Monday, June 30, 2008

But the Study Said!

A while ago I put up a posting on being wary of polls and statistics. That should also have included being wary of studies. When an article starts out "studies say" liberally sprinkle your credulity with skepticism.

For years now the medical research community has been railing away about the evils of caffeine. They have also been warning us about the possible causative relationship of caffeine and cancer. And then the tide sort of started turning. And some studies showed that there was no or little causative relationship. And some studies said there never had been. Yes indeed, "some studies."

Today our local paper reprinted an article written by Linda Searing of The Washington Post. She writes a series entitled "Quick Study," in which she gives just the bare bone facts about various health studies. Bare bones is truly an understatement. There would seem to be a truly positive side to her reporting, if only we had more of the facts.

The headline was "Coffee, tea not linked to breast cancer." This title was printed in inch-high letters. No way that readers were going to miss this. And some readers, working on the assumption that newspapers can't/don't print lies aren't going to read any further than the headline for the article. And they will now be convinced that they know all they need to know. But will those readers who read the whole article have any better information?

Let me reprint for you here the entire article so you can see why I am sometimes such a skeptic.

Linda Searing
The Washington Post

Does drinking coffee or tea affect the likelihood that a woman will develop breast cancer?

This study analyzed data on 85,987 cancer-free women who, on average, were in their mid-40s at the start of the study. In a 22-year span, 5,272 of them were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Women who reported drinking the most tea or coffee (four or more cups a day, caffeinated or decaffeinated) had no greater or less risk of developing breast cancer than those who drank virutally no coffee or tea.
Also, no association was found between consumption of caffeinated sodas or chocolate (which contains caffeine) and the risk for breast cancer.

Women. U.S. women face a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer.

The authors wrote that further study was needed on the possibility that caffeine "may modestly reduce risk of post-menopausal breast cancer."

Find this study in the May issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

Got to love Searing's reference to "This study," especially since she never names the study. She says that "the authors wrote," but she doesn't name the authors either. She says the study covered a"22-year-span" but doesn't give the calendar years for the study. She sends us to "the May issue" but there is more than one issue in May.

Then there is her "one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer" statement. According to whom? Where did she get this number from? She never tells us that either. Go to the figures she does present us with and you will see that 5,272 of the 85,987 of the women involved in the study got breast cancer. I'm not a mathematician but 1/8 of the women in this study should be around 10,748 women. The study, or at least the figures that Searing gave us, shows that far fewer women got cancer than the one-in-eight figure she gives us. The study is showing us a one-in-seventeen chance, a huge difference.

Then there is her use of the word "caveats." A caveat, singular, is "a warning or caution; admonition; qualification." A caveat tells us to be ware in how we look at information just presented to us. Normally we use the word to tell readers that what they are reading may have a problem, that they should take what was read with a grain of salt. First, she doesn't give us "caveats"--her word, plural, but one single caveat. Next, she is not warning or cautioning us about anything that she has said before. She brings up something totally new. She tells us that further study will be needed on whether or not caffeine "may modestly reduce risk of post-menopausal breast cancer." "Clearly," and there is nothing clear about it, something in the study she mentions must have pointed to a possibility of caffeine as a risk reducer. And if it is, that is a highly positive thing, and doesn't need a "caveat."

The Washington Post is supposed to be a "respectable" newspaper, with high journalistic standards. And yet there is Searing's little piece. What is respectable about a piece that makes a loudly definitive statement and then backs up that statement with almost no information?

We get information from a lot of different sources. One thing we need to do carefully is evaluate that information. I guarantee you that there are thousands of people out there, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who are going to joyfully return to caffeinated drinks, all on the basis of Searing's article's appearing in papers around the country. It is possible that the headline is correct, and we can rejoice in one less thing that causes breast cancer. And it is entirely possible that the headline is not correct.

Would you base your caffeine intake on what you read in the article?

Thank you notes, penmanship and Isaac Asimov

A comment on the etiquette of writing thank yous posting--"Computers are not so slowly changing what it means to get mail. Many schools no longer teach penmanship but do teach keyboarding" brought to mind one of my favorite short stories. If you are looking for a good read and one with some "meat" in it as well, try Asimov's short story "The Feeling of Power." It's available at

Chez K_____

While I'm on the subject of cleaning, the following is a notice that was placed on the pillows of all living in my house at the time. Sometimes you need to make your point about cleaning being everyone's job, not just yours.

Chez K______

We thank you for choosing Chez K_____ as your destination. To make your stay a more pleasant one, management is informing you of the following house rules:

1. We pride ourselves on providing adequate closet and drawer storage space. May we suggest that if you do not have sufficient space to put away clothes and shoes, that you have more clothes and shoes than what you can actually use.
a. Old shoes should be thrown into the trash receptacle provided in the kitchen area.
b. Clothing should be placed in plastic bags and placed in the collection spot provided in the office.
c. Shoes that you wear should be placed neatly into closets, not on the floors in the bedroom areas.
d. Any clothing that is actually worn by you should be present in your sleeping rooms only—the living and dining areas are not to be used for this purpose.
e. Exception—coats should be hung up in the closet provided for this purpose. Please look at any coats in that closet and place coats that are not worn any longer into the plastic bags in the collection spot.
f. All scarves and gloves should be placed in the bins on the shelf in the coat closet that have been purchased precisely for this purpose.
g. Clothing that has been worn once and will be worn again before being washed should be either placed in drawers or hung up.
2. Our laundress has other responsibilities in addition to the laundry; therefore, laundry will be done on a schedule of her choosing. You are asked to do the following:
a. All dirty laundry must be placed in the receptacles provided for this purpose—this includes socks, which should not be tucked into shoes.
b. All laundry being placed in the receptacles must be in washable condition—socks should not be in little balls, and shirts and other wearing apparel should be turned so they are right side out.
c. Laundry to be washed must be brought down to the laundry room on Motzoai shabbos—please do not expect the laundress to make trips to pick up your laundry.
d. Clean laundry is generally folded and ready to be put away on Thursdays. Please make sure that you check the folded laundry, take what is yours and return the items to drawers.
e. A note about towels: while we appreciate your attention to cleanliness, Chez K_____ has a limited number of towels available. Please keep in mind that towels used for bathing should be used for a week before being sent to be washed.
i. Note to guests; it will be easier on everyone if you remember which towels you have used and don’t use someone else’s towels.
ii. note: hand towels in the bathrooms have expensive and highly useful towel rings and racks to hold them—it is your responsibility to make sure that towels are not thrown any which way but actually get hung up.

Management will be issuing further bulletins to ensure that Chez K_____ meets the highest standards. Please keep in mind that these regulations are really for your own well being and safety.

