Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Via Princess D'Tiara, this video of Emmanuel Kelly auditioning for X Factor 2011 (Australia, I believe) is simply moving. I'm not sure who is more amazing; him, his brother, or his mom.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

R' Schachter Slams Batei Dinin

In an interview with Ami published on VIN, R' Herschel Schachter slams battei dinin (Jewish courts of law). [Hat tip: Eliezer StrongBad]

There is less of a surprise in the content of the interview (sadly) than in that he so openly discussed it, particularly the issues which he finds to be the most problematic (including to'ainim, people choosing and paying off their own judges, and the like). He offers a number of small suggestions that would help improve things, but overall he seems to feel that it depends on the people and their intent coming into beis din. If they have no interest in yashrus or justice then it is very difficult for a beis din to be formed properly and to mete out justice appropriately.

The most telling quotes:
Q: Would you call then the problem in the bais din system a crisis? A: It’s worse than a crisis. They tell me that there is a prominent talmid chacham in Flatbush who tells his baalei battim to go to a secular court because they stand a better chance of yoshor [justice] in a goyishe [non-Jewish] court than in a din Torah. If you ask him, he’ll deny it, but that’s what he tells people. Unfortunately, I think that the comment about yoshor is true.
Q: How do we bring public awareness to these problems? A: Rabbonim should speak about it. Why is there so much cheating in business? Rabbonim should get up once a year in shuls and speak about Lo sigzol, that you’re not allowed to cheat in business, and that you’re not allowed to cheat on your income tax. If you talk about it long enough it will have an effect on some of the baal habattim. Rabbonim have certain topics that they talk about in hashkafa. Let them give chizuk about gezel.
Q: Could there be a watchdog group, with rabbanim getting together to examine how the batei din are behaving? A: It’s a safek sakana [possible danger] for the watchdog group; they’re going to be killed.

Somewhere in Between

I can't be
Losing sleep over this
No I can't
And now I cannot stop pacing
Give me a few hours
I'll have this all sorted out
If my mind would just stop racing 
Cause I cannot stand still
I can't be this unsturdy
This cannot be happening 
This is over my head
But underneath my feet
Cause by tomorrow morning I'll have this thing beat
And everything will be back to the way that it was 
I wish that it was just that easy
Cause I'm waiting for tonight
Been waiting for tomorrow
I'm somewhere in between
What is real and just a dream? 
~ Somewhere in Between by Lifehouse
I was sitting at this computer tonight, not quite ready to head to sleep, wanting to write... but not really sure what I wanted to write. I noticed that my Pandora was paused, so I hit play - and the above song started playing, and it was absolutely perfect.

Earlier today, a couple of good friends who are in town for Sukkos stopped by briefly to say hello, and one friend noted that the present time must be a nice feeling for me in a lot of ways: Thank God, some important aspects of life are looking up nicely, and before those "get going", I have a couple weeks to relax - particularly weeks that include Sukkos, which is always a really nice Yom Tov. I agreed (and do agree), but while this has been true for a few weeks now, there's this other feeling that comes along with it that's a bit weird: A feeling of being caught somewhere in between.

(I had written much more, but removed it.)

Suffice it to say that being somewhere in between is odd: It's hard, but it's not necessarily bad. As the song says, your mind is racing, but in circles. You feel unsturdy, but you feel that tomorrow you will be in far more control... probably. You've been waiting for so much, and prepared and worked hard for them, and now there's not much to do but wait - and then take it from there. Meanwhile, you just wait, knowing what's coming.

Here's to the future: May it be completely real, yet feel like a dream.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Life, Like History, Repeats Itself

One of the nice aspects of having had a blog for a number of years is the ability to look back and recall what was going on, what happened, and how we felt about everything through various periods. I was curious to read what I'd written in prior years around Yom Kippur, if anything, as I am aware of the near preachy tone that can come across in such posts. At the same time, there can often be much meaning, particularly to myself, knowing what was meant then and especially now looking back, being able to view it from the present.

When I glanced back, I was struck by how apropos is the (ironically titled) post Apropos & Thank You from just before Yom Kippur in 2008. Admittedly, this year was probably a bit more difficult than that one, for a variety of reasons beyond anyone's control or knowledge - and similarly, there was only so much anyone could have done for us even if they were aware of it all. But that does not take away from what was written then, which is just as applicable today:
On behalf of Serach and myself, we'd like to wish everyone a g'mar chasima tova and a wonderful year. We'd like to thank all those who made this past year as good as it was; it had the potential to be a very difficult year for us in many ways, yet every time that was the case something would happen, someone would help us out, in ways that we will never truly be able to express our gratitude for. Often, we hear and see an understandable and important emphasis and focus on the big issues, the large gestures, and the need to focus on one's own self first - and those certainly do usually come first. But those who can and have done the little things, who have taken care of small but important details, and perhaps without even realizing it have tremendously impacted people by their simple care and friendship, thank you. It was without a doubt the little things that have gotten us through these hard times.

