Ten years ago, I had the honor of being asked to speak at the 2001 Jewish Deaf Conference. I researched and wrote this speech on the Jewish concept of Justice, and to this day I consider this among the best speech I’ve ever given. I think I already posted this years ago, either here or on another (now defunct) blog – but I wanted to share this again.

As a side note: the English / Speech Communication professor I refer to twice in this speech passed away on Valentine’s Day, 2011. She was also a close friend and mentor. I miss her immensely. My uncle, who I also mention in this speech, passed away several years ago; I also miss him and still hold a great deal of admiration for him.

Here ’tis.


A Different Concept of Justice

Jewish Deaf Conference Speech
Delivered on August 15, 2001

When Debbie Sonnenthal and Steve Brenner asked me to be the co-keynote speaker, I felt a sense of panic over several things.  How dare I speak to you, when many of you have lived much fuller lives than me?  What could I tell you, that some of you haven’t heard already from me over and over again?  How will I appear, speaking with Lee Meyerhoff Hendler, who’s well known through America and especially in the Jewish circles, and with whom I’m extremely flattered to share this opportunity?  And, most of all, how could I stand here in front of my speech teacher from college, Barbara Boyd?  She’s sitting right there.  I feel like she’s grading me at this very moment.  I feel her analyzing my poise, my stance, my signs, and my every word.  At the end of this speech, I will have to ask her in private how I did.

Anyway, after I accepted the offer to be co-keynote speaker, I went to work thinking about what I could discuss with you.  And I went home and had dinner and cleaned up the dishes, and thought some more.  I wanted to talk to you about something that means much to me.  And, suddenly, I began thinking about a story that my uncle David told me.  He’s an Orthodox Rabbi, with a beard down to here, and who lives in Israel with his family. Struggling with his limited knowledge of sign, here’s the story he told me many years ago:

There was a successful lawyer who won all of his cases.  He worked for a big private law firm, and he had all the money he needed.  He had a big home in a nice part of town.  He had a hard-working wife and three wonderful children.  He had memberships to the best clubs in town, and his name was known all over town.  It seemed as if he had gotten everything he wanted in life.  Yet, he had this feeling, a feeling that something was missing.  At first, this feeling was very small, but as this lawyer won more and more of his cases, this feeling grew and grew.  Finally, this feeling that something was missing became so bothersome that he brought it up with his wife.  Of course his wife took it personally, thinking he was criticizing her.  ‘Not so,’ he assured her.  ‘There’s something missing, and I think it has to do with what I do as part of my job.’  But, being so interwoven in his life, his wife could not help him with this.

So, he went to his boss, asking if she had ever experienced this feeling as if something was missing.  His boss said, ‘What’s wrong?  You’re our best attorney.  How could there be something missing?’  So, getting no answers from his boss, the lawyer went to his old professor from college and asked why he felt something was missing.  The professor told him, ‘You were my best student.  I taught you well.  How could you feel like there’s something missing?’  The lawyer asked his friends.  They all told him, ‘What do you mean, there’s something missing from your life?  You seem as if you do have everything.  Just accept the fact that life is not perfect.’  The attorney knew that that was not the right answer, either.  He even asked people on the street.  And he couldn’t find the answer to exactly what was missing.

Finally, this lawyer went to see his rabbi.   And the lawyer explained that he’d been feeling as if something has been missing from his life.  The lawyer explained how successful he is, winning all his cases, having a wonderful wife and three wonderful children.  He told the rabbi how he felt he had all these pluses in his life, and asked why he felt unbalanced, as if there was something important and vital that was missing from his life.

