Tuesday, May 31, 2011

4,000 Years of Jerusalem in 5 Minutes

Very well done, showing the history of Jerusalem using artwork, archeology, and written history.

Effective vs. Statutory

(HT: Special Ed) Bruce Bartlett has an interesting piece on the NYTimes Economix blog today in which he attempts to show that for all the complaining from the right, tax rates today are lower than ever, because the effective rate is lower:
Historically, the term “tax rate” has meant the average or effective tax rate — that is, taxes as a share of income. The broadest measure of the tax rate is total federal revenues divided by the gross domestic product.

By this measure, federal taxes are at their lowest level in more than 60 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that federal taxes would consume just 14.8 percent of G.D.P. this year. The last year in which revenues were lower was 1950, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The postwar annual average is about 18.5 percent of G.D.P. Revenues averaged 18.2 percent of G.D.P. during Ronald Reagan’s administration; the lowest percentage during that administration was 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in 1984.

In short, by the broadest measure of the tax rate, the current level is unusually low and has been for some time. Revenues were 14.9 percent of G.D.P. in both 2009 and 2010.
What Bartlett doesn't seem to realize is that he's given the precise reason why he's absolutely wrong. To oversimplify a bit, what we want is for the effective tax rate to be as maximized as possible. As our tax rates slide higher the greater one's income, the higher the effective rate means that the greater the percentage of taxes are being collected from those on the higher end of the scale. The argument he's making is precisely the argument Republicans have always made: When we lower the statutory tax rates, it stimulates the economy which translates into greater income for all, giving a higher tax base to be collecting from. (Bartlett doesn't address this point at all.) On top of that, the effective tax rate rises, meaning that there is a combination of people moving out of lower tax brackets and people in higher brackets having increasing incomes - all of which result in higher tax revenues and a higher effective tax rate.

The primary significance of a low effective tax rate is not that tax rates are too low, but rather that the economy is struggling mightily, suppressing incomes and lowering the amount of taxes they're able to pay.

EZ Reads 5/31/11

A few of the couple hundred posts I've been meaning to link to... (sigh)
  • Da'as Torah with the links relating to the extremely important White Institute's Conference on Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community: Report; recordings; press coverage (London Jewish Chronicle). I heard from someone who was at (and I believe presented) at the conference that the conference was excellent and the speakers extremely moving.
  • G6 on Conformity vs. Individuality.
  • Harry on The Jewish Hammer, the Chicago Bears' first-round pick Gabe Corsi.
  • DA with some funny cartoons relating to Obama's statement about the 1967 borders.
  • (HT: Eliyahu Fink) Touched by a Landing, one passenger's retrospective on the ElAl flight which thankfully landed safely after trouble with its landing gear.
  • R' Gil - Teiku on Faith. The comments are interesting as well.
  • An awesome video (play in full screen) courtesy of Popular Science (via Meryl), if you like some beautiful night sky. Wow.
  • Great ad which shows what kind of physicality is required to drive in the 24-hour Le Mans race in Europe. "Breathe in or my lungs will be crushed" - pretty crazy. I've long found it interesting that race drivers are ridiculously athletic and assumed it played a role, but it's cool to see just how that's so.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Honeydew & Canteloupe

At shalosh seudos last night, Elianna took a plate and made a pattern with her fruit: Honeydew, cantaloupe, honeydew, cantaloupe... all around the outside of her plate. She then proceeded to stick a pineapple in the center, explaining that it's her friends sitting around a bonfire.

A few minutes later, Serach asked her to eat the fruits on her plate, to which she answered with a distraught voice: "I can't, then I will have no friends left!!!"

Honesty and The Jewish Community VII: Sadness

(continued as part of this series)

When I left off the story, I was driving into the Old City with my good friend Rivka T. and my almost 2 year old baby, Kayla, when I had just received the news that my boss had just been arrested.

After I got off the phone, I remember that I was literally shaking. To try to give it an analogy, and please excuse me if this comes off the wrong way, I think it's like the disconnect between getting sick, going to the doctor, being told there are some negative results, and that they need more testing, over and over again - and then being told finally that it's cancer. As much as you have a nagging feeling telling you this could be bad, until it's official, it just doesn't really click until the news hits.

