China: Human Rabies Death Toll Continues to Rise

From: ProMED Digest V2003 #451
Source: Reuters Health online, Tue 25 Nov 2003 [edited]

Rabies cases leapt nearly 63 percent in China in the first 9 months
of 2003 as the people's mad affair with pet dogs deepened, the China
Daily reported on Tue 25 Nov 2003. Rabies, "mad dog disease" in
Chinese, killed 1297 people up to the end of September 2003, far
exceeding the 1003 deaths the Health Ministry reported for all of
2002, the newspaper said. This is the 5th straight year that China
has seen a big jump in rabies infections.

"Experts from the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention are
blaming the trend on pet ownership, the shaky quality of
vaccinations, the public's weak awareness of vigilance and the low
vaccination rate among dogs as the major causes of the rapid rise in
cases," the newspaper stated. Another factor was stray dogs running
wild on the outskirts of cities and in rural areas. The ministry said
earlier this year that rabies was the most deadly infectious killer
in China, well surpassing SARS and AIDS.

Pet dogs were shunned in the days of Mao Zedong as a symbol of
bourgeois decadence, and dog is still a popular restaurant dish. But
pet pooches have become increasingly popular in the last decade with
improved living standards.

- --

[Recent statements on the reasons for the increased number of cases
of human rabies in China have lacked consistency. The China Daily
article above attributes the increase in number of human deaths to
pet ownership and low canine vaccination rates. However a previous
ProMED-mail correspondent (see: Rabies - China (Guangxi) (03)
20031114.2830) observed that: "China has uniform compulsory
vaccination of pet dogs, and it seems to be rather stringently
enforced. If the owner is not carrying a vaccination certificate when
asked to produce it, the dog is often killed on the spot." In
contrast, "there is no requirement that dogs raised and sold for meat
must be vaccinated. The overwhelming majority of the dogs which have
been killed as a result of rabies outbreaks this year have been in
dog meat production areas, where there are few if any pet dogs." The
ambivalent attitude of the Chinese to dogs would appear to be a major
factor in the failure to control this outbreak. - Mod.CP (ProMED-mail moderator)]


Beneath every green tree (or: תחת כל עץ רענן)

They're putting up the wood frames down around 20th and 1st, and I'm looking forward to what goes in them.

Yes, I love the smell of Christmas trees. I walk through green gauntlets of them every year, around late November or early December, when the spruce-sellers put out their wares on the streets of Manhattan. I think the pleasure is heightened because I feel absolutely no associated responsibility: I enjoy the holiday and its trappings from afar without having to celebrate it.

The comparable Jewish feeling, of course, comes just after Yom Kippur, the time of the sprouting of sukkot -- but our religion (like any other) is not for unadulterated esthetic. The minute one thinks of sukkot, one thinks (in the same moment) of Sukkot, preparations thereof, building one's own booth, meal planning, recipe hunting, purchasing the four species -- the familiar mix of anticipated exultation and exhaustion.

But Christmas trees I can stroll among, knowing that my yarmulke identifies me as a non-purchaser (the sellers, in New York, know that much, in my experience), and thus able to enjoy gratification without committment. It is as if an entire religion were growing a garden for our benefit.

I do not consider Christianity a species of idolatry (I've talked about that before), so theoretically I should make a blessing on the scent. Perhaps I'll finally remember this year, on my way to minyan.


Two questions of momentous import, and a third it'd be nice to talk about over some Girl Scout cookies

Are you listening, readership? I want the answers to these on my desk by nine o'clock tomorrow morning. (It's too bad there isn't a column called "Ask the language hat Rabbi.")

1. When people say, on parting, "Be good," is it a colloquial rendering of the too-formal "Be well," or a wink-wink-nudge-nudge "You be good, now, you hear?", like "[Johnny] B Good"? And how would you know, O linguists, which one it was?