The rabbi smiled and said, ‘Ah, I think I see what is missing.  You win all of your cases, no matter whether you know the person you are representing is right or not.’  The rabbi continued, ‘You constantly take one side or another, and you win that side in court.  It appears that you do not work to make sure compromise is reached, only that you win for the side that had hired you.  You’re left without a sense of balance.  You’re left without a feeling of tzedek.  You’re left without a feeling of justice.’ When the lawyer heard this simple word, justice, he knew that that was exactly what was missing from his life.  He had kept winning his cases without regard to whether it was the right thing to do or not.  Even though he worked within the justice system, he still felt unbalanced from his single-minded pursuit of winning just for the side by whom he was hired.

So, the attorney began weaving in justice throughout his life.  He taught it to his children.  He practiced it with his wife.  And, he tried to work more toward justice at work rather than toward winning every single case.  His co-workers noticed that the attorney took a different approach toward his cases.  He began to encourage negotiation and mediation, and his reputation grew and he became more successful.  But success was not what was important to this man anymore.  Instead, he felt more balanced; he was now working toward incorporating more justice in his life.

Now, I suspect the wise character at the end of this story depends on who is telling this story — and since it was my uncle, this wise character was a rabbi.  But the point of the story lingered in my mind — justice.  A simple word, justice.  But what is justice?  When I think of justice, I thought of the blindfolded woman holding up a scale.  I knew that represented a neutral justice system, free from outside influence.  That still didn’t define just what justice is to me.  I looked justice up in the dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and two of the entries on this says that justice is ‘the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action,’ and ‘conformity to this principle or ideal: righteousness.’  But, to me, those were just a bunch of fancy words that did not quite express just what justice is.

Digging deeper, I did some research on the Jewish concept of justice. I found out that the Jewish word for justice and righteousness, ‘tzedek,’ appears in the Torah 120 times.  That shows that the Torah put a high emphasis on justice.  I discovered that the ideal of tzedek was not that of the blindfolded woman holding up a scale, but more like a connection with and relationship with ourselves, with our family, and with society.

We are more familiar with ‘tzedekah,’ which means righteous giving in an attempt to help balance out the injustice elsewhere in society.  A concept that is similar to tzedekah is ‘tikkun olam,’ or repairing the world through social justice.  This repairing could happen through our own volunteerism and activism, or by things being set straight or put into order.  Things being put into order.  Something may have happened in the past, some injustice, which put things into disarray.  The concept of tikkun olam made me think of what I have done to put things back in order.  And I remembered something that I did that I think was perhaps my greatest tikkun olam without knowing it until later.  Here’s the story.

My grandmother had always been very proud and supportive of me.  But, when I told my grandmother I was planning on going to law school, she warned me it would be difficult, that I might fail, that I might not find a job.  I was surprised at her response, when in the past she’d always been supportive.  And I thought, maybe she’s afraid because I’m deaf; maybe she thinks law school is too difficult for a deaf person.  In spite of her concerns, I went to law school, struggled, and got fair — not great — grades.  Two months before graduation from law school, my grandmother asked me to sit down with her.  She asked me if I knew my grandfather used to be an attorney.

I was amazed; I thought my grandfather was always a psychologist who studied under Carl Jung and then moved to Los Angeles to set up his practice.  No so, explained my grandmother.  She told me that my grandfather was an attorney in Germany before World War II.  And then, in the 1930’s, Hitler declared that Jewish people could no longer practice as attorneys in Germany.  My grandfather could no longer work as an attorney, and so he studied to be a psychologist.  He was later put in concentration camp, for several months, before he got out with his family on a visa to England and then to the United States.  I had never known that he was an attorney, and I was stunned by the news.  It was because I was Jewish and going into law school that she was afraid for me, not because I was deaf.

Two months later, on my law school graduation day, the most precious gift I received was from my grandmother.  She gave me my grandfather’s 1930’s diploma from law school.  I was so moved by this gift that I cried.  From this gift, I knew my grandmother was saying two things.  First, that she was very proud of me for finishing law school.  And, two, that she considered what I had just done to be my attempt at tikkun olam to balance out the injustice that was done to my grandfather by Nazi Germany.  By graduating from law school, I had done my part to put things into order, to correct the injustice done to my grandfather 60 years before.