Thank God, Rivka T. was a lifesaver that day. We parked, walked through the Old City, I stopped in for a very quick hello at my cousins who live there, went through the Cardo, and down the steps toward the Kotel - quite the feat with a stroller and a rambunctious, tired 2-year old. After going through security, which was quite difficult as well, we realized that Kayla had lost a shoe. Thankfully and surprisingly, I was able to run back and find it rather quickly; we checked the pictures we'd taken and realized it had to have happened in the last few minutes.

A few minutes later, Rivka T. offered to watch Kayla while I would go daven Mincha at the Kotel. As I finished Mincha, my phone rang. It struck me later that the people calling me, vendors we had used and owed a substantial amount of money, are not Jewish - and yet, despite no reason to have added care for us, despite being owed so much money - they always acted more properly than any individual, professional, or company we dealt with that entire year. They had just read about the arrest in the Wall Street Journal, and were afraid how it would impact us - and in turn, them. I asked them for patience, as I knew as much as they did at that point, and thankfully, they graciously gave me time. (Sadly, they were probably hurt more than anyone other than perhaps the employees once everything ended, never receiving what they were owed - and yet to this day, they have been the most kind, honest, gracious people.)

A little while later, we were walking out of the Old City, when I spotted a familiar figure walking toward us with a friend of his. I turned to Rivka and immediately pointed the person out, and said "What if he doesn't know? How do I tell him?!"

A minute later, we came closer. The person I'd pointed out had recognized me, and was smiling broadly, saying, "What's up!? What are you doing here?!" We'd been pretty friendly in the past, and I gave him a brief hug, then paused as he looked at my somber face while I asked if he'd heard anything that happened today. He gave me a questioning, worried look, then we stepped off to the side and sat on the ground at the edge of the stone-brick walkway.

After a second to gather myself, I told him simply:
"I'm so sorry... Your father was arrested this morning."

(to be continued)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Agudah Says Abuse Allegations Must Go To Rabbi First

(Hat tip: Da'as Torah)

Honestly, the first question that comes to mind if this is illegal (after thinking "dumb, dumb, dumb!!") -
At the daylong “Halacha Conference for Professionals,” held in Brooklyn on May 15, speakers elaborated on a recent ruling by Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, one of ultra-Orthodoxy’s foremost authorities on Jewish religious law, or Halacha. Elyashiv recently decreed that Jews with reasonable suspicions that a case of sexual abuse has occurred are permitted to go to secular law enforcement authorities, notwithstanding traditional religious prohibitions against mesirah, or informing on fellow Jews.
But at a panel discussion titled “Molestation Issues and Reporting: Current Halachic Thinking,” the panel’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman, cautioned that Elyashiv never explained what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.” To establish this, Gottesman said, a person should consult a rabbi “who has experience in these issues” before going to secular authorities.
“If [the rabbi] thinks reasonable suspicion has been met, then you would be allowed to overcome mesirah and report,” said Gottesman, a board member of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, told the conference that even mandated reporters — teachers, social workers and people in certain other professions who are required by law to promptly report any suspected cases of sexual abuse — should consult a rabbi before going to the police.
“If somebody just comes and makes a claim, that’s not a sufficient basis to invoke the tikkun olam [benefit to society] reason for overriding the general prohibition against mesirah,” Zwiebel elaborated in a telephone interview with the Forward. There must first be “some circumstantial evidence or something that would appear to bolster the claim.”
I'd be amazed if the Agudah doesn't get some legal flak over that second statement. Mandated reporters (which often includes Rabbonim, I believe) are mandated reporters, period.

In general, I do believe that people should have at least some circumstantial evidence before making a claim - it's all too common to have false accusations - but to always consult with a Rav first seems unwise, particularly in light of past history.

Bibi's Impact

It seems just about everyone thinks Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was incredibly strong this past week in how he addressed and presented Israel's concerns and approach to the future of the Middle East, whether they agree in general or not. And, throughout the country and especially in Congress, most people really liked and appreciated the points he made as well, leading to the seemingly unending, loud standing ovations from the entire Congress, something most Presidents get once or twice in each of their State of the Union addresses - which is a depressing point, when one thinks about it.

