Friday, February 27, 2009

Fortune Cookies

A few nice quotes to go into Shabbos with:
  • Don't spend your precious time asking 'Why isn't the world a better place?' It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is 'How can I make it better?' To that there is an answer. ~ Leo Buscaglia (Hat tip: Scraps)
  • You will become a great philanthropist in your later years. ~ Fortune Cookie I ate. I wouldn't mind being one right now...
  • We all live under the same sky, but we don't see the same light. ~ Fortune Cookie
  • Shabbos is coming, we're so happy, we're going to sing and shout out loud! ~ Uncle Moishy
Have a great Shabbos, everyone!

Chickies!

When I was in WITS, preparations for Purim started officially right after Chanukah ended. Shabbos zemiros started to include the more "chazzanish" Shoshanas Yaakov, Mishenichnas Adar, and of course, everyone's favorite in Milwaukee, Chayav Inish.

Once Adar itself hit, the pranks and shtick would start. Seniors usually led the way, but every grade was doing stuff, while the Beis Medrash guys would be putting up hilarious signs and having an "election" for Purim Rav, replete with campaign stickers, ads, buttons, and the like. The pranks would sometimes lean into the extreme, and the most commonly used prop to add a little life to any good idea was to insert dummies. This was usually incredible - WITS is a huge old mansion on the shores of Lake Michigan (bought for $600,000 when it was worth ~$1.5m at the time) with a grand entrance hall, so there's a nice area to set up themes. When I was a freshman, the seniors set up a full-scale bar, complete with a drunk and a bartender. As a sophomore, the seniors built a jail cell, including a guy pleading with his hands stretched through the bars, a guy sleeping, and a guy throwing up into a toilet (which they'd inserted into the cell). Once in a while, the dummies would go a bit too far; the class that hung one out a front window to be Haman resulted in cops showing up, as people driving by thought they saw something a little less innocent.

Rosh Chodesh, though, was typically the beginning, and was a smaller prank. Taking the whole school's shoes and spelling out "100" in a construction area where $100 fines were assessed for going, spelling out Adar in the main hall... cute but nothing too special. This year, it appears that the seniors at WITS went all out on cuteness, buying up a bunch of baby chicks and then, during breakfast, letting them roam free. Later, they gathered them up* and brought them to the science lab, learned a little about how to take care of them (positioning lights to keep them warm, etc.), before sending them at the end of the day to the Wisconsin Aviary. Here's a video with a few pictures and a few seconds of video:
Enjoy! :)

* Whenever I think of animals roaming free during a prank I think of the classic prank letting pigs/cows/sheep numbered 1, 2, and 4 roam free through a school and watching the school gather them up.

Observing Depression

Via Chana, the latest edition of Stern College's paper, The Observer, is out. In addition to a well-done interview with our favorite smiling friend, Jameel of the Muqata, this issue's main thrust is depression, particularly as it pertains to the Orthodox community. I've just spent time reading through every one of the pieces on the subject, and credit is due to The Observer's staff for doing a fantastic job in covering as much on the subject as could be hoped for in such a publication and more.

From Chana's post:
Those of you who remember Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot's groundbreaking article entitled "Dimensions: A Young Man's Story of Torment: Surviving Depression," which was published in Jewish Action in 2001 will be thrilled to see he has followed it up with an interview he has given us at The Observer. The interview includes his thoughts on how depression is perceived by the Jewish community now that it's been 8 years since his original article, how he came to write that piece, and other thoughts and suggestions regarding depression.

As part of our powerhouse lineup on the series, we also have an interview with Dr. David Pelcovitz on depression. This offers a different point of view, because rather than discussing the issue from personal experience, Dr. Pelcovitz answers in his capacity of psychologist.

See the rest of our articles on depression and mental health in the Features section.
R' Helfgot's interview is interesting and extremely clear; Dr. Pelcovitz's is illuminating from the other end. The aforementioned Features section covers depression by giving an overview of depression in addition to discussing it as it pertains to YU and Stern, how it can affect shidduchim, and of course by discussing mental-health helpers and organizations. It is an interesting, informative, and important issue, and again - kudos to The Observer on a job very well done.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

EZ Reads, 2/26/09

A little less out there today, but still some cute stuff and food for thought:
  • Wolf asks if there's any personal integrity left out there. Honestly, there is; but at the same time, I'm consistently dismayed by how often even some good friends of ours shrug off personal responsibility, communal responsibility, honesty, low-level theft, etc. It's really troubling.
  • The OU Job Board is offering free Quickbooks classes.
  • This piece on Freakonomics is difficult to sum up - just read it, it's fascinating.
  • EoZ has a few good ol' Jewish jokes that will bring a smile to your face.
  • Indexed notes how two people can see the same thing a bit differently. Cute.
  • Freakonomics asks people to say who the smartest person they know is. Feel free to submit your own.
  • A cute and interesting piece in the WSJ asking economists the best way to spend $8/week Obama's tax cuts will net.
  • Gil posts about the problem religious diversity creates for a man of faith, then addresses why he does not think it's a problem. The discussion is at some points rather interesting as well.
  • R' Aviner has an interesting explanation about why we pasken like Beis Hillel now, though we may follow Beis Shammai when Mashiach comes:
    We must understand that Beit Shammai discusses the world in the future in which our world will have a reality more appropriate to the stringent positions of Beit Shammai. Beit Hillel intended positions more compatible to our current world.
    I think that applied, this would be a good lesson to internalize in general regarding psak and our approach to chumros in specific. There needs to be an appropriate understanding of when we should be strict and when we need to live in this world.
Check it out.

3.55T

$3,550,000,000,000.

Just to put the spending called for so far by the Obama administration and Congress into perspective, that's over $10,000 for every single man, woman, and child in this country.

You might wonder why the government doesn't just give that money to every man, woman, and child in this country instead of wasting it on garbage; for a poor family with a couple of kids, that would be $40,000. Imagine how much debt would be paid off, how many foreclosures would be avoided, how many banks would feel a huge increase in capital, how much reinvestment would occur... it would be wonderful, right? You might wonder...

So do I.

(Yes, I know I'm oversimplifying. Point still stands.)

I'm Lost

...about what is so great about Lost. My first year in Stern, my roommate was OBSESSED and she bet me that if I watched the first three episodes, I'd be hooked. So I watched the first three episodes and decided not to get hooked. Besides, I didn't like the way it overdramatized EVERYTHING.

But, somehow, it is still a super popular show and a friend of mine just started a blog about it. For anyone who is into Lost, it looks like a great place to lose yourself. (Just laugh, won't you?)

Oh yeah - I have to plug it. Here.

Enjoy!

Let's Just Say

...that the Jewish Economics Survey were to be utilized for/turned into a workshop of sorts. What would you want to hear discussed? What would draw you to such an event, since "Budgeting - How Tuition Will Bankrupt You No Matter What" is not such an enticing title? What information are you curious about, and what would you want to learn?

Assume that the crowd would be primarily from a younger crowd, but that there will be plenty of others as well.

This is a reasonable possibility - please, suggest away!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

EZ Reads, 2/25/09

The last 36 hours or so of reading were really good, reminding me what I enjoy about this whole blogging thing... so here are a few of the pieces I enjoyed:
  • Taking off on yesterday's post by Bad4 on how dating broadens your mind, Bas~Melech compares dating to blogging in figuring out which broadens your mind best.
  • YD laments a high school student's disgust over losing out lunchtime to a video about the Mercaz HaRav massacre.
  • A fantastic piece by R' Yonasan Goldson on BeyondBT noting how large scale division leads to an increase in localized homogeneous groups. It's quite a fascinating analysis with a very good message.
  • A beautiful and heart-warming post by NMF#7 about soldiers and babies.
  • A Soldier's Mother has another beautiful post on how the Israeli army rewards its' soldiers' hard work with a thank you... and how the soldiers thank God.
  • An interesting study concludes hand-motions help people learn math better. It mentions Italians, but I'd add Jews into that mix. On a separate note, I can't believe people get paid to research things I could show them in my living room.
  • Honestly Frum is incensed that after years of not only decrying the internet, but rejecting ads that included web addresses, Hamodia started a website and then justified it by noting it's a necessity of our time. I'm less troubled by the website (which I think is a positive sign of their joining the 21st century) and more troubled that the same logic which was rejected until now is suddenly accepted when convenient.
  • R' Gil Student at Hirhurim questions the idea of thanking the anti-religious for forcing religion to understand itself better, as per a recent WSJ piece.
  • SoccerDad notes that Shai Agassi is talking to 19 companies in Israel to help push electric cars in the country from a nice idea to reality. Awesome.
  • Freakonomics notes a site that lets you quantify Obama's SOTU address, like how he used "crisis" 11 times, while Hoover did 4 times during the Great Depression.
  • Though it's certainly not a perfect comparison, Basketball-Reference calculates that if Lebron were to play at the pace Oscar Robertson did in 1962 he'd be averaging 41/10/10. Sick. (Hat Tip: David Linn)
  • Win some Oh Nuts! stuff at ParshaBlog.
Enjoy!

