Beyond the Cusp

July 22, 2016

The Lens that Clears the Vision, Thomas Sowell

 

Whenever one sees an article written by Thomas Sowell one can safely believe it will be entertaining, instructive and likely to clarify to its crystalline essence whatever subject or conjecture on which he is writing. Thus was his recent article on his favorite subject, as he is a renowned economics professor, income inequality and why everything in life is not fair or evenly distributed. He writes on this from varying angles always providing examples which even the lesser and uneducated in economics will fully grasp. His example this time was precious as it showed two examples in one lesson, something he likely intended. Apparently somebody seeking high and low for inequality recently attached onto a new cause célèbre which is as silly as it is laughable, the uneven distribution against women at the highest levels of chess. To use another of Prof. Sowell’s examples, this is like asking why midgets are so underrepresented in the NBA or the NFL, as one would have to conclude there has to be some position they would excel at making them desirable. As Prof. Sowell makes as his main point, not that many women, especially young women in high school or college desire playing chess, not even the most nerdy (my observation), and you find largely male membership in Chess Clubs and competitions. My observation was the under-representation of females on the Math Team in my high school of over three-thousand students where there were two out of twenty plus members on the math team, including one reluctant me (long story includes threats of failing grades from my math teacher and faculty advisor to the math team), and we elected one as the team leader. Still, even representation would have required eighteen additional female students or cutting the team down to two boys and girls and being disqualified as each team must have eight members to compete. If memory serves me correctly, there were no girls, young women, in the chess club or on the team and, knowing the fellow nerds who populated these groups, these boys would have killed to have a young woman, or any woman, join their club and team and such a person would have been treated as a goddess or something close.

 

Professor Thomas Sowell

Professor Thomas Sowell

 

Anyway, back on subject. As Prof. Sowell makes clear, the top positions in chess are computed by games won and lost and against whom. I had an uncle by marriage who was a rated chess master with competition points and he never was able to rise higher than competing in local area and sometimes had qualified for state wide competition but never higher. We played a game of chess; he destroyed me eventually, where he commented that I had a head for the game and played a very disorganized but effective game. He wanted me to start entering tournaments and studying the game seriously. Anyone who knows me knows I take very few things seriously, even politics, and find amusement wherever I can find some. Yes, this presidential race in the United States should provide me entertainment galore, or will it be entertainment of gore? I expect it will be a mud-slinging contest with blood drawn on both sides and whoever wins will emerge a walking wounded with wounds the press will allow to heal or continue shooting at depending who wins. End tangent. Chess positions do not care what gender you are, what race you are, what religion you worship or even if you have a religion at all, they care about your proven record and nothing else. One gains points for every win even if it is minuscule as one would gain beating me in a first round match of the Northwest Israel Chess Tournament, if there is one. I am unranked and likely would need to find a more local tournament, say one from my apartment complex, all two buildings of it, or slightly larger (being in Israel I suspect there is a high density of chess players with any serious players). Should you be ranked and placed against a past champion and lose there might still be points, I am not sure how their ranking points are gained, and should you win there would be a larger number of points than beating little old me. So, if a woman, and my guess is there are many ranked women players even if few if any are in the top ten, were to amass serious points and rise in the ranking then she would rate entering the top level tournaments. This is where things get sticky as one might point out that since men hold the top spots, a woman might be on edge and off her game facing all male competition in a tournament. So what are the tournament managers to do, give her a tranquilizer to calm her, which would definitely be an egregious interference and led to investigations that they were attempting to keep her from winning. Believe it or not, they do not simply give women one-thousand competition points for showing up and men two-hundred-fifty-thousand competition points for showing up. They give points for winning games and only for winning games at the beginning and on throughout competition the big points go to winners and others, well, it’s tough when you lose.