Some of you know who you are. Some of you think you know but your humility won't let you admit it to yourselves. There are some who don't even realize what they do, as they take it as a given - or can't fathom how they have helped despite being so far away or having done "so little". And then there are those who think they may have helped in the past but that something has changed. We thank all of you the same from us, and knowing what kind of people you are, many others owe you similar thanks. We hope to be as good to all of you as you have been to us.

As an aside, a person who can take a step back and look at a bigger picture cannot help but see more behind what goes on in day-to-day life, from the positives to the negatives, from the human side to the spiritual side.

May we all be blessed with a year of health, happiness, and hatzlacha.

Dink and... Doink

In 2009-2010, politicians (mostly Democratic) went after banks. The CARD act in 2009, Dodd-Frank in 2010, and other laws were passed to restrict various fees and limit interest rates being charged by banks. The obvious result of this was that banks began making a lot less money, particularly in certain areas - for example, banks could no longer charge retailers "swipe fees" for every transaction using their debit cards.

The even more obvious result is that banks, starting with Bank of America, will now charge debit card fees of $5 per month. Whoops!

Here is what inherently bothers me about how people stupidly approach regulations: There is never an end to them. Unless you completely restrict all free choice and eliminate the free market (and there are those who advocate this... as long as it's not for them), there is no way to "control" the market. People and companies do things and create primarily because it is worthwhile for them to do so. As soon as it ceases being worthwhile, they will stop. This is not "evil". This is reality. 

The shortsighted approach people and politicians have when it comes to how regulations impact the economy is mind-boggling. I recently was reading about GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain, and was pointed to video of a 1990s town hall meeting on President Clinton's healthcare plan, where then pizza company CEO Herman Cain challenged the effects of President Clinton's proposed plan on businesses such as his own. While Clinton's handle on the subject was solid, Cain was quite masterful in showing that for most businesses the impact would be quite harsh... and even though Clinton suggested passing that cost on to customers (!), that simply would not be enough, nor would smaller or midsize companies be able to compete long enough with the largest ones in that situation. 

Let's forget for a minute that restricting freedom is wrong. What happens when a rule is made? There is a reaction. And if that reaction does not fit perfectly into the rule-makers' designs? Another rule is made... and this goes on forever, never solving the original problem fully while creating entirely different sets of problems along the way. In the comments to the last post, Vox Populi and I were having another positive and interesting debate, and one of the features was an aside on whether government should support people's post-high school educations. He was of the opinion that we could make college completely free for all, and this would service us better as a country. I strongly disagree for many reasons, and some of these are obvious objections, but for fun, we debated how this would work.

Essentially, what would end up happening in such a scenario (and I'm going to exaggerate on this, don't take it too seriously) is that there would be created a myriad of rules, as the response to every flaw in a rule is simply creating another rule: College education is free, to help people get a leg up in society. But, we don't want people going to school forever and never contributing, so we'll cap it at two degrees. But what if someone's first degrees don't work out or become obsolete? We'd have to make an exception. But then others would take advantage of this exception. Plus, what about people going to medical school? And what if someone is demonstrably better, and getting this third degree would help them contribute more? But that wouldn't be fair to the other person who didn't grow up with some of those advantages. But maybe we shouldn't support people who aren't going to contribute as much? Or maybe we should cap the number of people in each major? Or perhaps we should create a board which determines who should go into what field based on the skill sets they currently have. Also, now that we have X number of X major, but there aren't enough jobs for them, that would be a waste of taxpayer resources, so we should force companies to hire these students. The extra expense could be a tax credit to those businesses, picked up by the taxpayers. ...and so on. Meanwhile, costs would continue to skyrocket with no real value added - certainly not a value worth the cost. 

A good example of value not worth the cost was the "stimulus", and another good one is President Obama's latest jobs proposal. Essentially, he wants to spend about $450 billion dollars, which would hopefully create about 2 million jobs. Essentially, the cost per job created would be $200,000 per job. How is that logical? I'm unemployed - I'll take $100,000, stop collecting unemployment, and government can keep the difference, is that a good deal? I'm betting that 4.5 million unemployed people would take that deal - how would that impact the unemployment rate, you think?

The silly approach of ignoring the consequences of regulations and other approaches within government needs to end. Instead, it's used to vilify individuals and corporations for doing what actually makes sense given the cards they are consistently being dealt by reality and government.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Proposed List of Demands from Occupy Wall St.

From here:
Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending "Freetrade" by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.
Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.
Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.
Demand four: Free college education.
Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.
Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.
Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America's nuclear power plants.
Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.
Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.
Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.
Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the "Books." World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the "Books." And I don't mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.
Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.
Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.
These demands will create so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.

