Monday, January 31, 2011

Less is More

Imagine that your favorite author wrote a book that was 1900 pages plus. Would you begin reading it? Maybe yes and maybe no. And even if you began reading it, would you read with the same careful attention that you would a work that was far shorter? Would you be tempted to skim parts instead of concentrating on every word? Would you wonder if you were ever going to see the end and just give up without finishing the work? Would you skip whole parts just hoping to see the end at last?

Fiction writers don't write single tomes running to 1900+ pages. They understand the limitations of their readers. They also generally believe that any particular subject deserves its own work, not bundled together with other subjects broadly in the same topic area. There are plenty of authors who write series, centered around the same character or set of characters or around the same geographic area or general topic. The key is they write series--one book at a time. This allows the reader to absorb and digest one bite before being fed another bite.

Oh that our lawmakers would emulate these best selling authors. I am still trying to slog my way through the gazillions of pages in the Health Care package that Congress passed. And now the news is out that a fiscal reorganization plan that some congressional leaders are pushing to get passed is already at 1900 pages and not finished yet.

Is there anyone out there who seriously believes that our lawmakers, even one lawmaker, are going to go through a document of that size word by word, idea by idea and understand by page 1900 the import of things discussed on page 107? Is there going to be any lawmaker, even one, who will know everything that such legislation contains? Just what is it the lawmakers will be voting for when they have no idea about everything stated in a bill?

One word comes to mind when I hear about documents of this length: obfuscation. Somewhere, some place in those pages is something that someone, perhaps a lot of different someones, doesn't want people to know are a part of the package. Some lawmakers are counting on the fact that no one will thoroughly read a document of this length to sneak in some items that would not be so palatable if they were considered on their own. Instead, those items are going to be hidden in plain sight.

Amazingly the foundation documents of our country, the Declaration of Independence (one to two pages plus the signature pages), the Bill of Rights (one page) and the Constitution (four handwritten pages in the original, 17 pages including the amendments) don't come anywhere near the length of some of today's proposed legislation. You have to wonder why.

Note to Readers: It's not just me beating this particular drum. To see a view about our tax code, go to By comparison, the health care package is a breeze to navigate through.

What's on the Calendar

This is it--I promise! Couldn't resist finishing off the month with some last days to celebrate. Besides, classes begin again today and it's going to be just a bit frazzling here.

Eat Brussel Sprouts Day
Backwards Day
Child Labor Day
Inspire Your Heart with Art Day
Hell is Freezing Over Day--perhaps time to pull out all those lists you hid away until this phenomenon happened

Happy birthday to The Green Hornet--1936, Jackie Robinson--1919

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tidbits from the Past

Events that happened in the week of January 30 to February 5.
For events of a Jewish nature, please go to

30 Tet New Year offensive launched by Viet Cong guerillas in Vietnam. (1968)
31 Confederates appoint Robert E. Lee their Commander in Chief.

3 Rock singers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. (1959)

What's on the Calendar

Just hang in there; I'll be back to regular posting soon. Until then, enjoy today!

What did we miss celebrating on Shabbos, January 29?
National Corn Chip Day
Carnation Day
National Puzzle Day
The American League Birthday--1900
Free Thinkers Day

Now to today's celebrations:
Yodel for Your Neighbors Day
National Inane Answering Message Day
Escape Day

Happy Birthday to Snagglepuss--1960, Yakky Doodle--1960, Franklin D Roosevelt--1882

Friday, January 28, 2011

What's on the Calendar

Still looking to celebrate? Perhaps one of the following will help.

Data Privacy Day
Fun at Work Day

Daisy Day
Rattlesnake Round-Up Day
National Blueberry Pancake Day
Serendipity Day
Live Your Fantasies Day
U.S. Coast Guard Birthday--1915
Ski Tow Birthday--1938 in Woodstock, Vermont
PopArt Day--Birthday of Jackson Pollack 1912
Christa McAuliffe Day--in memoriam; Challenger exploded in 1986

A Happy Birthday to Ernie of Sesame Street

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When the Profound Gets Politicized

January 27 has been established as Holocaust Remembrance Day, an international day of remembering those who perished in the Holocaust. The following comes from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site:

"January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD), an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. Every member nation of the U.N. has an obligation to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and develop educational programs as part of an international resolve to help prevent future acts of genocide. The U.N. resolution that created IHRD rejects denial of the Holocaust, and condemns discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity."

In addition

"The United States officially commemorates the Holocaust during Days of Remembrance, which is held each April, marking the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The Museum is mandated by the U.S. Congress to lead the nation in commemorating this day."

Certainly some impressive words in that UN resolution, but as Hamlet said, " it is a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance," or perhaps we should look at Gertrude in the same play, when she says "More matter with less art."

Noticed any heartfelt observances in a whole lot of those UN member countries? Are you imagining Iran or Iraq condemning discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity and including Jews?

Whoever else in the world will take today to reflect on the atrocities of the Holocaust, well they are doing the right thing. But for those of us most affected by those past events, what excuse do we have for not observing this admittedly secular day of remembrance? As we proceed further and further from those hellish days, as we add generation after generation, what transpired during the Holocaust becomes murkier and murkier. For our children and grandchildren the Holocaust is history rather than definitive moment.

Perhaps it's time to pay attention to that old saying: "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." And then there is this: How do we expect others to remember what transpired during the Holocaust, to use this day to reflect on the horrors of history, when we, ourselves, ignore the day?

It's sad really, that the world needs one day to remember what was truly a defining event of the last century and that will have impact on the centuries to come. Sadder yet that the day will pass for many Jews without even a nod of acceptance or remembrance.

What's on the Calendar

At last, a few days I'm fully in favor of.

Auschwitz Liberation Day
Holocaust Memorial Day
International Commemoration Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
National Toilet Day/Thomas Crapper Day
Vietnam Peace Day

Chocolate Cake Day
Punch the Clock Day

A happy belated birthday to: Mozart-1756, Lewis Carroll-1832

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No, You Couldn't Make This One Up

My cousin sent me an email about a new dining sensation, located in Taiwan. I really didn't want to believe that we've come to this point in so-called creativity, but well, see for yourself. Gives new meaning to having a bowl of something. At least it's not in Flatbush or Teaneck.

On Elderly Crotchets

Literature abounds with references to how those who are the oldest among us are frequently seen as being crotchety. One needs to approach these older people carefully as they are likely to be snappish or weepy or not what we consider being in a good mood. If those elderly happen to be "our" elderly we tread carefully, we tread respectfully and then we wonder what happened to the people we once knew as being so different from this.

My mom has been staying with us for the past week and I've been given some food for thought as regards those crochets. Conversations with my mom have put me in the position of viewing the world from her particular perspective, and those crotchets are far more understandable now.

