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

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Orthodox SUV: Where It All Went Wrong

During my most recent Shabbos afternoon walk down Central Avenue to visit my mom, it suddenly hit me. I looked into one of the silver stores' windows. This is where it all went sideways. Did we really need Kiddush fountains or was it the hubris that broke the camel's back? Was it the final taunt that took the Aibishter over the top?


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One of the Dumbest Ideas of All Time, II

The Destruction of Wealth

Uncreative Destruction
By the Editors (National Review)

When we talk about government policies destroying wealth, we usually mean taxes that shift money from efficient to inefficient uses. Rarely do we mean the deliberate destruction of valuable assets. Yet, thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program, which ground to a halt yesterday, we now have a visual aid to help with this abstract concept. Mechanics tasked with destroying the so-called clunkers have been posting the videos on YouTube, often muttering in anger as they fill the engines of perfectly good Corvettes and Cadillacs with sodium silicate and then run them until they self-destruct. The goal of the Cash for Clunkers policy is, literally, the destruction of wealth.

To get a sense of how much value the program has destroyed in its short lifespan, keep an eye on used-car prices, which are expected to skyrocket as dealers see their inventory sacrificed to Washington’s green gods. Look also at the 12 percent decline in used cars donated to charity. This is to say nothing of the extra use their owners could have gotten out of them if the government hadn’t subsidized their destruction.

In addition to flushing tangible assets, the program has destroyed wealth in other ways. First, it has added $3 billion to the deficit, which will have to be taxed out of the productive economy at some point. That’s money that won’t be saved, invested, or spent on other goods and services. Second, the $3,500–$4,500 vouchers for new vehicles only covered part of their cost. Buyers covered the rest by borrowing or spending their own money. Some of these buyers would have purchased a new car anyway, but other car owners spent money on new cars they didn’t need because of this policy. These consumers had less money to spend on other consumer goods last month, as reflected by worse-than-expected non-vehicle retail sales. Cash for Clunkers robbed from the taxpayers and the rest of the economy to pay Detroit and a few hundred thousand new-car buyers.

Now that the program has become a furnace for taxpayer cash and an administrative nightmare, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wants to declare victory and go home. We should deny him peace with honor. He says the program was a success because it boosted new-car sales and helped out the struggling auto industry. This “stimulus” argument is the only leg the program’s defenders have to stand on, as most have conceded that Cash for Clunkers will provide little to no environmental benefit.

The stimulus argument is bunk, too. As mentioned above, the program “boosted” new-car sales by encouraging consumers to direct their money away from other economic uses. One could counter LaHood by noting that the program depressed other kinds of sales and investments. Also, the boost in sales is partially illusory. Car dealers expect their dealerships to turn into ghost towns once the program ends.

As for the “struggling auto industry,” eight of the top ten selling vehicles under the program were Japanese brands. Cash for Clunkers helped Detroit, but most of the money went to subsidize sales at companies that didn’t need help. The Japanese automakers make cars in the U.S., but their non-union workforces helped them avoid the catastrophic cost-structures that doomed Detroit.

In the end, though, one returns to the footage of mechanics pouring liquid glass into the engines of drivable cars and destroying them. There is no better symbol for what happens when the government takes over large swaths of the economy. It is an important image to keep in mind during the health-care debate: We may not get death panels, but we’ll definitely get sand in the gears.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Scary Smart

I'm currently involved in three amicus (friend of the court) situations where we have or are contemplating filing briefs on behalf of my trade association in support of this or that legal issue.

What strikes me is how ridiculously smart and credentialed some of the appellate attorneys are. We're talking Harvard Law School, clerks for Supreme Court Justices, etc. Scary.

I am a total piker when it comes to them, pure smartswise. Luckily, I survive by using my Yidishe Kup, and Brooklyn street smarts (first four years in Brooklyn; you can never take the Brooklyn out of the boy).


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Little People Not Welcome

The Wall Street Journal writes about the NFL's version of hagbah discrimination.

I could be my shul's James Harrison and the gabbaim would never know.

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In the category of "you can't make this stuff up", this morning on the LIRR platform, I saw a man wearing a yellow Livestrong wristband while smoking a cigarette.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

El Al: The Worst Website In The World

Once again, I have had nothing but frustration with the El Al website. OYS is going back to Israel tonight and I am trying to check him in on line. I have tried more than a dozen times since last night. Fuggedabodit.

The same thing happened to MHW and me when we returned from Israel a couple of months ago. To add fuel to my frustration fire, as I was standing in line for a half hour waiting to check in, the sign over the check in line said something like "Next time, save time by checking in on line".

