Monthly Archives of: February 2009

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Fabulous Friday: Man up, says Mr. T to jobseekers

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Mr. T has wisely decided to speak out on the recession and offer some comforting words of wisdom to job seekers:

mrt-stained-glass1

MAN UP.

The 56-year-old actor, famous for his tough guy role as BA Baracus in the 80s television series The A-Team, said he was visiting London to show Britons how to be a man and treat ladies with respect.

He said life was about “fair play” and added that he tried to lead by example.

“If you get knocked down, setbacks in life, like applying for a job if they don’t hire you, keep trying, keep getting up, keep doing it,” he said.

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Empty TEUS: Poetic, haunting empty boxes

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One of the things I track at work are the movements of  TEUs (twenty-food equivalent units.)  These are the containers that you often see if you drive by ports, and sometimes on trucks.  It’s based on the volume that a box 20 feet long holds.  These boxes can hold anything from cigarettes to sardines to motorcycles and it’s how we track world trade.  The reason they’re called equivalent units is that they often don’t have a standard height, meaning that they’re averaged together and standardized. They are usually tracked by customs agents at each port they enter and these customs reports are what we use for some of our forecasts.

From Wikimedia Commons

From Wikimedia Commons

Over the past several months, TEU arrival volumes to all major ports have been drastically falling, due to lack of import demand in Western countries.  Below are some pictures I’ve found in my daily perusal of trade news of TEUs abandoned, empty, and lonely at ports.  Their main use is to always be going somehwere, always new and exotic, so it’s sad and awkward to see them still.

From the Port of YanTian in China

From the Port of YanTian in Chin, cargonewsasia.com

HONGKONG

TEUs pile up in the port of Hong Kong. Reuters via WSJ Photo of the Day.

From AFP

From AFP

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Shlom bayit (שלום בית)- Maintaining sanity and comparative advantage in the household

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Mr. B and I will have been married for almost five months, so I think at this point, it might be a good time to discuss shlom bayit, or the concept of maintaining peace in the household that is so integral to Jewish marriage, both from a perspective of LOVE and from a perspective of being an econ NERD.

Here we are, all smug and Jewish and almost married.

Mr. B and I do not have any semblance of a Jewish household. We keep the cheese and the hotdogs in one drawer because it is easier. We drive on Saturdays to breakfast diners to eat bacon (well, Mr. B does. I don’t eat bacon so that I can tell people that I keep kosher and feel pretentious. I told you before I was a horrible person. I still am. ) We put up two mezuzot in our house to make us feel good about ourselves and to make my mom cry every time she sees it and remembers her non-mezuzah household in the Soviet Union where being Jewish was illegal. I lit candles once for Shabbat and said the prayer and immediately afterwards, Mr. B was as freaked out as if I had told him he had to light the candles with sheer mental concentration.

However, some Jewish household concepts are still important to me, including shlom bayit, which basically entails,

household harmony and good relations between husband and wife. In Jewish thought and law, domestic tranquility is an important goal and many things are permitted for its sake. For example, one of the rare situations where Judaism condones lying is a “little white lie” when to tell the truth would cause more discord than the truth.

It’s not the white lies that interest me so much because I am a HORRIBLE liar, but just the fact that there are specific principles that are important to keep a healthy, happy, harmonious household. Most of these I’ve learned so far through common sense, or for taking advice from my happily married parents (mostly my mom, who plays around with the idea of divorcing my dad every day but somehow, after almost 25 years, hasn’t quite gotten around to it). But some of this stuff in Judaism is pretty cool:

In Deuteronomy 24:5, it is stated: “When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home for one year, and make happy his wife.”

I’m glad that the Torah says that Mr. B cannot put on his battle armor and go for another run against Susa and that I unfortunately cannot go and just take Persepolis. What I think more practically it means is that two people shouldn’t be apart much during their first year of marriage because the bonds are still being formed. I like this. It’s cute and practical. Unfortunatley, this means sleepaway Zionist camp is out of the question for me, and Mr. B cannot make piligrimages to Richard Feynman‘s grave.