All of us pray that we will be given many years of life. Sure, we know that being older is not the same as being younger, but what is it that we really know? We generally assume that we won't have the strength to work 40-hour weeks when we get older. We generally assume that we won't have the physical strength of a Mr. World when we get older. But do we really think deeply about ALL the changes that might come about as we age? From what I gather from my mom, we don't do that kind of thinking. Sure, we prepare ourselves with all kinds of insurance policies for home care and help, but we don't think about what life will be like if we need that help.

Let me give you some practical examples of just how different life can be for those elderly among us. Let's look at the modern telephone. Here's what I would bet--the phones in my home, in your home and in all the homes you can think of are all going to be somewhat different. On some phones, the talk button will be on the right of the phone, and on some phones it will be on the left. Some of these phones will mark the buttons "talk" and "off," and some will mark the phones "on" and "off." Some will put red markings on the off buttons and green markings on the on buttons, and some phones will not. There are not going to be only 10 number buttons plus on and off--depending on the phone there will be at least 7-8 other buttons for various functions. Depending on the phone, the "receiver" will be anywhere from about 3" to 9" in length by 1-1/2" to 2-1/2" in width. On some phones the buttons are larger; on some they are tiny.

Now take one of your elderly relatives and give them one of these phones, any one of your choosing. This phone will look very little like the phones they used even a scant 8-10 years ago. So you patiently run through how to use the phone, and maybe that phone will be physically comfortable for that elderly person and maybe it won't. Now have them visit a different child or grandchild and anything they know about how to use the phone may not be applicable--the phone system is different. Some of those elderly people read slower because their vision is not what it once was. By the time they negotiate the phone buttons, whoever was calling has long hung up. And then you have the job of explaining what a call log is and how to negotiate it--good luck to you on that.

We have an intercom system in our house--my sister also has one in her house. Yup, you guessed it--they are in no way the same. Last night my mom tried using our intercom using the steps needed to use my sister's intercom--nope, it didn't work. When I tried showing her how to use ours she shook her head and said "enough!" Yes, she was just that bit crotchety.

What else is different? My toaster--and I'll bet yours as well--is not like my mom's toaster. My crock pot uses different controls than hers does or my sister's does. My thermostat for the house furnace looks different and needs different approaches than my mom's does or my sister's does or yours does. My vacuum cleaner is way different from my mom's, my televisions--and all their accompanying gizmos--are totally different from the "on-off" televisions of when mom was younger. My microwave and your microwave are quite likely to have different controls and different functions, as will my stove have. In short, the basic equipment of living has changed, and the variations available make it difficult for the elderly to comfortably and quickly go from one environment to another, hence the crotchets.

No, we really don't give much thought to how changing technology and future technology may impinge on our ability to function the way we want to function. But those of us who are not in those "golden" years need to do some thinking apropos of our older family members and friends and neighbors. What some worry about as mental decline in these elderly people may be nothing more than technology overload or technology mismatch. Yes, you may well need to spend some time--patient time--in running through the basic uses of a lot of what we all have in our homes. And don't expect that your great-grandmother will necessarily catch on in an instant. For you, that smart itsy-bitsy phone you use is just business as usual; for your relative that may be the 20th permutation of a phone he/she has seen during his/her lifetime, and it's causing information overload.

How do you suppose you would feel and what kind of a mood would you be in if tomorrow morning at 6:00am you woke up to a world that was almost totally different from the one you saw today? And what if at 8:00am you went to a relative's home and that world was now again totally different? And stay tuned--in a different home at 1:30 the world will change again.

I don't know that there is an easy answer for any of this, but we should at least be aware that those crotchets in the elderly are not necessarily a sign of personality disorder or of declining intellect. Those crotchets may be technology induced and we need to figure out a way of making things easier.

Note: And if we are being really, really honest with ourselves, we just might admit that some of that differing technology for similar items has given us a case of the grumps on occasion as well--it's not just the elderly.

What's on the Calendar

Just who thought up some of today's holidays?!

Cockroach race day
National Peanut Brittle Day
Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement

National Peanut Brittle Day
Television's Birthday--1926

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yes, Computers need Cleaning too

Kind of flukey that this happens to be National Clean Up Your Computer Month, because cleaning up my computer is on the schedule for today. A whole lot of people view their computers as a bottomless pit--what goes in never goes out.

You know all those files that you've been keeping because you never know just when you might need them? Time to be truthful--what are the chances that you might need to know how to cure thrips on a sword plant, especially since you no longer own the plant in question or never owned it? Yup, you hosted a meeting for a group of teens who were looking to start a chesed project in the neighborhood--12 years ago. Do you really need to know now who was invited and what you served as refreshments? You took a vacation in 2003 and there are the packing lists still in their own file. You downloaded a program or gizmo from the Internet and haven't used it in years.

A whole lot of information gets put on our computers, and a whole lot of it needs to be taken off the computer at some point. It's not just the long term storage that needs to be cleaned out however. Are you on the Internet a lot? Do you play games online? Are there sites you visit regularly? All those places you go to are going to be held in your Temporary Internet Files. Keep too much in those files and you can affect the run-time and functioning of your computer. It's a good idea to get into the daily habit of cleaning out these types of files. Just click on Tools, and then on Internet Options. Next click on Browsing History. Here's where you might want to take a breath before continuing. Among the things you can delete are Temporary Files, Saved Passwords, History, Cookies and Web Form Information. Some of these files are used by sites that you visit regularly to log you in to the site. Before you erase any of these files you might want to ask yourself if you remember your user name/log in name and password for the site. You might not want to erase these types of files. However, the Temporary files should surely be erased.

And then there is the physical cleaning of the computer. Lots of people who like to eat while at their computers--steaming cups of coffee or tea and lots of crumb-producing foods right there by your monitor and keyboard. It's just amazing what type of things can find their way between the keys on your keyboard. And all that steam is going to go somewhere, and that somewhere may be your monitor screen. To get the most out of your monitor and keyboard, set a time in your mind to do some maintenance, and then remember to do it. [Note: check your computer manual for recommended methods of cleaning the computer parts. It is not recommended by most manufacturers to just spray window cleaner on the monitor screen.] And just a word about your mouse--cold and flu season is with us, and frequently the germs are passed on hand to hand, or in this case, hand to mouse to hand. Clean your mouse regularly.

My resident computer expert pointed out to me that when run-time slows down or storage becomes tight or a whole slew of other annoyances occur, most people's first thought is that there is a physical problem with the computer. His recommendation is to do some housekeeping first--cleaning cache can eliminate a whole slew of these annoyances.

What's on the Calendar

An interesting day of observances unfolding:

Better Business Communication Day
A Room of One's Own Day
Macintosh Computer Day
National Speak Up and Succeed Day

Flouride Day
Fun at Work Day
Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day

Monday, January 24, 2011

National Creative Frugality Week - Week Four

In case you've been following the calendar postings, this week marks a week that everyone could/should be getting into the spirit of--National Creative Frugality Week. Not by accident that this week happens to fall in National Save Your Money Month. We talk a lot about cutting down and cutting out, but sometimes and for some people that is easier said than done.