The Bottom Line

When creating the Jewish Economics Survey, one of the difficulties was deciding which questions to ask. There are obviously countless areas of life where people spend their money, and it's both impossible and would have been very annoying to ask each and every one of them. Instead, the survey predominantly focuses on expenses that one might consider "bottom line": Mortgage or rent, insurance, car payments, utilities, food, clothing, tuition, household goods, and the like. In addition, it added in a few expenses that are very common, particularly in the Orthodox world, such as hair care, shul membership, and entertainment. Finally, it asked people to list "other expenses" on their own, and this has been very interesting and telling in seeing what some included and what others did not.

One of the major purposes of the survey is to demonstrate to people just what it really costs someone to live as an Orthodox Jew in different communities. Quite often, in trying to encourage people to spend less, we will show them where wasteful spending is and to learn to treat different items not as necessities but as luxuries. This is obviously extremely important, and a major part of the problems we face as a community stem from wasteful and extravagant spending. One need only read an Orthonomics post from yesterday discussing a family's asking for tzedakah to "make sure" that they are not embarrassed to not be able to give their daughter and new son-in-law the wedding they "need", complete with cufflinks, Judaica, and the like. This prompted an excellent essay by Ariella of Kallah Magazine decrying how the sense of entitlement people have has turned people from focusing not on cutting out non-essentials, but on how to find someone to pay for it - ignoring that that money could have had other, more positive uses.

Cutting from the top down only goes so far, though. Most people view themselves as responsible with their money, and will be quick to agree that the examples of waste that are cited are wasteful, and of course they wouldn't spend in those ways. But even so, most people still are slightly off in their own calculations of their monthly expenses, and particularly among young couples, there's a disconnect between their expectations as to what they'll need to cover their expenses over the next few months or a year and what they will actually need.

Often, the biggest impetus for people re-evaluating their priorities and sense of what is and is not essential is an awareness that they have to. The only way to have this awareness is to have some idea of what they're actually spending on just the basics, those primarily fixed costs that are gone before they even start on the rest. Once people are aware of just how much those numbers add up, they suddenly find on their own ways of reducing most of their other costs and expenses, or realize that they need to seriously increase their income level.

By establishing and demonstrating just what the baseline incomes people need to get by and cover the most basic expenses, and then showing just how much that line increases when they "move up" to bigger apartments or houses, or when you add in even the more common non-essentials, people will slowly start to have this awareness. One of the nicer aspects of the survey is that simply from taking the survey, which sticks just to basics, close to half the respondents have noted that it gave them a greater awareness of just how much they are spending. One of the plans is to eventually use the survey to demonstrate to the greater Jewish community just how much we're spending off the bat, so we can understand and refocus our communal structures and institutions to fit within what we can actually afford. Only by establishing a solid economic foundation do we have a chance at actually having that "growing, thriving Jewish community" we so often talk about as if it is actually true. In reality, we're struggling greatly and it is impacting our growth and hurting our future.

We need to establish and understand our Bottom Line, so we can build off of it.

Please, if you have not already, take the Jewish Economics Survey. If you have, please pass it along to family and friends. Thank you so much! And again, sites like Mint.com and Quicken Online are incredible [free!] tools (we and a number of friends use Mint and find it to be fantastic; another friend tells me he loves Quicken) that can help you get a better handle on your expenses and just how all your money comes and goes. Check them out.

Mom, Clevelander

(Bad4, Erachet, RaggedyMom, Moshe, the apple, et al - enjoy. :) )

I'd like to wish a hearty congratulations to my mother, who I realized has recently been able to supplant her status as someone from New York City by having spent more time living in Cleveland. This now classifies her as a Clevelander, rather than a New Yorker. (Perhaps not much of a step up, but a step up nevertheless! :) )

My brother, however... poor guy. He better move to Milwaukee if he hopes to have a chance at losing his New Yorker status. Pretty sad for a guy with a "now leaving New York" sign on his entrance way...

To my dear SIL, here's your count:
  • 3+ years NYC
  • 1 year Indianapolis
  • 9+ years Cleveland
  • 8+ years Milwaukee
  • <1>
  • 11.5 years NYC again
Yeah. Definitely a New Yorker. Sad, really. I mean, he's coming up on 15 years of his life here. 15 years!! Oy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Little Boy Writes to God

(Received via my Dad)

A little boy wanted $100.00 very badly and prayed for weeks, but nothing happened.

Then he decided to write God a letter requesting the $100.00.

When the postal authorities received the letter to God, USA, they decided to send it to the President.

The president was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill.

The president thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.

The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 bill and sat down to write a thank-you note to God, which read:
Dear God,

Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through Washington, D.C., and those idiots deducted $95.00 in taxes.

Blind Melon

Holyman, I tell you man you gotta believe in what you see
Cause its you that corrupt us man and deep throat philosophy
I don't need your spells or the little games you try to pull on me
Come to think of it I don't need your religion
YD has a short but well-put post on chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko [educate each child according to his way] up at Adventures in Chinuch. A short excerpt:
Unfortunately, our school systems offer little variety in terms of Jewish education. The usual Gemara, Chumash, Navi, Halacha, Ivrit classes make up 99% of what our schools are teaching. Additionally, not enough is being done in the area of creativity to spark learning interest (although this is a good example of what a little hard work can do). This is not a simple subject to approach, due to the myriad of factors that are involved, but one that needs to be addressed. And if we don't, we are in danger of producing students who say, "Come to think of it, I don't need your religion."
I recall telling Jewish Atheist on more than one occasion after hearing some of his arguments and experiences that while we grew up similarly in many ways, had he simply had a better education he would undoubtedly be a happy, religious Jew today. While he might disagree with that assessment, or even more likely say that he "hopes not" because of what he thinks of Judaism and its teachings in the present, it is so often the case among the skeptical bloggers and others who have abandoned Judaism that they were presented with a one-size-fits-all education approach. Note that this is not a problem exclusive whatsoever to "Yeshivish" schools, but is sometimes just as true in Modern Orthodox institutions as well, as is clear from books, the skeptic blogs, and good old anecdotal information.

Once a person feels truly excluded from the Judaism they are being brought up in, they are as likely to abandon it quickly as they are to find another 'branch' that suits them better. While obviously having every school teach every viewpoint would be impractical and slightly ridiculous, it is important to balance whatever is being taught with an understanding that in many areas there are multiple viewpoints. The reason the one being taught is preferred within a hashkafa can be for various reasons - but that others do in fact disagree.

I've long felt that one of the best portions of my own education was a little, easily forgettable [somewhat] weekly program that WITS has for seniors called STAMP - Senior Torah And Mussar Perspectives. One objective of it was to present important subjects and somewhat controversial subjects within the Orthodox community in a framework that explained fairly both sides of these debates. The style was a short introduction explaining both sides by the Rebbe - including pros and cons, praises and criticisms - followed by a fully open question and answer session for 45 minutes, at which point it would end no matter what. By being able to learn about and discuss these subjects, we gained not only a greater understanding of them, but we were able to see why we were educated and taught a certain way and judge for ourselves whether that was appropriate for us and what would be appropriate for us and our families going forward.

