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Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Finding the big picture


Regarding conflicts, often times the problem is that there's just not enough space and resources for all involved. When I think of old conflicts, such as the messy divorce and trajectory of my parents and step-parents, I try to imagine a larger space in which they exist.

I try to create enough space in my mind that each person can have their own cohesive existence. Each one of them has a story and is part of a family. I trace those families back to Los Angeles, Canada, Hungary, Armenia, Bessarabia and more.

There is immigration that is a new start, but there is also continuity in religions: Judaism and Christianity, artistic continuity of architecture, cultural traditions of cooking and languages.

There are tragedies both personal and on larger scales. The Jews and the Armenians. Pogroms and genocide. But drawing out even further, there are empires and nations collapsing and forming. 

Judea and Israel, Canaan. The Assyrian empire and the Seleucid empire. Biblical narratives of judges, then kings: first temple, then second temple, then collapse and diaspora.  Resistance to Christianity and tenacious survival via consistency of literature and practice.

Likewise, the Ottoman empire, growing then collapsing and forming Turkey. Armenians caught in between.

Drawing back this far, one sees a bigger picture, and perhaps some actions, while locally selfish and inscrutable at times, sit within a larger context that holds them and provides a certain kind of explanation.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Resolutions 1922, Herman Bernstein


This is the day of new resolutions. I promise myself to jot down a few lines in this book daily. Impressions, incidents, thoughts.


I have just returned from Europe to Sheffield. Europe- the madhouse of slaughter a few years ago- is now a madhouse of speculation and profiteering. Everybody is speculating there- old and young, rich and poor – from abject minister to cook – irrespective of race or creed.


The visa for America is the most coveted thing in Europe. People struggle and starve for it – people fight and lie – and sometimes die for it. “Self determination of nations” has created the need for a multitude of visas to the traveler in Europe.  People stand in line for days – paying high prices, maintaining large staffs of visa officials – people are happy when they get the stamp upon their passports – and then they are searched and scrutinized at the frontiers – they are roused at night, examined and cross-examined. But the experienced traveller quickly discovers that the whole affair is but a new source of graft for the underpaid petty officials, for conductor and frontier guards. Children often are heard crying that they and their parents can’t get visas. All Europe is visa-ridden. To return home- to Sheffield- to the peaceful, beautiful Berkshires now covered with snow- the golden sunbeams playing upon the bluish white mountains- what a joy! What a relief! Away from the turmoil of the profiteers from the plunders of the statesmen – from the artificial glamor of the “antics” and eruption of the conference, “movements” or reforms, and the clap-trap of world saviors.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Responsible private behavior in a viral pandemic

I’m trying to figure out how to apply Kant’s categorical imperative to the present situation of viral pandemic. How should I behave such that I would be ok if everyone behaved in the same way as I do? I should also specify that although I hope that I won’t personally get covid-19, I think of myself as in the low risk group, so my own health is not my primary concern. (Of course, If I get very sick, this attitude would change quickly.)

To make it simple, I’d like to allow two types of behavior regarding care in minimizing spread of the virus. With the public (large numbers of people), I am very careful. I don’t go to a large gathering without a mask, shaking many people’s hands, hugging them, and generally sneezing and touching many surfaces over an extended period of time. When I go to the grocery store, I wear a mask and keep my distance. I wash my hands before and after (or wear gloves).

Next, there are a small number of people that I do not practice such a careful approach with. If I were quarantined with my family, that would be the model, but as I am by myself, I should be allowed a certain number of people to see that I have a higher chance of spreading or recieving the virus from. I want to behave in such a way that if everyone followed similar principles, the virus would stay contained and the number of cases would go to zero. Suppose we know the probability of spreading the virus publicly (p_pub) and the number of people I interact with in the public (n_pub). And likewise we know the probability of spreading the virus privately (p_priv) and the nunber of people we interact with privately. From our assumptions, n_pub >> n_priv and p_pub << p_priv. Suppose that for everyone, these numbers were the same (clearly not true, but fits with the Kantian thought experiment). If we know n_pub and p_pub and p_priv what is n_priv so that the global R_0, (the average number of persons infected per infected individual) is less than 1?