What are some ways that we can be creatively frugal? Obviously one way would be to substitute less expensive ingredients for more expensive ingredients in our cooking. But a straight substitution of that less expensive ingredient for the more expensive one usually will give you a change of taste as well. What do you do if you want the taste of the more expensive ingredient while you want the cost of the less expensive one?

Okay, one suggestion. Ground beef is way more expensive than ground turkey is. Yes, there is a taste difference between the two. So, take one one-pound package of ground beef and one one-pound package of ground turkey and mix them together well--this may take a few minutes. The resultant mixture will taste like ground beef (beef has the stronger flavor and the flavor will dominate), look like ground beef, but will cost less than a pure beef package will cost. As an added benefit, it will have less fat than the pure beef would have. This works for straight grilled hamburgers and is particularly useful when the beef is sauced, such as in spaghetti with meat sauce or in meatballs.

Let's say you are preparing those ground meats for freezing. Let's also say that you have four pounds of the ground meat. That should mean four packages for the freezer, right? Nope, that will be five packages to the freezer. Reduce the amount in each package--five meals for the cost of four. If you feel the bulk will be missing in the recipe you will be using the mixture for, add in some frozen or fresh vegetables into the sauce and the bulk returns while still giving you beef flavored sauce. You can also add in some beans to bring up the volume--red-colored beans work particularly well with beef dishes.

So, a savings all around: a lower cost per meal, less fat, more vegetables in your diet, more fiber (if you add the beans), ready-mixed packages waiting in the freezer with no more work than defrosting the package.

A lot has been written about how the amounts recommended on laundry products are far more than is necessary to use. It has been recommended that for both detergent and softener you can use half the amount suggested. It's still too easy to overpour these products or to forget to halve them. Instead, when you empty a bottle of detergent, rinse it out and then take another full bottle and pour half into the empty bottle. Now, add water to both bottles. Now you can go ahead and pour that full cap in without having to wonder if you've put in too much or too little. Do the same for softeners. This works particularly well when there is more than one person doing laundry in a house--one person may remember to halve the products and one might not. This way no remembering is necessary.

What ways have you found to be creatively frugal? Please share.

What's on the Calendar

To begin the week with a bang, some things to celebrate:

Belly Laugh Day
Beer Can Day
Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day
National Compliment Day
"Just Do It" Day
Women's Healthy Weight Day

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tidbits from the Past

Some events that took place in the week of January 23-29.
For events in Jewish history, please go to

23 The deadliest earthquake in history strikes Shansi, China, killing 830,000 people. (1556)
24 Beer was first sold in cans . See
Beer Can Appreciation Day (1935)
24 WWII Yalta agreement signed by the U.S., England, and Russia. The agreement defined how Germany would be divided and administered after the war's end.(1945)
25 The first Winter Olympic games begin in Chamonix, France. (1924)
25 The first Emmy awards were given out. (1949)
26 The Dental Drill was patented. (1875)
27 The Russians liberate Auschwitz in WWII (1945)
27 Tragedy strikes the Apollo space program as a fire in the command module kills astronauts Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Lt. Col. Edward H. White, and Lt. Cdr. Roger Chafee . (1967)
28 U.S. space shuttle Challenger explodes 72 seconds after liftoff, killing the seven crew members. Among the crew was school teacher Christa McAuliffe. (1986)
29 Baseball's American League is founded (1900)

What's on the Calendar

Quite a selection of things to celebrate today:

Spouses Day
Measure Your Feet Day
Find Your Roots Day
National Handwriting Day
Pie Day
Cold, Cold, Cold Day--lowest temperature ever recorded in the US was on this day in 1971:-79.8 degrees F
Compliment Day

Friday, January 21, 2011

What's on the Calendar

For those seriously desperate to be celebrating something:

1. International Fetish Day
2. National Hug Day

3. Squirrel Appreciation Day
4. Granola Bar Day

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's on the Calendar

Feel like celebrating today? Holidays on today's calendar are:

1. Camcorder Day
2. Get to Know Your Customer Day
3. Inauguration Day
4. National Disc Jockey Appreciation Day
5. Women's Healthy Weight Day
6. Women in Blue Jeans Days--20-22

7. National Cheese Day
8. National Buttercrunch Day
9. Take a Walk Outdoors Day
10. Roller Coaster Patent Day--1885

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fixing the System--Another Step

Let me state the obvious here--men and women are different from each other in many ways. Societally ingrained dictates account for some of those differences--you know, like that old one that men should not cry under any circumstances. Other differences arise from genetic features. Still others are idiosyncratic, individual traits. Looks are also highly individualistic; even identical twins are not really identical.

Humans have likes and dislikes. Sometimes they may not even know they harbor these likes and dislikes until they are put into a specific position where their likes and dislikes may be important. If likes and dislikes are going to be important in a specific situation, shouldn't we fully explore those likes and dislikes before making a decision?

Now look at shidduchim. Ask someone to describe what they are looking for in a spouse in twenty words or less and words come up such as mentsch or baalas midos. Right--a perfectly intelligible description--NOT. There is a lot more to getting married than can be conveyed in a few words written on a piece of paper.

So, how does someone develop likes and dislikes? Well, it can't be done in isolation, no matter how hard some people try. To know what is out there is the first step in determining whether or not you like it. Knowing what is out there requires time, keen observation, an ability to separate the gold from the dross, an ability to be honest with yourself and, last but not least, a clear and detailed understanding of any "item" being viewed and its intended purpose in your life--in short, it requires experience.

Ladies, you need/want a new pair of shoes. Do you walk into a store, point at the first pair you see and say "I'll take those." Uhn uhn you don't. First, you've given some thought to whether or not the pair should be black, brown, blue, beige etc. You pretty much know that you prefer a black shoe. Okay, fine. So you wander the store looking at all the shoes. You may look at only the ones already presented in a black color, or maybe you spot a pair that you like and wonder if it comes in black also. You may have decided that the pair you are looking for is only for special occasions and needs to be "fancy" enough to wear to a wedding. Or maybe you are looking for a pair of everyday shoes, something that will take you through your busy days. Maybe what you are looking for is a winter-weight shoe, one that can stand up to the rigors of cold and yucky weather. Maybe you are looking for a summer-weight shoe, one that will be light on your feet. Maybe you are looking only for real leather, perhaps unusual leather. And maybe you are looking for canvas or man-made material. Perhaps you want an arch support or more room in the toe area. Perhaps you want a slip-on as opposed to a tie shoe. Perhaps you want a shoe that will last for a long, long time, or perhaps you don't care just how long the shoe lasts as long as it does what it is supposed to do while you have it. Perhaps you are looking for a particular brand, and perhaps you don't care which brand it is. Perhaps price is an issue, and you are looking to pay the least that you can. And perhaps you are looking for a pair just like the ones your friend just bought.