There are however two particularly interesting points that seemed worth a bit more inspection:
  • What is so different between Bibi Netanyahu circa 1999 and Bibi Netanyahu circa 2011,
  • And why did what he say resonate so strongly with Americans?
Bennett Ruda at Daled Amos asked the first question today:
I wonder whether Netanyahu is any less passionate than he was during his first term as Prime Minister--I imagine not. But few remember Bibi's first term as Prime Minister all that fondly.
Let's not forget that Netanyahu's performance over the weekind was something of a surprise--a pleasant surprise, but a surprise nevertheless. There was concern, as there has been for many months, that Bibi would fold--that he would give in to US pressure. But he did not.
I believe (and Bennett agreed as well) that the difference is primarily expectations. In the nineties, Netanyahu ran on a platform which essentially stated that the peace process as formulated was devastating to Israel and would place the country in grave danger, by being the first country to capitulate to terrorist tactics - then went on to make some questionable concessions himself. All in all, people were disappointed as compared to what they had desired and expected.

This week, the expectations were much lower, and much more nerve-wracking. People weren't sure what Netanyahu may or may not concede to after a strong speech by President Obama. But instead (and perhaps the overstepping of the President in calling for a return to a 1967-based border before discussing Jerusalem, "right of return", et al allowed for this), he did the exact opposite. He firmed up his stance clearly and unequivocally, demonstrating exactly why those points were not demands, but necessities, and obvious to any rational observer or listener.

~~~

In today's Best of the Web, James Taranto quotes Walter Russell Mead, who believes that Netanyahu's speech "may have been the single most stunning and effective public rebuke to an American President a foreign leader has ever delivered." Perhaps more interestingly, Taranto discusses (and agrees with) Mead's assertion that
Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don't "get" Israel also don't "get" America and don't "get" God.
While this certainly has a strong ring of truth to it, it doesn't seem to be the primary reason Netanyahu resonated so well across the spectrum with his statements.What Netanyahu discussed, when he wasn't giving basic but important history lessons, were true elements relating to freedom. There are broad differences among American Jews, let alone Americans, in terms of what Israel should be doing and how to approach the Middle East's various issues. But above all, what Americans value is freedom, and I believe that it is that core value which is what spoke so strongly to Americans from Netanyahu's speech and other comments throughout the weekend.

There are two basic elements of freedom, democracy, and liberty: The freedom to make one's own choices in life; and the restrictions we place on ourselves so as not to infringe on other people's freedoms.* When the leader of a small but strong democracy notes that his people simply must have secure, defensible borders, Americans relate. We understand, perhaps now better than ever, that it is integral to feel safe in one's own country - whether at home, on a bus, at work, or on the way home from school. When he asks us to imagine a country just nine miles wide in the middle, it is not hard to relate to the difficulty of defending a country as wide as the average person's daily commute. When he states Israel will not accept approaches which do not protect their basic interests, and neither would America in the same situation, we accept that only Israel should determine its fate. And when he speaks his mind to say (thanks JoeSettler for the text)
Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel's Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one half of 1% are truly free, and they're all citizens of Israel!

This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East; Israel is what is right about the Middle East!
most people just get it.

For all of the issues, all of the concerns, Israel is doing what the United States has always done: Stand for freedom. As Netanyahu noted in an interview, the Korean War memorial says simply "Freedom is never Free." The United States has fought many wars, often even ones that barely involved them, for the cause of freedom. Israel has fought many wars, and is now trying to forge a lasting peace, to protect its people and their freedoms - with neighbors who themselves are not free. It is nearly impossible for any American, raised on the principles of freedom and liberty, to not feel a strong kinship with Israel.

Until a final resolution is reached, there will continue to be debate as to the best route to a lasting peace, should one exist. But most important for Israel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, is that he was able to clearly transmit the principles which must guide such a peace - principles which cannot be denied, principles which are understood as fundamental concepts by the people of the United States of America: Security; self-determination; and above all, freedom.