I think there needs to be greater implementation of similar programs, though it is sadly difficult to find people who can fairly represent sides with which they do not agree. (I am still impressed that Rabbi Cheplowitz in WITS was able to do so so well at that time.) I also think such programs should not wait until one is a senior in high school, though certainly there are different levels of understanding and it should be suited to each age bracket. What we were presented with as seniors would certainly have been disastrous as freshmen.

Hopefully, at some point, such programs will no longer even be necessary.

E-Z Reads, 2/24/09

As is often the case, there are a number of interesting reads out there on this fine sunny February morning; in general, if you see something interesting, please don't hesitate to send it to me at serandez@gmail.com. Thanks!
  • Bad4 says an advantage of dating is the opportunity to broaden your mind.
  • Jameel has copied a beautiful piece on the parents of one of the students who were slaughtered in last year's Mercaz Harav massacre. Tonight is the yahrtzeit.
  • Treppenwitz is troubled by the sticker he accepted that allows him to pass easily from his home to the rest of the country - why does he need it?
  • Northern Light gives a little education on the definition of marriage.
  • William Isaac - someone who has actually nationalized banks - explains why it's just such a horrible idea.
  • A day after the NY Times asks a question [thanks SpEd] that has troubled many people for a while - is Google too big - Gmail crashed all across the world. (Personally, I've found it to have turned more and more glitchy lately.)
  • Seforim blog has a very interesting piece by Daniel Lasker on a piece of Judaism that has yet to occur in my lifetime, but will be happening next month: Birchas HaChama.
  • Daled Amos has fun news from the world of medicine - blogging is good for your brain.
Enjoy!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Love My Niece

From SIL:
From the weekend

Whenever Shen (just turned 2) wants to do something she knows we won't allow, she says "Go sleep, Imma/Daddy."

Apparently, Shen did not appreciate the jelly belly flavors this Shabbos. Surveying her plateful of chewed and spit out jelly beans, she announced, "That's enough."

Shen was sucking her paci for comfort after a particularly upsetting incident. Suddenly, she took it out and gave it to me. "Here," she said, "I'm happy."

Hungry To Be Heard Eating Disorders Event

For all those of you who noticed that we covered the "Hungry To Be Heard" documentary on eating disorders and were interested in seeing the film...which is, in case you did not know, specifically geared to the Orthodox Jewish community and a project of the Youth Leadership Cabinet of the OU...

Tomorrow, February 24, Active Minds is hosting an event entitled "Celebrating the Survivors: Eating Disorders Explained." It is open to the public.

It will be at 9:00 PM at Furst 501. (Furst is located on the Wilf Campus at 500 West 185th Street, near Amsterdam Avenue.)

"Hungry To Be Heard" will be screened at the event, and we will also hear from Aliza Stareshefsky, who is featured in the documentary. Aliza will also be reading a poem by a male YU student who suffered from bulimia and who is also featured in the documentary. He will be present at the event, but will probably not speak.

Valmadonna Trust Library at Sotheby's

From Wikipedia:
The Valmadonna Trust Library is a collection of 13,000 books and manuscripts printed and handwritten in Hebrew or in Hebrew script, primarily collected by Jack V. Lunzer, a British industrial diamond merchant, born in Antwerp in 1924. It is named after Valmadonna, a small town near Alessandria in north-west Italy with longstanding connections to the Lunzer family. Despite containing few books from the Americas, reflecting Lunzer's personal interests, the collection encompasses works from throughout the world, particularly Italy, "the cradle of Hebrew printing", and covers over a millennium; many items in the collection are rare or unique, and many date back to the earliest Hebrew printings. According to Arthur Kiron, curator of Judaica collections at the University of Pennsylvania, "I don't know any other collection quite like it in private hands. It even rivals some of the great institutional collections in the world."
It was being shown at Sotheby's recently, and honestly, it looks really incredible and fascinating and I wish I'd gone to see it... hopefully it will be bought and put on display. Mississippi Fred/S. wrote about it at On The Main Line, posting a number of pictures he took, commenting as only an expert can; SJ has a wonderful post on the experience from a younger perspective. Read them both.

The NYTimes has a decent piece on it as well, and Gotham Girl wrote about it very nicely, and also links to the really cool exhibit catalog.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Strongarming Badly

Some may have seen pieces on this before, but Eliezer StrongBad sent this one over, and a couple parts of it are very interesting. Essentially, there are stones being thrown at Egged buses for complaining about unlicensed private buses running in place of Egged within the public transportation network that are "mehadrin". While this is bad enough, the arguments and methods being used in forming and maintaining these buses are absolutely mind-boggling: [emphasis added]
Rabbis consulted and agreed that the cost of running these bus lines will be shouldered by some 1,000 newly-wed yeshiva students, each of whom would donate $100. Thus far, half the necessary funds have been collected.

Posters hung throughout the city called out to the haredi public on the issue: "The Egged Company systematically tramples the soul of the haredi public and destroys its holiness by coercing mixed licentious travel on a daily basis. Every rabbinical or entrepreneurial attempt at dialogue with them has been consistently rejected by them… The licentious travel of the Egged Company is enemy No. 1 to Judaism."

Menachem Konig, one of the Va'ad Mehadrin entrepreneurs, said to Ynet, "Everyone knows that the haredi community is very strict about separation (between men and women), and the only place where anti-religious coercion is commonplace is on buses. The crowdedness there doesn't exist in any other place – some 100 people in 27 square yards. Men and women are squished together like sardines."

Konig emphasized that he does not expect Egged to have a separation between the sexes on their buses, but simply to allow women who wish to sit separately to get on using the back door.
This is incredibly confusing. If there's no separate seating, why would you want the women to be able to get on through the back? Either Egged has to then have another hole puncher in back, or the woman has to come through the front anyway - and for what? For the woman to sit mixed? It seems disingenuous, and that the true intention is to slowly force separation even on non-mehadrin lines. If mehadrin lines were economically viable, Egged would probably have no problem creating them or the private buses would do just fine after getting licensing. That this has not happened suggests they are not particularly viable.

Next, there's the claim of "coercion". This is what is generally referred to as "insane" or "out of touch with reality". Nobody forces Charedim to use Egged, and it's laughable to suggest that not having mehadrin buses is somehow anti-religious coercion. Beyond that, the idea that Egged is the #1 threat to Judaism is incredible; that people can write such a thing shows just how out of touch with reality that segment of the population is.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, is how the money for the alternative line is being raised. $100 (about 4oo NIS) is quite a burden to bear - and it's being dumped primarily on newly married couples? What is the logic for that? It smacks of desperation to find a new segment of society to help support yet another outrageous chumrah [stringency] that is a burden on the population.

Eliezer said his mother and grandmother made a point many others have made, contrasting Rabbonim of yesteryear to Rabbonim of today: Traditionally, our gedolim [religious leaders] would exert themselves to alleviate the burdens of the community - the common example being if a poor woman came with a shaila [Halachic question] about her chicken, he would bend over backwards to find a kulla [leniency] to mattir [allow] it. Now, these poor kollel families in israel are forced to pay almost double for mehadrin chickens in supermarkets, not to mention the fact that they require greater volume because they are now encouraged to have large families. It is almost like the bailout in how it subsidizes fiscal irresponsibility with tzedakah [charity].