2. When I learned Spanish in high school, and soaked up a fair bit of it in Spain and Mexico, the way to say "How are you?" (or one of them, anway) was ¿Que pasa?. As long as I've lived in the U.S., though (both in California and in New York), I've always heard ¿Que pasó? from Spanish speakers. Past tense, that is, though it doesn't seem to be used that way. Any explanations?

Oh, and here's another thing I'm wondering about (this article in the Forward, about interreligious dialogue between Orthodox Jews and Christians, got me thinking). When Orthodox Jews say, quoting Soloveitchik, that one shouldn't engage in theological discussion with Christians, lest one fall prey to "relativism" -- what does that mean, exactly?

The strong version of relativism, if I may speculate for the sake of argument, might be something like this:

One should not find any points of comparison between Judaism and Christianity, lest the Jewish Gestalt be contaminated by association with an idolatrous faith.

Note that I do not hold Christianity to be idolatrous, but [most] sectors of Orthodoxy, and today's Orthodoxy in even greater measure, do. (Yes, I know about the Meiri, but I don't think he's all that popular these days . . .)

But the points of comparison do, in fact, exist, whether or not one seeks them out. How can one refuse to take notice of them, if the Jewish tradition has been shaped in part precisely by great thinkers and rabbis who made use of such comparisons in their creative life? (I'm thinking of Ibn Ezra and the Ramban, but I'm sure the list can be extended almost indefinitely.)

Thus I find this strong version implausible. But perhaps a weaker version is meant (and indeed, I think I've actually read something like this in essays on the topic):

One should not actively discuss points of theological comparison between Judaism and Christianity, lest the development and observance of the former be contaminated by the influence of an idolatrous faith.

Again, I find this implausible. The underlying assumption here, I think, is that all developments in religious Judaism are internal, driven by a mi-Sinai dynamic. If any Christian influence were to be allowed in, the chicken soup of Judaism would be rendered treyf . (And since Christianity -- to extend the metaphor -- is not milchig or fleischig, but treyf itself, any amount of contamination is unnullifiable.) But -- again with history! -- Christianity has influenced Jewish history in great measure and often to positive effect.

There must be some more convincing argument I'm missing. I'll have to read Soloveitchik's essay., although to tell the truth I find him much more convincing as a stylist and rhetorician than as a philosopher.

Oh, here's the article. The core of the argument, I think, rests on this passage:

This failure rests upon two misconceptions of the nature of the faith community. First the single-confrontation philosophy continues to speak of Jewish identity without realizing that this term can only be understood under the aspect of singularity and otherness. There is no identity without uniqueness. As there cannot be an equation between two individuals unless they are converted into abstractions, it is likewise absurd to speak of the commensurability of two faith communities which are individual entities.

The individuality of a faith community expresses itself in a threefold way. First, the divine imperatives and commandments to which a faith community is unreservedly committed must not be equated with the ritual and ethos of another community. Each faith community is engaged in a singular normative gesture reflecting the numinous nature of the act of faith itself, and it is futile to try to find common denominators. Particularly when we speak of the Jewish faith community, whose very essence is expressed in the halakhic performance which is a most individuating factor, any attempt to equate our identity with another is sheer absurdity. Second, the axiological awareness of each faith community is an exclusive one, for it believes - and this belief is indispensable to the survival of the community - that its system of dogmas, doctrines and values is best fitted for the attainment of the ultimate good. Third, each faith community is unyielding in its eschatological expectations. It perceives the events at the end of time with exultant certainty, and expects man, by surrender of selfish pettiness and by consecration to the great destiny of life, to embrace the faith that this community has been preaching throughout the millennia. Standardization of practices, equalization of dogmatic certitudes, and the waiving of eschatological claims spell the end of the vibrant and great faith experience of any religious community. It is as unique and enigmatic as the individual himself.

