The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Blog in Dm Asks: What Would Shlomo Say?"

Shoot me.


Donald Trump and Steve Phillips

What do Donald Trump and Steve Phillips have in common?

We all know who the Donald is. He's the self-proclaimed real estate magnate who has, in fact, driven a number of businesses and properties into the ground (I personally worked on the Plaza Hotel and Trump Shuttle workouts twenty years ago, but there have been many more; he is now presiding over a massive mess in Chicago where he is building a huge skyscraper hotel/apartment complex that is headed for a blowup). Steve Phillips is the failed Mets general manager who, among other things, traded Scott Kasmir for a sack of rotten tomatoes (or the human equivalent thereof), and was caught in a "situation" with one of the Mets female employees (while married).

The beauty part, as my father would have said, is that despite their relative failures, the Donald and Steve have been able to become wealthy by selling themselves as experts in their relative fields.

The Donald is hired by other developers a shill, writes best sellers about success in business and has a TV show where he's held up as a management expert. Steve Phillips pontificates on Fox and ESPN as a baseball expert.

This is what makes America a great country.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goofy Tefillin Boxes

Further to this post....

If you were bar mitzvah or a teen around the turn of the century, chances are that you bought or received as a gift, a tefillin box made in Beit El (the "T'fidanit") that looked like a cross between a camera case and a water canteen.

Now that you're in your twenties, don't you feel goofy?


Missing the Marathon

The New York City Marathon will be run again this Sunday morning.

You can feel it in the autumn air and see it on the streets of New York City. Lots of in-shape foreigners walking around. (If you run in Central Park, as I used to do, you will see zillions of them).

I ran two NYC Marathons, in 1994 and 1995. As I finished the first one, I swore I would never do it again. Later that week, over lunch with a few other Marathon runners, I knew that I would sign up for the following year.

I was in great shape for the first one and targeted a sub 4 hour run. I was well ahead of target at the 15 mile mark when the wheels came off as I climbed Mt. Everest the 59th Street Bridge. The weather was hot and humid and I didn't know then what I know now about about nutrition and hydration. I was shot and struggled to finish in 4:28.

(The second one was a throw-away. I wasn't nearly as well trained and the run (in the rain) was mostly unpleasant. I finished in 4:33).

Although I never did it again, I've thought about it many times. (The closest I got was running the last nine miles with a friend who was doing it for the first time. I met him on First Avenue and paced him until I peeled off on Central Park South. That was fun; no pain, all gain, and he bought me a good bottle of scotch as a thank you).

The truth is that I don't have a runner's body and I certainly don't have a runner's legs. My knees are shot and I've already had surgery on my ankle because of a running injury. Riding a bike is much less traumatic.

That doesn't stop me from thinking about it every year at this time.

There are very few things as cool as being on the Verrazano Bridge with 30,000 other runners, coming off the 59th Street Bridge to a sea of people cheering you on, or raising your arms in triumph as you cross the finish line in Central Park, no matter how long it took you.

Maybe next year.


Monday, October 27, 2008


Cong. Aish Kodesh will once again be hosting Yosef Karduner this motsai shabbos, 4 Cheshvan (November 1st), at 8:30, as part of the hilula for the yahrtzeit of the holy Rebbe of Piazcezna, the Aish Kodesh.

The hilula will take place at the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst, corner of Spruce and Broadway. Rav Weinberger will also offer words of hisorurus.

While there is no admission fee, a donation of $10 per person is suggested and would be appreciated. Separate seating only.

If you've never been to the hilula, and especially if you've never experienced Karduner live, you really ought to make it your business to show up. It is really something special and all that is right with Jewish music. (There will be no smoke coming out of the stage. In fact, there will be no stage).

(My music company, Shirei Shmuel, will be recording the gig live and producing a CD in cooperation with Reb Yosef.)


Lulav Backpack

I've been too busy dealing with the continuing market meltdown to post but I didn't want to let Succos go by without some thoughts.

1. As a keen observer of the human condition, I noticed the proliferation of the Lulav Backpack. Similar to a canvas guitar case that you strap on your back, the Lulav backpack also contains a place for your esrog. Very shtoddy.

There is no limit to the imagination of Jews when it comes to making ritual observance easier.

2. The davening at our shul was nice overall, albeit a little long for me. The overall WQ, especially on Simchas Torah, was very high (as one would expect) but not of Biblical proportions. There were two incidents, however (that, sadly, I am constrained from retelling), that in-and-of-themselves did momentarily spike the WQ to heights it has never before reached.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Is the Eruv Down?"

This morning, walking to shul on Peninsula Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, I saw two different men wearing their taleisim to shul.

This is one of my many pet peeves. We have an eruv in the Five Towns that is universally accepted. In fact, it is supervised by one of the more right wing institutions in the community. There is no reason to wear a talis to shul.

We are not in Israel, nor in a "yeshiva town". It is simply not tzanuah. (Even Rabbi Frand agrees with me, in a shiur I heard some years ago).