But how did you know to ask yourself all the questions above about the shoes you are looking at? Experience. Mayhap you once went shopping and bought the latest fashion in the latest color and you found out you didn't much like it--it pinched your toes, rubbed your heels, clashed with your favorite outfits. Just perhaps the pair that looked great on your friend turned out not to fit you well when you tried them on. Regardless, you know that there are hundreds, thousands or pairs out there and it's going to take time to find the one pair that will fit you best. The only way to find what you are looking for is to visit a lot of stores and shop around.

Know anyone who opens a catalog of cars, perfunctorily glances through the pages, randomly stops on page 27 and points to the third car from the top of the page and says "I'll buy that one"? No way. Something that costs as much as a car does takes a lot of time, effort, patience and thought to purchase. You may go from dealer to dealer to see what is out there. You're going to look at all the features that come with each model. You're going to agonize over what color to get. You're going to sit in the seats and move them around to see if they fit you well and give you the leg room you prefer. You're going to look at the price tag really closely. You'll look at the estimated gas mileage figures and the safety features. And when you've looked and looked you are going to have to--GASP!--decide what you will compromise on. Car X has 8 out of 10 of the things you like most, but the two things it doesn't have are things you really hate. Car Y only has 7 out of 10 things you like most, but you don't, in retrospect, really care all that much about the other three.

Okay, cars and shoes--we spend a whole lot of time in thinking about them, but even more time in shopping around for them and doing comparisons. It would be nice if we could find just what pleases us in the first place we look, but we know that doesn't happen all that often. We are resigned to having to shop around and to take time and view the merchandise available because otherwise we might end up with something that we won't like very much in the end.

Now to shidduchim. Just what lame brained idiot decided that limiting the exposure of males and females was the "perfect" way to make a shidduch? A maximum of six dates and you should know with certainty that someone is your heart's desire? Seeing each other in "regular" situations is dangerous and only arranged dates will give you the knowledge to make a decision? We're far more sensible about buying shoes and cars than we are about making shidduchim.

First, shopping and browsing venues need to be expanded--singles need to be able to see each other outside of a date and need to be able to see just how many different types of "shoes" and "cars" there actually are out there. It may well be that a whole lot of people, if exposed to each other in this way, might change their mind about what they really want or need, once they know the full range of what there is to choose from. Instead of wailing that they are going to have to settle for second best, they just might redefine what "best" means. Occasions for social interactions among singles need to be promoted. This can be as simple as having a whole group of single males and females at someones home for a Shabbos meal to planned social occasions during the day or evening on a larger scale.

Second, we need to stop limiting our singles to what is presently "in style." Everyone here has had the experience of trying on something that was absolutely the height of fashion but looked terrible on or didn't fit right or was just way too much money to pay. Just as shoes or a car need to feel comfortable, how much more so does a shidduch need to "feel comfortable." We need to keep in mind that old saying: "Different strokes for different folks." And we need to stop turning up our noses at what we see as ordinary as opposed to extraordinary. Nope, a Toyota is not a BMW. And who says that a BMW is the be-all and end-all of car driving? Three little letters on the bumper do not necessarily a stellar car make--it depends on what you want, need and like in a car.

To sum up, we need to stop pushing certain labels over others when it's usually just a lot of advertising hype. We need to let our singles become savvy comparison shoppers. We need to stop thinking of compromise as a dirty word. We need to let our singles mingle to discover what suits them best through actual experience with the "product" being looked for. And we need to stop assuming that any and all contacts between singles may lead to unacceptable behavior and/or thoughts.

Back in my dating days there was a somewhat risque joke going around, but it had some truth in it and applies here. Why do we Jews forbid pre-marital sex? It might lead to mixed dancing. Why limit social interaction between singles looking for a shidduch? You fill in the answer.

What's on the Calendar

Holidays on the calendar to be celebrated today:

1. Tin Can Day--patented in 1825

2. A Good Friend Raises Your Spirits Day
3. Good Memory Day
4. Popcorn Day
5. National Penguin Awareness Day
6. International Sing-Out Day
7. New Friends Day
8. Brew a Potion Day

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's on the Calendar

Holidays on the calendar for celebration today:

1. Do Dah Parade Day
2. Thesaurus Day--Peter Roget's birthday in 1779
3. Winnie the Pooh Day--birthday of author A.A. Milne
4. National Sanctity of Life Day (Pro Life Day)
5. Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day

6. Maintenance Day
7. Get to Know Your Customers Day
8. Polygraph Day

Monday, January 17, 2011

On Abuse

An informative posting up at SerandEz about addressing abuse in our community. Worth taking the time to take a look.

And Yet It's English

In presenting some linguistic history of the English language, I pointed out to my students that languages in the same language family are not clones of each other; indeed, there may only be a faint resemblance. English and German are both in the same language family branch--the Germanic languages. I don't imagine that any of us would ever confuse the two languages.

How did they get to be so different? Time, circumstances and geography for a few things. In many cases languages change form as their speakers begin to pronounce certain spelled letter combinations in different ways. Sometimes we change our spelling of certain words to conform to this new pronounciation, and sometimes we don't. The word knight is a case in point. We've kept the old spelling but our pronounciation is a whole lot different from the original pronounciation of the word. Today's German speakers don't pronounce that word the same way that today's English speakers do.

And then we have kindergarten. Yes, this is the preferred spelling, although kindergarden will be seen in some instances and also appears in the dictionary. NY State officially refers to its pre-school program as kindergarten. However, people saying this word pronounce it as "garden" not as "garten." One lawmaker wanted the state to change the spelling of the word to reflect American English. In his speech to fellow delegates proposing the change, his only change was going to be from a "t" to a "d." When I read about this I couldn't help but laugh. So we're going to Americanize the word and make it purely English by changing only those two letters? Uh huh. And just what English word is kinder if you please?

What's on the Calendar

Holidays celebrated on this date:

1. National Cable Car Day--patented on this date in 1871
2. National Customer Service Day
3. National Judgement Day
4. National Kid Inventors Day
5. Hot Heads Chili Days--17-18
6. National Martin Luther King Day

7. Ditch Your New Years Resolutions Day
8. Professional Boxers Day
9. Elementary School Teachers Day--Third Monday of the month
10. Junk Food News Alert Day--Third Monday of the month
11Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's Birthday--Third Monday of the month

Happy Birthday to Benjamin Franklin, born in 1706, and Popeye, "born" in 1929
Oh yes, and happiest of birthdays to our son

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Believing what you say

In concert with a lot of other people, I can spout all kinds of sayings that are supposed to make you feel better when plans go awry. Sure, when life hands you lemons make lemonade. There are, however, some times when talking yourself into believing that you "welcome" these changes is a lot harder than other times. Of course, that's when you need to convince yourself the hardest that all happens for a reason.