There are other rules and regulations making up Jewish marriage, many of which are written in that there ketubah that Mr. B and I are holding in the picture. These include facts like the husband is obligated to provide the wife with clothing, bling, etc. The wife also retains ownership of any property she comes into the marriage with. Which means I get to keep my pimpin’ sweet Accord:

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What are the economics behind roles for the husband and wife? That is, why does each get assigned a special role in the marriage? Because of comparative advantage. That is, one person can do things more efficiently than another. Mr. B is much better at washing dishes than me. I don’t know why. So, he does a bajillion dishes in the time it takes me to wash one. I am much better at cooking than him (at least, I haven’t poisoned him yet, which is the most important criteria. ) So, I do the cooking, and he washes the dishes. This is coming from the same principle as Michael Jordan not mowing his own lawn. Why does he hire someone to do it for him? His time is much more valuable than the lawn mower’s. In the hour that the mower mows the lawn for $30 or so, Michael Jordan can earn over $100,000 in endorsements, etc.

Due to the increased popularity of using economics to describe life situations via Freakonomics, there have been several examinations of gender roles within the spectrum of comparative advantage. Here is one, which explains the economics of love and marriage in very unromantic terms, of why we specialize within households as opposed to in outside society,

The Reasons for Household Production. Few couples do; most of us obtain much of what we want by buying it on the open market. The typical family does, however, rely on household production for a considerable range of what it consumes–most meals, most domestic cleaning, much child care and education, and so on. Why are not these things too purchased on the market?

A second reason may be specialization–not in a particular product but in a particular set of customers. The cook at the restaurant my wife and I would go to if we spent less time cooking and more time earning money to pay for going to restaurants may be better at cooking than we are. But the restaurant cook is worse than we are at cooking for us. We, after all, are specialists in what we like. This may be still more true for some other forms of household production.


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Turtle quandary and the fight between Hebrew and Yiddish

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I’ve been all around with clients, caught up in Valetine’s Day, and generally thinking of other good excuses to slack. For today, I have two deep questions to ponder. The first, is shown below:

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What the heck do I do with this turtle? I bought it at Target at their after-Valentine’s-Day sale, and thought it might be useful as a serving dish, as well as possibly a change collector, a wall decoration, an impromptu plate, and possibly a planter, although I don’t think it’s deep enough. What do you think I should do with this? It is too cute to sit in storage.

And the second quandary concerns the Yiddish versus Hebrew debate, which apparently, has been raging for quite some time now. So the main deal is that Hebrew was established almost single-handedly by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who believed that, as Israel was created, Jews should have a single language to unite them. The reason is that because Jews had been in the Diaspora so long, they had formed their own languages or had assmiliated into the languages of the countries where they lived, making the debate for a national language in Israel a veritable one.

Many religious Jews objected to the use of Hebrew on its basis as the “holy” langugage of the Torah, making its use in every day life too profane. These Jews still believe in stoning people that don’t dress modestly enough in their neighborhoods.

Mea SharimSo, anyway, my position on this whole thing is pretty clear, since I half-taught myself, half-took in college Hebrew so I could feel more connected to being Jewish and now use it on a somewhat regular basis to make snarky comments about random people on the street.

The fact that Yiddish is almost a dead language was pretty much, to me, a moot point, until I saw this article:

Hebrew is the language of the state of Israel and the Bible, but a growing number of Jews around the world are reclaiming Yiddish as the language of their culture, creating a rift with some Hebrew speakers. Before the Holocaust, Stalinist persecution and mass assimilation, Yiddish — a fusion of German, Hebrew, Slavic and other languages — was the daily language of 11 million people.

Which leads to the question, why would someone want to speak Yiddish by choice? I always referred to Yiddish half-jokingly as the language of the oppression, when Jews were not free to make their own choices and had to cobble together a language from Russian, German, and Hebrew, which sounds just as horrible as it looks. Yeah, my grandpa speaks Yiddish and I consider it an important part of my heritage, but really, I want to stay as far away from it as possible.

Here is one possible answer:

“I’m all for my kid learning Hebrew, but Yiddish is a diaspora language just like I’m a diaspora Jew,” Berger said.

Yeah, I never really felt close to Hebrew as I did to the Yiddish sayings that my mom exasperatedly exclaimed all throughout my childhood. But the more I studied it, the more beautiful it became to me, and the more I associate being Jewish now with knowing Hebrew almost more than anything else. To me, Hebrew is a poetic, graceful, moving and flexibile, macho language; the sabra, whereas Yiddish is the old, almost feeble Jewish sage, ready to retire from the world.

Yiddish words, to me, always seemed like crippled ineptitudes of Hebrew words cobbled together through the filmy frame of the past. Balabusta comes from ba’alat bayit; bris comes from the much more steady brit; goniff comes from ganav; Shabbos is really Shabat; and yontif is really Yom Tov. To me, they sound dischordant, weak, useless, in place of the strong Hebrew words that form them.

But hey, if you can have Yiddish Cat in the Hat, why not?