So, after remembering my grandfather’s law degree, I began to understand a little more just what justice is.  It’s not just deciding what is right and what is not right.  To me, the Jewish concept of tzedek — a connection with and responsibility for other people, was what really defined justice.  It meant doing tikkun olam, or repair of the world.

Here’s another story that shows how justice is not just neutrally deciding on the right thing, but also involves working toward responsibility and repair.  Many, many years ago in Italy, back before the Roman Empire, in a small town named Atri, a king set up a great bell with a rope hanging from it.  He declared that any person feeling he or she has been wronged should just ring this bell, and a group of wise men will assemble and decide on what justice should be done.  For many years, people came and went, pulling on the rope and ringing this bell, and the wise men of the town of Atri would hand out justice.  After many more years, the rope hanging from the bell withered away, and a farmer attached vines to the bell so that people could still ring the bell.

In that town, there lived a soldier who used to love hunting with his many horses and his dogs.  However, as the soldier became older, he loved gold more and more.  He sold off all his dogs and all of his horses except for his favorite horse.  However, the soldier did not want to spend money and effort to keep his favorite horse in a stable and feed him.  So, the soldier just let the horse wander around, becoming thinner and thinner while the soldier stayed in his home planning how to save his gold.

One hot afternoon, after being chased by dogs and being stung by thorns, the horse hid behind the thick vine leading up to the bell.  Being famished, the horse began to tug at the vine to eat it.  The bell rang, again and again!  Because it was a hot day, the people of the entire town were at their homes, asleep, but when the bell rang, they all woke up and ran to see who was ringing the bell.  The wise men immediately recognized this poor, starving horse and knew he was the soldier’s horse.  And they all agreed that the poor horse was starving for justice.  They called the soldier up, and asked why the soldier had neglected his horse.  The soldier made excuses, and he thought the whole thing was a joke.

The wise men conferred with themselves, and then declared with grave faces, ‘This horse had served you, the soldier, well in youth.  And so you shall serve him well in his old age.’  They then ordered the soldier to provide food and shelter for the horse for as long as the horse lived.  And the soldier, being very embarrassed, did just that.

Remember when I told you my speech professor is sitting right there? She was also my English literature professor.  I’m certain she was waiting for me to throw in some reference to a poem or literature.  Barbara Boyd, I’m sure you’d be happy to know that this is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, ‘The Bell of Atri.’

But I didn’t tell you this story just to make my former professor happy.  To me, this story shows how we work toward repair of the world, toward balancing out injustice elsewhere.  I understand that without justice, without tzedek, I would feel like something is missing from my life.  Just like the attorney in my wise uncle’s story, or the horse without food and shelter.  Every day, as I work as an attorney at the Department of Justice, working with civil rights, I try to keep a sense of tzedek, and of how my relationship with others affect them.

I think I have said enough.  Go out and work for tikkun olam.  Keep tzedek, justice, in your heart and in what you do.

Ritz Camera has declared bankruptcy.

Why do I care?  Ah, let me tell you.

I wanted a high-quality camera.  After shopping around at various stores, both big-box and small, I bought a Nikon D40 camera with two lenses (18-55 and 55-200 VR) from Ritz Camera last summer.  What won me over was Ritz Camera’s package pricing, customer service, and exceptional warranty.

I paid extra so that if the camera gets broken or dirty, Ritz would clean or replace it free of (additional) charge.  Insurance, ya know, in case a bouncing ball hits my camera while I’m focusing on it.  Happened to a friend of mine, who got a set of replacement lenses from Ritz.  Free and without fuss.

And now Ritz Camera has declared bankruptcy.  Argh.

Silver lining?  Ritz Camera “plans” to continue operation, despite the bankruptcy filing.  Nonetheless, time to be extra-careful of my camera.

(Thanks, I think, to DCist for the news.)