To now add yet another $100 expense is quite hurtful - that is about 4 months' worth of bus travel within Jerusalem on all Egged lines, just to start a single line that does not sound as if it is running for free. It does not seem like those 1,000 couples are receiving anything for their "donation" to this cause. The money is being used to fund a line that if unsuccessful, will have been a waste; and if successful, it is doubtful that those 1,000 couples would be receiving a share. It's a fleecing of the Charedi public, and for what?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chew On This

Over Shabbos, have fun considering the following:
  • Baseball has gotten smarter than most other products in this country, at least in Cleveland; via WFNY, the Indians have priced games based on expected temperature, opponent, what souvenirs and promotions are going on, etc. Smart. Maybe they can teach government a few things...
  • ...seeing as how government is blowing hundreds of billions on "loan modifications". (Also known as making responsible people pay for the unaffordable homes of irresponsible people.) This is especially troubling when 70% of foreclosures seem to be non-primary residences, and over 50% of modified loans fall back into default within 6 months. Brilliant.
  • and finally, the Obama administration has decided that the US will take part in Durban II. Sound noble? It's not. It's a UN discussion on racism which pretty much focuses on Israel (and Israel alone) and its "apartheid" while debating whether to include a line about the Holocaust. Gross.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Transparency Run Amok

FOX has an interesting story on their website discussing websites that have taken transparency disclosures and used them to essentially reveal private information, in ways that could end up being potentially harmful. For example, California recently passed the controversial Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state; there is now a site that mashes information about donations people made supporting Prop 8 with Google Maps to show who, living where, donated how much.

In Tennessee, meanwhile, there are sites showing every person who has a license to carry a concealed weapon, which has a pair of dangers - either harassment of those who choose to carry by anti-gun activists, or an easy mapping of people or areas where people typically do not have protection in their home by thieves, rapists, or the like.

Transparency exists to prevent people from wielding too much discretionary power, to avoid abuses, to make sure things are done properly. What is ironic is that it is now being used by people to do the exact opposite: To threaten, to intimidate, to scare people away from doing things or supporting issues they find important.

The answer is going to end up being laws which restrict the mining of private data or increased abuses by those who wield information such as the ones listed above improperly. It reminds me of this excellent piece (which I'll hopefully discuss more another time) noting how modern law makes us not free, but powerless. As rights trump responsibility, law has been forced to take an increasingly active (and irreversible) role in life - and this is not a tribute to our system, but a blow to our freedom and any reasonable way of life.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Is Awesome

This sums up the mood of a good chunk of America. Rick Santelli of CNBC goes on a nice rant on the Chicago trading floor... awesome.

Honor. Service. Priorities. Wisdom.

...or, This is Community Service.
My involvement in organizational work, or community service... I got involved because I felt strongly about the purpose of the organization. ~ Dan Friedenreich, aka Grandpa
This past Sunday, my brother and I attended a small luncheon honoring our grandfather, Daniel Friedenreich. My grandparents are in the process of packing up all their belongings to move to a senior residence in Philadelphia, near our aunt and uncle, something my mother and aunt have been pushing rightfully for a while. My grandfather's shul - the Bell Park Jewish Center - threw the luncheon, meant to honor his 57 years of dedicated service to the synagogue he founded after World War II ended, including 40 years as President (the last 20 years consecutively as the shul has slowly died out or moved away). In addition, though they had already honored him at the last board meeting, President Warren Hecht and his wife and Mrs. Zalisky of the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC) came as well to honor him again for his service - he's a founder, a past President, and at 87 years old, still a current board member there. New York State Senator Frank Padavan actually pushed back his swearing-in to attend, which was really nice; a few others, including [NYS Assemblymember] Mark and [NYC Council Member] David Weprin, sent their wishes, plaques, or representatives as they had conflicts.

My grandfather's quote above is rather simple and straightforward - which is exactly how it should be. One of the easy lessons growing up in my family was that of ethics. Both sets of grandparents were pillars of integrity in their communities, known for going well above and beyond what was expected of them in a modest and quiet manner, avoiding unnecessary controversy and standing up when necessary. Even this Sunday, at the end of the luncheon, my grandmother asked me if I'd be able to help out with the synagogue's bookkeeping and the like after they moved, as my grandfather had been keeping the books for them for many years. I didn't understand why she was being so secretive about it, and while noting I only worked as an auditor and may not be able to help, I'd be happy to take a look, she explained why she was being so quiet:
Grandma: I don't think it would be ethical for me to suggest they ask for your help while we're still here and Grandpa is President, as Grandpa is firmly against nepotism.
Ezzie: [smiling] Me too.
Grandma: After we move, though, I'm going to suggest that they ask for your help - I think they're really going to need it.
I found this fascinating. All too often nowadays, people don't even blink at the idea of having family take paying jobs on behalf of the same company or organization as other family members. Here, my grandparents didn't want to suggest from a position of "power" that their synagogue - which they would no longer even be a part of - even ask for the free assistance of their family, as it might pressure the shul to do so instead of looking at other options.

While there are certainly "hockers" who have a great impact, my grandfather was never such a person. He is not a forceful person, nor is he the type who creates or uses 'connections' to get places or to get things done. He just does things the right way - building, creating, sustaining.
"I got involved because I felt strongly about the purpose of the organization."
We should all try to find the purposes we're interested in and approach those projects in "the right way". It would go a long way to building the better future for our grandchildren, much as our grandparents did for us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stuff to Smile About

...before you hit the hay for the night.
  • Via my Mom, some of the coolest low-tech fixes for hi-tech objects, like using your head as a conductor to expand the wireless reach on your car keys.
  • Via Scraps, a fun cartoon for the bloggers and tweeters. (I hate Twitter, btw.)
  • Via Batya, a hilarious but accurate take on how screwy the Israeli political system is. (...and you think a two-party system and Electoral College is bad.)
  • This Indexed is great:
  • And finally, this xkcd is a classic for anyone who gets vile while arguing online.
Enjoy!

Following Rules While Ignoring Them

This story is really inspiring on all sides. The short version: Johntell Franklin's mother tragically passed away from cervical cancer. That night, not only did he show up in the middle of his school's basketball game (which he'd insisted should go on despite the tragedy, when his coach suggested cancellation), but he asked to play. From there, you have to read the story itself.

I especially liked how the teams correctly followed the rules (his team was assessed a technical foul since he was officially not available for the game), then ignored them within the rules themselves. There are countless classy acts on both sides; read it.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 2/18

Some pieces to make you feel on this fine Wednesday morning...
  • Pearl talks about her recent vacation to Buffalo... and just how different a tragic news story is up close.
  • Parshablog on what happens when you make up a quote for fun.
  • A great story on a shidduch made by a deceased soldier from Treppenwitz and Chabad.
  • My mom sent over this great piece on what is viewed in Cleveland as a specialty - chocolate coconut bars. You won't find them in any other kosher bakeries, typically, and people will often buy them when they're in Cleveland. Except the specialty is Australian, apparently, and is called Speckled Lamington.
  • A few other posts that I meant to put up recently... Ariella has something you can do this week for free in New York. (What, it's only Wednesday!)
  • An amazing piece on a new way of approaching NBA players and their impact on the court, starting with Shane Battier. Think Moneyball hits PER that you can't see.
  • JoeSettler links to a piece about a new discovery (in Israel, of course) that can find cancer at extremely early stages, and figure out what kind - just by sniffing people. Obviously, the more this is developed the more amazing the impact will be.
  • I enjoyed this piece by NMF#7 on chesed and neighbors.
  • Finally, an interesting short piece on just how Godly people are in the US, even if they aren't religious. (Thanks Mom)
Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Declining Gadol?

In a rather interesting and well presented piece that appeared in the Yated and on Cross-Currents, Jonathan Rosenblum (in a wider discussion about the Israeli elections and the Charedi voter) touches on an interesting subject. While first noting a number of reasons Charedim increasingly feel disenfranchised by the Charedi party of United Torah Judaism, he then goes on to make a curious argument that jumps out when reading the piece:
In recent years, we have witnessed the creation in a number of localities of splinter parties of those who identify themselves as chareidim. And in most of these cases, the major impetus for the creation of the new party was a sense of being rejected or treated as second class members of the community.

But one concern stands out above all others in connection to the declining fortunes of United Torah Judaism. No principle is more central to chareidi education than that of fealty to gedolei Torah. Loyalty to the gedolim remains as strong as ever today. That means, however, that if calls issued in the name of the gedolim are no longer as effective as in the past, then it must be that there is a perception among many that major decisions concerning the elections – e.g., whether to run as one party or two, who should be on the list – were not made in the way that the chareidi public has been educated to expect – i.e., with the gedolim sitting together and various askanim present only to the extent that they were needed to provide relevant information.