Again, the author quite reasonably elaborates upon his premises, as is his right -- but these premises are not so much argued as asserted. "There is no identity without uniqueness": not, I think, the case. Indeed, we can understand Judaism as a separate religion precisely through those points of contact and departure from other religions. It might be an Orthodox axiom (I don't know) to believe that Judaism is, in fact, entirely unique (unique in what way? at what level?), but I don't think I buy it.

The second, larger paragraph is, similarly, studded with ringing statements that are not grounded in disputable points of argument. I find this unfortunate. One community's religious being "cannot be equated with the faith and ethos" of another community -- but why can't one compare without equating? If, in fact, we don't find Judaism to be unique (still a confusing term: in all particulars? throughout all time?), then we could perfectly well compare it to Christianity, say, without equating the two.

"Each community is engaged in a singular normative gesture . . . it is futile to find common denominators": But, with all due respect, I don't find it futile. The Jewish community is engaged in a great "gesture" (if you will), and I do accept it as normative. But I can only call it "singular" in obeisance to the great power and beauty of Jewish life and thought, in the same way that a work of art is singular, but not unique in all particulars.

"Standardization of practices, equalization of dogmatic certitudes, and the waiving of eschatological claims spell the end of the vibrant and great faith experience of any religious community." Why does a non-uniqueness of eschatological claims qualify as a "waiving"? Could I not firmly believe in the coming of the Messiah in such a way as might apply to all (suitably qualified) human beings? Would not such a belief qualify as a Jewish eschatological claim? I assert that it would, though it might not meet the standards of the author's eschatological claims.

And lastly, even if I accept the author's terms (that is, my differing eschatological claim would indeed mean some sort of "waiving" of the Jewish uniqueness he has in mind), why and how would this "spell the end of the vibrant and great faith experience"? I find it strange that Soloveitchik here adopts the approach (which he caricatures in Halakhic Man) of homo religiosus: that of subjective claims of "greatness" and "vibrancy." I claim (though I am dust and ashes!) that my faith experience is indeed great and vibrant.

I should get some work done today. However, I want to conclude with the observation that Korn's justification, as given in the article, for his call to re-examine Soloveitchik's stance ("I contend that it wasn't a halachic position of Rabbi Soloveitchik, but a policy decision.") is somewhat strange. Given that Soloveitchik's position, as put forth in the essay, seems to be based on a philosophical approach to the Book of Genesis and to religious observance in general, how can Korn characterize it as a public policy decision -- unless he disagrees with the claims of the essay and doesn't want to say so?

PS: I'm glad the Forward is now glossing "halachah" as "rabbinic law" and not as "rabbinic canon law", which always gave me fits of giggles. Thanks, guys. Now if you could just stop glossing it altogether, and have faith in your readers' ability to use a dictionary . . .

Enentation comments


Hey, buddy! Need a facelift?

The guy at the shoeshine stand next to the entrance of Grand Central Station glances down at my shoes as I pass him, looks me right in the eye, and states rather than asks: "Need a shine?" I keep walking.

Good thing there's no barber shop there. Or confessional.


A useful mistake

The Conservative movement, or at least one of its leading figures, has characterized its most controversial psak (Jewish legal judgment) as a mistake. This is a classic case (beloved by the Jewish legal tradition) of lekhatkhilah (a priori) and bedieved (ex post facto). Given today's circumstances I would not have made such a decision, because I know how things turned out. Given the circumstances of the time, however, the decision was not unjustified. Can we call it a mistake, then? Yes, if we can do so without an air of superiority -- because it's a helpful and even an admirable mistake. The circumstances of that mistake, both at its commission and today, after the admission, can shed light on the positive and negative aspects of the Conservative movement. Perhaps if more mistakes like it were to be made, the direction of the Conservative movement could be changed for the better.

Conservative psakim are issued through the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, and it was this Committee (known to the "inside-baseball" crowd as the Law Committee, or the CJLS) which issues rulings -- and issued them in the 1950s, when the question of driving on Shabbat came up for judgment.