In exactly 40 minutes from now my hubby and I were supposed to set sail on a 12 night cruise. Right after Sukkos my husband came home with a surprise for us: we were going to spend my entire intersession cruising the Caribbean. He got a terrific deal on a beautiful cabin so we'd be comfortable for that long a sailing. The ship is huge with a correspondingly huge assortment of things to do. All we HAD to do for that time was relax and enjoy each other's company.

The fall and early winter were fraught with all kinds of happenings that got us all wound up. What kept us going was the knowledge that soon we'd be heading away from all the stress. Weather, family, work and just plain life in general all seemed determined to add an extra measure of must-do's and must-plans and must-be's to an already over-crowded schedule. Last week on Shabbos we sort of smiled at each other and thumbs up said just one more week and we're free to relax--famous last words. By Shabbos afternoon my hubby was feeling off.

B"H he is now finally feeling a bit better, but my hubby got sick and it's been a round of doctor visits all of last week. The doctors put it very bluntly: we weren't sailing anywhere. His illness was not life-threatening, but it precluded getting on a ship.

Yes, we're trying to be really adult about all of this; obviously my hubby's health comes before a cruise. We cancelled the cruise on Wednesday and there were no tears falling. Gam zu l'tovah. It's only now, when the time we would have sailed has finally arrived, that we're feeling a bit down in the dumps. It's like that old saying: "All dressed up with nowhere to go." We have two empty weeks facing us with no idea right now just what we are going to do with them. And yes, we're kind of leery as well--we know that nature abhors a vacuum, and we're so hoping that nature fills the space with something pleasant, or at least not something unpleasant.

Ah well, no use crying over spilt milk. Still, for someone who so hates snow and winter weather, I was so looking forward to weather where the first digit begins with a 7 and goes up from there.

Truly, maan tracht undt Gott lacht.

Tidbits from the Past

Some events that took place in the week of January 16-22.

16 Operation Desert Storm begins to oust Saddam Hussein's' Iraqi forces from Kuwait. (1991)
17 The U.S. Supreme court rules that taping on home VCRs does not violate copyright laws. (1984)
20 The Beatles release "Meet the Beatles", their first album to the U.S., sparking a new "English invasion". (1964)
20 At 69 years, 349 days old, Ronald Reagan becomes the oldest person to become U.S. president. (1981)
21 Edward Jenner introduces the smallpox vaccine, which eventually leads to wiping out this deadly disease.(1799)
21 The first Kiwanis club is formed in Detroit. (1915)
21 Science fiction writer George Orwell dies. (1950)
22 A historic Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade legalizes abortion. (1973)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shabbos Shira--it's for the Birds

Just a reminder that for some there is the custom to put out food for the birds on Shabbos Shira. This year in the northeast the food will be especially welcome as snow is covering the ground almost everywhere. Given the snow cover, which makes it precarious for the birds to land, you might be better off hanging those bird treats from a tree branch. To make a hanging treat, use peanut butter to bind together your other offerings--things like bread/cracker crumbs, cereal, seeds, nut meats. Form the ball around a piece of string, and loop the string over a branch. The ball needs to be sticky enough to adhere to the string, so don't be chintzy with the peanut butter.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Super Hero for the Times

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization, has just introduced a new "super hero"--Captain Israel. You can view the new comic at the link below.

For information on the organization go to the link below.

What's on the Calendar

For a lot of people, once New Years has come and gone January is a pretty blah month. Not so. There are some truly unique (okay, also some truly strange) weeks of celebration in January, not to mention some month-long celebrations. Some of these holidays I applaud whole heartedly--their subject matter needs to be front and center. With the others, I'd really, really like to know the reasoning behind celebrating them. If, however, you need a reason for getting into a celebratory mood (or just perhaps need a chuckle), try some of the following:

Week-long Celebrations:

Celebration of Life Week-Week One

Lose Weight, Feel Great Week - Week One

Diet Resolution Week - Week One

New Year's Resolutions Week - Week One

Women's Self Empowerment Week - Week One

Celebrate the Circus Week - Week Two

Home Office Safety and Security Week - Week Two

Law Enforcement Training Week (Always the first full week of the year)- Week Two

Universal Letter Writing Week- Week Two

National Thank-Your-Customers Week- Week Two

School Crossing Guard Week- Week Two

Special Education Week- Week Three

Cuckoo Dancing Week- Week Three

International Printing Week - Week Three

National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week- Week Three

National Skating Week - Week Three

Healthy Weight Week- Week Four

Hunt For Happiness Week - Week Four

National Glaucoma Week- Week Four

National Creative Frugality Week - Week Four

National Meat Week- Week Four

National Handwriting Analysis Week - Week Four

National Nurse Anesthetists Week - Week Four

Kiss A Shark Week -Week Four (Please don't really kiss a shark.)

Hot Air Balloon Week - Week Four

National Medical Group Practice Week - Week Four

Catholic Schools Week - 25 thru 31 (So how come yeshivas don't have their own week?)

Month-long celebrations:

Autism Awareness Month

Bald Eagle Watch Month

Bath Safety Month

Blended Family Month

Bread Machine Baking Month

Celebrate the Past Month

Celebration of Life Month

Cervical Health Awareness Month

Clean Up Your Computer Month

Clinical Trial Awareness Month

Coffee Gourmet International Month

Crime Stoppers Month

Everything's Possible Month

Family Fit Lifestyle Month

Fat Free Living Month

Financial Wellness Month

Fireside Warmth Month

Heavyweight Boxers Month

Home Fire Safety Month

Human Resource Month

Independent Bookstore Month

International Creativity Month

International Get Over It Month

International Life Balance Month

International Quality of Life Month

International Printing Month

It's OK to be Different Month

Jump Out of Bed Month

Learn Spanish Month

Love Yourself Month

Mail Order Gardening Month

March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month

Market Ability Month

National Be On-Purpose Month

National Book Blitz Month

National Book Month

National Candy Month

National Careers in Cosmetology Month

National Credit Awareness Month

National Eye Health Care Month

National Facial Tissues Month

National Get Organized Month

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

National High-Tech Month

National Hobby Month

National Hot Tea Month

National Letter Writing Month

National Lose Weight, Feel Great Month

National Mentoring Month

National Polka Month

National Radio Month

National Radon Action Month

National Retail Bakers Month

National Returns Month

National Save Your Money Month

National Skating Month

National Soup Month

National Stamp Collectors Month

National Staying Healthy Month

National Thank You Month

National Transformation Thinking Month

Oatmeal Month

Personal Self-Defense Month

Poverty in America Month

Prunes for Breakfast Month Month

Reaching Your Potential Month

Volunteer Blood Donor Month

Yours, Mine & Ours Month

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst

During the blizzard a few weeks ago a lot of people were caught totally unprepared for the intensity of the storm. They pooh-poohed the weather forecasts as being the alarmist rantings of the forecasters, who are so often wrong. They pointed out multiple occasions when large amounts of snow were forecast and didn't materialize. While others busied themselves with laying in supplies of groceries and rocksalt and buying shovels, these people b'dafka made plans to be out of their homes the next day. (And yes, it would appear that the powers that be in NYC were among these nay-sayers, judging by the poor job done by the City in responding to the storm.)