Hopefully, that perception, to the extent it exists, is completely wrong...

Earlier in the piece, Rosenblum himself had noted
The party is the province of a few askanim, and the rest of the chareidi public is consigned to the role of voters. And no more.
so it is odd that he then treats it as a perception that hopefully is completely wrong. But beyond that, it is strange that he does not consider the possibility that the Charedi public is in fact less loyal to the gedolim when it comes to certain issues than they were in the past.

If the responsibility of a gadol in terms of the klal (community) is to not only lead, but help create a community where all feel the people's needs are being properly addressed both in the short-term and the long-term, Rosenblum has already listed in his piece numerous reasons why people may feel less inclined to trust that the current crop of gedolim is either best equipped or able to do so:
  • No one asks them for their opinions
  • No one takes polls of their major concerns
  • They do not participate in primaries to determine whom they think would best represent them
  • Rotation agreements convey the message that competence and expertise do not matter
  • How well a particular mayor or representative serves his constituents is irrelevant, and those constituents’ interests are of no concern
  • The party is the province of a few askanim
  • Children from English-speaking homes cannot get their children into Bais Yaakov seminaries in one Jerusalem neighborhood
  • Children of Chevron graduates are considered too “modern” in some other city
  • A sense of being rejected or treated as second class members of the community
With all of that and plenty more - a seeming focus on blocking off any technological tool due to its danger despite its great potential for the positive, an increasingly restrictive approach to education, women, daily life, many aspects of what had become part of the Charedi lifestyle, and a disconnect between what is desirable and what is practical, it is understandable why Charedim may be less likely to hold gedolim in the same regard they have in the past. While there is certainly still a respect for the concept of da'as Torah and for their wisdom in particular fields and on particular issues, it is not surprising that when it comes to day-to-day living that the average person may be less inclined to listen to a gadol whom they don't feel fully appreciates a situation and more inclined to follow their own understanding of what must be done practically.

The primary difference between politics and other aspects of life is that in the political realm, the decreasing loyalty to the gedolim is far more measurable - votes are counted. Despite, as Rosenblum noted, "tens of thousands of potential chareidi voters who have reached the voting age since the last elections", despite higher turnout overall throughout the country, despite the sorry economic state of the Charedi world, UTJ garnered just 863 more votes than it did in the last election [147,091 - 147,954]. (To compare to other parties, there was a 236,326 increase in total votes over the last election; Arab parties with similar population growth rates had about a 77 thousand vote increase [252k to 329k].)

It seems that either a small but growing portion of the Charedi electorate is turning away from the gedolim or that the younger generation is simply not falling into the same voting line. Either way, it does not require much of a leap to assume that this is not limited whatsoever to politics. There will need to be fundamental changes in the Charedi leadership's approach to dealing with the community, whether it start with a dismissal of the askanim who (positive intentions or not) seem to filter that which comes to the gedolim and that which comes from them, to a demonstrable understanding of the lifestyle, needs, and difficulties that face the community, to a more refined and practical approach to technologies and their uses. Perhaps this would lead to a revitalization of the Charedi community and its respect for da'as Torah; until that happens, however, we will most likely continue to see this slow but steady trickle away from it.

Coca-Cola Yiddishkeit

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz has a fantastic piece on how Judaism has changed and how it must change back, using the best product in the world to make the point. He directed a speech at members of The Greatest Generation - but to teach our generation - and here are a couple of the points he said: (emphasis mine)
You kept things simple. In fact, I could probably fit all the instructions you gave us on the back of an index card. Be a mentch. [...] Get an education, be self-sufficient, and give something back to the community...

At our Pesach sedarim, you didn’t distribute ‘matzoh cards’ to make sure that we had the proper shiurim or share profound divrei Torah with us, but your eyes brimmed with tears when you spoke to us about our glorious mesorah. [...] You didn’t deal much with segulos for parnasa like ‘chai rotel’ and ‘shlissel challah’ but always stressed the importance of ehrlichkeit in our financial dealings, living below one’s means, and scrupulously giving tzedaka.

On April 23, 1985, with much fanfare, Coca-Cola, the largest beverage manufacturer in the world, launched a sweeter version of the soft drink named 'New Coke,' withdrawing its traditional 99-year old formula. [...]

My yeshiva-educated generation, for all the right reasons, and with the best of intentions, introduced a ‘new and improved’ brand of chinuch – with longer hours and progressively elevated standards (read: pressure) in academics, dress codes, and social norms for our children, with increasingly more and more emphasis on gemarah b’iyun at the expense of other limudim, general studies, hobbies, and exercise.

... You prepared us for secular culture whereas we shelter our children from it. You played offense; we play defense. You celebrated the enrollment of each and every Jewish child to a Mesivta or Bais Yaakov; we send rejection letters. You raised children; we tried to raise gedolim.

It's a very meaningful piece that is quite the lesson to learn. Please read the whole thing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Whose Fine Face

(to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down, this is what we've been hearing the past few days)
Whose fine face is on the penny,
on the penny, on the penny,
whose fine face is on the penny,
Abraham Lincoln.

Whose fine face is on the quarter,
on the quarter, on the quarter,
whose fine face is on the quarter,
George Washington.
Elianna loves playing with her pushka (charity box) and will point to Washington and say "Daddy, that's George Washington!" before putting it in. It's really cute.

It should be a busy President's Day - for those who have off, enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How To Act

Via Neil Harris' Sunday Sparks of Mussar:
Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka

The first resolution that R' Nosson Zvi wrote down in his diary was "to try to be extremely careful of my fellowman's honor, with patience, with a soft answer, never once to get excited... not to embarrass anyone in public... to find ways daily, at the very least weekly, of benefiting my friends."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Road Rage

Though, as I told Chana recently, I'd prefer laser cannons mounted all over my vehicle (or my own KITT), this is a pretty good idea too:

Charedim Sue Israir Over Glatt

Via Rafi, this is interesting:
An interesting lawsuit - a rav and his wife flew from Israel to the US and back on Israir Airlines. They ordered the "special kosher" glatt meal for their trip On the return trip, they were told that their names were not on the glatt meal list and therefore there were no meals for them.

When they got off the plane, the rebbetzin fainted, fell backwards hurting herself in the process, her sheitel fell off, and her dress became disheveled in a way that revealed her immodestly.

For their pain, embarrassment and discomfort, they sued the airline for 17,800 NIS.
I'm actually surprised they sued for only that amount; but, happily and rightfully, they won (though only 3,000 NIS). Whether someone thinks people "need" Glatt or not, and whether they could have "made do" with food that wasn't, the point was clearly that they felt otherwise and had been promised Glatt meals which were not served to them. As Rafi sums it up:
It is a ridiculous claim that they were not obligated to provide the requested meal - if they agreed to it as part of the flight, they have to provide it, and that they should have eaten the other food. If they do not eat it for religious reasons, that is their right to choose, and Israir has no right to say otherwise.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Good News and Medicaid

Often, once periods or events in life have passed, it is far easier to look back on them and discuss them in ways you wouldn't think to while they were happening. Today, I'm going to talk about Medicaid, after last night's (not so serious, relax Mom) fun with Kayla.

I was laid off in the middle of July, and was informed that my health insurance would end at the end of the month. I had an option to go on COBRA to retain that insurance, and one of the wiser and more interesting aspects of COBRA is that it lets you take a few months to decide whether you'd have wanted it retroactively. As Serach was also not working at the time, having just had a baby and not wishing to return to her job as a full-time special education teacher, we went on Medicaid instead.

Last night, Kayla had a high fever and was coughing very harshly. She'd had a mild cold for a couple of days, and hadn't been particularly interested in drinking that morning, but she'd overall been happy and smiling until late in the evening. We'd gone on a walk with the girls earlier, gotten pizza much to the delight of both, and Kayla fell asleep on the way home. (Scary Elianna memory story: There was a young woman waiting to buy a headband from Serach at our apartment, who had stopped by once before for a few minutes. Elianna saw her and said "That's Elisheva, right? Remember when she came to our house?") We called the doctor after her fever came up as 103.0 and 102.9 over a couple hours, and after hearing her cough over the phone, he recommended not waiting until the morning and to take her to LIJ (and he gave us directions!).