Only an excerpt of the psak is available on-line. (Isn't it ridiculous that the very movement which strives for a modern, open approach to halachah doesn't have the psakim of its Law Committee available on-line, in full and for free? One most console oneself with the Masorti movement's David Golinkin, whose sensible, well-researched teshuvot are worth destroying one's eyesight with PDFs that are not of the highest quality.) However, one can summarize as follows. The authors took into account the near-complete erosion of traditional Jewish religious life in considerable sections of the U.S., and in an attempt to make possible some modicum of Sabbath observance for those who would otherwise (through ignorance) be unable to observe individually, permitted them to drive to the synagogue, and there only, on the Sabbath.

From a halachic perspective, that is, if we focus our gaze only on a narrowly specified list of Shabbat prohibitions, it was a mistaken decision. (Those prohibitions are enumerated in detail in a recent Masorti responsum that comes to a different conclusion, unsurprisingly, based on the different conditions prevalent today in Israel.) But from a public-policy decision it was perfectly justified. Indeed, rare is the teshuvah (responsum) which does not have to balance Jewish laws of a smaller scale -- which is not to say minor -- against those which apply to greater numbers of people, or to entire communities. Many have said that the responsum made the mistake which Jewish law terms halakhah ve-eyn morin keyn: it is the law, but one does not rule that way. (Or as the limerick has it: "Don't shout / And wave it about / Or the rest will be wanting one too.") That is, the decision itself was justified -- it is, after all, better to drive to shul on Shabbos than to stay home and crank the stereo -- but one musn't disclose this permissibility in a public psak. This argument is unconvincing. While there was a danger -- presumably realized by the CJLS members of the time -- that the Conservative majority would interpret the ruling as permission to drive on the Sabbath, there was an equally clear and present countervailing danger: i.e. that thousands of Jews would languish in spiritual isolation for lack of means or ability to pray. The CJLS took both these sides into account, and ruled, quite reasonably, in favor of the latter consideration.

This is what happens in psak -- the delicate, tangible art of adjudication. Sometimes you get it wrong. Why is this mistake valuable? Because the Conservative movement is, I believe, the only institution which characterizes itself as halachic that can admit its mistakes. Though Orthodox rabbinical groups are wide-ranging, they are united in at least one particular: neither the adherents of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik (the "Rav"), nor those of the Agudah, nor anyone in between would be able to say of a given psak: This is mistaken. Of course, one is allowed to follow one psak rather than other, but according to Orthodox theology (by and large) the posek (decisor) is guided by the hand of God in making his halachic decisions. That hand cannot err.

I don't know what metaphor to use for Conservative responsa -- perhaps God is the mentor rather than the guide, the parent whom the child must respect but part from in order to achieve full intellectual and spiritual development. In any case, however, Conservative rabbis are, or at least should be, more honest about the dangerous fallibility of the path they tread. The decision about driving on the Sabbath is one example. The mistake shows us what could have been achieved over the past fifty-some years, and what we should aim at in the future: self-sustaining, Sabbath-observant communities following an egalitarian, religiously open, culturally rich model, drawing from the experience of Jews from every place on the spectrum but not beholden to them. Perhaps there is still time for this in what is left of the millennium . . .

This is not to say, though, that the Conservative rabbinate is always quick to admit its mistakes. (One could of course argue that Rabbi Schorsch's speech cannot even be characterized as an institutional mea culpa, and that the CJLS, like Agudah, will never admit its own error.) But I hope that the Sabbath-driving example will be an influence on Conservative institutions to acknowledge their own fallibility. I am thinking in particular of the issue of homosexuality, which the Rabbinical Assembly and JTS have been woefully timid in addressing, for fear of offending their right wing. (Where is the halakhah that "carves through the mountain" without fear or favor?) But more on that another time.

