advantage here.
Let me expand on this point. Let's assume that on average NL and AL teams have about the same payrolls (interestingly if one takes the Yankees out of the equation the average payrolls are almost exactly the same -- $74,923,614.3 for the AL and $74,954,351.25 for the NL). Of course even if the salaries were not equal, that would not be an argument against interleague play but against salary inequity, which is a problem in intraleague play as well.

Let's use a video game metaphor. Assume two leagues, each league containing teams that have a 25 man roster. All the teams have 25 players who are exactly average (and therefore exactly the same). Each team is given 100 points from which it can add to the players. So, for example, a team might add 10 points to their first baseman, which would give them an excellent first baseman, but they would only be left with 90 points to spread around the rest of the team.

Depending on the league rules, the teams will allocate the points in different ways. So if one league allows its second basemen to have four strikes, each team in that league will probably allocate more points to their second basemen than the teams in the other league. In real life, one league allows the DH and the other does not. So we would assume that the teams in the AL, which allows the DH would allocate more points to a 9th hitter than in the NL.

The NL team, it would be expected, would spread out the points among the other players. But when it comes down to it, the NL and AL teams are exactly even, although their talent is spread differently among the players.

If we follow the rules of interleague play, when the teams from different leagues play each other, the away team will always be at a disadvantage. When the NL team plays in the AL stadium, the rules are tilted in favor of the team that allocated more points for a ninth hitter. When the NL team is home, it has an advantage because the AL team is constructed for a league where a ninth hitter is meaningful; in the NL having an above average ninth hitter is not helpful if it means the rest of the team will be worse off (because if that was the case, then the NL teams would just spend as much points on the ninth hitter as the AL teams).

In other words, assuming everything else is equal (and if everything else is not equal that’s not an argument against interleague play but for fixing the inequalities), interleague play does not create disadvantages for either league as long as both leagues have an equal number of home games.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Does Interleague Play Benefit American League Teams?

With interleague play about to start in earnest, I've decided to take a look into whether AL teams unfairly benefit from interleague play over NL teams. Why would that be the case? Some argue that although both the AL and NL has an equal number of home games in interleague play, the AL has a bigger advantage because of the DH rule.

When games are played in AL parks, both teams get to use the DH. But the AL teams usually have a strong hitter playing that position while the NL teams will usually take their best bench player, who is generally not in the same class. But when the teams play in a NL park, the AL team will usually play its DH in the field and that will level the playing field, since now both teams can only use its eight best hitters and the top eight hitters are usually fairly equal across the leagues.

So for example, when the Red Sox play the Mets in Fenway Park they have the advantage of playing David Ortiz, while the Mets will probably DH Julio Franco. That's a huge difference. But when they play in Shea Stadium, Ortiz plays the field, like Carlos Delgado, and everything is fair.
I believe the AL does have an advantage, but it's not as big as people make it out to be. The above argument is overstated because the comparison is not between Franco and Ortiz but between Franco and Kevin Youkilis (the Sox's first basemen). Youkilis is the guy who is playing Ortiz's natural position because Ortiz can DH (let's call him Youkilis Player Y). If the Red Sox played in the NL, they would play Ortiz at first and probably not have Youkilis on the roster. So the advantage the Sox have in interleague play is Youkilis's bat vs. Franco's, not Ortiz vs. Franco.

Another advantage is defense. Players DH because they are a worse defensive player than whoever is playing their natural position (Player Y). If that wasn't true, they would be playing the field and Player Y would be DHing. Ortiz plays DH because he's a worse fielder than Youkilis. Same thing with Giambi and Andy Phillips. However, this advantage is illusory because the NL team will also play their better defensive player in the field and DH the other player. So the Mets might play Franco at first and DH Carlos Delgado in Fenway, which will negate the fielding advantage. So the AL's advantage is basically the difference between the best bench player on the NL team and Player Y (in our example between Franco and Youkilis).