* Ezzie: I believe I just saw someone say this, and I'm drawing a blank as to who and where. My sincere apologies.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gmail Saves Stolen Car

Hat tip: Josh

Cool story at ZDNet, involving a good friend of a friend:
The gentleman in the picture is Avrohom Eliezer Friedman, a reader with whom I frequently correspond over on my ZDNet Education blog. He looks happy in this picture, but Tuesday morning, he was not happy. His car had been stolen and, as he said, “the car wasn’t worth much - but the plate is priceless.”
I’m inclined to agree. That’s commitment, right there.
Long story short, though, Gmail managed to save the day for Avrohom.
[I] spoke to the arresting officer - he said he saw the plate and decided to run it (I guess he wanted to see who the proud owner of a GMAIL plate was). Seeing it was stolen, he pulled the car over.
Not as good as “everyone was on the lookout for the GMAIL car. I am proud to be the officer who found it.” But it’s still good stuff.
Good stuff, indeed, Avrohom. Glad you got your license plate back (and, of course, your car).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Netanyahu's Comments Before Obama

Perhaps the best comments by an Israeli Prime Minister to and in front of an American President in decades, Netanyahu makes it abundantly clear what Israel will and will not accept. Some people view this as a slap to Obama; I'm not so sure - I think that Obama sitting through this is interesting and impressive, and moreover gives him an "out" moving forward. (Contrast to Clinton's appropriate rant about Arafat to Arafat as he left office.) Israel now has said its piece (and said it well), while Obama can say he did his best to the Arabs while keeping his Jewish support ("The Prime Minister and I had a very good conversation", etc.).

Either way - I, and I'm sure countless others, are quite happy with Netanyahu.

Hat tip: Dave and others

Friday, May 20, 2011

If Only

We all experience frustrations at various points in our lives with 'getting over the hump'. For some people it's with their jobs, where they always feel like they're about to make a big leap, but instead they end up taking a small step, or none at all. For some it's with their finances, where they are about to start really cutting down their debt, or put away extra toward that house or retirement or vacation... but then they can't, not yet... maybe next month, or after that next thing is taken care of. For others it's with their ideas, their actions, what they're going to accomplish... anything.

To some, life is a series of "on the brinks". Many of us have friends who are continually talking about what they're going to do - what they are about to accomplish, what big break is just around the corner, what they've learned that will help them turn that corner and keep going. At first, we are often impressed by these people: He's really going to be something one day, we think. Or wow, we wish we could be so driven and focused.

After a time, we start to get a better sense of these people. Some truly do accomplish. Some have always been full of garbage. Some we slowly realize are just talkers: They are always "on the brink", but they're never really doing anything to get over it, as much as they claim they are. And some are in the middle, perhaps a break or two from really turning that corner, perhaps not - genuinely honest, good, motivated people who for whatever reason haven't yet been able to get over that hump.

Sometimes, though, you realize that it's not your friend, your acquaintance, your old classmate or co-worker who is on the brink - it's you. As with other people, this is exciting at first: You see that light ahead of you and it's finally within grasp. Sometimes, you reach that light. Sometimes, you don't. And sometimes, every time you feel like you're getting close, you turn the corner and realize it's still a little further away then you thought, and that can be incredibly draining. You may start to feel that you're turning into that person who will never quite break through, who will always struggle on all these fronts while knowing all along you could succeed, if only...

If only.

It's hard not to be frustrated when life always seems just out of reach. You take a look at what's happened, and try not to get to caught up on the past (if only...) while learning its lessons. You look at yourself to see what you can change (if only I...) and you analyze your situation to see what could be changed (if only...) and you listen to everyone else's advice (if only you...). What's worse, after all that is completed, you often find that you're right back where you started: The path you're on is the best one for you, and hopefully something will break the right way (if only it would) and you'll be fine, or better than fine - amazing, even.

Throughout all of it, and continually forward, you have to approach all this with an upbeat attitude, lest the worries consume you, or the debt overwhelm you, or the lack of success depress you, or the negative disposition make your boss or interviewer not like you or your friends pity you.