Enentation comments


China: Rabies Kills 312 People in Guangxi

From: ProMED Digest V2003 #435
Source: Xinhuanet, Tue 11 Nov 2003 [edited]

Rabies has killed 312 people in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the
south from January to September 2003, a 152.9 percent rise over the total
rabies cases in 2002, according to the Regional Department of Health. The
figures show the impact of the growing number of pets in the country, which
has long been ravaged by infectious diseases. Local medical experts blamed
the public's weak awareness of the need for vigilance and the low canine
vaccination rate as the major causes of the [high number of cases of the]
deadly infection.

"The increase in pet ownership in Guangxi's urban and rural areas was the
major cause of the rapid rise in rabies cases," said Yang Jinye, deputy
director of Guangxi Diseases Prevention and Control Center. Stray dogs in
the rural areas also add to the risk of people getting bitten, according to
the official. There are currently some 6.2 million dogs in Guangxi, of
which less than 20 percent have been immunized against the rabies virus, he

A serious, fatal disease that can be transmitted by dogs, cats, livestock
and certain wild animals and birds, rabies infects and kills thousands of
people every year in China. Rabies, called "mad dog disease," has become
the most dangerous infectious killer in the country, easily surpassing
diseases like SARS , pulmonary tuberculosis, AIDS, and anthrax. The
ministry's statistics show only 854 deaths from rabies were reported in
2001, and the figure rose rapidly to 1003 in 2002. Some feared the toll
might continue to rise this year, since rabies outbreaks had ravaged
provinces like Guangdong, Hainan, Hunan, and Jiangsu this summer.

China has loosened restrictions on pets as more and more people in the
nation began to raise dogs as pets or guards. Beijing's dog lovers could
have restrictions on their pets relaxed and registration fees lowered after
a new regulation approved by the municipal government on 5 Sep 2003.
Registration fees of 5000 yuan (US $604) in the first year and 2000 yuan
(US $241.93) a year thereafter have been lowered to 1000 yuan (US $120.96)
and 500 yuan (US $60.48).

- --

[Along with the increase in pet ownership and the reduction in the pet
registration fee, compulsory canine vaccination in Beijing and other large
urban centres should be given priority in order to achieve an immediate
reduction in the appallingly high human death toll from rabies virus
infection throughout China. - ProMED-mail moderator]


Birth blessings

Friends of mine are expecting a child, and they asked: what blessing does one say at the happy event? I did a little bit of research for them, and the answer's not entirely uncomplicated. (Of course, a pedant -- this blogger, for instance -- is someone who refuses to give a simple answer.) Any erudition in this summary is not mine, but gleaned from a very useful article in Hebrew.

In tractate Brachot ("Blessings," of course) 59b, there is a distinction made between the blessing [Praised are you, God, Ruler of the universe] Who is good and does good (i.e. Hatov ve-hameytiv) and the Shehekheyanu. According to the anonymous source, the first is said when one hears good news that affects a number of people, while the second is said when the good news affects only the hearer. Examples given of the second case are the building of a new house (presumably a single-dweller unit!). An example given of the first case is the birth of a son. No blessing on the birth of a daughter is mentioned.

The unclarity of this Talmudic passage gives rise to many of the questions of future commentators. Is the birth of a son an illustrative or rather a defining and limiting example? Why is the birth of a daughter not mentioned? What if the parents prefer a daughter to a son, or welcome both equally?

Many traditional commentators adduce other references in the Gemara which suggest that a son is a preferable to a daughter. The halachic conclusions deriving from this are various. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should say Hatov ve-hameytiv, but does not mention any blessing for a daughter. The Mishnah Berurah (a late 19th- and early 20th-century commentary on the Shulchan Aruch) reasons that the birth of a daughter should be at least as welcome as seeing a friend one has not laid eyes on for thirty days, which requires Shehekheyanu -- and thus requires this blessing in such a case.

Some communities have had the custom to recite no blessing, either because (a) it is generally unclear whether a son is preferable to a daughter by both father and mother; or (b) the true "glad tidings" are the news of the pregnancy, over which a blessing can't be said for technical reasons of timing.

