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‘Minsky Moments’ and the Financial History of Pandemics

As a wobbly recovery tries to take hold, was the coronavirus pandemic simply the pinprick on a larger economic bubble?

Jamie Catherwood works at O’Shaughnessy Asset Management, a quantitative long-equity investment firm. More importantly, however, he is the finance history guy on Twitter. His “Financial History: Sunday Reads” curation pieces and longer form articles on his site Investor Amnesia have become required reading for anyone who wants the historical context for current financial issues.

On this episode of The Breakdown, Jamie and NLW discuss:

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For Some, Zoom Bar And Bat Mitzvahs Highlight ‘Most Meaningful And Memorable Moments’ : NPR

Gabe Silverman is sheltering at home with his family and this is the first Zoom mitzvah for Temple Shir Tikva, a congregation west of Boston.

The Silvermans


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The Silvermans

Gabe Silverman is sheltering at home with his family and this is the first Zoom mitzvah for Temple Shir Tikva, a congregation west of Boston.

The Silvermans

As Gabe Silverman chants his Torah portion, he’s intensely focused on every word. It’s the culmination of months of study and the high point of his Bar Mitzvah service. The same is true for almost every 12- or 13-year-old celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah.

“For the Torah service, I was very nervous about, like, losing my place,” Gabe said. “It’s so big and all the letters look the same, basically.”

The Torah is rolled open on a table in his family’s living room and positioned in front of a computer camera. Gabe is sheltering at home with his parents and younger brother and this is the first Zoom mitzvah for Temple Shir Tikva, a congregation located 20 miles west of Boston.

May and June are popular months for bar and bat mitzvahs and many congregations schedule the Jewish coming-of-age ritual two to three years in advance. It takes time to learn Torah portions and prayers and to book venues and caterers for the celebration afterwards.

That makes postponing tough.

Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, congregations are reimagining the ceremony and bringing it online.

For family and friends watching Gabe’s Zoom bar mitzvah, Gabe and the Torah occupy a central square flanked by Shir Tikva’s rabbis and cantor.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman calls upon a few family members. They temporarily appear on screen for aliyot — blessings over the Torah reading. Gabe’s grandmother Helaine Silverman is honored with the first of the aliyot. Before Helaine begins, Burkeman reminds her to switch on her camera and unmute.

Burkeman leads the service remotely from his synagogue’s main sanctuary. He’s doing double duty, making sure the ceremony follows tradition and monitoring all the technology involved.

“Our aim was to create for them as much as possible a digital bar mitzvah experience,” Burkeman said. “And we use the word digital because it wasn’t virtual. There was nothing virtual about it. It was real.”

Rabbi Danny Burkeman delivers the Torah two days before the bar mitzvah.

Erica Silverman


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Erica Silverman

Rabbi Danny Burkeman delivers the Torah two days before the bar mitzvah.

Erica Silverman

The Silvermans thought about postponing until the end of the year, but two weeks before the big day, they decided to go forward on Zoom on the original date. At that point, the most pressing question became: What elements of the bar mitzvah mattered most?

Gabe wanted to read from an actual Torah, not the sheets of paper he used for practice. Two days before his bar mitzvah, Burkeman made a special delivery.

“Rabbi Danny just came to our driveway with the Torah seatbelted in the front seat,” Gabe recalled. “It was wrapped up, seatbelted, and then he handed it off to my dad.”

At his bar mitzvah, as soon as Gabe finishes reading from that Torah, he looks at his parents, smiles and noticeably exhales. For him, the toughest part is over.

Soon the entire service concludes. Then, Burkeman exhales.

“I felt really good that we’d been able to give him an experience,” Burkeman said. “And you could see in his face and in the face of his family that this was meaningful for them.”

Gabe wanted to read from an actual Torah, not the sheets of paper he used for practice.

The Silvermans


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The Silvermans

Gabe wanted to read from an actual Torah, not the sheets of paper he used for practice.

The Silvermans

After the ceremony, family and friends turn on their cameras and unmute. They wave and hold up congratulatory signs and shout “Mazel Tov!”

Reflecting on the bar mitzvah, Gabe’s mom Erica is happy with the whole online event, but she knows it’s not for everyone.

“I’m very compassionate for people who are making the other decision to postpone and do it in person,” she said. “But for us, in that moment, it was the right decision. It was more special because of the circumstances.”

As she talks, Erica sits next to Gabe and her husband Scott. The Torah is still there, a couple feet away on the dining room table.

She glances over at the scroll and adds, “I feel very complete by what we experienced.”