Now that FCC is mandating 10-digit numbers for our videophones, the major video relay / videophone companies have been busy assigning new phone numbers to our videophones.  For some of these numbers, hearing people can also call and be connected directly to you via video relay (or instant messaging or email).  In addition, we may have signed up for additional personal VRS phone numbers independent from our videophones.

The result?  Many, many new phone numbers to keep track of!  I now have SIX personal VRS phone numbers that I need to keep track of, with several different VRS providers!

So, a reminder: please do not forget to register ALL of them (and your mobile phone number) with DoNotCall.gov — or else you’ll start getting lots of telemarketing calls.

Consider yourself reminded.

Trivia: once you register a phone number on donotcall.gov, it will stay on the list permanently.  Used to be deleted in 3 years, but a recent change in law now makes registration permanent.  Hooray.

And thus, this blog post snaps my recent streak of Google-loving posts …

(See my ancient reminder on DeafDC.com)

With a tip of the hat to Living La Vida Alpo and the Banned Books Week, here’s a list of banned books. Read ’em! The ones I’ve read in the past are bolded. Hmm, looks like I need to read quite a few more. Wonder if any of these are available via ereader.com. Some books I understand why are on the list, but for some others, I’m like “WTF?” Fellow bloggers, pass this on via your blog!

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (I saw the movie – does that count?)
SexybookwormSex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Swatch + Benz = smart

September 25, 2008

Did you know that the Swatch watch company originally came up with the concept for the smart (yes, “smart” is in all lower case) car, and then paired with Daimer Benz to actually produce these cars?  I didn’t till this morning.  In fact, the name “smart” is an acronym for Swatch Mercedes ART  (Hmm, what does A.R.T. stand for?  I don’t know, and Google ain’t helpful.)

While I’m at it, here’re some stats and tech specs on the smart fortwo, mostly from its FAQs:

  • There are three models — the smart fortwo pure coupe starts at $11,590, the smart fortwo passion coupe starts at $13,590, and the smart fortwo passion cabriolet starts at $16,590.
  • The top speed of a smart car is 90 mph.
  • The smart fortwo mileage is 33 city/41 highway mpg.
  • Smart’s website states that, according to fueleconomy.gov, the smart fortwo is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline-powered vehicle in the USA today.
  • The gas tank of the smart fortwo is 8.7 gallons.
  • The smart fortwo is 8.8 feet long (you can usually fit two smart fortwos in an average parking space), 5.1 feet tall (the smart still has as much headroom as most luxury vehicles), and 5.1 feet wide (roominess is a ‘WOW’ factor!)
  • The smart fortwo has an innovative tridion safety cell design that keeps occupants safe during crashes by re-distributing crash energy.  Plus, four airbags are provided.
  • The “base” smart model — the smart fortwo pure — has:

standard with convenience features such as a 5-speed automated manual transmission with manual or automatic mode, central remote locking system, 2-spoke leather steering wheel, radio-ready console, and more.  Air conditioning, power windows and alloy wheels are optional. Be sure to check out the passion coupe and passion cabriolet that offer more standard features at an outstanding value.

  • The next higher smart model — the smart fortwo passion — includes:

all the features described on the pure, plus much more. Additional standard equipment includes a panorama roof, alloy wheels, air conditioning with climate control, 3-spoke leather sports steering wheel with shift paddles, power windows, electric and heated side mirrors, and AM/FM radio with CD player.

  • The top smart model — the smart fortwo passion cabriolet — has:

all the features of the passion coupe plus an upgraded radio and sound system that includes an mp3 compatible in-dash 6-disk CD changer. The main difference lies in the soft top with a heated rear glass window that is fully automatic and can be infinitely adjusted to any position while driving at any speed. For the full cabriolet experience, simply remove the side roof bars – taken out in no time – and stow them in a special compartment in the tailgate.