I think these various routes have been mistaken, or, to be more generous, motivated by historical concerns favoring boys over girls. I would venture to suggest that the birth of either a boy or a girl is a piece of happy news bringing joy and benefit to all friends and family that hear it, thereby meriting the blessing Hatov ve-hameytiv. Of course, you are free to make your own decisions.
The physical basis of moral belief: The neuroscientists have done it!

In the New York Times, Sandra Blakeslee informs us of an earth-shaking discovery. If this article wasn't printed on the front page, it darn well should have been:

They do think they have solved one longstanding mystery, though. Most neuroscientists are convinced the mind is in no way separate from the brain. In the brain they have found a physical basis for all our thoughts, aspirations, language, sense of consciousness, moral beliefs and everything else that makes us human. All of this arises from interactions among billions of ordinary cells. Neuroscience finds no duality, no finger of God animating the human mind.

I must confess something: before I read this paragraph, I was dubious that the neuroscientists had done the heavy lifting of actually demonstrating this assertion. So it's convenient that reporters like Ms. Blakeslee, the gatekeepers of the Gray Lady, can decide when the burden of proof has been lifted. I am very happy to hear that this mystery has been solved, now that I've read it in the Times. Let us now plan the party! (Though we need to coordinate it with the celebrations of National Health Information Management Week. I'll have my people call their people.)


Please party responsibly

Seen on a banner hanging from the ceiling at Bellevue Hospital (where I do some of my research):

Celebrate National Health Information Management Week!

That explains my giddiness.


Pray get better

One of the basic difficulties of doing any medical study is something that's known to speakers of Epidemiologese as exposure measurement. If you're conducting research on the effect of gamma rays on man-in-the-moon marigolds, you need to measure your gamma rays. If you want to find out if fried chicken causes cancer, you either need to (a) trust the subject to faithfully record each and every visit to Popeye's; (b) somehow spy on them at home and on the way, with their consent; or (c) lock them in a room, provide them with food, and spy on them through a mirror. (All of these have been tried.) Dietary epidemiology is the black hole of untestable hypotheses, precisely because it's so hard to determine what people actually eat and when.

If exposure measurement is tough for dietary studies, for which there are no lack of biologically plausible hypotheses, you can imagine the signs I would put up around the scientific minefield called Prayer and Health. For in this case, the methodological difficulties are intimately bound up with the theological ones. How does one define prayer? When is prayer "properly" done? What is the hypothesized mechanism of prayer? These are not merely matters of idle theological speculation, but questions that must be answered before any study gets off the ground. I haven't read many studies on this topic, only a few -- but those few not only failed to fly: they staggered a few steps and fell flat on their bellies. That's why it's so refreshing to read a critic on the subject sympathetically interviewed by the lay press. He perceptively points out that a misguided attempt to introduce "prayer" (however one might define it) into the standard of medical care might actually pervert both medical practice and religious observance, in the same way that theocracy works neither as religion nor as politics.

I particularly admired the interviewee's stalwart refusal to respond to the question, "Are you a religious person?" This is irrelevant to the topic at hand. Religious people, just like scientists, should be properly skeptical of implausible claims. True religious observance does not imply or require credulous acceptance of every claim on behalf of prayer, nor does it depend on dubious, pseudo-scientific validation of these claims.


Two orders of ribs

Valerie Wohlfeld
from Prairie Schooner


That rib Eve wove herself out of
arthritic in rain, foreign to the body's sanctum?

Serpent: curving rib cast-off—
scaly glitter and hoar—

dybbuk's uncoiled vertebrae,
flexuous maze of whorls?

Deaf, all snakes—
that rib exiled from body to body, silent,

—as even serpents' blood helix-wound
round veins, was not made to hear?

Eve Grubin
from The New Republic

Rib Cage

Eve slipped from its ridge
the only body part you don't
do evil with.

Modest, ticklish, open fan,
not quite sexual, not puritan.