In any event, both Talis Men turned onto Woodmere Boulevard. I was right behind one of them when he was stopped by an old-timer on his way to (a different) shul.

The Old-Timer asked: "Is the eruv down?"

Talis Man: "Not that I know of. Why do you ask?"

Old Timer: "I see you are wearing your talis."

Talis Man: "Uh. I always wear my talis."

I'm still not sure whether Talis Man understands that Old-Timer was, as Beaver Cleaver might have said, "giving him the business".


Friday, October 17, 2008

Blowing Off OYS

OYS, who is in shanah bet at The Mother Ship, calls me religiously every Friday morning and every Erev Yom Tov. (He actually also calls his mom, sisters and grandparents; quite impressive).

As readers of this space know, things have been outrageously crazy here for the past two months. During this period, every time OYS called I was either on an important call or in a meeting. I usualy took his calls on my cell phone, talked for 45 seconds and blew him off with a good shabbos. Sadly, even on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur I barely had a chance to talk.

So, this past Monday morning (a day off for Columbus Day), while driving to my bike ride on the North Shore, I made it my business to call OYS and spend some quality time on the phone. I apologized profusely for my inattention and OYS was a sport about it.

OYS called again this morning and, again, I was on an important conference call. I talked to him for 45 seconds and blew him off. Ich kenesht.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Time To Post, but

Keep your eyes on the TED spread and LIBOR.


Rabbi Horowitz on the Radio

Click here for more info.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Headaches, Screaming, Meltdowns, and Real Davening.

1. I had a headache yesterday from about 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. when I went to sleep. The davening was very beautiful (I especially loved Eitan Katz's Shacharis) but I had difficulty holding kup during musaf because of the pounding in my brain. My strategy of taking a Hammer Gel with 50 mg.s of caffeine just before the fast, which worked so well on Tisha B'av, failed miserably this time.

2. The chevra at my shul apparently thinks that Hashem is hard of hearing, k'viyachol. Why else would they scream the entire Neilah? Do they think Hashem won't hear them if they simply say the words at something less than "The Who" decibel level? It certainly did not help my headache. Thankfully, I took a friend's advice and brought earplugs to shul which partially saved me.

3. When I got home and finally sat down to eat at 8 p.m. (we end ten minutes late, spend ten minutes dancing (also very helpful to my headache) and then say Kiddush Levana) I found out that the financial world did not take a break from its meltdown. My world, among many others, suffered a particularly gruesome day and I was forced to put out a few fires. I was on the phone and blackberry until 11 and barely realized I was eating to break my fast. My headache never went away.

4. Now that I get to take an early train with OOD once or twice a week, I get to see her daven (come on, you don't expect her to get up even earlier to daven at home before a 6:52 train!). Let's just say that I am embarrassed to call what I do davening after seeing how she davens.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

MoC on The Bailout

1. The revised bailout plan is essentially the old bailout plan with an extra 250 pages of pork.

2. The increase in FDIC insurance limits, from $100K to $250K, has the potential to be very expensive to taxpayers yet people aren't focusing on it.

3. Despite all the maneuvering, Paulson essentially got what he wanted. Discretion to buy whatever he wants, whenever he wants it and at whatever price he decides. All the built in oversight is a joke. It will just be congressional posturing with no real-time impact.

4. {Boring Warning...Skip to Next Point if You Have No Interest In Technical Points}Another little noticed provision in the legislation is the ability of financial institutions to suspend adherence to FAS 157 which requires them to value their assets based on where they could actually sell them in the market. Arguably, this mark-to-market valuation has been one of the major drivers of the downward spiral of financial institutions but I am not sure that moving away from FAS 157 will help. Investors are likely to think that institutions are hiding bad losses if they suspend this type of accounting.

5. All the talk about de-regulation causing this crisis is mainly off the mark. What initially caused this crisis was an oversupply of housing caused by cheap money (thanks to the Fed's loose monetary policy) and banks making ridiculous sub prime mortgages and securitizing them, driven in large part by Fannie and Freddie, who were willing to buy most of this toxic waste. Fannie and Freddie, in turn, were let loose by congressmen and senators from both sides of the aisle (including more than most, Barney and Chris), who were taking millions of dollars in bribes contributions from Fan and Fred and encouraging them to expand and get sloppy.

And, as I've said before, until you pay regulators more than investment bankers, the bankers will always be one step ahead. Regulators literally live at most of the big banks full time. The crisis did not happen for lack of regulation; it happened for lack of effective regulation.

Having said that, it is almost certain that the market for credit derivatives will become subject to direct regulation and that may nor be a bad thing. (Did anyone see the hatchet job that "60 Minutes" did on the credit default swap market tonight? You have to admire their skill at taking a very complex issue and simplifying it to "the banks were stupid, greedy pigs").