We thank you for your patronage. Please help us to make your stay enjoyable.

How to Have Cleaning Help in your House

For various and sundry reasons people may choose to hire cleaning help for their homes. MII had a recent posting on how to wash your floors. In the posting and in the comments were many comments that people refuse to have cleaning help or have it any more because of bad experiences with the people who were doing the cleaning. The help got too personal, they were bossy, they stole things, they didn't clean right etc. I've heard some of those complaints before here in the States as well. And yet, I can point to hundreds, no thousands of women I am acquainted with who do have cleaning help, and that help is both welcomed and works out well. Why?

The head of any business sets the tone for that business. He/she also decides on the business practices and schedules. He/she is the employer. When looking to hire a new employee he/she does a background check on any people applying for employment. Problems that person has had with other employers will come to light. Find out who you are hiring before you hire them.

When an employee is hired, an employer sets out the terms of that employment. He/she tells the possible new employee precisely what that employee's duties will be. To do that the employer needs to know exactly what it is that the employee is being hired to do. The employer will provide for the new employee all equipment and supplies necessary to do the job. Can an employee make a suggestion about such equipment and supplies? Suggest yes, demand no. And if the employer does not choose to use the employee's suggestions a simple "No, I prefer_______" should settle the matter.

When an employee has been hired to do job X it is the employer's responsibility to make sure that doing job X is possible. If using a desk and the computer on it are necessary for the employee to do the job then the employer has to make sure that the employee's cubicle is not piled ceiling high with boxes and books such that the employee cannot get to the desk.

Employers regularly do training sessions with their employees, particularly the new ones. Every employer's expectations may be different, even though the job is technically the same, and employers need to set out precisely what they want done, how they want it done, and when they want it done.

Now, cleaning employees specifically. First, they are part time employees. It should not be expected that in one day or part of a day they can render a house completely spotless, neat and also germ free. That is a full-time, ongoing job that needs to be done every day. Cleaning help provides the skeleton of that house cleaning, but those living in a house the rest of the week have to do their share. You cannot, on a Thursday, complain about the cleaning job your help did on Monday if you have done nothing to maintain what was done.

Decide if it is "real" cleaning you want done, or a combination of cleaning and straightening up. If the former, then don't expect a "neat" look when that is not what your employee was hired to provide. If it is straightening up that is required, then don't expect a hygienically scrubbed bathroom. If both are required you may need to adjust the number of hours that your employee is hired for or the number of days a week. Employers should keep in mind that cleaning help are not miracle workers.

Business employers know that a friendly work environment makes for more productivity. They also know that too much socialization in the work place leads to lowered productivity. So employers need to be "nice" without becoming best friends. It is up to the employer to set the friendliness tone.

My present cleaning help has been with me for 2-1/2 years. I hired her after my previous help retired after working for me for over 12 years. What makes things work for me is what makes things work in all business environments. My help knows the job she was hired for, she got training in how I like things done, she has all equipment and supplies she needs to do the job, I don't present her with a disaster to clean each week, I greet her with a smile and ask after her kids, but I don't spend hours gossiping with her. She knows that if I am asking for an extra job outside of her regular duties I will pay for that. When it comes to the winter holidays she gets a gift from me, just as employees on the outside might get. And yes, I buy a gift for each of her kids as well. In the summer I give her a week off and pay her for it--employers give employees paid vacations. And yes, I am not always in the house when my help is there. She does her job anyway.

Far too often cleaning help is treated like a second class employee. You get what you pay for, in money and in attitude.

My mother has told this story many times, and it applies to women and their cleaning help. In Europe, when a chicken was roasted in a pan, the juice left in the pan was considered a special meichel, full of onion and garlic and chicken bits. When the first pan of fresh bilkelach(rolls) would come out of the oven, people would take the bilkelah and dip it into the chicken juice. Ah mechiyah! Therefore a woman's family was shocked when she took the woman who helped her with the laundry and cleaning and sat her at a table with a full plate of juice and multiple bilkelach. The woman ignored her family and patted the woman on the shoulder. "Es,es mein kindt. Ich darf dich far mir!"

What are they going to say?

Some time in the far future our great grandchildren and all the great-greats after them are going to be sitting around and talking about the past, and it's us they are going to be talking about. And they are going to scratch their heads and wonder about a lot of what is written in the history of our time period.

Somewhere in the future someone is going to publish a work, Sifrei HaKolKoreh, a work in 47,569 volumes in which all the mega-important issues of our time will be laid out for all to see. Of course, they won't be publishing it in quite the sense we mean today; it would kill too many trees just to put out one edition, never mind more, and trees are a protected resource. Besides, with every beis medrash being fully computerized, why waste the paper? And the news will race over the JudeoWeb that in the dark ages of our time there were rabbanim who banned the use of computers and the Internet. Of course, they are going to have to look up what an Internet was because technology will have advanced far beyond the primitive underpinnings we have today.

On one page there is a small story of a 6-week battle about pictures of women wearing sheitles displayed in the window of a sheitle store. Sheitle store? Couldn't they order over the FrumNet? And what's wrong with pictures of women? On another page they find the story of a concert that was cancelled, because someone told a whole bunch of fibs and outright lies to some rabbanim who bought the story hook, line and sinker. "Who did their research?" someone is going to ask? And they'll give thanks to God for allowing them to use their intelligence in a more productive way.

They are going to look at what are supposed to be pictures of women, only those women are covered head to foot in heavy veils. "Wow!" they will marvel. "Guess they didn't learn much halacha in those dark ages." Another will comment "Yeah, when extremism rules there isn't much need for real halacha."

Going further back in time they will see pictures of some women wearing hats. "Why are they wearing men's hats?" they'll ask, as they push the brim of their cholent-pot hats a bit higher. And then they will see pictures of men in Borsolinos and shtreimlach. And they will mention that they vaguely remember from their history classes that Polish noblemen wore those kinds of hats and why were frum Jews wearing clothing that imitated the goyim?

They'll stare at SUVs and all the other behemoth vehicles and then look at their solar powered cars. "Didn't they care about the earth at all?" they will ask.

They're going to see a history of the Jews in the United States and won't be able to understand most of it because they have no idea of what an MO is or a Chareidi or a Litvish. But then, we who are living now in what will be history later don't much understand what those things are either.

They are going to read about a shidduch crisis and about fifty-two page shidduch resumes and questionnaires and about interviews with shadchanim, and about checking references. They'll read about dating practices and questions that were of such monumental importance, such as "Do you cover your tablecloth with a plastic cover?" For one thing, they'll have to look up plastic in the dictionary. For another, they will wonder how anyone ever got married, although the evidence is there that some people did, because otherwise how did they come into being? It can't all have been done with petri dish fertilization.