Delicate accordion
--yawn, moan--
soul breathes through its comb.


Regarless [sic]

This morning I spent an extra minute or so in the voting booth just looking around. I figure I should get my tax dollars' worth, since actually choosing candidates takes about forty-five seconds (I am, after all, a yellow-dog Democrat). While reading the Spanish translation of Ballot Question 3, which in the original includes the phrase "regardless of party membership or independent status," I noticed the phrase sin imortar. "Hum!" I thought. "I don't know of any word imortar, but maybe my Spanish is rusty." Of course, it came to me as I was leaving the voting place: it should be sin importar. The poor "p" was forgotten.

I am confident that this typo will cause no election scandal. But shouldn't they have proofreaders for the Spanish translations too?


Public health: necessary coercion?

See this from the fall 2003 issue of Dissent; though bland and irreproachable, the article raises an important issue. I find the main points unexceptionable -- the problems start when the rubber meets the road and quite reasonable people fail to believe that public health practitioners are acting in their own best interests. I am thinking of the recent controversies over mandatory reporting of AIDS cases in New York state, where most of the parties on both sides of the dispute agreed that such reporting would be useful in controlling HIV transmission. Opponents of such reporting, however, claimed that AIDS constitutes such a stigma that it cannot be reported. What is one to say in response to the claim that invaded privacy is primary?

I don't think one can expect full cooperation even when the public health infrastructure (let alone the government as a whole) is regarded as trustworthy. Coercion means exactly that, and even when a government acts morally its constituents might still be displeased.
Non-partisanship of the purse: a note to New Yorkers

Please vote no tomorrow on Ballot Question 3, the proposition that would eliminate party primaries for certain elected offices in New York.

As is evident from a quick skim through the official election ballot that you got in the mail, there are an equal number of union officials and party functionaries lined up on either side of this proposal.

However, those political scientists and non-partisan public-policy experts who submitted statements for the brochure are unanimously against this proposal. They lay out several reasons for opposing it:

In those few cities in which non-partisan elections for mayor have been implemented -- it is indeed only a few; the 50+ figure cited by supporters conflates several different sorts of election design -- the blessing claimed by its supporters have not materialized. No massive spike in participation.

New York is by far the largest and most complicated city to implement such a drastic change. But the process by which the change has been proposed has been driven entirely by the desires -- I won't say whims -- of Mayor Bloomberg. I have nothing against the Mayor, but his attempt to portray himself as a populist is not convincing. He convened a commission to advise him on the change when his decision was already a fait accompli, and the popular movement he claims to head is only the movement of many "small pieces of green paper" (to quote Douglas Adams) out of his pocket and into the accounts of various political-advertising agencies.

I fear that our own apathy and Bloomberg's massive spending will guarantee victory for the proposition. The Times has a good article about the partisan politics motivating the "non-partisan" referendum.

That sinking data-feeling

Don't worry, I will not (yet) describe to you what my dissertation is about. After all, we've only known each other for a few months. However, I will now try to describe a feeling peculiar to the tightrope-walkers of the empirical world, whether they're scientists, poets, philosophers, or sociologists. (Or, hell, even non-academics. I'm provincial; what can I say?)

The data are dragging me down. Yes, that's right. I'm trying to put my as-yet-incomplete data through a few trial runs, to see what my model will look like when I have a complete set. It's not important what my model is. What's inescapable is the "oh, shit" in the pit-of-the-stomach when one realizes that the data might not show anything interesting at all, after months of painstaking collection (or browbeating of the people doing the painstaking collection for one) and months of data analysis after that.

And there's nothing I can do about it. Prayer won't help, since data don't listen to prayer -- just as the Rabbis claimed that angels don't understand Aramaic. The data drag you down while gnawing on your head. The mark they produce, if you could view the top of your own head, would look like a piece of published work, a PhD, or a satisfying creation of your own design, chained unbreakably to the empirical status-quo.