That gap is not that large. Moreover, the NL does have advantages in their ballparks:

1) Assuming team payrolls are basically even across leagues (excluding the Yankees who are an outlier), the AL team is at a disadvantage. Let's say both the AL and NL team has 100 dollars to spend. If the AL team has a DH they will be forced to spend x number of dollars on the player who is playing the DH's natural position (Player Y). The NL team can spend the x dollars on other positions. So while the AL team will have a good hitter on the bench in NL parks (because Player Y won't start), the NL bench and bullpen (or other positions) will be better because they can spread that money out on the other positions. And when there's no DH, it's more important to have a deep bench and bullpen, because if it wasn't, NL teams would just spend x dollars on one slugger to keep on the bench. So the NL team will have the advantage here.

2) The DH in the AL will often play DH most of the season (and when he doesn't he's probably not that much better than the NL team's best bench player). But when he is forced to play the field in NL ballparks, he is at a disadvantage because he is not used to playing the field. If Ortiz played 162 games at first base, he'd be a better first basemen than he is now (when he only plays around 20 games a year in the field). If Ortiz played in the NL, he'd be a better fielder. Practice makes a player better. So even if the NL team has a bad player playing first, he'll likely be better than Ortiz simply because he plays more. And that's a disadvantage for the AL team.

3) On the same note, pitchers will probably be better hitters and bunters in the NL because they get more practice. While the disparity won't be great (pitchers suck in both leagues), this is still a small advantage for the NL teams.

Are these disadvantages outweighed by the AL's ability to have a better hitter in AL parks? That's an empirical question, but I'm too lazy to run the numbers right now. But I think the advantage is minimal at best.

By the way, interleague play has been pretty even. As of today the NL has 1,126 wins while the AL has 1,116 wins.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Extortion Alright

Harry the Centrist has a post about guys demanding money upfront in order to marry the girl. The father of the girl sold his life insurance policy so he could promise a few hundred dollars a month. I've posted about this before.

Why is it considered ok in Yeshiva world for guys to marry girls in order that they can sit and learn? Since when do people choose a wife based on how much money they can get? This isn't a hashkafic disagreement. The girl just doesn't have rich parents who can bankroll the guy. How in the world can a society promote a system where girls are accepted or rejected based on how much money her father has?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What Does a Guy Have To Do To Get a Yes?

I've been having an argument about what constitutes consent between two consenting adults who are engaging in a not-so-frum activity. No, I'm not talking about sex, but something along those lines. The issue is a guy who goes out on shidduch dates with shomer negiah girls and then gets a little too friendly.

What exactly is consent in that case? Let's say the guy kisses the girl and then moves in for some more "action" and the girl says nothing. Has she consented? If the answer is no, then the only possible mechanism to convey consent is a question followed by an explicit yes on her part. In other words he has to ask first, and she must unambiguously answer yes.

My friends (who initially started off disagreeing but now their opinions have seemed to converge) are arguing that the guy must ask and the girl must say yes. Is that realistic? Do guys really ask before they kiss the girl? Do they ask before they take each successive step? I have no experience here, but anecdotal evidence seems to argue against guys asking. Personally I think the guy should interpret the signals and if she never intended for the guy to kiss her, she can always say no.

Why must the guy ask? They argue that once he starts doing something the girl is too scared and surprised to do anything about it. She can't say no. What exactly is she scared of? I would have to assume she's scared of the guy getting angry and having his way anyway, this time by using physical force. So her choice is either the guy getting his action without causing her pain or the guy hurting her and still doing what he wants.

But is that really the situation? If a girl says no, would most guys really do it anyway? I highly doubt that. Only in a Feminist fantasyland are all men potential rapists and all guys completely dismissive of women's desires.

And who says the girl can't say no? Doesn't "no mean no?" Didn't Feminists fight to make sure that when a woman says no, we have to respect that? Clearly women can say no, even once the guy started (if "no means no" is referring to the girl saying no after being asked, well, that seems kind of obvious. If no didn't mean no then, what exactly would be rape?)