They're going to read about a proclamation that all young men had to sit and learn in Bais Medrash for at least the first five years of marriage, maybe more. They'll read that going to college was ossur except for under special circumstances. They'll learn that working was considered as something that frum Jewish men should avoid whenever possible. "Marry Money!" was the mantra. "And their parents allowed this?" some will ask. "Didn't they get the lecture our rebbis give us about how a married man is the head of a household and it is his responsibility to provide for his family?" "I guess none of them were smart enough to think of early morning sedorim or night sedorim."

They'll read about how frum women were the darlings of the couture designers, and when it came to spending money on clothing and shoes "more was more." "Designers?" they'll ask. "I thought designers were banished by Congress during the Black November Economic Crisis of '08?"

Those great-greats will read and read and wonder and wonder. And the more they read the less convinced they will be that claiming us as their ancestors is in any way enriching. Can we really blame them?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Walk, walk, and more walk

Unless we are comatose, we all perform the movement of walking every day. But do we spend all our moving time walking? Don’t we sometimes stroll? Is it possible that we run some of the time? Perhaps we even skip. The word walk is a general term that refers to standing upright and placing one foot in front of the other in a forward direction. It does not always convey the specific information that we want to give to a reader.

Example: John has a broken leg with a cast on it. He cannot put the broken leg flat on the floor. To get from his bed to his desk, would we say he walked? Wouldn’t it be more precise to say that he hopped? Or perhaps hobbled?

Example: Robert needs to be on the 8:00 a.m. bus to Manhattan. It is now 7:55. The bus stop is three blocks away. Is Robert going to walk to the bus stop? Wouldn’t it be more precise to say that he ran or dashed to the bus stop?

Example: You discover a previously undiscovered tunnel in the side of a mountain. You want to give the reader the idea that the tunnel is not very tall. If you say that you walked through the entrance, then the tunnel’s ceiling is higher than your height. If you say you crawled, the reader automatically knows that the ceiling height was too low for you to stand up straight.

Some words to replace walk are:

amble, ambulate, bobble, careen, circuit, cross, dally, exercise, flounce, foot, gait, hike, jaunt, limp, lumber, march, mince, mosey, move, pace, parade, patrol, pedestrianize, perambulate, peregrinate, plod, prance, promenade, ramble, ramp, roam, rove, sashay, saunter, shuffle, sidle, slink, step, stretch, stride, stroll, strut, swagger, toddle, totter, trade, trail, traipse, tramp, travel, traverse, tread, trudge, turn, tiptoe, waddle, wade, wander. Sometimes you scamper. Sometimes you bustle, dart, dash, flit, harry, hasten, hie, hurry, hustle, race, run, rush, scoot, scuttle, skedaddle, speed, sprint, whisk. Other times you bolt, gallop, glide, hurry, hustle, jog, lope, pace, pursue, race, rush, scoot, scurry, scutter,skedaddle,spurt, stampede,traverse, trot. There are times you dawdle, loiter, meander, pace, ramble, rove, saunter.

Keep in mind that not all of these words can be substituted one for the other. When in doubt, look up the meaning.

A note to moms: If you want to teach your children vocabulary and also get them to move around, let them "illustrate" the walk words above by actually performing them.


About 5:30 this afternoon we got a lesson in a different meaning of "L'Yehudim hoisah Orah" when a lightening storm hit full force. The thunder was booming, the rain was gushing and then the electricity went off. We looked out the window and saw no lights anywhere in any of the houses. Oh joy.

The men went off to shul and we womenfolk settled down by the windows to read and talk. And then it started getting darker. No way to call and find out if the outage was only a small local one or a much larger one. No way to light a candle or use a flashlight. No way of knowing how long the outage would last. And then around 8:40 the electricity came back on.

A little while later when my husband was making Havdalah there was surely a different appreciation when we got to "L'Yehudim." We'd tried dark; light was better. Surely a lesson in there somewhere.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Etiquette of Wedding Thank You Notes

The following is a comment made on the "Giving Gifts" posting. Rather than a lengthy answer on that posting, let me answer here. The information in the answer is taken from a number of etiquette style books and from bridal magazines and wedding planning sites.

Just Curious said...
What about the other side- those who receive the gifts at their wedding, and then spend the next four months figuring out how to write personalized thank you notes to everyone who gave them gifts? Is there an etiquette deadline for thank you notes?

When to Send Them
You always should acknowledge and thank someone for a gift - right away! The rule of etiquette for thank you notes... for gifts received before the wedding, you should send out a thank you note within two weeks. For gifts received after the wedding, you have up to one month to send out your thank you notes. However, it has become acceptable today to send wedding thank you notes up to two months after the wedding, especially if you take a long honeymoon or invited several hundred guests!

Printed or Handwritten?
Thank you cards should be handwritten. While this may require extra time, it is more polite to personalize your note with your own handwriting rather than having it printed. Your recipients will appreciate the time you took to write them out.

What to Say
Always mention the gift somewhere in the body of the note. Let the person know you like it!
Mention how you plan to use the gift (or spend the money). For example, "I can't wait to have my first dinner party so we can use the new china..." or "Thank you for your generous gift... we've been saving for a down payment on a new house."

You should also make at least one personal reference in your thank you note, such as... "We were so happy that you were able to come to California for the wedding."
If you are writing the thank you notes, you should reference both you and your choson/husband... "Chaim and I really like the...." "Moshe and I want to thank you for the..."

Things to Include
The date that you are actually writing the note.
For an informal thank-you, use the name as it is written on the gift card given to you. Example, the individual's name is Yaakov, but on the gift's card he wrote "From Kovi", then on your thank you it would be "Dear Kovi..."
On a formal thank you, you would put "Dear Mr. & Mrs. Brown..."
Mention the gift in your thank you "Thank you very much for the lovely candle sticks ..."
Mention what you'll use the gift for "They will grace our Shabbos table and always remind us of you..."

Whoever is writing the thank you is the one to sign the card "Love Malka"
Include both of your names in the card "John and I will think of you every time we make a toast ..."
Closing terms could be , "Sincerely, Malka", "Love, Malka", "Affectionately, Malka".

Who should get them?
Send thank you cards for all gifts, even if the gift is something you don't particularly care for or don't know what to do with. Remember, you are thanking them for their thoughtfulness, not just the gift.
Don't forget to send thank you cards to the people who helped you plan your event. This includes your parents and siblings and certainly any friends who were involved.

A Word About Showers
If someone sends you multiple gifts for different events, regardless of how close in time those events may be, send that person a card for each gift. For instance, a friend may give you a gift for your wedding shower as well as another gift for your wedding a month later. Send a separate card addressing each gift, even if they're both addressed to her. That's right--shower gifts also require handwritten thank you notes.