For last Shabbos snow was once again forecast, and more people heeded the forecasters and prepared themselves for a lot of snow--and then that "lot" didn't happen. Then there was last night's snow. There were those who once again pointed to the "wrong" forecast for last Friday as proof that there was nothing to worry about with last night's accumulation--and they would be the wrong ones yet again.

Betting on the weather, on the possible actions of Mother Nature is a fool's bet. Mother Nature follows her own rules, not ours. Yet, even knowing this we seem so optimistic that it is WE who know what will happen. And there is a lesson to be learned in this.

Yes, we can hope for the best, hope that the forecasters will be wrong. But, our heads should not swell should those forecasters turn out to be wrong. It is not that we knew better than the forecasters. It is that we were working on blind optimism that happened to be rewarded THIS time; we might not be so lucky next time, or many of the times to come. Instead of preening that we are better forecasters than the official ones, we ought to be looking for a sale on that rocksalt--stormy weather could hit any moment.

Extend that weather metaphor to other areas of life and it still holds: hope for the best, but expect the worst. Be prepared to enjoy the good times, but be equally prepared to cope with and overcome the bad times. This doesn't mean we should adopt a pessimistic viewpoint of life. It does mean that we should adopt a realistic viewpoint. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don't go the way we want them to, the way we planned them to, the way they should. The person who understands this is the one best equipped to "weather the storm" of life and prevail in the end. Thinking through all the possibilities and being prepared for them makes a lot more sense than stubbornly refusing to entertain the notion that nothing bad will happen if you are extra careful in planning for the good. Good and bad are the two sides of the same coin. Probability theory tells us that if we toss that coin long enough an equal number of heads and tails will come up. Just because a run of heads has come up now doesn't mean that the tails are not going to appear on the next toss.

We need to recognize that being prepared for the worst that can happen is a good thing and not being pessimistic at all. It makes us better able to navigate through the storms that happen in life.

That being said, I wouldn't mind it at all if all the forecasters in the northeast were wrong for the rest of their lives as regards snow. I have had my fill of the stuff and would not cry if I never again saw a snowstorm up close and personal. Excuse me now while I go out and uncover my car yet once again. Couldn't the coin have come up heads this time?! Yeah, yeah, I know--just grab the shovel and salt and get going.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The World Needs to Rethink about Israel

An excellent article that appeared today in the JWR, authored by Melanie Phillips, a British journalist and author of, most recently, Londonistan. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. She was awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996.
Adapted from an address to the Ariel Conference on Law and Mass Media, 30 December 2010.

Fixing the System--the First Step

PNN asked me what five things I would do if I were in charge of fixing the shidduch-making system. A lot of things come to mind, but I believe that what I will present now is the first step that must be taken.

A shidduch requires one male and one female, one man and one woman. Getting married is about the joining of two human beings into one family unit. Human beings--special creations made b'tzelem Elokim. Human beings--each one unique, each one an individual. True, we all share certain characteristics, making us part of the family of mankind. However, we are not clones, mass-produced on some assembly line. An awareness of the truth of these words is sadly missing in today's shidduch making process.

Today's shidduch making has reduced the key players to being viewed as sechoirah, as merchandise to be bought and sold. There is a push when a "new batch" hits the shelves to sell them off as quickly as possible. The language used is the language of business and sales, and the techniques and pitches are also those used in business and sales. "Sellers" hustle to position their "wares" as advantageously as possible. The "younger," the "fresher" the merchandise the easier it is to dispose of is how people reason. There is a frantic effort to "move the merchandise" as quickly as possible before a new "product" is available for sale.

The "shelf life" of those who enter into shidduchim is seen as limited and of short duration. If you don't sell the "product" quickly then who knows if it will ever sell at all. Sellers abide by a very short "sell by date." Granted, when the next "batch" is delivered, the sellers still keep the old merchandise around. But they stick that "merchandise" into a corner of an out of the way shelf. Maybe someone will spot it there, and may someone won't. The push is not there any longer to "advertise" the old "wares" nor to present them to buyers who come calling. Ask a "merchant" why he/she does this and they basically shrug their shoulders and tell you that everyone knows that younger is better. Their efforts are better put into selling the new merchandise.

I am appalled and disgusted by this attitude. There is no "sell by" date that comes attached to human beings. No one, but no one knows precisely when their bashert will be found. Yes, you have to do your hishtadlus and be active in looking for a shidduch, but there is no timetable that must be slavishly adhered to. No, eighteen to twenty-one are not some magical numbers that signify the cream of the crop when it comes to shidduch making.

Let me co-opt some of that language that is used so disgracefully and turn it on its head. You want to consider our singles as something to be bought and sold? Then stop using ToysRUs and WalMart as the business model. Instead, look at farmers. Smart farmers know that not every item they plant will grow at the same rate, nor ripen at the same rate. Some produce requires a longer growing season and some a shorter one. Some produce requires careful attention in order to come into full bloom and some seems to grow no matter what you do or don't do for it. Some produce requires a longer ripening season if it is to be at its peak.

Just because a gardening manual or the back of a packet of seeds says that it will take X days/weeks/months for a plant to be at perfect maturity doesn't mean that that will happen. Plants are also individuals, and while they may generally follow certain patterns, they don't necessarily grow and develop in quite the same way that others of their type do.

Ever shop for avocados? Some of those avocados in the bin are hard as a rock and will take quite some time to become edible. So what? Give them that extra time and they are perfectly delicious avocados. Ever bite into a berry that needed more time to develop and come to peak flavor? Picked too early they are bitter and sour.

And is there anyone who has a brain who will assume that all fruits and vegetables and grains must grow at precisely the same rate, for the same amount of time? Is there anyone with a brain who believes that the growing conditions are identical for every single item that grows?

So yes, it is more than time that we stop looking at our young people as if they were factory produced inanimate objects and start looking at them as if they were individual human beings, each with their own needs and requirements for coming into full bloom. The language of buying and selling has no business in shidduchim, and neither does the attitude that that language engenders.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tidbits from the Past

Some events that happened in history for the week of January 9-15.

9 The United Nations opens its headquarters in New York City.
10 The world's first underground passenger railway system opens in London, England (1863)
11 American League baseball adopts the "Designated Hitter" rule (1973)
12 Batman debuts on television (1966)
14 The United States of America ratifies a treaty with England ending the Revolutionary war. (1784)
14 The Miami Dolphins defeat the Washington Redskins in Superbowl VII , and become the first undefeated team in NFL history. (1973)
14 The Simpsons debut on television. Will TV ever be the same again!?! (1990)
15 The Pentagon opens (1943)
15 Happy Days premieres on television (1974)

Words to Ponder

"A simple fact that is hard to learn is that the time to save money is when you have some."