Klal Perspectives

Readers of this blog will most likely be very interested in a new publication that has sprung into existence with a strong initial entry, Klal Perspectives:
Klal Perspectives’s goal is to provide the Torah community with a forum to address and debate the major issues confronting the community today. We envision a quarterly journal in which a diverse group of rabbinic and lay leaders will share their varying perspectives on a given topic in each issue, with an eye to not only describing problems but also pointing to possible solutions. Input from the broader community will be sought and published as well, in order to broaden the discussion and enlist as many talents as possible in developing strategies for the future.
The mixture of people they've enlisted on this first issue is rather impressive, particularly considering the difficulty in drawing submissions for a first-time publication such as this (as the editor noted to me via e-mail). The journal wisely asked three questions to the writers, and let them decide where to go from there. I've had a chance to read a couple of the pieces so far, and they were fantastic.

In particular, it is heartwarming and comforting to see that this will not be a publication dedicated to either sugarcoating the problems we face as a community nor bashing individuals, organizations, or groups - nor is it unafraid to look at new approaches and to correct accepted assumptions and approaches which may no longer work as they once did (if they ever did at all). In short, it is genuinely and properly dedicated to solving real problems for the long-term rather than complaining about the ones we currently face.

One especially excellent essay is by Moishe Bane, on the Unintended Consequences of Compelling Strategies. He discusses briefly but thoroughly as examples three "representative topics" which are worthy of being addressed, including:

  • The Decline of Fatherhood - the increasing lack of fathers taking a major role in the education of and involvement with their children's lives and education
  • The Consequences of Isolationism - and how attention should be paid to "the impact that has had on both the broader Jewish community and on the frum community itself".
  • Communal Infrastructure - my personal favorite.
A choice quote: 
Attendant with the expansion of the population and its affluence, local educational and service organizations have blossomed – but without coordination or objective consideration of communal priorities or implications. At the forefront of communal failures has been the virtual absence of even the effort to engage in deliberate, long-term planning, except in extremely select, localized instances. Despite the increased sophistication and affluence of the Torah community, communal decisions are made incidentally and with virtually no accumulation of data or infrastructure expertise. At the same time, the community confronts increasingly complex and serious social and educational challenges – challenges which are expected to grow.
Similarly, the community fails to engage, or even encourage, efforts at evaluating community priorities or eliminating duplication and inefficiency. Institutional transparency and economic and programmatic accountability remain elusive, as even active and influential philanthropists decline to impose such basic expectations on the beneficiaries of their largess.
The ability to recognize these issues and how they must be analyzed will be key to solving these issues, and the new journal seems dedicated to doing so, and doing so properly. In the original questions, the journal takes for granted that there simply is a large lack of empirical data to go on from which to design the future, and asks what data needs to be gathered to be successful. This is absolutely the proper approach, as data is the backbone to understanding what exists, what is real and what is perceived, and what is realistic as we try to move forward as a klal.

I wish the journal much success and look forward to its future, and suggest readers sign up to receive their quarterly journals. I believe it can have a strong positive impact on the Jewish Community's future, both in the short-term and especially in the long-term.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Yes, It Looks Different

It appears the time has come to finally update to the new style of templates, and with G6 talking about it I started perusing the options. I'll still fix it up quite a bit, but meanwhile this is to start out. I believe you can choose your own view from the options on the top left, so enjoy.

One reason I'm switching it up is because this will probably become SerandEz v.4.0 or so, as I mentioned to a friend recently - more consistent, more essay/editorial in style, and more discussion inducing (or not, that's up to the readers). I hope everyone enjoys; if you're still reading after all these years, most likely you will, and thanks for continuing to come back. :)

UPDATE: Reverting for now, since apparently I can't insert any of my sidebar or header items at the moment. I'll switch once they've worked those issues out and/or started to allow widget functionality.

~ Ezzie

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Day To Disconnect

I have been wanting to post about this for a while. The video says it all, perfectly:

I think we so often think that we need to be accessible, or accessing, at all times - always connected. (Myself included, if not especially so.) One especially wise aspect of this campaign is that it was scheduled for today, Tzom Gedalya - immediately following a '3-day Yom Tov'. Yes - I had 92 e-mails when I got my phone and computer on. But I didn't turn my phone on for about an hour and a half after Shabbos... and the world didn't end. In fact, it hadn't ended the entire 74 hours my phone was off, or while my computer was off. I didn't even miss anything I really "needed" to see or learn that couldn't wait until I read about it later... and I'm a Red Sox hater as much as anyone who is sick of Boston sports teams.

I know that today is Tzom Gedalya, which means we're not going to be out and about. I know it's a Sunday, which means I will be wanting to watch and follow and track anything NFL-related, particularly the two pools I'm in and the two fantasy teams I manage. But I think this is a brilliant project, so I'm going to give it a real shot: 3 hours. I'm going to tough but fair and honest with myself: 3 real hours, but ones where I think I can "handle" being disconnected: 10-11am; 12-1pm; and 6:45-7:45pm. For those who understand, that's a morning hour but before the injury reports and the like are finalized; the hour where my pool picks are locked, but before the games start; and the hour as the fast is finishing and then finishes.

The site says its quest is to get 1,000,000 hours of disconnection. Join me.

For those interested, here is other (equally professional and quite good) video from the site: