More pictures from near the Ulpan.

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A twenty minute walk from the Ulpan. You can see the Temple Mount in the distance.

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Jerusalem sky.

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Fellow Ulpan-ers.

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The famous 12 bus that brings us to the best and closest shopping area.

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The Ulpan is down and to the left.

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An interesting house near the Ulpan.

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Some shade in the middle of the neighborhood around the Ulpan.

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My answer to why filmmaking is useful

I am receiving a degree in Communication Media Management with a focus on filmmaking. I have over two years of filmmaking-training, and have produced around a dozen short films, both personally and professionally. I hope to eventually combine my interest with economics with my interest in filmmaking. For me, filmmaking is one of the many ways I use to communicate both ideas and emotions. It is a very powerful form of communication. I believe that economic ideas can be presented well with film. The theory side can obviously presented well, but also some of the underlying questions and assumptions that give rise to economic theories can be explored through the film medium because it is a medium that captures emotions well and can bring the issue of world-view to the forefront of people’s thoughts. Film can jostle people into considering new methods of looking at the world. Misconceptions can be burnt away, and positive ideas can be explored. Economics needs this resurgence.

On WSJ Article: The Ultimate Global Antipoverty Program

Nov. 2, 2014 6:54 p.m. ET

According to Douglas A. Irwin, “the past 25 years have witnessed the greatest reduction in global poverty in the history of the world.”  His basis for this claim is that the World Bank recorded in 1990 that 36% of people around the world lived in “extreme poverty,” and that figure has dropped to 15%. in 2011.  These figures were released on October 9th.

Irwin attributes this dramatic change to the spread of capitalism around the world. He points to China and India as two places which opened up the door to private enterprise and swiftly saw poverty decrease.  These two countries alone account for 35% of the world population, so much of the change in poverty rates can be attributed to these two cases alone.  Capitalism has spread around the world, however, and many countries throughout South America, Africa, and Asia have seen impressive growth in the past few decades.  To further the argument that capitalism is a positive force in the world, Irwin points to the fact that: “thanks to growth in the developing world, world-wide income inequality—measured across countries and individual people—is falling, not rising, as Branko Milanovic of City University of New York and other researchers have shown.”

Good news all around!

On WSJ Article: Big Oil Feels the Need to Get Smaller

Nov. 2, 2014 7:08 p.m. ET

Exxon, Shell, and Chevron, the three biggest Western oil companies, are facing tighter profit margins.  They had planned to expand, but now they are having to cut some of their operations in an effort to trim costs.  Production has slowed, and the costs to extract oil have been rising in tandem with the slowed production.

This trend has been mirrored worldwide, and billions of dollars worth of projects have been cancelled or stalled.  The larger companies have been hit the hardest because they are burning through such large oil reserves and therefore are forced to undertake major projects to avoid shrinking their production.  Major projects cost more money and are slower to implement.  The smaller companies have been able to focus on smaller projects that involve a less complicated extraction process.  As a result, some small companies that extract U.S. shale have seen costs-per-barrel as low as 1/3 of what the larger companies have spent.

One thing that is making it harder to reap large profits is that governments have been giving oil companies tougher deals.  “For decades, the oil industry relied on what Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry calls its ‘colonial past’ to gain access to low-cost, high-volume oil reserves in places such as the Middle East.”  Now, that is no longer possible.

Shell is facing a situation where 1/3 of their balance sheet is held in assets that are producing no return.  Therefore, they will likely have to downsize.  Other companies are in similar situations.

On WSJ Article: Voters Favor GOP by Slim Margin for Control of Congress, WSJ/NBC News Poll Shows

Updated Nov. 2, 2014 6:59 p.m. ET

Voters favor a GOP-led congress, but the margins are slim.  Many of the races in the senate are within one percentage point based on the most recent polls.  Across the country, 46% of potential voters said they preferred Republican control of the senate, and 45% said they preferred Democratic control.

Part of the reason for this slim Republican lead is that young voters are less likely to vote than in past elections, and young voters tend to back democrats.

In Kentucky, Republican Mitch McConnel has gained the lead, and hit the 50% mark.

The most important issues job growth and economic growth, followed by “ending the gridlock,” the deficit and spending, health care, social security, military action against ISIS, immigration, women’s interests, and the Ebola outbreak.

The race is far from over, and there is definitely a possibility that the Democrats will come out ahead in the senate.