I think part of the problem here is that Feminists have convinced women that all men are possible rapists and if you set them off, they’ll do it. So women are justifiably scared of angering guys by saying no. We need to better educate women that most men won’t rape them and that they can say no. Because for most men, no really does mean stop.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Why Are Parents Involved?

In many communities, more common the farther right one goes on the religious spectrum, the parents are usually involved in a lot of the predate activity mentioned here. In those communities (which are also the communities that have a lot of predating activity), the parents (usually the mother) receive the shidduch offer, ask the questions, call the references, and make preliminary decisions. Those decisions are often based on input from her son or daughter about what type of person he or she wants. If the mother says yes, the shidduch is posed to the son. If he likes the girl's information, they go out.

What benefit is there to having the mother (or father) involved? Certainly there are costs. Anytime there is an intermediary (or agent) we run of the risk of the agent misunderstanding instructions. For example, the son might have been vague about what type of personality he is looking for (assuming personality can be pigeonholed into neat categories). The mother will interpret the son's request to the best of her ability, but that might not be what the son intended. Interpretation always leaves open the possibility of misunderstanding.

Moreover, the mother, human as she is, will impose her biases on his instructions. This is true especially when the instructions are vague. Some mothers might do that consciously ("that girl is no good for MY son!"), while others subconsciously. But almost everyone interprets according to their biases.

These risks are transactions costs, which means that if the mothers were not involved, the guy might have accepted the offer. So why do people still call mothers with shidduch offers? Here are a few possible reasons:

1) The guy gets so many offers that he needs someone to sort through them for him. As the old saying goes, a girl needs an agent, a guy a secretary. She just filters out the obviously bad ones and let's him decide about the better ones. But that argument just restates the problem. Sure he gets a lot of offers, and his mother filters them out, but what about the ones she thinks are no-brainers but he would consider? Is the guy really that busy that he can't filter them out himself?

2) An agent makes things less uncomfortable. Let's say this annoying shadchan calls the guy and pushes him to date this girl. He can tell her he's busy with school or has an event that night, but the woman can bother him and reason away his excuses. If his mother tells the woman that he has school, the most the shadchan can do is ask the mother to tell the son that he can find time. Since the shadchan has to keep talking to the mother, who then has to relay the information to the son and wait for an answer, she'll give up a lot quicker than she would if she only had to call the son directly.

This at least is a benefit to having a parent involved. But does the benefit of not being uncomfortable outweigh the cost of missing out on a good girl? I doubt it. It's not that difficult to tell a shadchan that you don't think the girl or guy is for you. After a while all you have to do is put your foot down. It's much easier than telling a date to his face that you don't want to go out again.

3) Parents are more mature and better at making marriage decisions. Alternatively as a second party they minimize the risk of the child making a bad choice. The first argument is very poor. If people aren't mature enough to make these decisions, they surely are not mature enough to get married. Marriage is filled with difficult decisions.

The second argument is a little better, but is not a sufficient reason to have mothers involved. The parents can merely play a role farther down the road, before they get engaged. That would have the same benefit without the risk of the mother filtering out a good girl.

Overall I fail to see how the benefits outweigh the costs here. Having parents play a role is just another cost on the shidduch system and another reason why we have a crisis.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Why Shidduchim Are So Difficult

One of the most common complaints about the current shidduch system is how much predating activity takes place. First the girl is "red" to the boy (or often the boy's mother), who then proceeds to ask a dozen questions and call a bunch of references. If he says yes, the same process is followed by the girl's mother.

This entire process takes a short while, but can delay a shidduch and sometimes (especially in the case of the girl) put one of the parties in a quandary. If the girl has two offers, she has to answer both of them and, in some communities, cannot date both guys at the same time. So let's say guy A is offered on June 1, but for some reason it takes two weeks for the whole predate process to complete. If guy B is offered on June 8, the girl is in a quandary because she won't say no to guy B without knowing if guy A is a worthwhile prospect.