A Few Words of Advice
Don't let your thank you notes pile up... the task will become overwhelming and you won't want to tackle a mountain of thank you notes! Also, don't think of writing out thank you notes as an awful, arduous task. Think about all the people that cared enough about you to come to your wedding and gave you a gift. Thank them!

Last but not Least
Both the choson and kallah receive wedding gifts jointly. The responsibility for making sure that the thank you cards are written and sent out in a timely fashion therefore belongs to both of you. The choson's job is not to periodically remind his new kallah to send out the notes; he, too, is responsible for writing them.

Gift Giving Made Easy...Not

There are any number of occasions which bring with them "mandatory" gift giving. Yes, as all the etiquette books will tell you, there is no such thing as a mandatory gift. That's the theory. The practice is quite different. When you are invited to a birthday party it is "expected" that you will bring some sort of gift. The same for weddings and bar mitzvahs. So let's just work on the assumption that those who accept invitations to these types of celebrations are going to give a gift.

But what kind of gift? Some people will actually go out, shop and buy an item to give as a gift. Sometimes the celebrant will have given a hint or an outright declaration of what type of gift they would like, should you be inclined to buy them something. Think bridal registries. Other people will reason that the celebrants should have the joy of buying what they want, and so they give a check. Fine, but now to the sticky, tricky part.

How do you decide how much to spend on a gift or how large a check to write out? A lot of people know what the "average" amount or range of money given for particular types of functions is in their community and they give accordingly. When I got married that "average" figure was about $36 per couple if you were just regular invitees. A few people gave less and a few people gave more, but that was the general target figure. Those who are closer friends may give more than this community average, or they may not. Some family members will give the community average; some will give more.

The question also arises as to how many people in a family are being invited to the simcha. The above discussion assumed a couple was in attendance. If single children who are very young are invited some gift givers don't factor them in when figuring out the gift amount. If the children are older singles the parents will usually up the amount given.

Now we run into some practices I am not at all fond of; in fact, I really hate them. Some people will arrive at the simcha with their check already written out, placed in an envelope and ready to give to the baal simcha. That's fine. Others wait to write out their check until they are at the simcha. Why? Because a whole lot of people are going to wait and see how much money the baal simcha spent in entertaining them before they decide on the amount. No, this is not a joke. The more extravagant the simcha, the more money has been obviously lavished in providing for the guests, the more some of those guests will give. Their "generosity" has nothing to do with how close they are or aren't with the baal simcha; it's predicated solely on a tit for tat arrangement: spend on me and I'll spend on you. That it is the young couple, at a wedding for instance, that will be getting the money because it is a gift to them, not their parents, is irrelevant.

There are some young married couples who give gifts when invited to weddings; others don't. Some of those who do not give a gift reason that everyone knows they are young and don't have tons of money and besides, why should anyone expect that they should take money from their own wedding money to get someone else started on their wedding money collection? Some of these couples figure that since the wife also contributed to the shower gifts they are "potur" from any further gift giving. A few of these young couples are related to the choson and kallah and figure that whatever their parents gave still covers them as well, married or not.

Among those who do give gifts, they don't give checks but do give presents. And as every kallah I have ever known can attest to, a majority of those gifts are what are called "pass on" presents. Frequently kallahs get doubles of gifts which they cannot return. Or they get gifts too strange to want to keep around. These gifts are passed on to the next kallah, who in turn will pass them on to the next kallah, who will then do the same. A friend's daughter received one of these gifts and her mom and I got a kick out of it. The original wrapping was still intact, if a bit frayed, and the store name embossed on the paper is what set us off. At the time the gift got to this friend's daughter that particular store had been out of business for at least eleven years.

Youngish singles who attend weddings rarely give a gift. The girls are covered by the money contributed to the shower gifts. (Just a note here: ask the girls who are organizing the shower just how many people promise to contribute to the gifts and never follow through, leaving the ones hostessing the shower with a huge bill.) The boys? You would first have to start to explain the idea to them of giving gifts as opposed to getting gifts. Or as one person once quipped, "It's their presence that is desired, not their presents."

I asked one fairly youngish couple how they determine the amount to either be spent on a gift or to be given as cash. Only when I promised complete anonymity did they respond. The husband put it best: "we ask ourself what is the least that we can get away with and that is what we give. If we can buy something for really cheap then that is what we give." The wife quickly qualified that: "it has to look expensive or have a name that people recognize as being expensive." I asked for an example. The wife said: "Last year we gave Lennox picture frames to everyone because I got a really great buy on them in a store going out of business. So we spent about $19 on each frame. But that doesn't matter. If the person getting the gift had to buy those frames they would be spending close to $90. It's not how much we paid for something but how much the thing is worth that matters."

I asked if they had ever given a "pass on" gift. The husband really laughed at that. He answered: "We gave those gifts for about the first 18 months we were married." Then he got a little bit defensive: "They weren't cheap gifts you know."

"What about cash?" I asked. They answered: "We avoid it. There's no way that we could ever get the numbers right so that someone wouldn't be insulted." "Tell her about your cousin," the wife pushed. "My cousin was going to be moving to Israel and my aunt said to the whole family not to buy any presents, just money. We were still in our first year of marriage and we didn't have much money but it was a first cousin so we made out a check for $54 and bought a nice card to put it into.. After the sheva brochos we got the check sent back to us by my aunt. She wrote that if we really could not afford to give more to our dear cousin then clearly we needed the money more than the cousin did and she was returning it to us." The wife was getting angry: "Since when does the receiver of a gift get to decide if it's enough or not?"

There's more than a little truth in the young wife's last line. On the other hand, basing your gift on whether or not you are going to be munching on sushi while sipping champagne or gobbling down kugel while chugging Coke doesn't sit well with me either.

Maybe what we need is a frum Judith Manners or Emily Post to write the definitive guide to frum simcha etiquette, particularly as regards gift giving. We have to be able to do better then we are.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Bentchers

With some unexpected free hours now because a summer school class I was supposed to teach is not running, I've been turning my eye towards some cleaning/rearranging jobs that have been waiting around for an opportune moment.

This morning's job is the bentchers. Do you have any idea just how many bentchers it is possible to collect over the course of 36 years? Hundreds! There are full-sized leather bound bentchers, there are cardboard bound, there are paper bound, there are plastic ones in every size and shape. Some are strictly bentchers; some contain other material as well. Some have print so tiny that even a magnifying glass won't help.