This is probably a good thing?  It’s hard to say.  I prefer Republicans, usually, but . . . they’re not going to save us.  Far from it.  We need good solid leaders with integrity.  I haven’t done the research about who the best candidates are so I can’t say who should win what races, but I know enough to not get too excited about the possibility of a Republican majority in the senate.  The one good thing about that is that Harry Reid will no longer be the Senate leader. That is cause to celebrate! But other than that, we’ll have to wait and see what these new guys do.

On WSJ Article: Bibi and Barack on the Rocks

Oct. 27, 2014 7:16 p.m. ET

Brett Stevens discusses the relationship between Israel and the U.S. and argues that the relationship has gotten so bad that the two sides have resorted to insults back and forth.  He points out a number of instances and remarks taht indicate that the two sides are not well cozy with one another.  A good example is that earlier this year, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called John Kerry “obsessive and messianic” and said that “the only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”  Then, when Yaalon visited Washington last week, John Kerry and Joe Biden refused to meet with him, then let this decision become very public, “in an attempt to humiliate Yaalon,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. This type of relationship is not professional, to say the least.

Stevens points out how it doesn’t pay well for Netanyahu to be President Obama’s friend.  Netanyahu has been asked, against his will and against the will of his political base, to: (1) recognize a Palestinian state; (2) enforce an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze; (3) release scores of Palestinian prisoners held on murder charges; (4) embark on an ill-starred effort to reach a final peace deal with the Palestinians; (5) refrain from taking overt military steps against Iran; and (6) agree to every possible cease-fire during the summer’s war with Hamas.”  In return, the Obama administration has blamed Israel for the collapse of the peace agreement, refused to ship an order of weapons to Israel during their last conflict with Gaza; the FAA shut down flights to Tel Aviv during the conflict; the President has allowed Iran to continue to enrich its Uranium with practically no oversight; and, most recently, an official in the White House called Netanyahu “chickenshit.”

Were it not so serious, the behavior by the Obama administration would be quite laughable. When Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel and Israel retaliated the President condemned Israel for causing death and destruction and demanded a cease fire, and when Hamas broke each cease fire by firing more rockets the President still condemned Israel as they again defended themselves.  Then, when that round of back and forth ended, and P.A. leader Abbas condemned Israel for war crimes, the U.S. decided to send billions in relief to the Gaza strip, as Hamas said they would rebuild and rearm and begin firing test rockets into the sea.  Then, when Israel released permits to build a few hundred homes in Jerusalem, the Obama administration said that their actions “were not one of a group that was interested in peace.”  It’s like a comedy movie, except not.

On WSJ Article: No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech

Updated Oct. 31, 2014 3:31 p.m. ET

This article by John O’Sullivan is an analysis of how free speech in the West has come under attack from all sorts of special interest groups that radically oppose being offended.  He starts the article by describing an event in 1989 when a journalist was given a death warrant by Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  At that time, the world rallied behind the journalist.  Now, however, things might be different.

The article points out how, in the West, the suppression of free speech has slowly taken hold.  Critics first were silenced by threats, like when almost no newspaper published the Danish cartoon depicting Muhammed after the riots following the initial publication.  In the recent decade, however, governments have joined culture in suppressing certain forms of speech that are considered offensive.  Britain passed a law in 2006 that protects religions from threatening expressions, and in 2011 Hillary Clinton referred to the possibility of using “public shaming” to silence those who “support what we abhor.” (In fairness to Clinton, I do think that certain forms of speech should be shamed by individuals, but not by the government or by the media.  Those two groups are too powerful and they shouldn’t engage in suppressing free expression.)

O’Sullivan also points out that free speech in the U.S. has always been limited only when it directly incited harm or threatened national security, or was defaming and falsified.  Now, however, the actual content of the speech has come under the umbrella of speech-suppression.  This is popular especially in universities, which routinely suppress speech that is deemed to be offensive.

This sort of suppression is clearly quite dangerous.  Praying in public schools has increasingly been banned, and it is considered a legitimate political tactic to shame people who might point out that there is a correlation between the Islamic faith and terrorism and intolerance.  Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who has become a political commentator of sorts, talks about what he calls the “PC police,” or the “Politically correct police,” which insure that nothing that is offensive to anyone can be said.  He considers this a very dangerous threat to democracy.  I completely agree.

In one of my classes recently we discussed whether people who were burning bibles should be stopped through legal means.  I don’t think they should be.  I think burning bibles is a horrible thing that God will most certainly hold someone accountable for, so I would be the last person to say that this is a good idea (to burn bibles) or should be encouraged.  But I also believe that the government should protect free speech and free expression, and as much as I hate the burning of bibles, I love free choice more.  God gave us free choice, who is man to take it away?