Pobody's Nerfect did us a huge favor, leaving her (birthday boy!) husband Shake to come stay with Elianna, while we drove to LIJ's pediatric emergency room. I parked while Serach registered at the desk, and after a short wait, we were asked to come in. The details aren't particularly important, but essentially, despite overcrowding and a lack of rooms, we were extremely well taken care of, got fantastic care, and were actually home in less than 3-1/2 hours from when we left. It helps obviously that what she had is rather common and easy to take care of (croup - steroids to reduce the swollen area in the back of her throat and cool mist to breathe... total A-Rod jokes: Two in the ER, three since). The total cost to us: $0. It seems almost hard to believe, and it's great - we now know that should we ever have another problem, we can make a quick trip to the ER to get it taken care of.

This is also one primary reason why universal health care for the country is a horrible idea. Our ER trip probably cost the United States government a few hundred dollars. One can argue whether or not it is fair or a good idea for Medicaid to exist, and personally, I can argue both sides of that. But the statistics from Medicaid show just how much more likely someone getting something for free is to take advantage of what's there than someone who has to pay nominally for the same. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation:
Among the uninsured who would have been without coverage for the entire year, health spending would more than double, growing from $1,686 to $3,673 per person in 2008.
Better yet:
The visit rate for Medicaid patients (82 per 100 persons with Medicaid) was higher than the rate for those with Medicare (48 per 100 persons with Medicare), no insurance (48 per 100 persons with no insurance), and private insurance (21 per 100 persons with private insurance.
Now, there are some reasons why Medicare is so much higher (more likely to have more children on it, etc.), but 4x those with private insurance is astounding. It's especially so when you figure that a large percentage of those with private insurance are not exactly spending a fortune on the service itself: Most people either have a small co-pay or pay 10-20% of the cost of service. It is important to note that the argument is not necessarily that the people did not need the care at all; but people will seek out greater levels of care than necessary when they are not the ones footing the bill.

Now factor in the wait time - we were lucky and had a short wait time, but other people there were waiting longer. Even so, we and two other families were being serviced in an inner wait area while they waited for rooms to open up - and this at 11:00 at night. If the number of people were doubled, hospitals would go from never really catching up to simply not being able to care for patients. (In Canada, wait times and inabilities to get an appointment continually rank as the highest difficulties.)

Just two of the reasons why universal health care is a bad idea in the US, clear from just a single observation.

Muslims Going Off the Derech

SIL sent this in; sorry I can't embed. It's great, though.

Milk But NOT Sugar

From SIL:
Shen (newly 2) likes to make herself clear by saying something and then by ruling out the opposite. For example, she'll say her food is "hot, NOT cold". She woke me up today at 5 AM and wanted a drink. I told her I would go get her sippy cup. She replied "Get sippy cup, NOT coffee."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Skip This Post

If you have no interest in politics, please skip this post. :)

(Alternatively, why I need a radio show of my own; it's so much easier and faster to just say all this stuff!)

The following are numerous reasons why President Obama will either break many of his campaign promises or slowly but surely push this country toward a future that will be hard to reverse and horrible to try and keep. It's also worth noting how the same actions are analyzed depending on who is carrying them out - President Bush or President Obama. I suggest to anyone to take a few minutes and read the last few posts on Best of the Web, which is the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto's daily commentary. He sums up a few of the same points perfectly.

Before getting to the stimulus, which is obviously most important, it's worth discussing a few other issues.

Torture: While campaigning, Obama promised, with much support from the hard left, banning torture of terrorist suspects to find out information. Claims of how US soldiers waterboards countless prisoners and other horrible techniques became rallying cries. In reality, however, the US only waterboarded 3 Al Qaeda members in 2003, and learned credible information from each; in total, less than 100 prisoners were subjected to any harsh techniques (sleep deprivation, cold). Recently, President Obama signed into law a piece of paper banning such practices and limiting the CIA to use only what is in the Field Manual (which is what is done to almost all prisoners already). At the same time, he appointed a task force to determine if the Field Manual does not allow them to go far enough in situations where more information might be gathered. In other words, Obama is merely changing the law to a higher level of allowance for torture while decrying the same practices under the Bush administration.

Wiretapping:
Remember those "illegal" wiretaps that so many complained about, and the Bush administration argued were perfectly legal (and limited solely to people contacted from overseas by known combatants)? Well, the same court that supposedly would have a problem with it ruled that Bush was completely within his rights. Whoops. Meanwhile, President Obama now gets to do the same thing without criticism. This is good for America, but it's sad that it was another false drop in the bucket poured over Bush's tenure in office.
Speaking of Bush hatred: This piece on Bush hatred and Obama euphoria is fascinating in its approach.
It is not that our universities invest the fundamental principles of liberalism with religious meaning -- after all the Declaration of Independence identifies a religious root of our freedom and equality. Rather, they infuse a certain progressive interpretation of our freedom and equality with sacred significance, zealously requiring not only outward obedience to its policy dictates but inner persuasion of the heart and mind. This transforms dissenters into apostates or heretics, and leaders into redeemers. Consequently, though Bush hatred may weaken as the 43rd president minds his business back home in Texas, and while Obama euphoria may fade as the 44th president is compelled to immerse himself in the daunting ambiguities of power, our universities will continue to educate students to believe that hatred and euphoria reflect political wisdom.
World opinion was supposed to be a great Obama strength. But... eh, not so much:
  • Iran. Since President Obama's inauguration, Iran has launched a satellite into space and declared (with an assist from Russia, which is providing the nuclear fuel) that it would complete its long-delayed reactor at Bushehr later this year.
  • Afghanistan. This is the war Mr. Obama has said "we have to win" [...] Germany will not, and probably cannot, commit more than 4,500 soldiers to Afghanistan [...] The French have no plans to increase their troop commitment beyond the 3,300 now there. Mr. Obama, by contrast, may double the U.S. commitment to 60,000 troops.
  • North Korea. [...] In late January, Pyongyang announced it was unilaterally withdrawing from its 1991 nonaggression pact with the South.
  • Pakistan. Perhaps the most unambiguous of the Bush administration's successes was rolling up the nuclear proliferation network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, who was kept under house arrest for five years. [...] Mr. Khan was released last week, ostensibly by order of a Pakistani court, plainly with the consent of the government.
  • Russia. [...] Russia will continue to build military bases in Georgia's breakaway republics. It will press ahead with the fueling of the Bushehr reactor.
  • The Arab street. [...] so far his efforts at outreach have been met with derision from Arab hard-liners and "liberals" alike.
Of course, at least Obama's White House would be transparent and cooperate more with the press... oh, wait:
But Ben LaBolt immediately bristles when asked to spell his name, refuses to give his job title, and says he is going “off the record” until I stop him to explain that the reporter grants that privilege, not the other way around—a basic journalistic standard that LaBolt seems unaware of. He soon hangs up without even hearing what I called to ask about. [...]

During our brief conversation, Shapiro, like LaBolt (whose name Shapiro did not recognize), started one sentence with “off the record.” Told that the journalist grants the privilege, and that none would be granted here, Shapiro expressed surprise. His surprise was double-barreled, at both the idea that the reporter issues any privilege and that any reporter would decline to talk “off the record.” [...]

Then there's capping executive salaries. Sure, it might make sense if you can cap every single executive salary in the country... but you can't. So... if you're smart and talented, and you know that in Bank A you can make a maximum of $500,000, but in Banks B or C you can make $40 million, where are you going to work? This is particularly important when one consideres the lifestyles of such people, and how far half a million doesn't really get them.

...and that, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another reason why government never competes well with private business, and shouldn't be in the business of private business. Idiots, indeed.

Finally, there's the census. Why, oh why, would a President wish to control the census of the United States of America? Why should a President even be involved in something that should be completely disassociated with the political machine? But the White House now is involved - in the census that will determine the rearrangement of representative districts for Congress, or the way government spends money. Hmm.