Joe Moore

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A not so Subtle Subtlety of Anti-semitism

Anyone who thinks that antisemitism in the US is over and done with needs to open their eyes and ears. While overt antisemitism is frowned on and has legal sanctions, there is the subtler form that appears, particularly in our media.

Find someone who is Jewish, particularly observant Jewish, featured in an article or report in any of the media and here is what you see: if what that person has done is a "good" thing, then the person is identified strictly by name or perhaps business title or perhaps area of residence. HOWEVER, if what that person has done is something seen as "bad," suddenly the identification will also include "an orthodox Jew." Now, if religious affiliation and degree of practice were the actual policy of these media in identifying those in their reports, I'd expect to see every report read "Mr. X, a devout Catholic" or "Mr. Y, a practicing Presbyterian" or even "Mr. Q, a devout Muslim." I'd expect that quotes would read "Mr. Z, a Seventh Day Adventist, said...." But that's not what happens. Short of using titles such as Archbishop X, the religious affiliation is not immediately mentioned as an identifying characteristic. In fact, it's almost never mentioned, except where someone Jewish is being reported about.

Presumably the identifying characteristics used by the media are for purposes of "objective" reporting. Presumably these characteristics are used to give readers all the "facts" necessary. One of the 5 Ws that reporters are supposed to include is "Who." But what does "who" consist of? If in 99 out of 100 cases that "who" consists of a name and perhaps a business affiliation, then why make the exception when you are writing about Jews? Why? I'll let you guess.

Years back I subscribed to a professional journal that had relevance to the classes I was teaching. In an article on an archaeological dig taking place in the Middle East, one of those involved in the dig was identified as an orthodox Jew. None of the others involved in the dig had such a religious or belief identification. I fired off a letter to the journal demanding an explanation for this identification. What academic goal was being fulfilled by this identification? What information necessary to understand the article did this identification supply? And if religious affiliation was necessary for understanding, why were the others not identified by religious affiliation? What answer did I get back from the journal? Actually, I was surprised that they sent me an answer altogether, that is until I read the answer. They thought that the religious label was an interesting fact for their readers, there not being all that many orthodox Jewish archaeologists around. Say what?!

When I see an example of this kind of antisemitism I fire off a complaint to the offending publication. Yes, I know, my complaint isn't going to change a darn thing. However, that doesn't mean that I don't want these publications to lose the knowledge that someone "out there" saw what they did and can call a spade a spade. As I pointed out to one publication, if their religious characterization had been even handed there would be no complaint. But when a religious Jew was a Nobel Laureate, suddenly "orthodox Jew" wasn't an interesting fact any longer.

Antisemitism? Different form, different shape, different intensity, yet still there.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Demise of the 3 X 5 Card

I still occasionally get calls from people who are looking for shidduchim. Mostly I pass along to them the phone number of the head of our local shidduch group. Truth to tell there are still a few active members of that group, but a whole lot of the women, such as myself, have opted out of the organizational route. Why? I think it can be best summed up in a few simple numbers: 3 and 5.

Back in those "dark ages," as many like to call the time period when I was actively redting shidduchim, my shidduch files were highly portable and immediately accessible when I got a call. They all fit comfortably into 3 small boxes that held 3x5 cards in alphabetical order. A lot of us used the same method.

What was on those cards? Name, phone number, home community, age and birth date, height, schools attended, shul attending. In some cases we got the parents' names, the names of siblings and if the siblings were married. Sometimes we knew who the siblings were married to and sometimes not. We'd jot down what profession the person was already in or which one they were studying for. On occasion the front of the card would also hold the name and phone number of the shul rabbi or ONE other person who might have more information on the person--a lot of times we didn't have this information. We would also jot down, in single words, a few notes about the person's interests/hobbies. And we might make a note to ourselves about personality, either because the person mentioned it or based on our conversation with the person. The back of the card was reserved for the names of the people we thought would be shayich for this person and/or the names of the people we had set them up with. Everything we needed to redt a shidduch on the front of one 3x5 card--Zeh hu.

No questionnaires, no resumes, no interrogations and investigations worthy of the CIA. No waiting weeks and months either. Over the course of many years I set up hundreds and hundreds of dates. No, all those dates did not result in a shidduch being made. They did result in a lot of people going out, meeting people they might not have met otherwise, and finding out what was really out there as far as marriage goes. And yes, in many, many cases the two people I set up would not be interested in each other once they had met, but would have suggestions as to other people who might fit them. For the most part people were polite when they called and appreciative that a stranger was willing to take time to help them find their soul mate. When I called with a recommendation the acceptance was either immediate or was settled within a few short days.

And for the record, this resulted in 22 shidduchim made directly by me and 9 that I was a part of along with others.

So what changed? Just about everything. When the word shadchan began being spit out with venom by those who used a shadchan's services, it was time to get out. When the information on just ONE shidduch began to resemble a multi-volumed encyclopedia, it was time to get out. When it took longer to redt one shidduch then it did to build a multi-family house, it was time to get out. When the information insisted upon embarrassed me to write down, never mind to have to ask someone else, it was time to get out. What finally was the straw that broke the camel's back was when I came to realize that I was doing the dating for the people I was now fixing up--yes, you read that correctly. All that excruciatingly detailed information I was expected to have on anyone I was redting was equivalent to at least two date's worth of conversation on the part of a couple out on a date. And what was worse was that so many of the questions I was expected to know the answers to had nothing, yes NOTHING to do with whether or not a couple was going to find compatibility and real understanding.

Back when I first got married there was a company that decided that plain white milk must be boring to everyone, and it came out with special food dyes for milk products. It was now possible to color coordinate your milk with your china or with the dishes being served. That product didn't get too much by way of public acceptance and faded away rather quickly. That's what happens to products and services that the public looks at, examines and decides is not really necessary or in its best interests. We're perfectly willing to say "This doesn't work" or "This isn't for everyone" when it comes to other things. When it comes to the way shidduchim are made today we aren't willing to admit that the system in place is unwieldy, degrading, seriously flawed and, what's worse, doesn't work for a whole lot of the people using it. And even where it might be used to make an actual shidduch, a whole lot of those shidduchim don't result in "wonderful" marriages or in marriages that last.

How long is it going to take before those with children of shidduch age and those who are themselves in the parsha finally take that deep breath and say "The Emperor is naked!" How long before our frum society recognizes that systems for shidduch making are not written in stone, nor were they given at Har Sinai and are immutable?

As long as dating causes severe angst and gets glares when mentioned, I'll stay happily retired. As long as dating is looked at akin with other things to do that are painful but necessary, I'll opt out. As long as dating is no longer fun but goes in tandem with that other F word we don't use in polite company, I want no part of it. But frankly, I have to wonder and am still puzzled by why anyone would want to have anything to do with dating and shidduch making as it's constituted today.