And the job is not as easy as simply saying keep 20 and put the rest in shaimos. As I glance at the names and dates printed on the bentchers I briefly find myself picturing the simcha and smiling. And I've hit on an idea of what to do with some of those bentchers: I'm going to mail them to the people whose simcha those bentchers were used at, along with a short note of remembrance of the occasion.

36 years and thanks to my mom I have 3 bentchers from my own wedding. These I will put away for each of my kids as a family memento. Ditto the bentchers from my son's bar mitzvah. We're giving sheva brochos in two weeks and the new choson is going to get to bentch out of the bentcher from his bar mitzvah. Plenty of other young marrieds where I have the bentchers from the husband's bar mitzvah, and I bet the couple does not.

The rest? I'm afraid they are going to end up in shaimos. I look at the names on some of those bentchers and have no idea whatsoever who those people are or how we got invited. And then there are also the bentchers from the school and shul dinners. I tried the local shuls and yeshivot and nobody needs any more bentchers--one school asks me if maybe I can take off their hands the excess they have. A few I put away to use in the Sukkah, but the rest are collecting dust and taking up space, so it is finally, and somewhat regretfully, time for them to go. I have a friend who made a remembrance poster out of the covers of most of her bentchers before she put them in shaimos. She cut out the names and dates and has a whole collage that she calls her "Where the money went in case you were wondering" collection. It's interesting to look at but not a project I'm going to undertake.

I know that we need to have bentchers at the seudah of a simcha, and it's not practical to supply only one to a table. But do hosts ever envision when they carefully choose those bentchers just what is going to happen to them down the road? I am quite sure that none of my hosts and hostesses all those years ago ever thought that I would be sitting here on a sunny morning in June of 2008 blaming them for having to be indoors cleaning instead of being out in the yard or maybe reading a good book. I know that they never gave it a thought because I didn't either until cleaning up the bentchers became critical.

On the Stability of Communities

Say the words "Crown Heights" and the immediate response here in NY is Lubavitch. Lubavitch is the frum Jewish presence in the area. But it wasn't always like that. Once upon a fairly recent time quite a few other Jews lived in that area. And then the neighborhood started changing and shifting. Those other Jews moved out and elsewhere, and Lubavitch became dominant.

Once upon a time Boro Park was a fairly sleepy little place with a mixed Jewish presence. The two biggest shuls there catered to the MO and the MO frummer. The Young Israel was on 50th Street. The Shulamith school was in Boro Park. Etz Chaim was in Boro Park. There was a Bais Yaakov school as well and a few small shtibel shuls. And then the Boro Park neighborhood started changing and shifting. The MO presence got smaller and smaller and then disappeared altogether. Boro Park became a neighborhood of chasidim and ultra yeshivish Jews.

Once upon a time Midwood/Flatbush was dominated by the MO. The largest shul was the Young Israel of Avenue I. Flatbush Yeshiva and YU's BTA were the largest schools in the area. And when BTA moved out Shulamith moved in. Here and there were a small shtibel or two. Chaim Berlin was not yet in Brooklyn. The Mir and Torah VoDaas were in small buildings and didn't draw most of their students from the Midwood residents. Today, MO Jews are the minority in the area.

Once upon a time Brownsville had a solid frum community. And then there came the clash of two cultures and the Jews folded their tents and went elsewhere.

Once upon a time Far Rockaway was known as an MO outpost. The White Shul was the dominant presence. Shaaray Tefila was in Far Rockaway and catered to the more modern MO community members. The Young Israel was there. The dominant school in Far Rockaway was HILI. Far to the the left you had Hillel. There were two shtiblach in Far Rockaway, both of which took their mispalalim from MO people with heimishe leanings, those who wanted to daven nusach sfard. Frum Jews didn't live in the Five Towns with only a few exceptions. Bayswater was only a small blip on the radar. Yeshiva Chaim Berlin was in Far Rockaway but ended up moving out since it could not get enough students from the community and Far Rockaway was just not its kind of place. And then a shift began. HILI moved out and merged with Hillel in Lawrence to form HAFTR. Darchei moved into the HILI buildings. TAG moved into Chaim Berlin's old building and then built its own in the center of Far Rockaway. The Aguda moved in. Satmar moved into Bayswater. And MO and yeshivish alike moved over the border into Lawrence and the rest of the Five Towns in droves. And the MO found a real haven in Woodmere.

I suppose you could look at the above examples and come to the conclusion that in New York chareidis chase out MO Jews when they arrive in a community. You could, but you wouldn't be getting the whole picture. Communities wax and wane over time, all communities. They change character. And in some time period in the future these same communities will once again change character. In Brooklyn, the money factor alone will guarantee it.

Boro Park and Midwood/Flatbush have out of sight real estate values. The children of those living in the area are simply not going to be able to afford to live there when the time comes for them to be married and raise families. It's what happened to young couples when I was first married. Boro Park was becoming too expensive to rent or buy in so we all flocked to Flatbush. It wasn't the religious factor that had us leaving; it was plain and simple MONEY. And when Flatbush repeated the pattern some of us moved to Staten Island and some to Far Rockaway and the outer areas of the Five Towns. And some moved to Edison and to Teaneck and to Passaic and to Bergenfeld. And some moved to Monsey and other points in Rockland County.

Just one observation: in those communities where there has been a stable mix of the various frum Jews, where one group did not become uber dominant, there has been more stability for community structures and for the community as a drawing card. The changes within the community are smaller, less radical. They tend to have more of a we're-all-in-this-together attitude.

Who knows, in twenty years Brighton Beach could become the "new" Flatbush. In thirty years Chaim Berlin could find itself migrating back to the Far Rockaway area. Schools which today find themselves as dominant in their community areas may slowly wither away for lack of students, while schools that today are withering may find themselves suddenly rejuvenated. Who knows, maybe students strolling to their YU school on Ocean Parkway, located in the old ______yeshiva building, will shake their heads in amazement as one of them says:" My zaide says that 50 years ago this area was super chareidi. I think he must be joking with me." It has happened before; it's going to happen again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Strange Case of Kosher Kitchens

I've been browsing lately through house for sale sites in a particular out of town location. Usually the real estate sites will give you a picture or video tour of the property. Inevitably they show the kitchens and also inevitably they describe these kitchens as "well appointed" and "chock full of all the storage you could need." Just as clearly the people selling these homes are not frum Jews keeping a strictly kosher kitchen. Their idea of "well appointed" and "all the storage you could need" and mine are very different.

Take the most dedicated and creative non-Jewish cook you know. Give her a yen for kitchen doodads. Give her one of every labor saving device for the kitchen known to man. Maybe, just maybe those advertised kitchens would give her enough room for everything. Now, make that cook someone who is frum and you might get an idea as to why some people are remodeling whole areas of their homes to get gargantuan kitchens. Everything that I own that could properly relate to the kitchen and to eating cannot possibly be stored in the kitchen I have now, and it's not a tiny kitchen. I have things in the dining room, in closets all over the house, in the attic, in downstairs cabinets. I am hardly unique.