 

As Prof. Sowell points out, life is full of examples of inequities. Jobs, wealth, careers, sports, and any other category one can measure even including numbers of the population and numbers of registered voters, both of which women have the slight advantage of fifty-one or two percent against men being forty-eight or nine percent. Women could elect nearly an all women Congress with at least three-hundred out of four-hundred-thirty-five Representatives and easily sixty-five Senators against thirty-five men. President would equally be a woman should only women support their candidacy. This is an important statistical fact which will be very important in the coming Presidential Election as if for any reason Hillary Clinton does not win the Presidency, it will not be because she was a woman and men did not support her as she would win if women and only women voted for her in high nineties percent so Hillary loses only if she does not win the votes of all women. And do not for a minute think her advisors do not know this as it is partly what is behind the “First woman President” sloganeering which is aimed at the whole of the population but is even more targeting women as with the women’s vote Hillary could win with almost no male votes. Hillary is counting heavily that she can win and force a high turnout of minorities, women high amongst them, and swing as many married women to vote for her despite their husband voting for Trump or third party candidates as splitting the household votes by gender Hillary can win hands down as she knows she likely has the singles vote in her favor. The Presidency is Hillary’s for the taking and if she loses, it will be solely because she was unable to convince sufficient women to vote for her and Trump somehow wooing these women voters. With the accusations against Trump and his public history of divorce and other alleged and some proven activities, he should have some degree of difficulty winning the women’s vote. His one saving grace has been that his hosting of women’s pageants and reality television without even the suspicion of improprieties, there is little proof of him acting in any manner other than respectfully over the years of such involvements. Any such accusations which may appear now seemingly out of the blue, they should be considered to be opportunists or politically motivated attempts to take advantage of his candidacy and probable desire to end such intimidations with minimal publicity. The problem, as we see it, is that even if advised to fold before such challenges as quickly and quietly as possible, Trump will be more likely to take these challenges on directly and very publically when he feels assured of no actual wrong-doing. As far as Trump is concerned, if he can win the suit, he can also play this as campaign advertising of his being above board and forthright in his dealings. This is something we will have to observe as the campaign quickens this fall.

 

There is another front that will be brought to the fore, the companies in which Donald Trump has invested and went bankrupt, some almost immediately. One need know about finances at the level that Donald Trump lives in as they sometimes are purchased companies which have assets or other qualities which are required by other assets. In such instances a failing company can be restructured and made profitable providing it can be purchased or merged with other assets or with a structured payment schedule to meet obligations and thus bankruptcy is a means of saving as much of an investment as is economically sound. These bankruptcies are an intricate and necessary part of investing and making the needed adjustment to gain a return on your investment. It is the same as when one buys a new car and trades their older vehicle as the down-payment. When would you trade in your thirty year old baseline truck which barely functions and has not been driven in ten years, in a regular trade-in or when the dealer offers that if you can drive it in they will give you $5,000.00 in trade-in? The answer is obvious and investments are exactly the same, you do what maximizes your return or, in a bad situation, what minimizes your losses.

 

It would be wise to remember that business is business and politics is not. Politics is all about painting your opponents as the greatest evil the world has ever witnessed. This can be accomplished easily with anyone whose life took place outside of politics as the political world is completely opposite of the business world. In politics it is all about looking at inequalities and promising the masses at the bottom you will give them monies from those at the top. This is due to the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of those at the bottom for everyone to ten at the top. A truth which no politician will tell you is that somebody earning two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars a year is in the top ten percent and those earning over seventy-five-thousand dollars a year are the top twenty-five percent. If minimum wage is pushed to fifteen dollars an hour, that is slightly more than thirty-thousand dollars a year for a forty hour week, that currently in comfortably in the top fifty percent. As it is not possible to have even minimum wage earners be in the top fifty percent, what does one think will be the result? The result is that employers will invest in the construction of robotics to perform these minimum wage jobs just as Wendy’s has already done by replacing cashiers and delivery people from their burger operations and made it an automated system. Similar but less polished systems existed in the 1950’s and were called automat food stores and were big because it was in these years that the minimum wage was increased above the median salary for workers. When this is what happens and those positions which used to be below median salary are forced by minimum wages to be above median, then they will be minimized or erased from the job market as they become unsupportable. When politicians tell you that a company is making undue profit, they are spinning an evil tale that making profit, the driving impetus of all businesses, is an evil when in reality if a business comes close to breaking even and producing no profit, the seeming desire of politicians, then the entire operation comes under inspection and the weaker links are optimized, automated, or cost-lotted out to another company and the people in that department stand for some or all to lose their jobs. Business is in business to make profits and profits tend towards the top but all gain when the company gains as then there are more funds for salaries. All business models have a set percentage they denote as for salaries and the management is tasked with seeing that salaries remain within those guidelines. Often management is granted a bonus for keeping salaries in check and not exceeding their budgeted amount. Anything below budget will then be shared with a set percentage, usually under five percent, is given to the manager for keeping salaries below target. That is simply how business functions at all levels as the vice-president of a company gets a bonuses for keeping costs, including salaries, below target for expenditures, thus giving management limits and limiting managements’ salaries under their control.

