Friday, February 22, 2019

Don't Look at the Bottle!

The purpose of this blog is to raise spirits at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

wine bottlesLast week's theme of lightning generated great interest. There were, however, several typos, including one significant error that crept in (haste makes waste), regarding the chemicals generated by lightning. The blog version of this email has been corrected.

This week, in honor of "Purim Katan", an ethical dilemma by our friend, R' Yitzi Weiner.

First, take a look at these five wine bottles.

In your judgment, which one contains the best wine?

According to World of Wine columnist Ron Smith, many consumers subconsciously make quality judgments based on bottle shape alone.

If you were a wine maker, you would want to know and exploit this fact.

What if you are a wine consumer?

Zev was a wealthy businessman. His "10-20 percent to tzedaka" was always large amounts of money.

He was also a generous host.

Every year he invited his three neighbors and their families to his Purim feast. He would serve the most expensive kosher wine available. He did this as a means of beautifying the mitzvah. Zev was renowned for having these wines.

Sadly, one year Zev’s business dried up. He was struggling financially but was embarrassed to let any of his friends or neighbors know.

Purim time came and Zev felt obligated to Invite his neighbors once again. When it came time to buy the wine, he shuddered. He could no longer afford such expensive wine. But if he used regular or cheap wine, it would be obvious to his neighbors that something was wrong.

In desperation Zev went to the owner of an elegant kosher restaurant. He asked the restaurateur if he could give him the empty bottles of expensive wine that they saved, for a Purim project. Zev washed out the bottles, bought cheap wine, and poured the wine into the expensive bottles.

Zev figured that on Purim his neighbors wouldn't realize that the wine tasted different, as long as it was poured from the expensive bottle.

The meal went well. The guests loved the wine. 
But as his neighbor was complimenting Zev for the delicious wine, Zev was struck with an anxiety-producing thought.

Was I allowed to serve them this wine, giving them the impression that it was expensive, when it was not?

Was that considered genevat da’at, unethical deception?

Or would that perhaps be permitted, to avoid embarrassment?

What do you think? Was Zev ethically permitted to serve his guests cheap wine in an expensive bottle

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Tuning in to Fulminology

The purpose of this blog is to lighten and enlighten at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
Happy Birthday shout-out to Allan in Piedmont!

Hoirzontal lightningThis week's theme is lightning. The regular kind, flashes of electricity in the sky, that sometimes hit the earth.

First, let's get the facts with five trivia questions for your table:

1. How many times a day would you guess that lightning strikes somewhere on Planet Earth?
2. How hot is a bolt of lightning?
3. How big is a bolt of lightning?
4. How much electricity are we talking about here?
5. What is the chemical symbol and atomic number of nitrogen?

After everyone chimes in, here are the answers:

1. The most common estimate going around is about eight million.

If you have any students at the table, ask them to estimate (in their heads) how many that would be per hour, per minute and per second.

[About 350,000 per hour, 6,000 per minute, 100 per second.]

Let's just pause and think about that for a second. Oop - there's another 100 lightning strikes!

2. Soooooo hot. Like super-duper hot. Like 3-5 times the surface of the sun, which is 10,000°F. We're talking pretty toasty here.
3. About 1 inch in diameter, about 5 miles long (but can be as long as 100 miles).
4. Maybe a billion volts, give or take a few.
5. Nitrogen is N, atomic number 7. (Bonus question - what does that number tell us? [number of protons])

So now we're ready for the big question of the day:

6. What has lightning done for us lately?

The answer is surpisingly interesting.

First of all, lightning is one of the only ways that nitrogen becomes available to plants, and thus to us.

You see, as every schoolchild knows, the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. And we need nitrogen, can't live without it. We need nitrogen atoms to be attached to hydrogen and carbon atoms in a specific chain that we call protein.

Plants need it for photosynthesis.

Problem is, we can't simply absorb it from the air. Nitrogen molecules have this super-tight triple atomic bond that just doesn't break apart so easily. 

The only way we get it is from our food. But plants can't absorb it from the air either.