Why so much predate activity? In the Orthodox world dating is costly (and I'm not just talking about money). People usually only date for a few months, partly because the prohibition against physical contact makes dating dangerous. Also, every date is big, everyone takes it seriously, and both parties know that each date can make or break a shidduch. All the hassles and pressure make dating more costly in the Orthodox world. Moreover, divorce is not a viable option for a bunch of reasons, and that makes the need for information even greater.

I think most people would agree that dating is the best source of information about a potential spouse. The longer one dates someone, the more she can learn about him. People can only keep a secret for so long, and people can't cover up their true nature forever. If dating is costly, that makes the costs of information high (meaning that learning about a potential marriage partner is difficult). People therefore supplement their information gathering by the use of proxies, which are other sources of information.

If people can't date, they need to get the information somehow. References are a crude tool, since people's perception of an individual differ. Furthermore, references are usually supplied by the guy or girl, and it's unlikely they will use someone with a negative opinion of them as a reference. So the information gleaned from references will generally be incomplete at best.

People ask questions for the same reason. Someone might ask what shul the guy goes to, and extrapolate from there the guy's hashkafa. Of course, this method is blunt and overbroad. But given the lack of better options, this method is the best way to go. This argument also helps explain why people ask dumb questions. Asking what color tablecloth is used on Shabbos is just a way of finding out a piece of information. Perhaps the questioner wishes to know if the family spends money. Of course there are many other reasons why someone might use an off-color tablecloth unrelated to frugality, but like references and other questions, the answer still generates some information.

This argument also explains why the more religious a community is, the more questions will be asked. When dating becomes more costly, people will ask more questions. And with more questions comes more dumb questions.

The argument against a lot of predate activity ignores the cause of the system: less dating. If people can't date, they have to supplement the information in another way. The questions and references create a cost on the system because proxies are far from exact, and guys will reject a girl who they might have married if they would just have gone out (in other words, predate questions and references are transaction costs on the system). But as long as long-term dating is frowned upon, this system will remain in place.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Reading Frumteens Is Soooo Much Fun

I haven't been to Frumteens in a while and for good reason. Has his logic been getting worse or have I just gotten better at picking out poor arguments?

1) As a theory [evolution is] lousy, and youre right that nobody would care, except for the fact that this particular lousy theory also has grave theological implications. Namely, it is the only existing excuse for atheism.
Call me crazy, but I have a pretty difficult time believing that a theory which is accepted by basically the entire world scientific community is "lousy." Maybe wrong, but probably a fairly successful theory.

And is evolution "the only existing excuse for atheism?" Frumteens is creating a false choice. Since evolution is obviously lousy and scientists must know that, only ulterior motives keep them clinging to it. Why? Because the only other alternative is that G-d created the world and that possiblity is anathema to them since it would require them to follow rules.

But that choice is obviously wrong. Even if scientists had absolutely no clue how the world was created, the other option is not G-d. It's an infinite possible number of explainations, many of which have the same explainatory power as G-d. The world could have been created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or perhaps it came about merely from nothing. Or it existed forever. These are all explaintions that have nothing to do with G-d or required morality.

2) Of course Satmar would like to see the State abolished - so would the other Gedolim - Rav Shach ZTL reportedly used to pray every day for the peaceful disappearance of the State of Israel.

The other Gedolim? I know quite a few Gedolim who are very happy that there is a state and logic would therefore dictate that they don't want to see the state abolished. It seems Frumteens only allows for Gedolim who want to see the state abolished. Surprising?

Wow, I could go on all night but that would pointless. It amazes me that people support this crap.

Every Captain Needs A First Mate

While in Lakewood Shifra and I did some wedding shopping. Located in one of the stores was a book called "The Chosson/Kallah Guide." Ah, what a great repository of marriage information!

Remember this story? It's on page 26, right next to gems like "Marriage is not an equal partnership" (27), "[t]he wife is submissive. This is not only Jewish but natural," (20), and "[the wife] need not beg for money." It also compares the husband/wife relationship to a captain and first mate (27).

When I told a friend about these statements, he asked what century it was written in. He argued that most of this stuff went out the window about 100 years ago. I could't have said it better myself.