6. In retrospect, letting Lehman fail caused the crisis to accelerate and almost get out of control. (In his defense, it's a fact that Paulson had engineered a sale to Barclays over the weekend (which included his having beaten up on a consortium of US banks until they agreed to participate in the bailout). Unfortunately, the FSA, England's securities and banking regulator, did not allow Barclays to pull the trigger and Lehman was forced to file). It is hard to describe how negatively Lehman's failure has paralyzed the credit markets. On the Wednesday after Lehman's filing, the credit markets essentially broke down. Morgan Stanley, which had largely avoided the subprime mess and reported outstanding earnings (relatively speaking) was pushed to the brink, saved only by its conversion to a bank and an infusion of $10B from a Japanese bank. The LIBOR (the rate at which banks lend money to one another) has skyrocketed. The T Bill rate is almost zero (meaning people are willing to give the government money for no return just to insure that their principal is safe). My market, one of the most traditionally stable, is experiencing unprecedented volatility and had its worst day ever last Thursday.

7. Notwithstanding the bailout, I think things are going to continue to get very ugly. There are massive hedge fund redemptions on the way and huge margin calls as prices of securities continue to plummet, both of which continue to put even more downward pressure on prices. I am not sure how we get out of this death spiral.

8. The negative impact on the frum Jewish community and Jewish organizations is likely to be devastating. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars of value in the Jewish philanthropic community has gone up in smoke. Many people have lost their jobs. Many others who were very well paid will be significantly less well paid. People who were scholarship donors may become scholarship takers. The needs of charitable organizations are likely to grow while their resources shrink.

I am not usually this pessimistic but I believe it will not be pretty for the next couple of years.

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride.


All Dressed Up With No Place To Go

With five weeks to go before my Alyn Bike Ride, I am experiencing my annual September-October swoon.

I usually peak around Labor Day. Work tends to be slowest during August, the weather is usually ideal, and vasikin is early enough so that I can ride really early in the morning and get a good workout.

In mid-September everything changes. The weather, vasikin and work.

This year, because of the financial crisis and mid-week yom tovim, it's worse than ever.

I am getting to work by 8 every morning and finding it almost impossible to get to the gym for a spin class. When I get home, often later than usual, I am too tired to ride on my own spin bike. (I am also not, and never have been, fond of exercising at night).

So, I was looking forward to a 45 mile ride on the North Shore this morning which would include a number of tough hill-repeats.

I did my usual hachanos last night, getting my kit ready, checking my bike, getting my various energy fuels prepared, filling my tires to 120 psi. Then, I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m. so as to be able to catch the earliest minyan and get on the road by 7:30.

Sadly, when the alarm went off I heard the unmistakable sound of rain. Pouring rain. (That's one of those mixed-feeling moments: the realization that I had an excuse to go back to sleep coupled with regret that I wasn't going to get my ride in).

So, I reset my alarm and went back to sleep. But, I did not sleep long and ended up going to another very early minyan, hoping the weather would clear up. Which it did not.

By 8 a.m. I was on my spin bike and worked hard for 65 minutes. But it's just not the same.

At this rate, I should be in top shape for the regular road course by next month. Unfortunately, I am signed up for the challenge ride and will probably, once again, be sucking wind for five days at the back of the pack.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Long Davening, Bad Markets and Cold Weather

1. When I moped about the long davening on Rosh Hashanah (especially the second day), I probably gave people the wrong impression. There is nothing wrong with the davening. In fact, it was very beautiful and the ba'alei tefilah (whom, ironically, I had much to do with recruiting) davened with great skill and immense kavanah. The problem, instead, is with me. I simply don't have the zitsfleish to sit for six and a half hours.

In theory, I could go downstairs to the second minyan which starts a half hour later and usually ends at least a half hour earlier, but I won't. So, I'm stuck.

(Weirdly, I can sit in shul all day (and actually do) on Yom Kippur and it doesn't bother me in the least).

2. Yesterday was the roughest day in the history of my market. Hard to know where the bottom is or whether the bailout plan will have any major impact in the short run. I think not getting it passed on Monday is having lingering negative effects.

3. The weather report for Sunday calls for a high of 65 degrees. That means that when I do my morning bike ride, around 7:30 a.m., it will probably be around 50 degrees. Do you have any idea how cold it gets when you're riding downhill at 30 miles an hour in 50 degree weather? Pretty darn cold. I'm just saying...


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rosh Hashanah, Emails and the Credit Crunch

1. Despite going into Rosh Hashanah in the wake of the House of Representatives stupid rejection of the bailout plan (a total lack of courage and leadership by Nancy Pelosi), seeing the stock market fall 778 points and my market tank, and coming down with a nasty cold on Monday night, I waas able to do a decent job of concentrating during davening. Musaf ended at 1:50 p.m. on Wednesday and that drove me crazy (we started at 7:30), but that is an issue for another time.

2. After making havdalah last night, I checked my Blackberry to find hundreds of emails. The last two days in my market had been particularly brutal. It was a tough time to be away and I worked until 11 p.m. trying to catch up.

3. There is still a huge disconnect between the stock market and the credit markets (even with the recent losses). The situation in the credit markets is much, much worse. Perhaps that is why the dopes in the House of Representatives didn't get the joke. Read this article to get a little taste.

4. Even with the Senate passage of the bailout bill, it's really ugly out there today.