 

On another side, when a candidate claims they can control government spending, especially a presidential candidate who is from the business world, they are ignoring an important reality, they answer to Congress as equal branches and not as president to underlings. Congress can adopt an agenda and has the power to overrule a Presidential veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses. Should Trump win the Presidency he will not even have the total support of the Republicans in the Congress and probably none of the Democrats so he will be facing an adversarial Congress and will have only one means of defeating an objectivist Congress, the will of the people. This was what President Reagan used and made possible with his common sense appeals to the people he made during numerous policy speeches he gave in prime time. We expect a President Trump would need to do likewise as his appeal will be dependent on the support of the public. The one thing Trump would have in his favor is that many people who may not have supported his candidacy and voted for Hillary Clinton or one of the third party candidates (leftist liberals all including the Libertarian Party and of course the Green Party) might support some even if not all of his policy positions and thus legislation towards those ends. Where I find Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan to be somewhat a slur, I would change it to “Make America’s Greatness Known (Evident) Again” as a better and more accurate representation as America is still the world’s leading nation despite the efforts of the past eight years. As far as Prof. Sowell might say, we need a President to bring all America into the best and most competitive edge over the rest of the world so America can shine bright again. The secret for doing this is actually simple; America needs to make everything using smarter and more accurate precision and the highest possible quality and dependability and that will place America at the forefront again. America needs to be amongst if not the best over the rest making America worth the extra cost because the product is worth the extra cost. This is why the majority of the world buys American military equipment and how Israel, Britain, Russia, China, Czech Republic, Germany and a select group of others manage to sell their military equipment. Israel triumphs in avionics and command and control systems for military uses while the Czech Republic makes some of the finest accuracy rifles and dependable assault grade weapons and Germany has a high quality main battle tank every bit as good as the American Abrams and the Israeli Merkava and Russia has the best fighter jets per ruble using less technology dependent systems thus easier maintenance. These are simply proof that when you make the best for a certain price range then you will own that market and America needs to reclaim some markets which though not languishing have been inhibited from moving to the next level by regulations and tax policies which do not reward such improvements. That is it plain and simple and do not sweat that somebody makes more money than you, work harder and deserve that money and you will find you too will advance. Sometimes you might even be required to take a different position in your or in another company for a little less or the same but that is just another opportunity to prove oneself and take off from there. After all, you only make master point in chess by beating somebody who already earned their own masters points and the better chess players you can best, the higher the points you will earn and it is all about amassed points and nothing else.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

December 18, 2013

Who Are Most Jewish or at Least Acceptable as Jews?

Of the entirety of the Jewish people are only the Hareidi and maybe the Orthodox the only real Jews or are the Conservative and Reform just as Jewish and how about Kabbalah or even Reconstructionist and other less popular forms of Judaism? The answer you will receive depends just as much on the individual as it does which particular branch of Judaism the responder belongs. Then there is a question as to whether one need be a Zionist to be a true Jew. This has become a pertinent question which will receive some coverage in the near future due to Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Reform movement’s US conference through a live video link. Hareidi leaders, who are quoted in Hareidi newspaper Hamevaser claimed that the previous Prime Ministers had resisted recognizing the Reform movement claiming, “It is too bad that Netanyahu is adding fuel to the raging fire and pushing the cart further into the abyss.” The Hareidi tied the Prime Minister’s apparent sin to the current political situations adding, “This is even more serious because these are very sensitive days, in which Hareidi Jewry is fighting for its life because of the decree for forcibly enlisting yeshiva students. On days in which the tension needs to be lessened, the prime minister elects to deepen the damage to the Hareidi public, and strengthen the Reform movement that has led to grave assimilation in the Jewish people.” And finally they accused the Prime Minister saying, “By so doing, Netanyahu proves that the struggle is not for ‘equality in bearing the civil burden’ or other clichés. This is a clear plot to destroy religion, Torah and the mitzvoth [commandments]. That is the true aim and there is no other.”