They truly are awful.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Wall Street Cycling Chick

From the Wall Street Journal:

By Reed Albergotti

Evelyn Stevens left a career on Wall Street less than two months ago to pursue professional cycling – a sport she picked up to get some exercise last spring. In one season, she has gone from relative unknown to one of the most promising American cycling talents in years, perhaps decades.

Cyclist Evelyn Stevens had a full-time job on Wall Street just over a year ago. She went from winning regional races in the Northeast in April, May and June to winning top caliber, multi-day races in July, to finishing in second place in the top-level Route de France last week. (Ms. Stevens lost time after crashing during a time trial in that race, hurting her chances for the overall victory.)

The next big question is whether Ms. Stevens will be chosen by USA Cycling’s selection committee to compete in the World Championships next month in Switzerland. It’s a hilly, 77-mile race. Appointment to that team would put her among the top handful of women cyclists in the country, and her inexperience suggests she could still improve tremendously.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

...It's the Humidity

I rode my bike out to Point Lookout early this morning. Nothing new about that other than the fact that for the first time this summer (and I have ridden many hundreds of miles this summer), I rode in humidity. I've ridden in the cold and in the rain, but not in any particular heat and not once in any humidity.

Must be all that global warming.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reversion to the Mean

One of the great things about listening to sports radio is the amusement the dopey sportscasters bring me with their utter stupidity. When I tell this to MHW (who knows almost nothing about sports), she can't understand how sportscasters can know so little yet remain on the airwaves.

Two recent examples:

Susan Waldman made perhaps the dopiest comment I've ever heard when, after a batter moved a runner from second to third on a grounder to second base, she said "the Yankees thrive when they play 'small ball'". No, Susan, the Yankees actually thrive when they hit three run homers and crush the ball. They are in first place because they lead the league in OBP, slugging percentage, RBI and runs scored. They lead the league in total bases by 125 over the second ranked team. They are second in home runs and average. They are not in first place because they move runners from second to third with no one out. Nor because they execute sacrifice bunts or hit and runs. Or steal bases (they are 7th). Duh.

But even better is the reaction of virtually every talking head about the Mets "steal" of Jeff Francoeur from the Atlanta Braves. Because he started out on a hitting streak, these dopes made it sound like Francoeur was the next coming of Mickey Mantle. I laughed every time I heard that because I was more or less familiar with his career stats. His lifetime on-base-percentage? .309. Lifetime average? .267. Strikeouts to walks? 487/130. (And this after his first couple of years before the league totally figured him out).

Now that Francoeur has reverted to his mean, perhaps the dumbells will shut up and realize that the Braves aren't as stupid as they think.


Underwriting the Weather

I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning secretly hoping that it would be pouring so that I could fluff up my pillow and go back to sleep.

Alas, it was not to be. Although it looked shaky out there, it was dry. I checked the weather for Oyster Bay (my best proxy) and it predicted that I would have a window of opportunity from 7 to 10 a.m. So, off to the Vasikin Minyan with my bike in the car and my kit under my clothes. I was on the road by 7:15.

(Sadly, none of the other members of the MMFW bike club had my level of emunah peshutah, so no one else showed at the vasikin minyan. That must be why they call me the Biking Rebbe)

Thirty-two miles later (and never straying more than ten miles from my car), I was done. Beautiful ride.

I take back all those nasty things I said about the weatherman last week.


Intergalactic GPS

It occurred to me this morning that the Intergalactic GPS system must be off. How else to explain the landing of a number of of beings at this minyan rather than here?


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mass Murderer

This story blows me away. She is nothing less than a mass murderer.

But the case blows me away less than it might have prior to my grand jury experience.

Of the 60 cases we heard, probably at least a third were DUI cases, most of them involving repeat offenders with very high levels of alcohol or drugs (or both) in their systems. Very scary stuff. I can report that the grand jury had no sympathy for any of those defendants. We voted to indict in every single case, even where a guy was under the influence of a cocktail of prescription pain killers (don't feel bad; I found out later that he was also a serial drunk driver).

(After one particularly egregious case that we heard on the penultimate day, I asked the ADA whether the driver would have to serve time. I was disappointed when she could not assure me that he would).