But lightning is so hot that it breaks the nitrogen bonds, breaks the oxygen bonds, and causes some of these atoms to recombine as NOx (meaning, various numbers of Os). The rain pulls this NOx down into the soil, where it cools and turns into NO2 and then reacts with water to produce HNO3 which (finally!) is a molecule that plants can use.

In a nutshell, lightning fertilizes the soil.

If that were all that it did for us, we could be grateful for every thunderstorm. (Believe me, every farmer loves thunderstorms.)

But wait, there's more.

Back in 1952, physicist Winfried Schumann
theorized that all that lightning, under the shell of the Earth's ionosphere, ought to leave an electrical trace. He was proven right. But the residual electricity is so very small that it is super hard to detect. They call it ELF (extremely low frequency) or ULF (ultra-low frequency).

We're talking about below 100 Hz.

Specifically, these electrical echoes begin with the fundamental wave at 7.83 Hz, and then it resonates at approximately 6 Hz intervals (eg, 14 Hz, then 20 Hz, etc.).

Last week,
Prof. Colin Price of Tel Aviv University reported the results of a creative experiment.

They bombarded rat cardiac cells with lightning-level ELFs, and saw what looked like healing effects, including the release of the creatine kinase protein, which promotes muscular healing.

It is scientifically too early to conclude that human muscles would respond the same way, but this is an extremely interesting line of research.

Why? We humans have a resonant frequency of somewhere between 5-10 Hz. That means that we are born pre-tuned into the basic frequency of lightning trails.

Seventh and final question for your table: Do you now feel more in tune with lightning? Has this Table Talk made you astraphobic or an astraphile?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - This wasn't the first time that Tel Aviv University scientists made a breakthrough using rats. Check this out. And this.

PPS - We do not recommend getting struck by lightning, which kills and maims hundreds of people every year. If you ever find yourself in danger of such a storm, you might want to have read this. And know that lightning often travels horizontally, so it can - and does - come out of the blue sky before or after a storm.

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Sane Asylum?

The purpose of this blog is to liberate some critical thinking at the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share. 
Happy Birthday shout-outs to Marc in SF, Lily in Marin!

happy prisonerThis week's questions for your table revolve around one overriding question: Would someone ever want to be a prisoner?

The story begins in Japan, where the prisons are notoriously harsh:

Rules absolutely define minute-to-minute existence in Japanese Prison. If you follow them to the letter, you can exist and even accumulate additional privileges. If you diverge from the long list of rules, you will be punished, often in an arbitrary and draconian fashion. Some of the rules include:
  • Where and how to place each item inside the cell.
  • Where to write anything; only in specified notebooks which are inspected. Not on scarp of paper or inside a magazine, or face punishment.
  • How to sit or stand during cell inspection, and during “leisure” time: No leaning, laying down or random walking around the cell.
  • How to sleep. On your back or side, never the stomach. Do not cover your face while sleeping. Do not read, talk or move around during sleep time.
  • How to march. Moving around the prison will be done by marching. Infractions result in punishments.
  • When and how to speak. Strict silence is observed the majority of the time. During leisure times, talking should be done in a low voice so as not to disturb others. Utmost respect must be used when addressing guards or punishments will follow.
  • Where to look. Looking at a guard can result in a punishment. Looking up during meal time is punishable.  Opening eyes during “reflection time” when eyes should be closed is punishable.
And the punishment for breaking the rules can be 1 month solitary confinement where the prisoner is required to sit motionless on the floor for 10 hours a day.

Now, let's re-ask the question: Would someone every want to be in such a prison?

This is the same Japan with the world's best longevity statistics.

The two never the twain should meet.

Never meet, that is, until your ageing population starts getting desparate. Many of them are alone, lonely and struggling, and falling through the cracks of social services.

This is going to sound like fake-news, but it is true: many Japanese seniors are committing petty crimes in order to go to prison.

In the past decade, the elderly population in prisons has risen from less than ten percent to nearly a quarter (which means that the prison age demographics now mirrors the overall society).

So now we have the answer to the first question, would someone want to go to prison.

The second question for your table is, Why?

And finally, Can you imagine poor, lonely Jewish seniors shopliftin en masse so they can go to prison?

Shabbat Shalom

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