QWERTY v. Dvorak Keyboards

September 24, 2008

Over 230 years ago, an American editor and a friend developed a forerunner of the modern typewriter. However, if someone operating the “typewriter” typed too fast, the keys would jam together. So, over the next several years, they developed what would become known as the QWERTY keyboard that we all use and (?) love.

(Image from Wikipedia)

This early QWERTY layout was slightly different than the modern QWERTY layout. The “0” and “1” keys were missing, and users would use the “L” and “O” keys instead. The “M” key has migrated downward, and the “C” and “X” keys are now reversed. Punctuations keys have moved to different parts of the layout as well.

The layout of keys were designed to actually SLOW the user down by having the user alternate hands between each keystroke. The left hand was the one actually doing most of the typing. In addition, the most-used keys were mounted on an upper row to further slow the user down.

Does this mean that our typing speed today could have been faster than it actually is, thanks to how the QWERTY keys are positioned? Exactly right! The QWERTY layout has been rendered an anachronism, still being used way past its useful lifespan, because of drastic advances in technology.

Various keyboard layouts have been proposed to improve the typist’s speed, and the more well-known of these layouts is the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

(Image from Wikipedia)

As seen from the picture of the layout, the key placements are drastically different from those in the QWERTY keyboard. The most commonly-used keys are on the initial row and the least-used keys are on the bottom row. Some of the commonly-used punctuations have been moved around as well.

According to Wikipedia, August Dvorak had several factors in mind when designing this keyboard layout:

  • Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
  • For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and digraphs should be the easiest to type. This means that they should be on the home row, which is where the fingers rest, and under the strongest fingers.
  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
  • The right hand should do more of the typing, because most people are right-handed.
  • Digraphs should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
  • Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. An observation of this principle is that, for many people, when tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from little finger to index than vice versa. This motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.[3]

There are Dvorak keyboards and keyboard overlays available for sale, and most computers would recognize these keyboards.

If the Dvorak layout is so much faster, why ain’t I using it? Ah, because I’ve become too successful at learning the QWERTY layout. It would be too much of a struggle for me to switch to the Dvorak layout at this stage, and besides, just about every electronic device has the typical QWERTY keyboard. Too difficult for me to switch, and I suspect for just about everyone else as well.

Why am I telling you all this, then? Ah, I like the “trivia” of this info, and there’s hope yet for yet faster typing …

So much for the thought that if you just stayed at home, you’d avoid being exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Some new granite counters being installed in kitchens (and some bathrooms!) have high levels of radon, caused by decaying uranium (which, of course, is radioactive in its own right).

Hmm. Two things come to mind:

  1. Forget Iran and North Korea. Anybody who has a high-end kitchen can manufacture nuclear weapons without leaving his/her kitchen.
  2. We no longer need microwaves.

And now a study says arsenic in our tap water may have contributed to a higher prevalence of diabetes in our population.

Geesh. Honey, let’s eat out tonight?

Seven years ago, I gave this speech at the 2001 Jewish Deaf Conference.  In preparation, I did some of research into the Jewish perspective on “justice,” and I wanted to share this result with you all.  Happy reading!


Read the rest of this entry »

I live 40 miles away from my workplace, so I sometime take the commuter train and other times take the commuter bus to work.  I see the same people over and over again, each day, going to work and then from work.  On the bus, we don’t say a word to each other — but on the train (not subway), people greet each other all the time.

So, it’s quite a shock for me to read about a guy being stabbed and beheaded while travelling home on a bus in Canada.

I read about this yesterday actually, and this morning on the bus I couldn’t help but glance from passenger to passenger wondering …


Thursdays are becoming the new Fridays, as more people take Fridays off or make special plans for Thursday evenings.

But please don’t work too hard. This guy died while designing the Toyota Camry hybrid.

In Japan, deaths from overwork — called “karoshi” — have been increasing in the past 21 years since this type of death was officially recognized.

So, for your own sake and for your children, partner, family, or friends’ sake as well, take it easy! And be sure to relax and read Proud Geek. :-)

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