 

 Where the best answers would likely come from learned Rabbis there is a more political way to view this question, namely who will be determined to be Jewish should, G0d forbid, part or all of the world go off the cliff and once again decide the world would be a better place without any Jews populating the planet. Such an event is not as impossible as many had believed it had become as the memory of the horrors which gripped Europe under the hatreds of the Nazis. One need only look almost anywhere on the Earth and evidence points to a sharp increase in anti-Semitism. Iran regularly holds demonstrations with tens of thousands chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America” where by Israel they mean not only the nation but also the Jewish people and they do not mean just the United States when saying America as much as the entirety of the Western world. Then there are the leadership of the Palestinians such as Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khaled Mashaal of Hamas will regularly speak of removing the Jews from residing in Israel as they claim that once they regain rule over the lands from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea their first order of business will be to remove, read that as murder, every last Jew so as to repurify the lands and remove what they see as a blight.

 

Throughout the history of Judaism there have been sects or divisions of Jews who strayed from the strict laws, mitzvah, commandments and rituals that the most strictly religious Jews hold to as the essence of being Jewish. Even the manners and practices for the most religious of Jews has altered over the ages. One obvious example are the restrictions on not eating leavened during Passover as the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi rule different items as forbidden during the holiday with rice being one of the most often used examples. Much of the disturbance between the different forms of Judaism comes down to the level of strictness regarding observance of the laws, traditions, mitzvah and rituals. What many do not take into account is all the different forms of Judaism currently are unable of completely following all of the commandments as there is not a Temple in Jerusalem to which many of the commandments and mitzvah require in order to be practiced. Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, or elsewhere if that is the decision as before King Solomon built the First Temple there were other sites where the Tabernacle had been kept and where the mitzvoth pertaining to it had been held, should be one of Judaism’s highest priorities and that should be accepted as a foremost desire of the Jewish people. Still, there are some among the most religious of Jews who claim that Zionism is a wrongheaded cause and the Holy Temple must await the coming of the Messiah as that is who is to rebuild the Holy Temple. Just what the Jewish people need, another argument dividing us.

Now we can get to the opinion section where whatever I write I will likely receive a ton of grief for every ounce of kudos. My belief is that even the most secularized and unobservant of Jews is still a Jew even if they have completely sworn off their religiosity as there is still that remote glimmer of hope that something will awaken the spirit within them and they will return to the fold and recommit to Judaism. I would ask of those who are most observant and who have great difficulty with those Jews who only practice some of the Jewish rituals and commandments to keep open arms readied for any Jew who desires to rejoin and to remember that even after choosing to return and fully practice Judaism the wayward Jew must be walked at their own pace and care taken not to overwhelm them with changes expecting them to miraculously transform overnight. Were that it was that easy. Many Jews today are not observant because their parents were not observant and they were never taught what is required of an observant Jew. Many of these Jews do not read Hebrew and even more do not understand more than a smattering of Hebrew though they can read the Siddur and say many or even all of the prayers exactly as they are to be chanted. The lack of speaking and understanding Hebrew can pose a very high and difficult hurdle to returning to the fold and becoming a practicing Jew. Remember that even at the worst of times when many if not most of the Jewish people were Hellenized and spent more time practicing the Greek religions and philosophies than they did observing Torah yet still the Greeks were cast out and the majority of those lost Jews found their way back or their children returned to Judaism. The Jewish people are very likely on the leading cusp of such a change in these perilous times. The Jewish people have always bound together in the face of adversity and adversity is coming and very few even see it, let alone prepared for the evils approaching. When the problems strike it will require the religious members of Judaism to embrace their less observant Jews and teach them patiently Torah and the Commandments. They will need guidance and comforting and will stumble many times and will require understanding and support as they climb slowly back to the heights of Torah observance. Many will not understand what is happening to them or even why or how they were condemned for being Jews as their parents were not practicing Jews and held no ties to the family that are the Jewish people. There is a claim that almost every Jew alive today is no more than four or five generations removed from a religiously practicing Jew. Let us pray it will take less generations to bring them back home and that can only happen if those Jews who hold true to Torah are willing to take the time and live by example showing the joys that come with Jewish observance.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

May 28, 2013

The Hareidi Share the Burden Puzzle

Among the most contentious of issues in the last Israeli elections was whether and how to integrate the Hareidi into IDF or public service in an equal manner as the rest of those Israelis who are required to serve. Some of the debate was whether it was fair to demand such of the Hareidi while continuing not to require the same sacrifices from the Israeli Arab and other non-Jewish minority populations. Obviously in a perfect society all of the peoples would share equally in all State functions and face the same obligations and requirements while receiving the same benefits. No group would be exempt from service and no group would be denied the privileges which go with citizenship. Unfortunately there are no perfect societies though mankind over the millennia have strived and made strides towards that society. The Israelis are currently debating such a change in the requirements of the various and different sectors of their society in order to make all carry an equal share in the burdens.