Erica and Scott wonder if they’ll need to celebrate with a big bar mitzvah party when family and friends can gather again. And Gabe?

“I hope that we can have a party,” he said. “But I can do without.”

The pandemic has made the service — the actual religious ritual — the place where the most meaningful and memorable moments happen.

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5 Moments To Listen To : NPR

The Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments remotely this week, and for the first time the arguments were streamed live to the public.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images


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Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments remotely this week, and for the first time the arguments were streamed live to the public.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

For the first time in its 231-year history, the Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments remotely by phone and made the audio available live.

The new setup went off largely without difficulties, but produced some memorable moments, including one justice forgetting to unmute and an ill-timed bathroom break.

Here are the top five can’t-miss moments from this week’s history-making oral arguments.

A second week of arguments begin on Monday at 10 a.m. ET. Here’s a rundown of the cases and how to listen.

1. Justice Clarence Thomas speaks … a lot

Supreme Court oral arguments are verbal jousting matches. The justices pepper the lawyers with questions, interrupting counsel repeatedly and sometimes even interrupting each other.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who has sat on the bench for nearly 30 years, has made his dislike of the chaotic process well known, at one point not asking a question for a full decade.

But with no line of sight, the telephone arguments have to be rigidly organized, and each justice, in order of seniority, has an allotted 2 minutes for questioning.

It turns out that Thomas, second in seniority, may just have been waiting his turn. Rather than passing, as had been expected, he has been Mr. Chatty Cathy, using every one of his turns at bat so far.

Thomas broke a year-long silence on Monday in a trademark case testing whether a company can trademark by adding .com to a generic term. In this case, Booking.com.

“Could Booking acquire an 800 number, for example, that’s a vanity number — 1-800-BOOKING, for example?” Thomas asked.

Thomas breaks his silence

2. The unstoppable RBG

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participated in Wednesday’s argument from the hospital. In pain during Tuesday’s arguments, the 87-year-old underwent non-surgical treatment for a gall bladder infection at Johns Hopkins Hospital later that day, according to a Supreme Court press release.

But she was ferocious on Wednesday morning, calling in from her hospital room in a case testing the Trump administration’s new rule expanding exemptions from Obamacare’s birth control mandate for nonprofits and some for-profit companies that have religious or moral objections to birth control.

“The glaring feature” of the Trump administration’s new rules, is that they “toss to the winds entirely Congress’ instruction that women need and shall have seamless, no-cost, comprehensive coverage,” she said.

Ginsburg weighs in from the hospital

3. Who flushed?

During Wednesday’s second oral argument, Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, a case in which the justices weighed a First Amendment challenge to a federal rule than bans most robocalls, something very unexpected happened.

Partway through lawyer Roman Martinez’s argument time, a toilet flush could be distinctly heard.

Martinez seemed unperturbed and continued speaking in spite of the awkward moment.

The flush quickly picked up steam online, becoming the first truly viral moment from the court’s new livestream oral arguments.

4. Hello, where are you?

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, considered one of the most tech-savvy of the justices, experienced a couple of technical difficulties with her mute button.

In both Monday and Tuesday arguments, the first time she was at bat, there were prolonged pauses, prompting Chief Justice John Roberts to call, “Justice Sotomayor?” a few times before she hopped on with a brief, “Sorry, Chief,” before launching into her questions.

By Wednesday she seemed to have gotten used to the new format, but the trouble then jumped to Thomas, who was entirely missing in action when his turn came. He ultimately went out of order Wednesday morning.

5. Running over time

Oral arguments usually run one hour almost exactly, with lawyers for each side having 30 minutes to make their case. In an attempt to stick as closely as possible to that format, the telephone rules allocate 2 minutes of questioning to each justice for each round of questioning.

Chief Justice John Roberts spent the week jumping into exchanges, cutting off both lawyers and justices in the process, to keep the proceedings on track. Even so the arguments ran longer than usual.

But in Wednesday’s birth control case, oral arguments went a whopping 40 minutes longer than expected.

Justice Alito, for his part, hammered the lawyer challenging the Trump administration’s new birth control rules for more than seven minutes, without interruption from the chief justice.

Referencing a decision he wrote in 2014, Alito said that “Hobby Lobby held that if a person sincerely believes that it is immoral to perform an act that has the effect of enabling another person to commit an immoral act, the federal court does not have the right to say that this person is wrong on the question of moral complicity. That is precisely the question here.”

Christina Peck is NPR’s legal affairs intern.

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