Think of everything that is of use in a kitchen, and now double the number to account for milchig and fleishig versions of each. You'll need twice as much storage space as someone non-Jewish would need. Now add in pareve items, like tea kettles and egg pots and fish pots. But I'm hardly done counting up. Now add in those items that are "shabbosdik/yom tovdik" as opposed to "vochendik," like silverware and dishes and glasses. Now add in items that are used only l'kovod Shabbos or yom tov, like honey dishes or chrain holders or challah boards. Oh, but we aren't finished yet. Let's look at Pesach. Try outfitting that same kitchen with all the necessities but for Pesach only.

And then there is that "well appointed" kitchen. The one that has only one sink, one oven, one dishwasher and one microwave. The one with all that counter space, if only you only prepared either fleishigs or milchigs. Add in appliances to keep straight the milchig/fleishigs divide and your kitchen is growing larger and larger. Yes, it's possible to use only one sink--many of us started out our married lives that way. And yes, lots of us with only one oven even now. But microwaves? And mixers? And food processors? And toaster ovens? And yes even toasters? The more m'dakdek you are trying to be in your kashrut, the more multiple appliances help to prevent mistakes. Take a look at lots of frum houses and they are "just making it" with two refrigerators when it comes to a yom tov or Pesach.

A few years ago someone remodeled their home in our neighborhood. In the new configuration the kitchen and dining room took up more than half the downstairs of the house. The living room was only about half the size of the kitchen. A few people wondered why someone would do this--it was not any women who were wondering. Any woman who has had to find space in her kitchen for one more item of odd shape and size gave a little sigh of envy when seeing that kitchen. And yet this woman, too, has cabinets in the laundry room and basement to store the overflow.

Kosher kitchens and their appointments are some kind of strange organic matter; the larger they grow the more there is to put into them. Someday I'd like to meet a frum woman who can straight-facedly and truthfully say: "My kitchen holds everything." As soon as she says that her kitchen atoms are going to divide and divide and divide and suddenly she will be eyeing shelves in a closet or garage or basement for needed storage.

Just a little note here. A gentleman of my acquaintance asked why women don't just get rid of some of the things in their kitchens that aren't of any use any more or that haven't been used this past year. Ladies, why did you never give away your maternity clothes until you were long past the age of bearing children? Because you knew that as soon as you gave them away you were going to be spending your mornings with your head buried in a toilet bowl--it was inevitable. Ditto with kitchen items. My friend got rid of all the cute little ices molds that she had used when here kids were little, as well as all the specialty cookie cutters for various holidays and other "kiddie" pleasers. Apparently that was a segulah for having lots of grandchildren. And off she went to buy these same items once again because they were needed once again. The first rule is that things come into a kitchen, they don't go out.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Friendly vs. Being a Friend

A recent posting on Mother in Israel had her daughter listing some things she did not like about school/teachers. MII then offered the following (Correction--it was the daughter who wrote the following--ty MII for letting me know):

"If you are a teacher, please do not be offended, but see this post as advice for things you shouldn't be doing in the coming school year and may be the reason students don't like you."

Here's the thing--I'm not offended. What I am is perplexed. I have now been teaching for 42 years, with a few years off when my kids were very young. In all that time I have never looked at teaching as being a popularity contest. Foremost on my list of things that I want to accomplish with a class is not "get them to love you." What is foremost is "get them to love the subject, or at least learn it."

I think that most of my students would say that I am a friendly person; what I am not is their friend, at least not on the same level and with the same meaning as with the other people with whom they spend time and who they designate as friends. I actually have had/have such a relationship with a few students, but they are ex-students, not present ones. When I stand in front of a class I am the driver of the bus and "love" has nothing to do with my getting us to our designation.

In point of fact, and a few of my ex-students who drop in here could attest to this, I have a reputation in school for being tough as nails. Some students quake in their shoes at the thought of having to take my course. This has nothing to do with my personality or how "loveable" I am but a great deal to do with the way my classes are run, and my expectations for students. I don't hand out A's to all students. There is a lot of work in my classes and I expect students to do it all, and to do it when I require it to be done. I expect them to put in effort. I have never believed in the "spoon feeding" approach to teaching.I don't read the textbook to my students; that's their job. And yes, I record marks for the work given to me. Note "record." I do not give anything away for free. If you want an "A" in my class you have to get it the old fashioned way: you have to earn it. So yes, I imagine that some students may not "like" me, although they mostly end up learning what they need to learn anyway. And some students find themselves liking me even though they were sure they wouldn't. That's an added plus for them, but it doesn't head my to do list as a teacher.

There was another comment on that posting, a complaint about teachers who won't raise a 99 to a 100. Try going to a bank with $9.90 cents in change or even $9.99 in change and asking for a $10 bill in exchange. You won't get it. $9.99 is not $10 no matter how close that is.

If a teacher uses a method of teaching that causes his/her students to immediately turn off from the material being taught then a change is needed. If a teacher's personality is so grating that students cut class rather than come and learn, then a change is needed. But "How well do you like your teacher?" and the answer is not an indicator of how good a job that person is doing teaching. A teacher as friendly? Makes the job a bit easier. A teacher as your friend? Not a requirement.

Just a thought. Sometimes parents would be better off explaining to their children that school is a preparation for "real life." They won't always like everyone that they meet in the working world, but they still have to work with them and for them. Sometimes it is the children who will have to adjust and who will have to fit themselves to the expectations of their boss, not vice versa.

Mayhem and Murder: Eliminating Said

Think about conversations you have had with a wide variety of people, in a wide variety of situations. Think about conversations you have overheard between other people. How did you know what was meant in the conversations? How did you understand not only the meaning of the words but also the feelings of the speaker? You may have used a number of devices and methods to help you.

First, you were seeing the speaker. What was his/her physical posture like? What did his/her face look like? What were his/her hands doing? What gestures did he/she use? Observe closer. Was he/she sweating? Was he/she pale? Flushed? Was his/her head up or down? Did he/she look you straight in the eye or was he/she looking away? How close to you was he/she standing? What were his/her facial expressions like?

Second, you were listening to the speaker’s voice. Was it steady? Was it high pitched or low pitched? Was the speech full of hesitation? Did the voice change at any point in the conversation?

Third, you were listening to the actual words spoken. What did the words mean—their denotation? Did all the words seem to fit together? Were some words used differently then you are accustomed to hearing them used? Did the words seem to fit what you already knew about the person speaking them? Did the words seem to fit the situation? Did the words raise questions in your mind about what was meant? Did the words seem appropriate for the speaker?