A little rebellion or revolution is more than called for, but where are the brave and determined people who will lead that insurgence? A sad commentary, but if Patrick Henry were alive today and giving his impassioned speech, crying "Give me liberty or give me death!" there might be a whole lot of people who would shrug their shoulders and mark down on his resume "Unsuitable for shidduchim--doesn't toe the party line."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Something to Perk up the Blahs

While out running errands I got the unwelcome news that our area is going to be hit again with snow, for Friday and Shabbos. Although how much it's going to be will depend on how the storm veers, the talk was from 2 to 12 inches. That was enough to depress me thoroughly. And then I got home and in checking emails got a wonderful gift from one of my students that brightened the day considerably.

I seem to have a reputation as a rather strict instructor who doesn't hand out A marks like they were candy (okay, deserved but still). A major report got handed in and this student was rather nervous as to what the mark would be. It happens that the report was stellar and earned an A. When I notified the student he sent me back an email along with a link that he said pretty much illustrates how he felt while waiting to hear the mark.

I'm posting the link without further commentary because I think you'll get it when you hear what he sent me. Not bad advice for a dreary Tuesday or any other time when you wonder if it's worth it to put in all that work and not have any idea if anything will come of it.

On Jonathan Pollard

I mostly keep away from politics, but that doesn't mean always. The link below is to a video well worth watching, regarding Jonathan Pollard. If you're like-minded, there are a number of things you can do, as delineated in the message received from Justice4JPnews and reprinted below:

Please watch the short video: "Should Jonathan Pollard be released?":
YouTube Link:
(You can also view the video below.)

Please send it to at least 10 people (or more) with a request that each person who receives it from you, should please send it to 10 more people, who should in turn send it to 10 more people who should in turn send it to 10 more people and so on.

Please send the video link to anyone who has a large email distribution list and ask them to distribute it to their mailing list as a matter of "Pikuach Nefesh" (literally to save a Jewish life -- Jonathan's!)

Please send the video link to Jewish organizations and groups, and ask them to share the video with their mailing lists, as a matter of Pikuach Nefesh (literally to save a Jewish life -- Jonathan's!)

Anyone who can post the video link to their website or blog is encouraged to do so.

Please take a few moments of your time to do your part in the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim by ensuring that all of your friends and family receive the video link and that they watch it!
May all who participate in the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim by disseminating this video and by calling the White House at 202-456-1414 to tell President Barack Obama to Free Jonathan Pollard Now! be abundantly blessed!

Thank you for your help.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On House Ownership

Before reading the post that follows, chew on these facts for a moment: in 2005, 72.4% of all white Americans owned their own home. Among the two largest ethnic groups, blacks and Hispanics, approximately 50% of each group owned their own homes. This is a huge increase over the decade before. Even with the economic problems we have now home ownership has remained steady and has even risen a bit--one person's misfortune being another person's fortune.

Using the strictest definition of luxury, some people believe that owning a house would fall in the category (looking at that 72.4% figure above, a whole lot of people aren't considering it a luxury). Shelter is a requirement or necessity, but there are many options for shelter other than an owned house. In the ongoing discussion of tuition assistance house ownership has come in for a great deal of flack. The feeling of many is that people look at their scarce resources and elect to put those resources into buying a home, thus making it necessary for them to ask for tuition assistance from the yeshivas. They believe that this is wrong, and that home ownership should take second place to paying full tuition. If you do not have money to both pay for the house and pay for the yeshiva then the house should not be purchased.

On a different side you have those who look at home ownership as a type of investment, a type of savings plan. Rather than giving rent to someone else, money that you will never see again, mortgage payments are an investment in something that will pay off in benefits both now and in the future. You get to use the house for shelter now, and you will own the home when the mortgage is paid off, thus allowing you to sell it, if desired, and use the money for other things. Some people feel that this is no different from having a 401(K) or 503B. The house is part of a retirement plan, either because you will have a free and clear domicile to live in in the retirement years or you will have a property to sell that can help finance those retirement years. (And yes, if a strict emergency arises, you will have an equity property to borrow against if necessary.)

Again, there are some on the other side of the argument who will say that funding retirement at the expense of tuition payment is not a fair or equitable trade off. They don't feel that funding a 401C should be done if you can't pay full tuition. Frankly, I find this argument to be a rather specious one. Generally those who take the no-savings position also tell you that you will have plenty of time to garner those savings when you have finished paying tuition for your children. Would someone please register those people into a basic course on finance, and begin by teaching the time table for compounding.

There is a fallacy in the anti-house group commonly known as "either-or." This group is assuming that it must be either a house or tuition payment if there is not enough money for both. What if the reality is that it is not an either-or situation? What if both could be considered as necessities for the majority of people? What then? Then the question would be how can both be financed on limited funds.

Let me state the obvious: if there is only X money and you want two items, each of which cost that X, you are going to need to find cheaper alternatives for both of those items. Re the housing, there are many cheaper alternatives available. Pick a community where houses cost less. If such a community does not exist where you believe you want to live, choose a different place to live. Buy less house, either smaller or less fixed up. Consider buying a two-family house so that the rental income will reduce your out of pocket expenses on the house. Consider a coop or condo if a free standing house is still too costly for you. Re the school tuition, if that tuition is a make or break item for you, look around and see if there are schools somewhere that charge less than others (yes, there are some). Yes, commute time may be a factor with some of those less expensive schools, but then you need to weigh the time against the money and against the house you want. Are there other, less traditional options for schooling available that would cut the cost of tuition considerably?

Frankly, I believe that if we would stop arguing about home ownership (and yes, savings plans also) as being a luxury we might be able to concentrate on reducing tuition. As long as schools look at homes and savings as luxuries, there is no incentive to reduce tuition. If they see these things as optional, they have no problem telling parents that tuition will not be reduced--sell your house or stop saving. As long as schools see themselves as THE most important thing that parents have to spend money on, they have no reason to watch costs and to cut items out of their budgets.

As for parents (and prospective parents), they, too, need to be realistic. If a particular school is what they want for their children, but the neighborhood that school is in does not have any reasonable cost housing for sale, they are going to have to rethink both the school and the neighborhood.

In short, the argument about tuition versus buying a home needs to be seriously re-cast to take into consideration what the majority of people in our country think of as necessities for its citizens. If owning a home and paying yeshiva tuition are BOTH looked at as necessities, then how will they both be paid for?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tidbits from the Past

Some events that took place in the week of January 1-8.

1 Paul Revere was born (1735)
1 Emma M. Nutt become sthe first woman telephone operator. (1878)
1 The ball was first dropped at Times Square in New York City. (1908)
3 Construction began on the Brooklyn Bridge (1870)
6 Samuel Morse demonstrates the telegraph (1838)
7 Astronomer Galileo Galilei discovers four of Jupiter’s moons. (1610)

Words to Ponder

On sitting and learning and considering parents as ATMs, some better advice:

"If you don't want to work, you have to work to earn enough money so that you won't have to work."

Ogden Nash