I think I'll save the stimulus for another time. Y'all can start reading again. :)

Israeli Polls Close

The polls have closed in Israel, and voting has ended.

Preliminary exit polls suggest the following breakdown: (via Muqata, IsraellyCool, and Haaretz) Hit expand to see polls.

Channel 1:
  • 30 Kadima
  • 28 Likud
  • 14 Yisrael Beiteinu
  • 13 Labor
  • 9 Shas
  • 5 Agudah
  • 5 Meretz
  • 5 Arabs (Balad, Ra'am Tal)
  • 4 Hadash
  • 4 Bayit Yehudi
  • 3 Ichud Leumi
Channel 2:
  • 29 Kadima
  • 27 Likud
  • 15 Yisrael Beiteinu
  • 13 Labor
  • 10 Shas
  • 6 Arabs (Balad, Ra'am Tal)
  • 5 Agudah
  • 4 Meretz
  • 4 Hadash
  • 4 Bayit Yehudi
  • 3 Ichud Leumi
Channel 10:
  • 30 Kadima
  • 28 Likud
  • 15 Yisrael Beiteinu
  • 13 Labor
  • 9 Shas
  • 6 Arabs (Balad, Ra'am Tal)
  • 5 Agudah
  • 4 Meretz
  • 4 Hadash
  • 3 Bayit Yehudi
  • 3 Ichud Leumi
Ynet:
  • 28 Kadima
  • 26 Likud
  • 16 Yisrael Beiteinu
  • 14 Labor
  • 10 Shas
  • 6 Agudah
  • 5 Hadash
  • 4 Arabs (Balad, Ra'am Tal)
  • 4 Meretz
  • 4 Bayit Yehudi
  • 3 Ichud Leumi


All in all, it sounds to be about 65-55 Right, which means that Kadima's Tzipi Livni may not get the first chance at forming a government. That might go to Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud even though Kadima has 1-2 more seats, and even that could change as the actual results come in.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup II, 2/10

'Tis a busy day today, and I'd really love to comment on the current political landscape, but do not have the time. Instead, here are some good links that have nothing to do with that and are actually of interest to y'all: :)
  • You'd never take steroids or substances banned by organizations like the NCAA, right? You're not like that, of course! But... do you drink Vitamin Water?
  • Harry has a pair of posts on gedolim, one about how they are all too often manipulated, one about why they fail and what we as a community can do about it. While it's certainly interesting, I think that as with many issues, it will take someone actually standing up and saying it from the gadol end before people will listen. And yes, that's a bit of a catch-22.
  • This story is sickening, and is likely going to be (properly) used as fodder for anti-abortion activists. I think R' Menken's take on Cross-Currents is absolutely spot-on. Warning - you will be sickened by the story, whatever your politics.
  • I enjoyed this post on "Meeting Dad" on dates by Bad4.
  • Ironically, I've been meaning to post this piece on procrastination by NorthernLight for a while.
  • NoyG is supressing his urge to fight after the latest shift to extremism in the Charedi community in Israel hits stores - sex segregation.
Enjoy!

Israel Votes

Today is Election Day in Israel, and as is easy to imagine, it is as always a crucial election for the future of the State. It will determine what approaches the country will take in the battle against terror, the quest for a lasting peace, and to a lesser level, how the country approaches its economic future. I obviously do not have a vote in Israel; if I had one, it would be for the Likud as things stand now, and likely for Yisrael Beiteinu [scratch that, I wouldn't after reading more on Lieberman] {perhaps Ichud Leumi, though doubtful...} if I were sure that the Likud would have the most seats by a comfortable margin. Then again, I don't know nearly as much about Israeli politics as others, and am relying a little bit on the results I got from the Israeli Electoral Compass.

The best roundup of posts on the election is at Baila's; she links to many of the J-bloggers' posts on the subject. I found Jameel's and WestBankMama's to be the best of them so far, but then again, they said what I think makes the most sense, so it could just be because I agree with their approaches.

As for today, Jameel and Dave will of course be live-blogging all day; Dave will even utilize a very cool live streaming pane for lack of a better description after 4pm or so Israel time all day, he decided in the end, to keep it going even smoother. They are your best sources for information.

May things go safely, smoothly, honestly, and turn out well.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Jewish Economics Survey Notes II

Firstly, an important announcement. If you filled out the survey, when you hit submit, you should have been automatically taken to a Thank You screen. If you were not taken to this screen, then your answers were unfortunately, and very frustratingly, not submitted.

The bad news is that this happened to at least one person.

The good news is that I know why it didn't submit, and how to easily avoid the problem for anyone taking the survey. It didn't submit because a required question was left blank or while filling out an "other" box, the radio button (dot or circle to most of you) next to it wasn't clicked. This is a slightly annoying Google glitch; it doesn't automatically dot the Other radio button even if a person is filling out the Other box.

On the other hand, Google has a very nice feature in that if it does not go through, it takes you back to the beginning of the survey, but with all your answers filled in. You can quickly scroll down and any questions it wants you to fill in are highlighted in a faint red box. It takes about 2 seconds to correct any such questions and re-submit.

So, when filling out the survey, make sure to fill every required question in. Then, hit submit. You should be taken to a short Thank You screen, and that way you will know that is has been submitted. I hope nobody else had this problem; if you didn't see a Thank You screen, then if you don't mind quickly filling it out again that would be amazing, and I'm sorry for the difficulty.

On to the survey itself...

The response so far has been fantastic, and the feedback quite helpful. The spread and a few interesting tidbits so far that are more measurable:
  • Israel, UK, Canada, 19 US states, 37 cities, and 50 neighborhoods (plus a handful who wrote "New York", not specifying what area).
  • While most of the respondents have been on the younger side, over 15% of the responses have been from people 40 and above.
  • Singles make up 15% of the respondents as well, and perhaps unsurprisingly, have little to no debt except perhaps minimal student loan debt; were more likely to have savings; all gave at least some charity; and all either had no car or owned their car outright.
  • 52% of respondents own their houses or apartments.
  • 44% do not have life insurance. About 2/3 of those are married, and about 1/3 of those have kids.
  • 3% do not have health insurance.
Please pass the survey along to friends, family, neighbors, shuls, etc. If anyone has a way or person to contact to help get it placed on major Orthodox Jewish websites and media to further its spread, that would be amazing as well. My early estimate is that 2,000 responses would be needed to be able to seriously rely on the data, though I certainly wouldn't mind getting more than that. Thanks so much to all who have taken it and passed it along.

On a totally separate note, my mother just informed me that our old neighbor, Lipman Rabinowitz, has passed away. He was a really sweet, quieter man who I remember thinking growing up was incredibly classy. I always thought he was the type of man that should be painted sitting in a chair holding a pipe, if that makes sense. Baruch Dayan Emes.

How To Deal With Unemployed People

Jewboy has a fantastic post about unemployment and the assumptions people make about those who have graduated law school. First, let me excerpt a bit:
First example of people being out of touch with reality: "Oh, is your wife going to stop working now that you finished law school?" Well, number one, I don't have a full time job. Number two, do you know what kind of costs a frum family faces? I have bills to pay that I don't even want to talk about, and I haven't even hit the big tuitions yet. G-d help me when that happens. So no, even when I get a full time job, my wife will not be retiring from the workplace. I'd give anything if she could, but that is simply not a reality, not if my family wants to be self sufficient.