 

The first point of contention which has to be conquered is how to integrate the Hareidi while also permitting the continued Torah study, a service to Israel and to Hashem which is of particular concern and the primary of importance to the Hareidi society. Previously the Hareidi had been exempt from performing mandatory IDF or public service as long as they were engaged in study of Torah and other religious disciplines. Yair Lapid leads the Yesh Atid Party, the second most numerous in the coalition, which is a secular party which has promised during the campaign to force all Hareidi to serve in the IDF or face heavy criminal penalties. They are facing the head party of the coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as their primary partners in the Bayit Yehudi lead by Naftali Bennett who both agree that the Hareidi need to be included in service but do not believe they should face as serious criminal punishment if they choose not to serve. They believe that the Hareidi should be treated more like conscientious objectors if they should choose not to be drafted into IDF or public service. The question that will now play out is can some compromise be found which will be acceptable not only to the two political camps, but even more difficult, one that the Hareidi will accept which finding such a solution would solve the entire disagreement returning tranquility to the Israeli public.

 

So, the first step to finding a solution is to properly define the problem, the entire problem and not just the talking points which the two sides use to stir up their supporters. The problem is not honestly finding how to integrate the Hareidi into all sectors of Israeli society, not just into primarily IDF service. Up to now the Hareidi not only enjoyed a permanent deferment from military service but were also left apart from all of Israeli society which included most areas of employment. The public call for the Hareidi to be made to carry an equal share of the burden of IDF and public service must also include equal opportunity in all areas of Israeli society for the Hareidi including in employment. One of the other complaints which have come to the fore is that the Hareidi are subsidized by the government to a larger degree than any other sector of the society. This is simply a symptom of their not being integrated into the workforce, something that was not entirely their preference. Of course the rest of Israeli society gave a reason that the Hareidi were facing such reluctance in gaining employment was due to the fact their education was so focused on Torah that they were unemployable. That excuse was not completely true as many Hareidi have studied subjects outside of Torah plus not all employment actually requires any specific or special education beyond a solid morality combined with a work ethic and an ability to learn, traits very strong within the Hareidi community. Add to that the logic and discipline mastered as a necessary byproduct of learning, understanding and interpreting Torah and related commentaries. So, the real problem is not so much forcing the Hareidi into IDF and public service as it should be making society more accommodating and acceptive to the members of the Hareidi community.

 

Perhaps what is needed most is reconciliation between the majority of Israeli society and the Hareidi community. It would be beyond unfair to expect the Hareidi community to only carry an equal obligation to serve without also providing them with an equal opportunity to be integrated into the whole of Israeli society. Full service has to go hand in hand with full integration and full opportunity. This will need to be a two way street. The rest of Israel has to learn to appreciate and understand the Hareidi dedication to Torah learning and performing mitzvah before Hashem. I would be willing to bet that the Hareidi already possess some level of understanding of Israeli society outside their communities but also that they may need to soften some of their misgivings and might be surprised that the differences between their communities and Israeli society are not as dire as initially perceived. It would be understandable if there were some misunderstandings and misgivings between the two groups but that with time and familiarization there would come some level of comfort between the two societies, after all we are all members of the same family. The one thing that Yair Lapid is going to have to come to understand is that the new arrangement he wishes to implement with such great urgency could be made far smoother and with less calamity provided patience and understanding replace urgency. On the other side, the Hareidi will need to make the effort to accept that their strict regimented rules will never be accepted or even tolerated by the most militant secularists in Israeli society if they refuse to educate them and allow for a period of adjustment and acclimation on both sides. There are going to be those among the Hareidi and among the secularists who will never interact well and will refuse any interactions. Those are the lost souls who simply should be left to go about their particular ways and excluded from having to tolerate as long as they also do not impede everybody else or impinge on any cooperation or interaction. Tolerance must be the byword and theme behind everything in this period of adjustment. Impatience and demanding that one side’s view be dominant and superior over the other side’s comfort must not be acceptable. Time, patience, understanding, sympathy and even possibly empathy are the essential requirements in finding a path which will have the best possibility of success while causing the least damage and hardship on all of Israel. Hopefully the Knesset Ministers will recognize such and for those exceptions, they must be muted before they cause damage which will be irreparable.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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