Fourth, you were using the first three to come to a conclusion about the conversation—by adding up the three parts you were able to question whether the words were supposed to be taken literally or if there was a different meaning intended.

But what if you weren't physically present? There is a difference between experiencing someone’s saying “I feel wonderful” and being able to verify that or interpret that or reject that because you are right there, a part of the conversation or a direct observer of the conversation, and reading “I feel wonderful,” he said. When you read that statement, you have fewer tools to evaluate it. A good writer has to provide clues to the reader that will give the reader some of the same experience that he would have if he were really a part of the conversation.

One way to help the reader is to use specific words to paint vivid, detailed pictures. Replace the general with the exact. One such word that needs replacing is the word “said.” Just telling me that a person said something gives me no information to enable me to understand what is going on.

What do people really do when they “say” things? Here are some of the things that they do---
Confide, breathe, whisper, hint, insinuate, infer, intimate, suggest, present, bestow, plead, allege, proffer, submit, demonstrate, observe, evince, illustrate, manifest, proclaim, disclose, divulge, offer, lay out, reveal, add, unveil, note, express, phrase, put, state, disclose, tell, report, enunciate, announce, note, declare, emphasize, proclaim, pronounce, imply, communicate, utter, bring out, chime in, declare, deliver, comment, remark, cite, quote, recite, repeat, affirm, assert, aver, avow, protest, indicate. They also groan, giggle, titter, laugh, cry, scream, yell, shout, chortle, chuckle, guffaw, snicker, murmur, vocalize, mutter, report, roar, snap, yelp, bawl, cry, hiss, howl, whine, yelp, cajole, petition, shriek, screech, shrill, sneer, joke, ridicule, taunt, drone, pontificate, lecture and inform. (If you like your words in alphabetical order, try the list below.)

Using these words allows us to form a mental picture of what really was being “said.” It tells us how the reader said something and possibly even why. These words add “sound” to the muteness of pen on paper.

So, one way to bury said forever is to substitute a more specific, more vivid word. Another way is to use description to let us know what is going on, and then give us the direct words of the speaker without a “said” word.


He leaned close to me, so close that I could feel his breath stirring my eyelashes. His eyes bored straight into mine. I could feel his right hand, still holding the knife, caress my cheek. “I want the money now.”
“I want the money now,” he threatened.
“I want the money now,” he growled menacingly.


He stood uncertainly in front of the desk. His nervousness betrayed itself in the rhythmic brushing of his hand up and down his thigh. He wasn’t really looking at me but at some point over my shoulder. His voice, when it finally emerged, held a note of quiet desperation. “I want the money now.”
“I want the money now,” he pleaded.
“I want the money now,” he begged.
“I want the money now,” he whispered shakily.

Become intimately acquainted with a dictionary and thesaurus. There are thousands of words locked up between the covers yearning to breath free—break their bonds!

Here lies Said
Buried and Unsung
Rest in Peace

Words to Replace Said:

Cooed cried criticized
Ran at the mouth
Rattled on

Sang out

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Shopping Habits = Money Spent

I don't think that anyone will argue that we are in difficult economic times right now. A lot has been written about how to weather this bad period and still be able to provide what we need for ourselves and our families.

One such piece of advice said that people need to be making fewer shopping trips during the week: reduce shopping to once a week. An article I read said that for every shopping trip that we take we spend about 10% more then we were planning on or had budgeted for on items that we originally did not go to buy, what they call impulse buying. A different article said that only shopping once a week is not enough: you need to limit your your food/clothing shopping to one store. Otherwise, the article stated, you still have the affect of having shopped more than once, with the resultant overspending. Yet another article says that people fail to factor in all the costs for shopping and so overspend without realizing it. They do not count the cost of gas into their expenditures, nor the wear and tear on the car. They do not count their time either, time that might be better used producing an income or reducing reliance on having household help for things that you are not around to do, such as laundry, cleaning, babysitting etc. There are plenty of other "theories," all purporting to be "the" way to get by in the most economical way.

None of the theories is wrong, nor are they all correct either. Where they are all correct is where they tell people that there are going to have to be changes made in how and when money is spent. What they do not take into consideration are some of the following.

Supermarkets, drugstores and most retail businesses in a geographic area are all competing for the same customers. What is more, they are all selling more or less the same items. So why go to more than one? Special sales. Every supermarket advertises in circulars found in newspapers and in the stores. Each market has its special sale items. But here is where some of the stores get you if you are not careful. Just because the store prints "sale" next to an item doesn't mean that you are getting a bargain. What is the regular price of that item in that store? Do other stores sell that item at the same price or are their prices higher or lower? Then there are the "Wednesday only" (or pick your day) sales. An item, or a few items are going to be on sale but only one day during the week. Again, is the cost of that item worth going to the store on that day? And then you have to ask, aside from the sale items, are the other things you need to get while you are in the store going to cost you more then you would have paid elsewhere? If you save $2.00 on a container of milk are you going to give the store back that savings when you pay $2.00 more for the bread you also are buying then you would have in another store?

In our area you have to drive to get to shopping. At $4.25 to $4.50 a gallon of gas, how much is it going to cost me to take out the car once or to take out the car many times? That depends. If an item on sale at a market on a Wednesday is a savings of $3.00 over the regular price but it costs you $4.50 to go and buy it, you have saved nothing. Or have you? Keep in mind that if the item were not on sale and you needed it you would still be paying that $4.50 in gas. The stores in our area are all pretty much within shouting distance of each other. Were I to visit all the major markets, a drugstore or two, the butcher, the bakery, a hardware store, a 99 cent store and the cleaners all on one trip, I still would not have used one gallon of gas. But let's say that I did. On my shopping trip I would need to save at least $4.50 just to reach the break even point. Any savings after that I could first start to count as actual savings.

The way a shopping list is organized also needs to be changed. First, people need to have a list of the items that they buy, and any brands that they specifically buy of that item. Organizing that list by type of item is helpful, that is, paper goods, laundry products etc. Prices may be helpful next to those items if the cost of the item is generally the same everywhere, or when the cost is always less at a particular store. A copy of that list should be prominently displayed somewhere or be within easy reach. On that copy place the number of items that you presently have in the house. Each time you use one of that item change the number. In this way you will see what you actually have on hand and what you might need to buy.

Next, make a blank shopping list with the names of the stores you shop at regularly as the subject headings (leave some space in between).