The trap people in this situation can fall into - besides the above - is to start looking for a shortcut (if only!). Yes - be creative. Yes - think outside the box. Yes - come up with alternative solutions. But often, once all those options have been attempted, discarded, or deemed to be infeasible for now, the most important quality is going to be resiliency. Know that the best way out, the best way forward, is going to be just pushing forward, slowly and steadily. We always say, and never listen, that "life ain't easy". It's not - life is difficult, and there will be difficult times. There's no magical "get out of debt free" or "find a job" or "suddenly learn an entirely new set of skills in a new field" and especially no "someone has given you $1,000,000!" card in real life. We sometimes do have to put in the time, the effort... and the wait. We sometimes do have to be patient, be resilient. And sometimes, that will be frustrating, and difficult, and depressing... but that is life, and that is how it goes, and that is something that will (hopefully) help you later on when you have overcome that brink - or even if, perhaps especially if, you don't.

If only we could always remember that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's Middle East Speech: Nothing New

Not that I'm faulting or complaining, but it's astounding how little new material is in today's speech by President Obama regarding Israel and the Palestinians.

In fact, that's all I have to say on it.

Thanks to the apple for the transcript.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

...and, we're back!

Random pieces:
  • I technically (b'ah) have still never broken a bone in my life, though I am now using crutches for the first time, I believe. I chipped a bone in my ankle playing basketball this week for the Lander Alumni team, right before the playoffs, of course... and possibly holding back the Lander Alumni Board from moving forward since I had to push back a meeting between myself and Touro's controller. Sigh.
  • In related news, Percocet is way overrated, and did not help me whatsoever. It did however make me sick tonight.
  • Not overrated: The HTC Thunderbolt or Verizon's 4G LTE network. I have a mini-computer in my hand, except it's more powerful than my desktop and faster than my cable internet, and with better apps. This thing literally saves me time (and often money) on a consistent basis.
  • Any app recommendations from Android users? In other news, Google owns my life.
  • The next two months will be rather crazy, with numerous friends, including some very close ones, moving. Some are moving rather close, while others are moving far... and others are moving far, far, far away. Usually change is more gradual unless you're the one moving. At the same time, many friends and family are having/have had babies, are getting engaged/married, and sadly a couple have seen their relationships/marriages hit a rough spot. Life, eh.
  • My fantasy team has been decimated by injuries, so I decided to switch things up to have a shot by taking advantage of our 1,250 innings limit. My starters are now: Lincecum, Halladay, Kershaw, Jimenez, and CJ Wilson while I have Bell, Wilson, Feliz, E.Sanchez, and (DL) Aardsma as my closers (and Gregerson for some good innings). Then again, my lineup now is C Avila, 1B LaPorta, 2B Walker, 3B Gordon, SS A.Gonzalez, CI A.Huff, OF Brantley/Raj.Davis/C.Hart/A.Torres Util C J.Buck/1B B.Wallace (DL Utley/V.Wells). Figure if I can clinch top marks in the pitching categories, and get into good position in steals (now that Davis and Torres are back from the DL) and rebound a bit in average, I can flip the studs in late July/early August for some top power hitters, which combined with Utley and Hart (just off DL) could get me into the pack in R/HR/RBI/Avg - enough to have a shot to win.
  • The Indians seem to be for real, what with a solid lineup, and a pitching staff that doesn't walk anyone while eliciting ground ball after ground ball. That's... odd.
  • The Browns had a very good draft, the Cavs are hoping the ping-pong balls bounce their way... sports in Cleveland are looking... up?!
  • Even when life isn't great, it's always nice to know it's (finally) heading in the right direction. Or at least, a better direction.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Xkcd's Prophecy

In case you were wanted to know about the long-term effects of the flooding in the Midwest, xkcd's blog has a great write-up of what can be expected.

Every thousand years or so, the lower Mississippi changes course.  It piles up enough silt at its delta that it ’spills over’ to a new shortest path to the ocean. At times, the outlet has been anywhere from Texas to the Florida Panhandle.
Since the early 20th century, the Mississippi has been trying to change course again—sending its main flow down the Atchafalaya river, which offers a much shorter, steeper path to the ocean.  The Army Corps of Engineers was ordered by Congress to keep that from happening.  The center of their effort is the Old River Control Structure, which limits the flow down the Atchafalaya to 30%.
The Morganza spillway has only been opened once (to take the stress off the failing ORCS in 1973), and then only partly. It’s fairly clear at this point that the Morganza spillway and the Bonnet CarrĂ© spillway will both be fully opened to route the flow away from New Orleans (which is expected to crest just a few feet below the tops of the levees there).