Secondly, it's rather annoying when I tell people I'm applying for a certain job, and they respond by saying things like, "Oh, but doesn't pay very well." People seem to assume that because you went to law school you can automatically make a lot of money. Yes, some lawyers can make a good living right out of school. But especially in the worst economy since the Depression, several of my colleagues and I are struggling just to find hourly pay that pays more than a grocery clerk.
While there are a couple of caveats to what he's pointed out, all in all he's right on point. There is a very common, unrealistic idea of what different jobs make, what things cost, and how much people need to live within the Orthodox community. (Easy survey plug!) Far too often, the assumptions people make include but are not limited to:
  • People are always able to pay their bills... and often, someone else helps pay those bills.
  • Even if a family pays their own bills, if they couldn't for some reason, someone else will help them do so.
  • Certain jobs are immune from economic downturns.
  • That a person is better off taking a lower-paying job than remaining unemployed.
  • That a person is better off remaining unemployed than taking a lower-paying job.
There seems to be an all too often lack of sensitivity in the Orthodox community to any number of people: Singles; childless couples; people who are depressed; people who are sick; poor people; etc. etc. Add unemployed people to the list. I am certainly not saying that we should all go walking around on eggshells around everyone to avoid being insensitive - in fact, please don't, it's far more annoying. Just use your brain. Much like all the other examples, being unemployed is not a badge of shame to the person, and they'd rather not be treated as such.

Certainly, everyone is different in their approach. I'm of the more "open" type; I'll openly discuss certain aspects of our situation with friends and family, if not others. Many people are less open, and that's obviously understandable. Perhaps one of the reasons I've actually not faced most of what I described above, and have not heard many insensitive comments, is because I've given people a better understanding of our situation; this does not mean that others should do the same, but it does mean that if you are going to comment on someone's unemployment or job search, you should know whether or not what you're about to say makes any sense. As an easy example, before you say something like "is your wife going to quit her job now that you've finished law school", think if that makes sense. Perhaps ask if she is going to be able to stop working once the lawyer finds a job. Before you comment on a job not paying so well, perhaps it's worthwhile to ask if the person has the luxury of waiting it out for a better job - not to mention gauging what they think of the job in the first place.

I will be quick to admit that I've probably messed up the above on occasion. We all make assumptions, and sometimes those assumptions are wrong. Nevertheless, this is something I need to improve upon, and something to think about.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bushfire Crisis, Victoria, Australia

As you may know from the news, the state of Victoria is dealing with the worst bushfires in history after record temperatures on Saturday (over 46ยบ C) and such dry conditions due to drought. I am posting the bulletin I received from one of the shul newsletters (Mizrachi) I received today with information on how to help out:

"Dear Reader,
 
Impact
Yesterday, Victorians woke up to a new reality. The figures of loss of life and property loss are staggering. I dare not write statistics for fear that by the time you read the email they may be grossly underestimated.
 
As a member of the Emergency services during the Ash Wednesday bushfires, I have seen firsthand the devastation following these horrific bushfires.
 
While there may have been an impact on the Jewish community (and, in the last 24 hours, I have become aware of the loss of a number of Jewish properties, the loss of Marysville - almost a pesach Mecca for hundreds of Jews, and concerns that we have for an elderly Jewish person whose car has been found abandoned), as proud, grateful and contributing members of the Australian community we need not find personal connections. We are already personally connected with our fellow Australians in their time of loss.
 
The Rabbi and President join with fellow Australians in expressing their deepest sympathies to the families of those who lost loved ones, their sincerest expression of refuah shlemah and speedy recovery to those who have been injured and their wishes of chazak ve'ematz (be strong of good courage) to those who lost property. They also express their gratitude to the countless heroic volunteers of the emergency services and others who put their lives at peril for the benefit of fellow Australians.
 
What you can do
Prayers: Yesterday, Rabbi MS Kluwgant issued a statement on behalf of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria expressing its profound sorrow and dismay at the massive destruction of life and property brought about by the firestorm which has engulfed much of our State. He called on all Congregations to recite prayers that this devastation be brought to a speedy end and that those in danger be delivered home in health and safety. Already last night, during a shloshim service I conducted we commenced saying Tehillim and prayers of refuah shlemah for those who have been injured. Mizrachi's Rabbi Sprung has, likewise, commenced prayers in our Shule for those suffering as a result of the bushfires. I invite you, all, to also add your prayers for those who so desperately need them.
 
Tzedakah: The Mizrachi Charity Fund will immediately commence a Bushfire Relief Fund to continue for the next two weeks. The Mizrachi Charity Fund has kicked off the appeal with a $1000 donation and we invite you all to contribute generously. This is NOT the only Bushfire Appeal, nor could there ever be competition. If you would like to do an online donation, please go to http://www.jewishaid.org.au/donate-2.html and click on the donate button. Any queries regarding Jewish Aid should be addressed to lisa (at) jewishaid.org.au. Indeed, over coming days other Jewish organisations may be starting similar Bushfire Appeals and feel free to choose whichever avenue you prefer, but DO make a donation according to your ability.
 
Material goods: A number of Mizrachi members have already taken the initiative to coordinate donations of materials goods. Please donate: Blankets, Pillows, Linen, Adults & Kids Clothes, Household Items, Packaged Foods – Ready to eat, Only Clean Items Accepted. Please drop off these items to...
• The Hatzolah Centre 320 Orrong Road Caulfield North 3161 (Mon 9 Feb Midday-3.00pm; Tue 10th Feb 10.00am-2.00pm; Sun 15 Feb - To Be Advised). The items can also be delivered directly into the 18 Red Cross Centers setup around Victoria.
• Magen David Adom is also coordinating the donations of Clothing, Shoes, Children's Toys, Linen. For any queries please contact G Lipson glynislipson (at) gmail.com, M Spektor info (at) midali.com.au or E Lipson emmlipson (at) gmail.com. Goods can be dropped off at...
• Midali Espresso, 261 Carlisle St, Balaclava (7:00am-6:00pm only, 7 days a week)
Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation is also coordinating the donations of material goods. Goods can be dropped off at...Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation, 960 Nepean Hwy (Mon 9 Feb 3:30-6:00pm; Tue 10 Feb 9:00-10:00am, 2:00-4:00pm; Wed 11 Feb 9:00-10:00am, 8:00-9:30pm; Thu 12 Feb 8:00-9:30pm). If you are unable to drop anything off during these times, but would like to donate to these families, you can ring the Red Cross Appeal on 1800 811 700.
• Yeshivah College is also coordinating the donations of non perishable food item such as a package of pasta or rice or a can of soup, canned vegetables or tinned fruit. Goods can be dropped off at... Yeshivah College, 92 Hotham St, St Kilda East."
To anyone that can help in any way, please do. The stories I have been hearing on the radio and TV are devastating and heart-wrenching. (For the email containing full contact details of appeals etc, I can forward by email.)

The Adventures of Elianna

Erachet joined us for Shabbos, and hung out for a while today. Over the course of the weekend, Elianna (almost 3) has continually wowed her with her charm, wit, and most of all, memory. Here are a few stories for your enjoyment:
Erachet: I have to do homework because I'm in college. When you're in college, you'll also have homework.
Elianna: Okay. I don't have a computer so I have to buy me.

Elianna: I want more wine!
Daddy: You want more wine? Are you an alcoholic?
Elianna: I'm NOT an alcholic! I'm Elianna Rachel Goldish!!
Elianna: [...] Avi is an alcoholic.

Elianna: Can I have a cookie? (Actually a tea biscuit, but she thinks it's a cookie)
Daddy: Can you put this book on Daddy's bed and then I'll give you one?
Elianna: (takes book, starts walking toward room) [to Serach, Pobody's Nerfect] I'm behaving, right?

Elianna (standing behind Erachet, taking apart her hair): I need to give you a pony in your hair. Do you like it?
Erachet: Er...
(hours later) Erachet: Do I even want to know what my hair looks like?
These are just cool, not funny (from least impressive to most):
Elianna: Remember when I came to your house?
Elianna has been to Erachet's house twice, both times for just a few minutes.

Elianna to my brother OD: Remember when we went bowling? Yeah?
Elianna has been bowling once, in Cleveland with my parents and brother's family over Sukkos.

Elianna: I have a sticker! *Malka gave it to me!
Erachet: [skeptically, knowing a Malka that Elianna knows and that they could not have given the sticker]
Malka gave it to you?
Elianna: No [not your Malka], a different
Malka! *name has been changed

Elianna: [looking at Erachet's phone] Where's the elephant?
Erachet has a string of charms hanging off her phone; one of the charms used to be an elephant. It has been missing for almost a YEAR.

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