Next, check your supplies, figure out what you need, and just jot those items down on a piece of paper. Now comes the harder part. Start checking the various store circulars. Is something that you need on sale at one store? Is the savings more than just a couple of pennies? Put that item down on the store list under the store name that has the item on sale. Put the price of the item next to it so you'll be reminded of what the sale price should be (Don't count on the computerized cash register to give you all the discounts you are entitled to--they are notorious for not doing so. You need to know what the discount should be and you need to check your register tape.) Now check and see if you have any coupons for the products you are buying. If so, mark that next to the product on the list to remind you to use the coupon.

Now look at your shopping list. Is there a store where you are only going to buy one or two items? Ask yourself how much you are really going to save by making the extra trip. Is the savings only going to be a few pennies? Then it's probably not worth it. Is this an item that you can stock up on and maximize your savings? When All detergent went on sale for $2.99 a bottle instead of the regular $5.69 to $6.79 found in all the other stores I stocked up. At a minimum I saved $27.00 on ten bottles, and their expiration date is years into the future. That's all I bought in that particular store but it was worth the trip for that item.

And now you come to the really really hard part. Take your list, go to the stores and buy only what is on your list. Absolutely the only exception to this rule is if there is an unadvertised special on something that you forgot to put on the list or that you don't usually buy because the price is normally way out of range for what you will pay. I don't usually buy ice cream because the price has gone sky high even though my family likes it as a treat occasionally. But an in-store special last week had ice cream selling at about 75% off the regular price. I bought 4 for the price of one--they last just as well in my freezer as they do in the store's freezer.

Last week I shopped three times because of when things were going to be on sale, where, and when I needed them in the house. The register tapes showed my savings for each shopping trip. Adding them all together I saved $147.69, after I deducted 1-1/2 gallons of gas used. For this week my estimated savings is about $31.00 dollars, but I won't be shopping as many times and I don't need as much.

Yup, work involved if you want to save money shopping for groceries. But the days when you could just scratch a shopping list on the back of an envelope and head for the store are no longer with us. Shopping requires a business-like attitude and business skills. Going to the market without a small hand-held calculator to figure the differences in package sizes/price ratios means you're going to get rooked. Doing the leg work at home can save you a bundle. If you think that it's too much work for what you are getting, ask yourself what you could have done with an extra $147.69 in your pocket, or even an extra $31.00. I'll bet that you could even find a good use for the money if you "only" saved $10.00 dollars a week.

I look at my saving money while grocery shopping as a "part-time" job, one that pays me about $30-50 per hour year round.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Defining Hashkafah--the Impossible and the Improbable

It doesn't matter where a conversation may start out, but if the people are frum it will eventually lead to hashkafah. We hear the word being used all the time and we use it ourselves. We ascribe our actions, our feelings and our beliefs to hashkafah. Everyone claims to have one. Well then, define the term for me. I know, I know, it means a religious belief system. And that is? Well, it's the system that governs our actions. So far "hashkafah" sounds like something that is quite easy to pinpoint--it's why we do what we do religiously. So, where do you acquire a hashkafah from? "Why, from our parents" I hear coming. Only from your parents? "Well, it can include our schools too." So you follow a school's hashkafah? Well, not just the school's hashkafah, but my rebbi's hashkafah." "Oh, and we also follow our shul rav." "Naw, not only the shul rav's hashkafah. We follow the hashkafah of the gedolim." So all gedolim agree? "Well, not exactly but mostly, sort of, sometimes, maybe." So what do different gedolim disagree about when it comes to hashkafah?" Well, first you'd have to define what you mean by a godol. I mean, not everyone who someone says is a godol is really a godol." Grrrrrrr. "Besides, different people have different hashkafos." Do tell!

Friday, June 20, 2008

When Nice is Nice

Thanks to Leahle for her comment in which she asked whether or not there are any situations where good or nice would be appropriate. Yes, there are a few, a very few such situations.

The same question came up in one of my graduate courses, and the following was my answer.

Of Nice and Men
An Ode Abjuring Clarity

- - - Prof K

Alas, he swallowed a thesaurus
For, heaven forfend, he mustn’t bore us
Nor commit that cardinal vice—
Egregious use of the forbidden word “nice.”

Long nights he labored, drenched in perspiration,
Awaiting divine locutionary inspiration.
Oft bleary eyed, persistently he created,
With palsied digits and breath quite bated,

Until, perchance, his recalcitrant muse
Who had heaped upon him abundant abuse,
Relented sufficiently from her denigration
To allow, at last, creative elation.

And thus it transpired that both juvenile or valitudinous
His characters palavered in utterances multitudinous
Acquiring verbal lock-jaw along the way.
Declaiming in periods pretentiously enlightening,
In stentorian accents quite ludicrously frightening,
When all that was required was, “Have a nice day.”

Free or Felonious?

Brooklyn Wolf put up an interesting posting regarding the copying of CDs and other copyrighted material. How About Just Because It's Not An Ehrlich Thing To Do? I'd like to expand on that in a different direction. Let's call it the Wifi problem.

There are any number of nifty little electronic gadgets around that have Internet and/or text messaging capabilities. They all require, however, that there be some kind of connection to an Internet Service Provider. Some of the gadgetry comes with that connection as part of the package price. Others require you to purchase a service contract separately. And that's where things get interesting.

Wifi (or Wi-Fi if you prefer), unlike other types of Internet service, is "wireless." Those who provide Wifi have a bit of a problem. Not only do those who pay for the service get to use it, but also people who are in the direct vicinity of a paid subscriber's location can also use it, without paying for it. So the question arises as to whether or not it is ethical to park yourself in front of someplace that is giving you Wifi service you are not paying for. One person, who is otherwise so medakdaik on everything, sees nothing wrong in getting free Internet by "borrowing" someone else's Wifi. The argument is that the air is still free and if he catches something in the air, that does not belong to anyone, nor is it harming anyone. Watch the frum teenage yeshiva boys who have Ipod Touch systems. One passes on to the other precisely what locations around school will give them "free" Wifi access so they can use the Internet. Basic to all who argue that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing is it is not costing anyone anything.

I brought this up to my husband, my resident computer expert. His ruling is that it is ossur to use Wifi that you are not paying for because it is costing someone something. You are affecting the service of those who pay for it. I'm not going to get too technical, but the provider of the Wifi has a certain amount of bandwidth available for its subscribers. The more people who log on using the Wifi, the less bandwidth available. So "free users" can clog the system and reduce speed and availability, thus reducing the value and usability of the product that some people are paying for.

Perhaps we need to remember that old saying about how there is no free ride or "free lunch" in this world. You pay for things one way or the other. Should "free" Wifi service come at the expense of self-respect and ethical behavior? And is someone's saying "They charge too much for this service so big deal if I take some" in any way, shape or form either a logical argument or one that someone who purports to be frum should be making?