I have no idea how likely the Old River Control and Morganza structures are to fail, or whether a rerouting of the Misssissippi through a new channel would be irreversible.  You can read some speculation on this here.
In other words, the US government has tried to reroute the Mississippi  River for decades now, and in an effort to control the flood at this point, they may end up letting nature take its natural course, and the geography of the America changed. Or as Ezzie would put it "The government tried to get involved, and failed"

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Why Vouchers Help Public Schools

The State of Indiana recently passed a law allowing its citizens to use vouchers toward private education. The vouchers are approximately $4,500 which can be used as a credit toward tuition payments. The article which I saw discussing this noted that public schools in the State of Indiana spend approximately $9,000 per child per year on education.

This struck me as simply amazing. Why would anyone - particularly teachers' unions - object to such a credit? This is a huge savings for public schools, and creates smaller classes in those public schools while also creating a greater demand for teachers in general. Let's analyze this for a moment: For each student which leaves a public school to move to a private school of their choosing, the public schools will save a net of over $4,500 per student. In a school of 1,000 children, where 20% of the students leave the school, the school will save nearly $1 million in costs per year - savings which can be used for compensation, capital improvements, and improving the quality of materials and technology available to the school.

In addition, class sizes in those same public schools will now be 20% smaller. Teachers will be able to give better attention to students who need it, and won't feel as overwhelmed and overworked as they have in the past. On top of that, the movement of children to private schools will create a need for greater teachers and services in those private schools, particularly as those private schools are often competing with one another for students and need to keep class sizes low - and with the extra funds they're getting for every student in the school, they can pass their own cost savings to hiring those teachers and/or lowering tuition costs.

The bill is also brilliant in that it doesn't shift monies toward kids who were already going to go to private school - it restricts it to children who've spent one year in public school (not kindergarten), and it has income caps as well so money isn't being shifted to save tuition for richer kids who don't need the voucher away from public schools. While there are certainly some serious concerns with other facets of the bill (discussed here) in regards to the control it gives government over education, financially it is difficult to see what arguments could possibly be made against it.

While obviously vouchers are increasingly popular and various states are passing similar bills over the past few years, the basic outline of the Indiana bill as I understand it seems a wise one for all other states to follow.

Friday, May 06, 2011

25

On May 6th, 1946, my grandfather (mother's side) celebrated his 25th birthday. May 6th, 1946 was also 5 Iyar. If I'm remembering correctly, at that time he was finishing his service to the United States Army, where just a couple years earlier he was one of the first American soldiers to meet the Soviets face to face. The Soviets forced him and his friend, who were looking for a missing pilot, out of the sky and then they questioned them for a while (apparently the Soviets weren't so sure that a pilot named Friedenreich was in fact American and not German). Once they sorted it all out, the Russian major in charge gave them a ruble while they gave a $5 bill to him; my grandfather noted that the Russian got the much better end of that deal. (Edit: My mom says Army not Air Force, and she never heard the story. But I did. Who knows...!) As the war was ending and for a period of time afterward, my grandfather helped set up refugee areas for Holocaust survivors in Europe (I may be putting that wrong - Ma?). On May 6th, 1946, somewhere in Cleveland, Ohio, my father was born.

On 5 Iyar, 1948, Israel declared its independence, and my father celebrated his second Hebrew birthday. Ever since I can remember, my father likes to note that there are so many people who celebrate his Hebrew birthday which huge festivities. That's good, because we aren't such festive party people in the Goldish family - we just like to see which of us calls first to wish him a Happy Birthday every May 6th.

Today, my grandfather turned 90 years old, while my father turned 65 years old (and is now on Medicare, woo!). I remarked to my grandparents when Elianna and I called them a few minutes ago that 90 is really something, particularly to be in such good shape. They thought that was funny, so I guess that's relative. Elianna noted that after he's 99, he'll turn 100 - they thought that was funny, too, and my grandmother remarked that I told her father the exact same thing when he turned 90 about 25 years ago.