It is hard to fathom what compels a woman to drive with her own children in the car while drinking the equivalent of ten shots and smoking weed. It was also frustrating to hear case after case of alcoholics and drug offenders (whose licences had frequently been revoked) getting behind the wheel of a car while totally drunk.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cash For Fat Wheels

Having extracted $1 billion from taxpayers (soon to be $3 billion) for the wildly successful Cash for Clunkers program, the federal government has just announced an expansion of the program.

At a press conference on Tuesday, President Obama announced a new $1 billion program, BIKES, under which owners of bicycles with fat wheels that weigh over 25 pounds can turn in their clunkers and receive a voucher for up to $1,000 that can be used toward the purchase of new road bikes weighing under 20 pounds.

Obama noted that the moribund United States bicycle manufacturing business needed a stimulus plan of its own and that, since it is much more fun and healthier to ride road bikes rather than fat wheels, this program would encourage Americans to ride more frequently thereby using less carbon fuels. As well, it would result in fewer Americans being obese. This, in turn, would reduce costs for our soon-to-be nationalized health care system.

"A win-win all around", said Mr. Obama. The president also announced a parallel program called "SHORTS" which would permit owners of traditional, baggy shorts to turn them in and receive a $50 voucher towards the purchase of spandex bib shorts (but only if you weigh less than 200 pounds. Nobody wants to see someone who weighs over 200 pounds wearing spandex; spandex is a privilege, not a constitutionally protected right).

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One of the Dumbest Ideas of All Time

Cash For Clunkers


Scenes From A Wedding

I had the great privilege of attending the lovely wedding of Robert and Karen Avrech's "Offspring Number 3". More about the wedding here.

An outsider might have considered this weird in a way because my relationship with the Avrech's came about solely because of our mutual blogging. It's true that I have also had the opportunity to meet them in person in Los Angeles and have developed a bit of a mentoring relationship with their first son-in-law. Nevertheless, through the relationship of blogging, commenting and many, many emails over the years, I think we have come to consider ourselves yedidai nefesh who relate at a deep level. The sad part for me last night was that MHW, who had been looking forward to meeting the Avrechs, had to bug out because The Vance got pretty sick on Sunday afternoon and we couldn't leave her with a babysitter.

It also happens that I know the Groom's side as well. My brother and sister-in-law are very good friends of the groom's parents and the father is a shtikel bike rider, having done last year's Alyn Ride (albeit not at my sicko madraiga :-))

The wedding was very spiritual (the Chupah was absolutely beautiful, led by nigunim from my chaver, Eitan Katz) while at the same time very wild (what else would you expect when the mesader keddushin is the Holy Levite Shlepper from Jawbone Valley

All in all, a wonderful evening.

May the young couple have endless years of happiness and go on to build a bayis ne'eman b'Yisrael.


Monday, August 03, 2009

What I Learned in The Grand Jury. Part I

Every single DUI arrest happens in the following way:

Assistant District Attorney: "So, Officer Smith, what did you observe when you approached the driver?"

Officer Smith: "I smelled a strong odor of alcohol, and noticed that the driver had red, bloodshot eyes and his speech was slurred."

It's amazing!


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Kiddush Hashem at Various Venues

The recent nasty news from the Orthodox world has caused me to battle a bout of chalishas ha'daas. In fact, MHW had to gently remind me yesterday not to be so negative and snarky (my term; not hers).

Three thoughts on this as well.

First, my next door neighbor's father passed away on Friday. Baruch Dayan Ha'emes. He was a survivor who, together with his wife, also a survivor, built a new life with four wonderful sons. The family is a walking Kiddush Hashem. Just thinking about them made me feel better.

Second, seeing how the chevrah kadisha and the women of the kehilah sprung into action to make sure that everything was taken care of at the bais avel also made me feel good.

Finally, my experience at the grand jury, which finally ended on Friday, brought home how easy (and important) it is to engage in Kiddush Hashem. I was one of four Jews on the 23 person panel; the only observant one. As such, I was always mindful that I was representing more than just myself. I made sure to always be on time, to treat people with respect (even when disagreeing with them), and to be cordial (without getting pulled in to the prust, inappropriate conversations that often went on over the course of four weeks; my blackberry and computer where helpful tools in avoiding those situations). I brought rugelach and tomatoes from my garden a few times. At the end of the last session, a group of five of the jurors came over to me to thank me for the role that I played on the grand jury. They said I helped clarify thorny issues and was always fair.

All one has to do to create a Kiddush Hashem is be a mentch.



One of the least pleasant things that one can do is ride a bike for twenty miles in the rain.

Two thoughts. (1) Never trust the weatherman. (2) Why does it also seem to start raining at mile 19 of a 40 mile ride?