My aunt is planning a birthday party for my grandfather, though it won't be until the summer when my cousins (who are both professors) are available to come with their wives and kids. I just think it's great that my grandparents are, at their age, in a condition (ba'h) where we can plan to have such a party in a few months. Moreover, it will be shortly after my grandparents' and parents' anniversaries - anniversaries #68 and #38. Now that's something.

Maybe even more importantly, when I called my Dad this morning, right after I wished him a Happy Birthday, I asked him if I won - and I had. Nice. :)

Happy Birthday to my father and grandfather - and many, many more.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Honesty and The Jewish Community VI: Cinco de Mayo

(continued as part of this series)

One year ago today, I was flying to Israel for the wedding of my best friend basically from birth, Shragi. (Shragi writes the Well Waddaya Know... series on SerandEz.) Though we were tight on money at the time, I had miles saved up from when I was a kid, and Kayla was still under two years old, so our tickets were about $300 total. Work had become a bit nerve-wracking as our CEO was acting increasingly odd, and each week's payroll was becoming a nightmare of waiting - often a week or two past when it was supposed to be paid. But the last couple weeks since we'd finished our annual audit had been calmer, the CEO was saying he'd been able to raise some more funding once we filed our financials and that it was coming in, so I decided it was a good time for a short break. Throw in that this was Shragi's wedding, and I felt I had to go. My trip was for 6 days, so it was going to be a bit crazy (we have a ton of relatives in Israel), but it'd be fun, too.

Shortly after landing on a bright sunny morning, I had an annoying situation with my rental car. Suddenly the rental agency wanted to put a $900 hold on my rental, even though the cost was about $200 for the week. I couldn't do that, and was pissed that they sprung this on me on the spot with a crying baby when they'd said I was done when I booked it originally, so I followed my cousin's (who was ironically flying to the US that evening) advice and rented from another agency. Once this was done, I headed to my sister- and brother-in-law in Ramat Beit Shemesh to drop off my stuff before heading to the Old City.

I spent a couple hours in RBS before calling up our amazing friend Rivka T., who was available to come hang out with me in Jerusalem. I drove on Kvish Achad (Highway 1), loving the familiar and quickly transforming sites as I drove up and down through the hills on the way into the city. I picked Rivka up from around Sha'arei Tzedek hospital, and we began navigating our way through the heavy Jerusalem traffic to the Old City, on the way to visiting the Western Wall. The Israeli GPS was alternately great or horrible, but we were getting close when my phone rang - and not my Israeli rental, but my US Blackberry, which was only supposed to be used for emergencies.

It was 2:30 or so in Israel, and about 7:30am in New York City, so I was surprised to see it was the COO from work. I picked up, said hello, and he asked if I was sitting down. I asked if driving a car counts, so he told me to pull off to the side for a minute.
(deep breath) [Our CEO] was arrested this morning. The FBI came to his house at 5am, banged on the door, came in, and took him in front of his wife and kids. I have no clue what's going on, but I figured I'd let you know what I knew. I'll talk to you as soon as I found out more.
(to be continued)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Raising A Rothschild

There's a really fantastic piece in this week's Mishpacha called "Raising A Rothschild", which discusses how to start children at a young age to be aware of finances and economics to better prepare them for their futures. There's this awesome guy* in the article who gives some really great advice:  
Most financial experts tend to be in favor of a regular allowance. Ezzie Goldish, a financial consultant in the New York area, maintains: “If a kid has a fixed amount every week, he can figure out what he can buy, and he knows that if he blows it, he’s stuck. That’s a valuable lesson for later on in life.”
There's some other really great advice throughout the piece, especially by others, but one point to stress is that parents should not "bail out" their kids. I emphasize that the amount should be consistent, because it forces and allows the child to plan for future purchases. If they are able to spend their money and then come begging for more to get something else, the whole process is completely self-defeating. One parent allows an interesting "out" for situations like this, or where the child wants something much more expensive, which is to 'pay' them for doing 'extra' chores around the house, which I think is reasonable: It teaches the lesson that through extra hard work you can earn your way to receiving something you otherwise couldn't have gotten. 


It's just a short preview of the piece; to get the whole article and the rest of the excellent magazine, sign up for a weekly subscription.

* Note: I may be biased.

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